Disappearing acts


By Guest writer Lyn Nuttall

Introduction by Bob

I did say last week I’d be serving up items from the FOMM archives while I’m away, but could not resist this post by Lyn Nuttall, curator of the website Pop Archives (Where did they get that song?).

The other day some bloke tweeted, “Anyone remember Dionne Warwick?”

Dionne Warwick answered, “Doesn’t ring a bell.”

When I wrote about a Top 20 hit by Sydney singer Jennifer Ryall I said that she was “lost to history”. I hadn’t been able to find out much about her, and there was nothing after the mid-1970s.

Jennifer Ryall finally emailed to tell me she wasn’t lost, and her own history turned out to be rich and varied. In the following days she gave me a lot of information, full of interest, which I used to write up a decent account of her career.

I now avoid suggesting that people are lost, or that they disappeared or vanished, just because they haven’t released any music for a while.

It’s a trap that fans can easily fall into. When a performer we know only through their media persona stops performing, there is a sense that they have literally disappeared.

We might even sympathise with them for their downfall, even if we have no idea what they are doing these days. However fulfilling their life away from the music (or film or TV) business might be, their absence suggests that they no longer do anything. They exist for us on the public stage and when they’ve gone it’s as if they don’t exist.

The jazz trumpeter, composer and bandleader Red Perksey migrated to Sydney via France in 1951. He soon established himself on radio and records, and in live gigs, and he became Musical Director for a Sydney record company.

Red and his orchestra had a hit with (A Little Boy Called) Smiley from the film Smiley Gets A Gun (1958), and they backed Vic Sabrino on his version of Rock Around The Clock (1955), a record some call as the first Australian rock’n’roll record. He was clearly a bright and likeable personality who pops up here and there in the newspaper archives.

Red Perksey 1950s (photo)

In 1958 Red was photographed joshing around poolside at a deejays’ convention, and he was giving lunchtime concerts at a Sydney music store. Then there is nothing. No more listings in the radio guides, no more gigs advertised, no more affectionate write-ups. He disappeared?

I had written what I believe is the definitive biographical sketch of Red Perksey. He was born Siegbert Perlstein in Berlin in 1921, of Jewish German-Polish background. I traced his progress from Berlin in the 30s, to Palestine in the mid-40s and Paris in the late 40s. He and his wife Zizi came to Australia by refugee ship in the early 50s, and were later naturalised here. The only later date I had was his death, in 1995, but from 1958 until then, nothing.

Eventually, someone emails. A niece, probably his only surviving relative, emailed from Paris with some answers.

To Australian audiences, to the Sydney newspapers, and (retrospectively) to this archival forager, Red Perksey had disappeared.

Meanwhile, a couple known as Bert and Anne were living in a remote French village where Bert painted, sculpted and made furniture. Bert was also a musician, and sometimes he joined in with local groups.

To us, they had disappeared; in France, Red Perksey and his wife were in plain view to their fellow villagers.

I guess my point is, there are more places in this world than the public stage.


(Lyn later emailed me to explain how he tracked Red down).

“At the French National Library (BnF) I found song copyrights from 1950, which helped place Red in France and active at that time.

“I got a lead from a French book of pseudonyms at the Internet Archive that gave me his real name. Then he was easy to find at the Israeli national archives. They had had facsimiles of loads of documents to do with him and his wife when they applied for Palestinian citizenship in the 40s, including passport photos, dates of birth etc. A Jewish refugee agency had passenger lists from refugee ships going out to Australia.

And there they both were!”

Postscript by Bob

While I greatly admire Lyn’s dogged pursuit of facts supposedly lost in the dross of pop culture, I probably spoiled it for him with my obscure comment on his blog.

I asked did he know that the Ron Sexsmith wrote a song called ‘Disappearing Act?” This of course had nothing to do with Lyn’s blog other than his headline. Then again, Ron is a brilliant and prolific artist who rarely makes headlines and for a time there (between 2008 and 2011) he too seemed to disappear.

I was never so happy to learn in 2011 that his career was being revived by Canadian heavy metal producer Bob Rock, resulting in Long Player Late Bloomer, Ron’s first album since 2008. A strange coupling but it worked!

I recall Ron Sexsmith appearing at The Zoo, a daggy Fortitude Valley music club, in 2008. Tickets were $45 and the show was just Ron, his baby face and an acoustic guitar. Not a minder or a roadie to be seen.

Happy to report the award-winning Canadian singer-songwriter is this month releasing his 18th album – The Vivien Line. I have no idea what it will be like, but given songs from his back catalogue like Disappearing Act, Gold in Them Hills, Cheap Hotel, Fallen, Whatever it Takes and Secret Heart, I’ll be ordering one. Still not ringing a bell? Ron’s songs have been covered by famous singers including Rod Stewart, k.d Laing, Nick Lowe, Michael Buble and Emmylou Harris. Coldplay’s Chris Martin recorded a duet with Ron of Gold in Them Hills as a bonus track for the 2002 album Cobblestone Runway. That’s the same album featuring Disappearing Act and one of Ron’s best.


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