cream of the crate – noeleen batley: little treasure [the festival files vol. 1]
Noleen Batley Little Treasure Front Cover

This is the first collection of her work to be released and can certainly be said to be long overdue.(Glenn A. Baker – liner notes)

Female artists in Australia always have had and continue to today to have, an uphill battle for recognition. In so many ways the battle began with Noeleen Bately and she should be revered as being a ground-breaker.(This review)

This is album review number One hundred and seventy five in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and CD albums from my collection.

The series is called Cream of The Crate and each review represents an album that I believe represents significant musical value, either because of its rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of a music or because there is something unique about the music, the group or the particular production. The first fifty reviews were based on vinyl albums from my collection, with the following fifty on CD albums from my collection. Links to all these reviews can be found at the bottom of the page.

Time for another Australian album to be pulled from my Crate and this lady is all too sadly forgotten, yet, she made it into the recent publication 100 Greatest Australian Singles Of The ’60s.

She is Noeleen Batley and this, a vinyl album is titledLittle Treasure [The Festival Files Volume 1]. Released by Festival records in 1987, it has the identifying code of L19001. The album has twenty tracks, ten on each side. The album was released by Festival as the first in a series and at the time of it’s release, there were 10 volumes in total.

Noeleen was born on Christmas day 1943, in Sydney. Maybe!!! The further I looked the more confusing the date became. The album cover claims she was born 1943, and her biography on musicminder also says 1943. However Wikipedia and Milesago say it was 1944. Then again Milesago and musicmaker both claim she was 15 years of age in 1960 and neither of these dates can relate to the claims she was born in 1943 or 1944.

What is not in doubt is that she also had a twin sister Carol. It is also fairly well documented that it was her mother who encouraged her to sing at the young age of five and mum would find gigs for her whenever and wherever she could. There seems to be little information detailing those very early years but we know that no matter what her age was, she entered a talent competition in Sydney in 1960 which had been established with the assistance of Festival’s A&R Manager Ken Taylor. Many sites dealing with her story claim that Noeleen won first prize,a contract with Festival.

However, according to the liner notes Noeleen is purported to have said, “They had a tent quest there every Sunday afternoon. I was the girl who came second and never did get a trophy. I wanted one so badly it hurt – you’ve no idea how badly I wanted one. I kept going back, Sunday after Sunday. This went on well over six months but i was always beaten by a soprano or a baritone. Then one day a Festival talent scout happened to be there and offered me a recording contract.”

So this seems to contradict the claim that she won the event, made on those web sites, a claim made nowhere on the liner notes.

She recorded a track called Starry Eyed which was released in February 1960, which was a complete flop! However, her second single in October of that year was completely different. Barefoot Boybacked with When My Blue Moon Turns Gold Again, reached #2 in Adelaide, #3 in Brisbane, #4 in Sydney and perth and #5 in Melbourne. That constituted in every possible way that the track was a hit and so, her career was off and running.

Noleen – 1960

We need to pause and reflect on her achievement with this second single. Homegrown popular talent in 1960 existed, but really, only just as we were still very dominated by the fixation the popular media had for overseas artists, particularly from the USA. Certainly someone like Johnny O’Keefe could and did command a good following and only to a slightly lesser degree did artists like Col Joye. But as for Australian female artists, let alone a female Australian “star”? Well, they were largely ignored so gathering a decent following was almost impossible..

So it was that Noeleen shall forever have the privilege and rightful honour of being recognised as Australia’s first female pop performer to chart, and that came with her own growing fan base!

Now without being a reflection upon her talent, she really was also a darling of the “mums and dad’s”! She was presented as the “perfect” teen girl – polite, conservative, modestly dressed and non-confronting, unlike J.O’K who was in the news often for what was considered as all the wrong reasons.Noeleen even made it onto the front cover of the then ultra conservative Woman’s Weekly when she wed, along with Little Pattie (who would become famous soon for her hit – He’s My Blonde Headed Real Gone Stompie Wompie Surfer Boy -1963) as her bridesmaid.

It has always been a bit of a mystery to me as to why someone who was so popular at live performances and appeared on the biggest TV music shows failed to translate that into hits! After all, she soon became a regular on TV shows including Six O’Clock Rock and Bandstand. She was always in peoples minds when she got further national exposure as a result of recording a commercial for Kellogg’s breakfast cereals.

I can only imagine it was a poor selection of material by the producers but given she released some 19 singles, 3 albums and 9 EP’s, the fact that after Barefoot Boy, the best she could do was a #16 in Melbourne in August 1964 with Little Treasure From Japan. In fact it was on the back of this single that she fortunately was able to get some good work in Japan where it sold an incredible 60,000 copies — an extraordinary success for those days.

She left our shores in the late 1960’s and worked in England with her most notable gig doing backup vocals for Cliff Richard.

She deserved better and with a failed marriage under her belt she remarried in 1975 and lives in Miami. It appears as though she no longer performs professionally.

Tracklist

SIDE 1
A1 Starry Eyed
A2 Barefoot Boy
A3 Rendezvous
A4 A Letter Full Of Tears
A5 Ice Cream Man
A6 Steady Johnny
A7 Forgive Me
A8 Don’t Play Number 9
A9 Ten Lonely Weekends
A10 Little Treasure From Japan

SIDE 2

B1 Surfer Boy
B2 Baby I’m Losing You
B3 Watching The Hours Go By
B4 The Wishing Song
B5 His Lips Get In The Way
B6 Soldier Won’t You Marry Me?
B7 To Be Myself
B8 Heartaches And Kisses
B9 My Boy
B10 Tammy

Track 1 is Starry Eyed. Look it’s not a terrible track and in fact when I reflect on the period it was released (1960) it really was perfectly in synch with a lot of similar material that was emanating from the USA. Given the “belting” rock ‘n roll had both put itself through by the antics of a few artists, and was being put through as a result of the payola scandals, recorded music was almost instantly sanitised at least as far as what was played on radio. With artists like Bobby Vee, Connie Francis,Anita Bryant and many others pouring forth with saccharine sweet ballads, it was fortunate that this “sanitised” period didn’t last long.

In fact listening back to Starry Eyed it was no better than most of those tracks, but certainly no worse. The single is now much sought after as a collectors item. So, pour a strong coffee and don’t sugar it, and take a listen. It’s not a bad track but sure is filled with enough sugar for a small crowd.

Starry Eyed

Barefoot Boy, track 2, was her first big hit. The track is no ‘rocker” in fact it is in a similar style to Starry Eyed and is still representative of the “clean” simple sweet ballads of the day. Look I find the track good, it doesn’t challenge and it doesn’t make you want to dance. It was in fact written by a 16 year old schoolgirl, Helene Grover, so we shouldn’t look for anything deeper than the reflections of the world as seen through the eyes of a sixteen year old.

Helen Grover with Johnny Devlin

PopArchives when talking about Helene records that she said: I wrote Barefoot Boy when I was about 16, sitting on top of a ladder in my hallway,where I used to love singing up there, somehow the acoustics or the feeling of being on stage I’m not sure which. A friend took me to a talent quest in the city. It was run by Festival Records looking for new talent. We sang Barefoot Boy as a duo because originally I really wanted to sing.

The song won the talent quest. I also remember John Laws being there and he was keen to record it as well.
The record company told me that it would be recorded by a young and talented upcoming singer called Noeleen Batley. They didn’t want me to sing it.

Importantly we need to reflect that what it did do was to capture the hearts and minds of many Australian’s, both young and the mum’s and dad’s and as a result catapulted Noeleen into the national music limelight. It therefore remains as a musical treasure as it is the track that gave our first homegrown Aussie female singer a platform nationally that was hard enough for Aussie male singers to achieve. Let alone a female. Recently the track was listed as one of the 100 Australian greatest singles in the 2015 edition of “100 Greatest Australian Singles of the ’60s” [Pepperell & Talbot]

Interestingly, there is quite a similarity in some of the melody of this track with the Buddy Holly release of Everyday! I believe subtle changes were made to the recording post its Australian release, to avoid any legal issues when the single was sent to the USA.

Barefoot Boy

So the first two tracks do set the scene for much of side 1, cute, sweet and simple lyrics, with Ice Cream Man another great example, all of which were so totally reflective of the time and certainly, the innocence that was purported to represent popular music if the playlists of radio stations of the day were to be believed.

Track 7Forgive Me is quite a classy track. It has a very nice tempo, the arrangement is quite excellent and Noeleen really nails it. Then when we realise it was a Hal David & Burt Bacharach composition, it makes me wonder whether Noeleen might not have made it internationally if she had been presented with better songs?

Released in March of 1963 it reached number 31 in Sydney.

Forgive Me

The final track on side 1 is Little Treasure From Japan. Recorded in 1964 this track is certainly more uptempo, but still “sweet” and safe. Drawing on a selection of simple Japanese words mixed in with her English, the track obviously struck a major chord with the Japanese and while it did reach number 16 in melbourne and number 35 in Sydney, it was Japan where it was a big hit.

Noeleen – 1964

It was a big enough hit for her to follow it up in 1965 with a Japanese-language record Owakare No Namida (Tears Of Farewell) and a promotional tour of Japan. s far as Australian rock/pop music goes – it will never be chosen in a top 1000. But it hit it’s mark in Japan, and good on her for that.

Kon nichi wa akachan
Little treasure from Japan
Kon nichi wa akachan
You are mama’s little man

With your cheeks of cherry red
And your lovely eyes of brown
In your own cozy bed
Mama lies you safely down

Kon nichi wa akachan
Tiny laughing baby boy
Kon nichi wa akachan
You are papa’s child of joy

So proudly little man
Before your cot I bow
My treasure from Japan
Give the smile to mama now

See the moon lighting high
Like a boat in the sky
It is carrying the sand man
With his song of lullaby

Kon nichi wa akachan
Mama kiss your tears away
Kon nichi wa akachan
Be the man your papa said

Here’s the distant tang of bells
Ringing out the magic spell
This is the song that they sing
To my tiny sleepy king

All lasting love my little man
Oyasumi akachan
Little treasure from Japan

Little Treasure From Japan

Turning the album over we find a Barry Gibb track – Surfer Boy. The story goes that Barry wrote this specifically for Noeleen and it was used on the B-Side to Forgive Me. Many have pondered why such a well written track failed to gain popularity. To be honest, it wasn’t good enough, it really wasn’t one of Barry’s finest moments composition wise. Interestingly, track 2Baby I’m Losing You, is also a Barry Gibb track

When we get to track 5 – , we find it was the B- side to Forgive Me. The year was 1965 and the while the music that had poured out of the Brill Building in the USA had held sway with many, many fine girl groups with fantastic compositions and fantastic vocals with superb backing harmonies, this style of music was beginning to feel the “pinch” with the tidal wave of the British Beat music phenomena.

Noeleen – late 1965/early 1966

So it is I find the track His Lips Get in The Way a great attempt to emulate that “girl group” style of arrangement that so typified the music of the Brill Building composers, and Noeleen does a great job with a pretty good composition. Her delivery is actually most excellent and there is a very strong element of class about the track and had it been released at an earlier date it should have/could have been BIG! However, the writing was on the wall for this style of delivery by now and in Australia we were also caught up in the British tsunami of electric blues based music and the developing Liverpool, and similar regional british sounds. Really, at this time the song really didn’t stand a chance.

Shame!

His Lips Get in The Way

In fact in an attempt to stay relevant to the fast changing Australian music scene Noeleen released track 7 – To Be Myself  in 1967. Written and released by Jackie De Shannon, Noeleen’s attempt to keep relevant didn’t quite work. Released in 1966 by De Shannon, it really failed to capture the market’s attention even then, and by the time Noeleen released it, stylistically it was dead and so was the single!

However to me, again it proves that Noeleen had a very good voice and if given the right material at the right time I have no doubt this Aussie star would have been even bigger. It is worth revisiting this track, just so you can be reminded of how good she could be when given decent material.

To Be Myself

Despite my general dislike for much of the material that was thrust upon Noeleen, there can be nothing but much respect for this woman. Female artists in Australia always have had and continue to today to have, an uphill battle for recognition. In so many ways the battle began with Noeleen Batleyand she should be revered as being a ground-breaker, a woman who achieved despite the barriers, and a lack of good material.

Noeleen & Little Pattie-2015

So, should this album Noeleen Batley – Little Treasure be in your collection? Well, it is not an album you would bring out at your next “rave party”, so if that’s why you collect – then No! But if you collect to get early Australian produced music, if you collect Australian female singers of the 1960’s, or, if you want to have the only album of her work – then Yes!

The only issue will be finding a copy. I could only locate two copies, one on Discogs for Au $57 plus postage and one copy on CollectorsFrenzy, for Au $50 plus postage. Nothing on Ebay. So the challenge will be locating a copy, mind you if you have it in your collection, then you have a small gold mine, both in talent and vinyl value.