The soulful, gutsy voice of Bobbi Marchini was a familiar sound on the healthy Sydney concert and disco circuit during the early 70s, and she was in demand as a session singer as well. Regrettably, she had little opportunity to show her vocal skills to the full, and her discography only hints at her true power as a singer -- her performances on the Duck LP are probably the best extant examples of her work -- and it's also unfortunate that her professional career was so short, lasting only around 5 years.
Bobbi (who was born Roberta Turnbull) grew up in Tasmania and left home at 14; for the next few years she performed with various bands in and around Hobart, where she soon earned a reputation as the best female rock singer in the state. She eventually moved to Sydney in 1971, aged just 21, where she joined soul-rock band Hunger. At that time the group had also just been joined by leading Sydney guitarist-composer John Robinson. John had been the founder member of Blackfeather, whose original lineup -- Robinson, Leith Corbett and Mike McCormack -- had come direct from the Dave Miller Set in early 1970, with the addition of singer Neale Johns. After several lineup changes they recorded their acclaimed album At The Mountains Of Madness and the hit single Seasons Of Change. By mid-'71 after numerous lineup changes the band consisted of Johns, Robinson, original DMS bassist Harry Brus and drummer Steve Webb, but it collapsed messily in August 1971 when Neale Johns was sacked. Robinson and the other members briefly continued as Blackfeather, but Johns set up a rival version of the band with bassist Warren Ward , drummer Jim Penson , guitarist Zac Zytnick (ex-Tamam Shud) and pianist Paul Wylde. Johns also took legal action to prevent Robinson from using the Blackfeather name and unfortunately for John, Hary and Steve, he was successful -- unbeknownst to them, former Blackfeather agent Peter Conyngham (of Nova Agencies) had registered the name and owned the rights to it. Johns took it over and the 'new' Blackfeather had major success in '72 with the single Boppin' The Blues and the an album of the same name. The group continued through many incarnations for several more years.
Left high and dry by the Blackfeather debacle, Robinson joined Hunger, who were at the time the house band at Jonathon's Disco in Sydney, and shortly afterward he recruited Bobbi, newly arrived from Tasmania, as lead singer.
In early '72 several Hunger members hooked up with producer-singer-songwriter G.Wayne Thomas, who had recently made his name with production and songs for the hugely successful MORNING OF THE EARTH soundtrack. Bobbi, John and Steve became the core a new "supergroup" called Duck, with the lineup completed renowned jazzer and session pianist Bobby Gebert (who worked with many well-known rock bands including Tully), bassist Teddy Toi (ex-Aztecs, Fanny Adams, Wild Cherries and percussionist Larry Duryea (ex Tamam Shud.
Thomas originally intended Duck as a 'studio-only' project, featuring only cover versions of songs by major overseas acts. No doubt this was to maximise his own earnings on the album (and presumably the group were only paid session rates). They recorded 16 tracks at Melbourne's TCS Studios, although only 12 were eventually released. Singer Jon English (ex-Sebastian Hardie) performed lead vocals on several songs, alternating with Bobbi. The resulting LP, Laid, released in July 1972, was a mixed bag, but included some strong tracks including Neil Young's Southern Man, Bill Withers' Ain't No Sunshine, Frank Zappa's Dog Breath and Nick Gravenites' Buried Alive in the Blues. Two Duck singles were issued -- the first, Sweet Inspiration/Southern Man came out before the LP in May 1972, followed by their version of Paul McCartney's Maybe I'm Amazed b/w The Man in Me in September. Encouraged by the results of the project, the core members of the band decided to become a permanent outfit and hit the boards. But by the time they premiered as a live act, Jon English was already ensconced as 'Judas' in Harry M. Miller's production of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR so his place was taken by former Wild Cherries lead singer Danny Robinson for touring. Guitarist Russell Smith (Company Caine, Mighty Kong) also toured with them.
According to contemporary reports, the group suffered from the all-too-familiar management woes, and both Bobbi and and John have confirmed that the group's relationship with G. Wayne Thomas was part of the problem. Clearly this was not an isolated incident, since it is known that the members of Tamam Shud, who featured prominently on the Morning Of The Earth soundtrack, were never paid for their contributions to that album and have never seen a cent from it to this day. When Bobby fell ill in late 1972 she went into hospital for an appendectomy and when she came out, Duck had folded.
In early '73 Bobbi -- like her friend and colleague Allison McCallum -- came to the attention of flamboyant English impresario Simon Napier-Bell. Under his guidance she signed with Alberts and cut the first of a string of pop-soul singles for Albert Productions. Working My Way Back To Youb/w I've Found My Way was first in March '73 (note: the A-side was an original Vanda-Young song, not the Spinners classic); next came Show And Tell / Voodoo Woman in November. Her 1974 releases included You're The Hand That Feeds My Love / London Town in March '74 and Home / I Love You Lord in August. While they were all well-made records, produced by the winning Vanda-Young team, Albert's gave relatively little attention to their female artists and none save Cheetah and Allison McCallum had any significant chart success. However they did serve as Bobbi's calling card for prestige engagements as a sought-after backing vocalist.
In October '74, Bobbi joined Allison and Janice Slater in the cheekily-named Hooter Sisters to release the one-off double-cover single, So Tough / To Know Him Is To Love Him. Bobbi's other notable session contributions include backing vocals on Abigail's Top Ten 1973 hit Je T'Aime, the classic La De Das '73 LP Rock & Roll Sandwich, work on 1973's Survival's A Song by folkster Graham Lowndes and on Pity For The Victim, the 1974 solo release from John Robinson, and which featured most of the members of Duck. She continued performing until 1976, when she left Australia, never to return. In a recent e-mail to us Bobbi (who now lives in Europe) commented:
"I left Australia in '76 and settled on a Greek island in the 80s. It was impossible for me to contemplate a lifetime of clubs (RSLs etc), so I bit the bullet and left. It was very hard, and strange not to be singing at first and I still miss it, but ..."
Bobbi has generously offered MILESAGO the opportunity to talk further with her, and we will certainly pursue this in the near future and expand this modest feature. It's a measure of the affection with which such performers view that amazing early-70s Aussie musical boom, when Bobbi observed: "It is very important that what we all achieved back then be recognised by the ones coming along behind us. Do you remember the terrible equipment? The Cheetah Room? Jonathons?"
From the scrapbooks ...
BOBBI SINGS NOW TO EXIST
(publication unknown, but probably Sydney Daily Mirror or Daily Telegraph, ca. March 1973)
It's a sad day when a great group like Duck disbands, and an even sadder when a talented rock singer has to sing commercial songs to exist.
But these sad happenings involved Bobbi Marchini, the talented 23-year old Sydney singer.
About 18 months ago Bobbi gathered around her some of the best musicians in town.
After six months, Duck turned into one of the tightest rock groups around.
"We were having management hassles when I went into hospital to have my appendix out."
"When I was released I found Duck had broken up," she said.
"We just weren't making an money out of being a rock band because the musicians were just too good."
After Duck split up Bobbi got into the club circuit because there was always work there.
Bobbi started singing in Tasmanian bands when she was 14.
When she was 21 she left Tasmania as the top female singer for the mainland.
About a week ago Bobbi released a new version of an old song of hers, Working My Way Back To You, written by Harry Vanda and George Young, both ex- Easybeats.
"This record is already getting airplay in Sydney."
This record shows what I like doing, but to get work I have to sing commercial songs."
It's so sad to see Bobbi performing now in hot pants and boots, wasting her talents singing about being close to you in front of patrons at the Coogee Oceanic.
[publication unknown, possibly Daily Mirror, probably early 1972]
What a week! Thorpie arriving, kiddies chundering, Jonathon's burning ...
With barely a quack to herald its arrival, it seems that Kinney Records (luminous distributors of Reprise, Atlantic and the like) are about to unveil their supergroup Duck.
The founding force is guitarist John Robinson, who has been very quiet since his spectacular success with the old Blackfeather's Mountain of Madness album. Former Blackfeather drummer Steve Webb will also be in Duck, along with respected pianist Bobby Gebert.
Bobbie Marchini will be the singer ... and there's one lady I owe an apology to ... I wrote a story naming her as Bobbie Marachino, and ever since then people have been making jokes about glazed cherries.
* * *
Duck plan to make their first appearance in three weeks' time, and there's also mention of an album to be made featuring Jon English (Judas in Superstar) as guest singer. Jon in actual fact has been writing pop songs for some time. He was contracted to Essex Music long before entering Superstar.