Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Australian music nostalgia

Growing up in Penang during the late 60s and early 70s meant that I was constantly exposed to music from the Radio RAAF Butterworth which was run by the Royal Australian Air Force from their base in northern Butterworth. While the local radio station, broadcasting on the 1445KHz medium-wave band, was meant primarily as the source of entertainment for the Aussie troops and their families who were stationed here, it also had a very sizeable local audience.

At first, the station broadcast over very powerful transmitters and I heard that it could even be received as far south as the Pangkor island but later, the station was asked to reduce its transmitting power so that only its coverage was basically in Butterworth and across the northern Channel to Tanjong Bungah. But the radio signals were still strong enough to be received in George Town. By the time I moved to Ayer Itam, it became almost impossible to hear anything from the station at all.

So for those six or seven years that I could tune in to the station, they were the best musical years of my youth. Until then, the music over the Radio Malaysia's English Service and Redifusion were typical pop music. RAAF Radio brought a new dimension to my listening pleasure because the station also broadcast classical music, rock music and Australian pop music. The station also brought cricket into my living room and I spent countless hours listening in to the test matches between England and Australia. And that's how I got to learn about The Ashes.

I remember RAAF Radio best for their rock music and Aussie pop music. If not for this radio station, I wouldn't have been exposed to the likes of rock bands like Cream or Deep Purple or Led Zeppelin from an early age. But these bands were internationally renowned. Nowadays, it's still very easy to pick up their music from any CD shop in town.

Hunting for old Aussie pop music is, however, a big challenge because there's hardly a market outside Australia. When I was in Perth two years ago, never did I come across any music store that stocked up on Australian pop music of the 1960s or 1970s. Yes, the stores did carry stuff from the 1980s onwards but nothing earlier. I suppose it will take a lot of patience to track down such music.

I would consider myself lucky then to own some compilation compact discs of Australian oldies pop music, sent to me previously by some friends who used to live there but not anymore. For instance, I've CDs of Johnny Farnham, Russell Morris and Kamahl. I've also a vinyl record of Russell Morris that I picked up second-hand from a shop selling recycled goods. And that's about all.

So it was with much anticipation that this compact disc arrived at my doorstep last week. A compilation double compact disc called Australian Legends. Okay, so not all the music there were from the 1960s or 1970s, but it did contain music that I could remember: songs like Spicks And Specks (1968) by the Bee Gees before they became world famous, The Real Thing (1969) by Russell Morris, Turn Up Your Radio (1970) by Masters Apprentices, Howzat (1976) by Sherbet, A Little Ray Of Sunshine (1970) by Axiom and Jump In My Car (1974) by the Ted Mulry Gang. (But unfortunately, no Eagle Rock by Daddy Cool).

Not too many songs from my youth, actually, but still a completely enjoyable CD set because there were also Help Is On Its Way (1977) by the Little River Band, Are You Old Enough (1978) by Dragon which was basically a New Zealand outfit, Beds Are Burning (1987) by Midnight Oil, Don't Dream It's Over (1986) by Crowded House,To The Moon And Back (1997) by Savage Garden, Jessie's Girl (1981) by Rick Springfield after leaving his Zoot days behind, Live It Up (1984) by Mental As Anything, Down Under (1981) by Men At Work, You're The Voice (1986) by Johnny Farnham, Six Months In A Leaky Boat (1982) by Split Enz and Come Said The Boy (1983) by Mondo Rock. All totally recognisable tunes.

A bit pricey this CD set, costing me USD35 from Amazon, but well worth it for the nostalgia.


stephen said...

Double R B, radio raaf butterworth. Top of the Pops, Shindig and the popular tune of that era was Apache by the Shadows.
Sure bested rangkaian biru by a mile!
I remember going over to the airbase and seeing the radio station and the antennas.
Knew some of the pilots and techs who joined the local flying club. Those were fun carefree times!

VintageDiscoDays said...

RAAF Radio Butterworth was mine and every other RAAF brat's link to the outside world, we loved it and also loved requesting songs on Hitline 600. Your post is fantastic and I am glad that our presence there holds a special place in your heart.

Proud RAAF School Penang Alumni 1982-1984

Anonymous said...

I'm from Bukit Mertajam and I have variety of Australian Artist CDs such as Australian Crawl, Misex, Mondo Rock, Split Enz, Little River Band,Mental as Anything, INXS, Midnight Oil, Men at Work, Skyhooks, and many australian artist compilation cds from the 70s and 80s.