Thursday, August 8, 2013

Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band - Wangaratta Wahine (1974)

(Australian 1971-1980)
The Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band was an Australian band, active throughout the 1970s. It was based in Melbourne and centred around singer and multi-instrumentalist Mick Conway (Captain Matchbox) and his brother Jim Conway, who is widely regarded as one of Australia's finest exponents of the blues harmonica. Original line-up: Dave Hubbard (vocals), Peter Inglis, Peter Scott, Mick Fleming, Jim Niven, Mick Conway, Dan Hicks Back in 1968, Mick Conway and his brother Jim formed the Jelly Jug Band as a joke to enter a talent quest. To their astonishment, they won!
The Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band emerged from the Jelly Beans in 1969. They began playing regularly at any venue that lent itself to their theatrical music style. In particular they played the Much More Ballroom in Melbourne They organised a National Jug Orchestra from jug bands all over the country in April 1972.
Mick Conway
The band's first single, "My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes", hit the national charts in November '72. However, they experienced a major split shortly afterward. In the interim came a single, "I Can't Dance (Got Ants In My Pants)", and early in 1973 their first album, 'Smoke Dreams'. After a period of recess, the band reorganised, and by September the line-up had consolidated to its more notorious format as follows: Jim Niven (piano), Mick Fleming (banjo, mandolin, guitar); Jim Conway (harmonica, kazoo, recorder); Mick Conway (vocals, horn, ukeh) Geoff Hales (drums); Fred Olbrie (violin, guitar, harmonica); David Flett (sax, flute); and Dan Hicks (guitar).
Changes in line-up were characteristic of the band, perhaps because it was more a theatrical unit than a rock group.
During 1974, two more singles emerged: "Your Feets Too Big" and "Hernando's Hideaway". At the end of the year came the 'Wangaratta Wahine' album. It featured old standards as well as originals by Mick Conway and David Flett.
Also during the year, John Snyder worked with them on guitar.

The group became a TV regular and toured extensively throughout 1975. The year also saw the departure of Geoff and Dan to be replaced by Chris Worrall (guitar) and Manny Paterakis (drums), and was rounded off with their third album, 'Australia'. The change was followed by Fred leaving, to be replaced by Jack Saram.
By mid '76, another upheaval occurred when Graeme Isaacs joined, filling Manny's shoes on drums. The band then consolidated as a six piece unit (Mick C, Mick F, Graeme, Jack, David and Gordon McLean) and embarked on a campus tour.

Then, in November, the group again reformed, becoming part of a fifteen member theatrical touring act set up by the Australian Performing Group. The whole group adopted the name 'Soapbox Circus', and two new faces - Peter Mulheissen and Rick Ludbrook appeared (David Flett was the notable omission from the new unit).
A live album, 'The Great Stumble Forward', surfaced in June 1977. A single, "If I Can't Hav-Anna In Cuba" followed. The end of the year saw the band performing a play called Smack In The Dacks, and by 1978 the band was known simply as Matchbox with the line-up now comprising Mic, Jim, Ludbrook, Mulheisen, McLean, Tony Burkys (guitar, ex-Original Battersea Heroes) and Stephen Cooney (guitar, later of Redgum), who was replaced by Louis McManus (ex-Bushwackers). Matchbox released the Slightly Troppo album, and the delightful single "Sleep" (June 1978), followed by "Love Is Like A Rainbow" (January 1979), as well as making an appearance in Tim Burstall's 1979 feature film version of the Jack Hibberd play Dimboola.

Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band On Countdown 1975
By mid-1979, the line-up of the Conways, McManus and Mulheissen had been augmented by Robert Ross (drums, ex-Manning), Eric McCusker (guitar) and Chris Coyne (sax, flute). That version of the band introduced a more rock-oriented sound, but it lasted only about a year; McCusker left to join Ross Wilson's Mondo Rock and was replaced briefly by Peter Martin. In its final incarnation as 'The Matchbox Band', the group released one last recording, an independent single, "Juggling Time" / "Dirty Money", before breaking up in September 1980 [extract from Noel McGrath's 'Australian Encyclopedia Of Rock' Outback Press, 1978]
Makin' Whoopee
(Article from The Echo, June 27th, 2013)

Whoever said musicians can’t multi-task obviously hasn’t met Mic Conway. Conway, 62, was a high school student when he founded Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band with his brother Jim, and has been incorporating magic tricks, fire-eating, tap dancing and juggling into his performances ever since.
"When people come to see a show they might love music, but they like to look at things as well and that’s what I’m all about," the Melbourne artist said.
"I like dressing songs with visual things." Starting a jug band in the 1970s was a bold venture, and one that led him to record numerous albums, tour the world and win an ARIA.
"As a kid I collected old 78 gramophone records, and when I came across jug band and blues on those recordings it changed my life.
"We were in school at the time and just did the jug band as a joke, then suddenly it became a career." Conway and guitar flatpicking champion Robbie Long will put on a theatrical display at Ocean Grove’s Piping Hot Chicken Shop tomorrow night, after an opening act from friend and fellow musician Sarah Caroll.
Conway’s colourful career includes creating what is now known as Circus Oz, working with film and television programs such as The Wiggles, performing one-man shows at schools and of course writing and playing music.

"The jug band was my entree into music because you could play instruments that weren’t instruments, and things that were just a bit of junk suddenly became very musical," he said.
"I just stumbled into my career. I didn’t mean to be a performer but haven’t stopped." Conway has recently been busy recording an album with his National Junk Band, and one song, 'Growing Old Disgracefully', could be the title track.As they say, if you haven’t grown up by 50, you don’t have to.

 [Artice by Bethany Tyler]
 Side Note: Bethany writes for both the Geelong Advertiser and Echo Newspapers and is one of our very own up and coming 'budding journalists' - so watch this space, I'm sure there will be plenty more to come!
This post consists of MP3 rip (320kps) taken from my treasured vinyl and includes full album artwork and select photos of the band. If you haven't heard 'The Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band' then I'm sure you will be pleasantly surprised with the diversity in instrumentation and musical finesse that this band brought to the Australian Music Industry and believe me, there was no other band like them at the time!
Track Listing
01 - Blues My Naughtie Sweetie Gives To Me
02 - Lovesick Blues
03 - Half A Moon Is Better Than No Moon
04 - Jug Band Music
05 - Wait For Me Juanita
06 - Top Hat
07 - If Youse A Viper
08 - That's What The Bird Sang To Me
09 - Wangaratta Wahine
10 - Flamin May
11 - Your Feets To Big
12 - Hernandos Hideaway

The band were:
Mick Conway (Vocals, Washboard, Phonograph Horn, Ukelele, Jug)
Jim Conway  (Harmonica, Kayoo, Whistles, Vocals)
Fred Olbrei (Violin, Vocals)
Dave Flett  (Bass, Vocals, Harmonies, Ukulele)
Geoff Hales (Drums, Washboard, Tap Dancing)
Jim Niven   (Keyboards)
Mick Fleming (Banjo, Mandolin)
Jon Snyder   (Guitar)

Sorry, but this album is now available from Aztec Records, and features some live bonus tracks, making it great value for money.  Please support our local artists by purchasing the CD.


  1. This is a marvel if an album. I still have a vinyl LP of this and it gets a spin now and then. I never tire of it. Thanks for the info on the post - and you've saved me the job of ripping it myself. Much obliged.


  2. Inspired by garethofoz I'll put this record into my Winamp - thanks!

  3. My wife and I recently went by train from Sydney to Melbourne and as we went through Wangaratta, she turned to me and said 'All I can think of is the Captain Matchbox song.' She wouldn't have heard it since it was on the radio. Just goes to show that a good, silly song lasts forever.
    I was astounded now looking at my (2TB) music drive to find I don't have a copy of this album (shame on me). Thank you for helping me to fix this sad situation.

    1. Great story BigGray, I know exactly what you mean about certain old songs lasting forever... I was a fan of Captain Matchbox in the day. My brother came over so we got on Youtube of course and Bro said to search CM so I searched google and found this page.

  4. Glad I could help out fellas - the popularity of this album and band has really surprised me.

    Sadly, while doing some research for this album, I discovered that Jim Niven (keyboards) passed away alittle over 1 year ago, so it's nice to think that his contributions to Aussie music are still being appreciated. I therefore dedicate this post in his memory. RIP Jim Niven

  5. I remember seeing the band a few times in early '70s. They used to do free lunchtime concerts at my Uni in Brisbane. They were fantastic live and I love all their albums.
    I already have a rip of this one, but not the artwork, so will download just for that.
    Thanks for the memories.

  6. Saw Mic on stage last night in Melbourne, did Canary and Wangarratta ! And he signed a copy of the CD reissue .... do yourself a favour and order it online