MILESAGO - People
"A real poet, a famous one."
- Lee Tulloch
Poet, performer, organiser, promoter, raconteur, ratbag, stirrer, hipster ... Adrian Rawlins is all of this and more. He was born in Melbourne, schooled at Yarra Park State School, Koorong, Melbourne High School and the Cash family kitchen. He was hailed as a poet by Hal Gye, Clair White, Dame Edith Sitwell (whom he met in the 60s) and Shelton Lea.
Adrian has performed and read poems all over Australia. He consciously avoided the literary 'establishment,' insisting on publishing in 'obscure' venues: The Age Green Guide, Music Maker and Radiation from Space (a radical 'zine). In the early sixties he presented poetry and jazz for a longer period than Ferlinghetti, (Ferlinghetti said so in 1972). Nevertheless, he has been published widely and is one of Australia's best-known modern poets.
Adrian will be remembered by many as the presenter of Australia's only weekly poetry and jazz session on Australian radio in 1960-1961. He was closely associated with the famous Melbourne jazz venue Fat Black Pussycat, located at 90 Toorak Road, South Yarra. It was founded in 1963 by Ali Sugerman and functioned as a jazz club under Adrian's ownership from 1965 until 1966, when it became a discothèque. The club opened with a group led by Barry McMinn and Heinz Mendelson and went on to engage other important musicians of the younger generation of modernists, including Brian Brown and Bernie McGann. The Fat Black Pussycat was the most important center in Melbourne for contemporary and experimental jazz after Horst Liepolt's Jazz Centre 44 switched to presenting mainly "trad" jazz.
One of Adrian's claims to fame is that he hung out with Bob Dylan on his famous 1966 Australian tour with The Band, as documented by Dylanologist Patricia Jungwirth:
"When Dylan was in Melbourne in 1966 he (Rawlins) got a journalist's ID card as he was writing for a University magazine and wanted to talk to Dylan. He is an eccentric figure, well known on the Melbourne scene - still does readings, etc. I met him at a Dylan concert in '92 - he was in contact with Bob til a few years ago, probably offended him.
He spoke at Melbourne Dylan convention in '94 (I have a tape of his talk - he's not always accurate however!), published a monograph "Dylan: Through the looking glass" (Carlton: All Night Cafe, 1994. ISBN: 0646177125) of his thoughts & reminiscences on Dylan.
True story: Pete Steedman, who later became a Labour politician, lived next door to Adrian in 1966. He was woken in the early hours of the morning by loud knocking & shouting at his front door. Being rather nervous, he grabbed a carving knife and cautiously opened the door ... to find Dylan demanding to see Adrian, not taking no for an answer & pushing his way into the house!
Also in 1966 Adrian featured in an interview in Peter L. Lamb's pop-culture documentary APPROXIMATELY PANTHER, in which he commented on the direction of music scene and youth culture.
During his time in Sydney in the late 60s, Adrian became friends with Sydney poet, musician and mystic Nevil Drury:
"Stephen (Skinner), like me, was interested in publishing, and really I credit him with making the first attempt at a counter-cultural magazine in Australia. It's possible that there are others that we don't know about, but in 1968 we began a thing called Chaos which was an attempt to straddle a few interesting areas, things on psychedelia, progressive sculpture, contemporary graphic art, electronic visuals. It wasn't really a commercial publication; more along the lines of the Berkely Barb and The Oracle. The psychedelic counter-culture seemed to be arriving at the Cross rather quickly - you felt that you were part of the sixties up there.
Chaos didn't work. It was just handed round on the streets, left at coffee shops and that sort of thing. People like Adrian Rawlins would surface and take a pile of them around the shop. Adrian was the original hippy, a convert to Meher Baba. His other claim to fame was that when Bob Dylan came to Australia, in 1966 I think it was, Adrian Rawlins was allegedly the only person that Dylan says ever understood him. So Adrian was a really hip person to know."
In 1968-69 Adrian was closely involved with expatriate New Zealand band The La De Das. In late 1968 the La De Das had secured a deal to record an ambitious concept album, a suite of songs built around the classic Oscar Wilde story The Happy Prince. Organist Trevor Wilson had devised the idea in New Zealand in early 1967, while the band were recording their second LP. He nursed it along until mid 1968, when they were offered the chance to record the album for the newly launched Sweet Peach label, founded by expatriate American produced Jimmy Stewart and singer-songwriter Doug Ashdown. Adrian attended many of the rehearsals for the album, and was profoundly impressed with the work, going so far as to compare the music to Dvorak.
Unfortunately Sweet Peach cancelled the deal in late 1968, leaving the disappointed Wilson with little hope of ever realising the project. However, on his way north to Townsville in December 1968, Adrian stopped off in Sydney to catch the La De Das at the Here Disco in North Sydney. Learning of the collapse of the Sweet Peach deal, he exhorted the band not to give up and his enthusiasm convinced organist and main writer Trevor Wilson to give it one more try. Gathering support from manager Harry Widmer and the Cordon Bleu agency, Barry Kimberly of publishers Essex Music, and EMI, Wilson managed to stitch together a deal to record the album for EMI under producer David Woodley-Page. Adrian was invited to read the excerpts from Wilde's story, which were used to the link the various musical segments.
In January 1970 Adrian was the MC at Australia's first rock festival, the "Pilgrimage For Pop" held at Ourimbah on the NSW central Coast over the Australia Day long weekend. In January 1971 he also hosted the Myponga and Wallacia festivals.
Adrian's voice appears on the album Twelve Selves (Voiceprint 1993 CD) by former Soft Machine member Hugh Hopper. The album includes voice loops recorded by Hopper in 1963, and also features the voices of Daevid Allen, William Burroughs and Arthur Brown.
Adrian also appears reading his poetry in the film JOHN OLSEN: JOURNEY THROUGH "YOU BEAUT" COUNTRY.
References / Links
Who is Adrian Rawlins?
Adrian Rawlins bio in "Divan"
Bob Dylan Who's Who
Shadowplay interview with Neville Drury
Olsen without 'artspeak'
Xrefer: Australia: Nightclubs & other venues
Hugh Hopper discography
Poems by Adrian on the Divan website:
Barrett 6 August 1995
Palmer Street 1963
The Art of Sally Smart
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