Tuesday, November 3, 2015

He was an Aussie Pop Star for a Moment

Even with the world at your feet, in the 1970s an underage sex scandal is enough to leave you destitute for the rest of your long and lonely life. Born of humble beginnings in Sydney’s Dulwich Hill, the performer who came to be known as William Shakespeare fell as quickly as his meteoric rise to Glam Rock fame.

Singing in bands from his early teens, John Cave sang remarkable falsetto. Coming to the attention of powerhouse Aussie music producers Vanda and Young, the team packaged 26 year old John in glitter and boots and gave him 2 top selling singles in as many years. Can’t Stop Myself from Loving You and My Little Angel were being hummed in most Australian homes across 1974 and 1975. His debut album sold 375,000 copies.

Propelled to further stardom by the Australian TV music show Countdown, John Cave even made the shortlist to head-up AC/DC, also in development at the time by Vanda and Young. His manager advised him against taking the job, asking whether he wanted to remain a star, or just play in a pub band for the rest of his career.

But it was the police knocking at his Melbourne hotel room door after his second hit single that first slid William Shakespeare into decline. Charged and convicted of carnal knowledge with a 15 year old girl from his Melbourne fan club (he denied the charges), he was placed on probation for 24 months. Parting ways with his record company, he never had a hit single again.

Less than 2 years after it ignited, his stardom was extinguished.

Lured by alcohol, his depression was no better following 3 weeks of Deep Sleep 'therapy' in 1978 at the infamous Chelmsford Private Hospital in Sydney. Doing what he could, he subsequently sang at clubs for a while under the moniker of Billy Shake.

The retro revival of the 1990s saw a bit of a resurrection for William Shakespeare, with booking agents and TV producers tracking him down to make nostalgic appearances, little of which paid any real dollars.

Homeless, he was living in his car at the time. By the turn of the century, the decline had continued. He was a broke 52 year old, destitute and living rough across the road from the St George Leagues Club in Kogarah, apparently in the oval’s then shabby ticket booth and toilets. He said staff from the club used to check on him and bring him food.

They did however seek assistance for John Cave, which came in the form of Support Act, a charity which helps musicians who have fallen on hard times. They found him government housing, where William Shakespeare lived the rest of his days.

In an article by The Sydney Morning Herald in 2009 he said, "I got a royalty cheque the other day for 13 bucks.” As the performer, he earned no composing royalties, so when his performing ended, so did his income.

John Cave (William Shakespeare) Sydney Morning Herald 2009
John Cave died in October 2010. At 61 years old, he had almost kicked his alcohol habit, down to just one beer in the evening. He succumbed to a heart attack that ended his life.

There’s no doubt the world today is tough on old rockers who enjoyed their ‘heyday’ in the 1970s. Avoiding scandal, some transition well and become both national and generational icons. Others just fall through the chasm of the years, sometimes suffering alone, in the hope that the sun might one day rise again on their genius, and shine another light on the glitter of their now ill-fitting Glam Rock costume.


For assistance dealing with child abuse: BraveheartsKids Help Line

For assistance dealing with depression: Lifeline

Monday, October 26, 2015

Last Man Standing

The “movie on video for hire” business has been in decline for a number of years. I’ve been surprised every week while walking down the main street near our home at the resilience, to this date, of this movie hire store that has continued to buck the ‘closing down’ trend – until now.

Conveniently located on the high street, and with a carpark in the forecourt, it’s amazing to think that it has lasted so far into the download revolution. While a Blu-ray player in most households is not too hard to find (see their gaming device), it’s likely you might be hard pressed to find a faithful DVD player still sitting standalone in the TV cabinet. And anyway, if we want to watch a DVD, we just use our PC or laptop…if we can remember where we left it.

For just one generation (or maybe 2 if you count VHS), exciting times could be had on a Friday or Saturday night, given you might not yet be of ‘drinking’ age and couldn’t sneak out to the pub instead.

Heading to the ‘video store’ meant the anticipation of what ‘new releases’ might still be available to hire that night, or perhaps pick a few ‘weeklies’ to enjoy while escaping the monotony of broadcast TV. While in the store, you might also grab a bag of popcorn, a few lollies and drinks, getting set for the night ahead.

In some places, there was a time when the video store would also hire actual players, either DVD players or VHS machines back in the day. It’s a concept that seems such a world away, given that a DVD player can now retail from around $35...or less.

Did the video hire franchise owners see this coming 20 years ago? Who would have thought HD content would ever be available online, considering dial-up internet in 1995 was delivered at maybe 56kbps?

So the question to ask now is whether the video hire business is destined to disappear completely. Considering not every home will have (or want) access to Netflix, high speed internet or on-demand satellite TV, is there life still to be breathed into a local movie hire store? I think we know the answer.

It seems to have come and gone so quickly.  

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Mighty Sensurround Turns 40

Looking back, it could possibly be claimed that the launch of Sensurround around 40 years ago was the biggest thing to happen to audio in movies since the invention of the “talkie”. Colour film had been around for years, and black & white movies were only for ‘artsy’ stuff. But adding a new ‘sound’ feature, beyond stereo, pinned hopes on filling cinemas again with enthusiastic patrons.

Sensurround had a short life that was long in development. Only 5 films, released between 1974 and 1979 used the ‘technology’. MCA/Universal proudly launched it with Earthquake. Then came Midway (1976), Rollercoaster (1977), Battlestar Galactica (1978) and its sequel: The Cylon Attack (1979). Cinemas presenting the films had to be fitted with special sound systems (developed by Cerwin-Vega) to reproduce Sensurround, a low deep rumble, in order for the audience to ‘feel’ the effect.

It actually worked. Some cinemas suffered with bits of their interior falling from the roof because of the rumble, while patrons watching films in adjoining auditoria often complained about the vibration next door disturbing their enjoyment of The Godfather Part 2.

MCA/Universal originally only thought of fitting around 30 cinemas with Sensurround. Two years after the release of Earthquake, 2000 cinemas worldwide had the system ready for screening the World War 2 flick Midway.

Interestingly, the ‘rumble’ used to create the sensation was not actually recorded on the film. Optical audio used on film back then could not reproduce frequencies below 40hz, a requirement of the system. Instead, a special ‘control’ track was added to the film, which then triggered the output of the ‘Sensurround rumble generator’ at specific times in the film/s. That rumble was fed directly to the Sensurround amplifiers and speakers in the auditorium. Because of this, merely ‘turning up the bass’ when watching these films at home today does not reproduce the effect.

What killed it? The Sci-Fi slayer of them all! When Star Wars hit the cinemas in 1977, Rollercoaster suffered the fallout. Star Wars didn’t need Sensurround to break those box office records. The movie industry eventually learned that Sensurround was no longer the drawcard for audiences.

It’s thought that only two original "Sensurround Model-1" control systems exist today, both owned by Dolby Laboratories, which kindly loans them for revival screenings of films using the process. A replica system exists, custom built for a 2004 London revival screening of Earthquake. Later versions (Sensurround Mod-II and Mod-III) are more common and can sometimes be seen for sale on eBay.

Sensurround has left a major legacy however. It inspired rival systems and put focus on the capability of what audio can bring to the movies (even at home), and was a major factor in the increase in subwoofer sales and the rise in subwoofer designs in the late 1970s and 1980s.

Perhaps it even inspired what we expect today when DTS, Dolby or THX help bring our movie-going experience to life.

("Sensurround logo" by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use)

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Travel Test: Sydney to Canberra by Rail

Sydney - Canberra

ABB XPLORER: NSW TrainLink. KTA-19-R 375 kW engine, 19 litre turbo-charged made by Cummins 

NSW Railways is government owned and has no loyalty scheme per se unless you consider the discounts offered when purchasing weekly, monthly or yearly travel tickets.

Saloon - economy class carriage D seat 39 (window) . 
Armrest to armrest: 43.18 centimetres, Seat space: 45.72 centimetres, Legroom: 43.18 centimetres. Recline: 28 degrees from the upright position. Fully booked train.

Left on time at 12:12.
Arrived Canberra (Kingstone) 16:25 (a few stops along the way to pick-up or set-down passengers), just 2 minutes behind schedule.  

On the XPLORER, the economy seat configuration is 2-2. 

One item of hand luggage and two pieces that are either checked into the luggage compartment or stowed at the end of your carriage.You can check in two items, each weighing between five and 20 kilograms and not more than 70cm long, 60cm high and 50cm wide. If you would rather not check your luggage, you can take two items on board with you, as long as they don't weigh more than 20 kilograms or measure more than 70cm long, 60cm high and 50cm wide. Space is available for carrying bicycles, folding bicycles, surfboards, skis and snowboards, condition apply. 

Loads of leg room, and space for carry on. Seats just a comfy as in the air, although the extra space makes them feel moreso. Huge picture windows give a further sense of space. Plenty to enjoy with the view for daytime travellers.

Having booked the ticket online, there is no check-in at the platform except for baggage. Reservations must be made. No standing passengers are allowed. After booking, simply approach and board the train. Several on-board announcements ensure that non-travellers alight prior to setting-off. Customer service personnel are polite and attentive, with any delays or unexpected stoppages (livestock on the track) being immediately communicated to passengers. There is no food service as such, all being served via visiting the buffet car (see below). Free filtered water is available via a tap in each carriage, adjacent to a toilet that is big enough to sleep in with a baby change table. There is however, no on-board wi-fi, which could come in handy as mobile phone coverage is sparse between regional towns...and in tunnels. No USB charging points are available, although there is a 240v powerpoint in the toilet, and some in the carriage used by cleaners. Power surges are reportedly common, so they are not recommended for charging mobile devices.

Tickets are checked once underway. A electronic copy displayed via a mobile phone or tablet is accepted, which I did.

BYO iPod. No entertainment system on-board, but loads of kids come armed with an iPad. There is a 30 page magazine, "The Link", found in the seat pocket covering a few travel stories, and the buffet car has puzzle books, colouring pencils, other magazines and daily newspapers for sale (as well as items such as headache tablets).

At the start of the trip, a PA announcement is made regarding the choice of hot meals, after which the attendant moves through the carriages taking orders. The cost of the meal is $9, the most expensive item on the menu. Wine and beer is also available. The meals will take 1 hour before another announcement is made indicating they are ready for collection from the buffet car. Less mobile passengers can have their's delivered. Other items are also available, including pies, croissants, pasta, salads and muffins. Prices are reasonable, with gluten-free and vegetarian options. The buffet closed for 30 mins between Bundanoon and Goulburn, and was closed 30 minutes before reaching our destination.
Time spent in transit on this trip roughly equals time spent heading to the airport, checking in, clearing security, boarding, flying and disembarking. The longer travel time on the train is offset by the ticket fee being almost 1/3 that of a late booked flight. Australia should have a high speed rail service connecting capital cities, especially between the nation's capital with Sydney and Melbourne. But the trip via this train was easy going, with plenty of time for a nap (as opposed to the in-air travel time of 23 minutes in a plane), and comfortable space to get some work done. Not having to travel there and back in a day, this train was a comfortable and cost effective alternative.

Tested by Tim Stackpool, who travelled at his own expense.

Monday, June 17, 2013

29 Million Google results in 1 week

Last week, my good friend (and client) ultra-marathon swimmer Chloƫ McCardel attempted her dream of swimming from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. Although thwarted 11 hours into the 170 km swim by severe jelly fish stings, the direct preparation for the swim took around 9 months.

The publicity required to support such a swim was intense, essential, and formed an integral part of the entire strategy. The resulting media coverage, and the subsequent online trends, say much about the shifting power of the media, but also cement much about what we should already know.

In the months prior to ChloĆ«’s attempt, a search of her name returned about 10,000 results on Google. At the peak of interest during her swim, that figure rose to a staggering 29,000,000. And while the ‘power of the internet’ and discussions on social networks and blogs contributed to that figure, the vast majority of the search returns were due to mentions on sites owned or controlled by traditional media. That is: TV, radio and newspapers.

This demonstrates that even in this exciting age of online media, the fundamental core of traditional publicity foundations must not be overlooked when mounting a promotional campaign. 

While the penetration enjoyed by ‘new media’ works to the advantage of every publicist, the mere fact that so many ‘traditional’ media outlets also have a significant online presence, insists that any campaign must never brush-aside traditional media as being irrelevant or old fashioned. Clever publicists use all opportunities to leverage further interest, and depending of the budget, the allocation of the ‘spend’ must consider the multiplication effect gained using conduits that already have significant market presence. 

This should all sound very familiar.

It sounds a lot like the modus operandi of PR people prior to the rise of online. 

Tim Stackpool manages ultra-marathon swimmer Chloe McCardel’s media and publicity. For a free copy of Tim’s Top Ten hints for Better Publicity, visit here

Monday, February 11, 2013

James Bulger - 20 Years On

Were he alive today, little James Bulger would be 23 years old this year. But it was as a toddler in the UK that James went missing from his mother’s side in February 1993 while shopping at the Bootle Strand in Liverpool. A couple of days later, his remains were found on the railway tracks a few kilometres away in Walton. Beaten and assaulted, the horror story continued when the suspects in James’ murder were identified by security footage as being two 10 year old boys, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson. 

Devastating the community and James’ family (his Mum and Dad subsequently split), the perpetrators’ families also had to move, assuming new identities, while their respective sons undertook ‘rehabilitation’ in prison.  The pair was found guilty on 24 November 1993, making them the youngest convicted murderers in modern English history. They were sentenced to custody until they reached adulthood, initially until the age of 18, and were released on a lifelong licence in June 2001. In 2010, Venables was returned to prison for violating the terms of his licence of release.

Twenty years on, the mourning continues for little James, his memorial lies at the local Kirkdale Cemetery, where his grave is found under a tree with a note that reads "James's Special Place".

The questions remain today: “How could this have happened?”, “What sort of children are they?” And “where is our moral fibre?”

The events were a sad indictment on society in that place at that time: high levels of unemployment, low or no incomes, a great divide in social classes, and a lack of care for those already considered ‘lost’. While taking a young life would be hard to ever forgive, the subsequent lives of Venables and Thompson have not been pleasant either. Thompson, hidden beneath an assumed identity, lives under constant parole, while Venables, always considered the most impressionable, has been returned to prison for subsequent violations, succumbing to drug and alcohol abuse. Rumours of them having been ‘exported’ to Australia were categorically denied by the UK and Aussie government.

So now, so many years on, we wonder if society has learnt anything from the treatment of these offenders, undertaking the most heinous of crimes at such a young age. Does anyone really appreciate the consequences of their actions at such an age? Can a broad approach be taken against such actions, or must each be considered case by case?   

And while liberal advocates might argue that Venables and Thompson were too young to be tried as adults, or that the judge should never have released their names or photographs, the ultimate sympathy can only go to James’ family, virtually destroyed by those events 20 years ago, and the change in the attitude of all parents who subsequently became more cautious and suspicious whenever taking their toddlers on a trip to the shops after the events of February 12, 1993. 

We often quote certain dates as being those of when “the world changed”. That was one of them.

requiescant in pace James Patrick Bulger. 16 March 1990 – 12 February 1993.

(pic: James Bulger. It was released by his Mother to the police and the public in the hunt for her son's killers)

Monday, November 5, 2012


With Summer weather hitting the Australian shores, there are plenty of ex-pats heading home, along with the regular influx of welcome visitors from the colder climates. When travelling as a tourist, plenty of time is spent planning the visit to ensure the best parts of the city are experienced. Here are some of my favourites:

There are a couple of free walking tours that you can take around Sydney. This is a great way to learn about the history and haunts of this city, given by long-time Sydneysiders, or stay-too-long visitors who want to share their experiences with fellow travellers. Each tour runs for at least two hours and stops at most of the sites that are worth visiting, or re-visiting at length later. Take your pick of: www.imfree.com.au or www.peektours.com.au

The guides are paid via tips, so please be generous.

Sydney Buses operates a free shuttle bus service in the central business district (CBD), running in a loop to make it easier for people to get from one end of their CBD location to the other, and in between. You can board these high frequency buses from any bus stop marked with the green shuttle logo. Each bus is an accessible bus that can be used by people in wheelchairs or with other accessibility requirements, and parents or carers with prams.  Called Route 555, the free Sydney CBD Shuttle runs every 10 minutes. The service operates in both directions on a loop from Central Station to Circular Quay via Elizabeth and George Streets. Hours of operation are:
Weekdays: 9.30am to 3.30pm, with a late finish of 9pm on Thursday evenings.
Weekends: 9.30am to 6.00pm.
Here’s a map of the route.

While a walk across the arches of the Sydney Harbour Bridge is a spectacular experience, it can be a budget breaking exercise for the thrifty traveller (if you can afford Bridgeclimb, do it!), but there is no cost to take a walk along the deck of the bridge via the pedestrian access way. The most spectacular route is from the northern end (alight from the train at Milsons Point) and then head back into the CBD. You’ll experience the most amazing views down the harbour, watch the commuter ferries criss-cross from Circular Quay and see the Sydney Opera House from a spectacular perspective. As you reach your destination, for just a few dollars, you can climb the southern pylon, which has quite a good museum, and will take you almost as high as the Bridgeclimbers, offering an even greater photo-opportunity.

Sydney has an amazing array of beaches that are free to visit and enjoy, some very accessible from the city. While for many tourists, a trip to iconic Bondi is a priority (take the train to Bondi Junction, and a bus will take you the rest of the way), a visit to Manly beach will probably be more fulfilling, as many professional surfboard riders prefer this beach to Bondi. From Circular Quay, take a 30 minute ferry ride to Manly Wharf (a wonderful experience in itself). From there, walk along The Corso, a pedestrian precinct lined with shops, which leads to one of the best beaches in Sydney. Be careful not to mistake the bay at Manly Wharf for the main beach. Although it does resemble a Mediterranean-type beach, it is the ocean beach at the other end of The Corso that is famous with surfers worldwide. 

Darling Harbour is a tourist precinct with plenty of shops, bars, restaurants and an Imax cinema, but there is also a comprehensive children’s play area with water games, climbing ropes, swings, slides, and a flying fox (what we Aussies call a Zip Line). It will keep the kids entertained for hours for free, and there’s plenty of sophisticated distractions in the area to keep the grown-ups entertained as well. On most Saturday evenings, there is a free fireworks display launched from barges on Cockle Bay, just a 2 minute walk from the playground. The fireworks are synchronised to music, and prove to be very popular with families all year round. 


While not exactly free, if you are with children under the age of 16, Sunday is the cheapest day to travel around Sydney for just $2.50 per person. This ticket allows you to travel all day on Ferries, Buses and Trains on the Sydney network, North to Newcastle, West to Lithgow and South to Wollongong. It’s amazing value, and a great way to see loads of sights around Sydney (and further) at very little cost.