Friday, 11 March 2011
Someday/Is It Raining
Guitarist, singer, songwriter and author Tony Barber is one of the unsing heroes of the Beat Boom in Australia. Rock historian Dean Mittelhauser considered him "one of our most underrated performers from the Sixties" and felt that Tony had "played a bigger part in the success of Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs that has been generally credited".
Tony was one of the many music-crazy young migrants who arrived in Australia in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and he had played in a minor band called The Electrons before leaving the UK. Within weeks of his arrival in Australia in 1964 he met a cocky young singer called Billy Thorpe in Kings Cross and he was immediately drafted in as the fifth member of Billy's backing band, The Aztecs. Tony was already developing into a competent pop writer and he composed both sides of the Aztec's first single "Blue Day" / You don't love me", released on the Linda Lee label in April 1964.
Two days before The Aztecs' next recording session, Tony received a 'care package' from his brother in the UK that contained the Rolling Stones' first EP. Afer hearing The Stones' version of Lieber & Stoller's "Poison Ivy", Tthe Aztecs decided to record the song on their next single. It's now a matter of history that their version (widely regarded as being superior to The Stones') shot to #1, became one of the biggest Australian pop hits of the year, kept The Beatles out of the top spot in the Sydney charts in the very midst of their tour, and made Billy and The Aztecs into national stars. Tony featured on the next three Aztecs singles, "Mashed Potato" "Sick and Tired" and "Over The rainbow" -- all of which were major hits -- but in late 1965 Tony and the rest of The Aztecs quit en masse, mainly because of ongoing financial wrangles with manager John Harrigan.
After leaving The Aztecs, Tony and fellow Aztec Vince Maloney formed the shortlived Vince & Tony's Two, with John Shields on bass and Jimmy Thompson on drums. In late 1965 Tony was signed as a solo artist to the newly formed Everybody's label, which had been established by Clyde Packer's Consolidated Press. Tony's solo debut single (produced by Nat Kipner) was a thumping beat original called "Someday", which it was one of the first (and only) four singles issued on Everybody's. None of these singles -- including Tony's -- was unsuccessful on first release because of resistance from radio DJs who (not unreasonably) regarded the label as blatant cross-promotion for Packer's Everybody's magazine and refused to name it on air.
The label was hastily rebadged as Spin Records and Tony's single was re-issued in February 1966. This time it took off, becoming a major hit that peaked at #7 in Sydney and #11 in Melbourne. Tony released four more singles on Spin -- "Wait By The Water" (Apr. 1966), "Wondrous Place" (July '66), "Lookin' for a better day" (Jan. 1967) and "Bird's Eye View", which was written for a long-forgotten TV documentary. Tony was also granted the rare privilege of recording an entire LP, entitled Someday ... Now!, on which he was backed by labelmates Steve & The Board and The Bee Gees.
Although he was signed to Spin as a recording artist, Tony also worked with another independent label during this period, the Melbourne-based Phono Vox. He produced several singles by Phon Vox artists, including Denise Drysdale and The Bentbeaks, and he also wrote the A-side of Denise's single "Sunshine Shadow". In late 1967, after his Spin contract had ended, Tony released one single under his own name on Phono Vox, but this proved to be his swansong as a recording artist. During 1967 Tony married his girlfriend Sue Peck, a staffer with Go-Set magazine, and soon after he left the pop scene to concentrate on business ventures and raising a family. In the 1980s he reunited with his old friend Billy Thorpe in the successful 'Sunshine Friends' soft toy enterprise.
In 2002, after more than thirty years away from the limelight, Tony reunited with Billy and the original Aztecs for the historic Long Way To The Top concert tours. His experiences inspired him to write a memoir of the tour and his early days as a pop musician, entitled Long Way Til You Drop. Regrettably, there was opposition to the book from some of those involved in the LWTTT tour, fuelled by pre-publication media hype that suggested it would be a tell-all exposé. In the event, Tony's book proved to be an entertaining, witty and affectionate account of an important chapter in Australian rock history.