Normie Rowe AM
Australia’s biggest pop star of the sixties, Normie Rowe defied the logic of the times. His period of peak popularity came when the Beatles were dominating the charts around the world. It was the period of popular music where most established solo singers were suddenly banished from the charts, and young singers were joining or forming bands. And yet, here was this Melbourne teenager creating pop riots and becoming the first Melbourne recording artist to achieve a national Australian No.1.
Born on February 1, 1947 Normie emerged to stardom with one leg planted in the past, and the other stepping into the future. In those days the way into a music career was to attend a music school. Normie had already sung in the local church choir and performed in a high school band when at the age of 14 he appeared at his music school’s concert and was spotted by the concert’s compere, prominent Melbourne radio personality Stan Rofe. Impressed, Stan made the appropriate introductions to dance promoters.
By the time he released his first single Normie already had several years of experience behind him, in the traditional dance circuit where (as in the Big Band era) several featured singers stepped up to perform in front of the house band. The Beatles era changed all that, but Normie had served his apprenticeship that way. At the same time, he was one of the first Melbourne entertainers with the ‘long hair’ of the new Beatles-influenced music era. Famously, Normie had to choose between his hair and his job with the PMG (now Telstra). He chose his hair and singing.
EMI had its chance to sign Norm, but Sydney said he couldn’t sing. Festival, through Brisbane independent label, Sunshine Records, offered him the chance instead. The first single, on a suggestion from mentor Stan Rofe was a version of the ‘Porgie And Bess’ stage musical song ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’. Rofe had heard an updated version on a Searchers’ album from England. In Normie Rowe’s hands it drove a wedge right through the generation gap. Not only was he long-haired, he was suggesting that “the things read in the Bible” weren’t necessarily true. Controversy! The fact that the song came from an established musical meant it couldn't be dismissed out of hand. It became a top ten hit. For his second single, Normie dived into Stan Rofe’s vast record collection and came up with Ben E King’s ‘I Who Have Nothing’, another top ten. The third single took the nation by storm. On one side the pop singer revived and energized Doris Day’s ‘Que Sera Sera’; on the other side he recorded English rock’s only pre-Beatles classic, ‘Shakin All Over’. Both sides received massive airplay and carried the single to No.1 nationally, accompanied by the constant “Normie Rowe riot” headlines generated by the singer’s live performances.
The head of Sunshine records, Ivan Dayman, also Normie’s manager, ran a long-established string of national venues. He knew the art of promotion. Legend has it that the security guards hired to protect Normie from his enthusiastic fans were also under instructions to trip the singer or push him off stage into the arms of his fans, ensuring those “riots”. Venues were also crowded beyond capacity, resulting in fans fainting from more than Normie Rowe worship. However it happened, it all made for great pictures and headlines in the newspapers. The hits kept coming. Normie Rowe and his group The Playboys became the star attraction of the Sunshine tours, which criss-crossed the eastern coast of Australia, Normie on a bus with all the rivals for his crown as Australia’s No.1 King Of Pop – Tony Worsley, Mike Furber – anxious to upstage him.
In September 1966 Normie travelled to England, where he recorded many tracks, including the hit single ‘Ooh La la’, another big hit for him at home, and making it into the British Top Thirty. He promoted his second English single ‘It’s Not Easy’ touring with Gene Pitney and the Troggs, and toured America with Roy Orbison. The later singles ‘Ooh La La’ and ‘Going Home’ also made a Top Thirty impact in the UK. By now the Beatles and world music had gone from mop tops to Sgt. Pepper and Normie was edging ever closer to international stardom when the biggest challenge to his career came at the hands of the Australian Government.
In 2005 Normie Rowe was inducted into the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) Hall of Fame. In that year he was also recognized by the Australian War Memorial as a National Hero, alongside the likes of Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith, Vivien Bullwinkle, Keith Miller, Chips Rafferty and 45 other heroes of Australia. Normie Rowe has become a leading advocate and spokesman for the Vietnam Veterans and in 1987 and 1992 he was instrumental as a member of the National Committees for the Vietnam Veterans Welcome Home Parade and the Vietnam National Memorial Dedication.
Normie continues a hectic schedule of live performances and has added an “Unplugged” show “An Audience With Normie Rowe” to his repertoire of performance modes and in 2006, 2007/8 saw the release of a collection of Normie's recorded works detailing chronologically his recording career form 1965 to the current day.
In 2009 Normie joined The Governor General, and Sir Jack and Lady Margaret Brabham as National Patrons of Kidney Health Australia (Formerly The Kidney Foundation)
Normie continues to record with a 7 track Extended Play CD becoming available late 2010.
|Last Updated on Friday, 01 June 2012 17:09|