TONY ARMITAGE-JOHNSTONE

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First published January 2011

In and around Hamilton in the late 50's and early 60's, as far as we teenagers were concerned, there was very nearly "nothing to do in the evening".  The only public night life apart from some cinemas and couple of very new 'coffee bars', (much mistrusted by the older generation), was the "Starlight Ballroom" on Anglesea Street.  The Starlight had been the only evening venue in Hamilton for years and as the then monopoly holder of the only evening franchise, (unless you count the said cinemas, coffee bars and the mobile fish & chips van in Garden Place), had no incentive to improve the offering and appeal to the younger crowd.  Dances at the Starlight were held on Saturday Night, 8 till midnight, with a some midweek event on Wednesday and perhaps a once or twice a year midnight dance on the Sunday night preceding a Monday Bank Holiday.  Naturally the Starlight was "dry", and offered only soft drinks.
 
In the early days of my time at this venue, both as a patron and a player, the small stage was dominated by a piano formerly used in the small combos that provided the music.  In my earliest memory the music was usually provided by the "Satellites".  The Starlight also featured singing groups, usually duo or trios of singers that would offer a 5 or 6 song set in the middle of the evening as a featured artist spot.  The only one I can recall was a three girl group called The Reataz.   They recorded and sold records in the early late 50's and early 60's.
 
In 1961/ 62 at age 17/18, a friend, John O'Donoghue, and I recruited and rehearsed a small band (3 guitars and drums), to play at local church and youth club dances.  This band, in early days named the Paragons, had a line-up of: Marc des Landes on Lead Guitar, Chris Thompson on Rhythm Guitar and Kelvin (Kelly) Dodds on bass with either John or occasionally me on Drums.  It is worth noting that Chris Thompson had a bigger music career ahead of him and I think we all knew his musical talent was bigger than any we possessed.
 
As the Paragons improved I became more involved in the management and development of the band, now reformed as the Dynasty Group, and I established closer friendships with Charlie Lea, manager of the Starlight Ballroom and Lionel Paul, a well reputed musician in the town at that time.  At this time I did a number of jobs as road manager and minder for visiting artists such as Sandy Edmonds and Tommy Adderley.
 
The arrival of a new 'club' in Hamilton in 1963/64 was bound to be a matter of some chatter.  Mike Henry, a local businessman, opened the "3 musicians" in a large first floor room on Victoria Street (I think the place is now an open garden space).  Originally intended as a jazz venue/coffee bar with a better offering of coffee and snacks, the venue was never sustained as a jazz club and Mike soon brought Rock bands in to attract a larger and for the most part a younger crowd.  It was at this venue that The Rayders were first seen in Hamilton.  Mike brought them in as the resident band and the beginnings of a rock scene were started in Hamilton.  Their line-up was four guys, one called Ray ????  a singer and guitarist, a talented guitarist named Brian McCarthy, a blond guy called Edwin ???? as drummer and a third guitarist whom I barely recall.  Other bands that gigged at the "Three Muse" included the Embers, (an Auckland Band), and much later, the Mods.
 
As prime venue in Hamilton was the Starlight Ballroom and as that was almost exclusively a Saturday event at which we competed for bookings with the Mods and other local bands, whenever a ‘rock band was allowed in, we decided to rent a venue and hold our own Friday night dances on a more regular basis.  In those days Friday night was also late shopping night and we chose to commence the dance at 9:15 to allow those who worked in shops to get to the place (this included some band members). The venue we rented was the National Party Meeting Rooms upstairs on the 1st floor of a building just north of the Bryce St/Victoria St intersection.
 
The band we had at that time was Dynasty, and the crowds we attracted at our Friday late gigs proved to the Starlight management that they could use us on Saturdays on some occasions.  Our rivals for the Starlight gigs, whenever rock bands were considered, was usually the Mods, with Kev McNeil, the Reynolds Brothers and their guitarist John Bissett  (John is still resident in the Waikato area.)
 
By this time Dynasty comprised a 5 man line-up with the addition of Ian Robertson on keyboards, (electronic organ).  Ian was then employed at the Music Store owned by Andy Shearer in Victoria Street.  The line up also occasionally included Peter Barnet (lead guitar) and Mike Duerden (I may have that name wrong), who substituted for Kelly Dodds on bass.   Marc des Landes continued as lead guitarist but Chris Thompson soon became the musical strength of the group.
 
I know that John O’Donoghue passed away some time ago, (early 80’s), and I have no knowledge of either Marc des Landes or Kelly Dodds, but Chris Thompson completed his education, trained as a teacher at the Waikato College, and then tried for a break in music in London.  Chris’s talent soon showed and he played with Manfred Mann in the 70's, (he features on several of the Earthband’s albums), and has had a very successful career in music.  He has recently been starring in Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds Anniversary Tour in Europe.

His website is :  http://www.christhompson-central.com/

 D. A. (Tony) Armitage-Johnstone
 

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