Peter Combe was born in Adelaide in October 1948, the third of four children of Bern and Merle Combe. He was blessed with a very happy childhood, which may account for his enduring optimism and cheerfulness.
His early influences growing up in the '50s were The Springfields, from whom he discovered the joy of harmony, learning the ability to harmonise from an early age. He learned basic piano, which gave him the foundation for the ability to read music and go on to teach himself to play chord style piano by ear. He had the great luck of being a teenager in the 60s, when folk singers like Peter, Paul and Mary, Simon & Garfunkel, Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan sang of peace and love and created a generation of idealists and believers in social justice. Hours of singing along to their LPs honed his harmonising skills. He formed his own folk group and taught himself to play guitar. He fell in love with the music of The Beatles and later Billy Joel.
Primary School Teaching
Peter studied to become a primary school teacher, and first started as a classroom teacher in 1969. Soon his musical gifts were recognised and he became a specialist music teacher. During this time he started writing songs for his students to sing, and from this start he wrote several 'operettas' for his classes to perform to their parents. One of the early ones was Bows Against The Barons, based on the Geoffrey Trease novel set in the time of Robin Hood. Later the song Robin Hood's Dream was to appear on the album Newspaper Mama.
Move to Sydney
In 1975 Peter with his wife and two small children moved to Sydney – to follow his dream of becoming the world's next Paul Simon. There he appeared in the rock musical Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club, and taught at inner Sydney primary schools, as well as singing in the pubs and clubs as an aspiring singer songwriter. At school he wrote a children's musical – called Frederick WhatsHisName & his TwoLegged Six String Guitar. His now much loved song Spangle Road came from this musical. Another of his school musicals was based on Norman Lindsey's classic The Magic Pudding.
Career begins in London
In 1977 Peter took the plunge and moved with his family to England. Soon he won the role of presenter on a BBC TV educational program called Music Time. He and his co-presenter Kathryn Harries presented musical concepts in an entertaining format. The show was used by teachers in schools as part of their music teaching program and was a great resource for music educators. Besides being played in Britain for 6 years it also appeared on ABC TV in Australia. This was the beginning of raising a profile for Peter as a presenter and entertainer in the field of music education.
Radio Programs and first Childrens Music albums
In late 1979, after another child was born in England, the family moved back to Australia, where Peter was immediately snapped up as the presenter of Let's Have Music, a radio program which formed part of the Australian primary school music education curriculum. In 1980 he wrote and recorded his first album – called Vagabond. After two more years of teaching in schools, Peter wrote and recorded an album of new songs for children. This was unique in that up to that time all children's albums were comprised of nursery rhymes, sung and played in a very simple traditional style. Peter introduced new concepts in children's songs, writing songs that appealed to children and their parents because they were funny and relevant. He arranged the songs with contemporary instrumentation, using his Music Time background to introduce children to different musical concepts, genres and instruments. The album, then called Songs For Little Kids (later Happy Singing and now Wash Your Face in Orange Juice) came out on cassette in 1982 – in actual fact Peter ran it off himself on cassette, had a friend draw the illustration on the cover, which he photocopied and inserted in the cassette! Soon he couldn't keep up with demand, and had to have it commercially reproduced. His next cassette More Songs For Little Kids soon changed its name to the iconic album Spaghetti Bolognaise. At this time Peter started performing concerts in schools – using his fame as a radio and TV presenter to promote these shows.
Back to London and the creation of Toffee Apple
After 200 school shows a year for three years, and the birth of his 4th child, he decided to spend some more time in England, which he had grown to love on his earlier sojourn. So in 1986 the family of six returned to England for an 8 month stay. During this time he wrote the album Toffee Apple.
Videoclips, awards and concert tours
On his return to Australia he met up with Diana Manson, then the head of ABC Music, and there was born a relationship with the ABC which produced the first ever kids' video clip - Toffee Apple - to accompany the new album. The video clip was extensively played during children's programming on ABC TV, and established Peter as Australia's first kids' popstar. He was often referred to as 'King of the Kids'. After that came Newspaper Mama, Chopsticks, Peter Combe's Christmas Album and The Absolutely Very Best of Peter Combe Live. This was accompanied by a whirlwind time of touring – highlights were selling out the Sydney Opera House (twice) and the Melbourne Concert Hall, Carols in the Domain in Sydney, Carols nights in Brisbane, Adelaide and Hobart, filming Christmas Under the Stars at the Adelaide Festival Centre, Family Concerts with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra at the Festival Theatre and Entertainment Centre – plus numerous television appearances and radio interviews. Peter's CDs won 3 Aria awards for Best Children's Album, plus 7 gold and 3 platinum awards.
From 1989 to 1991 Peter presented another radio program, Ticklepot on ABC Radio National. His co-presenter Henry Salter played the part of Monkey, and the 10 minute program followed the adventures of Peter and Monkey through songs and stories. Henry was a very funny man and always reduced Peter to fits of giggles which caused some pauses in recordings but a great chemistry in the program and it became a huge hit. In all, 420 programs went to air over a period of 3 years. Ticklepot was voted best children's radio program in the world in New York in 1991.
Snugglepot & Cuddlepie
In 1993 Peter's musical version of May Gibbs' classic book Snugglepot & Cuddlepie was performed in the Adelaide Festival of Arts. This was originally performed as a cantata with orchestra, choirs and soloists. It was reproduced the following year in the Adelaide Festival Theatre with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra – and this was recorded and is still available on CD. There have been many subsequent performances around Australia, some as a cantata and others with an accompanying script. May Gibbs wrote her books in the 1920s and her iconic illustrations have become part of Australian folklore.
More CDs and books
Further CDs of new songs were to follow - Spook, Little Groover, Wake Up It's Christmas, Kiddywinks and Quirky Berserky the Turkey from Turkey. Plus some picture books with CD by Scholastic - Wash your Face in Orange Juice and Juicy Juicy Green Grass.
Peter continues to write, record and perform music for children. In recent years he has performed to his now grown up original fans – in pubs, clubs, universities, music festivals and the Adelaide Fringe. Rather than 10am shows they are more likely to be at 10pm – but the songs are the same!
Peter's passion is writing, producing, recording and performing songs for children of the highest standard possible, which enrich their lives and help them to develop a love of music, poetry, humour and togetherness.