Remembering the greats of rock n’ roll

Megastars: Trafalagr woman Marge O'Donnell saw some of the biggest names in rock 'n' roll at Festival Hall in the 1950s. photograph liam durkin

TRAFALGAR woman Marge O’Donnell saw some of the biggest names in rock ‘n’ roll history during their halcyon days.
Artists such as Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Little Richard and Sammy Davis Junior came to Australia in the 1950s, bringing with them no shortage of hit songs and no shortage of screaming fans.
While she might not have known it at the time, the performers would go on to become genuine legends of the music scene, and fortunately, Ms O’Donnell has kept programs from the shows all these years later.
The programs tell the stories of the stars, and also offer a great deal of nostalgia as one flips through the pages.
Reflecting on the time, Ms O’Donnell said it was magical to see the megastars of music in the flesh.
“I saw people I’d only heard about, only ever listened to either on the big LP records or on the radio, they weren’t ever on TV in those days … we didn’t even have a TV,” she said.
“To go and see them at Festival Hall in Melbourne, it was a very special time. Groups of us as friends used to go, it was just really fantastic.
“I can remember just a lot of people, a lot of screaming and standing up and waving to the people on stage.”
The enviable list of other musicians Ms O’Donnell saw during her concert going days included Bill Haley and his Comets of Rock Around The Clock notoriety, Jerry Lee Lewis, and the man
responsible for popularising the twist – Chubby Checker.
When asked which performers stood out, Ms O’Donnell pointed to hometown hero Johnny O’Keefe, the first Australian rock ‘n’ roll singer to tour the United States, and Sammy Davis Junior, who she rated as the best entertainer she has ever seen.
As Ms O’Donnell explained, the sense of
adventure to catch a glimpse of the music stars was especially prevalent during this time, particularly given the advent of computers and mobile phones was still decades away.
“We use to all go together on the train, nobody had cars,” she said.
“It was a very special time. Just wonderful, we talked and laughed all the way home.
“I was working in Myer’s in the accounting
section, so I was getting a wage, which was nothing in those days, but I could pay for my own ticket.”
Although the shows were memorable for the most part, Ms O’Donnell said there was one in particular that left a sour taste – when Judy Garland arrived late, staggered drunk on stage and was eventually booed off.
As the 1950s ended, a little four-piece band from Liverpool in England known as The Beatles began to emerge.
By the time they arrived in Australia for their 1964 tour, ‘Beatlemania’ had well and truly swept the globe.
Of all the shows Ms O’Donnell witnessed, The Beatles at Festival Hall was one that simply never eventuated.
“We couldn’t get tickets, they sold out,” she said.
Making do with the next best thing, a young Ms O’Donnell was part of the 20,000 strong crowd outside the Southern Cross Hotel on Exhibition Street that saw The Beatles with their own two eyes.
“A couple of friends and I went up to what was then the Southern Cross Hotel and The Beatles came out and waved to us,” she said.
“There was a big crowd outside, literally in the alleyway and they (The Beatles) were waving to us.
“That was so much fun to see The Beatles … The Beatles!”