The La De Das

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La De Da's
Origin New Zealand
Past members Kevin Borich
Phil Key
Bruce Howard
Trevor Wilson
Brett Neilsen

The La De Da's were a leading New Zealand rock band of the 1960s and early 1970s. Formed in New Zealand in 1963 (as The Mergers), they enjoyed considerable success in both New Zealand and Australia until their split in 1975.

In Australia the band is probably best known as the launching place for the career of guitarist Kevin Borich, and for their recording of the first Australasian rock concept album, The Happy Prince (EMI, 1968).

1963–66[edit]

Kevin Borich performing at Mountain Rock

The band which eventually became The La De Das was started by three young musicians from the rural Huapai district, near Auckland in the North Island of New Zealand .

Friends Kevin Borich, Brett Neilson and Trevor Wilson were all from Rutherford High School in Te Atatu. Kevin had actually started much earlier in music – at 12 he had recorded a single with two young sisters, Judi and Sue Donaldson, who lived on a neighbouring property. The pair later became a popular NZ singing duo called The Chicks, and Sue went on to work overseas with artists such as Cat Stevens.

The Mergers formed in late 1963 as a Shadows-style instrumental group and began playing local dances and school socials, but The Beatles' visit in June 1964, and the emergence of The Rolling Stones, crystallised the need for change of style – and a lead singer. Trevor Wilson suggested a friend from nearby Mt Albert Grammar School, Phil Key, who was invited to join as vocalist and rhythm guitarist. Key was a major addition to the group. According to NZ music historian John Dix, Key "has been generally underrated as a vocalist, and few people have appreciated as one of the best to come out of the Antipodes."[citation needed]

It was Key's older sister, an avid record collector with an interest in obscure British groups, as well as hard-core American R&B, who provided the bulk of their early repertoire.

The group decided that "The Mergers" failed to reflect the toughness of their music, so began searching for another name. One promoter even changed their name to The Gonks for an early 1965 gig at a summer carnival. They decided on The Criminals, but Key's mother was not impressed and after rehearsals one night at the Wilson house she jokingly suggested instead that they call themselves "something nice, like the la-de-das ...". Key loved it and the name stuck.

By early 1965 their weekend hobby had taken off and they were getting regular bookings on Auckland's booming dance circuit. They also began hanging out regularly at the city's leading clubs and discos.

The first major media exposure for the band soon to be lauded as "New Zealand's Rolling Stones"[citation needed] was in April 1965, when a new British comedy film, Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, opened in New Zealand and local TV producer Robert Handlin came up with a quaint idea for promoting it on TV. Needing a group for the task, and having seen them at a local club, the Platterack, he offered the La De Da's the gig, with the added inducement of some recording time. Decked out in matching black suits with bowler hats, white shirts and bow ties, The La De Da's made their first TV appearance, live across New Zealand, miming to the film's theme song.

In exchange, Handlin gave them the time to make their first recordings in an Auckland 2-track studio. They cut two tracks written by Borich, "Ever Since That Night" and "Little Girl" (co-written with Trevor Wilson). The single was released on the Talent City label in April 1965, but it only sold to friends, family and fans and is consequently by far the rarest of their recorded output.

In November 1965 they got a major break when they were called up to fill in for popular local band The Dallas Four (led by Red McKelvie, later of The Flying Circus), who were unable to play a full night at The Platterack, which had become Auckland's No. 1 nightspot. The La De Da's went over well and were offered further bookings at the club. After Phil Key finished school in December, the band turned professional. The Platterack took on The Las De Da's as the resident band, replacing the Dallas Four. The band received £12 per week and were soon packing out the club on a regular basis. It was here they linked up with one of the regular patrons, Bruce Howard, a classically trained keyboard player then playing with The Feetbeats, who had been catching their gigs at every opportunity. One of the few pop keyboard players on the local scene, he was invited to audition at their next rehearsal and immediately offered a place in the band. He and Trevor Wilson became the creative core of the band, writing all their original material.

From the outset, the La De Da's had their sights clearly set on emulating the trans-Tasman success of fellow Kiwis Max Merritt & The Meteors and Ray Columbus & The Invaders. Their growing reputation soon attracted the attention of Eldred Stebbing, who owned the Zodiac studio and label, which produced recordings for some of New Zealand's top pop groups, including Ray Columbus & The Invaders, The Pleazers, Max Merritt & The Meteors and Dave Miller & The Byrds.

In January 1966 Stebbing was given an import copy of a Changin' Times album by Philips A&R man John McCready, and he immediately tagged the track "How Is The Air Up There?" as possible song for a local band. However, the organ was a key part of the song's arrangement, and there were few local bands with an organist in the lineup. Zodiac house producer/engineer John Hawkins had already heard about the La De Da's, so they approached the group, gave them a copy of the album and told them to see what they could do with it. They returned the following week to check out the Da's version and were impressed enough to invite them to the Zodiac studio to cut a recording. Stebbing signed them to Zodiac for both management and production, with their recordings distributed through Phillips.

This first single catapulted them to the top of the NZ pop scene, and from that point on they were the top-selling NZ pop group until they moved to Australia in 1967.[citation needed] Although Stebbing was the boss – and on a couple of occasions they were obliged to follow his orders about what to record – the band were fortunate in having a relatively free hand in the studio. Despite the fairly primitive equipment in Zodiac's basement studio (his original home-made setup consisted of four mono Telefunken recorders hitched together), Stebbing's instinct for picking good material, the skills of house producer/engineer John Hawkins, and the La De Da's' burgeoning talent proved to be a winning combination, which bore fruit in their gutsy Zodiac/Philips recordings, earning them a string of chart-topping hits through 1966-67, all of which are now regarded as classics of 60s R&B, and are highly prized by collectors.

Their classic cover of the "How Is The Air Up There" (b/w "The Pied Piper") was released in February and was an instant hit. It shot into the newly established New Zealand Hit Parade on 13 May and within weeks it was No.4 in New Zealand. The song was also picked up by radio stations in Sydney and was soon charting there.

The La De Da's toured widely around New Zealand through the first half of 1966, before issuing their second single, which was also their first self-penned release: the Wilson-Howard song "Don't You Stand In My Way" backed with "I Take What I Want" (June 1966). Unfortunately it didn't make the charts, which prompted Stebbing to insist on another cover as the next single. He chose a John Mayall song called "On Top Of The World", backed by a cover of the Small Faces' "Hey Girl". The new single eventually peaked at #2. Stebbing then offered them residency at his Galaxie nightclub and they were regulars on the C'mon TV show. As indicated by the choice of B-side, the band were now well and truly into their Mod phase, setting Auckland trends with plaid trousers, satin shirts and buckle shoes.

Phil Key - "The hits just inspired confidence in us. We became totally involved in getting dressed up and going out to gigs, the gigs and rehearsals were everything. Nothing worried us, we were so busy consuming what was happening around us. We were super aware, on top of every trend in music and clothes and language. We tried to be honest and sincere with our music, only playing and recording what we liked. The guys in the good record bars dug what we were doing and they got in all the latest English R&B records for us. We were listening to Zoot Money, John Mayall, Manfred Mann, The Animals, all that sort of stuff and trying to create that sound. We were different from groups like The Underdogs who just played 12-bar blues all night; we tried to be a lot more imaginative about what we did ... We had no idea what we were earning on tour, we just spent what we wanted and ploughed the rest back into the band. We had our way with girls, bought more clothes and equipment and just enjoyed being stars"

In November '66 "How Is The Air Up There" reached the finals of the Loxene Golden Disc awards but although the Las De Da's were popular favourites, they did not win. In the meantime they had also been laying down tracks for their debut album. The 14-track The La De Da's was a collection of stage favourites; although their stage repertoire was about 50/50 originals and covers, the album was all covers including The Small Faces' "Hey Girl", Sam Cooke's "Shake", "Land of a Thousand Dances", the Bacaharach & David hit "Little Red Book", "Bright Lights, Big City", and Mose Allison's "Parchman Farm". Released in time for Christmas 1966, it immediately sold out of its first pressing.

They made another major tour of NZ in January 1967, which included their first South Island appearances, but before it kicked off, the band cut their next single. They had been looking for suitable follow-up to their last hit, but Stebbing was wary of trying another original just yet, after the disappointing experience with "Don't You Stand In My Way".

At this point they met keyboard player Claude Papesch, the prodigiously talented (blind) multi-instrumentalist who had made his name in Johnny Devlin's backing band, The Devils. Just back from a stint in Australia, Papesch introduced them to Bruce Channel's "Hey Baby" and predicted it would be a surefire hit for them. They cut it immediately, released it as their next single (b/w "Other Love") in February, and just as Claude had predicted, it was a smash, giving them their first #1 hit in March 1967. It gave them a double distinction by becoming was the first New Zealand-made single to reach #1 on the newly established NZ Hit Parade and knocking The Beatles' masterpiece "Penny Lane"/"Strawberry Fields Forever" off the top spot.

In April they released their classic Stupidity EP. Like their debut album, the songs were all proven stage favourites: "Stupidity", "Coming Home", the Young Rascals’ "I Ain't Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore" and Otis Redding's "Respect". Aficionados now regard it as one of the best of New Zealand R&B records of the 1960s.

While preparing for their second album, Trevor Wilson came up with a project that he felt would put the group way ahead of their contemporaries, and put them on the map internationally. He hit on the idea of creating what would later be called "rock opera". For the basis of the piece he chose to adapt Oscar Wilde's classic tale "The Happy Prince". At this point Bruce Howard was his only ally in the band, but together they started to piece the work together, although it would take several years to come to fruition, but it was also the seed of later divisions within the band.

The second LP, Find Us A Way showed the band taking a more progressive direction, with a deliberate move away from their R&B roots and taking in new influences from acts like The Spencer Davis Group, who were themselves starting to take move away from their earlier style. This time the album contained some original compositions as well as stage favourites. Although they were apparently unhappy about not being not consulted over the final track selection or the cover art, it also sold very well.

1967–69[edit]

The release of Find Us A Way in May 1967 coincided with The La De Da's' first exploratory trip to Australia. Although they had their sights set ultimately on the UK, the only feasible way to get there was via Australia, so they followed Stebbing's advice and flew to Sydney. The trip started fairly well with a week-long engagement at Ward Austin's Jungle disco, followed by a support slot on the historic homecoming shows at the Sydney Stadium by The Easybeats, who were back in triumph from the UK, riding high on the international success of Friday On My Mind .

Stebbing had arranged for Australian entrepreneur Ivan Dayman to manage the group's affairs while they were in Australia, and Dayman in turn put his employee Jimmy Murta in charge of promoting them. Murta's first order was that they clean up their image, so they were duly obliged to have their near-shoulder-length hair trimmed back. Murta arranged expensive publicity photos, and press and radio interviews, pitching the band squarely at the teenage market, a ploy which did not sit comfortably with them.

While they worked in Sydney, living in a squalid King's Cross hotel and appearing at Dayman's Op Pop disco, two singles were culled from the Find Us A Way album for release in NZ. Both did extremely well in spite of the band's absence—the first, "All Purpose Low"/"My Girl", was released in June and went to #3 on the NZ charts, followed in August by "Rosalie"/"Find Us A Way" which reached #5. However, they hadn't had a single released in Australia since "Don't You Stand In My Way", so Stebbing negotiated a deal for the boys to record a new single for Dayman's Sunshine label, which was distributed by Festival Records. Unfortunately, their one Festival session was a disaster—the La De Da's were used to having their own way in the studio, and they clashed with Festival house producer Steve Neale, leading to the mutual termination of the Sunshine contract, and more ill-feeling all round.

Their first foray to Melbourne, in August, was also disappointing. Under-prepared, they had gigs lined up at leading Melbourne discos Berties, Catcher and Thumpin' Tum, but no accommodation, no transport and no roadies. They were forced to lug all their gear around from gig to gig for the two-week stay, slept at a squalid St Kilda hotel and were paid only a pittance for the gigs. There were some important outcomes from that trip, though—finding themselves in Australia's pop headquarters at the height of the "Summer Of Love" forced them to realise that their old R&B repertoire was rapidly becoming old hat.

Another important event was seeing The Twilights at Berties discothèque in Melbourne. Fresh from their recent trip to England, decked out in the latest Carnaby Street gear, The Twilights wowed local audiences with note-perfect live renditions of the entire Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album, some weeks before it was even released in Australia. Seeing them gave Howard and Wilson's plan to realise The Happy Prince project even more impetus, although they knew it was something they probably wouldn’t be able to achieve in Australia.

They returned to Auckland in September and found the single "Rosalie" climbing the charts. They recharged their finances with a major national tour and a residency at Radio Hauraki's 1480 Village club, and it was here that they began put together a new repertoire, soaking in all the latest sounds, including Traffic, who were to become a major influence.

On the eve of their second visit to Australia drummer Brett Neilson decided to stay in NZ, and he left the group. He was replaced by Bryan Harris, drummer with The Action. In February 1968, The La De Das' made their second trip to Australia, a sojourn that proved considerably more successful than their first. This time they were well ahead of the game—they were the first local band to perform material by Traffic and The Band on stage—and it was during 1968 that the La De Da's really began to make their mark, gaining a reputation for uncompromising and flamboyant live shows on the Sydney circuit. Now dubbed "The Beautiful La De Das" they were at the forefront of Australian psychedelia. As usual, they channelled most of their income back into the group, augmenting their stage setup with exotic and varied instrumentation like organ, electric piano, saxophone, sitar, flute, mandolin, cello and even bagpipes.

In June, Bryan Harris left and he was replaced by Keith Barber, from The Wild Cherries, and Harry Widmer of the Cordon Bleu booking agency took over as their manager. His arrival enabled them to choose better—and better paying—gigs, and generally guiding them towards a much more stable financial position. In August, they made their second trip to Melbourne, but this time they were coming back as "Sydney's Gods of Psychedelia" and they packed out venues around the city. The direct result was their winning the vote as "Best Australian Disco Act" in the 1968 Go-Set Pop Poll in December.

After more than months in Australia, the La De Da's were a hit on the live circuit, but they still hadn't released any records, steadfastly refusing to record anything other than their cherished The Happy Prince project. The chance finally came their way in late 1968. Jimmy Stewart, expatriate English producer behind Pastoral Symphony's one-off hit "Love Machine", had recently set up a new independent label, Sweet Peach. Based in Adelaide, it was already releasing new music by Fraternity, Levi Smith's Clefs, Doug Ashdown and Lee Conway.

Stewart approached the La De Da's with an offer to record and release The Happy Prince. The band began intensive rehearsals in preparation for recording at Bill Armstrong's Melbourne studio. But as the year wore on, Sweet Peach repeatedly arranged sessions and then postponed them, and by November the label had pulled out and the deal collapsed. This was a major disappointment for the band, who had worked for several months to arrange and rehearse the piece, and the failure of the deal was a massive letdown for Trevor Wilson.

It was at this point that Melbourne poet, writer, 'cultural commentator' and hip identity Adrian Rawlins came to their rescue. He had attended many of the rehearsals and was profoundly impressed with the piece (even going so far as to compare the music to Dvořák). On his way north to Townsville in December, he stopped off in Sydney to catch a La De Da's gig at the Here Disco in North Sydney; he exhorted the band not to give up on the project and his enthusiasm convinced Trevor Wilson to give it one more try. Gathering support from Widmer and Cordon Bleu, Barry Kimberly of publishers Essex Music and the EMI label, Rawlins and Widmer managed to stitch together a deal to record the album.

Overseen by up-and-coming young producer David Woodley-Page, The Happy Prince was recorded over four weeks in early 1969, and whatever its supposed artistic limitations, it was a fine technical achievement, especially considering that Australia at that time lagged several years behind the UK and USA in its access to the latest recording technology. Although multitrack recorders were in common use overseas—major American pop recordings had been made on 8-track as far back as 1965, but 8-track was still not readily available in Australian commcercial studios. The first 8-track machine installed in a major independent studio was at Armstrong's in Melbourne, in 1970.

Four-track recorders, which were the standard in Australia at that time, had definite limitations, as the Beatles had found when they began creating more complex music in the mid-60s. The process of "bouncing down"—dubbing a completed 4-track recording onto one track of another tape—demanded skill, care and good equipment, otherwise the buildup of noise on the master tape soon became unacceptable. However, by a neat technical trick, The Happy Prince effectively became Australia's first 8-track recording, a feat Woodley-Page achieved by recording onto on two Scully half-inch, 4-track recorders that were electronically synchronised. This de facto 8-track method provided much greater scope for multitracking and overdubbing and a considerable improvement in overall sound quality.

The band released its magnum opus in April 1969. Hailed as the first Australian concept album, the ambitious LP was a suite of songs co-written by Howard and Wilson. Lead vocals were, for the sake of dramatic consistency, performed entirely by Phil Key. It was lauded by writers such as David Elfick, Molly Meldrum and Brian Cadd, but rave reviews from critics failed to transfer into sales, and the band came close to splitting after its release. The production is excellent and was a breakthrough for the time, although the material has been criticised as being patchy and rather overblown in parts. It was also the album was also marred for some critics by the rather campy tone of the narrated links, which were read by Adrian Rawlins.

With The Happy Prince finally realised, the La De Da's decided that now was the time to try their luck in England. As soon as the album was released, they make a quick visit home to NZ and undertook a whirlwind tour of Australian capital cities. At the end of the month they boarded a boat for London. Regrettably, it proved to be a repeat of their disastrous first trip to Melbourne. They had plenty of ambition but no plan, no manager, no agent, no record company support and little money. Their Traffic covers carried little weight on Traffic's home turf, so they soon retreated to the country, renting a country cottage to thrash out a new, mostly original repertoire, spiced with a few covers like "Honky Tonk Women" and "Shotgun". They were also unsuccessful in trying to arrange for recording time with EMI UK.

Phil Key - "Over there they didn't want to know, didn't care. In the end they said we could do a single, but it would have to be a song from The Beatles' Abbey Road album. We were really disappointed because we'd done the whole trip our own way up until that point. We tried, but our hearts weren't into it."

Despite their misgivings, The La De Da's cut a strong version of "Come Together", produced by Norman "Hurricane" Smith, former engineer for The Beatles and producer of Pink Floyd. Credited to "The La De Dah Band", it was released in the UK in September. Initially, it looked like it might be a success, but The La De Da's' cover was 'gazumped' by EMI's release of The Beatles' original version, just as the La De Da's' began to get regular airplay on BBC1 and Radio Luxembourg.

Live work was also a problem. They did a few well-received shows at London's Stax Club, the Corn Exchange and at clubs in Birmingham, but with no manager or agent, the gigs soon dried up. Piling into an ancient and temperamental Thames commercial van (kept alive by faithful roadie Wayne Jarvis) they were forced to accept a month of poorly paid gigs in France. The only highlight of that trip was a meeting with veteran rocker Gene Vincent.

Phil Key - "After hours of constant travelling to a country gig, our old Thames van dropped dead on us, and Wayne had to hitch back to England for parts. We were dead broke and nearly destitute. For six days we stayed in this rotten French hotel with no hot water, no baths, and nobody who could understand us."

Another possible break came their way after the French trip. Expatriate Aussie muso Clive Coulson (the former lead singer of Sydney band Mecca) was now in the UK working as a roadie for Led Zeppelin. Coulson was able to interest Zeppelin's manager Peter Grant in hearing the La De Da's, and he arranged an audition, but unfortunately their old Thames van lost a wheel on the M4 on the way to the meeting, Grant immediately lost interest, and nothing more came of the connection.

The group then had to choose whether to take up the offer of a considerable fee for gigs back in Australia, or try their luck in America. They had reportedly received a serious offer to stage The Happy Prince as a rock musical on Broadway, but this subsequently came to nothing. The final obstacle came in the form of visa difficulties—the British Home Office had already extended the group's work visas twice, based on the belief that they would tour America. When this didn't happen, all the members except Trevor (who had a British passport) were ordered to either return to New Zealand or go on to the US. Interviewed some years later, the members looked back ruefully on the experience:

Phil Key - "There were bills there and money here, so we left. All but Trevor (who held a British passport) it would've beaten him to come home, he had to stay. It broke his heart, physically and spiritually, he'd always believed we could crack it. I suppose we did too."
Trevor: "We made a lot of mistakes in England, we tried to be too smart. We got a house in the country and started learning a new repertoire but we wasted time and money -- we should have rocked on with the material we had, but instead we just sat around the house looking at each other."
Keith Barber: "We blew it on the business side. The industry is tainted with hype and bullshit and if you're not prepared to play the game you may as well forget it."

Leaving Wilson in the UK, the rest of the group borrowed heavily from friends and relatives to return to Australia. On their return they found out that there was far less work on offer than they had been led to believe, but they took what was available and continued gigging to pay back the airfares. To fill out the lineup, Phil Key brought in New Zealander Reno Tahei (ex-Sounds Unlimited, Compulsion, Castaways, Luke's Walnut, Genesis) to replace the absent Wilson, but his tenure in the La De Da's was only a matter of months. Trevor Wilson returned to Australia in October, and for a short time they struggled on as a six-piece, with Reno moving to rhythm guitar.

The relationships between the band members were rapidly deteriorating. Squabbles and arguments escalated, and tensions were especially high between Wilson and Barber, who reportedly couldn't stand each other. At one stage Wilson suggested that Barber should leave, Phil Key should move to drums and Reno Tahei should take over lead vocals, but before this could be implemented the three-guitar lineup was brought to an abrupt end by Tahei's arrest—he was deported back to New Zealand and imprisoned, reportedly because of his involvement in a bank robbery.

The constant infighting and turmoil almost destroyed the group, and in fact for a brief period the La De Da's effectively ceased to exist—in short order Barber decided to leave, and he was quickly followed by both Phil Key and Kevin Borich. Bruce Howard took up an offer to join The Clefs, and Trevor Wilson also moved on to concentrate on songwriting; he later had brief stints in both Home and Company Caine.

The sudden exit of Tahei, Howard and Wilson enabled the three other members to reclaim the La De Da's name. They decided to continue, but to regroup as a four-piece. At the very end of 1970, they offered the vacant bass chair to Peter Roberts from Freshwater, a skilled musician with extensive classical training and wide experience in rock bands. He had begun learning piano at the age of six, and as a teenager became proficient on guitar, bass, drums and organ, playing with local groups in country Victoria, as well as some better known names including Andy James Asylum, and even a stint in New Zealand with the Dallas Four.

Roberts was well known to the group—they and Freshwater were both signed to Cordon Bleu, and often shared the bill at Sydney's Go-Set Club, in the PACT building. Borich later admitted that the La De Da's would almost certainly have broken up at that point if Roberts had turned them down. His change of band forced Freshwater to cancel a planned Queensland tour, so the La De Da's picked up their dates. At Byron Bay on New Year's Eve 1970, the La De Da's unveiled their new 4-piece's stripped-down hard rock style, which took them back to their R&B roots, and drew heavily from 12-bar Chicago blues and the legacy of Jimi Hendrix.

Phil Key - "I moved to a loud rhythm guitar and there was no looking back. We really fired."

With Phil's bluesy vocals and slide guitar, and a revitalised rhythm section, the quartet immediately established themselves as one of the permier hard rock outfits on the Australian scene. Alongside Key, Kevin Borich was coming to the fore as a guitarist of note, and taking more of the lead vocals, with a set of fine, boogie-styled originals and a distinctive (and very loud) guitar style.

The new lineup got a rousing reception at the Wallacia Festival in January, but in March, EMI incongruously issued "Sweet Girl", a throwback to their earlier, more pastoral style. They did their best to promote it, but it flopped. Undeterred, they forged ahead to an increasingly warm reception. They regularly shared bills with the leading groups of the day -- Tamam Shud, Company Caine, Chain and the similarly revitalised Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs.

In the latter half of the year they often appeared alongside new sensations Daddy Cool whose singles and debut album had taken the country by storm, and the press made much of the supposed rivalry between the two bands. In September they teamed with Chain, Tamam Shud and Country Radio for two outdoor concerts at Wollongong and Sydney Showgrounds, before a combined crowd of about 10,000 people, and on Boxing Day 1971 they co-headlined with Daddy Cool before an estimated 50,000 people at the 3XY Rosebud Show in Victoria, cementing their position as one of the top three bands in the country, beside The Aztecs and Daddy Cool.

Towards the end of the year, the La De Da's finally got back into gear with recording. They headed down to TCS Studios in Melbourne to cut their long-overdue fourth single. With producer Howard Gable, the band was joined at a booze-fuelled party session by an all-star cast of mates including Billy Thorpe, Tony Hamilton (Pirana), Laurie Pryor (Healing Force), Duncan McGuire (In Focus) and the erstwhile Bruce Howard, who was now a member of The Aztecs. Cut more or less live, the original track was over 5 minutes long, but was eventually trimmed down by Gable to 3-1/2 minutes for radio release. When released in November, the A-side provided clear proof of Kevin Borich's blossoming talent as a writer. "Gonna See My Baby Tonight" drew a rave review from Molly Meldrum in Go-Set ("...a fantastic song, intelligently recorded, it has to be number one.") and it raced up the charts, reaching #6.

1971–72[edit]

In November '71 the La De Da's were scheduled to go to New Zealand for a four-week return tour. Although the shows sold out well in advance, and they even had a lavish "farewell" at Jonathan's Disco in Sydney, the group dropped out at the last minute at Phil Key's insistence, supposedly because of currency problems and uncertainty over their tour schedule. Local Kiwi band Stafford Bridge took over the gigs, but the La De Da's copped some flak in Go-Set, and it caused more bad feeling between Phil and the rest of the band (which was to increase over succeeding months).

In January 1972 they capped their comeback with a rousing performance at the inaugural Sunbury Pop Festival, and they proved to be one of the highlights of the weekend. Their set included rock'n'roll standards like The Rolling Stones' "Carol", B.B. King's "Rock Me Baby", Dave Mason's "Give More Than You Can Take" and a selection of their own tracks, including "I Can't Find A Reason", "Roundabout", "Gonna See My Baby Tonight" and the yet-to-be-released "Morning Good Morning". The last three tracks were included on EMI's Sunbury double album live set, released in October '72.

Already well on the way to becoming one the country's top live draws, the chart success of "Gonna See My Baby Tonight" propelled the band into a welter of engagements, as Peter Roberts recalled of the events surrounding their Sunbury appearance:

"We were playing fourteen gigs in eight days -- in four different states! Once we played Sunbury Festival at around three in the morning, the Meadows Fair Festival in Adelaide (with Mary Hopkin and Tom Paxton!!) later in the day, a Sorrento dance that night and then Sunbury again at about 3am - all that in the space of 24 hours."

By this time it was obvious that they needed a full-time agent, and they hired Michael Chugg of Consolidated Rock (the Melbourne agency which became a cornerstone of the Mushroom Records empire). "Chuggie" had originally met the group in Melbourne, when a scheduled appearance at Melbourne Town Hall gig fell through because of an organisational mix-up. Chugg moved to Sydney and established a branch of the agency in Paddington, assisted by former Co. Caine roadie (and future Sherbet manager) Roger Davies. Chugg took over management and bookings for the La De Da's and the group was soon netting regular fees of $300–400 per show. Chugg later left Con Rock and set up his own agency, Sunrise, which continued to handle The La De Da's.

When the La De Da's prepared to cut their follow-up single, they turned to an old friend, Freshwater bassist Rod Coe. A fellow NZ expat., Coe had recently branched out into production and scored a notable success with the Blown album for Melbourne boogie kings Carson in 1971, and he later earned renown as the producer of The Saints legendary debut single "(I'm) Stranded".

Rod set about creating the same kind of casual ambience that had worked so well for the recording of the previous single, setting up a full Jands PA plus lightshow, and bringing in an invited audience of 30 friends.The result was Phil Key's finest moment, "Morning, Good Morning", which he co-wrote and sang. Although it's regarded as one of their very best recordings, it inexplicably failed to replicate the huge national success of its predecessor, and only managed to scrape into the lower reaches of the Sydney charts.

This had no effect on the La De Da's live reputation, however. They continued to draw huge crowds through 1972, touring nationally supporting Manfred Mann's Chapter III, and making a record-breaking appearance with Gerry Humphries, Friends and Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs at 3XY's free concert at the Myer Music Bowl, which drew over 200,000 people --- the largest concert audience ever in Australia at that time.

In spite of the successes, internal tension in the band had been growing. Much of it stemmed from Phil Key's role as the band's self-appointed treasurer and booking agent, and when the disputes over money came to a head, Phil abruptly left the group, taking Peter Roberts with him. According to Glenn A. Baker, artistic differences were also a factor—both Phil and Kevin were producing a lot of original material, although much of Phil's output was not finding its way into the La De Da's set lists, and the chart failure of "Morning Good Morning" probably added to the tensions.

Key and Peter left in September 1972 to form a new four piece outfit called Band of Light. This was something of a supergroup—Key and Roberts recruited respected drummer Tony Buettel (ex- Bay City Union, Levi Smith's Clefs, Fraternity and Band of Tabalene ) and former Gutbucket and Lotus guitarist Norm Roue, who was rapidly gaining a reputation as one of Australia's top electric slide guitarists. Although the new band was fairly short-lived, they did have considerable initial success with their first single "Destiny Song" and their debut LP Total Union. Roberts left the band after only a few weeks, and went on to work with Band Of Tabalene and Chariot with Dennis Wilson (ex Kahvas Jute).

Michael Chugg has resigned as their manager a month before the split, and in the meantime Sunrise, led by Roger Davies managed the La De Da's. Kevin Borich—now the only remaining original member—took up the reins and brought in another old mate, and one of the real troupers of Australasian rock) -- Ronnie Peel (aka "Rockwell T. James"). He retained Keith Barber and decided to carry on as a power trio. Their debut performance as a trio was at Sydney's Paddington Town Hall in November, at a concert promoted by Glenn A. Baker.

1973–75[edit]

In January, Borich returned to New Zealand, bringing back the new La De Da's lineup to headline at Robert Raymond's 54-act Great Ngaruawahia Festival, and they gave a triumphant performance. According to John Dix, the La De Da's delivered "...a well paced set [that] blew Black Sabbath and everything New Zealand had to offer clear off the stage." Their ecstatic reception encouraged them to organise a short major-city concert tour there in May, when they returned with four tons of equipment and made their live mastery evident to all who attended. For the rest of the year, it was a constant round of touring, either as headliners, or sharing the bill with Sherbet (who were now being managed by Roger Davies) or as support to visiting international acts such as Little Richard, Gary Glitter, Three Dog Night, The Guess Who and Lindisfarne. They also provided backing on two tracks for Richard Clapton's debut album Prussian Blue.

On 8 July, on the way to a Lindisfarne gig, their truck was involved in a head-on collision on the Hume Highway between Holbrook and Albury. Ronnie Peel and their roadie John Brewster (not John Brewster of The Angels) were both hospitalised, although their injuries were not serious. The major casualty was the band's equipment, most of which was destroyed in the crash. Three weeks later the Sunrise agency organised a benefit gig in Sydney at the Green Elephant (the Doncaster Theatre) in Kensington, featuring a top lineup, including the Las De Da's, Sherbet, Buffalo, Pirana, Lotus, Home, Country Radio, I'Tambu, Original Battersea Heroes and Hush, which raised almost $2000 for the group.

By mid-year, the band were being hailed as Australia's leading live act and Borich's was widely regarded as our pre-eminent guitar hero. During the year the group also contributed to Richard Clapton's debut album Prussian Blue, backing him on two album tracks which were also released on Clapton's second and third single. With Chugg back on board as manager, Kevin was impatient to record a new album, but EMI were less enthusiastic. To pressure them, Borich instructed Michael Chugg to get the band out of their contract. The ploy worked, and EMI reluctantly agreed to a new record in September. But the first sessions at EMI's studios were deemed unsatisfactory by the band and all but two tracks were scrapped. (The two tracks, "She Tell Me What To Do" and "No Law Against Having Fun" later surfaced on the compilation LP Legend.)

According to Glenn A. Baker, the main stumbling block was that Borich couldn't get a guitar sound that was anywhere near his live sound, so Rod Coe solved the problem by installing a portable 8-track recording rig and JBL monitors in the Green Elephant Hotel and recording them there. Kevin swapped his familiar Gibson SG for a Fender Stratocaster and, as Glenn Baker charmingly puts it " ... the whole album went down like a sinker off a pier, in just two days." Back at EMI, they overdubbed piano parts, added backing vocals by Renée Geyer and Bobbi Marchini and horns by Don Reid.

The resulting LP, Rock'n'Roll Sandwich, was lauded by Glenn Baker as "one of Australia's finest rock albums, a fiery, cohesive work dominated by the superbly talented Kevin Borich and carried off by the reliable gutsiness of Peel and Barber." Touring behind the new LP, released in November 1973, the La De Da's enjoyed their most successful period to date, including supports for Elton John and Suzi Quatro on their Australian tours.

The solid gigging continued through 1974 and into 1975, including a well-received appearance at the final Sunbury Festival in January 1975. The La De Da's' appearance was one of the few high points in this ill-fated event, which was marred by bad weather and poor attendance. Headliners Deep Purple were criticised for the aggressive conduct of their crew, with their roadies provoking a fight with AC/DC and former Easybeat George Young after refusing to allow AC/DC to follow them on stage. There was also resentment over Deep Purple's huge fee of A$60,000—about ten times the going rate for a top-rank Aussie act of the day—and the controversy was magnified by the fact that almost all the local groups went unpaid. Despite these altercations, the La De Da's made a positive impression on Deep Purple, and lead guitarist Ritchie Blackmore expressed an interest in jamming with them.

Kevin Borich - "I said, 'Come down and have a blow', thinking he'd never show. Anyhow, we were playing the once-famous Hard Rock Cafe in Melbourne, and it was a night to remember, folks. We were on stage and this roadie comes up with a Stratocaster and says 'Uh, Ritchie wants to have a blow' and I said 'Oh!'. So all the people pushed to the front of the stage to watch his lightning fingers. We had a good play and a bit of a drink and talk after. He enjoyed the blow, most polite of him to come down because I don't think he's the kind of guy who f***s around."

During 1975 problems for the band increased—Australian commercial radio was ignoring their records, and internal tensions were building; according to John Dix, Keith Barber was becoming increasingly erratic and difficult. But the overriding problem was eloquently summarised by Glenn A. Baker in 1981:

"The disintegration that took hold ... was an easily diagnosed malady which has afflicted every Australian rock & roll band that has ever achieved a degree of popular success. Essentially it comes down to: the bigger you become, the more meaningless your future. Overseas bands can make an album, do a tour and then hide away for a year or two to prepare the next LP with no concern for loss of position. In Australia, just three months off the road to prepare new material and a band's gig price drops to half, the media erects new superstars in their place, and the public acts as if they never were ... That is what killed the La De Da's: the bludgeoning effect of realising that, after 10 hard years, nothing tangible had really been achieved and the only thing that lay ahead was more of the same."

Although they were still a top concert attraction, by early in 1975, the band's spirits were flagging and it was clear that an attempt to try their luck overseas would probably be futile. In March EMI issued Legend, a valedictory sampler of single A-sides, recent recordings and leftovers put together by Michael Chugg, which also included a much-requested studio rendition of "All Along The Watchtower", Kevin's Hendrix-inspired live showpiece.

In May 1975, Borich officially announced that the La De Da's would disband.

After The La De Da's[edit]

Kevin Borich put together a short-lived touring band under the La De Da's name, with Harry Brus and Barry Harvey, after which he formed the Kevin Borich Express which has continued to this day in various forms. He has contributed to many top albums, singles and other recordings (including the solo on the original 2MMM radio theme) and he remains one of the most respected musicians in the country. Kevin now lives in Queensland and continues to perform regularly all over Australia.

After the split of Band of Light in 1975, Phil Key left the music business and spent several years living quietly, raising a family and working as a cab driver in Sydney. He died from a congenital heart condition in 1984.

The remaining original La De Da's reunited in New Zealand in 1992 for a Galaxie Club reunion show and played a set dedicated to the memory of Phil Key.

Personnel[edit]

1964[edit]

  • Phil Key (guitar, vocals)
  • Trevor Wilson (bass)
  • Kevin Borich (guitar, vocals)
  • Brett Neilsen (drums, vocals)

1965–67[edit]

  • Phil Key (guitar, vocals)
  • Trevor Wilson (bass)
  • Kevin Borich (guitar, vocals)
  • Brett Neilsen (drums, vocals)
  • Bruce Howard (keyboards)

1968[edit]

  • Phil Key (guitar, vocals)
  • Trevor Wilson (bass)
  • Kevin Borich (guitar, vocals)
  • Bryan Harris (drums)
  • Bruce Howard (keyboards)

1968–70[edit]

  • Phil Key (guitar, vocals)
  • Trevor Wilson (bass)
  • Kevin Borich (guitar, vocals)
  • Keith Barber (drums)
  • Bruce Howard (keyboards)

1970[edit]

  • Phil Key (guitar, vocals)
  • Reno Tehei (bass)
  • Kevin Borich (guitar, vocals)
  • Keith Barber (drums)
  • Bruce Howard (keyboards)

1971–72[edit]

  • Phil Key (guitar, vocals)
  • Peter Roberts (bass)
  • Kevin Borich (guitar, vocals)
  • Keith Barber (drums)

1973–75[edit]

  • Kevin Borich (guitar, vocals)
  • Keith Barber (drums)
  • Ronnie Peel (bass, vocals)

Discography[edit]

Singles[edit]

Song Title Highest NZ
Chart Position
Peak Month
"Little Girl" #32 June 1965
"How is the Air Up There?" #4 May 1966
"Don't You Stand in My Way" - June 1966
"On Top of the World" #2 November 1966
"Hey Baby" #1 March 1967
"All Purpose Low" #3 June 1967
"Rosalie" #5 September 1967
"Come Together" - September 1969
"Come and Fly With Me" - December 1969
"Sweet Girl" - February 1971
"Gonna See My Baby Tonight" - November 1971
"Morning, Good Morning" - May 1972
"I'll Never Stop Loving You" - November 1972
"The Place" #48 May 1974
"Too Pooped To Pop" - July 1974
"Honky Tonkin'" - August 1974

EP[edit]

Stupidity (Philips PE 420601) 1967

Albums[edit]

1966 - The La De Da's

1967 - Find Us A Way

1969 - The Happy Prince

1972 - Sunbury 1972

1973 - Rock'N'Roll Sandwich

1975 - Legends

1981 - Rock n' Roll Decade 1964-74

2000 - How Was The Air Up There?: 1966-1969

Tracks on compilations[edit]

The La De Da's were one of the few New Zealand bands to be featured in the Nuggets series of psychedelic music albums. Their track "How is the Air Up There?" appeared on the album Nuggets II: Original Artyfacts from the British Empire and Beyond, 1964–1969.

"How Is The Air Up There?" and "Don't You Stand In My Way" both appeared on the 1992 New Zealand garage-rock compilation Wild Things: Wyld Kiwi Garage 1966-1969.

Awards[edit]

  • 1977 - Australian Rock Music Awards - Best Guitarist
  • 1978 - Australian Rock Music Awards - Best Guitarist
  • 1978 - Concert of The Year Award (Marconi Club)
  • 1983 - Ampex Golden Reel Award
  • 1983 - The Party Boys - LP EMI Gold Record
  • 1983 - Live at Several 21st (Party Boys) EMI Gold Record
  • 1987 - He’s Gonna Step on You (Party Boys) EMI Gold Record
  • 1999 - Australian Blues Music Festival - Heritage Award
  • 2003 – Australian Blues Foundation – Hall of Fame

References[edit]

  • Glenn A. Baker
liner notes to Rock'n'Roll Decade 1964-74
(EMI EMY 508/9, 2LP set, 1981)
  • John Dix
Stranded In Paradise: New Zealand Rock and Roll 1955 to the Modern Era
(Penguin, Nz, 2005, first published 1988)
  • Ian McFarlane
Australian Encyclopedia of Rock & Pop
(Allen & Unwin, 1999)
  • Noel McGrath
Encyclopedia of Australian Rock
(Outback Press, 1978)
  • Chris Spencer/Zbig Nowara
Who's Who Of Australian Rock
(Five Mile Press, 1994)

External links[edit]