Friday, May 30, 2008

Ol '55 Do An Aussie Sha Na Na

Ol' 55 formed in Sydney during 1975, taking their name from the title of a Tom Waits song. But the music their image and the music they would perform could not have been further from Tom Waits. The band were managed by Glenn A. Baker and he played a hand in establishing their image and sound. Just as Sha Na Na and Flash Cadillac & The Continental Kids had done in America, Ol' 55 decided Australia were due an offering of 50s style rock ‘n’ roll delivered by a band that looked like that had just enjoyed a quantum leap direct from, yep that’s right 1955. (‘Happy Days’ was at the height of its popularity after all)

The authentic fifties rocker attire, greased up hairstyles added to the band’s strong stage presence and theatrics, but that would have been nothing had they not been able to deliver musically. Ol’ 55 were fronted by former chartered accountant Peter Bryan AKA the larger than life Frankie J. Holden (in honour of the iconic FJ Holden car). The band’s original lineup also featured Rockpile Jones (rhythm guitar/vocals), Patrick Drummond (lead guitar/vocals), Jimmy Manzie (bass/vocals), Wilbur Wilde (saxophone) and Geoff ‘Stovepipe’ Plummer (drums).

It didn’t take long for the slick stage act delivering a mix of classic rock numbers combined with 50s style original material (written by Manzie) to build up a strong following on the live circuit. Within a year they had released their first national top 20 single with ‘On The Prowl’. The song was lifted from Ol’ 55’s debut album ‘Take It Greasy’ which would eventually climb to #2, selling double platinum and spending 39 weeks on the charts. Their cover of ‘Looking For An Echo’ broke the band into the OZ Top 10 in mid ‘76, and this was quickly followed up by the irresistibly catchy Christmas song ‘(I Want A) Rockin’ Christmas’ which soured all the way to #7 in time for the festive season. Ol’ 55 became a regular on the ABC’s Countdown over this time, and for a while they were flying high with the likes of Sherbet and Skyhooks.

Early ‘77 saw a drummer recruited in Geoff ‘Spud’ Peterkin, and shortly after ‘C’mon Let’s Do It’ became the band’s 4th top 20 single in a row. By mid ‘77 both Frankie J. Holden and Wilbur Wilde had left the lineup, Wilde went on to join Jo Jo Zep & The Falcons shortly after. Mike Raffone was brought in to take on the lead vocals (ex-Silver Studs whose biggest hit was ‘Happy Days’). A second album ‘Fiveslivejive’ had been recorded prior to Holden/Wilde leaving but upon its release it failed to live up to the success of ‘Take It Greasy’.

A new single was recorded and released late in ‘77, ‘Stay (While The Night Is Young)’ reached #11. By 1978 Ol’55 were reduced to a five piece featuring Jones, Drummond, Manzie sharing the vocal duties. Ol’ 55 also tried their hand at a more contemporary power pop sound on their next single ‘Feels Like A Summer’s Night’ (#23). The next album ‘Cruisin’ For A Bruisin’ was released late in ‘78 but was lost in the rush of the burgeoning disco and punk movements. Ol’ 55 did break into the top 40 with the single ‘Ruby’ (#36) but for the remainder of ‘79 the band’s profile waned.

Soon after a major split occurred between the remaining original members. Bassist and main song-writer Jim Manzie was keen to continue the band’s new power-pop direction, whilst guitarists Jones and Drummond wanted to return to the bands original retro-rock style. Pat Drummond and Rockpile Jones left and took with them the name Ol’ 55. They recruited new players (including original drummer Geoff Plummer) and signed a new recording deal with RCA. 1980 saw this ‘new’ Ol’ 55 release a cover version of the Lou Christie classic ‘Two Faces Have I’ (US#6 1963), the song climbing as high as #15 mid-year. But it would be the last hurrah on the charts for Ol’ 55, the ongoing attempt to keep the flame alive on rock ‘n’ roll classics being snuffed out by the surge of new wave acts.

Manzie and Peterkin had gone on to form power-pop outfit The Breakers which folded within a year, after which time Manzie went on to be a producer. Ol’ 55 has been reunited several times over the years with various lineups and under various monikers, none of which were substantive. Wilbur Wilde went on to a career in television, whilst Frankie J. Holden has established a successful acting career.

Much of the bands material is readily available, save for the material recorded late in the piece with RCA. Don’t take this as official but I have heard that the masters for this material were lost or damaged, so the only way that you can find a copy of ‘Two Faces Have I’ is via a vinyl rip like this one: LINK REMOVED
Please refer to the comments from 'Mac61' below, for some additional information regards the vocal duties undertaken by various members of Ol'55.


Mac61 said...

Ol'55's strength lay in their vocal harmonies and the article fails to point out the fact that all six members could sing. Drummer Geoff Plummer was the bass vocalist and his signature tune was the classic "Goodnight Sweetheart". Each member would sing at least one song at an Ol'55 gig and on the albums. The second drummer Geoff Peterkin was also a good vocalist with his higher range lending itself well to the Four Seasons style songs of the 1978/79 era like "Stay While The Night Is Young".

A. FlockOfSeagulls said...

Many thanks for your comment, and the additional information regards the vocal duties of various Ol'55 members.
I've pointed readers in the direction of your comment.

Were you fortunate enough to see Ol'55 live? I was born a few years too late to have gotten the opportunity.

Tillotson said...


Was fortunate enough to see them in action when they came to a night club in New Zealand and was blown away by them.

There doesn't seem to be any link for downloading any of the stuff you mention/picture. Do you not allow downloads?



A. FlockOfSeagulls said...

Hi Tony,

thanks for your comment. It's great that you got the chance to see one of the great Australian bands of the 70s/80s.

As far as download links go - for the first six months I offered a couple of sample MP3's per artist, but then blogger threatened to shut me down if I didn't remove them - so as much as I'd like to offer some choice MP3's, I'm not willing to take the risk.