RIP Ron Tudor

RIP Ron Tudor

ron tudor
Ron Tudor (centre). Image via YouTube. 

One of the biggest names on the industry side of Australian music – indeed probably the most high profile record company man, before Michael Gudinski really hit his stride with Mushroom in the mid-70s – Ron Tudor of Fable Records and the Bootleg label has passed away at the age of 96. ILYOS remembers Tudor with a dozen of Fable and Bootleg's biggest hits.

Fable was an early '70s phenomenon that helped to establish Melbourne as a hub for the homegrown record business. The label had numerous hits, from Hans Poulsen's "Boom-Sha-La-La-Lo" in 1970 through to Mike Brady's "Up There Cazaly" in 1979, and, as any Melbournite over a certain age will remember, Fable also recorded and released (in April 1972) the official club songs of the dozen teams in the then-VFL. These recordings are still played at AFL matches today. Bootleg was a separate label, co-founded by Tudor and prolific Melbourne singer-songwriter-pianist Brian Cadd in 1971, and a successful attempt at building a more credible rock label.

Ron Tudor got his start in the business with another Melbourne indie, W&G Records, in the mid-50s. Moving from promotions to A&R, Tudor worked with artists like the Thunderbirds, Johnny Chester, and most significantly, the Seekers, whose first album he produced, before the group relocated to the UK. He moved to Astor Records in 1966 and decided to set up his own label – Fable – in 1969, finding almost instant success, thanks in part to the Radio Ban which began a month after the label was officially launched in April 1970. The ban – a dispute between the major record companies and radio over royalties for airplay, which saw Australian radio refuse to play music controlled by those companies for six months – was a godsend for indies. Fable capitalised by releasing local covers of massive UK hits – Mungo Jerry's UK hit "In The Summertime" became a smash for The Mixtures, and Mary Hopkin's Eurovision entry "Knock Knock Who's There?" became a massive hit for Liv Maessen – which radio almost inevitably jumped on. Tudor and his label were assured a high profile from the outset also because he was, at the same time, a judge on television's hugely popular New Faces program, through which he discovered several artists, including now-iconic country artist John Williamson, and even seminal Australian blues figure Dutch Tilders.

Fable's orientation was primarily conservative – middle of the road singers like Liv Maessen and Matt Flinders, country artists like the Hawking Brothers, '60s popstars (who more often than not were also now doing country) like Bobby & Laurie and Johnny Chester, and television personalities like Jimmy Hannon. Fable also successfully launched the solo career by former Groop member Brian Cadd, and Tudor quickly brought Cadd in as a house producer. Together they established the Bootleg label. Under Cadd's guidance, Bootleg became hugely successful as well. 

With the ascent of Mushroom Records on the back of Skyhooks – and of course of Countdown - Fable's middle-of-the-road approach saw it lose ground. Still, it came back with a vengeance at the decade's end with Mike Brady's VFL anthem "Up There Cazaly,” a massive national hit which no doubt gave Rugby League officials fearful glimpses into the future. Tudor eventually sold the label to John McDonald - the owner of rival Melbourne independent Sparmac, who had himself achieved so much in the early '70s with Daddy Cool. Having been appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire for "service to the recording industry" in 1979, Tudor was formally recognised by ARIA with a Special Achievement Award in 1999.

Let's remember Ron Tudor with a dozen of Fable and Bootleg's most significant recordings.

Hans Poulsen | “Boom-Sha-La-La-Lo” [April, 1970] 

An unsung pop genius from Melbourne, Poulsen co-founded in 1965 the Melbourne group 18th Century Quartet, who were notable for introducing the bouzouki and mandolin to Australian pop. He wrote classic hits for Zoot ("Monty and Me") and Johnny Farnham ("Rose Coloured Glasses") and had his first Top 10 solo hit with this beauty. Sadly for us, Poulsen gave up Australian pop stardom to join a Scottish spiritual community in 1972.

Liv Maessen | “Knock, Knock Who's There” [April, 1970]

Finishing second on New Faces in 1969, Liv's prize was a contract with Fable. Within months, the Melbourne singer had won her first Logie and was on her way to becoming the first Australian female to earn a Gold Record for her cover of Mary Hopkin's 1970 Eurovision entry.

John Williamson | “Old Man Emu” [April, 1970] 

Discovered by Ron Tudor appearing on New Faces, Williamson is now, of course, a household name, and is this year celebrating 50 years in the national spotlight.

The Mixtures | “The Pushbike Song” [December, 1970]

Melbourne's Mixtures followed their smash hit cover of Mungo Jerry's "In The Summertime" with a song of their own in the same vein; ironically it became a Top 10 in the UK as well as at home. Mixtures singer, Terry Dean was a former mid-'60s solo artist who had recorded for Go!! Records (alongside fellow Fable artists Bobby & Laurie and Mike Brady's band MPD Ltd.).

Drummond | “Daddy Cool” [June, 1971]

Tudor somehow coerced members of country-folk outfit Allison Gros to record this chipmunk style cover of the song that Daddy Cool had also covered, at the height of Daddy Cool mania. Confusing everybody, it became a #1 hit.

Robin Jolley | “Marshall's Portable Music Machine” [March, 1972]

One of the most joyous local hits of the early '70s, this #1 smash was a great composition by Tudor's new signing Brian Cadd.

Smacka Fitzgibbon | “The Adventures Of Barry McKenzie” [From The Film] [July, 1972]

The Melbourne Trad Jazz legend and variety show regular was a prolific artist for Fable, and his biggest hit was this theme for the iconic and outrageous Barry Humphries/Bruce Beresford film.

Brian Cadd | “Ginger Man” [August, 1972] 

Cadd's first solo hit was and the first of many he had for Bootleg before moving to the US in 1976. While still a well-remembered artist and a fine Country/Americana influenced singer/songwriter, Cadd undoubtedly would have had a longer run of hits at home if his focused hadn't strayed.

Mississippi | “Will I” [January, 1974]

An early signing to Cadd & Tudor's Bootleg label, Mississippi, featured Graeham Goble (formerly of Allison Gros aka those "Daddy Cool" chipmunks Drummond) and, before long, Beeb Birtles (formerly of Zoot) and drummer Derek Pellicci. They would eventually morph into the Little River Band and find the American success that eluded Cadd.

Bill & Boyd | “Santa Never Made It Into Darwin” [January, 1975] 

This MOR country duo made it big by quickly capitalising on Cyclone Tracy, which hit Darwin with devastating effect on Christmas morning, 1974. A young Perth soon-to-songwriter, Dave Faulkner, was listening and borrowed the title to create the hit "Tojo (Never Made It To Darwin)", for his band the Hoodoo Gurus some years later.

Taste | “Tickle Your Fancy” [February, 1976]

With Countdown changing the way Australians heard – and more importantly, saw – pop music, Fable stuck it's toe in some glam rock platforms with the signing of Melbourne's Taste, who would soon tour with – and find vocal fans in - an up and coming English band called Queen. A fondly remembered local hit, "Tickle Your Fancy" has found an audience with glam fans overseas in recent years.

Mike Brady | “Up There Cazaly” [1979]

It says something about the pervasive influence of Australian Rules Football on Victorian culture that this song, which was commissioned by Channel 7 Melbourne, and which could only have meant something to VFL football fans, could break out of Melbourne and become a national number one hit. Of course, the song maintains a powerful presence still; Brady performs it live every year at the AFL Grand Final, to a national television of millions that no doubt includes many in NSW, Qld and elsewhere who still have no idea who – or what? – a Cazaly is, even now.

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