Having previously written books about other Aussie legends like John Farnham, Malcolm Young and Daniel Johns, author Jeff Apter has today released a new biography on The Easybeats' founding member George Young, 'Friday On My Mind'. Read this exclusive extract from the book which details a memorable experience the band had following a Melbourne show...
She’s So Fine was a huge turning point for George and the band. They’d proved that it was no longer necessary to cover an existing hit to make the Australian charts. Tellingly, while She’s So Fine was on top of the charts, Aussies Billy Thorpe, Ray Brown and Normie Rowe all had top 10 hits and not one of them was self-penned.
But there was a downside to success, especially for George. Up until then, he’d been more than ready to ‘play the game’, to call phone-in lines and press the flesh with DJs and other people of influence. Yet the band’s live shows were becoming little more than an opportunity for their many female fans to scream their lungs raw or pass out in excitement. It was a kind of hysteria rarely witnessed this side of The Beatles. Stevie Wright would further ramp up the madness when he turned away from the crowd during his soggy ballad In My Book and rub onion peel in his eyes. The tears that rolled down his cheeks induced even louder screams. (If he didn’t have an onion handy, Wright would simply poke himself in the eye—anything to get the waterworks flowing.)
The press swiftly dubbed this phenomenon ‘Easyfever’ and it was on full and fervent display during a gig at Festival Hall in Melbourne during September 1965. Local journalist Maggie Makeig covered the show. ‘A high-pitched roar hit the ceiling,’ she wrote. ‘Little Stevie, hair flying, hips gyrating, hands stabbing the air, threw himself into the spotlight.’ According to Makeig, it was She’s So Fine that inspired the chaos that abruptly ended the concert. ‘They stopped the show before The Easybeats had finished their bracket.’
George and the band were now confronted with the problem of leaving the venue. That wasn’t easy because the streets around Festival Hall were clogged with fans, some angry at the show being cut short, others simply in thrall to their new heroes and determined to get one more look at them, maybe even grab a souvenir. A tuft of hair would do the job.
The band jumped into a taxi and the driver slowly made his way through the crowd. However, when he stopped for a red light, kids clambered like insects all over the car.
‘Get out!’ the cabbie roared at the band.
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‘Mate,’ George told him, ‘we’ll be killed if we get out. And our manager is seven foot four and he’ll kill you!’
Young (far left) with The Easybeats
The cabbie reluctantly drove on and finally got the band back to their hotel unscathed.
However, the drama didn’t end there. The next day the driver returned, demanding restitution. ‘He was Italian and was shouting mightily at the outrage on his taxi,’ said
George, who knew exactly what to do.
‘We served him many bottles of beer,’ George reported. He also slipped him some cash.
Things went from mad to manic when George and Stevie returned to the Young family home in Burwood for what they hoped would be a brief respite from the chaos. In a gesture that must have irked George hugely, local magazine Everybody’s printed his address, and, as The Sydney Morning Herald reported in mid-July, that’s when the Burleigh Street riot began.
‘Crowds of young fans several hundred strong started to gather around the house,’ the Herald reported, ‘breaking windows, obstructing the street and even breaking into the house. Several times the police have been called to restore order.’
George’s ten-year-old brother Angus returned home from school just as the riot broke out. He slowly made his way to the front gate but was challenged by a policeman who was trying to hold back the crowd.
‘I live here,’ Angus insisted. ‘Let me in!’
‘They’re all saying that,’ the copper told Angus. ‘Get lost.’
Angus was forced to jump the back fence to get into his own home.
George once let slip that he thought meeting girls was a great by-product of being in The Easybeats but finding them in his wardrobe was a step too far. ‘We’ve found them under our bed and everything,’ he told the Herald. ‘My parents are furious.’ George’s mother chased overzealous fans out of the house with a broom. George and Stevie were forced to move out. It wasn’t fair on George’s family.
This type of chaos was taxing enough, but more crucially it was the sonic roar generated by fans at their shows that didn’t sit well with George. The Beatles were facing a similar situation; they, too, were fast growing tired of not being heard when they played live. George wanted to grow as a musician, and that wasn’t going to happen when he could just as easily mime their songs on stage.
George said this years later when asked about Easyfever: ‘We went out and did one half-hour, nobody could hear, we could have gone out and picked our noses, it wouldn’t have made any difference.’
George was just eighteen years old, and the transition from migrant hostel to top of the pops had come about at breakneck speed.
Friday on My Mind by Jeff Apter (Allen&Unwin) is out now for $29.99.