NEIL HARRAP

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First published in January 2008, last updated December 2013

Neil can be contacted at neilharrap@gmail.com

Photos & Memorabilia - Swampdwellers, Premiers, Wellington 60's Reunions, Wellington 60's and 70's Reunions

I started playing with the Swampdwellers Skiffle Group when I was 13 and the others in the band were 14 to 16 years old.  We played at church socials, dances and any other gathering that would have us.  We were all members of the Miramar Baptist Church.  I don't recall that we got paid often though I recall that a donation of five pounds was made at one of the earlier functions.

The group consisted of Ken Cooper, Graeme Beadle, Gary Foothead, Brian King, Mike Shackleton and myself and we were non electric with a tea chest bass and washboard.  We did songs like the original Maggie May and Lonnie Donegan songs.

My brother Doug came into the picture somewhere around this time as did Barry Millage, Ray Earle, and Gordon Jenkins.

Out of this grew the Premiers with the addition of Peter Hindmarsh on bass and some electric guitars.  I built the original amplifiers for guitars and voice though they were fairly crude and low powered by today's standards.  As time went by we became more interested in the Shadows sound and Mike allowed me to make a modification to his tape recorder to turn it into a tape echo.  This gave us the Hank Marvin sound, especially when we got the blue Fender guitars.  The tape echo had a smoother sound, not such a pulsing echo as others so we were able to get the Shadows sound (as well as the dance steps that were another Shadows routine).

We played gigs from Nelson to Palmerston North, summer we would play at the Blue Moon hall at Paraparaumu.  Mostly we played in Wellington or at the Lower Hutt Horticultural Hall.  We did many dances with Des Britten who was the force behind the Coca Cola Hi Fi Club.  I recall playing a packed Wellington Town Hall Hi Fi Club dance with Des singing Del Shannon's "Runaway" which was the only song that he knew.  The crowd loved it and wanted an encore so they got - Runaway for a second time!  It went down well, Des had a good stage presence.  We also did shows with Neville Chamberlain and other radio celebrities of the day.

During this time I was doing quite a lot of recording work with Laurie Lewis and some with Garth Young and others.  We did covers of overseas hits with local singers (Jim McNaught, Rochelle Vinsen, Lou Parun, Alex Neill etc) and radio commercial jingles.  I worked most Sunday mornings and I recall earning five pounds a morning which was serious money when twenty pounds was a weeks wages.  For five pounds you could buy 30 gallons of petrol (about 120 litres) so this was real money!

As the sound changed Sax Player Laurie Lewis was brought into the band but it never worked that well and when the band decided to go to Auckland I remained here in Wellington.  Around that time (1964) I toured NZ for a couple of months with the Miss New Zealand Show.  I played a solo to open (the James Bond Theme) and played with the Nick Smith Trio (Dave Fraser on drums).  We supported the Howard Morrison Quartet on stage. 

Then I was approached by John Koolman to start a band for his club on Ghuznee Street the Sorrento.  I called on Puni Soloman from the Invaders, Bruno Laurence whom I had done a lot of recording with, and Puni found a vocalist/rhythm guitarist named Paul Mugglestone from Christchurch.  We rehearsed in my parents living room in Rex Street and hit the stage sometime in 1964.  We named the band "The Measles".  It rhymed with Beatles and was catchy (catch the Measles...)

This was the first of the second generation bands and was a pretty talented lineup.  Bruno was an excellent rock drummer though he'd protested when I asked him to join "I can't play rock'n'roll Neil" were his words.  I told him he could and dragged him into it.  Puni had great experience with Ray Columbus and Paul was a capable singer/guitarist.  As we played until two am on weekends there would usually be guys from other bands coming to 'catch the Measles'.  Bruno would always amaze me with his talent for new ideas and we sure put our hearts and souls into the gig.

We played four hours Tuesday to Thursday, five hours Friday and Saturday and three hours Sunday afternoon as well as four hours Sunday night for a total of about 30 hours a week.  We usually played 50 minutes of every hour.  This was industrial music production and we sure earned our money.  The gig paid well, thirty pounds for every member and I got the same being a democratic fellow.  If I failed to change my Fender Stratocaster strings on a Monday they would break on the Tuesday.

At around this time I recall Bruno dragging his friend, pianist Claude Papesch, by the hand as they ran across Wellington's busiest intersection at the time, Cuba and Manners Streets.  Watching blind Claude running in a slightly leaning backwards style was quite a sight.  They were good mates.

The Sorrento was a dive.  It was frequented by no-hopers, hookers and the like.  After about six months I looked around and decided that I had better things to do with my life than associate with this crowd.  My friend Dave Schlegel was driving me around as I'd lost my license for driving through Featherston Street on Whitmore and failing to give way to the right.  We discussed going to Australia and decided to go for it.  I told the band guys and they were pretty upset.  Bruno said I should pay them money to compensate them.

I packed my Fender and headed to Australia with Dave.  Sold the guitar after a month or so and have never regretted it.  This was a wonderful period of my life but I have no regrets.  I still believe that I didn't have the talent to be right at the top and being in the middle didn't appeal to me.

More memories added 25/12/13

I recall that the first plate echo that we had was installed by Chris Parkinson at the old HMV/EMI studios on Victoria Street.  It was merely a sheet of mild steel, about 1mm thick, suspended by a couple of wires in the airspace between the studio wall and the building wall.  It had a small speaker attached to one end and a magnetic pickup on the other.  As the sound traveled along the sheet of steel a reverberation was introduced and this was picked up at the other end.  Mickey Mouse perhaps, but it worked a treat!  Much better than tape echo for the voice tracks.

Of course it was all recorded on two Ampex (?) tape recorders and when multi-track was wanted Frank Douglas or Brian Head simply mixed the recorded content on to the second Ampex along with the live material!  Once again, it worked, but today's 128 track machines make the recording engineer's task a lot simpler.

I worked there with Laurie Lewis and the Blockbusters, a studio group that had as many as 20 or 30 musicians recording at once, or as few as four or five.  Garth Young used me occasionally too, though he used Rod Stone mostly.  Also did some work there with the Premiers and one or two with a made up group under my direction, The Titans I seem to recall was the name!

Before Victoria Street we recorded in a building on Wakefield Street where the big hotel is now (near Taranaki Street intersection.  I seem to recall that behind the large parking lot there was a a Quonset Hut on the site but I could be mistaken about that.  I'd go there from time to time to look through the stock racks and take a copy of the discs that I had worked on and still have them today.

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