The Flying Circus (band)

The Flying Circus (band)

The Flying Circus were a well-known Australian country rock band who had a number of hits in Australia from 1968 to 1971 and then re-located to Canada from 1971 to 1974 where they also achieved a degree of success.


The Flying Circus were formed in August 1968 in Sydney, Australia starting out as a country/folk-rock band. They performed "harmony-rich covers of Byrds, Dylan and Dillards country songs". Like The Byrds, a prominent part of their early sound came from the featured use of a 12 string Rickenbacker guitar. They were brought together by lead guitarist Doug Rowe who had been a member of New Zealand band, The Castaways, before coming to Australia. The original lineup was Doug Rowe [lead guitar, vocals] , James Wynne [lead vocals, rhythm guitar}, Bob Hughes [bass, vocals] and Colin Walker [drums] . Bob Hughes left in early 1969 and has since become a well known actor on Australian TV. He was replaced by bassist Warren Ward, an experienced musician from such bands as Stonehenge and Quill.

La La Land

They signed to EMI records in late 1968 and made one of their first major appearances at an outdoor concert in Sydney's Domain on Australia Day 1969. After recording, with the original line-up, a cover of the song, "Shame Shame" (which was not put out out at that time), they had their first chart success soon after with their debut single, a cover of the Buzz Cason - Mac Gayden song, "Hayride", in early 1969. As it was considered bubblegum pop (not helped by the Chipmunks sounding intro), this resulted in the band being permanently branded with a bubblegun image although their stage performances and later recordings were very much in the country rock vein.

Nothwithstanding this, "Hayride" was initially banned from release in New Zealand because of the lyric in it "...making love in the hay..." The song gained vital Australian national exposure thanks to a pioneering promotional film-clip which was shown on nationally-screened TV pop shows like Uptight!. Their second single, another cover of a Cason-Gayden song, "La La", was an even bigger hit but unfortunately this cemented their image as a bubblegum band.

Greg Grace left in June 1969 (to form Hot Cottage) and Warren Ward left in September, The latter was replaced by Terry Wilkins (ex-Quill). The group recorded their self-titled debut album around this time. The LP was an odd mixture of styles. Alongside the band's original country-rock numbers they included their pop hits and a medley of songs from the popular musical "Hair".

Prepared in Peace - Changes

"Run Run Run", released in December 1969 was their last "bubblegum pop" release although it was written by Doug Rowe. In April 1970 they added a fifth member, noted lead guitarist & pedal steel player, Red McKelvie, (ex-Starving Wild Dogs, Quill). Red McKelvie's arrival steered the group towards straight-ahead country music and the change was evident on their next release, an EP "Frontier", which featured four pure country songs, including covers of Bob Dylan's, "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight", and Merle Haggard's, "The Day The Rains Came". Their excellent second LP, "Prepared In Peace", released in July 1970, consisted almost entirely of original country-rock songs. It was critically well received, but not a major commercial success. That month they came first in the National Grand Final in the Hoadley's Battle of the Sounds (Australia's prestigious band competition).

In October Flying Circus released a single, "Giselle", which was backed with The Band influenced track, "Israel", from the album. Red McKelvie, however departed the band the same month. He went on to form the country-rock groups Powderhorn and Third Union Band and played with Richard Clapton's band (he is responsible for the cutting lead guitar work on Clapton's classic track, "Girls On The Avenue").

Red McKelvie's departure marked a reversion to a more rocky but still country tinged style. This was emphasised by the adding of a keyboard player, Sam See (formerly with Clapham Junction and Sherbet) and reflected in the next album, a much more straight-ahead rock LP (although there was still some country, such as The Longest Day). This album was entitled Bonza, Beaut & Boom Boom Boom and again consisted of all original material by the group. Two excellent singles, "Turn Away" and "It Couldn't Happen Here", were taken from the LP, but they only charted modestly, even though they are regarded as being among the band's best work. Turn Away featured a pumping bass, swelling Hammond organ and an ascending, climactic guitar solo, a far cry from their earlier pop or laid back country tracks. It should be noted here also that the band had a penchant for writing and recording songs about steam trains with titles such as "Kempsey Mail", "3667", and "The Last Train" (James Wynne later became an artist noted for his paintings of steam trains)

Canada - Maple Lady

As result of the image problem that followed them from their early days and, that in Australia at that time, they were too country for rock audiences and too rocky for country audiences, they became frustrated by the lack of serious recognition in Australia. This led them to use their Hoadleys prize to head for North America, basing themselves in Toronto, Canada. Their next single, the Crosby, Stills & Nash influenced track, The Ballad of Sacred Falls was released in September. The North American trip met with some success and they gained a deal from American music agency Music Factory for a $10,000, two-month tour of Canada. However just before they did the tour, lead singer Jim Wynne left the band, ultimately for good. The single Turn Away was also released in the USA but to no success.

July 1971 saw them back in Australia however they headed off back to Canada in late 1971 where they worked regularly for most of 1972. During the brief time in Australia in 1971, Sam See left to join progressive group, Bon Scott's band, Fraternity and Greg Grace rejoined to replace him. Flying Circus were to find Canadian audiences much more receptive to them than those in Australia and from then on they effectively became part of the Canadian rock music scene. After scoring a reputed million-dollar contract with Capitol Records, they cut their highly-regarded Gypsy Road LP, which consolidated all their past hard work. The single Old Enough (To Break My Heart) reached #19 on the Canadian charts and the follow-up, Maple Lady made the lower end of the US Top 100.

They returned to Australia for the second Sunbury Festival in January 1973, but their local popularity had waned by then, and the band received a less than enthusiastic reception. They returned to Canada, Sam See rejoined the group (having left Fraternity while in England). Greg Grace again left the band (for the final time), later becoming the roadie for Canadian band band Wireless, which included three ex-members of Australian band, Autumn.

The Last Laugh

The Flying Circus went on to put out one more rock album, the ironically titled, Last Laugh in 1974. The lineup playing on the The Last Laugh was Doug Rowe, Terry Wilkins, Sam See and Colin Walker. However by the end of 1974 the group had had its day. Sam See and Terry Wilkins toured and recorded with Canadian band Lighthouse. Doug Rowe remained in Toronto, where he set up his own studio and lived for some years before eventually returning to Australia. By 1982 he had returned to Australia where he formed country-rock band, Grand Junction, which went on to win a Golden Guitar at Australia's annual Tamworth Country Music Festival for its very Flying Circus sounding track "Married Women".

Discography and Chart Positions

Singles (45rpm)

* Hayride/Early Morning 1969 (#3 Sydney, #1 Brisbane )
* La La/Last Train 1969 (#5 Sydney,#4 Melbourne,#1 Brisbane,#1 Adelaide}
* Run Run Run/All Fall Down 1969 (#9 Sydney,#25 Melbourne,#36 Brisbane, #5 Adelaide)
* Giselle/Israel 1970 (#15 Brisbane)
* Turn Away/Longest Day 1971 (#27 Brisbane,#51 Adelaide)
* It Couldn't Happen Here/Somerville 1971
* Finding My Way/Ballad Of Sacred Falls 1971
* Old Enough (To Break My Heart)/Train Ride 1972 (#19 Canada National Charts, #19 Toronto CHUM AM charts)
* Maple Lady/Green Patch 1972
* Jabber Jabber/Gypsy Road 1974

Extended Play (45rpm)

* Frontier - I Remember Joanne/I'll Be Your Baby Tonight/The Day The Rains Came/When Will I See You as You

Albums (33 rpm)

* Flying Circus (self titled) 1969
* Prepared in Peace 1970
* Bonza Beaut & Boom Boom 1971
* Gypsy Road 1972
* Last Laugh 1974
* Steam Trains & Country Lanes 1977 ("Best of" album)


* Flying Circus 1969-71 ("Best of" album)


* The Encyclopedia of Australian Rock and Pop - Ian McFarlane - Allen & Unwin, Sydney - 1999
* Noel McGrath's Australian Encyclopedia of Rock & Pop - Rigby Publishers - 1978
* The Who's Who of Australian Rock - Chris Spencer - Moonlight Publishing
* Gavin Ryan's Chart Books
* The Tamworth Country Music Festival - Monika Allen - Horowitz Grahame Pty Ltd, Sydney - 1988
*An Australian Rock Discography 1960-1989 - Chris Spencer - Moonlight Publishers - 1990 - ISBN 0 7316 8343 9

External links

* [ Milesago website - Flying Circus article]
* [ Canadian Pop Encyclopedia]
* [ Allmusic Guide]
* [ Lyn Nuttall's Poparchives Flying Circus Feature - Hayride]
* [ Lyn Nuttall's Poparchives Flying Circus Feature - La La]
* [ Chum 1050 Toronto Website Charts pages April - May 1973]
* [ Canadian Charts]
* [ Red McKelvie website]

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