BILLY THORPE , interviewed by TV Weekly

MAY 21, 1966


by Billy Thorpe,
As Told To Sheilah Kaye
Transcribed by Danny Biederman, Spy-Fi Archives

It’s a hard life on the road with a pop show

What’s it like being a teenage pop star on the road, constantly on the move, doing one-night stands in country towns all over Australia?

Leaving the hall after your show is the trickiest bit. The “bouncers” and the police are very good, but in some of the small towns you’ve only got two or three policemen, and the kids break through and get to you and start ripping off your suit lapels.

A few times I’ve been scared, like in Nowra in New South Wales, on a recent country tour. It was one of the wildest nights we’ve had. My group, the Aztecs and I, and I, were staying at a motel and after the show the whole audience seemed to come around there and try to get in. There seemed to be about 600 of them. I had the door locked and then I propped up a table under the door-knob in case they broke the lock. Then they were trying to get through the windows and some of the boys were pouring water out to stop them. Luckily, the police finally arrived. I don’t know what would have happened otherwise.

In Perth last November-I think the Perth kids are the wildest of the lot-8000 met us at the airport. When we got to the hotel they were all milling around in the foyer. Our bass player got knocked out in the crush, trying to get up the stairs. Another one of the boys and I climbed up the fire escape to our room on the sixth floor to avoid going through the mob, but when we got to our rooms, girls had invaded there, anyway. But then, you just have to live with this sort of thing. If you don’t like it, then you shouldn’t be in show business.

The constant travelling gets a bit gruelling. The last time we were in West Australia we did 6000 miles in five days, travelling all night and sleeping in the bus-but it’s the mental strain rather than the physical strain that gets to you. You go on with it because live shows are the only way you can get over to the kids. Television appearances are fine, but they’re not the same. On the road you get up at 7 am or not much later, because all the equipment has to be collected from the hall where you played the night before, and loaded on the bus. (The Aztecs travel in a 21-seater). How you feel depends on how late you partied on after the previous night’s show with the local disc jockeys, who always want to entertain you. You order a large breakfast in your motel room-grapefruit juice, fit, cornflakes, steak and eggs-because you may not find anywhere to have lunch until 1.30 or later. You load your suitcase and overnight bag, which you’ve packed the night before, and your plastic suit carrier and set off to go maybe 150 or 200 miles to the town you’re playing that night.

After the first 20 miles, the scenery looks all the same. Some of the fellows sleep, some talk. Or you get out your acoustic guitar and have a session. On one country tour the group worked out a whole album just riding along in the bus, thumping the backs of seats for drums. It cuts down the monotony. You stop for lunch at last, and all the boys make a beeline for the nearest café with Chinese food. Everybody’s mad about Chinese food. Then people start coming up asking for autographs. This is one thing which annoys you. By the time they go away the food’s gone cold. Often, they’ve souvenired your knife or fork-even bits of food from your plate. Back on the road. You usually hit town about 3:30 pm, drop your gear at the motel or hotel, and go straight to the local record store to sign autographs for 30 to 45 minutes. They’re still crowding around-asking you to sign their arm or hand-when you’re taken off to the radio station for an interview.

At 5:30 you go back to your room to shower and change and have dinner and a rest before the show. Often the girls have found out where you’re staying and they’re lurking in wait-in the foyer or corridors, or maybe hiding in cupboards or the shower recess in your room. Being the star of the show, you’re not on until the second half. The best time to slip into the theatre is just before interval, so the road manager comes in a car to pick you up and take you to a side entrance, where there are policemen standing by in case the fans are waiting. Usually you manage to duck in without having your hair pulled or your suit torn.

Being on stage singing is the part that makes it all worthwhile. I love it, I really do. Maybe it startles you a bit when they jump up on stage and head for you. You learn to be able to dodge them, get behind an amplifier or something. Still, I’m glad I’m starting this weekly show of my own on television (It’s All Happening, for 26 weeks, on the Seven network. At six hundred dollars a show, it will make Billy the highest-paid teenage compere on Australian TV.) It means a few months’ break from the country tours-although each week we’ll be going to one or another of the capital cities for a one-night show.
--TV WEEK, MAY 21, 1966

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