The careers of the individuals presented in this section were mostly associated with the Australian variety industry. In some instances this may have been undertaken for only a part of the person’s career, but is nevertheless considered significant in terms of impact, influence or individual development.
For details regarding songwriters who were also variety performers see their respective entries in the Practitioners section.
George Clutsam published his first composition at age nine and in his early twenties toured with various minstrel shows through Australasia and the East. After moving to England in 1887 he established himself as an accompanist and composer of both serious and light music. Among his works were several operas and a number of musical comedies, burlesques and plays. His biggest success was the Shubert-inspired 1922 musical play Lilac Time (later Blossom Time, 1942), for which he arranged Shubert’s music and composed additional music. .
(1853-1936) Music director, composer, arranger, musician
Engaged by some of the most significant entrepreneurs and troupes operating in Australia between the early 1870s and 1910s, Owen Conduit was a prodigious composer and arranger. He came to Australia in 1871, making his professional debut in Melbourne the following year at age 18. Over the next eight years found constant employment with minstrel troupes, and comic opera and burlesque companies. Conduit moved to Sydney in 1894, spending the next 10 years as Harry Rickards music director. He was later associated with Edwin Geach, Harry Clay and James Brennan among others.
- More details coming soon.
Image and family history details courtesy of Margaret Hardwick.
Born and raised in Melbourne, Jessie Grey began to learn piano at the age of five and made her first public appearance at a church concert at Mentone the following year. After undertaking tuition with her cousin, Miss Sadie Woff and later with variety theatre music director ‘Professor’ Frederick Ireland, Grey began her professional career as an accompanist in 1902. By 1905 she was F. M. Clark’s music director at the Gaiety Theatre (Melb), and two years later toured Queensland with Harry Clay’s Waxworks and Comedy Company. She is also known to have been music director at Melbourne’s Bijou Theatre (1915) and the Adelphi (1916).
Image: Australasian Stage Annual 1905, 33.
NICHOLAS LA FEUILLADE
(ca. 1840s – 1915) Violinist, music director, composer, and conductor.
Nicholas La Feuillade is believed to have first arrived in Australia in 1865 with the Christy Minstrels. He later toured as music director with a number of companies, including Harry Rickards’ London Star Company, Hiscocks’ Federal Minstrels and the Cogill brothers. La Feuillade’s symphony Irish Patrol, which represents ‘the gradual approach, passing and disappearance of the Enni Killen Brigade’, is believed to have been first performed in Melbourne in 1897.
(1880-1958) Composer, singer, music arranger, actor.
One of Australia’s leading songwriters of the 1910s, Marsh Little was also a popular baritone. Many of his biggest hits were patriotic numbers like, and included “Boys of the Dardenelles,” “His Photo,” and “Women! You Have Nobly Done Your Share.” He was also one of the major songwriters for the Fullers’ 1916 Bunyip pantomime.
Songwriter, librettist, music director, musician.
Associated for many years with W. H. Palings, both in Sydney and Brisbane, Harold Middleton began to establish his reputation as a writer, composer and accompanist in Brisbane around the early to mid-1920s. His pantomime, Hop O’ My Thumb was staged by the Famous Diggers in 1924, and he wrote at least one comedy sketch for the troupe during its lengthy Cremorne engagement. Another pantomime, Puss in Boots (1928) was also produced in Brisbane. A number of Middleton’s songs were published during the 1920s.
Composer, music director/conductor, pianist, company leader.
Bert Rache grew up in Lismore (NSW) and began his career as a musician in the late-1890s. After touring as George Rignold’s orchestra leader, he was employed as a pianist with Harry Rickards in 1903 (continuing this association for many years). His early career also saw him associated with Perth’s Palace Gardens (1904-06). Rache was in much demand as a music director/composer throughout the 1910s and 1920s. He also toured his own troupes at various times, including the Imperial Orchestra and Th’ Drolls.
- More details coming soon.
W. HAMILTON WEBBER
W. Hamilton Webber’s early career saw him compose original incidental music and songs for various Fullers productions during the 1910s and 1920. These included pantomimes and revusical companies (notably Nat Phillips’ Stiffy and Mo Co). In 1940 he was engaged by Greater Union to take charge of a fully augmented orchestra at the State Theatre in Melbourne. The film scores he worked on as either composer or music director include On Our Selection (1932), Strike Me Lucky (1934), Thoroughbred (1936), The Broken Melody (1938) and Dad and Dave Come to Town (1938).
(1887-1964) Composer, librettist, music director, musician
During his early career Fred Whaite (son of scenic artist Harry Whaite) was employed by Edward Branscombe (1915-16), John N. McCallum (1919-1922) and the Fullers (1917-18, 1923-29). Whaite began his career in radio in 1929 with the ABC, eventually retiring in 1962. During that time he was engaged in various positions including music director/arranger, novelty pianist and composer. His larger musical works include at least three comic operas, two pantomimes, three musical comedies and a variety of radio productions, ranging from dramas to musical comedies. Many of his songs were also published.