Few musicians can boast that their band has supported Prince in a live performance; mine has. I’m glad you asked. I’ll explain.
In June 1964, young Australians went nuts over a mop-haired band from Liverpool when they arrived at Sydney airport. The Beatles had burst onto Australia’s radio waves and were supporting their latest album with eight performances downunder. Throughout 1964, with a crystal set plugged into my ear in bed at nights, I learned the words to many of their songs.
My parents were less than thrilled by their oldest child’s fascination with a bunch of “long haired yahoos.” In 1962, they’d outlaid the huge sum of ten shillings for a ukulele from Gray’s music store in Kempsey. Its express purpose was for me to learn to play gospel music for their church. However, by 1964, at eleven years of age, I could hack out the four basic chords required to play most of the Beatles’ early songs. By the time the Beatles toured Australia, I’d discovered like-minded classmates in 6thGrade at West Kempsey Public School. With Beatlemania sweeping the country that year, Gibbo, Spud and myself formed a band named the Starlights. Gibbo and I played ukes, Spud thrashed an ancient snare drum and together we sang lyrics with soprano voices of mixed ability.
The Starlights compiled a playlist which we murdered at first, but with practice only maimed. Our favourites were ‘A hard day’s night’, ‘Can’t buy me love’, ‘She loves you yeah yeah yeah’ and ‘She was just seventeen.’
Somehow our trio morphed into a group of four when Geoff Prince inveigled his way into the band. He didn’t play an instrument but was a 12 year old alpha male who insisted that we needed a lead singer if we wanted to become big. Perhaps an earlier comment about my band supporting Prince is beginning to gel; not the late American guitarist Prince, of ‘Purple Rain’ fame; it was Geoff Prince of indeterminate fame.
But Princey made us country kids dream big. At after-school practice sessions he’d initiate discussions and arguments about life after we’d grown up and the Starlights had achieved worldwide fame. Where would we live? We agreed to build one huge house, with a bedroom each. And it had to be in West Kempsey, nowhere else in the world. We drew up rules for the Starlights. No-one was allowed to get married or have kids before 30. We could have girlfriends but they weren’t allowed inside the band’s house. We’d have a band bus with our images on the side. Princey elected himself driver. We never got our name up in lights but in 1964 a new section of footpath in River St, West Kempsey had the word ‘Starlights’ scrawled into freshly poured concrete after council workers had departed. It was Princey’s handwriting.
Our last year in Primary School ground to its conclusion. During the summer school vacation, the local radio station 2KM conducted live one-hour Saturday shows named Teen-Time for kids 13 to 15 years old. There were talent quests, games, quizzes etc and a live audience of noisy teenagers. The Starlights somehow landed a song spot despite two of us being only 11 years old. The compere, Matt Bright, asked introductory questions at the microphone. We answered with an economy of words, except for Princey who unabashedly announced that we’d become the next Fab Four. Then, at a nod from the compere, Princey counted in our gig with a jaunty,
“A one…a two…a one, two, three, four!”
What followed was a slow, painful, dirge-like rendition of the old negro spiritual ‘Swanee River.’ Not even Spud’s drum thrashing could drown it out. What were we thinking to choose that song, given we were Beatles devotees? Polite applause from the audience ensued; the response of Macleay Valley radio listeners remains unknown. Matt Bright thanked us at the mic, and asked if we played any up-tempo songs. We nodded and he invited the Starlights to return the following Saturday.
Our performance of ‘She was just seventeen,’ was received a little more enthusiastically by the teenage audience a week later. At the show’s conclusion, 2KM usually supplied cordial and biscuits for the audience and participants outside the rear of their studio. There was a small shed adjacent which housed hundreds of vinyl singles and LPs in their sleeves. Scruffy Stephenson noticed that the record storage shed was open. Despite everybody knowing that Scruffy was an inveterate fourteen year old liar, we naively believed him when he told us it housed the records which were damaged and due to be discarded. Sugared up on cordial and iced vo-vos, about ten of us, including all four Starlights, began removing records and marvelling at the way they flew in such a straight line through the air as Frisbees. It evolved into a raucous and hilarious vinyl Frisbee melée in the carpark at the back of the studio until the frantic voice of Matt Bright roared from the studio backdoor, “What the hell are you doing to the records? Stop now! Get home before I call the Police! All of you!”
The Great Frisbee incident of 1964 was pivotal but not the sole reason for the demise of the Starlights. Sadly, soprano voices began cracking, skinny legs started sprouting weird hair, and girls became more interesting than ukulele strings as we moved beyond that heady and innocent summer of 64. We never did get to live in the fantasised bandhouse with our agreed set of rules. Princey never got to drive the band’s bus and hell… I married at 21; a flagrant breach of the Starlights’ code!