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Giving pieces a chance: The incredible rock music collection hidden for decades

For decades, in a modest postwar house on a quiet suburban Brisbane street, one of the world’s most remarkable collections of music memorabilia was tucked away in boxes, out of sight and unknown to the public.

A black hat gifted by Jimi Hendrix, a rare unreleased recording of Aretha Franklin and an early, preview pressing of Let It Be — a gift from a Beatle, no less.

A rare preview pressing of the Beatles’ Let It Be, a gift from John Lennon to Brisbane music journalist Ritchie Yorke.

A rare preview pressing of the Beatles’ Let It Be, a gift from John Lennon to Brisbane music journalist Ritchie Yorke.Credit:Dan Peled

This collection of thousands of rare recordings, notes, letters, interviews, books, pre-release singles and albums was gathered over five decades by late Brisbane music journalist Ritchie Yorke.

Surely worth far more than the modest address that housed it, the collection of thousands of historical treasures was, until recently, in search of a more secure home. That search ended last week, when the National Film and Sound Archive in Canberra took possession of the collection, dashing hopes it would remain in Brisbane.

Before that, however, Yorke’s widow Minnie invited this masthead into her home to see the collection as Ritchie left it when he died in 2017.

Minnie Yorke describes her late husband as a “music nutter” and a “hoardaculturalist”.

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“He has collected ticket stubs from every show, backstage passes, press releases, all sorts of T-shirts and promotional materials from record companies,” she says.

Minnie Yorke at home, which until recently housed a truly remarkable music collection.

Minnie Yorke at home, which until recently housed a truly remarkable music collection.Credit:Dan Peled

“Then we also have vinyl in amongst all of that. We also have every interview he has ever done; there is a transcribed copy, and a handwritten story, then a typed copy and a printed story.

“Fifty-five years. That is a lot of stuff.”

It sure is.

During an interview about the hit film Almost Famous, director and writer Cameron Crowe, himself a former music journalist with Rolling Stone, reportedly told Yorke: “I should be interviewing you.”

Yorke was a close friend and confidant of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, bonding with the ex-Beatle over their troubled relationships with their fathers, who shared the same name, Alfred.

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There was also their shared love of rhythm and blues.

That famous Montreal Bed-in for Peace? Yorke was there, sitting on the floor right by Lennon’s right elbow.

Ritchie Yorke with notebook (left) beside John Lennon and Yoko Ono in 1969.

Ritchie Yorke with notebook (left) beside John Lennon and Yoko Ono in 1969.

“They both loved the old R’n’B music. You know John just loved old R’n’B music,” Minnie Yorke says.

Long after Lennon’s death, Ono stayed in touch with Yorke, who she playfully called an enemy of the Blue Meanies, the bad guys from the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine animated movie.

“People will still say to this bloody day that Yoko broke up the Beatles,” she says. “That is bullshit. That is absolute bullshit.

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“In Ritchie’s mind, with Yoko being a performance artist, that allowed John to understand that his magnetic charisma and the power of the Beatles and the position they were in, John was to speak for good and not for evil.

“So that was the birth of the peace movement.”

The collection includes dozens of recorded interviews with John and Yoko, along with personal notes and letters from the couple, many of which were used in Yorke’s 2015 book, Christ You Know It Ain’t Easy: John and Yoko’s Battle for Peace, for which Ono wrote the foreword.

Minnie Yorke with a signed and dedicated Life With the Lions album by John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

Minnie Yorke with a signed and dedicated Life With the Lions album by John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Credit:Dan Peled

Some selected pieces, such as original newspaper front pages and Red China posters, are touring Canada with Ono’s peace exhibition, Growing Freedom, marking 50 years since the War is Over peace campaign.

There is a black jumpsuit, one of two bought by Lennon in 1969 to wear during peace protest interviews in Toronto, which Lennon gifted to Yorke for “peace services rendered”.

Yorke wore the jumpsuit in 1969 while he protested the Vietnam War on John and Yoko’s behalf, on the border between Hong Kong and mainland China, with Canadian rockabilly star Ronnie Hawkins.

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Ritchie Yorke (left) and Ronnie Hawkins on the China-Hong Kong border in 1969.

Ritchie Yorke (left) and Ronnie Hawkins on the China-Hong Kong border in 1969.

Yorke arranged a protest at the mainland China and Hong Kong border at the Lok Ma Chau village, where the Chinese could read “War is Over” posters in English and Chinese.

The stunt took peace to the newspaper front pages, exactly as planned.

Yorke and Lennon remained close friends until the Beatle was murdered in 1980.


But Yorke’s huge collection goes well beyond John and Yoko.

It traces the earliest days of Australian pop music in the 1960s to the emergence of the supergroups of the 1970s and 1980s, then back to Brisbane’s glory days of live music.

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Journalist Ritchie Yorke’s rich collection will now be housed in Canberra.

Journalist Ritchie Yorke’s rich collection will now be housed in Canberra.

There’s a black hat with a red band and small black feather, a gift from Jimi Hendrix.

“Jimi was busted going into Canada trying to play a show for 27,000 people the next day,” Minnie Yorke says.

“Ritchie stood as a character witness for him and Jimi gave him his hat.”

Jimi Hendrix gave his hat to Yorke as a thank you.

Jimi Hendrix gave his hat to Yorke as a thank you.Credit:Dan Peled

There are colourful clothes and shoes from London’s hip Carnaby Street in the mid-1960s, posters, master tapes, notebooks, audio and video recordings and film.

“We’ve got film of Ritchie playing tennis with Van Morrison,” Minnie says.

“There is a letter from Van Morrison saying, ‘Get a f—ing haircut’. Ritchie loved telling that story.

“There is also an acetate of Aretha Franklin doing Eleanor Rigby with horns. He was in the studio when that was recorded and that was a very, very powerful moment in his life.”

Closer to home, Yorke was always an evangelist for music.

In 1963, he was sacked from a Toowoomba radio station for playing Stevie Wonder eight times in a row, against management’s directive that “n—– music” not be played on air. Management had to break down the door to exact that punishment.

A signed white label test pressing of Led Zeppelin’s debut album.

A signed white label test pressing of Led Zeppelin’s debut album.Credit:Dan Peled

There’s a cassette of Regurgitator songs before the Unit album was released in 1997 and a signed poster from the Go-Betweens, with messages from songwriters Robert Forster and Grant McLennan.

The collection also includes goblets, records and memorabilia from Tom Jones, rare recordings from Van Morrison, Aretha Franklin, Phil Spector, Delaney and Bonnie, Led Zeppelin and the Allman Brothers Band.

There are gifted gold records from Dire Straits — Yorke was a DJ in Canada in 1978 and was the first to play their first album in Canada and the US — and from Procol Harum for linking them with a symphony orchestra for a top 10 live concert recording.

After many years, Minnie has finally achieved what her husband wanted, a safe place for his collection that can be accessed by the world.

“Amen, Ritchie would say,” she says. “Amen.”

The search for the collection’s new home ended when the Canberra-based National Film and Sound Archive heard a 1969 recording of Yorke interviewing Lennon.

A representative phoned Minnie in Brisbane asking for information.

She told them a little of the breadth of the other recordings and interviews Yorke had collected over five decades and within days an archivist travelled to Brisbane.

“They got the big picture,” she says. “They understand that Ritchie was a powerful force in the history of popular music in Australia and around the world.

“Now they have invited Ritchie to be a national treasure. That means Ritchie will be recognised in the history books, where he belongs.”

Archive curator Thorsten Kaeding describes Yorke as an “amazing Australian journalist and broadcaster”.

“Starting his career in Queensland, his love of music and enterprising spirit took him to England, Canada and finally back home to Australia,” he says.

“Along the way he became one of our most significant music critics and friend to some of the most important artists in popular music.

“The NFSA is delighted to be working together with Minnie Yorke to help celebrate Ritchie’s life and career.”

Over the past month the collection has been shifted to storage for travel to Canberra, where it will be digitised, catalogued and linked with other museums and exhibition spaces.

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Minnie Yorke has mixed emotions about Ritchie’s collection leaving the city in which he was born and died, but she wants to keep the collection together.

“He was a very humble man and the Brisbane people in this town overall didn’t really understand the gravitas of his career and legacy,” she says.

“As much as it might be a bit disappointing, I think we’ve gone to the next level by going to Canberra.”

The State Library of Queensland wanted to “cherry-pick” Yorke’s work in the state.

“But by taking it to Canberra, it goes national and is kept in its entirety,” she says.

“They are looking at the collection right from the beginning all the way to the end.”

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