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Normie Rowe in Melbourne for ANZAC Show at MEMO Music Hall

Normie Rowe began his popular singing career while a young teenager and gathered a youthful following. After producing his first record in 1965, he quickly rose to national fame, becoming Australia’s King of Pop in 1968. He had a number of big hits, including “It ain’t necessarily so”, and “Que sera sera”. Normie’s name came up in first 1968 intake. Most conscripts were selected by a ballot of birthday dates but Normie would find out much later, that his birthday was not one of those that was drawn out. It has been suggested by many, that Normie had been conscripted because of who he was. He served time in Vietnam, and was one of the lucky ones to return. But those two years away from his fans cost him dearly. Australia had a new King of Pop in Johnny Farnham. Normie Rowe will be in Melbourne from Wed 21 April ahead of his ANZAC weekend show at MEMO Music Hall – where he recorded his 1965 hit “ It Aint Necessarily So”,

Rowe’s career was suddenly interrupted when he was called up to do National Service. The press followed his military service, but it was no substitute for the attention he had received as a touring and recording celebrity. He was duly sent to serve in Vietnam with A Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment. In Vietnam he commanded an armoured personnel carrier, describing the work as, “out on the highway, protection for vehicle convoys and land-clearing teams … taking in infantry, and things like that”. Following his year’s active service he was released from the army.

After his discharge Rowe found it hard to take up his career where he had left off. Nevertheless, he gradually re-established himself in the entertainment industry and later moved into television, theatre, and recording. In 1987 he had an important role in the stage musical Les Misérables. He closely identifies himself with Vietnam veterans groups and actively supports them. Rowe has said of his National Service days: “You can look at your life and say that wasn’t fair and that killed your career … or you can look back and take out of that segment of your life whatever was good. The best friends that I’ve got are Vietnam veterans.” Make no mistake, Normie Rowe & The Playboys were huge! The nearest to them was The Easybeats. They’ve never sounded better - and they’ve never had more fun. In December 1964 they were playing dances in the Northern suburbs of Melbourne, experimenting with sounds and songs. Within months they were appearing on the GO!! Show and Normie was about to become the most successful Pop artist in Australian music history. An extra-ordinary run of hit singles followed – “It Ain’t Necessarily So”, “Que Sera Sera”, “I Who Have Nothing” and “Shakin’ All Over” were the monsters but then there was “Pride & Joy”, “Stubborn Kinda Guy”, and on it went to England and “It’s Not Easy” and “Ooh La La”. The current line-up sees original drummer Graham “Trotta” Trottman joined by “new boy” of 25 years, Steve Kelson (keyboards) and ex-Aztec Gil Mathews (guitar). Australia’s biggest pop star of the sixties, Normie Rowe defied the logic of the times. His period of peak popularity came when the Beatles were dominating the charts around the world. It was the period of popular music where most established solo singers were suddenly banished from the charts, and young singers were joining or forming bands. And yet, here was this Melbourne teenager creating pop riots and becoming the first Melbourne recording artist to achieve a national Australian No.1..

________________________________________ Born on February 1, 1947 Normie emerged to stardom with one leg planted in the past, and the other stepping into the future. In those days the way into a music career was to attend a music school. Normie had already sung in the local church choir and performed in a high school band when at the age of 14 he appeared at his music school’s concert and was spotted by the concert’s compere, prominent Melbourne radio personality Stan Rofe. Impressed, Stan made the appropriate introductions to dance promoters. By the time he released his first single Normie already had several years of experience behind him, in the traditional dance circuit where (as in the Big Band era) several featured singers stepped up to perform in front of the house band/s. The Beatles era changed all that, but Normie had served his apprenticeship that way. At the same time, he was one of the first Melbourne entertainers with the ‘long hair’ of the new Beatles-influenced music era. Famously, Normie had to choose between his hair and his job with the PMG (now Telstra). He chose his hair and singing. EMI had its chance to sign Norm, but EMI Sydney said he couldn’t sing. Festival, through Brisbane independent label, Sunshine Records, offered him the chance instead. The first single, on a suggestion from mentor Stan Rofe was a version of the “Porgy And Bess” stage musical song, “It Ain’t Necessarily So”. Rofe had heard an updated version on a Searchers’ album from England. In Normie Rowe’s hands it drove a wedge right through the generation gap. Not only was he long-haired, he was suggesting that “the things that you’re liable, to read in the Bible” weren’t necessarily true. Controversy! The fact that the song came from an established musical, meant it couldn’t be dismissed out of hand. It became a top ten hit. No. 1 in Sydney. For his second single, Normie dived into Stan Rofe’s vast record collection and came up with Ben E King’s “I Who Have Nothing”. Another top ten. The third single took the nation by storm. On one side the pop singer revived and energised Doris Day’s “Que Sera Sera”; on the other side he recorded English rock’s only pre-Beatles classic, “Shakin All Over”. Both sides received massive airplay and carried the single to No.1 nationally, accompanied by the constant “Normie Rowe riot” headlines generated by the singer’s live performances. The head of Sunshine records, Ivan Dayman, also Normie’s manager, ran a long-established string of national venues. He knew the art of promotion. Legend has it that the security guards hired to protect Normie from his enthusiastic fans were also under instructions to trip the singer or push him off stage into the arms of his fans, ensuring those “riots”. Venues were also crowded beyond capacity, resulting in the precursor of the now established “Mosh-Pit”, and fans fainting from more than Normie Rowe worship. However it happened, it all made for great pictures and headlines in the newspapers. The hits kept coming. Normie Rowe and his group The Playboys became the star attraction of the Sunshine tours, which criss-crossed the eastern coast of Australia., with Normie, on a bus with all the rivals for his crown as Australia’s No.1 King Of Pop, Sunshine Records table-mates, Tony Worsley and Mike Furber, anxious to upstage him. While The Beatles created their “Beatle-Mania”, Normie certainly created “The Normie-Frenzy”.


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