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Australia's Own Sweetheart - The Margie Bayes Story

Singer Margie Bayes had an interesting and unique career in Australian music. Despite having the cute, girl next door image, she was tough enough to handle any hurdles placed in front of her, working in the challenging entertainment industry. Margie was born to sing, but her singing career was tragically cut short due to throat problems she suffered in her mid 20s.

Margie Bayes (born Margaret Joyce Bayes on September 7th, 1945 in Richmond, an inner Melbourne suburb) started singing when she was 5 years old on a radio show that had just started called ‘Swallow’s Juniors.’ A girl who she knew from school had joined this show and asked Margie’s mother could she take her to audition for the show. Margie recalls,

“This girl in my brother’s grade at school had joined the show and asked could she take me, ‘cause I would sing for anyone. I was a shy little girl but if anyone said to me, ‘Sing me a song.’ I’d hop up on your kitchen table if you’d let me. I’d sing my head off.”

Margie was taken into radio station 3DB to audition and it did not take long for the people running the program to recognise her talent. Margie recalls, “I sang for Mable Nelson the pianist and she said, ‘We’ll put Margie in the front row.” Some of the early stars of the children’s talent show included Heather Horwood, Gaynor Bunning and Ernie Sigley. 3DB breakfast announcer John Eden originally hosted the show, and then Brian Naylor took over just before the show moved into television in 1957. In 1964, there was a name change to ‘Brian & the Juniors.’



Within two weeks Margie was given her first solo with Ernie Sigley, singing the old Frankie Laine/Jimmy Boyd song, Tell Me A Story. In 1957, Margie was one of 20 children picked when the show became a television show on HSV 7. Margie was given a letter to take home to her parents offering her a position on the show. They sat her down on the lounge at home to talk about it. Margie’s father said to her,

“Now precious. (That was his name for her) This letter you’ve bought home from 3DB, it says you’re gonna be on this new bloody TV show. We’ll let you on it if you can promise your mother and I that you won’t get a big head, you won’t think you’re better than anyone else and it can’t interfere with your studies. If it interferes with your studies we’ll pull you out of that show so fast you won’t even know you’re in it. Now do you think you can handle that precious?” Margie replied, “Yes Dad.”


Margie got teased at school because she was on TV, as kids always do, but she handled it well and stayed well grounded. She recalls,

“The kids at school gave me a bugger of a time. I’d just cop it sweet. It would be just something that I do. I never ever made out I was better. So I grew up pretty level-headed and I’m still that way.”

During her childhood, Margie also made a lot of radio commercials. The best known was Iddy Biddy Peas recorded in 1954 when she was 9 years old. Jack O’Hagan, who wrote Road To Gundagai, composed the jingle and played piano on the recording. It aired for 8 years and got played all over Australia and Margie was paid enough money that she had to start paying tax. From then on, for all the commercials she made, she had to pay tax and by age 11, she was making more money than her father. Margie had a very radio friendly voice because she ended up making over 50 radio and TV commercials for a wide range of products including Peter’s Ice Cream, Laxettes and Vita-Brits.


Another radio show Margie appeared on was the Oxford Show on 3KZ. She made a good impression on this show as well, as this newspaper article confirms:

“Some weeks ago listeners to 3KZs Oxford Show were startled by a brilliant rendition of ‘Little Child’ by 10-year-old Margie Bayes and Jim Berinson, and it was suggested in this column that 3KZ should give it a second airing. Margaret and Jim re-recorded the song last Monday night for presentation in the ‘Oxford Show’ next Thursday, September 20, at 8.30 pm.”

Margie sitting front row 2nd right. Next to her Yvonne Barrett & Patti McGrath (Newton) c.1957

Another highlight of Margie’s childhood was performing at ‘Carols By Candlelight’ held in the Botanical Gardens where the Myer Music Bowl is now located. The event was broadcast live on Radio Australia. At midnight, Margie delivered a spoken word presentation, ‘Message to the Children of the World’ which was a big responsibility for an 11-year-old girl. Margie repeated the speech the following year.

All the singing Margie was doing required her to keep physically in shape. She used to run around Richmond Oval everyday and then swim at the Richmond Baths, where champion swimmers Jon and Ilsa Kondrads were training for the Olympics. Margie recalls,

“I’d swim underwater and hold my breath for about a minute and a half to develop diaphragm. Jon Konrads nearly drowned me once. He was swimming over the top and I wanted to come up for air. After that I used to swim across the pool instead of lengthways.”

When Margie was 16, she tried her hand at acting and starred in an amateur theatre production at the Arrow Theatre called ‘It’s A Date’, which she recalls as being a lot fun.

“I’ll always remember a song a chap sang in that show. Instead of singing, ‘I’ve grown accustomed to your face’ out of ‘My Fair Lady’ he sang, ‘I threw a custard in her face.’ At the time, I thought it was the funniest thing I’d ever heard. I just kept laughing all the time up on stage. I had to make myself think of sad things so that I wouldn’t keep giggling. That was such a fun time.”

Margie stayed on ‘Swallow’s Juniors’ for 13 and a half years, the longest anyone appeared on the show. The show was a good training ground for people who later went on to make a career out of singing including Peter Doyle, Yvonne Barrett and Joy Lemmon. Just before she left the show Mac Irvine, the show’s producer, commented on Margie’s potential as a singer,

“Margie Bayes is made to order for Country & Western numbers. She’s essentially a soloist, with a bright sparkling personality and voice quality that is just right for her strong, natural comedy sense.” (TV Times, Nov 27th, 1964)

The TV Times article went on to say, “At 18 Margie Bayes, is a vivacious brunette with big dark eyes and a mischievous smile that digs two fetching dimples deep into her cheeks.”(Berry Craig - TV Times, Nov 27th, 1964)

Margie started singing at dances around Melbourne and the first dance she appeared at was at Wonthaggi, a seaside town 132 kms from Melbourne. She was backed by the Breakaways (Mike Davenport on rhythm guitar, Colin Turnbull on lead guitar, Pat Turpin on bass, Murray Anderson on drums). The group were well known in Melbourne and recorded six singles and an album on the W&G label between 1963-1965. Margie also sang several times at the Festival Hall concerts on Sunday afternoon backed by the Saxons.

Margie signed with Dance Promotions and sang at dances in the Ivan Dayman circuit. Appearing at venues such as the Canterbury Ballroom and the Circle Ballroom in Preston with the Premiers and the Thunderbirds. She especially enjoyed working with the Thunderbirds, as she explains,

“The good part for me in those days was W&G had Betty McQuade on their label. She also sang with the Thunderbird and her and I sang in the same key. So if I went to sing with the Thunderbirds, I knew the songs, because she sang them as well.”


Margie then signed a recording contract with W&G Records and her first single, Why Can’t I Go Surfing? “a catchy up-tempo number delivered with zest.” (Cowan), was written by Johnny Chester. The B-side,Learning About Love is a cover of a 1960 Brenda Lee song. “It is a superb rock’n’roll number…., enhanced by a pulsating production and a strong, clear vocal.” (Cowan). The Hearsemen backed Margie on both sides of the single. The Hearsemen were a talented group of musicians who had backed Margie at various dances on weekends and were a good choice to back her on her first single. The group members consisted of Peter Litchfield on lead guitar, Paddy Deeker on bass, John Nicholls on rhythm guitar and David Lambert on drums.


The disc just scrapped into the Melbourne charts but was popular on radio. In a phone poll on 3UZ, Why Can’t I Go Surfing? got more votes than the latest song by the Beatles. W&G also included Why Can’t I Go Surfing? on two various artist albums ‘Go Go Go’ and ‘Discotheque Wild Weekend.’ Everybody’s magazine reported,

“Melbourne has come up with a Little Pattie in the sound of Margie Bayes, who’s out on disc with a Johnny Chester number titled ‘Why Can’t I Go Surfing?’ It’s cute, catchy, laced with Brenda Lee, and although surfing songs never got off the sand in Melbourne, this one is filled with enough local references to jump the barrier.” (Maggie Makeig, Australian Beat column, Everybody’s, Dec 29th, 1965)



Her next release was, the Buddy Holly song Oh! Boy b/w What Makes You Treat Me Like You Do. An orchestra backed Margie on Oh! Boy and the Johnny Chester Four backed her on the B-side.

For her next release W&G decided to issue an extended play. Often called mini albums, an EP usually contained both sides of two singles. Margie’s EP, however, did not follow this trend and included the A-sides of her first two singles and two new tracks, Sweet Boy and Mr Moonlight. For Mr Moonlight, a song covered by the Beatles on their third album ‘Beatles For Sale’ in 1964, Margie wanted to record her own arrangement. She recalls,

“I listened to the words of ‘Mr Moonlight’ and I thought, ‘This would be a beautiful lullaby.’ “ She recorded the vocal track and left the song unfinished. Her intention was to return to the W&G studios and add vocal harmonies and a glockenspiel.

A few weeks later, however, Margie received a phone call from Jack Varney from W&G. Jack Varney was an accomplished jazz musician, played guitar and banjo and was an original member of the Graeme Bell Jazz Band. In June 1965 he was appointed promotion and A&R manager for W&G Records. Varney was all excited and he said, “Margie, you’ve got to come in, we’ve pressed your EP.” And Margie replied, “Mr Varney, how could you do that, I haven’t got enough tracks ready.” But Varney answered, “Yeah, we’ve finished it. I played my guitar and someone else put a Hammond organ on it.” Margie was really upset that the track had been completed without any concern for the way she wanted it to be finished. She said, “You’re kidding, I was going to harmonise with myself and you said I could have a glockenspiel on it.” Varney replied, “Well, we decided we had to get your EP out now.”

Margie went down to the W&G studios and she could not have been more disappointed with what she heard.

“When I heard ‘Mr Moonlight’, I could have cried. I was so upset because in my head I knew exactly how it should have sounded.”


For Margie’s next single the powers that be at W&G decided to change her image from being the sweet girl next door to a more sexier image. Margie comments,

“Turn it up, I’m about as sexy as your big toe. There’s nothing sexy about me, and that’s why ‘Hey Good Lookin’ ‘ is all sort of something on my breath. It just wasn’t me and it wasn’t how I was.”

Margie was much happier with the B-side, Picking Up My Hat. It’s a bright and bouncy pop song originally recorded by Canadian singer Debbie Lori Kaye in 1965. Betty McQuade and Paul McKay sang backing vocals on the track.

Margie appeared on a number of television shows and she was a familiar face in Melbourne from her exposure on ‘Swallow’s Juniors’, so she was in high demand. As well as appearing on the teenage pop music shows like ‘The Go!! Show’ and ‘Kommotion’, she was a regular on ‘Sunnyside Up’ and appeared on the daytime show called ‘Woman’s World.’


When Margie appeared on ‘The Go!! Show’ one time the compere Johnny Young introduced her as Marjy (as in Majorie), which Margie did not like. Margie spoke to Johnny during a break and told him, “If you call me Marjy again, I won’t walk onto the set.” Johnny told her, “You can’t do that.” Margie replied, “I know you can’t do it, but that’s what I’ll do.” The next time Margie appeared on the show, Johnny Young announced, “And here is Marjy Bayes singing Why Can’t I Go Surfing?” Margie did not walk out as she had promised. They had to stop the cameras rolling, something they did not like to do. Margie told the producers what the problem was and they spoke to Young and told him to announce her name correctly. After this incident Margie was always introduced as Margie.

The young singer was asked to do the opening number on Graham Kennedy’s ‘In Melbourne Tonight’ three Monday nights in a row, which was quite an honour. Then she was called to a meeting and was made an offer, in order to hold her position of opening Monday night. It’s not too hard to work out what the offer was, but Margie was having no part of it. She recalls,

“I walked out of that interview. I never told my Mum. I wasn’t prepared to do that. I thought, ‘I sing, I don’t do those sort of things.”

For Margie’s 4th single, W&G thought it would be good idea to return to the surfing theme. A strange decision considering the surfing craze had well and truly passed. They asked Sydney songwriter Joan Fairbridge to write a song especially for her. Margie usually accepted whatever song was presented to her to record, but when she heard the demo of I Wanna Wear My New Bikini she dug her heels in and said, “I don’t want to record that.” But she ended up having no choice and was told, “You’re under contract.”

It was the last song Margie recorded for W&G, because her 18-month contract would soon run out. It seemed to be the way W&G treated all of their artists in those days, forcing them to record the songs they choose. As a compromise they did allow Margie to pick a song of her choice for the B-side. W&G had the publishing rights for Paul Anka songs and she chose Crazy Love. Margie refused to sing I Wanna Wear My New Bikini in public and for any promotions she did for the record, she sang Crazy Love.

Margie continued to sing at various venues around Melbourne. In 1969 she had a gig at the Southside Six Hotel in Moorabbin. 600 people per week attended the three floorshows Margie performed at in this hotel. One floorshow was in the dining room, then there was an adult cabaret where she would sing songs like Bye Bye Blackbird and I Left My Heart In San Francisco, and then she would go next door into a larger room and sing rock’n’roll again.

Margie ended up catching a bug in her throat from a microphone in this venue, which caused her to suffer a poison throat. She started using a spray to treat her sore throat, which deadened the pain and still allowed her to sing. But she found that she was allergic to the spray and it only made the infection worse. When she went to the doctor he told her she had an infected abscess on her vocal chords that went all the way down her throat. The doctor prescribed sulphur tablets the size of a 20 cent piece, but four times thicker and she had to drink 15 pints (7 litres) of water a day to dissolve all of the sulphur in her body. She was not allowed to speak for three months and had to write everything down, which was hard for Margie to do because anyone who knows Margie knows that she likes to talk. She started off with a small jotting note pad but by the second day she was using a large writing pad.

The throat condition ended Margie’s singing career, which was a sad ending for someone who loved singing and had entertained people since she was 5 years old. Singer Terry Dean, who Margie knew since her days when they appeared on ‘The Go!! Show’ together said,

“Margie’s story is a sad one. She was working 5 or 6 nights a week and didn’t rest her voice when she should have. I don’t think any singer has escaped problems, I haven’t had any major issues.”

Margie got married in 1970, but it did not work out and she left her husband 12 months later. After her marriage break up she remained single for 16 years before meeting Tom, who became her lifetime partner. Luckily, Margie had some work qualifications to fall back on when she stopped singing. Years before, her father had insisted that she get some qualifications. She was good with numbers and she became a qualified Bookkeeper.

She managed to get a job at Bill Armstrong’s Studios as a Machine Accounting Operator. After working for Bill Armstrong for 3 years she went overseas for an extended holiday and when she returned she worked for Ron Tudor, doing royalties at Fable Records. Her next job was for Glenn Wheatley. At the time the Little River Band were overseas and she handled their accounts and royalties as well as working as an office receptionist. During the time Margie worked for Glenn Wheatley, John Farnham came into the office. Wheatley was on the phone at the time when Farnham came in for his appointment and John had to sit and wait in the reception room until he had finished. Margie recalls,

“He kept staring at me as much as to say, ‘I think I know you.’ and every time I’d look back at him, he’d look away. I felt like saying to him, ‘John, I’m Margie, you do know me.’ But because I wasn’t on the stage and I was sitting behind a desk, doing clerical work, he totally couldn’t relate to me as a singer.”

Margie worked for the Wheatley Organisation for 18 months and when she left, she worked for John McDonald who had teamed up with Ron Tudor at Image Records. She worked at this job for 15 years. During the time she worked at Image Records, her old friend from her radio days Ernie Sigley had bought a pub near to where she lived and she called in to see him one day. On the noticeboard Ernie had pinned a newspaper article written years before during the time they worked together on the ‘Swallow’s Juniors’ radio show. Margie recalls,

“I called into Ernie’s pub on Bridge Road and he got me that drunk I hardly knew my name. I said, ‘Ern, I’ve gotta have a shout.’ And he said, ‘No you don’t, you’re in my pub now and you don’t have to shout anybody anything. I’m the one doing the shouting Margie.’ “

In 1981 Raven Records issued a single combining Why Can’t I Go Surfing? with I Want To Wear My New Bikini. The fascination with surfing music never seems to fade.

When Margie was in her 40s around 1985, she was driving home one day and she was hit by a tram.

“The driver was watching a girl coming out of the Seven Eleven and he didn’t see me parked in the middle of the road waiting to turn, and bang, he drove straight into me and pushed my little car up in the air.”

After the accident Margie went home thinking she was not hurt, but two days later she could not get out of bed, she was in so much pain. She still refused to go to the doctors thinking she would be right in a few days. Margie has suffered from a bad back ever since and only found out about 5 years ago that she had a broken vertebrae. Unfortunately there was nothing that could be done about it at that stage of her life.

Two Australian music legends - Margie and Bobby Bright at the Debonairs Luncheon Melbourne, September, 2019

Now in her early 70s, Margie uses a wheelie walker to get around these days. She still lives in the home where she grew up in, in Richmond and spends a lot of time at her local Bowling Club where she’ll have a beer and likes to chat. Her most cherished possession is her scrapbook full of newspaper and magazine clippings of her amazing singing career.

Sadly, she just recently lost her partner of 33 years, Tom. She has an older brother, a nephew and three nieces, whom she adores. She says she does not regret one minute of her career as a singer and says,“I’ll always have my beautiful memories.” She is a true legend of Australian music.

Discography:

Why Can’t I Go Surfing? (Johnny Chester)/Learning About Love (L.Innes-G.Martin)

W&G WG-S-2509 11/65

Oh Boy!(West-Tilghman-Petty)/What Makes You Treat Me Like You Do?(McHan)

W&G WG-S-2552 02/66

Hey Good Lookin’(Williams)/Picking Up My Hat(Patrick Bestall) W&G WG-S-8004 00/66

I Wanna Wear My New Bikini(Joan Fairbridge)/Crazy Love (Paul Anka)

W&G WG-S-8042 02/67

Why Can’t I Go Surfing?/I Wanna Wear My New Bikini Raven RVS-01 1981

Sweet Boy EP – Sweet Boy(Subotsky), Why Can’t I Go Surfing?

/Oh! Boy, Mr Moonlight(Johnson) W&G WG-E-2701 08/66

Compilation LP tracks –Go Go Go: Why Can’t I Go Surfing? W&G 25/2626 1965

Discotheque Wild Weekend: Why Can’t I Go Surfing? W&G 25/2675 1965

Our Favourite Kinda People Vol.2: I Wanna Wear My New Bikini W&G 25/5072 1966

Our Generation: I Wanna Wear My New Bikini W&G 25/5183 1966

Sources:

Margie Bayes – Interview: December 16th, 2019

Zax Russell Cowan – Comments & Reviews, 45 Cat.com, June 19th, 2019

Terry Dean – comments via messenger, January 9th, 2020

The Sixties: Australian Rock & Pop Recordings (1964-1969),

National Film & Sound Archive, 2000

Chris Spencer, Zbig Nowara & Paul McHenry - Who’s Who Of Australian Rock,

5th Edition, Five Mile Press, 2002

Television.au

Global Dog Productions.info – Discography for W&G Records – Oz, 2003-2008

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