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The Flying Circus - Australia's Most Underrated Group

Updated: Oct 9, 2023

If you lived around the Sydney/Newcastle area in 1969 you would most likely remember a band called the Flying Circus. They were the group everyone was talking about, and their songs were constantly played on the radio. The Flying Circus won the Hoadley Battle of the Sounds, a big deal in those days, controversially beating the favourites the Zoot. Nothing much was heard of the group after this except that they had gone to Canada. A few years ago, a friend played me an album called ‘Gypsy Road’ by the Flying Circus. The songs on this album were completely different to the Flying Circus I remembered from 1969/70.

“Often only remembered for their three classic bubblegum hit singles …. Flying Circus were not only capable of some extraordinary Australian 60s pop but also capable of some very fine country rock and could arguably claim to have been totally misunderstood but in fact an Australian band well ahead of its time!!” (Best of Flying Circus CD 1995)

The Flying Circus were formed in August 1968 by New Zealander Doug Rowe and Robert Hughes. The pair both worked for the Sydney Morning Herald, Hughes was a Copy Boy and Rowe was a Cadet Journalist. They shared a love of country rock music and began jamming regularly at the Frisco Hotel in Woolloomooloo and it was here that they met aspiring vocalist James (Jim) Wynne. The group needed a drummer and Bob suggested a school friend of his Colin Walker. Colin came from a musical family, his older brother Peter played bass with Roland Storm & the Statesmen and backed ‘Queen of the Surf’ Little Pattie on record and at concerts. His other brother Terry played with Ray Hoff & the Offbeats and the highly regarded Melbourne group the Strangers. Colin Walker recalls,

“When I met the guys, Doug and Jim were living in this frightful boarding house on the waterfront in Kirribilli opposite Circular Quay, it was a totally disgusting place, man. Anyway, they moved into a place over in Woolwich, we started to rehearse, got the band together.”

One night around February/March 1968 pop singer Marty Rhone brought his friend John Sinclair to their house to watch them rehearse. Sinclair who worked as a Sales Rep for a music publishing company, was impressed, and a few months later when he and his brother decided to start a dance, he went to watch them play. By this time, they were called the Flying Circus, he thought they were good and booked them for the dance that was starting in September at the Cronulla Masonic Hall.

A week before the dance, Sinclair got a call from the band saying that they did not have any transport and could he get them to Cronulla. He had a station wagon through his job and was happy to help them out. The dance only lasted three weeks before the police closed it down, but a lot of people liked the group and they started getting bookings. John Sinclair continued helping them out by driving them to gigs.

Doug Rowe from Palmerston North in New Zealand had come to Australia in 1966 with Peter Nelson & the Castaways. Doug joined the group as bass player in 1965 and had played on their NZ hit singles including Skye Boat Song. Not long after the group arrived in Australia, Nelson quit to go solo and the band continued on as the Castaways. Doug did not stay with the band for long and decided to pursue a career in journalism. Music was still his passion, however, and he swapped his bass for a 12-string Rickenbacker. He loved the jangly guitar sounds of the Byrds and it was his dream to lead a band playing this style of country rock music. Doug started putting down some demo tapes of his original songs with his friend and fellow Kiwi Mike Perjanik.

Producer Mike Perjanik

Keyboard player, arranger & composer Mike Perjanik made an important contribution to the NZ recording scene in the mid-60s. He played on and arranged almost every hit for Viking Records. He discovered Maria Dallas and arranged for her to be signed to Viking Records and helped launch the career of Allison Durbin. In 1966 the Mike Perjanik Band relocated to Sydney for a residency at the Coogee Bay Hotel followed by the Latin Quarter in 1967. He was appointed A&R manager and house producer for EMI Columbia in late 1968, replacing David MacKay.

It was through this friendship between Doug Rowe and Mike Perjanik that the Flying Circus secured a record deal with EMI Records. The group recorded their debut single, Shame Shame but before the single was released, the original version by the Magic Lanterns become a surprise US hit. This prompted Phonogram to rush release it in Australia, killing any chance the Flying Circus version had. EMI decided not to release Flying Circus version, but the song was eventually issued as a track on EMI’s 1969 Royal Easter Show Souvenir EP. Bob Hughes departed in early 1969 to pursue a career in acting and he was replaced by Warren Ward (ex-Stonehenge) and Greg Grace was also brought in at this time as an extra vocalist.

Bob Hughes went on to a successful career in acting appearing in ‘Abba The Movie’ (1976) and the lead role in the TV sitcom ‘Hey Dad’ (1987-94). But Hughes became famous for all the wrong reasons in 2014 when he was convicted of child sex offences and sentenced to 10 years 9 months imprisonment. In June 2022 he was granted parole and was deported to the UK.

In January 1969 the new Circus line-up made their debut appearance at an outdoor concert in Sydney’s Domain at the Australia Day Concert. The fortunes of the band were about to take a giant leap forward when John Bromwell of Essex Music offered Perjanik and the group a song by US song writing team Mac Gayden and Buzz Cason. Hayride, originally recorded by Gary Lewis & the Playboys had obvious commercial appeal. The band were not particularly fond of the song but knew that if they wanted to get radio play, they had to record a song in the ‘bubblegum’ style that was hugely popular at the time.

Hayride/Early Morning was released in February 1969 and was instantly popular, especially in Sydney where it reached No.4 and went to No.24 nationally. In New Zealand the release of the song was delayed when local radio programmers objected to the lyric, “making love in the hay.” The success of Hayride was amazing when you consider that very few Sydney acts had hit records at that time. The Executives charted several times, and the Dave Miller Set scored a reasonable hit with Mr Guy Fawkes. One month later the Flying Circus’ second single La La/The Last Train was released. La La from the same song writing team of Gayden and Cason became an even bigger hit reaching Top 5 nationally and became the biggest selling Australian group single at that time.

The success of the two singles made the Flying Circus hot property and they were so much in demand that in March they decided to go full time and they asked John Sinclair to be their manager. It was an exciting time for the band because as well as being a popular live act they also appeared on a variety of popular TV shows including ‘The Tommy Leonetti Show’ and ‘The Dating Game’. The fantastic success of the singles also encouraged EMI to ask the group to record an LP. Produced by Mike Perjanik at EMI Studios in Sydney, the album had an impressive list of well-known jazz musicians helping out including Don Burrows and Eric Buddle.

The resulting album titled ‘The Flying Circus’ has been widely dismissed as “an odd collection of songs” but I consider it to be an impressive debut LP. The three Doug Rowe originals stand up well alongside Byrds and Dylan covers. Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum gave the album a positive review in his Go-Set column,

“I’m surprised. There’s much more to the Flying Circus than the propellors known respectively as ‘Hayride’ and ‘La La’. These are transparent. But not so this album. Apart from re-recorded versions of the singles and an unfortunate ‘Hair’ medley the album contains three originals, three from the Byrds and the Byrd’s arrangement of Bob Dylan’s ‘You Ain’t Going Nowhere’, plus Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Scarborough Fair’. The Byrd’s songs are important. This is obviously this group’s influence and they let us see the way this has affected the Doug Rowe originals. The two harmonise well and the result is not a Byrd’s copy but a definite Flying Circus style....The album is good, the various talents of the group are neatly packaged, but the star of the album is producer Mike Perjanik.” (Ian Meldrum, Go-Set Aug 30th, 1969)

Despite being hugely popular, the band faced issues when they played live because the music they recorded was not indicative of the music they liked to play. Colin Walker recalls,

“When we did concerts, we’d do the hits and play ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ and a couple of obscure Byrds’ tunes and the kids would scratch their heads. It was difficult, we got ourselves in an awkward position.”

As well as problems caused by a conflicting musical image the group faced a number of setbacks in the second part of 1969 that would have destroyed most bands. In June, the house they shared in Woolwich burned down and Greg Grace quit due to persistent throat problems and other personal issues. In July, prior to a NSW/Qld country tour with Johnny Farnham and Mike Furber, Warren Ward collapsed to be replaced on the tour by John Cooksey of the Valentines. Returning from Brisbane their truck was written off in a collision and during August Jim Wynne collapsed on stage in Melbourne. A few days later in Sydney he was unable to perform due to a severe throat infection. This caused the band to withdraw from the NSW Final of the Battle of the Sounds. Their run of bad luck continued when Doug was almost electrocuted during an Adelaide tour and was laid up for two weeks.

At an open-air concert in Newcastle in late 1969 supported by Taylor Square band Quill (Keith Barr, Daryl McKenzie, Red McKelvie & Terry Wilkins), Warren Ward was ill and unable to perform. Doug approached Quill’s bass player Terry Wilkins and asked him to fill in. Terry recalls,

“Doug approached me backstage and said that his bass player was sick and would I play bass for them right then. So, I spent 20 minutes backstage with him teaching me as much as he could in 20 minutes, and I went on stage and played my first show with the Flying Circus.”

A few weeks after this show Warren Ward quit the band due to his on-going health issues and Terry Wilkins was asked to join permanently. Not long after Wilkins joined, the group recorded an EP of country songs. The tracks included two originals I Remember Jo-Anne (Rowe) and When Will I See You As You (Wilkins-Rowe), a Bob Dylan cover and a Merle Haggard cover. The band not only enjoyed recording these country songs but the cover photo was taken at Smokey Dawson’s Ranch, which was a great thrill for the band. The veteran NZ country singer/whip cracker was their idol.

The third Flying Circus single Run Run Run/All Fall Down was released in December 1969. Run Run Run was written by Doug Rowe and it must have been very satisfying for Doug having a song he wrote make the charts. The single placed No.7 in Sydney and No.19 nationally. Around the time Run Run Run entered the charts, however, Doug suffered a ruptured ulcer and flew home to NZ to recuperate. The record needed to be promoted so Terry called in his former Quill bandmate, Red McKelvie to fill in. When Doug returned Red was asked to become a permanent member. Colin Walker recalls,

“Red McKelvie was a great addition to the band, due to his musicianship. He was a wonderful guitar player, and he just bought a whole new flavour to the band with his masterful playing. He was a good influence on Doug and he was a good friend of Terry.”

In early 1970, Flying Circus began to record their second album, ‘Prepared In Peace’. It was quite a departure from their previous LP, and it’s obvious that the band wanted to distance themselves as far as possible from the bubblegum image of their previous recordings. The gatefold album cover featured an oval window framing the heads of the group, which opens to reveal a full-length black & white photo of the shirtless, unshaven group. Red McKelvie officially joined the group mid-way through the recording. He contributed the Band-like Israel and his superb guitar playing is featured throughout the album. The album has a laid-back country feel that sounds better each time you play it.

“Prepared In Peace was a major step forward for the group and it remains one of the lost gems of early 70s Australian rock. The album consisted almost entirely of original country-rock songs, except for the coda acapella rendition of Leadbelly’s ‘Goodnight Irene’. It was dominated by the songs of Doug Rowe who contributed his best material yet, but also included Jim Wynne’s ‘3667’, a song commemorating the scrapping of an old NSW Railways steam engine…. Terry Wilkins was also coming to the fore as a writer and contributed two self-penned songs, the title track and ‘Giggling Guru’ …as well as ‘One Way Out’ which he co-wrote with Doug.” (Duncan Kimball, Milesago)

Filmmaker Geoffrey Brown produced and directed a 19-minute short film titled ‘The Man In The Crimson Hat’ featuring music from the ‘Prepared In Peace’ album. The film was used to promote the album and was loosely styled as a ‘Day in the Life’ of the individual group members, culminating in them playing Silvertown Girl overlooking Sydney Harbour.

The album received good reviews and was voted Australian group ‘Album of the Year’, but unfortunately it did not receive any air-play due to a radio ban. The Australian Radio Ban was a “pay for play” dispute taking place in the local music industry at the time. ‘Rock Through History’ author Bernie Howitt, who has always been a strong supporter of the group, made this comment on his Facebook page on the 50th anniversary of the album’s release,

“Flying Circus had moved on so quickly from the pop teen-oriented singles, and in 1970 produced what I still regard as one of the greatest of Australian albums, ‘Prepared In Peace’, which took them into country rock territory, but always with a distinctively Australian flavour. Typical of the bad luck that seemed to dog them, the album was released just as the great radio ban on most Australian and British recordings hit, meaning it was impossible to hear it.” (Bernie Howitt, Facebook August 9th, 2020)

One month after the release of ‘Prepared In Peace’, Flying Circus won a place to compete in the Grand Final of Hoadley’s Battle of the Sounds. For the first time the final was to be held in Sydney and the band were keen to make amends for their 1969 withdrawal. The group had a busy schedule and the night before the final they were booked for a gig in Tamworth, 415 kms north of Sydney from 8pm until midnight. Then they had a one-hour drive to Armidale for an early morning set from 2am to 4am. After they finished this gig, they packed up their gear and drove back to Tamworth airport and waited for the first available flight to take them back to Sydney. (The events of this day inspired Terry Wilkins to write the song The Longest Day)

Hot favourites to take out the competition this year were Adelaide group the Zoot. Another Sydney band Autumn also had a lot of local support. When the Flying Circus were announced as winners it was greeted with boos and hisses. To me the judges made the right call and chose the band with the most international potential, rather than the band that was the most popular with the audience.

“In awarding Flying Circus the Battle of the Sounds, they (the judges) made a brave call in rewarding a band that was prepared to push beyond the ordinary and record company expectations.” (Bernie Howitt – Facebook August 2020)

In his booklet, ‘The Battles of the Sounds’, Terence Stacey provides some interesting background to the 1970 Battle of the Sounds competition,

“This year was a year of great controversy for the battle. In Melbourne the all-pink Zoot, recent winners of the ‘Go-Set’ readers’ poll were beaten in the Melbourne final by a virtually unknown band, Nova Express. Notwithstanding this, they both went to represent Melbourne in the Grand Final. Sydney had more than its share when in the Sydney finals, Flying Circus, desperately trying to shake off their bubble gum image with tight US West Coast harmonies and top musicianship, beat brilliant popular local band, Autumn, a band virtually unknown outside Sydney. The decision was greeted with catcalls, boos and general derision by the capacity crowd. They too both went into the Grand Final the following week, once again beating Autumn who came 3rd after Zoot. This provoked an even stronger reaction than the previous weeks finals. This time ¾ of the audience had left within minutes of the winner’s announcement!” (‘The Battles of the Sounds’, Terence J. Stacey 1995)

In October a single, Israel/Giselle was released when the radio ban had concluded. Both tracks were lifted from the ‘Prepared In Peace’ LP, but it did not chart. Not long after the release of the single, Red was asked to leave the group because despite being a great musician, he was not fitting in. The final straw came when he objected to playing at a Vietnam Moratorium Concert that the rest of the band were keen to support. Colin Walker recalled,

"My recollection was that his tenure with the band was coming to a close, he wasn’t getting along with Doug and the boys. The direction was not too much to his liking. He was just losing interest.”

Guitarist/keyboard player Sam See was bought in as Red’s replacement. Sam used to hang out with Fraternity who lived across the street from Terry and Colin and got on well with them. Sam was a founding member of Sherbet, but he was not happy with the musical direction of this group. Flying Circus travelled up to the small NSW town of North Haven to rehearse with their new keyboard player. However, things did not go as planned. Sam recalls,

“That was supposed to be my rehearsal to get into the band and the keyboards never arrived because the truck broke down. So I ended up being just a guitar player in the band. Initially it was terrifying to try replacing Red who was an artist and a great musician at that point, and I was nowhere near the mark.”

Red McKelvie moved on to form various country rock bands and became a much sought-after session musician. He played on Richard Clapton’s first two LPs and provided the signature guitar on Girls On The Avenue. He returned to NZ shortly after and continued as a session guitarist. Sadly, Red passed away in 2022.

Soon after Sam See joined, the group began recording their next album, which they worked on over the next few months. The album titled ‘Bonza Beaut & Boom Boom Boom’ was another outstanding effort by the band. They moved away from the completely country style of their previous album and experimented with different musical styles including country rock, ballads and songs in the Crosby Stills & Nash vein. The standout track is Doug’s Turn Away which the band thought was the best song they had ever done. Jim contributes another ‘train’ song, Kempsey Mail, Sam offers Somerville which he co-wrote with Bruce Howe (later recorded by Fraternity with Bon Scott on lead vocals) and Terry’s Longest Day was an album highlight.

The group wanted to call the album North Haven Harvest but because they had changed labels to Harvest the record label thought that would be confusing. It was someone from the record company who gave the album the name ‘Bonza Beaut’, a spoof track written by Sam and Terry as a put down on Australian apathy.

“The album was more straight ahead rock in style and despite being lumbered with a bizarre title, it was another sterling effort which once again consisted of all original material.” (Duncan Kimball, Milesago)

About the same time ‘Bonza Beaut’ was being recorded, Doug started producing an album for American folk singer Megan Sue Hicks. Megan ‘a sweet little hippy girl” from Oklahoma City had come to Australia with her parents and shared a flat with Clelia Adams who was office manager at the music paper Go-Set. Doug was a friend of Clelia and one night he came to their Balmain flat for dinner. While he was there, Megan sang a song she had written and Doug was so impressed that he told her, if she could write enough songs for an album, he would produce it. Megan came up with the required number songs and the recording was done late at night at Festival (not EMI where the Circus recorded) studios. As well as producing the album, Doug played acoustic & electric guitar on some tracks and Orlando Agostino played acoustic guitar. The rest of the band were also asked to play backing on some of the tracks. Sam See recalls,

“We were heavily into Fairport Convention, so I think quite a few of the songs had our interpretation of what Fairport Convention might have done with the songs.”

The prize for winning the Battle of the Sounds was a return passage on a cruise ship. All previous winners had gone to London, but the Flying Circus made the bold decision to go the San Francisco, but the trip almost did not happen. Doug thought the group should instead move to Perth, develop the band more and consider taking the trip later. It all came to a head a week before their departure. A heated argument took place during a set break at Chequers Nightclub and the band voted 3 – 2 to stay in Australia. John Sinclair was very much in favour of the band taking the trip but could not convince them to change their minds. Overnight, however, there was a change of heart and Doug rang Sinclair the next day to say that they would take the trip.

The Flying Circus set sail for North America on the P&O cruise liner Arcadia on January 20th, 1971, but Doug was not on board. He stayed behind to complete the production on the Megan Sue Hicks’ album and joined the ship at Auckland. During a stopover in Hawaii Terry and Sam wrote The Ballad of Sacred Falls, which became their next single. The ‘Bonza Beaut’ album was released after the band had left and because they were not in the country to promote it, it sold poorly. The single Turn Away/The Longest Day both tracks lifted from the LP released in February failed to chart and the follow-up It Couldn’t Happen Here/Somerville was also ignored.

The album Doug Rowe produced for Megan Sue Hicks, ‘Marantha’ was issued in April 1972, but Megan was not in the country to promote her album either. She had to return to the States when her visa ran out. The album is a highly sought-after album these days and if you can’t afford the ridiculous prices being asked to purchase a copy, you can download it for around $10. The album is very pleasant to listen to with Megan’s voice sounding similar to Mary Hopkins. “Marantha is a diverse LP ranging from fragile ethereal folk to rural psych-tinged rock.” (Matt Gleeson Facebook Nov, 2015)

When the band arrived in San Francisco they were in for quite a big culture shock. An apartment had been rented for them in Haight-Ashbury which a few years previously was the centre of the hippy movement but was now more like the drug capital of California. When the band told the taxi driver the address of their apartment, he refused to take at first saying “this has got to be a joke.” Sam See recalls,

“We got out of the cab and all these people came out of their houses because cabs weren’t usually seen in Haight-Ashbury. We got out with our guitars, obviously looking like a band and all these people gave us bags of dope and it was like ‘welcome to the world’.”

John Sinclair was asked to accompany the group in the States, and he jumped on a plane to get there in advance to try to set something up before the group arrived. The plan was that the band would go to San Francisco, do some gigs in California, then return home and re-evaluate. But when Sinclair made enquiries about working visas for the band the Immigration Department told him they could not work unless they joined the Musician’s Union. The Musician’s Union said they would not let them join until they got a visa, so it was a hopeless situation. Then Sinclair remembered a tour the Circus did with a Canadian blues band called McKenna Mendelssohn Mainline supporting Frijid Pink. Sinclair got on well with the manager so he contacted him and asked was there anything he could do for them in Canada.

Even though they were not allowed to perform themselves they took full advantage of the exciting live music scene and were able to take in many great acts including Fleetwood Mac, Aretha Franklin and Poco at the legendary Fillmore West. The band were seriously short on cash and during their 4-month San Francisco stay they survived largely on a diet of vegetable stew.

Just before the band were due to return to Australia in February, the news came through that they had been offered an 8-week Canadian tour. Vocalist Jim Wynne at this point decided to leave the band for personal reasons. Jim went on to pursue a career as a landscape artist and his passion for steam trains also featured prominently in his paintings.

The rest of the band decided to continue as a four-piece, and they boarded the train to Vancouver. They were very low on funds but were told that there would be money for food and tickets for the 3-day train trip across Canada to Toronto waiting for them in Vancouver. But when they arrived in Vancouver there were no tickets and no money. With what little money they had they managed to scrape enough cash to buy their tickets. They sat up on the train for three days without any food except for some leftovers that some of the passengers kindly gave them.

When the band arrived in Toronto, they found out that they would be performing on a circuit of high school dances. High school dances were big at the time in Canada because the drinking age was 21, creating a big demand for dances that catered for the under 21 age group. Some of the bigger dances on the circuit attracted over 1500 kids. Toronto, the provincial capital of Ontario had a vibrant music scene - Buffalo Springfield, the Band and Joni Mitchell all started their music careers in this city. The Flying Circus were able to make much more money as a support act on this circuit than they were earning in Australia as a headlining act. Sam See recalls,

“It was great, we got to see quite a lot of Ontario in the little time that we were there. We saw the end of winter and the beginning of summer, so it was lovely. We probably did about 30 gigs.”

The band returned home in July 1971 full of confidence and pleased with the progress they had made in Canada. They entered EMI studios in Sydney to record their next single Finding My Way/The Ballad of Sacred Falls. Both sides were penned by Sam See and Terry Wilkins. The single was released in September but did not chart. It was the band’s last Australian recording.

Just when things seemed to be going well for the band, Sam See was approached by Bruce Howe to join Fraternity which he agreed to do. Sam completed a quick tour of Australia with the Circus then headed to Adelaide to join Fraternity. The band were playing well at this time and See’s departure was a great loss to the band, just when they were building their popularity in Canada. Faced with the task of finding a replacement, Doug Rowe called on former member Greg Grace to fill the spot. Doug taught Greg to play guitar and he re-joined the band.

Flying Circus headed back to Toronto in September 1971, but their manager John Sinclair decided to part company with them. Sinclair stayed in Sydney and worked as an agent looking after an impressive roster of acts which included Autumn, Jeff St John, Sabbath and Sherbet. When Flying Circus arrived back in Canada, they applied for Landed Immigrant Status to allow them to work in Canada legally. When they were granted visas, the Circus worked on the Ontario Bar Circuit. The high school dances had closed up because the licensing age had dropped from 21 to 18. Colin Walker recalls,

“It was always a 6-night format, Monday through Saturday. It was gruelling, we were working all the smaller towns through Ontario, Southern Ontario as well as in Toronto. A couple of bars in Toronto, specifically one called On The Bar, where Charles Blues Band used to play and some of the more well-known bands in Toronto would frequent this place. We played there quite regularly.”

Flying Circus had a three-year deal with EMI Australia and their new manager, Grant Spence, who was the road manager for the well-known Canadian band Lighthouse, got things moving for Flying Circus on the recording side. Capitol Records Canada released a different version of ‘Prepared In Peace’ with selected tracks from the Circus’ second and third albums. The album was the first LP of Australian recordings to be released in North America. This was a great achievement for the band, but better things were yet to come. Lighthouse’s Executive Producer Jimmy Ienner was instrumental in securing a record deal for the group with Capitol Records America. The band flew down to Los Angeles and were showcased for the Capitol Records staff.

The Head of Capitol Records was impressed with the band and signed them to a million-dollar contract. It was the break-through they were waiting for, an outstanding achievement. Flying Circus were the first Australian group to secure a major record deal in the US (Ray Brown was the first Australian solo artist). The band entered Toronto’s Thunder Sound Studios in late 1972 and delivered an album titled ‘Gypsy Road’ that was the culmination of all their years of hard work.

“The first thing you notice about the record itself is the wonderfully warm and resonant sonic quality which allows the music to shine like stars. With song writing chores divided almost evenly between Doug Rowe, Greg Grace and Terry Wilkins the songs are, nevertheless all vibrant and positive with strong melodies and a consistently commercial potential in place. It’s such a shame this album didn’t reach a wider audience. ‘Old Enough’, ‘Green Patch’, and ‘Train Ride’ are all catchy country rock numbers while ‘Maple Lady’ features a more rollicking, bar band feel. ‘Summer Song’ adds pensive reflection to the country rock mode. ‘Another Winter’s Day’ and ‘Me And You’ are pretty acoustic ballads with the added touches of vibes and cello. The standouts are ‘Thousand Years’, a fantastic country-psych song that wouldn’t have been out of place on the Byrds’ ‘The Notorious Byrd Brothers’ album and the glorious ‘Gypsy Road’. Here the Flying Circus take everything that’s great about country and folk rock – jangly guitar lines, close harmony vocals, acoustic rhythm, violin and bond them together to a captivating melody and up the rock ante with an amazing fuzz guitar solo.” (Ian McFarlane 2015).

Greg Grace’s talent really shone through on this album, he wrote Green Patch’, Me And You and Thousand Yearsand co-wrote Maple Lady with Doug. Greg’s lead vocals were also an asset to the record. Recalling Greg’s work on the Gypsy Road sessions Colin Walker said,

“He had a great voice, he really added to the band….(his voice) had a nice timbre, a nice tone, a very identifiable tone.”

The Canadian pressing of ‘Gypsy Road’ came in a gatefold cover with a colour photo of the band staring through yellow/orange flames. The Australian and US pressing titled ‘Flying Circus’ came in a single sleeve with the band’s name written in sky-writing letters against a blue-sky background. The American pressing also had an additional track Shake, Rattle & Roll.

The album received rave reviews in Billboard and Cashbox and it certainly looked like the band were going to crack the US market. Capitol were about to give the record some major promotion but unfortunately the president of Capitol Records who was a big fan of the group was sacked just as the album was released.

In January 1973 Flying Circus returned to Australia for the second Sunbury Festival. Unfortunately, most of the audience did not know who they were and they received a lukewarm reception despite reportedly playing “a magnificent set of fiery guitar-based country rock.” When the band returned to Canada ‘Gypsy Road’ was selling well and the first single lifted off the album was climbing the Canadian charts. Doug’s Old Enough (To Break My Heart) spent nine weeks in the Canadian charts in mid-May 1973 and peaked at No.8. The follow-up Maple Lady reached No.58 in Canada and made the lower portion of the Billboard Top 100. It’s disappointing that both singles were released in Australia and were ignored.

During 1974 Greg Grace was not happy in the group and was talking about leaving so Doug contacted Sam See to ask if he was interested in re-joining. Sam was in England at the time with Fraternity who had travelled to the UK after winning the 1971 Battle Of The Sounds. Sam recalls,

“I was in England with Fraternity, we were doing nothing there. Before we went I told them ‘Every band that has gone there has broken up’. That was a battle I lost. I later found out Bon couldn’t go to the US because of a dope bust. We went there and the vibe got completely kicked out of the band.”

Sam gladly accepted Doug’s offer to return to the band and shortly after he joined, Greg Grace decided to leave. Soon after Sam re-joined the band recorded its final album ironically titled ‘Last Laugh’. Talking about this album Colin Walker said,

“There was some interesting stuff on that album, totally different to everything happening for the band on that record.”

Sam See adds, “There’s a track on it that Terry and I wrote called ‘You’re Not To Blame’. Doug plays a fantastic solo on it. I think he was starting to come out of his skin from being a 12-string guy to being a pretty mean player. So it's all development on the road.”

The band did a tour of the States with Lighthouse then branched off by themselves touring the Midwest, Louisville and Kentucky, then back up through Chicago and Detroit to promote ‘Last Laugh’ and they had zero support from Capitol. Sam See recalls,

“We’d run out of juice pretty much. The record company guys who’d been supporting the band had all been fired, and the new Capitol A & R guys hated the band and the race had pretty much been run by then.”

In early 1975 Terry and Sam quit to join Lighthouse. Doug and Colin recruited some Canadian musicians and kept going as Flying Circus for another six months and the band finally broke up on a tour with the James Gang. After Flying Circus dissolved Colin Walker got together with Greg Grace again in a three-piece band called Arc for a while. Colin met and married a Canadian girl and settled into the Canadian lifestyle. Greg Grace also settled in Canada and is still living in Toronto doing guitar repairs at home after a long career as a roadie. Greg became roadie for Canadian band Wireless which included three ex-members of Autumn. Terry Wilkins also settled permanently in Toronto and is a very highly respected bass player. His productive musical career has included composing, arranging and producing.

Sam See returned to Australia in 1978 and joined Greg Quill’s Southern Cross, then formed the See, Mason & Stockley Band. Sam wrote Reasons for John Farnham’s ‘Whispering Jack’ album then became John Farnham’s musical director in 1981. He went on to record and produce records for a number of artists including Daryl Braithwaite, Olivia Newton-John and Brian Cadd.

Doug Rowe set up a recording studio in Toronto and concentrated on his song writing. He returned to Australia in the late 70s and joined country rock band Grand Junction. During the 80s he did session work and later moved to Bathurst NSW performing with Pig Iron Bob by night and working as groundsman at All Saints College. After he returned to Australia he issued four solo albums and three albums with the Woodpickers. Sadly, Doug passed away in June 2015. On hearing the news of the passing of his friend and former bandmate Sam See posted on his Facebook page,

“Shocked to hear the news of the passing of Douglas John Rowe, the leader and main songwriter of the Flying Circus. We travelled many miles together with Terry Wilkins, Colin Walker and Jim Wynne and made some bloody good music in the process.”

The Australian recordings of Flying Circus have been released on the 1977 compilation LP ‘Stream Trains & Country Days’ and ‘The Best of Flying Circus’ CD. Most of the Flying Circus albums can be purchased second hand on-line for reasonable prices.

Flying Circus never got the credit they deserved in Australia. They were unable to get over the stigma of being a bubblegum band although they were highly respected by other bands and musicians. The group managed to keep going despite some tough set-backs and during their seven-year life span they achieved some ground-breaking achievements in the tough North American music scene, paving the way for other Australian artists and groups. They are a band of which Australia should truly be proud.


Hayride/Early Morning EMI Columbia DO 8617 02/69

La La/The Last Train EMI Columbia DO 8785 03/69

Run Run Run/All Fall Down EMI Columbia DO 8989 12/69

Israel/Giselle EMI Columbia DO9254 10/70

Turn Away/Longest Day EMI Harvest HAR 9321 02/71

It Couldn’t Happen Here/Somerville EMI Harvest HAR 9546 03/71

Finding My Way/Ballad Of Sacred Falls HMV EA 9608 09/71

Run Run Run/Silvertown Girl Capitol 72652 1971

Old Enough (To Break My Heart)/Train Ride Capitol 72689 1972

Maple Lady/Green Patch Capitol 72676 1972

Jabber Jabber/Gypsy Road Capitol 72711 1974

Frontier EP Columbia SEGO 70187 1970

I Remember Joanne, I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight/The Day The Rains Came, When Will I See You As You

Flying Circus LP EMI Columbia SCXO 7907 1969

Hayride, She Don’t Care About Time, The Last Train, Scarborough Fair/Canticle, Groovy Night, I Think I’m Gonna Feel Better, So You Wanna Be A Rock And Roll Star/La La, Twilight Journey, To Put Up With You, You Ain’t Going Nowhere, Hair Medley.

Prepared In Peace LP Columbia SCXO 1970

Follow Me, Israel, 3667, Pax, To Have A Friend, Giselle/Prepared In Peace, One Way Out, Mary, Giggling Guru, It’s So Hard, Silvertown Girl, Reprise – Goodnight Irene.

Bonza, Beaut & Boom Boom Boom LP EMI Harvest SHVL 604 1971

Turn Away, Kempsey Mail, Somerville, Song For Clelia, A Long Long Time Ago/ The Longest Day, Back At You, Despair, Ten, Farewell To My Childhood, It Couldn’t Happen Here, Bonza Beaut & Boom Boom Boom.

Gypsy Road LP Warner WS 20010 1973

Thousand Years, Green Patch, Maple Lady, Summer Song, Old Enough/ Gypsy Road, Train Ride, Another Winter’s Day, Me And You.

Last Laugh LP Warner WS20020 1973

Turn Away, Morning Sets You Free, Rock & Roll Woman, Jabber Jabber, Wake Up Wake Up/Round & Round, Requiem, You’re Not To Blame, Ontario Spring, Hemmings Farm, Last Laugh.

Steam Trains & Country Days LP EMI EMA 326 1977

Hayride, La La, Run Run Run, She Don’t Care About Time, The Last Train, All Fall Down, I Remember Jo-Anne, 3667/Silvertown Girl, Giselle, Israel, Kempsey Mail, Turn Away, The Longest Day, Ballad Of Sacred Falls, Reprise: Goodnight Irene.

Best Of Flying Circus 1969-71 CD EMI 814170 1995

Hayride, La La, Run Run Run, She Don’t Care About Time, The Last Train, All Fall Down, I Remember Jo’Anne, 3667, Silvertown Girl, Reprise: Goodnight Irene, Giselle, Israel, Kempsey Mail, Turn Away, The Longest Day, Ballad Of Sacred Falls, Finding My Way, Early Morning, Shame Shame, Groovy Night, I Think I’m Gonna Feel Better, So You Wanna Be A Rock & Roll Star, Twilight Journey, To Put Up With You, You Ain’t Going Nowhere.

Sources: – Mike Perjanik profile: Andrew Smidt, May 21st, 2013

Glenn A. Baker - Liner notes: ‘Steam Trains & Country Days’ LP, A Tale of Flying Circus, 1977

Mike Gee – Megan Sue Hicks – Legend Revealed, May 2020

Matt Gleeson – Facebook post August 9th, 2020

Ian McFarlane – Flying Circus – Gypsy Road (1973) October 2015

Ian McFarlane – Encyclopedia of Australian Rock & Pop, Allen Unwin, 1999 – Groups & Solo Artists – The Flying Circus

Bernie Howitt – Rock Through History, Longman, 2nd edition 1994

Bernie Howitt – Facebook post August 20th, 2020

Purple Haze podcast Southern FM Tribute to Doug Rowe 2015

Sam See – Interview May 12th, 2023

Terence J. Stacey – The Battles of the Sounds, Moonlight Publishing, 1995



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