DVD Review: Friday on My Mind
The Easybeats were the great Australian rock band of the 1960s and, along with Melbourne-based The Seekers and Perth-born expat Rolf Harris, one of the few acts to have had significant chart success internationally during that decade. In the case of The Easybeats, they had several local hits but their big international one was “Friday On My Mind”, number one at home and number six in the UK. Australian they might have been, but not one of the five young men in their original lineup had been born in the country. Lead vocalist Stevie Wright (Christian Byers) and original drummer Gordon “Snowy” Fleet (Arthur McBain) were English, from Leeds and Liverpool respectively. Rhythm guitarist George Young (William Rush) was from Glasgow. Lead guitarist Harry Vanda (Mackenzie Fearnley) and bassist Dick Diamonde (Du Toit Bredenkamp) were Dutch, born Johannes van den Berg and Dingeman van der Sluijs respectively. The meeting of Vanda and Young in the Villawood Migrant Hostel, just outside Sydney, is now regarded as a significant event in Australian music, equivalent in national terms to the teenaged John Lennon and Paul McCartney's first meeting in Liverpool.
Written by Christopher Lee and directed by Matt Saville, Friday on My Mind tells the story from that first meeting in 1964. George and Harry lived in the migrant hostel, Stevie and Dick nearby. Starting a band, they needed a drummer and found one with Snowy, older than the others, married with a young daughter, and with experience of playing in the legendary Cavern Club back in his home city. Building a reputation with local gigs, they found a producer in Ted Albert (Ashley Zukerman). Lee's script ably establishes the different personalities of the band members. William Rush – actually a Lancastrian – gives George Young plenty of Glaswegian attitude and toughness. Meanwhile, other band members have conflicts which play out during the story. Dick/Dingeman's Jehovah's Witness parents disapprove of his musical ambitions and tell him that playing, and later touring, with a band will put his soul in danger.
Snowy increasingly finds himself torn between playing music and missing his wife and daughter, which eventually caused him to leave the band. Stevie Wright is a charismatic frontman, but soon finds himself succumbing to temptation, developing a drink and drug habit and, while missing his girlfriend while on tour, thinks nothing of being unfaithful to her. He and George were the main songwriters originally, but midway Goerge began to write the songs with Harry, whose command of English had improved considerably by then.
“A great rock song isn't just a piece of music,” says American-expat London producer Shel Talmy (Matt Zeremes), who by then had worked with The Who and The Kinks. What makes it different is the conviction. Take The Who's “My Generation” - “That's Pete Townshend, talking about himself.” And George and Harry play the minor-key opening of “Friday on My Mind”, the anthem of the worker, toiling through the week to reach the weekend and two days of freedom before the week starts again. This is partway through the second episode and in its way the song what this story has been building up to. The Easybeats had further singles but this was their high point, and the story really ends in 1967 when Snowy departs. The other four continued with a new drummer, Tony Cahill, for two more years and two more albums, but soon George, Harry, Dick and Stevie are standing in front of the El Alamein Fountain in Sydney's Potts Point, sharing a cigarette, calling it a day.
It's conviction which does make the difference, and with a good script and direction, and strong performances (though, as the final footage of the real band shows us, none of the main cast are exact lookalikes) the nearly three hours of this miniseries pass very quickly. And of course there's plenty of the Easybeats' music on the soundtrack. Production and costume design are fine. The former is particularly noteworthy given that the entire production was shot in and around Sydney, even the exteriors of London streets.
After the band broke up, George Young and Harry Vanda continued as songwriters and producers, working with amongst others Stevie Wright in his solo career and for their first five albums, AC/DC, whose guitarists were George's younger brothers Malcolm and Angus (who appear in this miniseries as schoolboys). George and Harry also had hit singles as the studio-based act Flash and the Pan. In 1986, the original lineup of The Easybeats reformed for an Australian tour. In 2001, “Friday on My Mind” was voted the best Australian song of all time by the Australasian Performing Right Association. Stevie Wright struggled for years with substance abuse problems and died in 2015. George Young died in 2017.
Sony's release of Friday on My Mind is a dual-layered DVD encoded for Region 4 only. The two episodes run 91:04 and 86:59, and there is a Play All option. The disc carries the advisory M rating, though it would likely receive a 15 certificate in the UK were it ever submitted to the BBFC. That may be some time, as this miniseries, broadcast in Australia on 26 November and 3 December 2017, has yet to be broadcast or otherwise commercially released in the UK. Given that a biopic of Michael Hutchence and INXS has yet to see the light of day in the UK, I'm not holding my breath.
Given that this miniseries is a product of the HD television era, it's regrettable that it has only been released on DVD and not Blu-ray, and that the soundtrack is Dolby Surround (2.0) and not the 5.1 you would have heard on a HD television broadcast. Shot digitally on the Arri Alexa, the transfer is in 1.78:1, a ratio you'd expect for a modern television production. No particular complaints here, given that it's SD: Simon Chapman's cinematography goes for warmer tones for the Australian scenes, a cooler palette for those set in London. The soundtrack is clear and well-balanced. There are optional English subtitles for the hard-of-hearing and fixed English ones for occasional scenes where characters speak Dutch.
The extras are a series of short featurettes, with a Play All option: “Behind the Scenes” (4:01), “Casting” (2:01), “Creating the World” (25:26), “Du Toit Bredenkamp as Dick Diamonde” (1:56), “William Rush as George Young” (1:47), “Mackenzie Fearnley as Harry Vanda” (1:45), “Arthur McBain as Gordon 'Snowy' Fleet” (2:31), “Christian Byers as Stevie Wright” (2:25), “Ashley Zukerman as Ted Albert” (1:59), “The Music” (1:27) and “The Story” (1:49). As you might expect, none of these do more than scratch the surface. Other than the six lead actors, Matt Saville and Christopher Lee, the interviewees are producers David Taylor and Diane Haddon, supervising sound editor We Chew, production designer Tim Ferrier, hair and makeup designer Jen Lamphee and costume designer Xanthe Heubel.