White and Gillespie was one the major independent record companies in Australia. Based in Melbourne, W & G had distribution rights for many of the major European labels as well as the American Time and Ampar (American Paramount) labels. It had sub labels Gem (budget) and InRecords (top 40).
Established in 1910 in Melbourne, the company produced printing plates. They moved twice before settling at 185 A’Beckett Street in 1938. They also established an office in Sydney in 1928.
The record making division was setup in 1938, and pressed transcription discs for radio stations. During the war, the company expanded into drawing instruments. Their range including hand scales, drafting machine scales, slide rules, and other specially-made instruments, which were produced alongside the transcription records.
This continued into the early 1950s when they reportedly produced the first micro-groove vinyl long playing records on a custom pressing basis. However, Festival, then EMI and ARC in Sydney setup their own pressing plants, so W & G had to decide whether to continue in the industry.
To maintain volume they made the decision to open their studio to music – previously they had been doing radio commercials. They made licensing deals with a number of overseas labels. These were mostly European to meet the demand from the burgeoning Italian and Greek market. A market that saved many cinemas in Melbourne at the time.
In 1956 they hired Bill Armstrong who later went on to establish Armstrong studios in South Melbourne – now AAV. Also around this time a young Ron Tudor joined the ranks. They recorded Ernie Sigley – who was to become the last Australian on a commercial 78 in 1957 – Diana Trask, and the Seekers. There was an preference for Hillbilly (now known as Country and Western), and W&G recorded acts such as Frankie Davidson, Denis Gibbons, and the Hawking Brothers. Renowned jazz guitarist Bruce Clarke who, with his band The Rockers, provided the backing for many W & G recordings. Ron Tudor left W & G in 1966, and after two years at Astor, setup Fable and then Bootleg.
As well as its many Australian and European acts, from the mid-1950s until 1960 W & G acted as the Australian distributor for the American ABC Paramount (Ampar) label, releasing hit recordings by ‘teenage’ artists including Paul Anka (“Diana”), and mainstream popular artists such as Lloyd Price (“Stagger Lee”, “Personality”), George Hamilton IV and husband-and-wife vocalists Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme.
Through the 1960s the main W & G label signed many important Melbourne pop acts, including noted instrumental groups The Strangers, The Phantoms, The Cherokees and The Tamlas. Artists and groups who released recordings on W & G and/or InRecords include Merv Benton, Margie Bayes, The Blackout, The Breakaways, Bobby Bright, Colin Buckley, Gaynor Bunning, Pat Carroll, The Cherokees, The Chessmen, Johnny Chester, Colin Cook, Roger Dee, Steve Denver, The Echos, Freshwater, The Gingerbreadmen, Freddie Hampton, John Hawes Group, Tony Henry, In-Sect, Johnny Broome & The Handels, The Kravats, Little Gulliver & The Children, The Lonely Ones, The Loved Ones, Johnny Mac, The Marksmen, Betty McQuade, The Mystics, Joe Paparonte, The Pink Finks, The Saxons, Somebody’s Image, The Strangers, The Tamlas, The Templars, Terra Nova 5, The Thin Men, Daddy Long Legs and The Spiders (featuring Barry Crocker), Dave Thunder and The MacMen, The Vibrants, Johnny Wade and The Wizzard.
For a time in the early 1960s W & G was associated with television station Channel 9, releasing music from the hugely popular In Melbourne tonight that featured Graham Kennedy and Burt Newton. The association with television continued with HSV 7 and the release of music from the popular Delo and Daly show broadcast in 1963-64.
However, the vast majority of W & G’s production was imported material, and they failed to capitalise on some of their major successes such as the Seekers, Loved Ones, and Russell Morris. The poor recording quality was often cited, and W & G seemed uninterested in upgrading their facilities in West Melbourne, often sending mastering overseas. Merv Benton cites the case of his single Be Sweet / You’re The Dog released in 1964, where the music tracks were recorded in Germany and the voice track recorded locally.
Like cinema, the “Europeans” became “mainstream” in 1970s, and as multilingual radio stations, and in 1980 SBS television started, the demand for the recordings diminished. W & G also sighted the popularity of cassettes that reduced its record pressing output. With the European market declining and other companies doing the popular acts, W & G sold off the record pressing equipment and its back catalogue in 1977 – although it seems a few cassettes were released after the sale.
Parent company White and Gillespie – as printers – moved to Reservior in Melbourne’s northern suburbs, and liquidated on the 17 December 2012.
W & G continues to operate their drawing and drafting instruments company as an online business.
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