John Worsley : The Romantic Andes
by Ian Duggan
A major aim of Hamilton Underground Press is to promote and enable musical and artistic happenings in Hamilton. One way of facilitating this is if new bands can gain insights from bands that came before, on how they become successful in their time.
In this interview I am talking to John Worsley, former guitarist and vocalist for ‘Romantic Andes’, later known simply as ‘The Andes’, who were a very popular live band in the early to mid-1990s. Besides attracting large crowds to their gigs, they won the Contact 89 FM Battle of the Bands in 1994, played support for popular singer-songwriter Jan Hellriegel, released one album (To Understand the Animals), an EP (Rocket), and also appeared on a number of compilations.
HUP: John, firstly, my memory of your gigs was you playing to some big crowds, and there being lots of dancing. The crowds you attracted weren’t there to just stand and stare. Do you have any memory of the sizes of your audiences, and how did you initially build this following?
John: I think our biggest crowd was close to 1,000 people at one of our release gigs at [former University of Waikato venue] the Wailing Bongo. We can’t claim all the credit though as we had the Able Tasmans playing with us that night.
We started out busking, then doing gigs in people’s houses with some other local bands. They were pretty crazy nights, playing in kitchens and lounges, wherever we could all fit. We played a number of gigs at the Wailing Bongo, Ward Lane and a few other bars around Hamilton. Most of our gigs were free or pretty cheap, which along with the cheap alcohol helped draw the crowds. We had a lot of promotion on the student radio (Contact 89 FM) and newspaper (Nexus), which helped a lot. We also had some pretty dedicated mates that loved coming along to support us and the bar!
HUP: Even without playing support to out-of-towners, I remember you were pulling pretty good crowds on your own accord! A lot of it was obviously on the strength of your songs, such as the popular ‘Anaconda Funky Limbo’, ‘Half a World Away’ and ‘Happy Hug Song’. I remember you also wore costumes. How important do you think having a gimmick was in being noticed, and were there any other unique things you did?
John: It was fun to dress up, but I don’t think it’s that important. That said though, I always remember one of Mobile Stud Unit’s (MSU) gigs where the lead singer, Rohan [Marx], set himself on fire and one of his band mates extinguished him. Probably not advisable, but it was pretty cool to watch. I can’t think of any other unique things we did… Having a cellist in the band kept things interesting, and a mate Matt rapped with us a couple of times.
HUP: Other than the Able Tasmans and Jan Hellriegel, did you play support for anyone else?
John: Yes, we played with The 3Ds, Garageland, Alastair Galbraith, Pansy Division, and probably a few others.
HUP: What do you consider the greatest achievements of the Romantic Andes?
John: Making a couple of CDs and seeing people enjoying themselves at our gigs were probably our best achievements.
HUP: Looking back, what do you regard as the Romantic Andes best songs, and how were they written? Did you and [other guitarist and vocalist] Dylan Parry write together or separately?
John: Our best songs were probably Slow Trip to the Moon, Half a World Away and Anaconda Funky Limbo Music. Pretty much everyone in the band contributed to Anaconda Funky Limbo Music. Dylan wrote Slow Trip to the Moon, and I wrote Half a World Away. Everyone came up with their own parts though, so it was pretty much a band effort for most of our songs.
HUP: There was a push on Facebook for a potential Andes reunion about seven years ago, driven largely by ex-drummer Mike Clarkin, and from memory I think all three drummers from the various line ups were keen, at least! People were willing to attend from all over. Were you aware of this, and is there any chance you guys might at least jam together again one day?
John: I heard a little bit about it. I’m sure everyone in the band would like to, but it’s pretty hard finding time when we’re living in different countries, etc.
HUP: You haven’t played in any bands since the Andes broke up in 1996. Do you still pick up your guitar, and are there any regrets you didn’t stick at it longer?
John: The only time I pick up a guitar these days is to play some songs with my children, or to stop them from breaking it. After University we all left Hamilton and went our separate ways, so it wasn’t really possible to keep the band going. I don’t have any major regrets other than that I wish we had spent some more time and money on recording. We had fun playing in the band and met lots of great people, so I can’t complain.