‘It was fifty years ago today…’
‘It was fifty years ago today’, to adapt the Fab Four’s famous line, that their album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, was released. With the album often described as ‘the soundtrack to the Summer of Love’, it is fitting that the organisers of this year’s upcoming RockFest have chosen ‘Songs of Peace and Protest’ as its theme.
Over the last two weeks, more than twenty student bands have played their heart out in auditions for RockFest in the hope of being selected for the RockFest Concert.
RockFest, like rock music itself, is now something of an institution. The performance showcase of the College’s Contemporary Music program, RockFest was inaugurated in 2007 to increase the musical spectrum of performance and creativity available to our students. A ‘rock culture’ had already been developing at Newington: a Rock Band program was started by the Music Department in 2005 and, the next year, a group of Year 11 boys competed in Abbotsleigh’s Battle of the Bands. Both the Preparatory Schools were also incorporating rock music in their programs at this time.
Newington’s rock roots go back much further, however. The School Concert of 1960 was closed by a student rock and roll band, ‘Ricky and the Ramrods’. It seems that Newington was not yet ready to rock: the performance was reported as ‘somewhat marred by the lack of atmosphere and audience response.’
The Old Newingtonian who best fitted the description of 1960s protest singer was Gary Shearston (ON 1955). Best known for his deadpan cover of Cole Porter’s ‘I Get a Kick Out of You’, a hit in 1974, he was a singer/songwriter with a strong social conscience, as well as a researcher and interpreter of traditional bush songs. He recorded his first album in 1964 and another thirteen over the succeeding decades, the last in 2012, the year before he died.
Bruce Belbin (ON 1967) was a member of the Guitar Club at school and, by the time he left Newington, was already performing in a band outside school. Subsequently he played bass in the blues-rock band Gutbucket and then in the short-lived but seminal progressive rock outfit, Galdriel.
Alan Sandow (ON 1970) left Newington in 1968 and, in July the next year, aged seventeen, joined a new band called Sherbet as their drummer. He played with them for the next fifteen years during their heyday as one of Australia’s most successful pop/rock outfits, as well as more recent reunions.
Crispin Dye’s (ON 1970) talents as a musician and actor were well established before he left Newington, notably through a remarkable 1970 musical adaptation of ‘The Tempest’. His major contribution to rock was as a band manager over a period of fifteen years, including seven managing AC/DC in the 1980s, when he helped them become one of the world’s biggest bands. He was celebrating the success of his first solo album when his life was tragically cut short by a violent assault in 1993.
As we journey back through fifty years of songs of peace and protest at RockFest, we can reflect on the long involvement of Newington and Newingtonians in rock and contemporary music.
RockFest 17: Songs of Peace and Protest takes the stage of the Centenary Hall on the evening of 17 June.
Mr David Roberts