Illustration: Chris Grosz
Harry Vanda & George Young
At 13, Johannes Hendricus Jacob van den Berg began teaching himself guitar in the basement of the tenement where his family lived in The Hague. But no sooner had he formed a youth-club band than his parents announced they were emigrating to Australia. Their only son dutifully packed his solid-body Hofner and homemade amplifier and boarded the boat.
In 1964, life in Villawood Migrant Hostel in outer western Sydney was tough. Families lived in Nissen huts, cold in winter and fly-ridden in summer. Toilets and laundry were communal and the tall 18-year-old Dutch boy was an obvious target for the welcoming committee of local toughs. But the hostel’s teenagers, fresh from Britain and Europe, had an edge on the native-born. They had brought with them the latest trends in fashion and music and they didn’t have to look far for a jam. Hendricus soon teamed up with Dingeman Ariaan Henry van der Sluijs, son of the hostel cook. The boys anglicised their names to Harry and Dick and set about putting a band together.
Leeds-born Stevie Wright lived in an army house across the road. A “cheeky little bugger” and a natural showman, Stevie was already in demand as a vocalist at local pubs. The trio started rehearsing Hollies covers and Shadows numbers. By then, Harry was hearing whispers about a Scottish kid who played a mean guitar.
The Young family were Glasgow’s gift to music. All seven brothers played instruments. Their sister, Margaret, didn’t – but she turned the youngsters, George, Malcolm and Angus, onto rock ’n’ roll. They arrived, en masse, assisted passage, in 1964. Villawood, “old tin shacks” surrounded by mud and snakes, didn’t suit them. Within a few weeks, the clan had moved into a big rental house in Burwood. But the diminutive 16-year-old George fancied a girl he’d met at Villawood and often returned.
The four long-haired lads practised in the laundry. The acoustics weren’t bad and it was a fair distance from the dormitories. “Sometimes there was a line of smalls hanging out to dry but at least the tubs weren’t used at night,” Harry recalled. They were pretty raw. Harry played lead. George played rhythm. Stevie drew the girls. At the East Hills Migrant Hostel further south, they found a drummer from Liverpool. They called themselves The Easybeats.
Harry and George’s breakthough collaboration was ‘Friday on My Mind’. By then, 1966, the Easys were playing in London to audiences that included Beatles and Rolling Stones. When the band broke up, Harry and George maintained their writing and producing partnership, crafting a string of hit albums for the younger Young boys’ band, AC/DC. Harry is still in the business. George has retired to Portugal. Love is in the air.
Postscript: George Young passed away in October 2017, aged 70.