Jeff Duff on Countdown

Posted on 21st April 2013

countdown_3_smJeff Duff made several appearances, including as compere, on Countdown, Australia’s fanatically watched weekly pop music show on ABC-TV in the 1970s and 1980s. These early shows have long since been wiped away; Fraser’s Liberal Government razor gang cut-backs having encouraged the national broadcaster to reuse their tapes. Sound familiar?

Still, while pulling together a retrospective of the show for the present-day Rage music video program, “John” at the ABC dug out footage of the National Music Awards for 1975. When that show originally aired, a kind of trailer of snippets of earlier Countdown episodes was shown, and it’s in this short sequence that we can still see a couple seconds of Jeff Duff on Countdown. The complete trailer, as re-shown on Rage, is on youtube here: 42 seconds long, and Duff appears in two segments – at about 3 seconds and then 17 seconds into it. The whole thing includes, apart from Duff, in Kush, Johnny Farnham, Skyhooks, AC/DC, Sherbert and Daddy Cool.

For a better look over this stuff, the Institute’s Vid Division has worked over the trailer, splicing off these 2 seconds of Duff, sticking them together, first at its original speed, and then slowed down by halves a few times, just to soak it all up; with some of Kush’s “I’m Your Football” dubbed over it. Duff is shown in acrobatic flight, upon a trapeze. Crossing absurdity with sass, he’s crowned himself with a fool’s coxcomb and flapper’s cap – topped off with a propeller (his own papier-mâché handiwork?). Altogether, he really put the new spectacle of colour TV to work in a cabaret performance that was surely unique for the show, and on Australian TV; all especially artful coming from a Geelong bloke still in his teens.

(Ignore the “Skyhooks” subtitle here as this trailer originally appeared at the start of a live performance by Skyhooks of “Horror Movie” on the Awards night, as replayed on Rage.)
(No player showing? See the clip at youtube here.)

But that’s not all! There is also a still from this performance published in the 1979 “Countdown Annual”:

Jeff Duff performs "I'm Your Football" (Countdown Annual 1979)

Jeff Duff performs “I’m Your Football” (Countdown Annual 1979)

The complete annual – including a galaxy of stars of the day (Renee Geyer, David Bowie …) – can be downloaded from here.
As for Duff’s compering, Ian MacFarlane’s booklet accompanying the Kush Nah Tellus … CD offers a quote from Duff:

Each time we did it I got more and more bizarre. I remember I got to compere Countdown and Molly Meldrum made me dress up as a sausage. I compered the show as Super Sausage.

Well, no sausage here, and, as given in some inter-song patter recently by Duff, we know that the producers finally tired of his leotards (as in his 1974 showing on the Paul Hogan Show) and got him fitted out with that still snappy and snug red suit of his (see the banner, above). They treated him well: According to MacFarlane, it was the single “I’m Your Football” that first got Duff onto the show in 1975; bravely, as the song was banned from radio owing to a few double entendres (e.g., “I’m your sausage, eat me” – ouch!) among its quirky lyrics. OK at the time for the Carry On Gang but not rock-n-jazz artists!

Duff was also on Countdown on 6 Dec 1974 to perform “Easy Street” when in Kush (Episode 1.5), when Jim Keays, Skyhooks and Helen Reddy were also on the bill. Another appearance was on 7 December 1975 when he performed the “Banana Song”, also off the Nah Tellus … album. Marcia Hines, Sherbert and Skyhooks were among the others who performed on that show (guest list here). Some circa 1975 material survives, as catalogued at countdownmemories.com, but the Duff/Kush appearances aren’t listed among them. So this 2 second shimmer and a still seem to be all there is to document Duff’s Countdown gigs. Still, with the Dead Sea Scrolls in mind, we might hope that more complete clips of Duff’s amazing appearances on Countdown are lazing away in the vaults of the ABC, or someone’s recordings of the show …

For a total blast of 70s Duff TV performance, here’s Duff doing his “Give me back me brain” and “Duff record” (off his Beggars Banquet Duffo album) on German TV pop music show Rock-Pop on July 7 1979 (Lene Lovich and Kevin Borich Express also on the bill). It’s a mix of punk and music-hall/cabaret and circus act, with Duff in a kind of clown costume (for sure from his own hand) that’s at least as iconic as, say, Chaplin’s tramp or Marceau’s Bip; and he also cuts cruelly through the fourth wall, making a perfect victim of this German audience. Too much tom-foolery? Or a post-modern mash-up of styles that is actually novel, if not revolutionary, without being just confrontational and decadent, or celebratory and nostalgic (where those invoking “cabaret” usually take us)?

“Fools had ne’er less grace in a year,
For wise men are grown floppish,
And know not how their wits to wear
Their manners are so apish.”
  – Shakespeare, King Lear, I-iv

Live music TV has rarely been like this for art and entertainment before or since.

+ A kind of related Benny Hill gag:
  A. “You’ve got the brains of an idiot.”
  B. “Oh. Do you want them back?”

+ Related post: Jeff Duff in Kush (and leotard) at the Sunbury Festival 1974.

+ More Duff ‘tubes catalogued here, including this 1981 appearance on Italian TV (“Disco-Ring”) doing “Walk on the wildside”.

+ Another Duff-Shakespeare association in Duff’s most recently recorded work.

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– rodg.
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