When Melbourne singer Joan Mifsud began singing in the early 60s, she had everything a good entertainer needed to become successful. She had good looks, she could sing well and most importantly she could engage with an audience. But various factors in her life prevented her from becoming the well-known singer she deserved to be and few people these days have heard of her. While other performers she worked with became household names in Australia and around the world, Joan remained relatively unknown.
Joan Mifsud (born in Malta on June 12th, 1946) came to Australia in 1954 on a ship called the “Sydney” with her father Oscar, mother Doris, older brother Norman and younger brother Michael, and the family settled in Melbourne. Both of Joan’s parents were well-educated and found immediate employment in their adopted country. Joan’s aunty, Gemma Portelli was a famous actress/singer in Malta and was well known in Australia.
Joan’s family loved music and from a young age there were many family singsongs around the piano, which were accompanied by her mother. Her father would set-up a small stage in the lounge room of their home and all their neighbours would be invited. Joan and her brothers and some of the neighbourhood kids, would put on a small concert to entertain them. Joan recalls her younger brother Michael singing the popular 1959 Tommy Steele song,The Little White Bull at one of these private shows.
Joan credits her brother Norman with helping and encouraging her to get involved in singing. At a young age Norman was given his first guitar and shortly after formed a group with his mates called the Vulcans (Norman Mifsud lead guitar, Johnny Harris drums, David Button rhythm guitar, Russell Johnson bass). Joan sang with the Vulcans when they played at the local Scout Hall, parties and other local dances. She recalls,
“It was really due to my brother Norman. He was the one who put a lot of hard work into helping me to sing a song properly and how to use my voice. He’d always work out chords, tell me if I was singing flat. He would sit there and help me to breath properly and to phrase things properly and he worked out all the keys and everything for me.”
Norman went on to have an outstanding career in music as lead guitarist with a number of groups including the Big Push, Chantilly and the Good Old Boys.
When Joan left school she joined the Education Department as a secretary doing typing and shorthand, but she always sang on weekends. It was through work that Joan met singer Johnny Lisle. Johnny invited Joan to come and see his band the Kingsmen perform at a local dance.
The Kingsmen were formed in 1962 by guitarist Ron Mizzi. Johnny Lisle & the Kingsmen released a single in 1964 on the Vamp label titled Well All Right/Feelin’. The group’s line-up included Ron Mizzi on rhythm guitar, Bob Gill on lead guitar, Alex Xuereb on bass and Peter Cohen on drums. Joan started singing with the group as guest vocalist at dances at the Sacred Heart Hall, Preston, Jive Junction in Moonee Ponds and Debutante Balls at the Royale Ballroom in the city. Deb Balls were great events to be part of in the early 60s and Graham
Kennedy and Bert & Pattie Newton would often come along and be presented to the debs at these functions. Joan also featured in the first ‘Rock Spectacular’ at the Northcote Town Hall on May 17th, 1964
In July 1964, the group asked Joan to come to an audition with them for a new TV music show called ‘The Go!! Show.’ Joan was successful and was chosen by producer Julian Jover with two other girl singers, Betty McQuade and April Byron, to appear on the first show, which screened on the 0-10 Network on August 4th, 1964. The male singers chosen were, Buddy England, Colin Cook, Colin Buckley, Ian Turpie, Peter Doyle, Johnny Cooper and Bobby Bright. Joan has very fond memories of appearing on this show:
“It was fantastic, we were all kids, who sang at local dances. We went to the W&G studios to pre-record the songs. I think I sang ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.’ At the taping they put a chalk mark on the floor and you’d sort of walk from one cross to the other. I certainly wasn’t used to TV cameras and we were all very timid, but it was great.”
Englishman Alan Field was the compere for the first 26 episodes of the show before being replaced by Australian actor/singer Ian Turpie. Field had come to Australia in June of that year to compere the Beatles tour of Australia and New Zealand. Joan continues:
“Alan Field was the compere that brought me out from under an arch and introduced me. Then I think we had another group song and I sang ‘My Guy’ to Bobby Bright. We were singing little pieces of songs. That’s vague in my memory, but something to that effect.”
Joan appeared on a few more of the early ‘Go!!’ episodes and recalls that everyone who appeared on the show would perform a live concert at the Preston Circle Ballroom the following weekend.
Joan’s appearances on the show did not go unnoticed and drew favourable comments from young teenage fans in various entertainment publications including:
“It is good to see a fresh young singer like Joan Mifsud getting a go on ‘Go.’ “(Hurrah For Go, Brighton, Axes & Orchids column, Listener In-TV Sept 12th – 18th, 1964)
“Bouquets by the thousand to Joan Misfud for her talent and personality, I think she will go a long way. When are we going to see her again on ‘Go!!?’” (Go!! Fan, Reservoir, Brickbats & Bouquets column, TV Times, December 9th, 1964)
Through her appearances on ‘The Go!! Show’ Joan got to meet and become good friends with other up-and-coming young singers who appeared on the show like Olivia Newton-John, Ian Turpie and Pat Carroll. Joan recalls,
“We were all at that time, just kids having fun and singing at dances.”
Following on from her success of appearing on ‘Go!!’, Joan was invited to sing at dances run by ballroom dancing promoter Hal Kennedy. This included an old time dance at Leggett’s Palladium Prahran with the Allan Flynn Big Band and a teenage dance in a smaller adjacent hall with the Fenderman. Joan describes the four-piece band as “a great group”, which included drummer Frankie Burns, brother of Ronnie Burns. Colin Cook was a guest vocalist at quite a few venues where Joan sang. Her repertoire at this time included songs by Tina Turner, Petula Clark, Brenda Lee and Wanda Jackson. She also sang Supremes songs with another girl singer who used to work at these dances, Judy Hole.
Another Hal Kennedy dance Joan worked at was the Orama Ballroom in Footscray. Backed by the Planets, Joan would sing at dances and dinner dances. The Planets, led by bass player Ian B. Allen specialised in 60/40 dance music and were a mainstay of the Melbourne dance scene for several years. Joan also recalls working with Ian when he was part of a group called the Checkmates, when they were resident band at Croyden High School in the early 60s. The Checkmates featured Eddie Chappell on drums and Graham Broomfield on sax.
Towards the end of the 60s, Joan was working six nights a week singing the popular Top 40 songs of the day. She sang with a band called Stateside when they played at venues for the Kortum Hotel group and she also worked on her own at various hotels including Croxton Park Hotel and the Beachcomber in Beaumaris. It was during this period that Joan met her future husband, they became engaged and were married in 1971.
After Joan got married she decided to give up singing. She moved with her husband to Albury, a city on the Victorian New South Wales border and in 1978 they returned to Melbourne with their 5-year-old son. Joan never sang during her married life and says that it was during this time that many of the people she knew and worked with in the 60s made names for themselves in the entertainment business in Australia and internationally.
In 1998 Joan’s marriage broke up and she did not waste too much time getting back into singing. She joined an all-girl vocal trio called Champagne Cocktail with Judy Colderwood and Marie Pooley. The girls sang songs mainly from the 60s and did floorshows at a number of places around Melbourne including the Racket Club, Churches Restaurant in Richmond and the Palmerston Hotel in South Melbourne.
The next group Joan joined was called Boardwalk with Sue Hamley (partner of the late Ray Eames former guitarist with the Blue Jays/Blue Echoes) and guitarist Don Milosovitch. Using backing tapes the group played resident spots at various RSL clubs around Melbourne. After Boardwalk broke up Joan thought she would take a rest from singing. But the rest was short lived however, because not long after, Ian B. Allen asked her to sing with his group the Allstars.
Ian had moved into concert promotion and had imported some of the big names of 60s rock’n’roll to Australia including Johnny Preston, Del Shannon, Bobby Rydell and Tom Jones. Ian ran a dance at the Moorabbin Town Hall and backed artists with the Allstars. One of the overseas acts Joan worked with at Moorabbin was Chan Romero who wrote and recorded the original version of Hippy Hippy Shake, a song in the Beatles early live playlist and a big hit for Liverpool group the Swinging Blue Jeans. In 2007, Joan was asked to join a tour with the Allstars in a show headlined by American country music legend Johnny Tillotson. The tour included shows at Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney, which Joan says was very interesting and fun. In 2007 Joan was included on a live CD titled ‘The Allstars … Be Our Guest.’ Joan sings the opening track, a great version of the Ronette’s 1963 hit Be My Baby and does backing vocals when Betty McQuade rips into Riot In Cell Block No.9. In a review of the CD, British writer Tony Wilkinson wrote:
“Joan Mifsud is a new name to myself, but she possesses a great singing voice and really gets under the skin of the Ronette’s ‘Be My Baby’.”
Joan continued working as a secretary for various businesses, then joined the Department of Human Services, working her way up to the position of Regional Co-ordinator. Then in 2007 she retired and when the dances at Moorabbin closed she thought this was the end of her singing as well. But along came someone she knew from the 60s, singer Rick Diamond. In the 60s Rick was lead vocalist with the Henchmen who scored a big hit (Melb No.5, Syd No.10) with Rockin’ Robin on the Go!! Label in April 1965.
Joan teamed up with Rick to perform floorshows at quite a few venues around Ballarat, Bendigo, Kyneton and Donnybrook. With Joan singing her usual 60s classics and Rick doing fantastic versions of the Big O, they were a highly entertaining combination. When the floorshows with Rick ended, Joan again thought that she would pack up singing for good, but along came another acquaintance from the early days of her singing career, Ron Mizzi from the Kingsmen. They perform shows at private parties and seniors functions to this day. Some of the songs in their repertoire include Summertime, the Beatles’ Chains and Normie Rowe’s It Ain’t Necessarily So, which always seems to go down well. Ron says of his singing partner:
“I might be biased because we work together, but she still holds a tune and she’s very engaging. She’s very good with audiences, particularly the audiences in our age bracket …. On Cup Day we had a lunch at my place, about 20 people and a lot of them had never seen Joan before. We got up and did an hour show and everyone was so impressed with her. She can still hold an audience.”
When Joan turned 70 in 2016, Olivia Newton-John sent her a personal video message, which shows the high regard she has for Joan. Greedy Smith from Mental As Anything and Ian Allen also sent video messages. Joan says her son Christopher is the best thing that ever happened to her and she could not ask for a better son. Christopher is married to Fiona and they have two children, Cameron 17 and Jade 15. Jade has inherited the family’s musical talent and is a very good piano player.
Ron Mizzi continues:
“People talk of the 60s and they talk about Pat Carroll, Olivia Newton-John, Lynne Randell and some of the other people that were around then. Joan didn’t get the accolades that those girls got, but she’s in the same field.”
Joan spends her Christmas break each year holidaying at her brother’s blueberry farm. They enjoy sing-a-longs and make private recordings. Joan does not seem to be showing any signs of slowing down at the moment, which only goes to prove – you can’t hold a good girl back.
Thanks to Susie Gamble for supplying photos and other information.
Ian B. Allen – Joan Mifsud: The Go Show Lady article, Rock’n'Roll News, October 2004
Listener In-TV – September 12th – 18th & December 6th – 12th, 1964
David McLean - Collected Stories On Australian Rock’n’Roll, Canetoad Publications, 1991
Milesago.com – The Go!! Show
Ron Mizzi – Interview: November 14th, 2019
Joan Pover – Interview: November 13th, 2019
Chris Spencer, Zbig Nowara & Paul McHenry - Who’s Who Of Australian Rock, 5th Edition, Five Mile Press, 2002
TV Times – December 9th, 1964
Young Modern – August 5th, 1964