Fronting his first band, the Spektors, in 1965. Bon: “I was a drummer in those days, and I used to play half the night on drums and spend the other half singing. The singer also played drums—but not as good as me! Then I got an offer from the Valentines as drummer. But I wanted to be a singer so I joined as singer. It wasn’t because I wanted to be up front—it was because the singer used to get more chicks.” (Graeme Scott)
Wake-up was at six a.m. The screws would come by and rouse their charges. Bon jumped to. He quickly made his bed, folding the blankets just so, army-style. His cell door was opened and, inspection passed, he joined the other boys as they filed down to the showers. Many of them were already puffing on a cigarette. Riverbank was a juvenile institution—the youngest inmates were 14—but they all received a weekly tobacco ration. It was pure horseshit, something called Waldon, but it was something to suck on, something to break the monotony. Butts were saved. The showers were cold.
The day ahead held little brighter promise, maybe dinner if it proved any good, or a sing-along after that. But there were more pitfalls along the way. A cross look, a slip of the tongue, could get you into all sorts of trouble. At worst, you could end up in the box for fighting—and fighting was par for the course.
Riverbank wasn’t any ordinary boys’ home; it was a prison for boys. It was where the really bad boys went. Bon served nine months there.
Newly built in the early sixties, situated at the base of the scrubby hills on the northeast edge of Perth, Riverbank was a modern brick structure which at least allowed for some light and air and decent facilities. But still, it was a dark, hard place. Kept under lock and key rather than in open dormitories, these boys didn’t need too much prodding to become violent. Sexual favors were taken, not given.
During the week, the boys worked in craft shops or around the place in the kitchen or the laundry. Bon would never forget the hours spent on his hands and knees, scrubbing. He missed the fresh air. And it was always cold, freezing cold.
In the evening, after dinner, the boys congregated in a common room. They played cards, listened to the radio. They were encouraged to read, or sing, or play musical instruments. Any activity, in fact, which didn’t result in a fight was considered fruitful.
Saturday was a lay day, usually given over to sport. On Saturday night, maybe there’d be a movie. On Sundays, chapel was compulsory, and then after lunch, visitors were allowed. Sometimes a concert was staged for visitors.
Bon decided early on that jail was a mug’s game. He was no fool; it was obvious there was no percentage in a life outside the law. He could see that most of his fellow inmates were going to spend the rest of their lives in and out of jail. And that wasn’t for Bon. He owed his parents better, if nothing else. He was going to keep his head down and his nose clean—do his time and get out as soon as possible.
The silver lining to Bon’s time inside was that he started to take seriously the idea of getting into a band. He was hearing the Beatles on the radio; a change was in the air. He took to spending his recreation periods mucking around on drums, with a couple of other boys. They learnt a few songs, and called themselves a band.
ISA: “We went up to a concert one day there, and he was playing, and he said then, Oh, I’m going to be famous. And I just . . . Anyway, he was keen, he knew that’s what he wanted to do. But as a drummer, not as a front man.”
Bon was released by Christmas 1963. The carnal knowledge charges would not be proceeded upon. It was deemed that Bon had learnt his lesson. As Isa said, it “mebbe did him the world of good.” Bon moved back in with his family.
CHICK: “When he came out of Riverbank, his parole officer said, The best thing you can do is get into the CMF [Citizen Military Forces], so I took him up, and I don’t know what happened, the parole officer went with him, but they just didnae want him.”
Australia was involved in the Vietnam War by then, so Bon had to register for National Service. He was never called up. Later, he would claim, in an interview with a German magazine, “I was rejected by the army, because they said I was socially maladjusted.”
Bon put his time at Riverbank behind him. That he was able to do so, when most juvenile offenders return to incarceration, is testament to the firmness of his resolve and his strength of character. All he now wanted to do was get into a band. He could channel all his energy into that.
If Bon had ever had a nasty streak, prison scared it out of him. “Bon didn’t have a mean bone in his body,” said Wyn Milson, with whom Bon would shortly form his first real band. “He never looked for trouble. But if it happened, he wouldn’t walk away. The trouble was, that was when girls started going for guys in bands, and the other guys didn’t necessarily appreciate that. I was a little guy myself, and if anyone was harassing me, Bon would always step in. So he got branded as a troublemaker, when in fact he was probably the only one standing up.”
Bon got back on the straight and narrow. He got a job as a storeman with the egg board. He was flailing for sweet life at the drum kit he had installed in the bay window of his mother’s living room. He met two boys who worked at the Kwinana oil refinery—Wyn Milson, who played guitar, and John Collins, who was a singer—and roped in his friend Brian Gannon, who played bass, and the Spektors were born.
Born in Wales in 1948, Wyn, who lived in Medina, beyond Kwinana, had picked up a guitar after hearing the Shadows. Then the Beatles hit. And then the Stones. And as Wyn put it: “The Shadows were square. Even the Beatles were guys in suits. But the Stones . . .!”
The Spektors were a weekend band who played around on the Perth circuit for a year or so in 1965 before merging with their top rivals the Winztons, fronted by Vince Lovegrove, to form the Valentines.
In the reflected glow of the Beatles, a beat music scene sprang up in Perth, as it did in practically every other city in the Western world. Its king was Johnny Young. Young was training as a DJ when he started playing dances as singer with the Nomads in 1962. In 1965, he was made host of a new local TV show called Club 17.
The Spektors played their first performances at the Medina Youth Club in early 1965. This gig was momentous not only for that reason, but also because it was how Bon met a pretty 17-year-old blonde called Maria Van Vlijman, with whom he became infatuated, and spent the next four years in an on-again-off-again relationship. Bon had had girlfriends before—he had had plenty of girls, period—but none was like Maria.
MARIA: “I think it was one of those police club dances, on a Friday night; there would have been about a dozen people there. Anyway, out through the back door comes this guy, small, with tattoos. Well, I didn’t know anybody with tattoos. And his mother was in tow, being really quite bossy. It turned out it was Bon, and she had to drive him there with his drums, because he’d lost his license or something. I became secretary, or president, or whatever, of their fan club.”
Maria was from the right side of the tracks, a good Catholic girl of solid Dutch parentage. To Bon, she was a cut above all the slack molls and dirty scrags he used for what he could get, and he courted her and wooed her with all his worldly wiles.
MARIA: “He was going to marry me; he wanted to marry a virgin, and I was going to be it. But I knew for a fact, behind my back—I learnt later on—there was those gang bangs. But I never saw anything like that. Maybe I was just naive. Bon was very experienced, but to me, he was this nice boy. You couldn’t swear around me. And there was no drinking.”
Apart from the fact that the rampantly lascivious Bon managed to keep his hands off Maria, their relationship was also bizarre because at the same time Maria was also seeing bass player Brian Gannon, unaware that he was barely over 15. As Maria herself put it, she was 17 going on 12; Brian Gannon was 15 going on 21. It was a ménage à trois which existed with its participants’ full knowledge, and which they all somehow managed to cope with, if only just.
MARIA: “If we were going out to a gig, I would be holding Bon’s hand, with the rug over my knees, and holding Brian’s hand as well. I kissed both of them, but didn’t go to bed with either of them. It was a wonderful time for all of us.”
Through 1965, the Spektors played weekly gigs, or stomps, held in halls and surf clubs like the Cave, the Shakeway, the Big Beat, the Z-Club and the Rendezvous. They would get 20 minutes or so in the middle of the bill with half a dozen other bands like the Johnny Young-less Nomads, the Dimensions, the Triffids, Russ and the Little Wheels, and the Winztons. Their set consisted of Stones’ songs, Them’s “Gloria,” and the Beatles’ “Yesterday.” Stomps were dry, though the boys in the band always had a bottle of ale or two stashed out the back.
WYN MILSON: “The whole problem with being a band in Perth back then was the search for material. It was a consuming process, because you just couldn’t get anything, no blues, or anything like that. You used to have to dig for it.”
Bon would borrow his father’s new Falcon station wagon to lug his drums around. That lasted until he fell asleep at the wheel one night. The paper reported that Ronald Scott (19) “was taken to hospital with facial injuries after the car he was driving hit a light-pole on Stirling Highway, Claremont.” It added that Brian Gannon (15), “a passenger in Scott’s car,” suffered “concussion and cuts.” It was the first of many injuries Bon would inflict on himself.
LEFT: Bon met his first serious girlfriend, Maria Van Vlijman, in 1965. He always carried
this photograph with him. RIGHT: Maria and Bon in their best mod finery, 1966.
(courtesy the Scott family)
The band was back on deck the following weekend. Bon was a hard man to keep down. An appearance on Club 17 in October was tangible evidence that the Spektors were indeed as the West Australian put it, “one of Perth’s top five rock groups.”
The band continued playing into 1966 without making much greater headway, though they could hardly have complained. The Spektors had started out as a fun thing, and they were having the time of their lives. The band was often billed as John Collins and the Spektors, though Bon would occasionally step up to the mike to sing a song or two. He was learning to like the applause, to like being a center of attention. He didn’t find it difficult.
Bon won out over Brian Gannon for Maria and the couple reveled in the throes of puppy love. Maria got a job in the pay office at the Fremantle docks, and since her parents had moved further away into the country, she took a lease on a flat in east Fremantle with her brother Joe, despite her tender years. This meant that Bon, who only lived across the way in North Fremantle, was able to spend all the more time with her. He had by then tossed in his job at the egg board and was working as a postman.
He reserved all his most gentlemanly charms for Maria. He would dress up just to have lunch with her every day, then return to work. Both their families disapproved of the relationship. To Maria’s parents, Bon was an undesirable, a larrikin; to Chick and Isa, Maria was stuck-up, snooty.
MARIA: “Every night, we’d do something, even if it was just watch TV. I would be out with Bon till three or four o’clock every night, and then have to get up at seven to go to work. I was always late.
“It was a ritual every Saturday to go to a place called Musgrove, where all the new bands would play. We used to go to church on Sundays.
“Oh, we’d go down to the wharf, and Bon would buy fish’n’chips, and we’d watch the waves.”
Maria would attend Spektors’ gigs and rehearsals alike.
ISA: “They used to practice in my house. The band, in my lounge! We all had to clear out and go into the kitchen when they practiced.”
The scene was still growing. Johnny Young joined new local independent label Clarion Records, and released the single “Step Back,” an Easybeats song. It went to number one nationally in June 1966.
When Johnny Young predictably set out for the brighter lights of Melbourne, he left behind a big gap in Perth. Neither the Winztons nor the Spektors, the next two best acts in town, were quite equipped to fill it, and they might well have cancelled each other out in the attempt. But if they joined forces, there would be nothing stopping them.
The idea to form the Valentines was hatched by the Winztons’ Vince Lovegrove in cahoots with 6KY DJ and music director, Allan Robertson. Robertson, who named the band and could see the potential of an act with two lead singers. After all, it had worked for the Twilights, Sam & Dave, the Righteous Brothers.
Vince had known Bon for a while. Vince had left school to take up a journalism cadetship at the West Australian, but threw that in to concentrate on music. After the Dynells he fronted the Dimensions before forming the Winztons. In the obituary to Bon he wrote for RAM, Vince recalled, “Bon was the cute little drummer with cute little eyes, pixie-like ears, a cute, turned-up nose, a cute little Scottish accent, and about four very obvious cute little tattoos. In rock’n’roll in those days, you could go a long way being cute. We became friends.”
The Winztons hit a peak when they played at the Capitol Theatre with Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs (the biggest band in the country alongside the Easybeats), then riding high on hits like “Mashed Potato” and “Poison Ivy.” There was a party afterwards.
VINCE LOVEGROVE: “We got invited to this party; it was our first real rock’n’roll party like we thought they must have all the time in the eastern States. Bon and I went, and I remember being really intimidated by Billy Thorpe, afraid to talk to him, and he was only a year older than we were. But we just thought, Right, well, this is it, this is what it’s all about, this is for us!”
Vince was then working as a sales assistant at Pellew’s Menswear in Fremantle, and Bon would drop in on him away from his postman’s rounds. “[We] realized our ambitions were the same. To go to Melbourne and be the best band in the country,” Vince wrote. “Bon didn’t want to drum anymore, and as I was the singer in my band, we decided to be democratic and have two singers.”
ISA: “Ron liked being up front. I don’t think it suited him being behind the drums.”
The formation of the Valentines sorted the men from the boys, or at least those that had steady girlfriends from those that didn’t. The Valentines’ plan was to turn pro and it’s near impossible to combine a career in rock’n’roll and marriage. John Collins and Brian Gannon gave up music altogether and both soon settled happily down to married life. But Bon—Maria or no Maria—was going to do what he was going to do. He insisted on bringing Wyn Milson into the band with him, which suited everyone fine, as Wyn was quite serious about his music.
From the Winztons came guitarist Ted Ward and bassist John Cooksey, whilst drummer Warwick Findlay was recruited from Russ and the Little Wheels. Cooksey was replaced a short while later by Bruce Abbott.
The band was driven by a calculated careerism. Bon and Vince had together seen their future—their names in lights in the eastern States—and they were prepared to do anything to get it. They were turned on in the first place by the Beatles and the Stones, but it was Australian acts that really inspired them to give it a serious go. They’d seen the success enjoyed not only by the Easybeats, who were their godhead, but also Ray Brown and the Whispers, Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, and then the Masters Apprentices and the Twilights. And if Johnny Young could do it too, then surely so could they.
A hierarchy evolved within the Valentines that saw Vince emerge as the band’s leader and premier sex symbol. Bon deferred to Vince, for the time being at least, because he knew Vince could get them what they wanted. Vince was a smooth operator. His experience at the West Australian had taught him media savvy, and his charm and cleverness made him a natural at public relations and promotion.
At any rate, Bon always had Wyn’s ear, and it was Wyn who emerged as the band’s musical director, for what that was worth—the whole band was still grappling in the dark for a real musical sign.
But even if Bon was prepared to hand the reins over to Vince—and he didn’t want to know about administration or money—the pair’s rivalry colored the Valentines’ personal dynamic, and certainly affected their own relationship, though they remained friends, till the day Bon died.
One of the first edicts brought down in the new regime was that girlfriends at gigs were a no-no. This meant that Bon had to tell Maria she couldn’t come to the band’s debut at Broadway. Maria was horrified, not least of all by the fact that Bon was prepared to pass on Vince’s demand, and even while she conspired with Bon to buck Vince, appearing at every subsequent show (there was no love lost between Maria and Vince either), she was plotting to get her own back on Bon. She wanted to see him squirm, make him beg.
The Valentines took over all the gigs and fans that the Winztons and Spektors had previously divided, and that immediately made them top dogs in Perth. They were heavily rotated on the 6KY “Big K” dance circuit—it helped that they were nominally managed by DJ Allan Robertson. They also played licensed discos like the Top Hat, North Side and Trend Setter, which were raking it in thanks largely to the Western Australia mining boom.
The Valentines’ repertoire consisted mainly of soul covers—Sam & Dave and Wilson Pickett (the roots of the Rolling Stones)—plus songs by mod staples the Who, the Small Faces and Spencer Davis.
WYN: “We used to sneak into the 6KY record library late at night and go through the old stuff looking for singles that had the big hole in the middle. You’d find something and say, Who’s this?”
With their matching blue sharkskin suits, the band was also developing a sensational stage act which would soon even incorporate flashbombs.
In January 1967, the Valentines played in front of their biggest ever crowd—over 3,000 teenagers—at a concert for Torchbearers for Legacy in Perth’s Supreme Court Gardens. The Sunday Times praised the band: “with lead singers Bon and Vince clearly demonstrated [sic] their vibrant personality.”
Life, then, for the band was good. They’d all quit their day jobs. There were always parties, and everyone was young and pretty. Bon and Maria made a handsome couple, even if they squabbled a lot. Maria liked to play cat and mouse with Bon. But when the games became too much to bear, Bon took up overtly with a go-go dancer by the name of Lyn. Maria soon lured him back though.
“Now established as one of the star attractions on the Perth scene,” as a 6KY fan club flyer put it, it was inevitable that the Valentines would link up with Clarion Records. Headed by Martin Clarke and distributed by Festival (Australia’s own major label), Clarion was one of the many independents that sprang up and fostered local talent in Australia in the sixties. The Valentines thus went into a primitive studio off Hay Street in the center of Perth very late one night, and emerged the following morning clutching a one-take, two-track tape of two simple tunes.
“Everyday I Have To Cry” was a rolling, melodic song originally cut by black US country-soul singer Arthur Alexander; while “Can’t Dance With You” was a B-side for the Small Faces, a prime slice of proto-funk/rock. As a debut single by a band from the backwoods of Perth, it wasn’t bad, and when it was released in May 1967 it duly climbed into the top five in the Western Australian charts.
The Vallies, as they were affectionately known, were on a roll. When the all-conquering Easybeats played two shows at His Majesty’s on June 12 on their return tour from England after the worldwide success of “Friday on My Mind,” the Valentines supported. The Easys took a real shine to them. It was likely on this occasion that songwriter-guitarist and fellow Scot, George Young, first noticed Bon, how reminiscent he was of his own band’s front man, “Little” Stevie Wright. Of course, of all the Easybeats, Bon idolized Little Stevie particularly, to the point of consciously aping his moves.
The Valentines partied with the Easybeats back at their hotel, as hordes of screaming teenage girls littered the footpath below. The two bands swapped shirts like opposing Grand Final football teams, and the Easys even knocked up a song on the spot for Vallies. Not much of a song, it’s true, but one that would constitute the Valentines’ second single.
“She Said” was the first of three songs the Easybeats would give to the Valentines, and it was the start of the lifelong relationship George Young would have with Bon.
Bon and Maria had kissed (at most!) and made up, but just as soon, Maria was taking off for the big smoke, Melbourne. There had to be something more there than working in the pay office at the Fremantle docks.
MARIA: “I was ready to go, but I don’t think I would have gone if I didn’t know that somewhere down the track, Bon was going to come too.”
Wyn Milson, by this time, had effectively moved into the Scotts’ North Fremantle home, rather than having to commute all the way to Medina all the time. “Bon just said, Come and stay at my place; didn’t ask his parents, and basically, they just accepted me. When I think about it now, if someone lobbed at my house, and was coming in at three every morning making hot chocolate, leaving burnt milk in the saucepan, and then went to bed in the lounge room so you couldn’t go in there till one in the afternoon, I would throw them out. But they never said a word.”
“She Said” was released in July, backed with a lame version of Phil Spector’s “To Know You Is To Love You.” It was a step back for the Valentines, probably only recorded because it was penned by the Easybeats. Bon blew a recorder, presumably just because he could. Not even all the Valentines’ hometown hero status could save “She Said.” It stiffed.
The irony is that even as the single couldn’t get out of the blocks, the band won the State final of the Hoadley’s Battle of the Sounds. The Valentines flew to Melbourne to compete in the national final, and though they were beaten out of first place by the Groop, they made a good impression. Tastemakers Ian “Molly” Meldrum of Go-Set and DJ Stan “The Man” Rofe both gave them the nod. Vince, of course, got in some serious networking during the visit; and so, flying home, the Valentines had no second thoughts as to where their future lay.
The band’s plan was to get together the money to pay for the move to Melbourne. They got onto a winner in an all-day every-day gig at the State Fair, with visiting Victorian star Ronnie Burns.
WYN: “You’d do a half hour on stage, then go out the back so they could throw everybody out, and then you’d go up and do it again.”
Bassist Bruce Abbott fell victim to the dreaded fiancée disease, and decided to stay behind in Perth and get married. He was replaced by John Cooksey. Bon wrote to Maria just a week before the band was due to leave for Melbourne:
We have had no end of complications with our trip. It looked almost as though we would have to call it off till we got more money. Vin and I are going to Perth tomorrow to sell everything we can lay our hands on . . .
I guess that you’re having a great time going to all the new places. I hope we can both have a good time together when I arrive. I hope that it works out this time. If it doesn’t I don’t know what I’ll do. I’ll be so flippin’ lonely.
VINCE: “No one in Perth could understand why we wanted to leave. They said, It’s paradise here, it’s sunny, we’ve got all these beautiful beaches. What could you say?”
The band finally got it together and they all met at the station to catch the train. The scene was like something out of Exodus. Mothers were sobbing, fathers stoic. The boys were beside themselves.
They felt like explorers or crusaders. The trip across the Nullarbor Plain was all of four days—somehow they would have to contain their excitement—and at the other end, Melbourne was still very much an unknown quantity. But they were blessed with the hope of the age, the confidence of their youth and their innocence.
If and when they returned to Perth, it would be as stars, conquering heroes. And so it would be.