Musical talent competitions in Australia date back at least as far as 1891 and the Royal South Street Eisteddfod (which is still going!). But for rock bands – and fans – in the late 1960s and early 70s, one contest ruled them all.
Today's singers can find fame on Australia’s Got Talent and The Voice, but some of Australia's most notable rock bands and singers of the 1960s and 70s – including Sherbet and Daryl Braithwaite, Doug Parkinson, Zoot and The Masters Apprentices – were finalists in Hoadley's Battle of the Sounds.
Winners of the national finals included The Twilights (1966), The Groop (1967), The Groove (1968), Doug Parkinson In Focus (1969), The Affair (also 1969), The Flying Circus (1970), Fraternity (1971) and Sherbet (1972).
In this interview on Sydney radio station 2SM in 1985, Don Mudie from The Groop reflects on the personal impact of winning Hoadley's Battle of the Sounds in 1967:
Battle of the Sounds started in 1965, when it was run by Australian magazine Everybody's, before Hoadley’s (the confectionery company famous for creating the Violet Crumble) assumed sponsorship in 1966 with coordination by Go-Set magazine.
As a national competition, bands worked their way through heats and semi-finals in capital cities and country towns, before the grand final in either Melbourne or Sydney.
First prize was $1,000 (subsequently upped to $2,000) and a full return passage to England on the Sitmar cruise line – for later winners, it included two booked concerts in London. In the final years of the contest, return flights to Los Angeles replaced the cruise to England.
You can see images from Battle of the Sounds in the gallery below:
In the mid-1980s, a new version of Battle of the Sounds returned with competitive rounds in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland.
To promote the new contest, 2SM's Ian MacRae spoke with winners and finalists from the original Hoadley's Battle of the Sounds.
Daryl Braithwaite recalls winning the competition in 1972, when he was lead singer of Sherbet. He talks about how the competitive spirit among bands inspired them to do their best, and why they chose the prize money instead of the overseas trip:
Sherbet went on to become one of the most popular Australian bands of the 1970s, with huge No. 1 singles like 'Summer Love' (1975) and 'Howzat' (1976).
Daryl Braithwaite's also long enjoyed solo chart success and reached No. 1 in Australia with 'The Horses' (1991).
Darryl Cotton (1949–2012) recalls the year when his band Zoot came 2nd in the national finals (behind The Flying Circus). Public demand led to the release of the song they performed at the contest, a cover of The Beatles' 'Eleanor Rigby', which became a Top 5 hit:
Zoot's bass player Beeb Birtles went on to found Little River Band in 1975, while singer-songwriter and guitarist Rick Springfield became a Grammy-winning international star and hit No. 1 in the US and Australia with 'Jessie's Girl' in 1981.
Doug Parkinson, whose band Doug Parkinson In Focus won in 1969, saw the contest as a way for bands to improve and earn industry recognition:
Parkinson had a run of Australian hits with various bands and as a solo artist in the 1960s, 70s and 80s before focusing on performing in musical theatre in the 90s. His recording and touring career has continued into the 21st century.
You can also listen to interviews with:
The NFSA holds a range of items documenting Australian music competitions like Hoadley's Battle of the Sounds, including live recordings of various finals, oral histories and radio interviews, photographs and radio commercials.
Main image: crowd at Hoadley's Battle of the Sounds, c.1969. Photo: Laurie Richards. Courtesy: 3UZ. NFSA title: 1498443