The Premiers’ Premiere
Three words to treat with caution when writing articles or radio scripts: “first”, “only” and “never”. Today’s episode of the Blue Smoke radio series featured many recordings in which Wellington group the Blockbusters were the backing band to solo singers.
The Blockbusters was the name that top local group the Premiers used when working as a session band (mostly for the HMV label, with jazz saxophonist Laurie Lewis producing).
Among those in the band were the guitarist Neil Harrap, the brothers Andy and Mike Shackleton and bongo player Ken Cooper (the man mistakenly identified as Ricky May on p310 of BS).
The script says: “The Blockbusters’ backing tracks are the closest we have to recordings by the Premiers, Wellington’s top pre-Beatles dance combo […] but unfortunately they never recorded under their own name.”
That sounds too confident, I thought, hearing it again months after recording it. Sure enough, when I check JK Smith’s almost flawless Just for the Record: a Discography of New Zealand Popular Recordings from 1949 to 2000, there is a solitary listing for the Premiers:
Red Rooster RR2 – Top Twenty Theme/“Ribs” Parkinson: Every Time (A-side) – 1964
I emailed Andy Shackleton, who runs a fascinating website on New Zealand bands of the early 1960s. Several of the Premiers have written their own memories of the band and the Wellington scene for the site, and many other musicians’ stories are also featured. The site is a great resource. The Premiers’ stories suggest they deserve a book or series of their own – and you can listen to an MP3 of the Premiers’ ‘Top Twenty Theme’.
Andy replied: “Our recording career was something of a disaster. We recorded two originals for a 45 – ‘Top Twenty Theme’ (written by Neil Harrap and Peter Hindmarsh), and ‘Every Time I Look At You’ (written by Jimmy [Ellyett] and Peter). It wasn’t until the day the record was released that we discovered they’d replaced our vocals on ‘Every Time I Look At You’ with a gravel voiced “talk singing” ‘Ribs’ Parkinson (Chris Parkinson, I believe). Those were the days when band Managers were King. We couldn’t do anything about it.”
Above is a picture of the Premiers, from Andy’s site and also featured in Roger Watkins’s book When Rock Got Rolling: the Wellington Scene, 1958-1970 (Hazard, 1989), where I originally read about the group. From left they are: Barry Millage, Peter Hindmarsh, Andy Shackleton, Neil Harrop, Ken Cooper, Mike Shackleton.