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Smiley’s legacy: the Bayside, the Bee Gees and beyond

Posted: 3pm 23 Aug 2021

Colin ‘Smiley’ Petersen is returning to where his musical career began on the Peninsula, with a special performance at the Redcliffe Entertainment Centre.

The Bee Gees’ first drummer got his start in the industry as a pupil at Humpybong State School, where he joined the marching band.

“It’s one thing to learn the pattern, it’s another to learn while you’re marching around in time with a deep snare drum strapped around your shoulder,” he recalls.

“During the week I played in the marching band and at night we had a little cubby house just big enough for an adult to stand in, but it had room for a kit of drums and a wind-up gramophone on a platform so it was really close to my ear.”

With records being expensive in the 1950s, Petersen’s collection only contained about 20, each with just one song with which to practice his drumming.

“What that taught me was to analyse every last bit of the record – I had about three hours of music on record, and as a result I knew every note and every instrument.

“I was taking lessons from a jazz drummer – rock and roll was a year or two away, hence it was a world of jazz.”

School connection

While Petersen and the Gibb brothers all attended Humpybong State School, he had already moved to Brisbane when they made their journey from England as 10-pound Poms.

But he discovered years later after meeting Maurice Gibb and his sister Lesley at a Sydney venue that the iconic 1956 movie Smiley, in which he played the title role alongside legendary Australian actors Chips Rafferty and Charles “Bud” Tingwell, had influenced the Gibbs’ move to Australia.

It was that chance meeting that eventually led to Petersen joining the Bee Gees some years later.

The story of a mischievous young boy in a rural community who finds himself accidentally caught up in an opium trafficking scam as he strives to save up for a shiny bike, Smiley is set in a small town filled with fascinating – and mostly cheerful – characters.

Young Smiley and his cheeky mate Joey spend their time between adventures running barefoot through the fields and catching crayfish while dreaming up ways to make money – which Petersen says would likely have held huge appeal to the Gibbs living in Manchester.

Inspiring move

“They were planning to emigrate and it was a toss-up between Canada and Australia,” Petersen says.

“(Smiley) maybe was a factor – the family went to a cinema in Manchester and they were chatting in the car on the way home and they decided Australia was the place to go.”

Petersen and his mother spent time in London after filming Smiley in a bid to secure an agent, and he recalls the bleakness of a city where war-time rationing had just ended, bombsites still featured and attending school involved walking there and back in the dark of an icy winter.

“You can imagine Manchester would have been the same,” he says.

“In Australia at the time you would walk down the street – people had their problems – but generally speaking everyone was upbeat and there were smiling faces.

“In a way, I was like Smiley – there were a lot of Smileys on the Redcliffe Peninsula.”

Stage fright

Petersen is looking forward to performing in Redcliffe with a tribute show that takes the audience through the highlights of the Bee Gees interspersed with anecdotes from his own time with the band – and says he’s suffered stage fright just twice in his life.

The first time was as a four-year-old tap dancer in Kingaroy, where he spent his early life.

The second was during the first take for one of the opening scenes in Smiley and he was up a tree pretending to be Captain Cook discovering Australia, complete with a telescope made from a stick!

The Best of the Bee Gees Show is at the Redcliffe Entertainment Centre on September 3 at 8pm.

Find tickets here.

Read more local news here.

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