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Hans Poulsen - Troubadour

Updated: Jul 14, 2023


Hans Poulsen was completely different to all the other pop stars of the early 70s. While watching TV music shows like ‘Bandstand’ or ‘Uptight’, you did not expect to see someone dressed in hippy clothes, wearing granny glasses and sporting a moustache and goatee beard. He might have looked unusual, but the songs that Hans wrote and sang were instantly likable and you could not help but like Hans as well. The gifted singer/songwriter travelled to many parts of the world, a true Aussie troubadour, sharing his songs of love, peace and saving the planet to whoever would listen. Despite suffering some major health issues, Hans has maintained a positive outlook on life and has continued writing songs throughout his life.


“His music was a pleasant and idealistic blend of soft rock, pop, country, folk and even bluegrass elements. His melodies were always enchanting and his lyrics delved into social and environmental issues, alternative lifestyles, the meaning of life and good old fashioned love.” (Ian McFarlane)


In his booklet, ‘Hans Poulsen: Troubadour – An Overview of the Musical Career of Hans Sven Poulsen’, Melbourne based music researcher/writer Paul McHenry takes a detailed look into the musical career of Hans Poulsen. The many songs Hans has written and recorded himself and for others are listed, as well as the numerous albums he has released and his major musical achievements.


Hans was born Bruce Gordon Poulsen (March 7th, 1945) in the beachside suburb of Carrum, 33 km south east of the Melbourne CBD. Both of his parents were musicians and encouraged their son to play music from an early age. His father Vic played an Hawaiian lap steel guitar and his mother Nellie played the ukele. Hans’ grandparents had sailed from Copenhagen in the early 1900s in a clipper ship and Hans felt such a strong connection to his Danish heritage that from around the age of 15, he changed his name to Hans Sven Poulsen. His major musical influences while growing up included Buddy Holly, Jonie Mitchell and Little Richard. Hans has vivid memories of sitting by the radiogram at home in his early teens, listening to a 78 of Little Richard.


Hans attended Bonbeach High School and was so keen to improve his guitar playing that he would take his guitar to school and practice at lunchtimes with a few friends. When he was around 15, he formed his first group, the Rimfires with Mick Foenander, Peter Brock and Alan Bardie. The Rimfires performed at a number of local dances including Frankston Mechanics Hall, Carrum Life Saving Club and St Aidens Church Hall. The band played covers of the popular pop and rock’n’roll tunes of the day and because Hans’ voice sounded remarkably like Buddy Holly’s, they also played a lot of Buddy Holly songs.


In his late teens, Hans developed a strong interest in jazz. He loved listening and dancing to the Red Onion Jazz Band and he began performing solo gigs at various jazz venues with other jazz singers popular at the time like Judy Jacques. Wonita Harris and her friends used to watch Hans perform in those days, then meet up with him afterwards for a chat and listen to Hans’ stories in coffee shops. On Friday night they would always see each other at the Musician’s Club in St Kilda. Wonita recalls,


“He was a quietly spoken man, but some of the stories he used to tell were fascinating. Stories about how his family got over here (to Australia) and coming to Melbourne. He was a really nice guy but he wasn’t the norm, he was one of a different kind of person. He was his own self and it was just beautiful. Just a lovely person.”


Hans loved surfing and the beach. On weekends he would strap his surfboard onto his red Mini Moke, pack his guitar, banjo and bongos and head off with his mates to surf and play music on the beaches along the Victorian coast. On one of these weekend trips in the summer of 1963, he met Dutch-born Ted Baarda. They shared an interest in singing and writing songs. Both lads already had written a handful of songs each and they started writing songs together and became good friends.


In January 1964, the two mates decided to form an all-acoustic group they named 18th Century Quartet. The main inspiration for the group was the Hot Club de France featuring jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and jazz violinist Stephanie Grappelli. The classically trained violinist, Ron Snellgrove and acoustic bass player Dave Graham, joined them. The original 18 CQ line-up played an interesting array of instruments between them – Hans Poulsen (vocals, guitar, banjo, mandolin, bongos), Ted Baarda (vocals, guitar, percussion), Ron Snellgrove (violin, guitar) and Dave Graham (acoustic bass).


Wearing flowing white shirts with ruffled sleeves, the 18th Century Quartet played at jazz venues including Frank Traynor’s Folk & Jazz Club, Melbourne Uni and various college campuses. Steve Dunston replaced Dave Graham just prior to the recording of their first single, The World Goes On (Poulsen)/Treat You Good (Baarda), which was released on the tiny East label on May 7th, 1964. The single received some favourable comments from Listener-In TV magazine and sold over 1000 copies, which was an outstanding achievement for a small independent label in those days. A follow-up single was recorded, Somewhere Along The Line (Baarda) and Antoinette (Poulsen), but was not released.


In mid-1966, Baarda and Dunstan left the group and a new line-up was formed by promoter Ian Oshlack. Oshlack wanted to capitalize on the American Barque Rock trend as performed by Lovin’ Spoonful (Do You Believe In Magic) and the Left Bank (Walk Away Renee). The new line-up included Keith Glass on guitar & vocals (ex-Rising Suns), Frank Lyons on bass (ex-Roadrunners), John Pugh on violin, guitar, autoharp & harmonica (ex-Rising Suns), Dennis Foster on drums (ex-Rising Suns), plus Hans on vocals, guitar, bouzouki & mandolin.


The more pop-oriented, electrified version of 18th Century Quartet entered the 1966 Hoadley’s Battle of the Sounds and finished second in the Victorian State Final. Ron Tudor was in attendance at the competition and was impressed enough with their performance to sign them to Go!! Records. The group recorded the Hans' song, Rachael, which was well received by radio when it was released in October and became a minor hit on the Melbourne charts. In his recollections of the 18CQ, Keith Glass wrote,


“At the time Hans was well on his way to becoming one of the finest pop writers in the world, with a list of great, still to this day unheard songs.”


Hans left 18CQ soon after the recording of Rachael and went to pursue a career in the recording industry, starting as assistant to Roger Savage at Armstrong Studios in St Kilda. In 1967 he signed to Parlophone and released two unsuccessful singles, Rocking Chair/After Dinner Evening Stroll (Jan '68) and Coming Home Late Again/Run Away Children (Dec '68). David McKay produced both singles. During this time, Hans attended a dance in Dandenong where he saw a young singer with a great voice, who he thought had potential as a recording artist. He alerted EMI producer David McKay about the singer, thinking his voice would sound good on record.


The singer was Johnny Farnham and soon after he was signed to EMI and recorded, Sadie (The Cleaning Lady). The song was a massive No.1 hit and launched the young singer's career. Over the next few years Farnham would record a number of Hans’ songs, including Pay The Waiter (on ‘Sadie’ LP 1968), Jamie and Rose Coloured Glasses (on ‘Everybody Oughta Sing A Song’ LP 1971) and Stick Of Incense (on ‘Johnny’ LP 1972). Jamie was also released as a single reaching No.8 and the lively Rose Coloured Glasses got to No.19.


Hans started to build up a good reputation as the writer of hit tunes and a number of acts recorded his songs. Russell Morris recorded It’s Only A Matter Of Time (the B-side of his No.1 single The Real Thing, 1969), NZ band Larry’s Rebels charted in New Zealand with Everybody’s Girl (1968), the Strangers reached No.36 with Lady Scorpio (1969) and Zoot made it to No.33 with Monty & Me (1969).


In early 1970, Hans signed to Ron Tudor’s Fable label. A number of Melbourne’s best rock musicians were assembled to back Hans on his first album ‘Natural High’. They included Billy Green (In Focus), Mick Rogers (Procession) and Graham Morgan (Aztecs). Margie Bayes worked for Ron Tudor in the office at Fable Records at the time and saw Hans many times. She recalls,


“He was like a little pixie. I remember him saying to Ron Tudor one time that he had talked to an Indian guru. And Ron said, ‘Oh, did you ring him?’ And he said, ‘Oh no, I just talked to him.’ It was all in his head. He was a harmless fellow, but he had some strange ideas.”


The album was completed in the latter part of 1970 and Hans appeared on the music show, ‘Hit Scene’ singing There’s A Light in an outside broadcast at the St Kilda Marina. Interviewed by the show’s host, he was asked about his album. Hans said,


“It’s finished at long last. There’s some bosa novas, some heavy rock’n’roll, 12-bar blues things. There’s a couple which are involved in the philosophy of natural high.”


Hans scored a major national hit with his first single on Fable, Boom Sha La La Lo, co-written with ex-Seeker Bruce Woodley. The single peaked at No.6 in May 1970. (a different version of the song appeared on the album). His next single, Light Across The Valley/Jenny Come Out Of Hiding released in December 1970, was not as successful, only managing a No.30 chart placing. When Hans appeared on the family entertainment show, ‘Bandstand’ on June 13th, 1970, to sing Boom Sha La La Lo, compere Brian Henderson introduced Hans with these comments,


“This is where we have a short romantic ballad from a short romantic ballad singer. With a song he first presented on the show about a year ago, which has since become a hit. Your friend and mine, the jolly gnome – Hans Poulsen.”



During 1970, Hans along with Billy Green and Bruce Woodley contributed music to the surfing movie soundtrack ‘Getting Back To Nothing’. It was released on Fable Records and included three tunes written by Hans – Surf’s Up, Bombout Baby and the title track, which was also released as a single (backed with Stick of Incense), in April 1971. Getting Back To Nothing and Surf’s Up were included on the CD release, ‘A Life In The Sun – Australian Surfing Film Soundtrack Music Of The 60s & 70s’ (Warner Music 2016).



Hans’ second single release for 1971, came in October with the release of Sweetest Girl I’ve Ever Seen/Seagull, both tracks were lifted from the ‘Natural High’ album. Unfortunately it did not chart. The next single appeared in December, Stork/Bikie’s Theme. Both tracks were written by Hans for the Tim Burstall comedy film ‘Stork’. The song Stork was described as ‘a quick lively number, unlike what we’ve come to know from Hans.” (Ed Nimmervoll, Go-Set January 1st, 1972). Hans makes a brief appearance as a folk singer in the party scene in the movie.


During 1970-71, Hans made appearances at several outdoor music festivals, including Australia’s first rock festival at Ourimbah, NSW in January 1970. He also appeared at the Wallacia Festival NSW in January 1971 and the Miracle 3-Day Festival of Peace, Love, & Music at Launching Place, Victoria in March, 1971. In January 1971, Hans gave a memorable performance at a pop festival at the Parkerville Amphitheatre, 34 km from Perth WA. The festival was attended by 25,000 people with Bakery as the headline act. Go-Set writer, Sally Aurich reported,


“Dressed in soft yellow as the sun sank, Hans sang the Beatles’ ‘Get Back’ in Spanish, deep folk and finished with George Harrison’s ‘My Sweet Lord’.” (Go-Set January 16th, 1971).


Another festival Hans appeared at was the Odyssey Rock Festival held on December 26th-28th, 1970 at Wiseman’s Ferry NSW, 71 km north of Sydney. US band Pacific Gas & Electric were the headlining act, plus a stellar line-up of Aussie bands including Fanny Adams, Aztecs, Chain, Tully, Fraternity and Daddy Cool, to name just a few. If you are wondering how much it cost to see all of these bands, the ticket prices were as follows - $5 for 3 days, $4 for 2 days or $3 for 1 day. Camping was free and parking was 20 cents for 3 days (those were the days!!).


Hans’ second Fable album, ‘Lost & Found’ was released in 1972. Produced by Brian Cadd, the album came in a gatefold sleeve with impressive artwork. The album contained 12 new songs written by Hans, plus the Ledbelly classic, Goodnight Irene. The Hamilton Country Bluegrass Band and Captain Matchbox provided the backing for the album. Two singles were lifted from the LP, Meet Me In The Valley/Lost & Found (June) and Sleepy Town Girl/The Wanderer’s Song (November). Other noteworthy tracks include My Place, Coming Home The Long Way and Under Full Sail.


“A surprisingly focused and mature song cycle evoking the thrills and spills of rural life.” (Robert Foster)



Fable issued an EP in 1973 titled, ‘Hans Poulsen’ which contained four A-sides from previously issued singles – Boom Sha La La Lo, Light Across The Valley, Sleepy Town Girl and Meet Me In The Valley. Hans’ first two Fable singles are also collectable as they contain non-album B-sides, Mister Curiosity and Jenny Come Out of Hiding. Another collectable disc is the Idlers shoe advertisement issued on 45 in the early 1970s.


“Hans Poulsen wrote and sang Australian adverts in the 1970s. Examples: ‘Are Your McLean’s Showing’, ‘Amco Nice Clean Petrol’. Idlers were a brand of comfortable shoe. This was a promotional disc. The song is about his inner conflict, and his yearning for truth to prevail as he questions the accuracy of the name ‘Idlers’, aguing that people who wear this brand of shoe are in fact very active people and who are indeed not at all idle.” (Discogs)


In early 1972, Hans travelled to Europe and the UK. In London he met up with his former EMI producer David McKay, who was currently producing the New Seekers. This led to the group recording three of Hans’ songs, There’s A Light, Wanderer’s Song and Don’t Want To Lose You. The New Seekers included two ex-pat Aussie singers, Peter Doyle and Marty Krisian and they enjoyed huge success in the UK. Their 1973 double LP, ‘Live At The Royal Albert Hall’ opens with There’s A Light. McKay also produced an album with Hans titled ‘Peace & Plenty’, which was not released in Australia. It would be safe to assume that this would be an outstanding album, but to my knowledge, no copies have surfaced in this country.


Hans settled into the Findhorn community in Forress in north-eastern Scotland. Hans described this community as “beautiful people from all over the world, who were looking for a new way of being.” And added, “There is only one religion and that religion is love.” At Findhorn, Hans met American girl Karen Hogg. While living in this community he contributed to two albums, the sing-a-long live album ‘What A Way To Look At Life’ and the studio album ‘It Can’t Be Described In Words’. Listening to the ‘What A Way To Look At Life album, Hans seems to be enjoying himself leading the choir of Findhorn singers and there is laughing and clapping throughout.


The Aussie troubadour contributed 8 songs to this album and they are all good enough to be recorded by mainstream artists. Songs included, My Friends, Harmony and One Incredible Family. All the songs Hans wrote fitted in with the philosophy of life the spiritual group believed in and it is easy to see why he was so welcome in this community. Another studio album ‘Hope & Anchor’ was not released. Fellow musician and friend, Will Mercer lived at Findhorn when Hans was there and recalls,



“Hans was such a good songwriter and at that time he captured the mood perfectly. It was a very special time made more so because of Hansy’s fabulous music and personality. He was a real hit in the community and we generally played at the Friday night community fun evening just like the one in the photos. I have such a clear picture of his caravan called ‘Teapot’ for the very reason we were always welcome if the kettle was on, and Scottish winters were cold in those days.” (Will Mercer Facebook post, Stroud UK).


Hans stayed at Findhorn for three years and in 1975 he followed his girlfriend Karen to Boston, Massachusetts. The couple married soon afterwards and had a daughter, Leilani. Hans travelled to a number of places in the US like Santa Monica, Los Angeles and New York, where he performed solo gigs and recorded two albums, ‘Dancing Shoes’ and ‘Wonderchild Family Singalong Songbook’. A third album ‘Bitter Beauty’ was not released. Hans sent the albums to Ron Tudor in Melbourne, hoping he might release them in Australia. But Ron refused because Hans had broken his contract with Fable. During his time in the US, Hans worked in schools telling stories with taped backing music. It was a pre-cursor to the Wonderchild therapy program he would later develop for terminally ill children in Australia.


In the early 80s, Hans was diagnosed with cancer, which he successfully fought using an alternative treatment method called Guided Imagery & Music (GIM). The innovative treatment involved listening to classical music with guided imagery. Hans did not have medical insurance and accumulated a huge medical bill. He was forced to flee the US and return to Australia. Back in Australia, Hans toured and recorded with Brendan Hanley’s group, Bahloo.


In 1985 Hans returned to the UK where he contributed 8 songs to the West End stage musical ‘Time’. The songs appeared on the soundtrack album ‘Dave Clark’s Time’ album (Capitol 1986). Hans’ songs were sung by Leo Sayer (I Know I Know), Ashford Simpson (Starmaker), Julian Lennon & Stevie Wonder (Time Will Teach Us), and Cliff Richard (She’s So Beautiful). She’s So Beautiful was released as a single and was a No.17 hit in the UK. Stevie Wonder played and arranged all the instruments on the track. Hans said about the song, “A lot of people thought it was about a woman, but it was about the planet.” It has recently been uncovered that Dave Clark Five also recorded one of Hans’ songs, which was left over from this project. Universal Love was included on the DC5 compilation ‘All The Hits’ issued in 2020.



Burt Bacharach produced the Dionne Warwick track, Within My World and was so impressed with Hans' song writing that he wanted to sign him to a recording deal. Bacharach wanted 18% of the profits made from the recordings and the lawyers representing Hans told him not to sign. Hans now regrets not signing with Bacharach and one can only speculate the fame he would have achieved if the deal had gone ahead.


Back in Australia in the late 80s, Hans appeared on the popular television program ‘Hey Hey It’s Saturday’ singing Boom Sha La La Lo live. The performance features some great guitar playing skills by Hans. In 1989 Hans released the 10-track cassette, ‘Sacred Games’ which he described as, “very quiet but intimates the writer’s learning and journey towards a New World.”


In the early 90s, Hans was invited by some friends he had met in Boston, to meet up with them in the northern US city of Seattle. From Seattle they travelled to Cortes Island about 160 km north of Vancouver, Canada. During his time on the island, Hans suffered a massive stroke, in October 1992. Hans was left alone in his apartment for two days before friends discovered him. He was taken to hospital in Vancouver by helicopter where he remained in a coma for almost a month.


The authorities at the hospital contacted Hans’ mother by phone and said they wanted to turn off the life support. His mother refused saying, “No way, don’t do it.” Amazingly Hans regained conscientiousness, but was again faced the serious problem of a medical bill amounting to around $100,000. Again a friend came to his rescue, Australian girl, Jenny McCrae. Despite being in a wheelchair, Hans was able to escape by private plane back to Australia. He then spent the next two years recuperating at the Caulfield Rehabilitation Centre.


In 1993, a CD of new music, ‘Carry You In My Heart’, recorded before Hans suffered his stroke, was released. The music on the album in very laid back and relaxing to listen to and a credit to Hans' songwriting talent. The title track is a deeply personal song to the friends and loved ones that have meant the most to Hans in his life. Other outstanding tracks include Crazy, Splinters Of Ice and Wildbird. Musicians helping out on the album were Mark Punch (guitar), Sunil De Silva (percussion), Mark Kennedy (drums), and Tony Buchanan (sax).


“The 9-track album touches on familiar themes which Poulsen made popular all those years ago: peace, politics Vs nature, utopia, co-operation, love – both personal and global, compassion and positiveness!” (Chris Spencer)



In 1997 Hans released a collection of children’s songs on the CD, ‘Wonderchild's In Town’. The songs on the album outline Hans’ feelings for animals, nature, indigenous people, religious tolerance and self-love. The album was produced by Phil Punch at Rozelle, NSW and the backing musicians included Mark Punch (guitar, vocals), Jamie McKinley (keyboards), Paul Adolphus (didgeridoo, whistle), Bill Balderston (clarinet) and James Greening (tuba). In the CD liner notes Hans wrote,


“If children see how precious and vulnerable our environment is, they will grow up to protect it and this is the intention behind this music, that parents and teachers might use it as a tool to inspire and encourage their little people.”


The next CD Hans released was Franco & Silverina & the Miracle of Transtaveri in 2001. Hans narrates a fairytale he created to delight and inspire children. The liner notes gives the following description of what the CD is all about,


“A magical story of discovery for all children. Set in the Swiss/Italian Alps, it’s a story of faith and changes. Includes inspirational songs such as ‘Learning To Love Myself’. Hans’ unique storytelling skills bring this story to life creating images of magic and beauty which will enchant all children.”


Hans’ last album of new music, ‘Rock’n’Roll Mystics’ was issued in 2002. It is an outstanding album featuring 8 great songs. Hans has a pleasant voice and it is easy to understand the words of the songs and the messages he is trying to convey. The opening track, a re-working of Faces, from the ‘Carry You In My Heart’ CD, is a song about sitting with friends at a busy sidewalk café, watching the faces of the people walking past. All of the songs are 5 minutes plus and the longest, at 7 min 15 sec, the epic Island Of Oz, is the highlight of the album. Hans has never lost his fascination for his grandparent’s journey to Australia around 100 years ago and the theme of this song is the many people who travelled from far off places to settle in the ‘Land of Oz’. In the chorus Hans borrows a few lines from the classic Over The Rainbow. But instead of having “blue birds flying over the rainbow”, Hans substitutes, “pelicans flying over the ocean.” Other outstanding songs include Strangers In Paradise and All The People In The World, where Hans makes the sad observation, “With all the people in the world, no-one should ever be alone tonight.”


In 2002 Hans issued the CD, ‘The Best Of The Early Years’. It includes a carefully chosen collection of his early singles, both A and B-sides and a selection of the best tracks from his two Fable LPs. It is a great collection of Hans’ early material, if you are lucky enough to obtain a copy.


Sadly, these days, Hans is confined to a wheelchair and he lives in a nursing home in the Melbourne suburb of Box Hill. He has used his talent as a songwriter to promote peace, love and understanding and saving the planet. He has over 500 registered songs and it’s a shame that most of his recorded work is not readily available. His friend Ross Hill recently told me, “Hans is a kind, loving person and people take advantage of him.” The resilience Hans displayed to overcome some serious medical issues was amazing. He always kept a positive outlook on life and continued to do what he does best – write wonderful songs.


Sadly, Hans passed away on February 17th, 2023. His friend Barbara Elliot posted this very moving tribute on Facebook,


"My dear friend Hans Poulsen, has left us this morning peacefully, just short of his 78th birthday. What a wonder! May his spirit fly with the Angels! I'll carry you in my heart always!"


Sources:

Best of Bandstand 1967-70 Volume 4 DVD, Umbrella Entertainment

Margie Bayes – comments via phone, July 26th, 2020

Discogs – review comments for Idlers promotional disc.

Barbara Elliott - comments via email March 1st, 2023

Facebook – comments by Will Mercer, March 25th, 2019

Mick Foenander - comments via email February 23rd, 2023

Robert Foster – The Golden Age of Singer-Songwriters, Dec 2011-Jan 2012

Wonita Harris – comments via phone, August 19th, 2020

Ian McFarlane - Encyclopedia of Australian Rock & Pop 2nd Edition, Third Stone Press, 2017

Paul McHenry – Hans Poulsen: Troubadour - An overview of the musical career of Hans Sven Poulsen (Revised Edition), Moonlight Publishing, 1996

Milesago.com – Australasian Music & Popular Culture 1964-1975p Culture

YouTube – comments by Russell Anderson, 2019

Wrokdown – Hans Poulsen talks to Wendy Saddington, November 24th, 2018







People may also be interested in another booklet by Paul McHenry: Fax About Max


This book and Hans Poulsen Troubadour are available from: www.facebook.com/moonlightpublishing.

Email: moonlightau@gmail.com.

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