Showband! Mahora and the Maori Volcanics
James Brown calls himself the hardest working man in show business, but he never met Prince Tui Teka. If driving across the Nullabor Plain when it was still a gravel road doesnÕt break a sweat, then picture the original Prince encountering a Japanese toilet for the first time.
Showband! Mahora and the Maori Volcanics showcases the hidden troupers of New Zealand show business. These untold stories about our unsung heroes havenÕt been heard because most of the action took place off shore. In their 1960s heyday the Maori showbands were as international as Peter Stuyvestant. Acts such as the Maori Volcanics, the Maori Hi Fives, the Quin Tikis and many others toured constantly, playing RSL clubs in Australia, casinos in Asia, Hugh HefnerÕs Playboy Clubs in the States, and Wheeltapper and Shunter-style workingmenÕs clubs in Northern England. Occasionally they would make tours back home, but the venues were more likely to be cossie clubs than opera houses.
The showbands nurtured many of the giants of New Zealand show business – Prince Tui Teka, Billy T James, Rim D Paul – but only recently have they started to get much acknowledgement. Fifteen years ago came Tainui StephensÕs documentary When the Haka Became Boogie, more recently Te Papa launched an on-line exhibition ( www.maorishowbands.co.nz ), which led to a reunion of many showband musicians. Next month, a tribute show by some of the originals will pack the Wellington Town Hall at the New Zealand International Festival of the Arts.
Showband! is the story of the Maori Volcanics, as told by their long-serving female member Mahora Peters, but the line-ups of the showbands were so intertwined the book can stand as a history of the genre itself. Born Mahora Rewiti in Whakapara, Northland, the ebullient Peters moved to the big smoke aged 16. In the 1950s, the Maori Community Centre on AucklandÕs Fanshawe Street was a gathering place of the rural diaspora and – with Trevor Rupe, aka Carmen – this is where she entered show business as Ņthe four-poi girlÓ.
A role in the chorus line of a Maori concert party touring Australia led to a lifetime in the Maori Volcanics, the most famous of the showbands, who all became known worldwide for corny musical humour, risquˇ jokes, can-do multi-instrumentalists, quick changes – and impressions of everyone from Louis Armstrong and Dean Martin to Yma Sumac.
After cutting their teeth on a year-long contract in a Sydney club, the Volcanics joined the Asian circuit, sharing stages with Johnny Mathis, the Inkspots and Billy Eckstein in front of US military audiences in Japan, then touring Asia before – and during – the Vietnam war. Despite her experiences Peters never loses the tone of an ingˇnue: she remembers sunbathing while watching the US bombers head into the jungle, and flying over the country not realising Ņfunny little cloudsÓ burst beneath her plane were puffs of exploding flak. From Vietnam, the Volcanics headed to Israel, just two weeks after the Six Day War.
Throughout the book is the sadness of young children – and a wide extended family – left behind with whanau in New Zealand, and of knowing a culture enough to entertain foreigners but not much more. This didnÕt stop the Volcanics laying down a hangi wherever they roamed: pick-axing through the snow in a Scotland winter, in the heat of the Bahamas and the Las Vegas desert, even at CaesarÕs Palace É in Luton.