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First published in July 2009, last updated January 2011
Graeme can be contacted at VK6BSL@iprimus.com.au
Born in St. Margaret's Hospital Epsom on May 14th 1934 (was the first baby born there and my wife's name is Margaret). Shifted to One Tree Hill and Ellerslie School where I started a Drum Corps. My Dad enrolled me in the Ponsonby Boys Brass Band that he was in as a lad and my brother Don and I caught the Penrose Bus and Herne Bay tram to their rehearsal room in Blake St each week.
Their existing Drummer was a nice guy called "Arko Jones" and the Bass Drummer was "Cookie" and with their help and tuition I quickly learned to read and play. One of the enjoyable "play-outs" each year was the annual Santa Parade where we marched down Queen St, along Custom St and up Hobson St. to the Farmers building where Santa was in residence.
At one time a Committee member thought it was a good idea to have a Drum Corp marching at the front of the band so he arranged for a Drummer from the NZ Air Force to teach us the stick drills and we found another six boys that Arko and I had to train to march and play. One of them happened to be Merv Smith who later developed into a prominent Radio Announcer on 1ZB. This idea didn't work out as when they weren't marching the extra Drummers were not required, so they scrapped them!
Around this time I decided I was ready to break-in to Dance Band work so I started to do some Gigs. I bought a basic Drum kit with one cymbal and 2 drums and did my first job at the Avondale RSA with a Lady pianist. Responding to an ad. in the paper I joined Selwyn Henshaw, Pianist (who later became M.D. of Charles Haines Advertising) and Jim Bowman, Alto/Clarinet as the Manhattan Trio.
We obtained a Residency at the Patricia Lounge at the top of Symonds St, Auckland, and stayed about 2 years then moved on to the Orchid Room on top of Mt. Eden for about 3 Years. Around this time I met Johnny Stowers, a Samoan born Pianist and we put together a 4 piece group and did gigs all over Auckland. Johnny, his Dad, an uncle and I then decided to run some dances at the Catholic Social Centre in Pitt St where it would be safe for your Daughters to go - it was very successful, as the Auckland Trades Hall Rock and roll were just taking off and didn't have a very good name!
I got a phone call from Billy Farnell, a Pianist, who was going into the El Morocco, one of Auckland's first Night Clubs, with Bert Brand, Bass player. The stage was so small with Billy's grand piano and Bert's Bass that I converted my floor tom into a snare drum on top and bass drum underneath and away we went for a year or two. The police raided the place often because of the liquor laws of the time current and provided us with some humour.
The Colony Club was built just across the road and we opened it with our augmented band. The Howard Morrison Quartet was the featured group and on their way to stardom!! (We didn't get paid for about 6 weeks).
About this time I decided to take lessons and chose Frank Gibson at 17 Pine St, Balmoral whose son Frank Junior was about 8 yrs. old and showing promise. Frank was working at Lewis Eady 's in Queen St. and well known and respected by all the drummers. Years later Frank asked me to be one of the Judges in the Drum Competitions that he organized for young Drummers along with Don Branch, Barrie Simpson, Bruce King, etc. It was a great idea and looked forward to each year and some of the entrants frightened the pants off us!!! Zildjian and Premier supplied some of the great prizes! When Frank opened his Drum Shop in Balmoral I spent the day helping to assemble the many Kits on display and now his daughter is doing a good job running the business.
Other teachers I took lessons from were Lauchie Jamieson, Barrie Simpson, Ray (Chester) Edmonson, who I helped as much as he helped me!! and Bruce Gaylor who brought a touch of USA into my playing. Neil Dunningham helped enormously with my reading and interpretation.
Another Night Club job was up the top of High St where Noel McKay was a Female Impersonator. About this time my parents took me to see the Great "Ted Heath Band" at the Civic Theatre and I was absolutely "blown away" by their playing, having never heard of them before...and now I am a big fan!!!
Before we leave Billy Farnell, he lived in the Grey's Ave. flats and opposite was an empty section where he kept a goat,??? which used to eat thru it's tether and wander down Queen St and frighten the Shoppers. The Police were aware of this happening and often rang to get Billy in his immaculate MGTD sports car to collect the goat in the backseat and take it home!!
I had a visit at work from Barrie Simpson who said he was giving up the job at the Peter Pan Cabaret and recommended me to Arthur Skelton the Orchestra leader to take over. This was a professional reading job with no rehearsals and about 400 charts to the pack. How I got thru the first night I'll never know but quickly learned to use the charts as a guide only and interpret the charts as I felt them! 9 months of 3 and 4 nights a week, 8pm to 1am, was enough for me but good experience.
I took over the Auckland Neophonic Orchestra Drum chair from Bruce McDonald as he wasn't a good reader and we practiced in a hall up in Orakei Rd. Memories are playing at a concert at the Varsity where the opening number played by the band was God save the Queen and I was playing a Stan Kenton number that was going like the clappers!!! Someone had forgotten to write the Queen in my list of numbers...
I didn't have the experience or the extravertness that most big band Drummers have, coming up from 3 and 4 piece groups.. I could do it now but one stroke which affected my left arm is slowing me down a bit!! Stayed about 6 mths with the Neo and really enjoyed it.
My day job was managing a Home Appliance shop in Mt. Roskill Shopping centre when I met Denny ? who was playing cornet in the Mt.Roskill Brass band which I joined and went to Wellington to a Contest playing Bass Drum as our regular Bass drummer, 2 weeks before the Contest, was given an ultimatum by his wife...me or the band. The Quickstep part was held on a footy field and it absolutely hosed down and blew my hat off and de-tuned the calf-skin heads-typical Wellington weather. but we did O.K. in the Selection piece...indoors !
While we are on Brass Bands I had a request much later on to teach the 4 drummers and the Bass drummer from the New Lynn Brass band and I wrote a simple percussion piece for a local contest I talked them into entering and they did very well. Another great memory of that band was when I received a phone call from the lady conductor who had been selected by a Cruise Ship full of General Motors dealers and their Wives to come and provide some stirring Brass music while they had Luncheon at the International Hotel! The fifteen or twenty! brass musicians formed a horseshoe around my Kit and the Conductor told me what the next tune would be and what rhythm it was and away we went lugging the whole performance! Afterwards some of the audience came up and asked me how long had I been playing with the Band and I replied "3 Hours " The 3rd Battalion band was invited to provide the dance music for the Ball after the Golden Oldies soccer games and Ken Gilbert, Derwent and I formed the rhythm section. This was held at the new "Trillos "Reception Lounge in Little Queen". This Venue was one of 3 from which the whole band was given the sack!!! It was an Auckland Grammar School old Boys dance and no-one had booked a Band so Cliff asked me to scratch up a Band, which I did at short notice. The Trumpet player was a great Jazz man... The pianist was taught by Mrs. Mills I think.. and the Guitarist had a broken volume control which was full on. About 10 pm we were asked to pack it in and the band from upstairs came down while a Magician was on. Neil Polkington was the drummer so I said "use my Kit", which he did, and luckily we got paid.
Talking about Cliff Trillo, a real nice guy... I was part of a Trio comprising Dennis Bounsall - Alto sax and Clarinet, Joan Hughes - Piano.. a lovely lady in the original Mandalay in Remuera for about 5/6 years. We also played at Eden-Roskill RSA upstairs where my Wife went dancing before I knew her. Another sacking was the annual Ellerslie Rugby League Annual Booze up which really required a rock'n'roll group (with Armour suits).
Paul Harrop from Mt.Albert rang me and asked if I would like to play percussion in the Pit band at His Majesties in Queen St. in a Light Opera called "Skin Deep" written by a Teacher from a Maori Boys College and including Girls from Queen Victoria College. I jumped at the chance and added Tympani and other bits of relevant gear to my set and we played for about a weeks performances by energetic school children and thoroughly enjoyed it!!
Another venue I played at was the old Tivoli picture theatre in Karangahape Rd which had been turned into a Dance Hall which we, unkindly, called "the Dance of the Desperates" (a singles dance!). As soon as we played our first number they were on the floor dancing. I played in 4 different Bands at this place !!
... which brings me to a sax player called Don Hutchison who lived out west Auckland way and who managed to collar all the work out there and when we played the Tivoli we stretched the 4 piece band right across the theatre stage and the bass player was about 40 feet from the guitarist to give the impression of a big group... we soon corrected this! Don was a jolly guy and good to play with. Playing in the the country halls was beaut for parking and the home made suppers were great. I remember playing in Milne and Choyces Staff Xmas party where I could only park in Customs St and had to make 3 trips to get my gear upstairs but it was worth it because the pianist was Nancy Harry and the Bass player was Graeme ???.
Another great job was at the Birkenhead wharf with Crombie Murdoch and Bob Campbell on bass... I didn't hear my playing all night I was listening to the wonderful bass lines. Still over the shore the group at the Poenamo Pub was Piano - Merv Adair (a Ham Radio operator like me) Norm Powell - Sax/clar... Bass .. Tarz Martin and me.. the last three from the Peter Pan Orchestra when not busy. The strange thing about this job was that the cook made sandwiches and put them in the freezer for our supper!! Any other job you would get what the patrons were getting??? Up in Karangahape Rd West at the Hi Diddle Griddle, Lew Campbell played for Musos who had finished their gigs and wanted to wind-down and have a feed! Across the Rd. was Auckland's first Topless Restaurant which I took one of our new Musos to, he had just come up from Taumarunui, and I think you could have fed him a Wettex sponge instead of the Hamburger he ordered and he wouldn't have noticed!!!
Further along was the Irish Society where we learned to start packing our gear a half hour before the gig finished because the young guys were very explosive, and we had to move quickly downstairs!!!
Another "Touchy" gig was the Xmas Party for the Road gangs of Maori and Islanders from Winstones where a quick exit was required.
Played at the Auckland Town Hall for Ballroom Dancing Competitions with the Arthur Skelton Orchestra and my Mum and Dad came along and sat upstairs right over my position on the stage. Did a 6 hour private gig at an Accountants house where the frontline was so tanked up the bass player and I had to play the last 2 hours by ourselves while everyone jumped fully clothed into the spa pool!! Must have played in every RSA and Workingmens club in Auckland.. Arrived at the Onehunga R.S.A and a fellow drummer was on the stage packing his gear up and told me he was supposed to be at the Workingmens Club across the street... lucky he didn't have to drive halfway across town!! Me and our string Bass player drove all the way out to Papakura R S A, about 50k. in my Morris 1100 with the bass on top of the seats and found we had been double booked with another band, so we tossed a coin and we won and got paid and drove home to watch Telly!! Birkenhead had a wall-mounted Volume control detector which flashed a big red light if the Band played too loud.. Bands just "loved" that gig !!!
I had a few enquiries to teach local Drummers so I stapled some paper-mache egg trays to the walls and ceiling of a small room at the back of the garage to reduce the noise level and got together a kit and away we went. I enjoyed teaching especially the "cack-handed" pupils and the few girls(!) and have had communications with some of the pupils who carried on and got good jobs and advanced their skills.
Was mowing the lawn about 4 o'clock on a Sat. afternoon when I got a phone call from a fellow muso to say his Drummer had just broken his leg playing footy and could I fill-in at the Mandalay in Newmarket that night. Lucky it was one of my rare free nights so I turned up to be told... "Oh forgot to mention we are backing one of Auckland's Prima Donna, fussy up and coming singers as the floor show, but we are sure you will cope"!!! I had heard how she was "difficult' to work with but luckily I new most of her songs and was even praised at the end of her performance to the surprise of the band!!
Manhattan in Mt Roskill was the scene for another happening where we had rehearsed on the Sat. afternoon and made alterations to some of the charts and I had used a red biro not knowing that the wall behind the band had lights of different colors that were switched on and off and when the red lights came on my "alterations" disappeared!!!
A Sax player friend invited me to the Town Hall to see the Daly-Wilson Big Band from Oz and boy was I thrilled as I hadn't heard of it before and the energy they expended was amazing... their Cassette ,the "Best of" is one of my favorites.
I enjoyed chatting to Alex Duthart, 7 times Scottish drumming champion, at his Clinic.
The bass player in the last band I played in and who passed away far too early deserves a notation. His name was Ken Gilbert and I received the news second hand over here in Oz but I think it is correct... There is a write-up under his name.... I played for about 10 -15 years with Ken in gig bands, big swing bands and his forte, Brass bands. He was for many years Champion Euphonium player in the Brass Band Contests in N.Z. and he toured for many years with the National Band overseas where he was recognised for his skill, and met his future wife Zella who was also touring with the Maori Concert party.. Ken's father, Kingie was an accomplished Trombone player as was Ken and we used to play a duet on "Sweet Georgia Brown" for a feature. He was in demand as a conductor when required and we often had "friendly chats" about timekeeping in bands!! Our last job together was 15 months at the Mt Wellington Tavern, 3 nights a week with many happy memories.
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