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Hans Sven Poulsen (1945–2023)

by Glenn A. Baker

Hans Poulsen, by John Ellis, 1981

Hans Poulsen, by John Ellis, 1981

University of Melbourne Archives, 11343/76476

Amidst a sea of hard-edged rockers on television screens and festivals laden with thunderous bands often imported for the occasion, troubadour Hans Poulsen sliced through the noisy environment with a lilting charm and a brace of irresistibly beguiling songs.

That he presented himself as “Australia’s resident hippie eccentric”, with what he himself declared to be “a positive and optimistic outlook on life” only added to his appeal.

Poulsen, who died on February 17 aged 77, recorded ten albums, beginning with Natural High in 1971, and penned songs recorded by John Farnham, Russell Morris and Glenn Shorrock’s Twilights, among many others.

Hans was a true musical prodigy. His parents, Vic and Nellie, were amateur musicians who amassed a vast repertoire of hillbilly, bush ballad, folk and Hawaiian songs. Born as the more prosaic Bruce Gordon Poulsen on March 7, 1945 in Melbourne, of Danish descent, he began churning out songs from an early age and could claim 300 or so original works while still in his teens, when he assumed the Christian names Hans Sven.

This may have been an identity he preferred when he formed the band The Rimfires at Bonbeach High School in 1961, an outfit which played around the Frankston and Mornington Peninsula areas. This led to the 18th Century Quartet, which served up the exotic sounds of autoharp, mandolin and bouziki.

He wrote their songs, the first one of which was The World Goes On in 1964, released on tiny East Records. They later evolved into a more pop-orientated outfit clad in flowing white shirts with ruffled sleeves.

His band 18th Century Quartet entered the 1966 Hoadley’s Battle of the Sounds and finished second in the Victorian State Final. Music producer Ron Tudor was in attendance at the competition and would soon establish his own record company, Fable Records. Poulsen would be one of his first signings.

His was a talent that seemed to rise and take him forward in every circumstance. In 1968 he was signed by EMI for a couple of overlooked singles on their Parlophone imprint. They were produced by David McKay who checked out Poulsen’s recommendation about a young singer he had seen at a Dandenong dance. John Farnham thus found himself with a contract and an association was formed between the two singers. Hans would go on to write five songs for Farnham, including the hits Jamie and Rose Coloured Glasses.

And Tudor’s instincts would pay off when this elfin creature dressed in hippy garb, wearing granny glasses, sporting a moustache and goatee beard, soared into the top five around the country with Boom Sha La La Lo, which he had penned with Seekers member Bruce Woodley, who had written with Paul Simon in the 60s. On Bandstand Brian Henderson introduced Hans with: “This is where we have a short romantic ballad from a short romantic ballad singer. Your friend and mine, the jolly gnome – Hans Poulsen.“

In 1969 Hans was commissioned to write a short instrumental piece that soon became engraved in the national consciousness. It was his original theme for the ABC’s groundbreaking nightly pop show GTK, which every act that appeared would be required to perform.

Poulsen’s debut album, also a best-seller, featured players from the ultra-cool rock bands In Focus, Procession and the Aztecs. His second, the Brian Cadd-produced Lost & Found was released in 1972 and came in a gatefold sleeve with impressive artwork. The Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band and Hamilton Country Bluegrass Band provided the backing.

Ian McFarlane wrote in his Encyclopaedia of Australian Rock: “His music was a pleasant and idealistic blend of soft rock, pop, country, folk and even bluegrass elements. His melodies were always enchanting and his lyrics delved into social and environmental issues, alternative lifestyles, the meaning of life and good old-fashioned love.”

Outdoor rock festivals competed for his services then advertising agencies joined the queue. He was heard on radio singing ‘Are Your McLeans Showing?’ and about Amoco Nice Clean Petrol. There was even a promotional disc issued about Idlers, a brand of “comfortable shoe.” Somehow his image survived.

Hans wrote a couple of songs for the film Stork, his first screen assignment, which cast him in a small role as a folk singer at a party. Then came Getting Back To Nothing, an album which he put together with guitarist Billy Green for a Tim Burstall surfing movie, which capitalised on the fact that Poulsen grew up as an avid surfer on the Victorian coast, searching out the best breaks in his red Mini Moke.

Apart from Light Across The Valley which stopped at around number 30 on the charts, Hans Poulsen had no further hits. At least not under his own name. When Russell Morris had a marathon number one with The Real Thing, Hans was the writer of its flipside, A Matter of Time.

By 1972 Hans Poulsen tired of the pop grind and relocated to the Findhorn Foundation spiritual community in north-east Scotland, where he recorded three albums, all in 1975 and all released on cassette only by the Foundation. He stayed for three years and seemed to be in his element.

Member Will Mercer has recalled, “I have such a clear picture of his caravan, called Teapot for the very reason we were always welcome if the kettle was on, and Scottish winters were cold.” Hans described the community where he stayed for three years as “beautiful people from all over the world, who were looking for a new way of being.” At Findhorn, Hans met American girl Karen Hogg. He followed her to Boston; the couple married soon afterwards and had a daughter. Hans travelled to Los Angeles and New York, where he performed solo gigs and recorded two albums.

During his stay in America, Hans worked in schools telling stories with taped backing music. It was a pre-cursor to the Wonderchild therapy program he would later develop for terminally ill children. Hans was diagnosed with cancer around this time, which he successfully fought using an alternative treatment called Guided Imagery & Music (GIM).

In 1985 Hans ventured to the UK and Europe. Former Seeker, Keith Potger had formed and was managing The New Seekers, They cut three of Hans’ songs. He then contributed eight songs to the West End stage musical Time. They appeared on the double soundtrack album Dave Clark’s Time. Hans’ songs were sung by Leo Sayer, Ashford & Simpson, Julian Lennon with Stevie Wonder and Cliff Richard, whose She’s So Beautiful became a number 17 hit in Britain. Stevie Wonder played and arranged all the instruments on the track. Said Hans, “A lot of people thought it was about a woman, but it was about the planet.” The Dave Clark Five also recorded one of Hans’ songs, which was left over from this project, Universal Love.

While he was in the US, in October 1992, on an island off Seattle, Hans suffered a catastrophic stroke and brain haemorrhage which left him paralysed and in a coma. Doctors initially gave him only a one percent chance of recovery. Hans’ indomitable strength and positive outlook helped him to pull through yet again.

When his mother was sought for permission to turn off his oxygen she refused. However, an air ambulance was involved, the bills climbed past $100,000 and Hans did not have medical insurance. Admitting “I took a runner in a wheelchair”, he fled home to Melbourne in the private jet of a friend. He recovered sufficiently to record a new album in 1993, Carry You In My Heart, which featured some of Australia’s finest session musicians.

The next CD Hans released was Franco & Silverina and the Miracle of Transtaveri in 2001 in which he narrated a fairytale set in the Swiss/Italian Alps. Hans’ last album of new music, Rock’n’Roll Mystics was issued in 2002.

Restricted to a wheelchair in a nursing home in the Melbourne suburb of Box Hill, he had over 500 registered songs at the time of his death.

Hans Poulsen is succeeded by his daughter Leilani.

Original publication

Additional Resources

Citation details

Glenn A. Baker, 'Poulsen, Hans Sven (1945–2023)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/poulsen-hans-sven-33261/text41504, accessed 24 February 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Hans Poulsen, by John Ellis, 1981

Hans Poulsen, by John Ellis, 1981

University of Melbourne Archives, 11343/76476

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Poulsen, Bruce Gordon
Birth

7 March, 1945
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Death

17 February, 2023 (aged 77)
Victoria, Australia

Education
Occupation