Review by Taylor Kendal
The sixties were an era of change, particularly in pop culture and music. It seemed as though entertainment came from imports around the world, most notably Beatlemania that had overtaken the entire globe. But Australia certainly wasn’t without its stars, and one name that rocked the top of the charts from the early 1960s was Normie Rowe. Over fifty years since first jumping onto the scene, Normie Rowe has never been too far from the entertainment world, being a voice of a generation that went through so much, yet never losing humor or his way*. Backed by his brilliant band The Playboys, Normie is once again back on Melbourne stages today for another Morning Melodies spectacular that surely melted away the icy spring chill this Monday morning.
A hometown boy from here in Melbourne, Normie is clearly happy to be back and in front of an audience, wasting no time in showing off that playful, cheeky rocker side of him; a talent that is matched only by his incredible vocals that have been so loyal all these years. Opening with one if his many hits, his famous up-tempo rendition of Que Sera Sera, the entire audience was up on their feet, singing and boogying along, and instantly transported into the teenage years, rocking away. Along with his impressive vocals, Rowe’s quips were never too far, going so far as to stop playing halfway through the song and switch to the slower Doris Day rendition, before jumping back into the rock. It was fun, upbeat and a wonderful introduction to the show.
Even if Rowe was a little before your generation, like me, its hard not to know at least one or two of his songs, even without realising it. Hits like Ooh La La, Pride and Joy and The Stones I Throw melding seamlessly into each other with such a wonderful synchronicity that can only be brought by a band that has not only worked together for many, many years, but who truly get along off stage. One member, drummer Graeme ‘Trotta’ Trottman, has been with Rowe since the beginning, and have remained close friends ever since.
It's difficult to talk about Normie Rowe and not mention his well publicised service in the army during the Vietnam War, that it has become a large part of his story to this day. From collaborating with other veterans who served, telling the stories that some might not be able to tell, or who couldn’t, and creating music that evoke the deepest of emotions of such a devastating time. The songs Twenty Years Ago and What Have You Done For Australia? are so deeply moving and poignant, not relying on flashy orchestration, but rather the raw and honest words of people who had lived it. It’s clear that it is a difficult subject to talk about, but Rowe’s passion for sharing his experiences through music and speaking his and the stories of others is so incredibly profound.
Another stellar moment of Rowe’s illustrious career was his run as Jean Valjean in the 1987 Production of Les Misérables, performing 600 shows in the role alongside the likes of Anthony Warlow and Debra Byrne. An already emotionally charged performance, Rowe always connected with Valjean’s powerful number, Bring Him Home, yet could never figure out why outside of the connotation in the show. But it wasn’t until he realized that it made him think of the mothers and fathers, the families of the boys gone off to war, begging for them to come back home safely to them.
While the song is known to be a huge, gut-wrenching number that, depending on the performer, can be full of big belts and intense power, Rowe’s passionate, raw stripped back rendition is nothing short of stunning. It is pure, it is honest and it is hauntingly beautiful in every sense of the word.
Sometimes there is nothing better than an hour of lighthearted fun and music to start the week off right. Normie Rowe and the Playboys provide a lighthearted, hilariously entertaining hour of great music, wonderful stories and incredible home grown talent that has you out of your seats and rocking like it was 1965.