For five years Alyce Platt shared the lounge room of almost every family in Australia. As the co-host of Sale of the Century with the legendary Tony Barber, she traded witticisms and kept the show on track as the ebullient quizmaster leapt around the stage, looking on bemusedly as he talked about everything from his greyhounds to the weather.
Just 21-years-old when she landed the gig, Platt says she surprised herself by getting the job, because she took the auditions in a very light-hearted manner.
“I remember I was working in my mum’s clothing shop in Mountain Gate; I was reading a book and working in the shop; and my agent rang and said Grundys would like to audition you for the role of the co-host of Sale of the Century – and I had never even seen Sale of the Century.
”And so I said ‘Oh really? What does that mean, what do I have to do? And I remember at the time,” Platt pauses, “not taking it very seriously. I was rehearsing my audition piece with Ally Fowler, and she was playing Tony Barber and I was playing Delvene Delaney. By the time I got to the audition I had this very tongue-in-cheek approach to it, and they liked that. Tony in particular liked the rapport and the way we got on, and the next thing I knew I was getting a haircut like Delvene, wearing massive shoulder pads and getting a perm.”
But the young star from the Melbourne-edge suburb of Ferntree Gully, who describes her childhood as wonderful, was already a seasoned performer. She made her debut as a jeans model for the East Coast brand, before doing comedy skits on the short-lived Daryl Somers Show, then spending two-and-a-half years playing Amanda Morrell on the popular Grundy television series Sons and Daughters.
The third child and only daughter of a chef and a fashion clothing store proprietor, Platt thought her upbringing in the green belt suburb “very privileged”.
“My mother was a wonderful entertainer in herself,” says Platt. “We had this full-on party house. We just had parties all the time and all sorts of characters coming in and out. We had this fantastic big swimming pool with a slide that went into it. I thought we were really well off. We weren't, but I thought we were. Mum and dad made it quite magical.”
Having two older brothers meant that the young Alyce Platt had to put on ‘a bit of a song and dance’ to be noticed, which translated into spending the final two years of her education studying drama at Box Hill Technical College.
“It was called a ‘Tertiary Orientation Program’. Like a softer version of Matriculation,” Platt says with a laugh.
But it was music that always held her heart. Platt clearly recalls the names of the performers in her parent’s collection: Nancy and Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Linda Ronstadt with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra.”
“When I was younger I really loved listening to the albums Linda Ronstadt did with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra. And Dusty Springfield. Dad had a really good record collection.”
Platt says her younger infatuation with torch singers and jazz greats broadened her influences, and as she learned guitar she began to incorporate musicians like the Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Cat Stevens and Carole King into her repertoire.
“Tapestry is an album that I listened to a lot. There’s a lot of post-pop, post-jazz influences. I didn’t come to bands like The Velvet Underground and Leonard Cohen and Marianne Faithfull until my 20s, my late 20s. I really loved the feeling of those tunes, those musicians.”
Those influences and many others such as the late, troubled English genius Nick Drake and the French legend Jacques Brel appear on both of her studio albums, 2004’s A Beautiful Death and her latest, Funny Little World. Covers of such famous songs as Pale Blue Eyes by The Velvet Underground and Amsterdam by Brel are found in between Platt’s own compositions: songs such as Cowboys in the Attic and I Like Your Face.
Platt says the public’s liking of her as the face of Sale of the Century sat a little at odds with the person she actually is, especially when it came to her music.
“People do tend to box you in a little. They have an idea that you must exist in this one flat dimension; people say ‘no, this is who you are, this is the world you come from.’ And that was daunting, landing in that world, because there was just me, the kid writing angst-ridden songs on her guitar in the bedroom.”
Her songs reflect her interest in the wistful and melancholic aspects of the performers she draws inspiration from, combined with a love of 1960s European pop and a quirky and mischievous sense of humour.
Platt has worked with a diverse range of musicians over the years, including many in the independent scene in Melbourne. Among those is former member of Hungry Ghosts JP Shilo; Clare Moore, who has worked over the years with many well-known Australian bands including The Moodists, Harry Howard and the NDE, and of course famously with Dave Graney in his many incarnations; Stephen Hadley of Tex Perkins’s Dark Horses; renowned jazz pianist Jex Saarelaht; and the Black Sorrows’ Claude Carranza.
Alyce Platt and The Fish Shop Collective will be playing at the former Methodist church in Newlyn, now known as Scrub Hill 1869, on July 23 at 1pm. Bookings are essential and can be made at http://scrubhill1869.com.au/our-event/
“It’s a parlour event, so it’s BYO wine and drinks, but there are food vans, and it’s just a great atmosphere,” says Platt.
Her latest album Funny Little World is available through Waterfront Records, from JB HiFi, and online through various outlets.