It is more than fifty years since Adelaide musicians Mick Bower and Brian Vaughton formed a band called The Mustangs. When they decided to advertise for a new lead singer, a young man named Jim Keays applied for – and got – the job and the rest is history. From these humble beginnings, a major force was thrust onto the Australian music scene. The Masters Apprentices made their mark and became an important part of our rock and roll soundscape.
Now, five decades later, the original members have reunited and they will be performing as the 1965 Masters Apprentices at the Corner Hotel in Melbourne on Friday, 1st September when they will honour their late bandmate Jim Keays with their first Melbourne show.
I caught up with guitarist and founding member Mick Bower, to talk about the show and a bit of Masters Apprentices’ history.
“There were five of us,” he explains. “The singers came and went in the very early days but we decided we needed to change our tact. We needed to change our repertoire. We were just doing covers. We wanted to go more rhythm and blues. We’d seen an Adelaide group called The Others who were just fantastic and their repertoire of all that blues stuff and we decided that was the direction we wanted to go in so we advertised. The singer we had at the time just wanted to sing Elvis and Cliff Richard all the time and he did that very well but that wasn’t what we wanted.” So they placed an ad in a music shop in Adelaide and three or four people answered the ad and came along for an interview; one of whom was Jim Keays who shared the same musical tastes as the rest of the band. The rest is history. So the band changed their musical direction. “And we started to write our own songs.” Astor Records took an interest in the band and they recorded ‘Undecided’ and ‘War or Hands of Time’.
“And then we went to Melbourne for a week’s work in the middle of winter. We stayed at the Sunshine Caravan Park and that really was a wake-up. You were more dirty when you came back from the showers than when you went over there. You were up to your hocks in mud! It was an experience. I hadn’t been to Melbourne before and coming from a small town like Adelaide, it was a big shock to me. Everything’s happening. It was exciting for young people. We did a few jobs at the Thumping Tum and Sebastian’s and the Biting Eye. Then we came back to Adelaide and we got some good reports from Adelaide and our record ‘Undecided’ was released. Well, it was going to take off, wasn’t it? We were going to be big stars. Week after week went by and nothing happened and it wasn’t until about three or four months went by, that we got a telegram from Melbourne. ‘Undecided’ was No. 4 on 3UZ and after all that time, it finally happened. We wanted ‘War or Hands of Time’ to be the A Side but the DJs around the country who played the songs felt that ‘Undecided’ was the one that was going to go further so that became the A Side.”
“And then it began. We had decisions to make. Are we going to leave our jobs and turn professional? We’re 18 and 19 and our parents supported our music and the band but give up your job and go to Melbourne with no guarantees? That doesn’t sound too smart. But we were up for it. We were young and reckless and believed in ourselves. Brian the drummer stayed in Adelaide and we replaced him with Steve Hoffman who had been drumming for The Others and we were in Melbourne for about four or five months and Rick Morrison our other guitarist became ill. He wasn’t coping with this unhealthy life and he left and went back to Adelaide and we got Tony Sommers who had been playing I think with Johnny Young. Then we commenced recording and so we recorded ‘In a Child’s Dream’. We were doing pretty well around Melbourne and we did a couple of tours of Sydney. We did a lot of touring plus Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday nights we’d be working at the clubs if we weren’t touring. It was a very demanding, draining sort of life.”
The idea to get the band members together again came about when Masters Apprentices were inducted into the South Australian Music Hall of Fame in Adelaide. “We went into the ARIA Hall of Fame some years ago but there was a new South Australian Music Hall of Fame started up in Adelaide and we were inducted into that and so we had to get back together and practice half a dozen songs and so on. We were very well received here in Adelaide and Rob thought to himself well this might have some legs. We’ve done the odd job sparingly since and it’s worked out very well. We were very well received at the Adelaide Fringe. It was a big success. It’s great that there are people from the mid-60s to early 70s who were so into music then and just want to come back and listen to the real thing, the raw rock and roll and blues. It’s the music they remember.”
Unfortunately, Rick and Gavin are not able to make it to Melbourne for health reasons. “Their health is not quite up to it to go interstate at this stage so we’re using John Bywaters from The Twilights and Rick Harrison who replaced me in the Masters. He was there for two or three months, so the line-up for the Melbourne show will be Brian Vaughton, Rob Pippan, Ian ‘Polly’ Politus, John Bywaters, Rick Harrison, Craig Holden, Matthew MacNamee, Nanette Van Ruitin and me. We’re getting a good sound going. Mike Rudd with Spectrum will be opening for us and then I’m pretty sure he’s going to sing ‘Boy from the Stars’, with us as a tribute to Jim.”
Reminiscing about his time with Masters Apprentices, Mick says “It was all a bit magical really. You had to keep your head on your shoulders. You met a lot of interesting people. Some are nice and some not so nice. That’s show business. It’s another life by night and if you’re not terribly used to that, it can be a bit awesome. I have good memories. My best memories are back before we turned professional; before it became a job.”
He recalls how it felt when their single ‘Undecided’ made the charts. “We had been well received wherever we played so we felt pretty positive on the feedback but when we recorded ‘Undecided’, then we knew that it was worth giving it a go.”
“It’s great that we get positive feedback that people liked our songs. We played, I think, an important role in the evolution of popular music in Australia. We had our place and a lot of other bands did too. I suppose we had our share of good fortune as well. A lot of bands that are very, very good don’t get anywhere. You do need to have good fortune.”
1965 Masters Apprentices play one show at the Corner Hotel Friday 1st September. Tickets are available here.
by Sharyn Hamey
Copyright © Sharyn Hamey 2017. All rights reserved