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Down in the Valley

September 6, 2012

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The Hutt Valley was once the rock’n’roll capital of New Zealand. Okay, I’m biased – I grew up in the Hutt when the Fourmyula was the top band in the country and ‘Spinning Spinning Spinning’ by local band the Simple Image was constantly on the radio and coming over the back fence. But it’s not just me: Rod Bryant, brother of Rick, once told me how in the 1960s the Hutt Valley youth clubs featured many live local bands. So teenagers from Wellington like Bryant would catch the NZR units out to the Hutt on weekends. Yet Wellington had no shortage of great bands, such as the Librettos and the Premiers. A 1960s radio DJ once told me now he too caught the train out to the Hutt to MC a dance. He was embarrassed to be on the same train as the teenage audience, and then walked with them to the dance hall, wearing his smart mohair suit; surely a Ford Zephyr could have been hired?

Earlier, in 1954, the Hutt Valley was notorious for being the focus of the Mazengarb report. This was a government enquiry into teenage delinquency and sexual activity, which on its release was delivered to every home in the country. These youths were idle, and needed chaperones.

The obvious response was to open youth clubs. The Hutt Valley Youth Club, based in Taita, actually predated the Mazengarb report by a year. By 1958 it was humming every Sunday afternoon, so a film crew from the Pictorial Parade arrived to capture the action. It is a rare example of live music footage taken before television arrived two years later. (And then, very little survived until the late 1970s: costs of video tape were so high it was re-used. We can’t blame NZBC short-sightedness completely; the BBC also did this, losing Dr Who episodes and even the original raw interviews of Tony Palmer’s wacky All You Need is Love series.)

A 2’42” excerpt from Pictorial Parade’s visit to the Hutt Valley Youth Club can currently be viewed at the New Zealand Film Archive site (Pictorial Parade #79; ref# F3278). I can recognise one musician: Johnny Douglas, the man playing the piano, was working at NZBC at the time, and would soon develop radio’s influential daily pop programme, The Sunset Show. I would be keen to know the name of his bohemian looking clarinettist, the musicians in the skiffle band, and whatever happened to the dimpled princess checking out the dancers cutting a rug. I don’t remember anyone like that in the Hutt.

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