The Vamps (Australian band)
|Associated acts||Peaches, Skyz The Limit|
|Past members||Margaret Britt|
Janice Glading (Babs King)
Mary Kay Kuenzli
The Vamps were an Australian all-female rock band formed in April 1965 by guitarist Margaret Britt. Between 1965 and 1969 they toured extensively in Australia, New Zealand, South East Asia and the Pacific Islands, including 6 months performing at military bases in Vietnam during 1967–1968. In 1969 the band went to the United States, and performed there through to early 1975, at which point they returned to Australia. In 1977 the Vamps were renamed Peaches and played in Australasia and the Pacific until they disbanded in 1980. Founder of the band and lead guitarist Margaret Britt continues to perform with Skyz the Limit.
In April 1965 Margaret Britt, following two years performing in New Zealand, decided to form an all-female rock group. This was at the time a novel idea, as it was only the previous year that recordings by the first all-girl band of the pop era – Goldie and the Gingerbreads – had appeared, followed shortly thereafter by The Pleasure Seekers, featuring a young Suzi Quatro. Britt initially put together a 4-piece band comprising herself, Kaye Gazzard, Wendy Walton and Judy Owen. They performed a mix of instrumentals and contemporary pop and rock and roll songs. Their first gig was at Stomp City, AMOCO Centre, Orange in June 1965, where they drew a record crowd of 2030. Following this a fifth member – Janice Glading (stage name Babs King) – was added on vocals. The Vamps played the Millers Hotel circuit in Sydney and other venues through to the end of 1965. They also appeared on the Don Lane television show, performing "Twist and Shout". At one point in late 1965 Richard Neville of OZ magazine fame was considering managing the band, but he left for London early in 1966. In February of that year Britt put together a new version of the Vamps, with Jan Little, Merlene Ryder, Elaine Neilsen and Lisa-Kay James. They toured extensively throughout eastern Australia, including the showground circuit in Queensland. During September they were joined by Denise Cooper on vocals, following the departure of Neilsen. Whilst performing in Brisbane the Vamps recorded two numbers for the IN television show on BTQ7, these being "House of the Rising Sun" and "Hanky Panky".
Early in 1967 the Vamps were offered a tour of Vietnam and in May Britt put together a new line-up with Melbourne musicians Linda Cable, Terri Scott and Marilyn Ockwell. This was short-lived and they only played a few gigs in Melbourne and Sydney. Britt replaced the three Victorians in July with Julie Hibberd, Carol Middlemiss, Val Falloon and Denise Cooper. Falloon had recently arrived from England where she had written and produced a single for Mike Hamilton which was issued on Decca Records. The Vamps went on to tour Vietnam between October 1967 and March 1968, with stopovers in Nouméa on the way there and Singapore on the return trip. Following their arrival in Australia in April 1968 Val Falloon left and was replaced by Joy Carroll. The band then performed in venues along the east coast before heading off on a Pacific Islands and South East Asian tour in September. The Vamps were out of the country until February 1969, at which point they once again played in Sydney and Melbourne, before leaving for the United States in May of that year. The Vamps toured as an all-female 4-piece with various personnel through to March 1971 when Margaret Britt's husband Jon Kirk joined the band and it was renamed Jon and the Vamps, or Jon and the Australian Vamps. They played in Australia during a brief visit in April 1972 and upon returning to the United States in June the band was expanded to an 8-piece. They performed around the country in 38 States, including Hawaii, almost continuously until February 1975, with Margaret Britt the only non-American member. Upon returning to Australia in 1975 the Vamps travelled throughout New South Wales, Victoria and to Birdsville, Queensland. In 1977 a new all-female line-up was recruited by Britt and adopted the name Peaches, following a recommendation from Gene Pierson of Laser Records, Melbourne. Peaches worked in Australasia and the Pacific through to 1980 when Britt disbanded the group.
In September 1967 the Vamps left Australia for Vietnam and a proposed 12-month tour of American, Australian, Korean and Vietnamese military bases. They performed at numerous localities, often driving themselves to gigs in an unescorted kombi van. Their tour took them to front line bases such as Landing Zone (LZ) Ross, Danang, where in November 1967, during a performance on an open-air stage, they were subject to a mortar attack by the Viet Cong who were just 200 yards away. The band had to cut short their set and were dragged into bunkers by the soldiers. They remained there until they could be choppered out to safety. Whilst in Saigon Britt was subject to a roof-top sniper attack and in January 1968 the band was awarded a plaque by the US forces for their courage and performance on the front line. During the Viet Cong Tet Offensive of late January 1968 there was fear in Australia as to the fate of the band, and a number of newspapers reported on the activities of consular authorities in locating the Vamps and reporting on their well-being. Band members Carol Middlemiss, Denise Cooper and Julie Hibberd feature in Maria Wallis' 2003 documentary Entertaining Vietnam, which deals with some of the lesser known touring bands, including the Vamps. As Carol Middlemiss notes in the interview, "The audiences were fabulous... We'd finish with the anthem that everyone was playing – "We Gotta Get out of This Place"."
South East Asia and the Pacific
Whilst en route to Vietnam, in September 1967 the Vamps performed in Nouméa, French New Caledonia. Upon completion of their tour of military bases, in April 1968 they returned home to Australia via Singapore. In September of that year they undertook a 6-month tour of Pacific islands and South East Asia which included gigs at Tahiti, Nouméa, Taiwan, Subic Bay in the Philippines, Bangkok in Thailand and Singapore. They returned to Australia in February 1969.
The Vamps left Australia in May 1969 for an 8-week tour of the United States and stayed for 6 years. The 4-piece initially comprised Margaret Britt, Carol Middlemiss, Julie Hibberd and Joy Carroll. Middlemiss departed in September and was replaced by American Mary Kay Kuenzli. At the end of 1970 both Carroll and Kuenzli left and were replaced by the Petrak sister, Cheryl and Micky. They were part of the line-up when the Vamps performed at Tehachapi Prison, California in February 1971. Shortly thereafter the Petraks left and the band now became Jon and the Australian Vamps, comprising Margaret Britt, her husband Jon Kirk, Julie Hibberd and American Diane Smith. This 4-piece worked through to the latter part of 1971. Smith left for a period and the group was joined by drummer Nancy Kuminkovski. This line-up recorded two singles in September 1971. Smith subsequently rejoined the band and following a brief visit to Australia in April 1972 both her and Hibberd left upon their return to the States. Britt and Kirk subsequently put together an 8-piece band and performed around the country and at events such as the Kentucky Derby and the Indianapolis 500. They were based out of Green Bay, Wisconsin, and had gigs in Las Vegas, Birmingham, Nashville, St. Petersburg, Lake Tahoe and Hawaii, to name a few. All told some 38 States were visited by the band between 1969–75.
In September 1971 Jon and the Australian Vamps recorded two 7" singles at Reflection Sound Studios, Charlotte, North Carolina for Jollie Ollie Productions, Kansas. The first single was "Bobby McGee" featuring Margaret Britt and "Are You Ready" featuring Jon Kirk. The second single comprised "It's Too Late" featuring Julie Hibberd and "Feeling Alright" featuring Jon Kirk. Both were released in stereo by the Snyder Album Company and were intended for use by the US military forces.
In 1975 Britt and her husband Jon Kirk returned to Australia and performed throughout eastern Australia, including a gig in outback Birdsville. During 1977 Britt put together an all-female line-up and, upon the recommendation of Gene Pierson of Laser Records, the name Vamps was dropped and replaced with Peaches. This new band had a hit with the single "Substitute". The group was disbanded in 1980.
- Ian McFarlane, Encyclopedia of Australian Rock and Pop, Allen & Unwin, 1999.
- Wild Girls for hire, OZ magazine, Sydney, December 1965. Accessed 6 June 2014.
- Skyz the Limit (website). Accessed 6 June 2014.
- Janice Harris, When Orange was Stomp City, Central Western Mail, 9 June 2010. Accessed 6 June 2014.
- James Cockington, Mondo Weirdo: Australia During the Sixties, Mandarin Press, Port Melbourne, 1992.
- The Vamps on IN. TV Times, 28 September 1966.
- The Vamps on IN. TV Week, 15 October 1966.
- Ian D. Marks and Iain MacIntyre, Wild About You: The Sixties Beat Explosion in Australia and New Zealand, Verse Chorus Press, 2011.
- Mike Hamilton, The Time is Over / You Wont be Alone Anymore, 45Cat. Accessed 6 June 2014.
- Marc Leepson, Mara Wallis's Documentary On Show Folk In Vietnam, The VVA Veteran – The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, March / April 2003. Accessed 6 June 2014.
- Jacqueline Smith, The Vamps weren't afraid of the Viet Cong. Australian Women's Weekly, 5 June 1968.
- Vamps are safe in Saigon, Sun, Sydney, 5 February 1968.
- Australian Girls Safe. Canberra Times, 6 February 1968.
- Maria Wallis (dir.), Entertaining Vietnam, 2003, 53 minutes. Accessed 6 June 2014.
- Entertaining Vietnam (online). Accessed 6 June 2014.
- Un Orchestre de Femmes. Tahiti, Bonux, 15 October 1968.
- The Vamps at the Café de Paris. Bangkok World – News of the World and Community, Sunday 5 January 1969.
- Peaches, Substitute, Laser Records, 1978. Accessed 6 June 2014.
- Gene Pierson, Aussie Pop Divas – Peaches [website]. Accessed 10 June 2014.