Have you heard the one about the two Dutchmen, two Englishmen and a Scot who emigrate to Australia?
No-one can remember what day it was at the Villawood Migrant Hostel in Sydney’s western suburbs in 1964 that Stevie Wright from Leeds, George Young from Glasgow, Gordon Fleet from Liverpool and Harry Vanda (nee Vandenburg) and Dick Diamonde (a.k.a Dingeman Van Der Sluys) from the Netherlands formed a band and called themselves The Easybeats.
Picking up manager Mike Vaughan (who heard them at a place called Beatle Village in Sydney), the band signed with Australian Parlophone, released a single called For My Woman, and had a hit. They soon followed that with more hits – a total of seven in a row.
Onstage The Easybeats looked incredible, especially for Australia. Attired in strangely cut black jackets with white pinstripes, and blue trousers split at the bottom where the cuffs normally were, they looked like something out of a pop art fashion show.
They became genuine stars. George’s father had to change houses because the fans found out where they lived and used to hide in wardrobes in his bedroom.
The group decided to go to Britain after Sorry, which was their last record in Australia.
Their big hit, Friday On My Mind (1967) was recorded in London with producer Shel Talmy and rocketed The Easybeats to #1 in Australia and into the Top Ten in the UK. The anthemic song (later also recorded by David Bowie) gave Australian music its first taste of international credibility.
The Easybeats returned to Australia, fired drummer Snowy Fleet (who took over his family’s construction business in Perth), and continued to rule the charts down under for four years.
But contractual complications and a lack of long-term success in England and the US finally led to their break-up in 1969.
Main songwriters Harry Vanda and George Young went on to become involved in a billion worthy projects, including assisting George’s brothers Angus and Malcolm to form AC/DC in the 1970s, and recording as Flash & The Pan. Drummer Tony Cahill wound up in Python Lee Jackson and bassist Dick Diamonde retired to New South Wales.
Stevie Wright, the band’s diminutive Jaggeresque singer meanwhile, took the long, low road into what he euphemistically called ‘Death Valley’. In 1971 Wright was introduced to heroin at a party – it took him twelve and a half years to stop.
In that time he wrecked his marriage, turned down an offer to join Mott The Hoople and worked as a production manager for Alberts Records, The Easybeats’ old label. In 1974 he enjoyed a brief return to #1 in Australia with Evie, a brilliantly-crafted 11-minute pop-rock suite written and produced by Vanda and Young.
To cap the success of the record, a tour of Australia climaxed in a free outdoor concert at the Sydney Opera House where Vanda and Young showed up on stage alongside Stevie for old times’ sake.
But Wright’s addiction won out over his potential new career as he spiralled out of control in the 1980s and 1990s and came close to death on several occasions.
Stevie Wright passed away in December 2015 at Moruya Hospital on the NSW South Coast after falling ill. He was 68.
Gordon ‘Snowy’ Fleet