BREAK-DOWNS AND BREAK-UPS
LEON: On October 30, 1964, the news came through from JO’K’s secretary, Patti Mostyn, “Johnny O’Keefe has had another nervous break-down.” This was followed closely with placards on the street screaming out the news. It seemed like Jok had been pushing himself too hard again and the pills had finally caught up with him. The mixture of uppers and downers had a devastating effect. John was always on the go. He always had some new scheme evolving and the pressure of the weekly TV show seemed to take a lot out of him, even though he loved to work at show business, 24 hours a day. The only time he seemed to relax was when he got with the band to have a few laughs.
The Rajahs were a great audience for Jok. We loved his bizarre sense of humour. He revelled in sending up the very people that took him more seriously than most. The news still caught us by surprise because only the week before we had played a charity show at the Bondi Rex Hotel and straight afterwards we had another “Board of Director’s Meeting”. Jok picked me and my drums up at The Can at 10 o’clock and, as we drove to the Bondi Rex, he was in great spirits. Jok loved doing live shows. He lived for it. After the Maori band finished their set, the compere announced, “On behalf of the Spastic Centre of New South Wales, The Lion’s Club proudly presents JOHNNY O’KEEFE AND THE RAJAHS.”
We started singing the introduction to She’s My Baby: “Bom-bom-bom-bomm, Bom-bom-bom-bomm.” JO’K always waited for the right moment to make his entrance. You could feel the excitement as his charisma pervaded the room. He acknowledged the applause without smiling and as he reached centre stage, he turned around and gave us a sly grin. He knew he had them already. “Short black hair makes her, look so sweet, My baby’s pretty from her head to her feet…”
All eyes were fixed on Jok. He looked arrogant and powerful. This was the perfect venue, just small enough to keep the sound solid and the atmosphere intimate. By the time we’d got to close with Shout, the whole room was in a frenzy. People were dancing and standing on tables. It was a typical Johnny O’Keefe super show as only the King could command. The entire cast of the Board of Directors were in the audience that night. It was the first time they had ever seen a JO’K Show live and they were going just as crazy as the rest of the crowd.
A quick pack-up and we were all back for another Board of Director’s Meeting with some chicken and champagne. It was always refreshing to be with these girls, who had no inhibitions whatsoever when it came to sex. Even when we invited other girls along, it wasn’t long before they threw away all their inhibitions too. It seemed like the natural thing to do.
I always had a fantasy about having sex with three girls at one time, so Robyn, Christine and Helen decided they would help me out. I had only gone a few rounds when the urgency and excitement of the situation became too much for me and I misjudged one of my withdrawals. I claimed a foul for being held but the protest was dismissed and the other two ladies in waiting booed me for my puny performance. Still, it was all good fun and despite my lack of staying power, it was a perfect end to the week. Every good week should end with a bang… or three!
Jok must have had a hard time at ATN7 the following week but there was certainly no indication that night that he was about to crack.
It must have been a hard week for Robert Iredale as well. All those years of rock’n’roll had eventually taken their toll and the caustic engineer finally left Festival Records. He would soon be replaced by Bill Shepherd from England. Bryan Davies bought his spunky little girlfriend, Jackie Weaver, into the studio that month and we put down a track for her called Something’s Got A Hold On Me. It was probably Bryan! She had the cutest little webbed feet, amongst other obvious attributes. She didn’t sing too badly either. After Jon and Nosmo stopped dribbling, we put down another couple of tracks, Tough Enough and Queen Of The Hop, for another singing hopeful called Johnny Noble – not half as good looking as Jackie! We always thought that Bryan Davies looked a bit smug and sneaky. The TV stars always end up with the pretty girls.
Just like the R’Jays of old, the Rajahs seemed to be becoming the staff-recording band for Festival again. Besides JO’K’s new records that year, the Rajahs also put down tracks for the Delltones and an album and single for Johnny Devlin – The Mod’s Nod. “The game’s on master, the Mod’s Nod is the ‘in’ thing,” said Johnny Devlin, making yet another comeback.
A young lady was brought into the studio accompanied by her mother, Ruth Wallace the American lady who recorded all those sexy double-entendre novelty songs in the 1950s. Some on-the-spot arrangements were made for her 14-year old daughter, Ronnie, who had written two songs, Goin’ Steady and Never Gonna Leave. Ronnie had teeth braces on at the time but she probably turned out to be a pretty good sort. They went back to America and we never heard from them again. Neither did anyone else!
A month after Jok’s breakdown, the phone rang early on Thursday, December 3, 1964 “Leon, hullo mate, it’s Johnny O’Keefe.”
“John! God, are you all right? We’ve all been worried about you.”
“Yeah, I’m okay, I just needed a break. When are we going to have another Board of Director’s Meeting?” We both cracked up. It was good to hear him laughing again. Jok rang quite a few times that week so we invited him over to The Can and he got up and had another sing. We couldn’t get him off! He was back to his old self again and we spent a day at Nosmo’s playing with his Scalectrix cars.
Jok was also back in the good books at ATN7 and we were invited to play at their Xmas party which was held at General Manager, Jim Oswin’s place. A marquee and stalls were set up in the backyard and the profits of this prestigious event went to the Children’s Medical Research fund. Along with other personalities like, Bob Rogers and Chuck Faulkner, we were most surprised to see the real Eric Beaume in attendance. No impersonations that night. Everyone was very well behaved including JO’K who brought his lovely wife, Marianne.
The Xmas floorshow at The Can was much more spectacular. We dressed Nosmo up as Santa Claus and played a fantastic floorshow in our red nightshirts. Nick Devery looked on nervously as the packed house went bananas until midnight. The old jokes and floorshows never failed!
1965 rolled around and Jim Haddleton wanted us to do a return trip to New Zealand. The plan was to get Max Merrit & the Meteors to replace us at The Can while we went off to NZ. Nick was quite happy with the proposed arrangement. The only replacement band he ever complained about was the Easybeats. Besides being too loud, he reckoned that their hair was too long! Jok acted as our manager in the NZ deal but Jim couldn’t get us enough money so we cancelled out. Jok sent Jim a telegram, “Rajahs unavailable at terms offered. Cannot leave Australia for less than £250 per week.” Max still wanted to come to Australia, like most Kiwis, so I lined up a gig in the Miller’s pub circuit at the Sylvania Hotel. Max had a great band and they were quite happy to have the gig. Although the money at the Sylvania was less than The Can, it was still more money than they could make in New Zealand.
Meanwhile, the Rajah crowds and the extra money at The Can was still an embarrassment to Johnny Wade, the entertainment director of Millers, and he was still working on Nick Devery to get us thrown out of the Manly Pacific. We were still the only band in the Millers’ circuit that he couldn’t hire and fire. The premature arrangement for our aborted trip to NZ could be just the thing for him to get us out of The Can. After all, I had arranged for Max to get the same money that we did at The Can and that was £80 more than he paid the other pub bands – and for two nights less per week. Johnny Wade told Nick that he had made a deal with Max and the band for £120 at the Sylvania Hotel instead of the £200 that I had arranged for them to replace us at The Can. I always tried to make sure that our replacement band was paid the same money as us.
Suddenly overtures were being made for the Rajahs to go to the ailing Sylvania Hotel on the premise that, if we had built The Can from nothing, then we could do the same for the Sylvania. I told Nick that we weren’t interested and we rocked on for a couple more months until it was decided that we needed a holiday break. If Jok could have a break, so could we. Besides, Jon had finally found the girl of his dreams and he wanted to get away from it all.
Did this mean that the sexual degenerate of the band had finally been tamed? Oh well, we were starting to get sick of the Board of Directors, anyway. Too much of a good thing jades the palate. Besides, we were running out of ‘leave passes’, so we bequeathed the Board of Directors to Lonnie Lee and went off on holidays for two weeks.
When we returned from holidays in March - shock, horror! Michael and Nosmo had both grown beards. “You’re not going on the TV show until you shave off those bloody beards,” said Jok, starting to sound like the establishment that he had always rebelled against. I must admit that I had to agree. The beards didn’t fit our image at all and Jok was getting all sorts of flak from the management about bands with long hair, let alone beards. Why, even the Beatles hadn’t grown beards yet. After much grumbling from Michael and Nosmo, the beards came off and the clean cut Rajahs sang Rock & Roll Music, Follow The Sun and Twist & Shout.
It was time to go back into the studio at Festival to work with our new recording engineer Bill Shepherd. We spent a few weeks working on backing tracks for The Taylor Sisters, Rod Dunbar, Judy Stone, The De Kroo Brothers, Noeleen Batley, Robyn Alvaraz, The Delltones, Lucky Starr and even Darryl Stewart!? It was also time for the Rajahs to record a new single. We didn’t have any specific songs in mind at the time. We seemed to be too busy recording for everybody else in the place. Michael had written a pretty ordinary song called Let Me Tell You ‘Bout A Guy and I had written an even more ordinary song called Oh, so we thought we may as well put them both down for a demo and see how they sounded.
The best surprise for us was Bill Shepherd. Here was a guy who actually knew about music! Not just a knob twiddler! He could also arrange, sing and play, and was very experienced in the latest British recording techniques. Bill told us that he had great plans for the Rajahs and the Bee Gees. He felt that our potential was neglected by Festival and he was going to do great things for both groups. I’m afraid Bill never got the chance. It’s ironic that when Festival decided to cancel the contracts of the Rajahs and the Bee Gees the following year (and on the same day), they also gave Bill Shepherd the boot. They figured they’d never get a hit record from either group. At least they were probably half right. Our new single was released the following month and it died the death of a dog. Bill Shepherd went back to England with the Bee Gees and arranged and directed the orchestrations on the multi-million selling hits that followed.
I got a call from Bill Watson the same week our single died. “Leon, how would you guys like to do the Kings Cross Rex Hotel for £220 a week?”
“No thanks, Bill,” says I, “Things are really going great at The Can. They love us!” This was another famous management statement from me. “Things are going great..?” A couple of weeks later Johnny Wade showed his ugly face at The Can, trying to offer us the Sylvania Hotel again. Then Nick gave us the ultimatum. “Take a week’s notice and go to Sylvania or finish up with Millers altogether.” Of course he blamed the powers above him but that was it! We had no choice.
Bill’s job offer at the Rex was no longer there, so it looked like we were off to the dreaded Sylvania for less money. This was the Millers’ equivalent of being sent to Siberia. Mind you, while we were on holidays from The Can, the crowd didn’t drop off in the slightest. It had now become the ‘in’ place to go. We were now obliged to swap gigs with Max Merrit & the Meteors and poor Max didn’t realise that he should have been getting £200 a week instead of £120.
“If you build up the Sylvania like you did The Can, then they’ll give you more money,” said Nick almost apologetically. “Yeah, thanks Nick. You’re all heart!” After a week of dreary drives over to Sylvania in John’s 1948 Rover, it soon became apparent that we had a fat chance of building up the pub’s attendance. The guy running the place liked to have a drink with his mates at the bar, directly in front of the band. He insisted that we play at the same volume as the muzak that was faintly heard in the hotel foyer. As the people walked in the door and realised there was ‘nothing happening’, they soon walked right out again. The only night the place ever got off the ground was when a few car-loads of loyal fans drove all the way over from Manly to see us. We ignored the manager’s screams for silence (he couldn’t hear the race results) and played straight to the crowd, instead of to the manager and his drinking cronies.
Thanks to our fans from Manly, the Sylvania had a record Saturday night crowd and they gave our guest artist for the night, Jay Justin, a rousing reception. Jay had gained the locals’ respect the night before when a few tables started throwing pennies on to the stage while he was half way through singing his hit song, Proud Of You. One of the pennies hit Jay in the head and he leapt off the stage, knocked the penny thrower out with one punch, leapt straight back on to the stage and made an announcement. “If anyone else would like to throw some pennies, could they please put them into a nice heap on the side of the stage and I will donate them to the Spastic Centre.” True to his word, and the end of the show Jay gathered up about ten bob’s worth of pennies from the side of the stage and put them in the Spastic Centre tin. Nobody threw any pennies the following night. They weren’t going to take a chance with Jay’s savage right hook.
Another week of dreary drives to Sylvania in the Rover. The Queen’s face (on the dashboard) was not amused. There were even more fights with the manager about playing rock’n’roll. “That’s it! Who are we supposed to be playing for, the manager or the crowd?” said Jon as we finished a soft bracket of Nivram’s and Sleepwalks. “It looks like we’re playing for Harry the manager, I’m afraid,” says I the duly elected meat-in-the-sandwich. “We’ve got to get back to the teenage market, and we can’t do that in this rotten pub,” added Michael. Then Nosmo put in his two bob’s worth, “We can’t get a following without a hit record. The last one was about as popular as a fart in a space-suit.” At the end of this disgruntled band meeting it was decided that we would sack ourselves from the Sylvania on June 1, 1965, and throw ourselves to the wolves.
The first month was disastrous. Then a few gigs started to trickle in, like appearances at The Bowl, Turramurra Teen Tavern, The Manly Sound Lounge and even a couple of fill-in spots at the old Can for Max & the Meteors on July 23 and 29. It wasn’t a very good month for Nosmo. He missed a payment on his beloved MG and they came around to repossess it. The only trouble was that Nosmo had taken the car apart and couldn’t figure out how to put it back together again, so they had to repossess the wheels and about a dozen cardboard boxes full of engine parts and various nuts and bolts. This was the last straw for Noz. He went back to his old day job, cutting up leather for handbags. Oh, the insecurity of showbiz!
Jon, Michael and I considered this to be a pretty radical step for Noz to take but under the circumstances we could hardly blame him. It was no fun to be out of work for a month and, besides, we didn’t have any day jobs to go to. The band was still firing and we thought there was always something new waiting for us just around the corner.
It was going to be a cold winter in 1965. We had a couple of TV shows with Jok and an appearance on Jimmy Hannan’s Saturday Date but apart from that, the gigs were a bit sparse without a regular pub job. Even Jok wasn’t doing many live shows. There was only one big show with JO’K at the Stadium and that was a charity show run by the Daily Telegraph on July 7. It starred The Showmen, Tony Worsley & the Blue Jays, Max Merrit, Col Joye, The Easybeats, Johnny Devlin and Billy Thorpe. We did our spot with JO’K at the end of the show and Jok brained ‘em. The most popular act on that Stadium show, however, was the Easybeats. They were riding high on the charts and the crowd went bananas when they came on singing She’s So Fine.
Who should knock on the door of our Stadium dressing room, looking for JO’K, but our WA ‘discovery’, Johnny Young with a big smile on his face? “Remember me, Mr. O’Keefe? You told me to look you up when I arrived in Sydney. Well, here I am!”
“Err, right!” says Jok, taken by surprise and looking a little bewildered, “I’ll line you up a spot on my TV show.” The rest of Johnny Young’s successful career is history. Even when he recorded the Rajahs’ Kiss Me Now, it sold more than ours ever did.
A few more gigs started to trickle in at the beginning of August, including the opening of the Eastern Suburbs Union Club and a gig at the old Civic Hall in Albury for Lonnie Lee for which we never got paid. The cagey Dutch promoter shot through with all the money. Lonnie seemed to attract these sorts of crooked promoters. This should have been an omen for us when Lonnie asked us if we would go to New Zealand with him. Nosmo wasn’t too keen on Lonnie’s past record of reliability and he refused to give up his day job to go to NZ for a month.
“Don’t be silly, Noz. Lonnie reckons he’s lined up some really good paying gigs. Not only that, he’s arranged for us to go over on a ship.” Our pleas fell on deaf ears. Nosmo was adamant. Maybe he knew something that we didn’t. After all, we trusted everybody, didn’t we? Nosmo dropped his last fart - an appropriate comment, under the circumstances. It looked like Lonnie would now have to join the band and replace Nosmo. It seemed logical. Lonnie wasn’t as funny as Nosmo but he had a good voice and could also play rhythm guitar. This could be the start of a whole new concept for the Rajahs.
None of us had ever been on a big cruise ship before and we were all quite excited as we boarded the Oriental Queen bound for Auckland. We had only just sailed out of the Heads when I looked across at Jon and – you guessed it! He was a lovely shade of GREEN.
THE RETURN OF THE “BIG RAJAHS”: The Oriental Queen
JON: AUGUST 24, 1965: THE ORIENTAL QUEEN – At sea! I was, as Leon so cruelly reminds me, wearing the most becoming shade of green with purple overtones, just perfect for a luxury cruise to New Zealand. ‘Luxury’ my arse! The Oriental Queen was a very old ship. In World War II she was a troop carrier called the Kanimbla. She was renamed Oriental Queen and became the proud possession of the Toyo Yusen line of Japan. The captain of this sturdy leviathan of the sea was a Captain Yamaha, who, just coincidently, was the commander of the Japanese submarine that had torpedoed the Kanimbla during the war. What an ironic twist of fate!
I became ill (to put it delicately) and retired to my cabin before the ship even got to the Heads. Therefore I didn’t see the two lonely figures waving on North Head – Wendy and Paul. The poor ‘Rabbit’ had a nasty dose of the chicken pox. She had been very sick the night before I left but still made the effort to go up there and wave to this wallowing white whale, weaving its way out toward the dreaded Tasman Sea. At that moment I would have been quite happy to die!
Leon, (being of Viking descent and a good sailor) burst into the cabin. “Quick Jon, they’re serving afternoon tea in the dining room!” “Oooh! go away Drummer. Can’t you see I’m dying?” I moaned from the safety of my bunk. Leon convinced me to come up on deck and I weaved my way down the corridors bumping off the walls (bulkheads!). We were well out into the Tasman now and the ship was pitching and rolling like a turd off Bondi Beach.
Some delicious cakes and sandwiches were wheeled into the dining room on trolleys. I ate a plate of sandwiches and was just getting seriously into the cakes when Leon said, “If you don’t stop pigging out Jon, you will be sick.” “No worries, Drummer, I’ve got my sea legs now,” I mumbled through a large piece of chocolate cake.
So, we had to practice some songs with Lonnie. We certainly did! We had a good reputation to uphold in NZ and we didn’t have our dear old Nosmo with us since he decided to hang up the axe and start making (or stealing?) ladies’ handbags. I missed his cheery sense of humour, his silly jokes, even the farts! Things were getting too serious. Trying to set up our gear on the Dance Deck while the ship rolled all over the place was damn near impossible. What was it going to be like playing at night?
In mid-rehearsal, in strolled the ‘scourge of the high seas’, Captain Yamaha. “Ah, so you Lock’n’Loll band. Velly roud!”
“Better turn it down a bit,” said Lonnie with a worried frown.
“AHH, NO!” screamed the little Nip. “We don’t want that one!” he ranted, pointing decisively at Michael’s speaker box. “Big one must go!”
Michael, who was already imagining the cold steel of a Samurai sword on the back of his neck, started to unplug the offending ‘big one’. At that moment, Lonnie put on his bandleader’s hat and said timidly, “But Captain, we can’t play without it.”
“Ahh! Okay, but keep soft prease!” One short bow and he was gone.
That night, the dance floor was packed with geriatric tourists and, every time the ship rolled, they slid across to the other side. So did microphones, amplifiers, drums and musicians. Only the ‘big one’ had enough weight to stay put! Rong rive lock’n’loll! As my head hit the pillow in the tiny cabin, I could feel the nausea rising. It was going to be a long night.
The little Nip certainly had us singing for our supper. “All plisoner must work!” We had to do lunchtime on the Dance Deck as well as nighttime. The days rolled on (literally) and, as we all got our sea legs, we began to explore the ship. There were no shipboard romances, which was lucky I guess because every time I got on the bunk I felt like chucking. It was four days from Sydney to Auckland and on the last day we were given the supreme honour of visiting the bridge. Captain Yamaha was not present. The ship was being guided by lesser Nips. We checked the radar, looked through telescopes, spliced the mainbrace and yelled out “Avast, ye swabs” and other seagoing phrases. “Ah visit over now. Other passengers must rook at blidge, thank you too much.” True enough, some geriatrics were already stumbling up the stairs to the bridge.
The next morning, Saturday, August 28, 1965, it was raining as we pulled into Auckland Harbour. Nothing quite as miserable as Auckland terminal in the rain but to Leon, Mike and me it was like home. “Who’s supposed to be picking us up?” I said to Lonnie. “I don’t know but surely there must be a car for us,” said Lonnie in his usual efficient way. Lonnie was beginning to get a reputation for aborted gigs, people not turning up and promoters not paying. He had supposedly arranged this deal with Lyall Richardson, who was playing promoter at the time. Lyall should have stuck to radio announcing. There was no car! In fact there was nobody to meet us at all!
“Well, we better get a cab to Benny Levin’s office and see what’s going on,” said Leon. There was nothing going on! “What are you jokers doing here?” asked Russell Clark, one of Benny Levin’s sidekicks. “We didn’t know you were coming back.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Nobody knew? Stranded in Auckland?
“Jesus, Lonnie, what is this shit?” I was starting to lose my temper. “We spend five days on that bloody Japanese prison ship and no bastard knows we’re coming? You’ve done it again, you fuckwit!” “Okay, don’t worry boys, we’ll find you some work but first we’ll have to find you somewhere to stay,” said Russell. The ‘somewhere’ was the Rex Private Hotel in Queen Street. It was like a boarding house, only worse. We had ‘Maori rooms’ which usually means three to a room. This time it was four. This was shaping up to be a doozey of a tour.
Fortunately, our old mates Jack Elliot and Fred McMahon, who owned the Shiralee where we played last time, gave us a couple of nights in the second week. The first week we had nothing. We were starting to run out of money. On the Shiralee shows, we had with us, The Pleazers, the La De Dahs and the lovely Alison Durbin. Alison came back to the Rex with us frequently and I have a fond memory of a kiss goodnight after I had walked her to the bus stop. Fat chance of doing anything in a room with four people in it!
Before our money ran out, we had to go and see some bands around town. We went to the Monmartre Coffee Lounge and saw Nick Villard, an excellent folk singer. Nick said hello to us and the next stop was the Top Twenty. They had a Pommy rhythm & blues band called the Pretty Things who were reported to be pretty shit-hot. They were anything but pretty! We were really quite disgusted. It was the first time we’d ever seen a band drinking on stage, let alone spewing! They were passing round bottles of scotch and the drummer just leant over and had a big liquid laugh beside his hi-hat. Surely this can’t be the new trend? I thought to myself.
By this time we, we had run out of money. In fact we owed money to the Rex Hotel and we had to skip out without paying. An estate agent found us a house in Remuera. Fortunately, they didn’t want any money up front. It was a lovely old house but bedclothes, towels and the like were not included. We had to pull down the curtains to sleep on! The next night we had a gig at the Te Aroha Catholic Hall. Big deal! But it helped to pay for taxis, food and grog.
Another week went by without any work but, just as we were running out of bread, Benny Levin came up with a gig in Hamilton at the old Starlight Ballroom. It seemed rather odd seeing “Lonnie Lee & the Rajahs” on posters. It was actually a strange mixture. Lonnie sang his own hits and some country stuff and we played the new hits. It wasn’t being pop stars like before; it was more a backing band for Lonnie.
The agency lent us an ancient Morris Oxford panel van, which we were also allowed to keep between gigs. This relieved us of our major expense, taxis. We continued to rattle up and down the motorway to gigs at Hamilton and points south, driving back to Remuera every night. Rent time was coming due and we didn’t have near enough money to pay it. The news from home wasn’t very good either. Jok was back in a rubber room in hospital and he had lost his TV show.
A visit to General Artists and our old friend, Jim Haddleton, saved our bacon. “Got any work for the ‘Big Rajahs’?” we inquired hopefully. “Well it just so happens that I need a backing band for Dinah Lee’s next tour. It starts in two days time. I can’t advertise you on the bill because the posters have already gone out.”
“Jim, you’re a bloody life saver,” said Leon, “We can’t even pay our rent.” “Yeah, I heard that you guys had been screwed around some-what this time. You should have come to Uncle Jim first.” “You can say that again, Lonnie sure ballsed this one up!” I said. “Lonnie, who’s Lonnie?” asked Jim. “Lonnie Lee, you know, Starlight, Starbright, I Found A New Love, etc. He’s sort of taken over from Nosmo.”
“Oh, that Lonnie… Great! He can do a separate spot and Tommy Adderly’s guitarist; Doug Jerebine can back everyone with you guys. Oh yes, and there’s the Peter Pan Ball that Tommy and Dinah are doing tomorrow night. You guys better do that too.” “Well, you’ve got us, Jim!” said the Drummer enthusiastically. “Thanks for saving the Big Rajahs from the gutter.” “My pleasure,” said Jim with a fatherly tone in his voice.
New boots were in order for the Peter Pan Ball and the tour, so it was off to our ‘fave-rave’ shoe store in Customs Street. I bought a pair of black suede, Cuban-heeled, chisel-toed Chelsea boots. We gave Benny Levin back the meshugginer Morris and took a cab home to tell Lonnie the good news. The ball was a great success but still not enough money for the overdue rent. Never mind. On September 16, as promised, the ‘Dinah Lee Show’ tour bus picked us up at Remuera. We just grabbed our stuff and climbed aboard. A sort of ‘moonlight flit’, you might say.
DINAH, ACKERMAN AND THE PERIGUINE
The team for this onslaught of the North Island of New Zealand consisted of Dinah Lee, Tommy Adderly (Ackerman), The Chicks (Sue and Judy Donaldson), Lonnie Lee (promoted to semi-stardom), Nick Villard (known folk singer and mountain climber extraordinaire) and the one and only Rajahs, augmented for backing the show, by Graham Sommers (sax) and Doug Jerebine (The Periguine) on guitar. The bus driver was Jim Clapham, an amiable sort of guy, who had to cop a lot of shit from everyone. “Happen, Clapham!” were the first words from The Periguine as we stepped onto the bus. “Happen” meant “Go! Start doing something! Stop messing around!”
“So, you’d be the famous Rajahs, would you be?” Now, had we been conversant with the Periguine’s future tense language we would have replied, “We’d!” and that’s all but I simply said, “Yes, that’s right.” “Would you be the diggers of a beer, then?” “I’d!” said Leon, catching on. “I’d also!” said I, catching on as well. Would I be? I’d definitely! Michael, he’d not but he’d might sometime! Confused? So were we!
The Periguine was definitely the clown or court jester of the tour. He was also a very fine guitarist of the lead variety. This was my first experience of twin lead guitars. The Periguine and I would be the good workers together; we’d! I learnt a lot from Doug. I marvelled at the wondrous chords he’d worked out for Somewhere, the P.J. Proby version; a new 7/9 chord; an exercise run based on thirteenths and other marvels that I had never played before. Ah, but I’m getting a little technical now, aren’t I? You would not be the diggers of thirteenths, would you be? You’d probably not!
The first leg of the tour took us up north of Auckland to Kaikohe, Whangarei and Dargaville and after a short trip back to the Queens Ferry Hotel in Auckland for old times sake; we headed south for uncharted territory. “Better watch out for Maori war parties,” joked Lonnie, not realising that the Periguine was part Maori. “You’d not be worrying your pretty little pukiha head about that,” was the acid reply from the Periguine, who was putting a ‘wobbly’ on Lonnie behind his back. A ‘wobbly’ consisted of shaking one’s knees and wiggling one’s finger in front of one’s face. Usually a gesture of hostility but then a common occurrence after everyone started doing it.
First stop down south was a sleepy little town called Thames. We were booked in at the Brian Boru Hotel. The proprietor was as Irish as the hotel’s name. “Ye’re a rock’n’roll outfit to be sure, aren’t you? Sure and I’ll not be having the likes of you in me pub. The last lot did damage an’ all. You can’t imagine the mess. Now get out of me sight. All of ya!”
“Let me talk to him,” said the placid Clapham. While he talked to him we all went back to the bus. “It’s okay now people,” said Clapham as he came out of the pub. “Evidently he had the Pretty Things in last week but I promised him there’d be no shenanigans, so he’s agreed to us staying. But we better watch it!” The Pretty Things, who’d be “The Uglies” of all time, spurred on by their infamous leader-drummer, Viv Prince, they fancied themselves as a poor man’s The Who. The old TV set in the swimming pool lark and room wrecking etc. The only difference was that The Who always paid for the damages. This bunch of low class Pommy blues rockers didn’t. “You’d be the happener, Clapham, you’d!” said Periguine, “You’d be the sweet talker of all time.” He was right. Clapham would be the smoother-of-ruffled-feathers many times, he’d.
The shows, after a couple of rehearsals, were getting really tight. They were a most professional bunch to work with. The band, with Doug and Graham added, was ‘cookin’ and all the acts were going over well, from Nick Villards’s beautiful folk songs to the wildest rock’n’roll - everything was good. Dinah had a couple of hits at the time, Don’t You Know Yokomo and Reet Petite (a remake of the old Jackie Wilson song). Adderly had some local hits as well, mostly Tom Jones’ covers. The patriotic Kiwis loved their homegrown heroes and showed it.
The Dinah Lee bus rumbled on through Hamilton, Kawerau, Gisborne, Wairoa, Hastings, and on to Palmerston North, where at the Royal Hotel we had some more trouble. We had tried to sneak some girls up the fire escape and got caught by the publican. It seems that the Pretty Things had stayed here as well. Viv Prince had evidently meditated in the foyer for twenty-four hours and resisted all attempts to remove him. Fortunately, after a little sweet talk from Clapham again, we were allowed to stay.
“Rollup, roll up, see the fabulous Dinah Lee Show!” – through Levin, Hawera, New Plymouth, Taumarunui and many other towns with opera houses, beautiful scenery and unpronounceable names. At Tokoroa we visited Lake Taupo and had a swim in some hot pools – what a wonderful country. It was the last night of the tour.
The usual farewell party was held back at the hotel. It was a mixture of happiness and sadness. Some of us would never see each other again. Michael wore the King-Of-The-World hat, presented to him by the Periguine. This was a denim cap reportedly owned by P.J. Proby, or somebody famous. The trip back to Auckland was fairly silent, with everyone anxious to get home. Speaking of getting home, how were we going to get back to Sydney? We needn’t have worried. Our saviour, Uncle Jim Haddleton paid all our bills and our plane fare home. We’ll always be grateful to him for saving us from starvation in New Zealand.
On Sunday, October 3, 1965, I flew home to the waiting arms of my ‘Rabbit’. No, we didn’t get married then. Wendy was still officially married to Terry and it would be another two years before we could tie the knot. We did move in to a little house in the middle of Brookvale. It was a happy home for Wendy, Paul, ‘Sucksh’ (the blanket), P.C. (Pussy Cat) and yours truly.
A few nights later, Wendy and I were having dinner in a restaurant in Kings Cross, when a rather agitated Bill Watson came charging in like a bull in a china shop. “You have to be over at my place on Sunday. You have to get passports, inoculations, sign papers and things!” “Why, Billy, where are we going?” “VIETNAM!” he yelled on his way out the door. “But Jon, you’ve only been home for five days,” said the Rabbit with a worried frown. “Oh, he must be pulling my leg,” I said reassuringly. “Best I ring the Drummer right away!”