The Outsiders: What Memories do Bands that Toured Hamilton have of us?
By Ian Duggan
Hamilton has hosted a number of notable bands, including those from elsewhere in New Zealand and international visitors, although the rate at which really significant bands have toured here has slowed somewhat in recent years. I approached musicians from some of the noteworthy bands that played here in the past, between the 1960s and 2000, and posed a single, simple question: “Do you have any lasting memories or impressions of playing in Hamilton?” I wasn’t sure what to expect.
It wasn’t always just the audience enthusiasm at gigs that Hamilton was remembered for, though. One recalled Hamilton for the size of the crowds, but also for…ahem… enthusiasm of another kind. Harry Harallambi, drummer for the Dance Exponents (and later the Exponents) — again, once frequent visitors to Hamilton — stated: “Love the Tron. It was the first North Island town the Dance Exponents ever played in, when we supported the Screaming Meemees in ‘81 or ‘82, and since then the Tron has always been a blast when we play there. We'd be doing a tour and stiffing everywhere, but show up in Hamilton and it was always packed. Seemed the ladies of the town liked us a lot also”.
When we went to Hamilton I said,
“Just pretend it's a holiday" and you said,
"Yep, I'll just pretend it's Fiji baby."
Tim Mahon, bass player for Blam Blam Blam, also remembered ‘elements’ of the Hillcrest crowd: the “Blams played with Screaming Meemees and Newmatics at the Hillcrest in 1981. The Springbok tour was on and we were the voice of the protesters. Rednecks were everywhere and in those days we came across them often. The Hillcrest had a fine collection of rednecks, but they still loved ‘There is no Depression in New Zealand’” — a song with lyrics full of irony, including “we have no racism, we have no sexism”, in reference to the rednecks themselves.
Unfortunately, the Bongo is now history, and at least one artist believes the current venues just aren’t up to standard. Booga Beazley of Head Like a Hole noted: “The thing with Hamilton is there isn't much choice for venues and basically you have to play Altitude bar which for me isn't ideal. The stage is too high and the room is all wrong. Nothing about it says ROCK. All it says is NIGHTCLUB, which is soooooooo last month. ha!” He also noted, “Hamilton just isn't appealing for anything apart from passing through, but with the housing crisis Hamilton may have hope?” hmm…. alright, let’s finish with some more positive stories about our enthusiasm!
I leave the final word to another international group, Australia’s Little River Band, who had commercial success in Australia, New Zealand and the USA, with hits such as ‘Help is on the Way’, ‘Lonesome Loser’ and ‘Cool Change’ in the early ‘70s and early ‘80s. They played at — of all places — our international cricket ground, Seddon Park, in February 1983. Wayne Nelson, bass guitarist and sometimes lead singer for the band, remembered the incredible reception the band got in Hamilton that night, and that it was one of the band's first performances in New Zealand with a new lead singer. “There had been many large audiences in years before, so there was some trepidation about how the new front person would be received. Everyone was very happy with the result... it was a beautiful night”. And happily, I hear the new lead singer John Farnham went on to be quite successful in his own right.