Meldrum in September 2011
|Born||Ian Alexander Meldrum
29 January 1943
Orbost, Victoria, Australia
|Residence||Melbourne, Victoria, Australia|
|Other names||Willie Everfinish|
|Occupation||Music critic, journalist, record producer, musical entrepreneur, author|
|Known for||Countdown compere|
Ian Alexander "Molly" Meldrum AM (born 29 January 1943) is an Australian popular music critic, journalist, record producer and musical entrepreneur. He was the talent co-ordinator, on-air interviewer and music news presenter on the former popular music program Countdown (1974–1987) and is widely recognised for his trademark Stetson hat, which he has regularly worn in public since the 1980s (it is commonly mistaken for an Akubra). On 15 December 2011, Meldrum had a life-threatening fall from a ladder in the backyard of his Melbourne home. He was placed under intensive care in a critical condition at the Alfred Hospital and had surgery for his head and spinal injuries.
Meldrum has featured on the Australian music scene since the mid-1960s, first with his writing for Go-Set (1966–1974), a weekly teen newspaper, then his tenure with Countdown and subsequent media contributions. He produced top ten hits for Russell Morris ("The Real Thing", "Part Three Into Paper Walls"), Ronnie Burns ("Smiley"), Colleen Hewett ("Day by Day"), Supernaut ("I Like it Both Ways") and The Ferrets ("Don't Fall in Love").
Meldrum hosted the Australian leg of Live Aid in July 1985, Oz for Africa, and was made a Member of the Order of Australia, for service to the fostering of international relief and to youth in January 1986. Meldrum has earned a reputation as a champion of Australian popular music both in Australia and internationally; his contributions have been acknowledged with an Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) Award for "Special Achievement" in 1993, and the "Ted Albert Award" in 1994 at the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) Awards. Music journalists, Toby Creswell and Samantha Chenoweth describe him as "The single most important person in the Australian pop industry for forty years" in their 2006 book, 1001 Australians You Should Know.
Ian Alexander Meldrum was born in Orbost, Victoria, on 29 January 1943. His father was Robert Meldrum (7 April 1907 – 1978), a farmer from Caniambo (25 kilometres (16 mi) from Shepparton) and then a World War 2 army sergeant – who served with the A.I.F. in Port Moresby – and his mother was Isobel Elizabeth (née Geer) (1912–1969) from Orbost. The couple married on 17 August 1940, two months after Robert's enlistment. Meldrum's younger brothers are Brian (born 1946, Mildura) and Robert (born 1950, Kerang). Meldrum moved around during childhood and largely grew up with one of his grandmothers in Quambatook where he attended the local school alongside future country music artist John Williamson. He also stayed with a number of aunts and was raised in the traditions of the Church of England. His later years of schooling were in Melbourne. Initially intending to become a disc jockey, Meldrum started a law course at University of Melbourne. By 1964, he had moved in with the family of his close friend Ronnie Burns, a noted Australian 1960s pop star first as a member of The Flies and then as a solo artist. What started as a two-week stay with Burns became nine years.
During The Beatles' tour of Australia in June 1964, Meldrum was captured by TV cameras climbing atop the bonnet of their car shortly after arrival at Melbourne airport. Later, he and Burns were ejected from The Beatles' Melbourne concert for being "too enthusiastic". While on a surfing holiday at a Victorian coastal resort in Lorne in 1964, Meldrum met and became a friend of Lynne Randell, who became a pop star in the mid-1960s and later worked as Meldrum's personal assistant in the 1980s. Meldrum began his music career as a roadie for his friends' band, The Groop, which had early performances in Anglesea.
Go-Set years: 1966–74
Go-Set was a weekly pop music newspaper started in February 1966 by Phillip Frazer and his Monash University mates. Meldrum started writing for the paper in July 1966 after befriending editor Frazer,. His first story was on Burns, "Ronnie Meets the Barrett Brothers". Soon he was writing a weekly gossip column and regular feature stories. He continued until the paper folded in August 1974. By social networking and building a list of industry contacts, Meldrum was able to cover many facets of the local scene; his gossip columns informed not only general readers but also other musicians and according to Frazer were the major reason people continued reading Go-Set. His gossip columns' writing style tended to be "freeform ramblings, always in the first person, and nearly always concerning aspects of the music scene with which he had been involved". It was during this period that Meldrum was given his nickname, "Molly", by his friend and fellow Go-Set writer Stan Rofe, a Melbourne radio DJ. The nickname first appeared in print in 1968. While working for Go-Set he became editor and compiler of its monthly offshoot, Gas, which was aimed at younger teen girls. It was first published in October 1968 (with a feature on The Monkees) and the last issue was in March 1971.
The Groop had landed a recording deal with CBS Records. Meldrum followed them to Armstrong's Studios, in late 1966, to learn about the recording process. He learned production and engineering techniques from studio owner Bill Armstrong and in house engineer/producer, Roger Savage. Meldrum became involved with a number of artists releases, including The Masters Apprentices' August 1967 single, "Living in a Child's Dream", Somebody's Image's first three singles, "Heat Wave" (September), "Hush" (November) and "Hide and Seek" (April 1968). Besides producing, he was also Somebody's Image's manager from early 1967 and formed a friendship with lead singer, Russell Morris.
Kommotion was a teen-oriented daily pop music show, which had premiered in December 1964 on ATV-0, later Channel Ten; it included performers miming to the latest overseas hits. In August 1966 producer, David Joseph, was fired and most of the cast walked out in support. Al Maricic took on the production of Kommotion with Meldrum reporting for Go-Set. Maricic asked Meldrum to join the show. Originally declining, he was convinced by Frazer who reasoned it would be good for Go-Set. Meldrum's repertoire included miming to Peter and Gordon's "Lady Godiva", The New Vaudeville Band's "Winchester Cathedral" and George Formby's "Why Don't Women Like Me?". Episodes of Kommotion were directed by Rob Weekes, fellow mimers included Grant Rule, Denise Drysdale and Maggie Stewart—who later married Burns. Meldrum's stint with Kommotion ended in January 1967 after Actors Equity banned the practice of miming other artists' work. He moved on to another ATV-0 music show, Uptight, hosted by Ross D. Wylie, which was broadcast for four hours on Saturday mornings with live bands.
From January 1968, Meldrum relocated to London, reporting in Go-Set on The Groop's efforts to break into the United Kingdom market, and on the rock music scene. While there, Meldrum extended his networking to the international scene, including meeting Apple Records executive, Terry Doran, who introduced him to his idols, Paul McCartney and John Lennon. His writing style in Go-Set developed a 'camp' form. Meldrum returned to Australia to attend his mother's funeral in May.
In September, he became the manager and producer of Morris; both had quit with Somebody's Image. Meldrum produced Morris' first solo single, a Johnny Young-composed song "The Real Thing". Young had written the song for Meldrum's friend Burns, but when Meldrum heard Young playing it backstage during a taping of the TV pop show Uptight, he determined to secure it for Morris, reportedly going to Young's home that night with a tape recorder and refusing to leave until Young had taped a "demo" version.
In collaboration with Armstrong's house engineer John Sayers, Meldrum radically transformed "The Real Thing" from Young's original vision of a simple acoustic chamber ballad backed by strings, into a heavily produced studio masterpiece, extending it to an unheard-of six minutes in length (with encouragement from Rofe) and overdubbing the basic track with many additional instruments, vocals and sound effects. To achieve this, they used the services of his friends from The Groop as the backing band, with contributions from vocalist Maureen Elkner, The Groop's lead singer Ronnie Charles, guitarist Roger Hicks from Zoot—who played the song's distinctive acoustic guitar intro—and arranger John Farrar. The single is reported to have cost A$10,000—the most expensive ever made in Australia up to that time—and features one of the earliest uses of the studio technique known as "phasing" on an Australian recording. "The Real Thing", released in March 1969, became a national number one hit for Morris in mid-year and is widely considered to be one of the finest Australian pop-rock recordings. In May 2001, the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA), as part of its 75th Anniversary celebrations, named "The Real Thing" as one of their Top 30 Australian songs of all time. "The Real Thing" was followed by a second number one hit, "Part Three Into Paper Walls", with Meldrum producing; he now encouraged Morris to promote "The Real Thing" with a tour in the United States but Morris disagreed and they separated in late 1969.
Meldrum also produced several other hits—including Burns' top ten single "Smiley" in December 1969—while continuing to write for Go-Set and a variety of magazines. Meldrum made his first of many visits to Egypt and by December had travelled on to UK, and through Doran, began working for Apple Corps as a publicist, which enabled him to score a scoop interview with Lennon and Yoko Ono, in which Lennon first revealed publicly that The Beatles were breaking up. Meldrum left UK in 1970 to travel to US, reporting on the Los Angeles and New York music scenes and further establishing contacts.
After returning to Australia in late 1970, Meldrum continued writing for the music press, including Go-Set as well as venturing back into television as a music reporter on Happening '70 (previously Uptight), hosted by Wylie, on ATV-0; then a short-lived TV children's show, Do It; followed by Anything Can Happen on Channel Seven where he met producer Michael Shrimpton and reunited with Weekes from his Kommotion days. In October 1971, Elton John toured Australia for the first time and all concerts were exclusively reviewed by Go-Set—Meldrum had met John in London and they formed an enduring friendship. By September 1972, Meldrum was assistant editor for Go-Set working with national editor Ed Nimmervoll who had started at the paper in 1967.
Meldrum [was] a socialite whose weekly column was a diary of his social life. Musicians reading the 'Meldrum' column would know whom he had seen, and what their status as a musician was.—Ed Nimmervoll, 1998, quoted in Kent, David Martin (September 2002), p. 141.
Meldrum produced the soundtrack for Godspell - Original Australian Cast including the hit single, "Day by Day" for Colleen Hewett in 1972. He remained with Go-Set until its last issue on 24 August 1974. Most of his work was typed up by his secretary, Glenys Long, with Meldrum pacing the office as he dictated—sometimes typewriters were thrown or a person was shoved inside a filing cabinet. After Go-Set, Meldrum wrote columns for Listener-In TV and then TV Week as their rock music reporter.
Countdown years: 1974–87
In 1974, Shrimpton and Weekes were meeting at the Botanical Hotel in South Yarra, formulating the concept for a new weekly pop music show aimed at the teenage market and decided they needed a talent scout; Meldrum walked in and was given the job. The trio approached the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), with their idea based on the British show Top of the Pops and on Kommotion. Countdown premiered on 8 November, with Meldrum as the show's talent coordinator. He did not originally appear in the series, which had a different guest host each week. Shrimpton decided an editorial was needed, so Meldrum provided a weekly Rock Report from mid-1975 which was renamed "Humdrum" by guest host John Paul Young, and by year's end he had become the face of the series. "Humdrum" saw Meldrum provide a visual form to his Go-Set gossip column, he would interview celebrities, detail events and new releases for the week. Joining Shrimpton and Weekes as a producer was Rule, also from Kommotion.
Originally broadcast weekly, at 6:30pm on a Friday evening for 25 minutes, Countdown was fortunate to have begun just before the introduction of colour television in Australia in March 1975. Equally crucial to its success was the move in January to the 6pm Sunday timeslot, with the show being extended to 60 minutes. Its reach was further enhanced by the fact that a midday Saturday timeslot was used to repeat the previous week's show. The combination of the ABC's nationwide reach, the novelty of colour broadcasting and the show's dual timeslot enabled Countdown to reach an unprecedented number of viewers. It soon became the most successful and popular music program ever made in Australia and exerted a massive influence on Australian music over the next decade. The advent of colour TV also coincided with a major change in the direction of Australian popular music, and it was vital in making national successes of bands such as Skyhooks and Sherbet. Countdown benefited from the fact that it appeared just as the music video genre was taking off. Indeed, the show was instrumental in popularising the use of purpose-made promotional videos, which had previously only been a minor part of pop show programming. Its extensive use of film-clips and videos by both established and emerging overseas acts (who at that time toured Australia only rarely) made Countdown an important venue for breaking new songs and new groups. Meldrum produced, Supernaut, the debut album for Western Australia's Supernaut in 1976 and its related hit single, "I Like It Both Ways".
One new group Meldrum broke nationally was The Ferrets; he had them signed to Mushroom Records and started producing their debut album Dreams of a Love on 19 July 1976. After nearly a year, production was still incomplete, so The Ferrets took over (assisted by recording engineers Tony Cohen and Ian MacKenzie) and completed on 15 August 1977 with Meldrum attributed as Willie Everfinish. Meldrum had carefully crafted their first single's A side "Lies", taking weeks, but the B side "Don't Fall in Love" was rushed in three hours. The Ferrets premiered on Countdown and used "Don't Fall in Love" which reached #2 on the Australian Kent Music Report Singles Chart. Many customers wanted a copy of The Ferrets' album, however there was concern at Mushroom Records as Meldrum had not organised an album cover: a white, hand-stamped cardboard sleeve was issued with a promise of the album artwork to follow.
The series is credited with giving early exposure to, and generating breakthrough Australian hits for, a number of major international acts including ABBA, Meat Loaf, Blondie, Boz Scaggs, Cyndi Lauper, Madonna and Michael Jackson, sometimes years before they became international stars. Meldrum made many overseas trips and became personally friendly with many of the top pop and rock stars of the period, enabling Countdown to gain international exclusives. Meldrum's on-screen performances were sometimes criticised for rambling and incomprehensible commentaries and interview questions. When giving album reviews he would often hold the album awkwardly in front of camera with the lights glaring off the surface making it difficult to see the cover. In an early "Humdrum" segment, Meldrum told viewers to "Go out and buy it" when reviewing an album. Shrimpton was furious, since ABC policy prohibited direct endorsements, so "do yourself a favour" became Meldrum's catch phrase recommendation.
In the early 1980s, Midnight Oil was scheduled to appear on an episode of Countdown, but on the day of the show they were "bumped" from the line-up. Countdown required artists to mime their songs during 'live' performances, Midnight Oil and manager Gary Morris insisted they perform completely live and have their sound engineer supervising—neither side backed down. According to Shrimpton, the band had arrived late for rehearsal, and due to the show's very tight schedule and budget there was a strict policy that latecomers were not allowed to appear, and as such they were told they could not perform that day. In response, the group declared that they would never appear on the show, a promise they faithfully kept.
After Randell's marriage had failed, she returned to Australia in 1980 and became Meldrum's personal assistant until 1986. On 13 April 1980, the TV Week/Countdown Rock Music Awards for 1979 were broadcast as a revamped version of the previously existing TV Week King of Pop Awards with the 'King of Pop' title replaced by 'Most Popular Male' and 'Queen of Pop' replaced by 'Most Popular Female'. Countdown, with Meldrum organising the ceremonies, presented music awards during 1980–1987; initially in conjunction with TV Week, they were a combination of popular-voted and peer-voted awards.
The following year, on 16 March 1981, Meldrum co-hosted the 1980 awards ceremony with international guests Suzi Quatro and Jermaine Jackson. Big winners were Cold Chisel with seven awards, which were not collected; they performed the last live number, "My Turn to Cry", to close the show and then trashed their instruments and the set. The performance was seen as being directed at TV Week, Countdown and Meldrum as being hangers-on. Sponsors TV Week withdrew their support for the awards and Countdown held its own awards ceremonies thereafter.
In February 1985, after Meldrum was announced as King of Moomba, he quipped "I was at the cricket the other day and the boys in Bay 13 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground were all yelling out 'Moomba' and 'hail the king'... not to mention a few 'hail the queen'". On 13 July, Meldrum compered the 1985 Oz for Africa concert—Australian leg of the global Live Aid program running for four hours—which was broadcast in Australia on both Seven Network and Nine Network and on MTV in the US. During December, he used his industry contacts to organise a charity single for research on Fairy penguins, he produced the recording of a cover of Lennon, Ono & Plastic Ono Band's "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" by The Incredible Penguins with Angry Anderson (Rose Tattoo), Brian Canham (Pseudo Echo), Scott Carne (Kids in the Kitchen), John Farnham, Venetta Fields, Bob Geldof, Steve Gilpin (ex-Mi-Sex), Colin Hay (Men at Work), Hewett, Jim Keays (ex-The Masters Apprentices), Brian Mannix (Uncanny X-Men), Wendy Stapleton (Wendy & the Rocketts) and Chris Stockley (ex-Axiom, The Dingoes). On Australia Day 1986 Meldrum was made a Member of the Order of Australia for service to the fostering of international relief and to youth.
In 1986, Shrimpton, Rule and Meldrum created another series, The Meldrum Tapes, for ABC with an international or local artist interviewed in depth for 55 minutes—eventually 24 shows were made—which were later broadcast by MTV.
Meldrum was noted for several on-screen gaffes, although the most "famous" of all was not originally broadcast. In a much retold incident, a clearly anxious Meldrum gushed during an interview on 13 November 1977 with Prince Charles, "I saw your Mum in London in a carriage!" to which the Prince icily replied, "Are you referring to Her Majesty the Queen?" Although this incident is often related by Meldrum in interviews, it was not broadcast (as an out-take) until later.
Despite such episodes of ineptitude, Meldrum became a major star in his own right and was a champion of local talent and regularly used the show to pressure radio stations to play more Australian music. As a result of his efforts, Countdown was in a position to make overnight hits with songs and performers it featured, and through the late 1970s and early 1980s it was a key factor in determining the direction of Australian popular music.
The final episode of Countdown aired on 19 July 1987, followed by the 1986 Countdown Awards. Meldrum appeared at the end of the show wearing his cowboy hat. He saluted the music industry and fans, then bared his shaved head in imitation of Midnight Oil's Peter Garrett and expressed regret that they had never appeared on the show.
After Countdown finished its run, Meldrum and Amanda Pelman, Mushroom Records executive, formed the Body Beat and Melodian labels, and signed Peter Andre, Jo Beth Taylor and Indecent Obsession. Meldrum presented a regular music segment, titled "Molly's Melodrama", for the popular Australian variety show, Hey Hey It's Saturday from 1988. He travelled extensively, conducting interviews for the segment; one of these was a one-on-one with each member of The Rolling Stones.
Meldrum attended the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) ARIA Music Awards on 29 March 1988 as a presenter. A fracas developed between band manager Gary Morris, accepting awards for Midnight Oil, and Meldrum. Morris felt that foreign artists such as Bryan Ferry should not present awards to local artists and made fun of Ferry's deliberately crumpled suit. Meldrum objected to Morris' disrespect to Ferry and he and Morris became embroiled. In 1993, Meldrum received an ARIA 'Special Achievement Award' for services to the music industry.
According to Google Books and Angus & Robertson, Meldrum co-wrote his autobiography, Some of My Best Friends Aren't: The Molly Meldrum Story with journalist Jeff Jenkins in 2000, published by Random House Australia. However, The Age reported on 4 June 2007 that the book had still not appeared.
A televised roast, in 2003, for the openly gay Meldrum, Molly: Toasted and Roasted, was characterised by Meldrum as a "gay bashing" due to its excessive homophobic slurs. Footy Show star Sam Newman received boos from the audience during his speech. Meldrum became a judge on 2004's Popstars Live, a reality program on Channel Seven, alongside fellow judges, Christine Anu and John Paul Young.
Meldrum's trademark cowboy hat headwear, enthusiasm for popular music, and sometimes incoherent interviewing style remain well known. By visiting Egypt over 27 times since 1969, he has become an amateur Egyptologist and collector. That his extensive general knowledge extended beyond popular music was perhaps less well-known until, as a contestant on a celebrity edition Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, he won $500,000 for a charity, the equal biggest win on the Australian version of the program until October 2005, although he only got the $500,000 by phoning a friend, Red Symons of Skyhooks fame. He appeared on the fourth series of the Australian version of Dancing with the Stars in 2006, where he dressed as a pharaoh to dance to "Walk Like an Egyptian" by The Bangles—he was voted off after the first round. He was also on an episode of Deal or No Deal (Dancing with the Deals) on 13 February 2006.
In September 2006, Meldrum's interview with Prince Charles on Countdown was listed at #41 in TV Week's 'Top 50 most memorable moments on Australian television' list. Meldrum made a cameo appearances in Remembering Nigel (2007) and Ricky! the movie (2010). Meldrum is listed as co-author of Jeff Jenkin's 2007 book Molly Meldrum presents 50 years of rock in Australia where he provided comments on various Australian rock acts from 1958 to 2007. During September and October 2009, Meldrum appeared in Hey Hey Its Saturday reunion specials on the Nine Network despite working for rival Seven Network. In early December, Meldrum interviewed UK singer and Britain's Got Talent runner-up, Susan Boyle. After signing with Seven to continue on Sunrise, Weekend Sunrise and Sunday Night he was unavailable for the 2010 season of Hey Hey It's Saturday. In February, Meldrum was appointed King of Moomba – his second appointment – with Kate Ceberano as Queen of Moomba. Since 2010 Meldrum has been a regular guest on Steve Vizard's daily radio show, commenting on sport, music, travel and current affairs.
In late November 2011, at the ARIA Awards, Meldrum introduced Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, who inducted pop singer, Kylie Minogue, into the ARIA Hall of Fame. After the induction, Meldrum interviewed Minogue for MTV Australia.
On 15 April 2012, at the annual Logie Awards, Meldrum was inducted into the Logie's hall of fame. In a recorded segment Elton John described him as the single most important influence in Australian pop music.
Although one of the first openly gay TV stars in Australia, he has said, "I had girlfriends. I was engaged a few times." Since 1986, he has lived in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond in an Egyptian-themed house called "Luxor". According to The Age's Nick Miller, the Nine Network's 2003 celebrity roast, Molly: Toasted and Roasted, was unnecessarily focused on his sexuality. Meldrum was sorry when his family and friends were embarrassed by the poor taste of some comments. However, he replied, "Like a lot of people, I am proud to be gay ... I'm not upset. If Channel Nine want to do gay bashing, so be it." As of December 2011, Meldrum's partner of six years is Yan Wongngam who runs a courier business in Thailand.
Meldrum is also a supporter of the Melbourne Storm team in the National Rugby League: the Storm players continued their 2009 NRL Grand Final victory celebrations at his house in October that year.
On 15 December 2011, Meldrum was taken to the Alfred Hospital in a critical condition after being found unconscious in the backyard of his home in Richmond. He is believed to have fallen off a ladder from a height of around three metres. He was placed under intensive care in a sedated state and had surgery for his head injuries. As well as the head injuries, Meldrum had a broken shoulder, broken ribs, a punctured lung and cracked vertebrae. Meldrum had been with Steve Vizard on radio discussing the importance of health on the morning of the accident. By 27 December, further surgery to his chest injuries had occurred and his sedation levels were reduced. His brother said Meldrum had "spoken some words but they have no context". On 8 January 2012, his brother Brian said Meldrum was breathing on his own and having conversations, but added his recovery would be slow. On 19 January 2012, Meldrum was taken out of hospital and moved into a rehabilitation centre. In April 2012, he gave his first public interview since the accident.
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