Postwar Scotland and the Australian music industry

In the aftermath of World War Two, Scotland gave Australia some its most iconic musical personalities. This month we take a whirlwind tour through some of the more prominent Scots that have contributed to Australia’s music industry – more than a few of them clearly shaped by the tough way of life in the crowded cities of postwar Scotland.

Scottish singer John Paul Young’s ‘Love Is In The Air’ has become an Australian classic. Similarly, Men At Work’s memorable ‘Down Under’ has become as representative of Australia as Vegemite and koalas. Their lead singer, Colin Hay emigrated as a 14-year-old from Ayrshire in 1967. Although Men At Work disbanded in 1985, Hay has continued his own career, recently delving into Celtic music.

Jazz instrumentalist Vince Jones was born in 1954 in Paisley, and emigrated to Woolongong in 1977, where he began to play trumpet with local bands. In the 1970s, Jones began a distinguished career as a jazz musician, and in 1990 his soundtrack to the series ‘Come In Spinner’ became Australia’s highest selling jazz album ever. Vince can be found playing jazz around Australia to this day.

Two of the most important Scottish migrants for Australia’s music history were William and Margaret Young, who journeyed to Sydney from a depressed and crowded Glasgow in 1963 with their nine children. One son, Alex, stayed behind and began a rock group – three of his younger brothers did the same. George Young joined Harry Vanda and other migrants from the Villawood Migrant Hostel to form the Easybeats, which became Australia’s first internationally successful music group in the 1960s.

After the Easybeats broke up in 1970, George began working as a producer for his brothers Malcolm and Angus, who had recently formed the now world-famous AC/DC. Their lead-singer was born in Kirriemuir, and his family had migrated to Fremantle when he was five. Nicknamed ‘Bonnie Scott’ at school, Bon Scott lived the high-stakes life of a rock star, leading inevitably to his tragic death at the age of 33 in 1980. ‘Acca-Dacca’, as they are affectionately known, have been honored by city councils in Melbourne and even Madrid, who have both unveiled streets named after the group. This is a fitting commemoration, given that AC/DC have sold over 200 million albums.

Another family that would produce a son destined for Australian stardom was the Swans. James Dixson Swan was five when his family migrated from the tough streets of Glasgow to Elizabeth, just north of Adelaide in South Australia. His big brother John became the lead singer of the Party Boys. The latter band, with an ever-changing membership, boasted members from groups like Status Quo, The Angels, Skyhooks, Rose Tattoo, and the Divinyls. John ‘Swanee’ Swan’s little brother would soon become synonymous with working class men all over.

James Swan, who we know better as ‘Jimmy Barnes’, became the lead singer of the acclaimed rock band Cold Chisel in 1973. He said: ‘I always though I was an Aussie. But when I went back to Glasgow I realised there were so many people like me – they sing, they drink, they laugh. I found I was very Scottish. Yet I go back there and thy think I’m an ocker, they can’t understand me.’ Jimmy also described himself as ‘one of the very few Scottish Buddhists you’d meet.’

Given the rush of immigrants from Britain to Australian shores after the war, we shouldn’t be surprised that more than few have gone on to become famous musicians. What is most interesting, though, is that it is Scots in particular who have led some of the biggest, most successful bands in Australian music history.

This article first appeared in The Scottish Banner.


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