ROSS BURGESS' MEMORIES

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First published September 2015


By 1963 I was an ardent Shadows fan - had all their records while still at college and after persuading my father to help finance an electric guitar I became the proud owner of a Kawai. The only trouble—I didn’t have a clue how to play it. Spotting a fellow with a guitar case waiting for a bus – he turned out to be Paul Densham who played in a group called the Electrons. They had a regular fortnightly gig at a youth club in Kelburn and practiced in a plumbers workshop in Molesworth St opposite Parliament. The line up was Rick White (guitar and vocals) Paul Densham (on rhythm) Bruce Sheerin (bass) and John (Moon) Hall - ex the Berets - on drums.

I started to hang out with them and soon became the roadie - which meant that by helping to carry the gear I could get into gigs for free especially when they started working for Tom McDonald and getting past Mrs McDonald on the door became a problem! As the drinking age was still 21 there was a thriving youth club and dance scene at the many community Halls in Wellington and suburbs and Tom's Universal booking agency provided work for the many groups spawned during that era.

By 1965 Paul Densham had to leave the group for his school certificate year and was replaced by Milton Parker who impressed, because although he had not played in a group before was capable of playing both the lead and rhythm parts to “Apache” and “The Savage” at his audition! Also for a short time John Veale (ex the Berets) joined the band. I remember one particular gig in Palmerston North – the band wagon was my Bradford Ute which had a top speed of about 35 mph - Rick and I left the gig at 2am and drove past Wellington Railway station in time for breakfast at 7 am. The others had travelled in John Veale's Mothers’ Morris 1100 – sheer luxury. John left the band soon after to continue his medical training in Dunedin. Incidentally nobody has seen Paul Densham since about 1971 – does anyone know what happened to him? Around this time I was astonished to find that I as a fresh faced 17 year old was able to rent the Karori Community Hall for about $20 and suggested to the guys that we run our own dance. We put up posters all over town but our enterprising spirit was quashed when on the night cars drove up, but as the hall had glass doors people could see no-one inside and the punters all went to see Pete Nelson and the Castaways who were playing at a church hall nearby. Nobody came!

The band had by then became more R&B and changed their name to the Relics. Bruce Sheerin left to be replaced by Dave Jenkinson on bass. Then John Hall left to be replaced by Alan Beamsley on drums. The Relics got a recording contract with HMV and released a single, a cover of Tommy James and the Shondells “Hanky Panky” backed with “Jambalaya” the selection chosen by HMV. Frank Douglas was the engineer and the recording was done in HMV's original studio in lower Victoria St. The studio was then equipped with two mono recorders, double tracking achieved from one to the other! One day I visited the groups flat in Hataitai. Milton was excited by the release of Cream's first single “Cats Squirrel”. This was the first time we had heard Eric Clapton. The Cream record proved popular and HMV (NZ) finally released the John Mayalls Blues breakers album featuring Clapton. Milton soon got the hang of playing blues and started a new blues group The Phil Jacobs Combo. The line up was Phil Jacobs (vocals) Milton Parker (guitar) Phil Saunders (bass) and Darryl Freshwater on drums. They started a blues club in an upstairs coffee bar in upper Willis St. This lasted for about a year during which Phil Saunders left and was replaced by George Limbidis on bass. The blues club proved very popular unfortunately they were closed down after being busted for selling beer from under the counter!

During this time I also got to know Peter Raxworthy and Ben Kaika from “Bitter End”. In 1967 the band known as “Sounds Unlimited” got a gig playing on a Shaw Saville ship to England. The lineup was Reno Teihei, Paddy Beach, Ben Kaika, John McCormick and Alan Galbraith. While in London they saw Jimi Hendrix playing at the Marquee. By the time they returned Reno had Hendrix‘ material down to a tee. Reno, Ben and Paddy formed “Joyful Crye”. They played in a little coffee bar in Marjoriebanks St called The Psychedelic Id. While this was successful for a while they weren't making much money and had elected to join the Quincy Conserve who had a regular gig at the Downtown club. However an Aussie promoter Mike Browning had heard about them and came to Wellington to audition, persuading them to take their Hendrix act to Sydney. Reno was right handed but in an effort to look more like Hendrix needed a left handed Strat to turn upside down (Hendrix played a right handed Strat upside down). I drove him to Palmerston to buy about the only left handed Strat in NZ and a few days later they left for Sydney where they became Compulsion. Reno even played with his teeth and set fire to his Strat!  After about a year they split, Paddy becoming the drummer for the Valentines.

After the demise of the blues club, Phil Jacobs Combo decided to try their luck in Aussie and departed to Sydney at the end of 1968. A month or so later I went to join them but by then they had moved to Melbourne having purchased Marshall stacks while in Sydney. (It was difficult to get decent amps in NZ, Jansen reigned supreme (or not!)). Melbourne was a happening scene that year but still very straight, Wellington was used to longhairs but in Melbourne truckies would shout derogatory abuse when the guys walked down the street in the day. At nightclubs things were different, lots of gigs but it took a wee while for them to work up a reputation. When I joined them in a rented house in North Fitzroy the yard had an old wooden shed and a wooden fence down each side of the section. It was a cold winter and when we moved to South Yarra a few weeks later both the shed and every second fence paling had gone on the fire! Everyone was broke. One day I applied for job at an office cleaning company. The boss took me to a 1930s building and on the 11th floor showed me how to clean the windows, these being of the sash type my blood froze when he lifted one and got out on a tiny sloping ledge shut the window and cleaned the outside hanging on with one hand! He left me to it and all morning I cleaned the inside of the windows. When he came back at lunchtime and told me to do the outsides as he had shown me I refused, and was sacked however he had to pay me for the morning which provided a good feed for hungry bods.

Once we moved to south Yarra things improved. The Combo had changed their name to Freshwater and now included Peter Sheehan on organ. He had a Hammond B3 and two Leslie speakers. A Hammond B3 organ is very heavy! With 4 of us we could just shuffle it into gigs. The band wagon was a Volkswagen Kombi and a tight squeeze for 7 people and all that gear. By now they had a manager –a cockney spiv called Dave Gregory and he did get them a lot of gigs. Many other NZ musos were in Melbourne, Freshwater's closest rivals doing similar material were Larry's Rebels but they shared gigs with Bruno Lawrence and Claude Papeche’ Trinity and opened for Max Merritt and the Meteors (who were one of the biggest groups in Australia at the time) .Sometimes we did three gigs a night doing 1 hour spots at the city night clubs Berties, Sebastians and the Thumping Tum. Heaving that organ up stairs was no joke. Then came a recording contract with W&G records and they released a single – “Together till the end of time” b/w “Its in your power” – both chosen by the record company. The house at South Yarra was almost completely unfurnished with only 2 comfy chairs in the lounge and a black and white TV on which we saw the moon landings live. (which pinpoints the era as 1969) On Saturday mornings there was a 2 hour pop show on TV fronted by ‘Molly’ Meldrum and featuring Australian groups. Whoever was rostered to cook the dinner would bring their own plates to the lounge and bag the armchairs while everyone else rushed to get their meal from the kitchen .Those who were last had to sit on the floor while the armchair hoggers would not dare to leave the room for the evening! I got a job as lube operator at a nearby gas station. One day Athol Guy from the Seekers brought his Aston Martin DB2 for a lube job—I had never seen a car like it and could not resist blasting it round the block when the boss was out altho in the traffic I never got out of second gear.
Two Australian bands we held in awe were Doug Parkinson in Focus and Tully. Doug did awesome versions of “Dear Prudence” and “Ticket to Ride”. Tully did original material. Most bands did covers in those days-there was one group who did only Jethro Tull numbers.

All good things come to an end and for some reason long forgotten I returned to NZ. Within a year both Milton Parker and George Limbidis had returned. By the end of 1970 George had formed Highway with Phil Pritchard, Jim Lawrie and Bruce Sontgen. Highway wrote and played only original material. Their main gig was at Lucifers nightclub in Wellington and Peter Frater did the lightshow. In 1971 they recorded their album at EMIs new studio in Wakefield St. I was present at the all-night recording session produced by Alan Galbraith.

In 1970 Milton Parker got back together with Rick White to form “Farmyard”. They released two albums of original material “Farmyard” and “Back to Fronting” with Tom Swainson on drums.

At the end of 1971 I decided to go to England. Blake Thompson who had fronted Wellington's long-lived Falcons was now in a group called “The Other Band”. The lineup was Blake on guitar, Graham Harvey on bass, Ally Mathews on drums and Graeme Osten on keyboards. They were also about to go to the UK-once again playing their way aboard a Shaw Saville ship. Groups who did this could stay for 6 months in the UK returning the same way. I took the cheapest route available-flew to Melbourne and stayed a few days with Highway who had moved to Australia adding George Barris to their lineup. From there I took the train to Perth and then a Russian ship to Singapore where just after arrival I ran into Ben Kaika who had been playing at the very hotel I was staying in. After 3 days I flew to Gatwick via Bombay, Bahrain and Athens in a charter DC8.The whole journey cost $500 from Wellington inclusive! A week after my arrival I saw Pink Floyd at the Rainbow, they were doing the Dark side of the moon, the album yet to be released.  During the interval a Scottish comedian entertained - it was Billy Connolly who had just transitioned from being a folk singer to standup comedy.

A few weeks after my arrival I drove down to Southampton in my Morris 1000 (purchased in London for a fiver) to meet “The Other Band”. It was a bleak rainy day and I arrived on the wharf in time to hear an announcement over the ships PA that no-one would be allowed to disembark until all the baggage had been unloaded. As there was no shelter from the rain on the otherwise deserted wharf I went on board via the crews gangway and located the groups cabin. It soon became apparent they would need to rent a large van for their gear so we all trooped off and went uptown in my car and after renting a van and returning to the wharf they went back on board - before coming off on the main gangway through customs and immigration. Was rather lax in security in those days! Alan Galbraith was also on board so gave him a lift up to London. Blake Thompson soon got a solo gig playing at a pub in South Norwood where the group rented a flat. That flat soon became party central, the whole pub coming back there at closing time. On returning to NZ late in ’72 the Other Band took up residency at the Cricketers Arms.

Sadly John Hall, George Limbidis, Phil Jacobs, Blake Thompson, Graeme Osten and Paddy Beach are no longer with us. I hope these musings will help in the remembrance of a bloody good time and some damn fine music!

Ross Burgess

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