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First published March 2011
Peter can be contacted at email@example.com
Photos & Memorabilia - Max Merritt & The Meteors, The Groove, About Time
My first flirtation with music was as the Lead Singer with what would described these days as a garage band called the “Silhouettes” around 1960 in Christchurch. As I recall the first song I sung was “Calendar Girl”!!
MAX MERRITT & THE METEORS
At the same time I was learning guitar from Tommy Kahi. Maybe 9 months later there was a knock on my back door & there was Max Merritt!
"Oh it’s you!" he said (because I was a regular at his dances)
He was after a singing guitarist to replace Maurice Cook who was leaving the “Meteors”. Max had asked Tommy who his best student was, I was actually Tommy’s second best pupil, the best being a girl, but it was “uncool” to have a girl in the band so I got the gig !!
I joined Max, Billy Karaitiana (bass) Peter Sowden (drums) and they just rolled around with laughter when I showed up with my 10 watt practice amp, (Max & Billy had 100 watt PYE amps). No imports in N.Z. in those days!!
Our gigs were - Weds. “Oliviers Rd” Linwood, some Saturdays "Caledonian Hall”, Sundays the famous “Christchurch Teenage club” in Carlysle St.
A year later we were off to Auckland to turn professional and open a new Teen Club called “Top 20". Peter Sowden decided to stay behind and pursue his career with N.A.C. the national airline! His seat on the drums was taken by Johnny Dick from Napier.
For a year or so we were doing lunchtime & evening spots at the “Top 20” (I read with interest recently in Cynthia Lennon’s book “John” that the “Beatles” were doing the same thing in Hamburg at almost the same time !). Who had ever heard of “Lunchtime" gigs? Just shows you that N.Z. was right up with ‘the play”. The “Beatles” at this stage were only emerging (really quickly I might add!). When we got to OZ a year or so later there was still no "Lunchtime gigs” mind you they were a little behind “the play” as far as the “Beatles” were concerned with Del Shannon’s rendition of “From me to you” charting before the “Beatles” then again they quickly overtook Del.
While in Auckland we did many tours backing the touring shows, “The Howard Morrison Quartet”, “Bill & Boyd”, “Peter Posa”, “Dinah Lee”, “Tommy Adderley”, “Lyn Barnett”, “Lou & Simon”, & many more!
We also did a lot of studio backings for the Quartet, Dinah, Tommy & Peter.
We were invited over to “OZ” to do a national tour called “Hootenanny Hoot” starring Sheb Woolley (Purple People Eater). The promoter Harry Wren to add a little more “Pizzazz” to the line-up billed us as “Direct from Hollywood” in our Powder Blue Linen suits! Nobody knew us so it didn’t make any difference!
Around about this time Billy had left and Mike Angland joined us on bass!
We returned to Auckland to do a residency at “The Shiralee” before we left for “OZ” for good. The line-up had changed to Max, myself, Johnny & Teddy Toi on Bass, for the “OZ” trip which was only meant to be a 3 month contract at the “Rex Hotel” in Kings Cross! For me the 3 months turned out to be 30 years before I returned to N.Z. to live!!
In Australia we did all the T.V. pop shows of the day “The Johnny O’Keefe show”, “Saturday Date”, Billy Thorpe’s “It’s all Happening” in Sydney - The “Go Show”, “Kommotion” & the likes in Melbourne!
About this time Johnny & Teddy left to join the “Aztecs”. It was a thinly veiled attempt to destroy Max & the Meteors (we were seen to be an emerging threat to the already established bands!). Max & I decided to box on regardless, which we did literally sometimes, we had a stand up brawl from the stage once with the audience at the “Sylvania Waters” Pub in Sydney! I can’t remember who came out best but I know from that point on they really respected us!
We were joined at this stage by Bill Fleming on Drums & John Blake on Bass, who filled in admirably until Billy Karaitiana & Jimmy Hill arrived over from N.Z.
We did a national tour in ’65 called “A Cavalcade of Stars” which was the first tour of “OZ” featuring local talent only! “Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs”, “Ray Brown & the Whispers”, we backed the rest of the performers including Merv Benton, Lyn Randell, Jade Hurley. John Rowles did the show with us in Brisbane’s “Festival Hall” after which on the way back to the hotel we were staying in we were involved in another brawl with some “Street Thugs” pretty sure we came out on top in that one!
Shortly after we did national tours with “The Rolling Stones”, “Tom Jones”, “The Searchers” & “Herman’s Hermits.” Whilst touring with the “Stones” Mick Jagger pulled me aside & said “with your high voice why don’t you record a version of Smokey Robinson’s “Going to a Go Go!” But then it wasn’t my call! I noticed a year or so later the “Stones” did it themselves so Mick obviously did really like the song himself!
Around about this time Jimmy Hill left to return to N.Z. & we were joined by Bruno Lawrence on Drums. This line-up settled into a nice groove, appearing in all the “Trendy” venues in Melbourne & Sydney! Amongst other things we did a South Pacific cruise whereby Bruno Jumped ship in Auckland. Billy left shortly after the cruise, I stayed on until the new team settled in Yuk Harrison on bass, Bob Birtles on Sax & Stewie Speers on Drums!
A few months before we did a T.V. show and Max had received a scathing criticism from a T.V. reviewer “Veritas” in the Sunday paper, it wasn’t even Max singing, it was me!! Singing a version of “Bobby Bland’s” “Turn on your Lovelight”. I normally sung about 50% of our stage songs but Max did all the band’s recording vocals in “OZ” anyway!
I did maybe 3 vocals in our Kiwi sessions “Everybody”, “Be my Baby”, “Heatwave”. Maybe more, I can’t remember!
The time had come for me to front my own band! To be criticised in my own right!
So I left & jumped a train to Melbourne! Max understood & we remain great mates to this day!
“The Groove” was formed in Melbourne in 1967 and were touted as Australia’s first “Supergroup”. All of the members had vast experience - Tweed Harris, South Australian keyboard wizard, Geoff Bridgeford from Melbourne (who later joined the Bee Gees) on Drums, Jamie Byrne from Melbourne (later recorded with Rod Stewart) on Bass, and two Kiwis - Rod Stone (The Librettos & Normie Rowe’s Playboys) on Guitar & Flute, & myself (Max & the Meteors) on Lead vocal & a bit of Guitar while Rod played flute! After only about 3 or 4 months we entered the "67 Hoadley’s Battle of the Sounds" finishing down the field. The “battle” was won by Melbourne band “The Groop!”
We had a bit more luck with recording! Our first single being a
double-sided hit “That’s what Simon Says”/ “With this Ring” Max
Merritt found “Simon Says” for me at the same time I found “Fannie Mae” for
him!! Our next release, probably our biggest “OZ” hit was “Soothe Me”.
Not long after this we entered the “68 Hoadley’s Battle of the Sounds” winning the Victorian final & then the National Final against the finest bands in Australia of the time including “Max & the Meteors”, “The Master’s Apprentices”, the ”Loved Ones” & many more!
More recordings followed - “What is Soul?”, “You are the one I love”, “Relax Me”, “Dance to the Music” & our one & only released L.P.
Some of the Australian venues we worked in were “The Here Disco” in Sydney, “Berties”, “Sebastians” & “Thumping Tum” in Melbourne.
After 2 or 3 National Australian tours we availed ourselves of our “Battle of the Sounds” prize & sailed off to England in March of ’69 on the Sitmar line’s “Fairstar”. All of this happening in less than 2 years which would make it understandable “The Groove” doesn’t feature largely in the “Australian Music Historical Landscape!”. Maybe if we hadn’t have won the “Battle” we may have stayed in Australia & won “the War!”
On arrival in the U.K. we set straight into writing original songs we could record!
E.M.I. looked after us really well and put us into “Abbey Rd” to record a song written by Mickey Most’s brother David & Clive Westlake (who wrote for Tom Jones & Engelbert). The song was called “How the Web was Woven”. At first they loved our version then changed their minds & eventually pulled it! About a year later “Elvis” recorded it! At least I can say I recorded a song before “Elvis” sung it! (he didn’t get a hit with it either!)
E.M.I. eventually put us back into “Abbey Rd.” to record a song Tweed Harris & I wrote called “The Wind” using the full keyboard set-up “Procol Harum” used for “A Whiter Shade of Pale” & the Melotron the “Beatles” used in “I am a Walrus” amongst others! Produced by “Ex Pat” Australian David MacKay & engineered by none other than “Alan Parsons.” E.M.I. did a wonderful job of promoting it but it never charted!
Years later it featured on a four C.D. compilation of British 60’s & 70’s songs that should have made it!
After “Abbey Rd", our next recordings were done in “Olympic Studios” where the “Rolling Stones” recorded their early stuff! We were produced by Norman Smith who recorded early “Pink Floyd” and put out his own product under the name “Hurricane Smith”.
The “Groove” was back and forth across the English Channel working mainly in France, Central Paris, Coastal resorts, Le Touqet, Mountain Resorts, Grenoble, Megeve where our picture appeared in the foyer beside such notables as Brigette Bardot & Johnny Halliday! All this criss-crossing the channel to record an album in Radio Luxembourg’s “Shaftsbury Studio” under the direction of “Easybeat’s” manager Mike Vaughn and sound engineer Bill Somerville Large who later engineered Kate Bush’s fabulous productions. An interesting aside was while we were recording in the studio (which was in Mayfair on the ground floor) we were half way through a “take” when there was a banging on the back door, I opened it & there was the one & only Stirling Moss requesting “Can you guys get your fucking van out of the way ‘cos I can’t get me fucking car out of me garage!".
The subsequent Album was never released, it was of a Country-Rock genre & never really fitted into U.K music scene of the day!! Around about this stage we changed the band hame to “Eureka Stockade” to fit in with the trends of the day, “Jethro Tull” etc.
We worked regularly in the “Trendy” London venues of the time “The Marquee”, “The Pheasantry”, “La Val Bonne”, “The Revolution” & others.
One night at the “Revolution” I was approached by Chas Chandler the original Bass Player with “The Animals” and “Jimi Hendrix’s" (who had recently died) manager, his exact words to me were “What a Fucking Band man! What are you doing about management??" But we had “run our race” - we were breaking up the next week!!
After “The Groove” broke up I decided to concentrate on songwriting for a while and had some success. I wrote a song that ended up being recorded by a number of people including “The Marmalade”, “Joe Dolan”, a Scottish Group named “The Dream Police” who some members from became “The Average White Band”, Hamish Stuart (the vocalist) was later in “The Paul McCartney Band”.
Another song was done by Tina Charles the U.K. disco singer who ended up marrying famous record producer Trevor Horn!
Another I wrote was “The Good Book” recorded by Lon Satin who was understudy to “Sammy Davis Junior” in the musical “Golden Boy”. Even Kiwi recording artists Frankie Stevens & Kal Q Lated Risk recorded a song I wrote “I’ll be home”.
During this period I released the only solo record I ever released! Songs I wrote called “Give me a sign” / “Guitar song” on Phillips in the U.K. I think it is a virgin as far as “airplay” goes!!! This record was produced by Alan Parker, guitarist from “Blue Mink” & it wasn’t until many years later that I realised that Herbie Flowers (bass) & the rest of “Blue Mink” were the “backing band” (augmented by a brass section!!)
At the same time I was working with a Vocal group, 3 sisters, Margaret, Wendy & Beverly Cook (The Cookies) & myself we called ourselves “Spirit of Progress” named after the train that ran between Sydney & Melbourne! We did a tour of England, supporting “Cliff Richard” and released a single on Phillips U.K. called “Hey Feet”. The flip side was “Kentucky Freeway.”
Soon after they arrived in England from Melbourne the “Mixtures” offered me the job of Singer/ Guitarist, joining Mick Flinn on Bass, Fred Wieland on Guitar and Don Lebler on Drums. The first British album was recorded for “Polydor” after “The Pushbike Song” made it to number 2 on the charts behind George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord”.
I wrote two songs on the Album “This song’s for you” and “Daddy brings home the Bacon” and co-wrote “Captain Zero” with Mick Flinn. This became the “Mixtures” next success in Australia! And the West Indies amongst other places! A cover version was done by an Italian Group, and another by an Irish Solo Singer!!
We toured the U.K. & Europe extensively returned for a 10 week tour of Australia! Then back to the U.K. where Mick Flinn decided to leave. Mick was replaced by the British Bass Player Chris Spooner!
We then had a change of record company - we signed with United Artists. Recording product in Rockwell Studios in Wales (where “Queen” recorded “Bohemian Rhapsody”), 10cc’s Strawberry Studios in Manchester, Mayfair Studios, Air London, Morgan Studios amongst others in London!
We appeared at major clubs all through the North of England “Batley Variety Club”, the “Intercontinental Chain”, “Wookey Hollow”, “Shakespeare Theatre Club”, “Allinsons” in Liverpool! "The London Palladium” and many more!
We had 2 or 3 unsuccessful releases for United Artists and eventually returned to Australia to be there for the start of ’74 to do shows in all the major Leagues Clubs etc. We did an album for Festival records which was released early ’75 & continued touring for the next couple of years!
Don Lebler left & the drum stool was taken over by Willie Fennell.
Fred Wieland left around ’76 and returned to the U.K. and was replaced by Brenton Fosdike,
A year later Willie left & was replaced by John Petkovich.
About this time Rob Scott joined on Keyboards.
In 1978 Chris Spooner died in a tragic fishing accident so the rest of the Mixtures decided to call it quits.
In 1979 Peter ,Don Lebler & Idris Jones (who wrote the Pushbike song with his brother Evan) were reunited for one performance at the Opera House in Sydney, with 30 other major Australian acts from the ‘70’s to celebrate the “Concert of the Decade” - a show produced by Radio Station 2SM. For a live audience estimated at 160,000. We were accompanied by “Ace bassist” Harry Brus.
After “The Mixtures” we settled in W.A. and formed a six piece Called “Brix”. Myself, Brenton, Rob Scott, John Petkovich, joined with Denis Broad & Paul Reynolds.
Following “Brix” in ‘79 Rob Scott & I formed possibly Australasia’s first “Electronic Duo” this was before the days of “Drum Machines” or “Sequencers”. We called ourselves “Scott & Williams”. This Duo lasted for 5 years, we actually had 2 “Crew” - Sound/Paul Close and Lights/Lee Gamble.
Then followed a Trio called “Look Sharp” - myself, Paul Reynolds & Brenton Fosdike. We later were joined by keyboard player Bruce Coleman (N.Z. band “Hi Revving Tongues”) and drummer Lino Constanzo, to appear at “The Burswood Casino” in Perth.
In the late 80’s I moved back across Australia to Victoria where I teamed up with David Briggs (ex Little River Band) to form a Duo for “live work” and recording work in his Melbourne studio, session work etc.
1990 saw a shift back to N.Z. for a couple of years, working with a group “Backlash” & solo projects!
1993 Back to Western Australia for a couple of years solo work, then two years later back to Christchurch for good! Working solo & duo with Pat Kearns as “Big Daddy”.
More recently singing occasionally with “About Time” formed by Max Merritt’s original drummer Peter Sowden & Brian Ringrose (Ray Columbus’s original guitarist). The band also features Trevor Wright (bass), Don Mills (keyboards), Jim Phillips (sax). Also vocalists Norm Bland, Lorraine Lyles, Kelly Ensor and Anthony Easterbrook-Carter & myself.
I was hoping to finish my career with a “bang” but didn’t expect it to be the 2011 Christchurch earthquake !! Who knows what the future holds!!!
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