Monday, December 13, 2010

The Librettos - Let's Go With The Librettos (1964/65 ) New Zealand;Australia



 

The Librettos were, at one point in the mid-'60s, the top rock & roll group in New Zealand -- a status they deserved based on their recordings, which were among the hardest-rocking sides of this era to come out of New Zealand or their transplanted home, Australia. And at least one of their members, Brian Peacock, went on to an international career that took him all the way to England. The band was formed in 1962 at Rongotai College in Wellington, where all five of the original members -- Roger Simpson (vocals, piano), Rod Stone (lead guitar), Paul Griffin (bass), Johnny England (guitar), and Gordon Jenkins (drums) -- attended school. They built a reputation locally in Wellington, at dances and the like, before their first breakthrough, a residency at a club called Teenarama -- the latter became to Wellington's (and New Zealand's) rock & roll community something akin to what the Cavern was in Liverpool and the 2I's was in London, a mecca for audiences seeking good music and managers and producers seeking worthwhile talent. The band gained a huge fandom in 1963, though they did lose their original drummer, Gordon Jenkins, who was replaced by Dave Diver late that year. And they were soon spotted by Kevan Moore, a television producer who installed them as the house band on his weekly program, Let's Go, a kind of pop/rock showcase aimed at younger viewers.

They lost rhythm guitarist Johnny England a little later, and he was succeeded by Lou Parun, who had already recorded four singles under his own name. And Paul Griffin left and was succeeded by Brian Peacock on bass, formerly with a band called the Downbeats. And with the departure of Roger Simpson later in 1964, this left the Librettos as a quartet, of which lead guitarist Rod Stone was the only original member. This configuration was leaner and punchier, mixing the British beat sound that they were hearing on records coming in from England and Australia with American R&B. The group got a recording contract in 1964 with the EMI label imprint HMV and debuted with "Funny Things" b/w "I'll Send It Your Way," followed by "Young Blood" b/w "That's Alright with Me" a few months later. "Baby It's Love" b/w "Great Balls of Fire" was released in late 1964, and "It's Alright" b/w "Walkin' the Dog" appeared in 1965. And amid that string of four singles, they also issued their first and only LP in 1964, Let's Go with the Librettos. That record has a pleasingly raw, crunchy garage band sound to it, reminiscent of the early Kinks. They also got to appear with Roy Orbison and the Rolling Stones when they toured New Zealand, and shared a bill with Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs, one of the top rock & roll bands in Australia. 

The Librettos realized by the start of 1965 that they'd gone as far as they could in New Zealand and turned their sights toward Australia. They turned down another season of Let's Go and headed to Sydney, where they found a thriving -- and also almost impossibly competitive -- band scene. Dave Diver went back to New Zealand, to be replaced by Craig Collinge, and the band soldiered on, releasing a single of "Great Balls of Fire" b/w "Twilight Time" in the spring of 1965. Another single, "Ella Speed" b/w "I Want Your Love," followed in the fall of that year, which was only issued in New Zealand. Gradually, they broke through to a serious fandom and began separating themselves from the competition, and even managed to return home to New Zealand every so often to huge audiences. Meanwhile, back in Australia, they left HMV for the Sunshine label, through which they released "I Cry" b/w "She's a Go-Go." Both that record and a follow-up, "Rescue Me" b/w "What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For," failed to chart. 

By 1966, Parun had returned to New Zealand, and the Librettos decided to continue as a trio. They also relocated to Melbourne and recorded the single "Kicks" b/w "Whatcha Gonna Do About It," which proved to be their swan song. Peacock and Stone were offered spots in the Playboys, the backing band for Normie Rowe, who was getting ready for a British tour, and that was it for the Librettos. Their final recording, "It's Loving Time," cut in the summer of 1966, wasn't even issued, and remained in the vaults until 1997. Brian Peacock later formed Procession, while Rod Stone became part of a late-'60s band called the Groove, and was still active in music at the start of the 21st century. Meanwhile, the Librettos' music was unearthed in a CD compilation, which included most of their recorded output, released by EMI in 1997. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi




It was rough, raw and alive and oh so electric and chances are if you were a New Zealand teenager in late 1964 and it was Tuesday night your television would likely be tuned to it. There in front of your eyes would be a tall blond compere in impeccable suit saying: “Hi there, this is Pete Sinclair, once again, Let’s Go with the Librettos...” followed by an brisk attack of handclaps and insistent Brian Peacock bass then a surge of Rod Stone surf guitar as the sharp suited Librettos paced out The Ventures’ song and theme music of the hot Wellington-based TV music show. 

Like the show, Let’s Go, The Librettos were young, raw and oh so electric peddling a hot new sound in a hot new medium.

The Librettos - master guitarist Rod Stone, singer and guitarist Lou Parun, bassist Brian Peacock and drummer Dave Diver - were already Wellington’s top groupfast taking off to national fame after a spot on a well-received national tour with Billy J Kramer and The Dakotas and Cilla Black in 1964 and a string of consistently well attended shows around Wellington, and at Teenarama, the hot teenage dancehall of the era.    

The years of struggle around Wellington were paying off. The rock n roll band with the operatic name had been there at the beginnings of the group sound in New Zealand having been formed in 1962 by singer Roger Simpson, pianist Dave Clark, guitarists Rod Stone and Johnny England, Paul Griffin (bass) and Gordon Jenkins (drums). When Jenkins departed he was replaced in December 1963 by a young opportunistic Christchurch drummer, Dave Diver, late of The Tempest and The Secrets who’d approached Rod Stone and Ian Dawson to offer his services during a brief stint in Wellington.    

Johnny England, reluctant to go fulltime, left next eventually releasing Jezebel/ Linda Lu as Johnny England and The Titans (The Premiers incognito) and joining The Verse 5 in the late 1960s. He was replaced by solo singer Lou Parun, a veteran of four solo singles for Lexian Records (some backed by The Librettos). Rod Stone also released a solo single on Lexian (although Stone says it was effectively an early lineup Librettos release) - Skye Boat Song/ Friendly Persuasion.      

Much to the concern of Dave Diver (who could see the band he’d moved to Wellington for disbanding) The Librettos lost a talented bass player in Paul Griffin. In came Brian Peacock, late of Nelson’s Downbeats, and they gained a strong stage presence and eventually a songwriter. With Peacock came a change in sound with more beat and R & B songs finding their way into The Librettos’ sets.       

The classic Librettos line-up was now complete - their sound plugged in the fast flowing current of pop. They edged past rivals, The Premiers, as the top Wellington group, confidence brimming,  and manager Ian Dawson (of  Dawson-Cooper Associates) arranged an audition at EMI Records. The Librettos were quickly signed to HMV Records and Castle Publishing. A boon for the band as the previous line-up had been turned down. Through 1964 into 1965, The Librettos, cut four singles at EMI studios with engineer Frank Douglas - Funny Things, Young Blood, the minor hit Baby, It’s Love, a much requested live favourite, and one of Peacock and Stone’s best compositions, and It’s Alright.  An album, Let’s Go With The Librettos, chock full of six Stone and Peacock originals (notably I’m Gonna Say Yeah and I’m A Dog)  appeared in February 1965.      

Overexposed in New Zealand, The Librettos with manager Ian Dawson, moved to Sydney in March 1965 after turning down a second series of Let’s Go. With no contacts outside the EMI/ HMV link, The Librettos started the graft again. They were sacked from the Sylvania Hotel after three nights for playing too much Beatles/ mod style music and after that scrambled for work taking part-time jobs as they searched for a break in the developing Sydney teen scene where they were competing with hundreds of simarly hungry groups.   

Dawson’s dubious managerial doings and the hard times got to Dave Diver who headed home in September 1965 to briefly join The Countdowns and the embryonic Avengers before settling back home in Christchurch’s Five Degrees. His replacement was young Aussie Craig Collinge who was studying at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.     

The Librettos eventually landed a spot at a dive called the Sound Lounge in Kings Cross followed by a spell at the notorious Suzie Wong’s where they replaced theequally notorious Missing Links.    

In September 1965, The Librettos entered EMI’s Sydney studio to record Ella Speed, a Leadbelly blues, backed with the Stone and Peacock original, I Want Your Love, for October release in New Zealand and Australia. Their only previous Australian release being a coupling of their New Zealand-recorded Great Balls of Fire and Twilight Time.     

By November, The Librettos were starting to make some impact in Sydney picking up work at The Bowl, one of promoter Ivan Dayman’s chain of teen clubs - playing there three shows a day - and on one of Dayman’s package tours of Sunshine artists (from his booking company and record label) backing fellow Kiwi Jim McNaught, Marcie Jones, Peter Doyle and Graeme Chapman and playing their own set on athe one night stand tour around country New South Wales and Victoria that seemed to run for months.        

Back home to refresh their coffers and visit loved ones over the 1965 to 1966 holiday break ,The Librettos, with newcomer Craig Collinge in tow returned to a high profile New Zealand welcome playing the holiday season at the YMCA in Nelson before venturing as far south as Christchurch. They paused long enough to play packed home town shows in Wellington and be acknowledged New Zealand’s Best Group of 1965 then turned their attention to Australia again.    

Going back to Australia after two failed singles and a low profile previous visit, albiet, one which included appearances on the national Sing Sing Sing show presented by Johnny O’Keefe, Saturday Date, Ten on the Town and TV Tonight took guts but it was a punt that would pay.    

Dayman had offered them the chance to record for his Sunshine label (home of stable mate Normie Rowe) with accomplished producer Pat Aulton. Ian Dawson had an idea for their first Sunshine single - go go girls - they were hip - write a song about them. Stone and Peacock came up with She’s A Go Go for  the flipside to the unimpressive I Cried. The single flopped as did the follow-up; a version of Fontella Bass’s Rescue Me.   

Lou Parun had had enough. He quit in April 1966, leaving the music industry for good. Peacock took over lead vocals as The Librettos looked for a keyboard player to replace Parun. None could be found. By then the group were enjoying the three piece line-up and honing a more progressive/ experimental sound and gathering a small following, especially among musicians, in their new base Melbourne. 

Stone: “By the time we ended up in Melbourne as a three piece, we played old blues stuff and R & B things. It was very enjoyable but it didn’t make us a lot of money.”   

They’d drifted to Melbourne, Australia’s rock capital, for its plentiful venues and active band scene. It was there they had their greatest recording success. The Librettos’ final Australian single was a hot take of Paul Revere and The Raiders’ US hit, Kicks, backed with R & B raver What Cha Gonna Do...”  which garnered some good airplay in Melbourne but again failed to sell.   

When mate Normie Rowe asked Brian Peacock then Rod Stone if they wanted to join his ace backing band The Playboys for an assault on the British pop scene; The Librettos ceased to be. They played their last show at weekly gig, Pinnochios, in August 1966. A final recording, taped at Festival in Sydney, It’s Loving Time - a stab at a Righteous Brothers-style epic ballad - remained unreleased.  

Normie Rowe bombed in Britain despite six singles and a massive PR push. Rod Stone left early after falling out with the other Playboys, returning to Australia and forming The Groove with Peter Williams from Max’s Meteors. He is now a guitar teacher in Melbourne and still plays regularly.   

Brian Peacock returned to Australia with Normie in 1967 and joined Procession. He became the road manager for the New Seekers briefly glimpsed the big-time of hit songwriting when his composition was recorded for the flipside of The New Seekers’ biggest hit, I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing. Another Peacock composition was slated for the New Seekers’ next single until Electra Records got cold feet and bumped it back to the flipside. Peacock, like Stone, and indeed, The Librettos, was destined to stay just to the side of real sixties fame



This is an amazing CD from EMI, encompassing the original 1965 New Zealand HMV LP, and more than doubling its length, adding on all but one of the single sides recorded by the Librettos, New Zealand's hottest mid-'60s rock & roll band. The sound is pure British Invasion with a lean garage band edge on the best songs, all a little reminiscent of the Kinks in their early days -- that may make them seem a bit like the Easybeats of the same era (but hey, is that a bad thing to be?). The singles are a pretty strong body of work, but this quartet, given the then-rare opportunity of recording an entire LP, ran with that as well -- and a couple of previously unreleased tracks defy any logic justifying their obscurity. And while it all might not sound too special to a lot of people in 2009, it's also not surprising that these guys were able to blow away all of the competition in their homeland and also compete effectively in Australia as well, until 1966; these guys seem to have understood rock & roll and had the talent to make it work for them, better than most of their rivals. The covers range from Leadbelly and Jerry Lee Lewis to the early Small Faces, and their originals -- the work of founder/lead guitarist Rod Stone and bassist Brian Peacock -- weren't bad, either

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