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.
All biographies should be considered incomplete – with research ongoing. Check the individual PDF pages for “Last Updated” citation details.
The URL will also change every time a PDF bio is updated. If you are citing an entry please use the URL for this web page rather than the PDF URL (or it will eventually fail to link).
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.
Image and family history details courtesy of Margaret Hardwick.
Music director, arranger, conductor.
Percy Davis L.B.C.M. likely began his career as a vaudeville conductor around the turn of the century, his name being linked to Bert Howard’s Gaiety Entertainers as early as 1905. By 1907 he was leader of James Brennan’s National Orchestra (Syd) and in 1910 he toured Queensland for Harry Clay, later serving as music director at Clay’s Bridge Theatre (1912-1918). During his career, which continued into the late-1930s, Davis also worked for Frank Reis, J. C. Bain, George Marlow, and in the mid-1930s was music director at the Rushcutter’s Bay Stadium.
CYRIL “TINY” DOUGLAS
Violinist, music director, composer, arranger.
Cyril Douglas, was music director at St Kilda’s Palais de Danse in the early 1920s. He then toured the Fullers’ Australasian vaudeville circuit with the Charleston Super Six Symphonists (1925-28) before forming the Varsity Boys (1928-ca. 1937). The band, which often changed membership, toured mostly with revue companies (including those led by Nat Phillips and George Sorlie) up until ca. 1937, while also securing engagements with film exhibitors, and appearing on radio. At various times it was also known as the 4 Aces, Stage Band-its, and Palais Royal Band. In the 1940s Douglas led the State Havana Band (aka State Symphony Orchestra).
Image: Brisbane Courier 30 July (1932), 17.
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.
Trained as a concert pianist, Andrew MacCunn came to Australia in 1904 with the London Gaiety Company and remained for three years. After returning in 1910 to conduct J. C. Williamson’s Our Miss Gibbs he stayed with the Firm until his retirement in 1961. During that time he worked with the biggest names in Australian and international showbusiness, conducted hundreds of productions, and wrote countess songs, ballets, marches and incidental music for pantomimes and revues. MacCunn’s early pantomimes included Sinbad the Sailor (1911), Puss in Boots (1912), The Forty Thieves (1913), and Goody Two Shoes (1918).
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.
(1800-1862) London-born songwriter, musician, performer, teacher, music publisher.
Sydney Nelson established himself in London as a music theatre composer and publisher between the late-1820s and early 1850s. He and his family then toured through the USA and Canada before coming to Australia in 1852. Initially settling in Melbourne, the Nelson troupe found much popularity with their musical entertainments. Nelson also collaborated with local writers such as W. M. Akhurst, Eliza Postle, Frank Howson, and F. M. Soutten, being credited with songs, burlesques, pantomimes and farces. Among his best known works are Love and Experience (1852), Quiet Colonial (1853), The Rights of Women (1854).
- See also: Nelson Family.
For further details see: Eric Irvin. “Nineteenth Century English Dramatists in Australia.” Theatre Notebook 30.1 (1976), 25-26.
Will Quintrell’s father led a brass band in South Australia and later formed his eight children into a concert group. Will eventually studied music formerly and after a period in Broken Hill toured the East for Maurice Bandmann. After returning to Australia he became the Adelaide Tivoli’s music director (1911-), followed by Melbourne and Sydney. He remained with the circuit until joining J.C. Williamson’s in the 1930s. By the end of the decade he was conducting Hoyts’ Regent Orchestras in Sydney and Brisbane. He also directed 2SM’s “Stage Door Canteen” programme. Quintrell was married to pantomime principal boy Esmee McLennan.
- See also Esmee McLennan
- Will Quintrell & His Tivolians Band. “Opera Fox.” 1927 (mp3)
Image source: Frank Van Straten. Tivoli (2003), 36. Music source. Frank Van Straten. Tivoli Echoes (2003)
(-1928) Composer, music director/conductor, pianist, company leader. [Born: Joseph Bernard Rash]
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) and King’s Theatre (ca. 1909). Rache was in much demand as a music director/composer and arranger throughout the 1910s and 1920s and toured his own troupes at various times, including the Imperial Orchestra and Th’ Drolls.
- See also: Th’ Drolls.
Image: Sunday Times (Perth) 25 Apr. (1909), 3.
T. W. (WALTER) RHODES
(aka Prof. Rhodes / T.W.R. Rhodes / Walter R. Rhodes)
(- 1918) Pianist, music director.
Described as a “brilliant musician and likable fellow by Australian Variety (22 Mar. 1918, n.pag.), T. W. Rhodes R.A.M. arrived in Australia in 1885 under contract to Harry Rickards and remained until in the country his death. He worked for Rickards for several lengthy periods during the 1880s and 1890s, and was also associated with the Raynor Brothers (including Rickards-Raynor Combination), Dan Tracey, Alfred Wyburd (Bondi Aquarium), M. L. Raphael (Court Ballad & Variety Co), W.G. Lester (Society Entertainers) and Harry Clay (ca. 1901-1912, including at least five annual Queensland tours).
BILLY ROMAINE: See entry in Practitioners [R]
(-1916) Musician (incl. piano, accordion, cornet), music director, conductor.
Sydney-based pianist Joe Somers was a sought-after accompanist, solo performer and music director for concerts, smoke nights, lectures and other cultural events during the early 1880s. From 1885 onwards, however, he was largely associated with the variety industry, working for Frank Smith, I. Smith, T. H. Rainford, the Cottiers, Rose Clifford, Hiscocks’ Federal Minstrels, Cogill Bros, Charles Fanning, Hosea Easton (Georgia Minstrels), Walter Bell and Harry Barrington among others. He was music director for Henry’s Dramatic Co in the mid-1890s. Somers’ final engagement was with Perry’s Smart Set Musical Revue Company in 1916.
Not to be confused with Western Australian comedian Joe Somers and organist/pianist/composer Dr Joseph Summers.
CHARLES VON DER MEHDEN
(aka Herr Von Der Mehden )
Regarded as one of best cornettists to tour the Antipodes, Charles Henry Von Der Mehden first came to the region in 1883 with Chiarini’s Circus. The year after his marriage to Louisa Faust in 1884, he became a permanent member of the Faust Family of Acrobats, performing cornet solos and directing the musical aspects of the show. Von Der Mehden left the Fausts in 1893 to become bandmaster of the Fitzgerald Bros Circus. He held this position with great distinction until May 1905, at which time he moved to the USA.
- See also: Faust Family.
Image source: Bulletin 28 Mar. (1994), 1.
W. HAMILTON WEBBER
Composer, music director, conductor.
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).
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.