I stumbled across the Des Bettany Trio when researching newspapers of yesteryear. On further investigation a website dedicated to Des by his kids was unearthed. What a life! Lancashire born Des Bettany, a trained analytical chemist, was a gunner for the 88 Field Regiment in WWII. He was captured in Singapore by the Japanese and would endure their atrocities as a Changi prisoner of war. Des possessed a natural gift for drawing and while in Changi this was used to great benefit. The extent of which didn’t come to light until Des had left this mortal coil. A journal of about four hundred cartoons was discovered on the sorting of his belongings. These were not expressing the brutality of Changi, but comics displaying a positive spin that lifted the spirits of his comrades.
Des’ harmonica journey would begin with one of his early sketches pencilled as a teenager. Our peregrination commences with Des’ sons, Graham and Keith’s recollections.
SD: Keith, how did one of your Dad’s sketches initiate his harmonica passion?
KB: “Dad was a natural artist from his teen years. He used to go to the local theatre and paint cartoons or caricatures of young folk waiting to get in. One day Larry Adler was playing at a local theatre, but Dad’s family couldn’t afford the admission. So Dad (still a teen), drew Larry from a poster at the venue. He gave it to a doorman to pass on to Larry. After the show the doorman told Dad that Mr Adler was impressed with his drawing and asked would he like to meet him. Dad was shown to the dressing room where Larry presented Dad with a signed harmonica that he had just performed with on stage as a thank you.”
SD: What do we know of your Dad’s involvement with the Odeon Cinema in Lancaster?
KB: “The musical and entertainment bug must have bitten. In his spare time he began entertaining the children in a local cinema with his harmonica and art work, as Uncle Desmond of the Mickey Mouse Club.”
SD: Can you add anything further Graham?
GB: “That was pre-war, only word-of-mouth from his sister in England – still alive, but ninety plus years old.”
SD: Keith tell us a bit about your Dad’s harmonica trio.
KB: “Dad originally played melody on the harmonica until a trio member left and a new member could only play melody. From then on Dad played the chord harmonica. He played every day and had a room set up with an eight or sixteen track reel to reel tape recorder and he would lay down all the tracks himself as a hobby – melody, bass, chords, another melody line, etc. The Des Bettany Trio were Des Grigg on melody, Hank Middendorp on bass and Des Bettany on chords.
Country & Western Hour
The Country & Western Hour started out as a local Adelaide show with a trial of thirteen episodes in 1964. It grew to one of the Nations most successful TV shows of this genre lasting eight years. Even winning Logies! The shows original compere was Roger Cardwell before Reg Lindsay (pictured right) took over the reins. He would fly in from Sydney each week to host the show. In 1971 Reg had a huge hit when he covered John Stewart’s tune Armstrong – landing at number six on the National Go Set Charts.
The Des Bettany Trio had regular appearances on the show alongside fellow local harmonica trio the Harmonicaires (Byron and Murray Knipe and Kim van Dokkum). Keith has supplied some stills of the Des Bettany Trio strutting their stuff. Click on photos to enlarge and scroll.
SD: Des is wearing an interesting microphone harness here, Graham.
GB: “That must’ve been an early one, playing live. Later they pre-recorded and mimed. The Country & Western Hour (hosted by Reg Lindsay) was made in Adelaide in Channel 9’s studio, Tynte Street North Adelaide, and copies were made on 16mm film and sent to all the other capital cities to be broadcast.”
SD: Any other memories of your Dad’s harmonica days, Keith?
KB: “I remember Dad hosting and playing on multitrack machines at our home, a trio from Melbourne – Stu Hunter and the Electrachords. Dad practised weekly with his trio and played regularly at Adelaide venues, nightclubs and on TV. He wrote out most of the arrangements himself, by hand on blank music sheets, played them, changed them and instructed the guys how each song was to be played, as he mastered all three instruments.”
SD: Graham in a previous conversation we had, you mentioned your Dad had picked up Larry from the airport when he visited Adelaide.
GB: “Dad was Larry’s unofficial chauffeur on at least two visits to Adelaide. I took Mum and Dad to see Larry when he did his Gershwin tour in the 90’s, but unfortunately he didn’t remember Dad (I think dementia was kicking in).”
SD: You also said he kept diaries of the trios gigs.
GB: “I found Volume Two of the Des Bettany Trio Diary (Volume One has disappeared). This one covers 1967 to 1975. I discovered Stu Hunter’s trio the Electrachords made several Melbourne TV appearances on a program called the Penthouse Club. Also, apparently I played bass guitar on one of the Des Bettany trio’s pre-tape recordings for the Country & Western Hour and played with them at a couple of their gigs. Don’t remember that! An interesting diary entry from 1970, was that Larry Adler did a couple of shows at the Adelaide Town Hall during the Festival of Arts. Dad and the trio along with wives and friends attended (filled the front row) and went backstage afterwards. Larry expressed an interest in electronic music, so Dad arranged for him to see the only Moog Synthesiser in the southern hemisphere at Derek Jolly’s studio in North Adelaide. Dad spent a couple of hours there watching Larry play some songs with the Moog accompanying him. These were taped and photos taken, but no sign of either. On one occasion Dad bought some new harmonicas from Ron Pearce (the guy who saved the Country & Western Hour films and also had a music shop), which included a blues harmonica! (but I never heard him play it).
On viewing a sample of Des’ 114 page diary there is no doubt that Des was meticulous and fastidious in everything he set out to achieve. Keith’s response on viewing these same pages was, “I knew he was often out, but oh boy what a busy lad, then there were practices and new song arrangements on top of this!!”
They also managed to record an album which is available on iTunes and Spotify.
Recorded on the the 19th March 1975 in Adelaide at the EMS studios.
You can still pick up the vinyl on eBay if you’re lucky. Maybe even an op shop or flea market. I’m thunkin’ I’ve seen one before.
SD: Did either of you boys ever play the harmonica?
KB: “Yes, Dad taught Graham chords and me bass, we did play limited numbers at a few places, Graham would have more detail and maybe photos.”
GB: “We actually supplemented the trio on one pre-recorded track which appeared on the Country & Western Hour! Keith and I both started bands in the 60s. I was lucky, we actually got some gigs (after hiring a couple of guys who knew the ropes) and ended up playing at all the popular Adelaide venues. Between 1967 and 1972 I was in three popular bands (in two of them the drummer was Buzz Bidstrup, from the Angels and Gangajang. I retired in 1972 for seventeen years and got back into bands in the 1990s and am still playing in several bands, Covid permitting. Keith’s band fizzled out unfortunately but he can still play Apache (sort of!).”
SD: What was your band Keith?
KB: “My band was The 9th Life, just played local dances, not as professional as Graham’s groups.”
SD: Any final reflection Keith?
KB: “Dad was a chain smoker after a Stuka attack on their unit, but he still lived to eighty-one probably due to his huffing and puffing and increased lung capacity.”
This article is focussed on Des’ harmonica journey, however it would be remiss of me not to display examples of his intricate artwork. When Keith and Graham commenced scanning Des’ journal, they were astonished on the sheer number of paintings and these were just the ones he kept! Many had been gifted on to his mates.
Head over to their website for more on Des Bettany’s amazing life and checkout his artwork. https://changipowart.com
I had wondered if Des had a harmonica with him in Changi. Not only did he have one, but he also had a musical trio in the Japanese working camps – The Maggoty Rice Melodymakers. Here’s an excerpt of a letter sent to Graham by a fellow POW and Maggoty Rice member.