Pete Townshend throws his guitar in the air before smashing it, while performing the song 'My Generation', at the climax of a concert with other members of The Who in the Wellington Town Hall, 31 January 1968.
It was the year the beat boom hit New Zealand. In 1964 The Beach Boys, Roy Orbison, The Surfaris, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, Gerry and The Pacemakers, Sounds Incorporated, Dusty Springfield, Brian Poole and The Tremeloes, Eden Kane, The Searchers, Peter and Gordon, Del Shannon and, most famously of all, The Beatles wowed the main centres with the hits that were setting the pop world alight. There was no letup in 1965 as the beat and pop sound of Cilla Black, Freddie and The Dreamers, The Honeycombs, The Dave Clark Five, Gene Pitney, Sandy Shaw, Millie and The Seekers was joined by the raucous R&B of The Kinks, Manfred Mann, The Pretty Things and The Rolling Stones.
The following three years would see Herman’s Hermits, Tom Jones, Eric Burdon and The New Animals, Dave, Dee, Dozy, Mick and Tich, the return of The Rolling Stones, The Walker Brothers, The Yardbirds (with their shortlived guitar front line of Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck), The Who, The Small Faces and Paul Jones touring on package tours such as Surfside ‘64, Starlift ’64, The Liverpool Sound Show, Swingin’ ’65, Big Beat ‘65 and The Big Show. They played short sets twice a day to teenagers in New Zealand halls and theatres, attracting various levels of frenzy and controversy.
For a small country at the bottom of the world – an exhausting plane journey or two away from the heart of the 1960s pop revolution in England and America – this was an extraordinary exposure to contemporary singers and groups at the height of their success.
Tucked in there on the show bills was the New Zealand response: Tommy Adderley, Dinah Lee, Johnny Devlin, Ray Columbus and The Invaders, The Librettos, Max Merritt and The Meteors, The Keil Isles, The Four Fours and Larry’s Rebels. These bands were the surface signs of an indigenous pop boom that erupted in all the main centres and many provincial cities.
Soon The La De Das, The Pleazers, The Breakaways, The Avengers, Sandy Edmonds, Mr Lee Grant, The Gremlins and The Fourmyula would be as well known locally as their British counterparts. Every city would have a number of teen clubs and dances presenting a weekly bill of performers to entertain the baby boomer progeny. In clubs such as The Galaxie, The Platterack and Top Twenty in Auckland, The Place in Wellington, Stagedoor in Christchurch and The Sunset Strip in Dunedin, together with many fly-by-night operations, teens could be themselves without the strong external pressures of the time. New Zealand artist-based tours, including the successful C’Mon franchise, named after the popular TV show, also became popular.
The Kiwi pop, beat and R&B boom was further fuelled by a large and surprising array of music released by the local branches of British record companies, especially the Wellington-based HMV. Importing records to keep up with the latest sounds was also common. This musical adventure extended to local bands who sifted through the latest albums by their heroes, or through the piles of singles sent to their record companies by overseas labels hopeful of a licensing release deal. They were chasing that obscure album track, flipside or middling overseas hit to make their own. New Zealand bands extracted gems like John Mayall’s ‘On Top Of The World’ (from a R&B compilation) or his non-hit British singles like ‘I'm Your Witchdoctor’ and the raw stripped-down folksy blues of ‘Sitting In The Rain’. These were local hits for The La De Das, Chants R&B and The Underdogs respectively. On the downside, though, it was hard to find a weaker version of ‘Mona’ than the one recorded by The Pleasers, or a safer take on ‘Got My Mojo Working’ than Tommy Adderley’s.
As pop fans grew older the line was increasingly drawn between pop and blues-derived sounds and acts. The package tours of the mid-1960s, which had brought together the fashionable strands of popular music, fell from fashion.
Written by Andrew Schmidt