DES SCHOLLUM

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First published March 2017

 

DES SCHOLLUM REMEMBERS ‘THE SIERRAS’

I was born in Lower Hutt in 1947 and attended St Pats College, Wellington.  I was given my first guitar at age 9 and used to practice for 2 hours a day.  I remember when I was 12, I won a talent quest at school singing ‘Please Mr Custer’.  My parents would also get me to play at parties and get togethers.  We were a very musical family and in the weekends, people would just pop in and invariably we would gather around the piano and my father would start a singalong with the latest songs of the day.

I recall my wall was covered in pictures of Ricky Nelson, Fabian, Elvis and of course Hayley Mills who I had a mad crush on at the time.

Through my first girlfriend I met John Syme and John Enright who I think both went to Scots College and Dave Nathanson and we decided to start a band.  The first gig we played was with a group called The Nevadas so we called ourselves the The Sierras after the mountain range the Sierra Nevadas.  It was only much later that I discovered an Auckland group also went by the same name.

Our line-up was John Syme on rhythm, Dave Nathanson on bass, John Enright on drums and me on lead and vocals.

We started playing in 1963 and while cutting our teeth on charity gigs became reasonably proficient.

I recall we had discussions with Tom McDonald and I think he organised a few gigs for the band.  Before long, we were playing on the youth club circuit with groups like the Mustangs and the Librettos

At some point, we were approached by Auckland singer Edie Combo and backed him on a couple of gigs.  We also backed Rochelle Vincent (Rochelle Vinsen) now Rochelle Brader who was at the time going gangbusters with ‘My Boyfriend’s Got a Beatles Haircut’.  I remember after one gig I took Rochelle home to meet Mum who was a big fan.  Another singer we backed was Lin Yardley.

Although our aspiration was to be like the Premiers and the Librettos, we never quite achieved their degree of professionalism.

Looking back, it was a fantastic time to be growing up.  I feel sorry though for Dodie my girlfriend at the time, who spent our evenings out sitting at the side of the stage.  She must’ve got so bored after a few gigs.

Another memory, a friend of Dave Nathanson was Adrian Levy, whose father owned a menswear business and specially made a set of tartan jerkins for the band which we wore over a white shirt and bowtie – did we look smart!! I seem to recall the Premiers also had this look at one stage.

The weirdest gig we played was at a coffee bar in Victoria Street in Wellington I think was called the Mexicali.  It was one of Wellington’s less salubrious places of entertainment and we were fortunate not to be hit with the flying bottles which happened when the fights started on a regular basis throughout the gig.  We only played there the once!

We made our TV debut on ‘Have a Shot’ playing the Surfaris ‘Wipeout’.  Unfortunately the TV techos were responsible for the sound levels and the only thing you could hear were the drums.  Needless to say we didn’t win.  I recently tried to get hold of a tape of our performance on ‘Have a Shot’ but was told that the tapes for the show had been destroyed.

Our set lists mainly comprised Cliff and the Shadows, the Searchers, the Beatles and Rolling Stones etc.  I was lucky enough to see both the Rolling Stones and the Beatles live when they played Wellington in the 60s – they were halcyon days and a great time to be a teenager.

In 1964 we were joined by Mel Gurney on lead guitar.  Mel was such a proficient lead and was great on all the Shadows material.  We changed our name to the Dukes and played a lot of private functions until around 1965 when we finally disbanded. 

 

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