Hoadley's National Battle Of The Sounds

This legendary national band competition was the annual focal point of Australian pop music from its inception in 1966 until its demise in 1972. It was sponsored by Hoadley's, a large confectionery company (whose famous Violet Crumble Bar, a honeycomb bar coated in chocolate was one of the most popular sweets in the country. The other major sponsor (in the earlier years) was the Sitmar cruise line, who provided the coveted prize of a return trip to the UK on board one of their passenger ships.

Over its seven-year lifepsan, almost every major Australian group had a shot at the competition, either at state or national level. The competition was organised with a series of state heats, followed by a state final; the winner of each state final was selected to compete in the national finals, held in July in Melbourne.

In the national finals, the winners and runners up of the competition were:
Group (home city)
1966 The Twilights (Adelaide)
1967 The Groop (Melbourne) The Masters Apprentices (Adelaide)
1968 The Groove (Melbourne)
1969 Doug Parkinson In Focus (Sydney) The Masters Apprentices (Adelaide)
1970 The Flying Circus (Sydney)
1971 Fraternity (Adelaide)
1972 Sherbet (Sydney)

State winners 1966-72
New South Wales
South Australia
Western Australia
New South Wales
South Australia
Western Australia
South Australia
Tasmania Clockwork Oringe
Western Australia


Written by Terence J. Stacey

(Reproduced from Who's Who of Australian Rock)

Between 1966 and 1972 the Australian pop music scene was annually convulsed and excited by the occurrence of what appears to be a uniquely Australian phenomena  known as the Hoadleys Battle of the Sounds. The Battle of the Sounds was a national rock band contest staged to promote local Australian bands and foster new talent. No other rock music occasion was looked forward to and so eagerly discussed (except for the arrival on our shores of overseas pop acts). When it started Australia was still resounding to the crash of the Beatles/Merseybeat boom. Australia was still suffering from the great cultural  cringe and we musically looked to England, the land of Carnaby Street, for our musical influences, of which even our R 'n B came via the old country. When it finished in 1972 the era of the large Rock Festival and underground/alternative music was well underway and we looked to Woodstock and LA for our influences.

From April to June every year the living rooms, church halls, family garages and anywhere else available of Australia would echo to the sounds of would be rock stars. This sound was produced by mainly young males, playing three guitars and a set of drums, as they rehearsed madly (and often badly) for their mostly one opportunity to have a crack at 'making the big time'. There was no entry fee. You just filled in the form, practised your heart out, turned up on the day and plugged in. Good or bad, you got your one big moment of glory in front of the biggest crowd of  teenagers you would, in most cases, ever play to. If you were lucky and more likely were in the city, you might get your only chance of performing alongside some of the top rock bands of the day such as The Masters Apprentices or Sherbet. This was a time when it was the height of teenage social status to be in a rock band. For a time the girls would take notice of the pale, skinny guys instead of the local hunky footballers. Most were doomed to return to the obscurity whence they came but some made the grade. Even of those bands that didn't make the grade, the contest gave some individuals the taste of fame and hope to go on and reach greater heights in later well known bands and/or as individual musicians and solo artists. It would not be too much exaggeration to say that many of these would later have a profound influence on Australia's later rock music scene.

Each year Everybodys magazine, until 1967, and from 1967 on, Go-Set magazine, would print with  great excitement the details of when and where the Battles would take place, and who were the hot favourites. Readers would wait with bated breath to see who had won the latest heat this week. Was it their favoured local band The Wanderers from Mt David or The Wanderers from Wollongong? Bands with strange farout names would have their one moment of glory in print such as Nanas Passion Poem, Theez Wunz, Olivers Twist and The Eight Feet. Hundreds of teenagers would turn up to the local heats. Thousands to the finals. Great controversies raged over who should or shouldn't have won. Stalwart fans alternately cheered their favourites or ignored and booed other fans favourites.

So where did the great battles of the bands originate? Although the Hoadleys Battle of the Sounds officially started under that name in 1966, the idea of a national band/group contest seems to  have originated 2 years earlier in 1964, the year The  Beatles graced our shores. That was the year when national not feature live performances by contestants. Rather, the 80-90 entrants from around Australia were asked to submit tapes of themselves from which the judges picked the finalists. Only the 13 finalists were required to perform civilised but hardly very exciting!
1st prize was 200 ($400), an appearance on promoter Harry M Millers next Stadium Show, a radio interview and a single record release. First place getters in that contest were oddly enough, a folk group, Melbourne's The Green Hill Singers. Not really odd in retrospect though, given the then still conservative nature of the popular music industry. They went on to cut a long forgotten album, did some TV appearances and then disappeared without trace. 2nd place, which was a tie, was more in the rock vein though. It was shared between a Sydney hotel band called Bobby Gold and the Royals (hotel bands then were usually made up of older musicians who were generally Shadows/ Cliff Richards' clones complete with The Shadows walk and nice suits), and by an instrumental band from Adelaide called The Mystics. Both equally shared the combined 150 pound prize, both released obscure singles and both disappeared back into obscurity. The other 10 finalists remain nameless.

However, the following year things began to hot up when the first, almost national, beat group (rock band) contest was held. I say almost national, because it only covered Sydney and Melbourne. But it was all live and it captured the Mersey Beat hysteria of the times. The Sydney finals, known as the 2SM Sound Spectacular, were held at no less a venue than the Sydney Stadium, place of triumph for such overseas headliners as the Beatles, and it was just as packed and hysterical. Each band's appearance was punctuated by screams from that particular bands fervent fans and supporters. At least you did have some chance of hearing the 65 (yes 65!) bands competing though, unlike when The Beatles were there. For the first time called The  Battle of sponsored by radio stations 3UZ and 2SM respectively in Melbourne and Sydney. The Grand final was held at Melbourne's Festival Hall (where it was held every year up until 1970) before an audience of 6000 and had 18 bands from these two cities battling it out live. There were streamers and balloons and the press in attendance. Top band of the day Ray Brown & The Whispers made a guest appearance.
Hotly contested by some of those two cities  roughest, toughest sounding R 'n B groups it was actually won by an obscure MOR/latest hits/covers band from Melbourne with the unoriginal name of The Crickets. They won by doing songs reaction to their win. As a prize they won a small van and a record contract with the then, new, up-and-coming, very mod, Go!! Records. It seems the judges' (who included then pop idol Ray Brown) faith was not justified as they released one single (on the Leedon  label, not Go) and they too returned to the obscurity whence they came.

Still, the contest must have been an inspiration to some of the entrants. Making the finals as well were bands such as Sydney's Showmen, three members at least going on to play in bands such as those legendary wild men The Missing Links and Pirana. Another band, Melbourne's Rising Sons, contained Keith Glass later of Cam-Pact fame, a stalwart of the Melbourne scene for many years and more latterly a respected country rock singer. Then of course, there were Melbourne's Pink Finks, two  members of which, the Ross's Wilson and Hannaford, went on to such bands as Daddy Cool and Mondo Rock. Ross Wilsons' influence on Australian rock music is still felt today.

Meanwhile not be left out, 1965 was the year Adelaide's thriving music scene had its own Battle of the Bands. Modest by the above standards, with only a dozen or so bands entering, it showed the shape of things to come though, with the then fledgling Twilights taking first place. The success of these contests must have spurred the organisers on to even greater heights because  next year in 1966 was held the first of the truly national band contests we all came to love, and some to hate, known as the Hoadleys Battle of the Sounds. The contest was sponsored by the confectionery company Hoadleys, makers of Australia's own  famous Violet Crumble Bar, and the Sitmar shipping line. The first prize was a trip for the winning band to the hallowed home of beat music, the UK, together with engagements there and $1000 spending money, a princely sum by the standards of the day. All nine grand finalists were to be offered a contract with Go!! Records, although as it transpired two bands were already signed to EMI. The contest was held nationally by having local heats sponsored/organised by 80-90 local radio stations in all states. In the cities these were held at various suburban locations such as high schools, church halls, etc, and in rural areas at larger country centres. Bands then progressed on to larger regional heats. In the larger states, NSW, Victoria and Queensland there was a Country and a City final. The winners of these would then go to a national grand final usually held in Melbourne or Sydney. Over 500 bands entered the first contest, including 100 from Sydney and 120 from Melbourne, nine bands going to the Grand-final. The contest was organised along the lines of a major sporting contest with rules (although there were some odd loopholes) and a set of criteria for judges. This was Rock music's equivalent of the AFL or Rugby League Grand Finals. The judging panel of 4 or 5 persons for the finals usually comprised of a popular solo rock star of the day, a music industry personage such as a music publisher or record producer, and representatives from the sponsors and press. At a local level there was usually a disc jockey or a representative from the local sponsoring radio station among others. Bands were judged on Sound, Originality, Presentation and Audience Reaction. As well they received bonus points for contributing something extra such as a new or unusual instrument. Their were rules about where and when bands could enter. These were that bands could only enter one heat on the same day. They could however enter another heat on another day and in a different place, subject to residential qualifications being decided by the local organisers. As it transpired this turned out to be one of the most controversial rules.

Of the other rules, one of the quaintest however, was that bands could only compete if they had a maximum of 5 members. One can only suppose that this was a carry over from the thought then that anything over that number would include other instruments that weren't in the usual rock band lineup of the day (i.e. 3 guitars, drums and a singer) or maybe the sponsors baulked at having to fork out the fares for more than 5 people to go to the UK. Whatever, and I suppose rather embarrassingly for the organisers, the grand final was won by Adelaide band The Twilights who had 6 members. Their lineup included 2 vocalists, Glenn Shorrock and Paddy Macartney. A rather unusual lineup for the time. However it goes to show Rock music was never meant to go by the rules! So in the Grand final, and presumably the heats, they had to temporarily drop one of the vocalists. Still, after they'd won the contest they came back on their case it was obviously a good choice (Normie Rowe was one of the judges) because they went on to have a number of quality hit records and members Glenn Shorrock and Terry Britten went on to greater things. The former with Axiom and Little River band and the latter as a songwriter/producer for such artists as Tina Turner, Cliff Richard and many others. The 2nd place getters, The Loose Ends, promptly changed there name to The Other Ends and sank back into obscurity after one single release. One young band who, whilst making the Victorian finals didn't make the grand finals, were Strings Unlimited, fronted by a youthful fellow called John Farnham. All the same whatever became of other finalists, Hobart's The Trolls or Perth's Clique?

In 1967 the pace hotted up even further. Winners this year were Melbourne band, The Groop, which included Brian Cadd. They were followed by NSW country representatives, Sydney's The Questions, fronted on vocals by Doug Parkinson. 3rd place getters were Brisbanes The Flamingoes, who immediately disappeared from sight never even releasing a record! The Flamingoes have the distinction of being the only Brisbane band, and the only band outside of Victoria, NSW & South Australia, to make the top three places in the history of the Battles. Some note of cynicism of the original concept of a quest to find fresh new bands must be recorded here since The Groop had already had one hit record Contrary to popular perception in some quarters there was never a rule that said you were unable to enter if you had charted with a hit record! This year too an example of the passions aroused among fans occurred in the up-and-comers, Reverend Black & The Rockin' Vicars, a long haired R 'n B band, who decked out in clerical garb and had a large vocal following. It was reported that the majority of the audience, other bands, and even members of The Wanderers expected Rev Black to win.

The rule about only being able to enter one heat on the same day in their own area came in for some criticism too. It was observed that in Victoria this rule was gotten around when bands who did not win their own heat re-entered in a different place on another day. In this case the band Theez Wunz were beaten by West Side Federation in the Warnambool heats. Theez Wunz then entered in the Hamilton heats and beat JBJ & The Originals. The latter then went into the Ballarat heats and won. They eventually became Victorian Country Grand- finalists. Still they had little hope in the grand-final. The ultimate winners, The Groop, had already had to beat such local heavy-weights as The Vibrants, The Mixtures, The Groove and The Loved Ones to get there themselves. The Loved Ones were reported as being very disappointed at not making the grand-final. They had just been voted most popular band in the Go-Set Readers Pop poll, as well as having had 2 major hit records the year before!
By 1968 the 1st prize was up to $2000 spending money to go with the return trip to the UK. The number of grand-finalists this year was up to 12. 968 saw yet another Melbourne band, The Groove, take out the honours, followed closely by Adelaide's Masters Apprentices and thirdly by Sydney's Doug Parkinson In Focus (a reconstituted version of the previous years place getters, The Questions). Given The Groove's subsequent success, these bore out their potential, although Masters Apprentices had already had 3 national hit records by then. Apart from these 3 bands however the other 9 finalists all sank without trace. That is with the exception of one member of Perth's Beat 'N Tracks. Their lead guitarist, Phil Manning, went on to become a respected blues player with Chain and in his own right. This years grand- final was also notable in that it was the only year that the Northern Territory had its own representative, The Abstract Image, and the third and last time that the ACT/Canberra was represented in its own right. By now too, Go-Set was also eagerly reporting the success or otherwise of the previous years winners trip to the home of beatdom.
1969 seems to have been the peak year for The Battle with around 1000 bands and groups entering. This years battle was also notable in that, for the one and only time, there was a separate section for vocal groups, as well as the usual type of band. There were 2 sets of prizes, 1st in both being, as before, a UK trip and $2000 spending money. The new section was to allow groups that concentrated on vocals and did not accompany themselves to compete, as well as bands that focused on close harmony. It was originally planned to have a separate grand-final for each too, but in the end both grand-finals were held at Melbourne's Festival Hall together. There were 12 grand-finalists in the main section and 6 in the vocal section.

In the main section Sydney band Doug Parkinson In Focus finally cracked it, third time lucky, and took out first place representing Melbourne. In the vocal section a previously unknown band, The Affair from Sydney, took it away. With a lead singer such as Kerrie Biddell they could hardly do otherwise. 2nd place in the main section were Sydney's Aesops Fables. Still trying, but coming in 3rd were The Valentines from Adelaide, who had last made the grand-finals in 1967. The Valentines, a 6 member band, went on to have a hit or two and national fame and one of their lead singers, Bon Scott, achieved everlasting rock fame and martyrdom later in superstar band AC/DC. By this time nothing was said about the old maximum 5 members rule. Aesops Fables returned to Sydney but only went on to limited local success. And what of other finalists such as Adelaide's Limit or Launceston's Pepper Adams? They couldn't have been as disappointed as Flying Circus who had spent a week in the bush practising their harmonies for the vocal section only to have to drop out because their lead singer got a throat infection!

In 1970 the Grand Final, for the first time, was held in Sydney at the Capitol Theatre, with a Sydney band, Flying Circus, winning. Among the judges was pop star Johnny Young. By now airline TAA had taken on sponsorship and the 1st prize now included return tickets to Los Angeles. The change of destination as well seems to mark a re-orientation of Australian rock musics influences and aspirations. This was a year of great controversy for the battle. In Melbourne the all-pink Zoot, recent winners of the Go-Set readers poll were beaten in the Melbourne finals by a virtually unknown band, Nova Express. Notwithstanding this, they both went on to represent Melbourne in the Grand final. Sydney had more than its share when in the Sydney finals, Flying Circus, desperately trying to shake off their bubble-gum image with tight US West coast harmonies and top musicianship, beat brilliant popular local band Autumn, a band virtually unknown outside of Sydney. This decision was greeted by catcalls, boos and general derision by the capacity crowd. They too both went into the grand finals. To compound the controversy Flying Circus came first in the Grand Final the following week, once again beating Autumn, who came 3rd after Zoot. This provoked an even stronger reaction than the previous weeks finals. This time 3/4 of the audience had left within minutes of the winners announcement! In Victoria there was controversy too about the residential qualifications, as out of 8 bands who entered the Morwell heats, 3 were from Melbourne. This years battle was notable as well as both the Sydney final and the Grand final were taped by Radio Station 2SM (who had taken over promotion from 2UE) using studio quality multi-track recording equipment. Given that the Sydney final alone included such luminaries as Pyramid, La-de-das, Pirana and Freshwater, not to mention the Grand-finalists themselves, these historical tapes, which still exist, will surely make an interesting live album when so impressed 2SM that they regularly aired a live recording of them playing it in the contest in prime listening time. This lead to them having a hit with it in Sydney.

Meanwhile, making the Sydney finals this time were a young local band called Elm Tree, which included on vocals, John Paul Young. The Hornsby heats in Sydney also produced the youngest band ever known to enter the battle, The Magpies. Their average age was 12, and featured a 5 year old  Go-Go girl! Notwithstanding their cuteness value they were still beaten by The La-De-Das. Compared to 1970, 1971 was quiet and without the screaming and hysteria of previous battles. It was Melbourne's turn this year to host the Grand final. Although this year Tasmania had only one entry, South Australia for the only time had an extra entry, Impulse, representing their country areas. This left the number of finalists still at 12.

Adelaide's Fraternity, a 6 piece band, took it out this year. This was a departure from previous years as they were more of an alternative music band who concentrated on album material. Certainly not the pretty bubblegum pop image bands who had won it before. Go-Set commented that the battle ended with one of the most popular decisions and was based on ability, not image. Fraternity's win also gave Bon Scott his second place in the finals since he had made it with The Valentines 2 years before. 2nd & 3rd were taken out by two Sydney bands Sherbet, who were fronted by Darryl Braithwaite, and Jeff St John & The Copperwine, the latter well and truly a veteran of the scene by now. Although Jeff St John could hardly be called a new talent, this was Sherbet's big break and from then on they went from strength to strength. Their piece-de- resistance for the battle player swapped his electric bass for a tuba, and played the bass lines contributing something extra such as a new or unusual instrument! As is known, of course, Sherbet realised their potential and went on to a long string of hits in Australia and a number 1 hit in the UK. Other finalists such as Tasmanias' Bacchus and Perth's Barrelhouse, however, went back unheralded  whence they came. It was observed however that  even though a Sydney band, Stafford Bridge, made the grand-finals representing NSW Country, they were good regardless of how they got into the battle.

The last of the Battles was held in 1972. Unlike previous battles, reporting of the results in Go-Set was lacklustre and sporadic. Even the names of all the grand- finalists were not published. This was put down to petrol strikes causing postponements of heats and postal problems which caused results to dribble in. As well their were hassles with the new categories. This year heralded a change from previous battles in that entry was not confined to just bands. 2 new categories were introduced. As well as the usual band section, there was now a solo vocalist section and a songwriters section, the later itself divided into amateur and professional sections. It became more of a talent contest. Times were changing and yesterdays screaming teenbopper audiences had now become older and more serious about their music. The grand final was held in Sydney and this was the year that Sydney's Sherbet took out the honours, winning $3000 cash and a $3000 trip to Los Angeles. Once again they were followed, in 2nd place this time, by Jeff St John & Copperwine. Adelaide's Headband, who made the finals the previous year, took out 3rd place. Solo vocalist was won by Michael Turner (of the band Michael Turner In Session), who was promptly never heard of again and in second place the ever perennial Jeff St John, a double header for him. The songwriters section was won overall by Brian Cadd who won a trip to Tokyo and $1000 cash followed by Glenn Cardier, a singer/songwriter in the introspective mould of the day.
Go-Set was moved to comment that the standard of new bands entering was very poor, singling out only one heavy metal band, Warlock, as showing any potential. It stated there was no competition for the established bands. It is possible that the battle was seen as almost too much part of the establishment, and this coupled with some cynicism about the previous years results, may have dissuaded many of the better lesser known bands from entering. In Melbourne a promoter did what was previously the unthinkable by staging 2 concerts elsewhere on the same day as the Melbourne finals. These featured major alternative and heavier bands such as Matchbox, Country Radio, Murtceps, Tamam Shud & Band of Talabene. The promoter was quoted as saying he regarded the Battle of the Sounds as a ticket to oblivion, and an example of the general Melbourne disinterest in it, where no professional name bands had been entering for the past few years.

Go-Set published what was almost an obituary when it stated that there needed to be a rethink of the battle for next year if there was to be one. Judging musicians and their talents was not like judging a beauty contest. Maybe the industry and public perception of the battle, towards the end, can be gauged somewhat by names of important bands who didn't enter or were unplaced. Bands such as Daddy Cool, Company Caine, Tamam Shud, Blackfeather, Khavas Jute, Coloured Balls, Healing Force, Spectrum and Tully. Any idealism at the battles beginnings was lost in the commercialism and clashes of egos that are inevitably part of the entertainment industry.
The rock music industry has always had its  razamatazy King of Pop/ARIA type awards where the nominators and winners are usually nominated and/or voted in by their peers. But the Battle had a more democratic appeal. Anyone could enter and, by the gauge of audience reaction, everyone had a chance to have their say.

Some cynically saw the battle as already decided, and just a way for already well known top bands to gain prestige and get one over their rivals in a formal sort of situation. However there were some genuine discoveries along the way even if they didn't make the grand finals or the local finals. The battles gave many a band that much needed exposure to a wider audience. This was in a time, particularly in the early days, when major record companies and radio stations ruled the roost almost completely and there was very little in the way of independent record releases or exposure for unknown bands to a wider audience.
Notwithstanding any of this, it cannot detract from the fact that attaining first place was a highly coveted accomplishment. Bands who reached that position represented the highest level of musicianship, vocal ability and presentation of their day. Bands who won or made the finals were highly respected. Even today it is a source of pride among musicians of that era to say that they were in the finals or won their local heat.

Go-Set Magazine 1967 to 1972 (Courtesy of  Mitchell Library, Sydney)
Everybodys Magazine 1964 to 1967 (Courtesy of Mitchell Library, Sydney)
Noel McGraths Encyclopedia of Rock & Pop 1984 - The Singles charts ps.385- 388
Young Modern Magazine 1965 (Courtesy of  Mortlock Collection, State Library of South Australia, Adelaide)

This article © Copyright Terence J. Stacey /  Who's Who of Australian Rock