Friday, 12 February 2016
Starry Eyed/When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold/Barefoot Boy/Soldier Won't You Marry Me
Noeleen Batley, was one of the pioneering female stars of Australian Sixties pop. Nicknamed "Australia's Little Miss Sweetheart", her pleasing voice and demure girl-next-door image endeared her to teenagers and parents alike, and she is fondly remembered as a leading member of TV's "Bandstand Family" during the early Sixties. Compared to many other Australian acts, Noeleen enjoyed a very prolific recording career, with around 20 singles, at least eight EPs and three LPs to her credit, most of them recorded during the peak period of her career between 1960 and 1965.
Noeleen's catalogue exemplifies Festival Records' mainstream pop output in the period preceding the cataclysmic changes of the "Beat Boom". She recorded mainly 'middle of the-road' material, including many standards and show tunes and even the odd novelty song; the rockiest' number is probably her cover of The Crystals' "Then He Kissed Me". As singer Dave Miller observed (when speaking of Dinah Lee's early career in New Zealand) the repertoire choices for female singers in that period were very limited, and it's doubtful that Noeleen herself was ever given much say in what she recorded. Nevertheless Noeleen remains a significant figure in Australian pop history -- she was our first modern female pop star, the first Australian female singer to have a national hit and most remarkable of all, Noeleen was the first Australian performer to have a hit record and tour in Japan.
Noeleen's recordings are also of interest to Bee Gees aficionados -- she was friends with the group in the early 1960s and was one of the first artists to cover Barry Gibb's work, recording four of his songs in 1964-65.
Noleeen with Robin and Barry Gibb of The Bee Gees.
Her debut "Starry Eyes" / "Soldier Soldier Won't You Marry Me" was released in February 1960 on Festival's 'try-out' label Rex, but it was not a success. The breakthrough came with her winsome version of "Barefoot Boy " (b/w "When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again") on which she was backed by Festival's 'house' band, The R'Jays, and written by 16-year-old Helene Grover, who had won a talent contest a year earlier with her own performance of the song. Noeleen's version was released in October and it made the Top 5 in all mainland capitals in November 1960, thereby making Noeleen (de facto) the first Australian female pop singer to score a national hit (there was no national chart until 1966).
Barefoot Boy" established Noeleen's popularity and she soon became a regular on TV shows including Six O'Clock Rock and Bandstand. She also recorded a commercial for Kellogg's breakfast cereals. She recorded two more moderately successful singles on Rex -- "Rendezvous" / "Fickle Fingers" (February 1961, #30) and "Tammy" / "Little Sir Echo" (August 1961, #35), followed by her first LP Rendezvous. This success led to her being signed directly to Festival. Her first Festival single was "Ice Cream Man" / "Over in that Happy Land" (September 1961), the A-side of which was another Helene Grover composition. During this period Noeleen toured regularly with Johnny O'Keefe, Col Joye and the Joy Boys, Johnny Chester, Lucky Starr and The Allen Brothers and she was named Australia's Top Female Vocalist of 1961.
Through 1963-64 Noeleen recorded four more singles -- "Steady Johnny" / "Letter Full of Tears" (March 1962), "Don't Play No. 9" / "Crying Fool" (June), "Ten Lonely Weekends" / "My Boy" (March 1963). Her next single "Forgive Me" (February 1964) was one of the earliest Australian covers of a Bacharach-David song, and it was backed with a very early Barry Gib tune called "Surfer
Noeleen's single came out during the period of the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games and it's likely that its release was part of the broad program of cultural and economic exchange that was taking place between Japan and Australia at the time. It is remarkable, given that only twenty years earlier the two nations had been implacable wartime enemies, but by this time relations had become far closer than ever before and Japan soon became Australia's major trading partner. This opening up of ties between the two countries also led to local events like the hugely successful screening of the Japanese historical adventure series The Samurai, which was the first Japanese television show ever screened in this country. It rapidly became the most popular shows yet shown in Australia and sparked a craze among kids for all things ninja, and this even led to the star of the show visting Australia in late 1965 for a performance tour.
Her first single for 1965 was another Barry Gibb song "Baby I'm Losing You", and this was followed by a successful sequel to her earlier Japanese hit. Sung this time entirely in Japanese, the song "Owakare No Namida (Tears Of Farewell)" also did very well in Japan, again selling in excess of 60,000 copies, and it enhanced her popularity there. To promote it Noeleen made a groundbreaking and well-received Japanese tour in March 1965 which included several TV appearances.
Her third LP, a Christmas album, came out at the end of 1965, and her recording career continued with five more Singles over the next three years. But by the mid-Sixties a new generation of female performers such as "Dynamic" Dinah Lee and Lynne Randell were making their mark, and the limelight had shifted decisively to the rock groups. Programs like Bandstand kept her the public eye, but Noeleen never recaptured her earlier popularity. During the late '60s, like most of her Bandstand colleagues, she gradually moved into variety and the cabaret-club circuit. Her last release for Festival was the perennial "You Made Me Love You" in 1968.
But she worked solidly through closing years of the decade, touring the UK and Europe and in 1969 representing Australia at the Brazil Popular Song Festival in Rio De Janeiro. Around 1970 she moved permanently to England, where she made solo appearances as well as providing vocal backing for artists like Cliff Richard. Her last single, "Seabird", was released by Interfusion in 1972.
In 1975, she married Stephen Stewart-Topper and settled in Essex. The couple had their first child in 1976 and although Noeleen continued to work in entertainment for some time she eventually gave up performing. At last report she had moved to the USA and was living in Miami, Florida.
On record, Noeleen's fans have been well-served over the years -- besides her original singles and albums, Festival released an excellent 1988 career overview Little Treasure From Japan: The Festival File Volume One, which was later issued on CD. In 2000 Noeleen's complete catalogue was compiled on the definitive 67-track, 2CD set Australia's Little Miss Sweetheart. "Barefoot Boy" (which was re-recorded in an inferior orchestrated version) has featured on several compilations including Bandstand, Living Legends Of Six O'Clock Rock, Rock And Roll Australia and Spinning Around, Volume 1. "Over In That Happy Land" appeared on Everything's Swinging.
N.B. The tracks on the back of the EP don't correspond with the order on the labels.