The Sweet Peach label was established by producer Jimmy Stewart and Denis Whitburn at Adelaide’s Gamba Studios. It had a short lifespan — only about three years — but it was quite a prolific label, with around forty singles, one EP, two “maxi-singles” and ten LPs identified so far. Stewart produced all the Adelaide recordings, and Whitburn styled and produced the artwork, and the pair combined their efforts on marketing and development. After they moved operations to Sydney, they involved musician Doug Ashdown in a co-production role as Stewart and Ashdown were writing for many of the acts. Ashdown was also one of their first signings, contributing several singles and the “Age Of Mouse” double album.
The management and financing also changed with the involvement of American Entrepreneur Pam Coleman, who introduced proper management and accounting to the operation. Divisions for touring and artist management, as well as music publishing, were then added. Sweet Peach ended up producing so much that it was difficult for them to keep up! But with the help of their musical comrades and Gamba Studio’s owner, Adelaide enterepeneur Derick Jolly, Sweet Peach made an incredible impact on the music scene before they went.
Many of the artists who recorded for Sweet Peach came from Adelaide, such as rock bands Fraternity, Levi Smiths Clefs, Cannery Row and Paradise (which featured former Masters Apprentices guitarist Peter Tilbrook), singer-songwriters Doug Ashdown, Irene Petrie, Phil Sawyer and Kevin Johnson, and rising new country singer Lee Conway. One of the label’s most sought-after LPs was the acclaimed album “Hush” by Sydney progressive-folk band Extradition (comprising several ex-members of Tully) which became a major collector’s item on LP and was re-issued on CD some years ago by Vicious Sloth Collectibles. The initial financing was supplied by Sydney Television and Radio personality Graham Webb.
Ashdown and Stewart co-produced much of the catalogue and co-wrote several tracks for other artists, such as Lee Conway, Holy Black and Fraternity. As arranger and musical director for most of the label’s early singles, Adelaide musician Phil Cunneen was an important influence in the studio. The connections between Cunneen and Ashdown went back to their early days in Adelaide.
The second LP issued on Sweet Peach was Doug Ashdown’s The Age of Mouse; this was Australia’s first ‘popular’ double album, released a year before Spectrum’s Milesago. The backing band on the LP was Levi Smith’s Clefs, who had been based in Sydney for most of the late ’60s. At the same time that Jim and Denis were working with Doug in Adelaide, they recorded their only LP, Empty Monkey, one of the first Australian progressive rock albums. It was one of the first attempts by an Australian band to blend pop, R&B, soul and jazz influences, an approach epitomised by the album’s highlight track, an ambitious 11-minute rendition of The Beatles’ “You Can’t Do That”. Fraternity’s keyboard player John Bissett has described the LP as “a pretty accurate representation of the Clefs at that time — a blend of Motown and rock, largely inspired by Vanilla Fudge”.
It was acclaimed by critics — Go-Set’s Ed Nimmervol gushed that it was “the best rock album ever produced in Australia”. Regrettably this ground-breaking release was a commercial flop, although it too has become sought-after collector’s item. According to Clefs vocalist Barrie McAskill, part of the reason the LP flopped lay was that their label Sweet Peach suddenly switched distributors halfway through the promotional tour (McAskill says from Polydor to Polygram, but the Doug Ashdown label shown above indicates that the original distributor was Phonogram), and McAskill also suggests that Sweet Peach (i.e. Stewart) had an “agenda” to take the group away from him. The album came out in March 1970, while the Clefs were working in Melbourne, and shortly after its release most of the band (Mick Jurd, John Bisset, Bruce Howe and Tony Buettel) left to form Fraternity.
Fraternity were based in Sydney for most of 1970, including a long residency at Jonathan’s Disco which they shared with Sherbet. Their first single “Why Did It Have To Be Me?” (backed by a version of The Moody Blues’ “Question”) was issued in October 1970. The group then went into Sydney’s United Sound Studios to record their debut album Livestock, which was co-produced (like most Sweet Peach releases) by Ashdown and Stewart. Two singles were lifted from the album: “Lisa” / “Roadrunner” (Jan. 1970) and a cover of Junior Walker’s “Shotgun” b/w “Who Is It That Shall Come? (April 1970).
After the LP came out Adelaide entrepreneur Hamish Henry took over management of Fraternity and the group moved to Adelaide. Their next release, “Livestock” b/w “Why Did It Have To Be Me?”, “Cool Spot”, was issued in January 1971; it was one of two 3-track, 7″, 45rpm “maxi-singles” that Sweet Peach issued; this was still a relatively unusual format in Australia at the time, although it became more widely used during the Punk/New Wave period.
Fraternity’s second single — their only major hit, and Sweet Peach’s most successful release — reached #1 in Adelaide and made the Top Ten in other cities, although it unexpectedly had to compete with the original version by Blackfeather. Members of Fraternity and Blackfeather had become good friends during the residency at Jonathan’s (where Blackfeather’s John Robinson was a regular). Fraternity wanted to cover Blackfeather’s “Seasons of Change” and with the blessing of Robinson and the approval of Infinity’s David Sinclair, Fraternity cut their own version, which was released in March 1971. It would probably have been a national hit, because John Robinson had generously obtained an undertaking from Infinity not to release Blackfeather’s version as a single. But, predictably, as soon as Fraternity’s version became a hit in Adelaide, Infinity reneged on its promise and rushed out the (arguably stronger) Blackfeather version, as a single to cash in on the interest generated by Fraternity.
As noted above, several Sweet Peach releases have become sought-after collectors’ items. By far the most valuable is the ultra-rare 1970 LP Childhood’s End by Adelaide singer-songwriter Phil Swayer — this obscure recording was listed for sale on Ebay in 2007 for a staggering US$700. Largely because of Bon Scott’s involvement, Fraternity’s original recordings are now also becoming valuable, and copies of their Sweet Peach singles recently offered for sale on the Oz Music Online site were valued at AU$55 each. Original copies of Doug Ashdown’s The Age of Mouse LP are also prized, and they have been changing hands on Ebay for around US$80 — Doug jokes on his website that this is more than he was paid to record it! Another valuable item is the debut single by Adelaide band Cannery Row, which was listed for sale at AU$33 in Sep. 2007 on internet music store Oz Music Online.
Another major rarity is Sweet Peach’s only known EP, a jazz recording by a group called The Gas Company. Thanks to Bill Stevens, we’ve learned that the compositions, musical direction and arrangements were by Eddie Comer (trumpet), with Dave Owens (tenor sax), Neville Blanchette (trumpet) and Bryce Rhodes (piano). Collectors are now seeking out vintage Aussie jazz and this is clearly a sought-after EP — a copy recently sold on eBay for UK£67 (AU$145).
Another Sweet Peach curiosity, also brought to our attention by Bill, is Festival ’70. Although this “various artists” compilation LP consists entirely of Sweet Peach acts, it evidently wasn’t released by Sweet Peach and came out instead on/through Philips’ pop subsidiary Fontana.
Also of interest are the two releases by Sydney-based cabaret band Multiple Balloon, who worked the Sydney hotel and cruise circuit in 1969-70. These singles are of note because they are the first commercial recordings to feature renowned New Zealand-born singer and bassist Charlie Tumahai, whose stellar career included Aesop’s Fables, Nova Express, Friends, Healing Force, Alta Mira, Mississippi, Bill Nelson’s Be Bop Deluxe and Herbs.
The last known Sweet Peach LP was Lee Conway’s Applewood Memoirs (People); according to a description on ebay, all but one of the tracks are Ashdown-Stewart compostitions. A copy of this LP was listed for sale in early 2008 for US$50.
Even though Sweet Peach are now yet another entry in the annals of musical history, theirs is a page that is often turned to in Australian music heritage. They have left an unmistakable impact on the scene, and the various individuals that helped contribute to this are now remembered fondly, as one of the sweeter parts of golden oldie rocker nostalgia.
Sweet Peach Records artist roster includes some trully iconic artists.
- Cannery Row
- Don Lane
- Doug Ashdown
- Irene Petrie
- Gery Gibson
- Gerry Temple
- Holy Black
- Kevin Johnson
- Lee Conway
- Levi Smith’s Clefs
- Multiple Balloon
- Phil Swayer
- The Going Thing
- Woody Carr
If you would like to know more about Sweet Peach Records or Jim Stewart Music then please email firstname.lastname@example.org