Kevin Hotu – also known as Kevin Hodges – got his grounding as a founding member of Taste of Bounty, on second guitar alongside his cousins, Hendrix-inspired lead guitarist Roy Fuimaono, bassist Elliot Fuimaono, drummer Big Tai Fuimaono and vocalist Mahia Fuimaono.
The band won Radio Windy’s Battle of the Sounds then released the single ‘Sunshine Lover’ in November 1981. This was followed by an appearance at Sweetwaters. They were mentored by Dalvanius, who produced their Party Time EP, released on Maui Records in 1983.
Taste of Bounty were regulars at the Electric Ballroom (formerly The Club) in Victoria St, Wellington and –after the death of Roy – slimmed their name to Bounty.
Concurrently Kevin played guitar and saxophone in Aotearoa, one of New Zealand’s earliest indigenous reggae units. Through their performances and songs – including the 1985 single ‘Maranga Ake Ai’, written by Joe Williams – openly urged young Māori to rise up and take pride in their identity. The band, formed by Ngahiwi Apanui and Joe Williams in 1984, often incorporated traditional Māori instruments and became a platform for over 30 musicians, many going on to find their own niche.
Inventing house parties
As Bounty was winding down, Kevin was playing saxophone in family rock band Bad Boys. While looking at the options he started jamming with mates: bassist Brent Thompson, drummer Campbell Tuiri, and guitarist Joseph Fa’amaoni (aka Joe Ewens).
Finding gigs wasn’t always easy. “We had nowhere to play and if we did find somewhere it was dark in every sense of the word.” To get tight, develop new material and build their fan base, Hotu says, “we probably invented house parties”. When there were no paid gigs one of the band members would open up their home, charge $2 at the door and pack in fans for a jam session.
When an Auckland radio jock said “there’s no good music south of the Bombay Hills,” Kevin Hotu took it personally.
While in Auckland, Kevin tuned to a local radio station that seemed to have a limited view of the world. “The disc jockey kept saying ‘there’s no good music south of the Bombay Hills’.” The Wellington musician took that personally and, after “a quick yarn” with Brent, Joe and Campbell, the name of their new band was decided – Southside of Bombay.
After a few more house gigs in 1988 they were joined by David Fiu on vocals and trumpet and Anne Prichard on keyboards.
Concurrently, Joe and Brent were playing in the band Kaihana (cousins) with Brent’s cousin Neil Cruickshank on drums. Ruia Aperahama, from Rātana Pā, was at Wellington Teachers’ Training College, living with the Thompson family in Karori and jamming with Larry Thompson (another of Brent’s cousins) and became part of Kaihana.
Teresa McGregor, a regular at Kaihana gigs, says they were one of her favourite bands. “I was immediately drawn to them and their music. They were nice guys and awesome musos yet very humble. The Māori and PI muso community in Wellington was very supportive of each other at that time and many had close connections with our local Māori Radio station, Te Upoko o Te Ika.”
Aperahama twins added
During Bounty’s dying days in 1988, Kevin worked at the radio station and along with his partner Teresa and Larry Thompson organised the Floodlight benefit concert at the Wellington Town Hall for those affected by Cyclone Bola. Kaihana performed alongside Bounty, Sticks & Shanty and The Holidaymakers with compere Dick Driver.
Kaihana was dissolving, so Southside of Bombay members agreed it would be great to add Ruia on lead vocals and alto saxophone. Kevin says Ruia “brought another dynamic to the band as a strong singer and talented sax player”.
A few months later his equally talented twin brother Ranea, studying at jazz school (the Wellington Polytechnic Conservatorium of Music), was asked to join on vocals, trombone, harmonica, guitar and bass. This allowed greater sharing of vocals with several members able to swap between brass, bass and guitar.
When Southside of Bombay first formed Teresa was always at rehearsals, and helping out with gigs and promotional work. When the band decided they needed a manager, she volunteered for the job.
Southside of Bombay’s first major gig was at Wellington’s Paisley Park in December 1989 where they played songs by Bob Marley, Average White Band, and UB40 – and originals written by Jo and Brent.
A break in the battle
Southside of Bombay soon built a strong following in Wellington. “There was huge interest in our gigs at The Carpark, Paisley Park and Stax Nightclub,” says Ranea Aperahama.
However, the band’s following was not what nightclub owners had been used to. “The colour of the patrons changed the environment ... pub owners invited us back because we were getting good crowds that spent up big at the bar,” says Kevin.
A big break came when the group won the Wellington Battle of the Bands competition at The Carpark nightclub in 1990.
“The venue was jam-packed, standing room only, and Shihad was one of the finalists,” says Teresa. “The crowd went crazy when Southside of Bombay was announced as the winners. Jon Toogood from Shihad borrowed Kevin’s guitar amp on the night and the deal was that if he blew it up he had to pay for it, and he did both.”
The prize included studio time at Marcus Wilson’s Word of Mouth Recording Studio which gave Southside of Bombay the opportunity to record two songs: an original instrumental called ‘Day Come Day Go’, and their first demo of ‘What’s The Time Mr Wolf’, composed by Ruia.
Southside of Bombay was one of the first bands to be engaged to play the Mountain Rock open-air festival in Woodville in 1992. Promoters Daniel Keighley and Paul Campbell took a punt and the band went down so well they became regulars over the next three years.
“This is a highly competitive industry but for us the timing was good … We ended up being dubbed ‘the New Zealand UB40’. When we came on the scene it created a new expression, building up from Herbs who were a cornerstone of the evolution,” says Ranea.
As the band’s profile grew, TVNZ’s Tainui Stephens filmed Southside of Bombay at a Victoria University Orientation gig for a TV featurette on the Marae programme. Also at the gig was producer Ian Morris, a founding member of Th’ Dudes, who had his own chart success as Tex Pistol. Morris was blown away by Ruia and Southside of Bombay’s performance of ‘What’s The Time Mr Wolf’ that night and wanted to record the band.
They self-funded the recording of ‘What’s The Time Mr Wolf’ and ‘Say’ (written by Joe Fa’amaoni) at Marmalade Studios in Wellington, produced by Morris. “He cut a few drum tracks and arrangements and said if we didn’t like it that was OK.”
Ranea says It was a learning process recording for the commercial market and radio “rather than just doing what we wanted to do creatively”.
The band was shocked when producer Ian Morris edited ‘Mr Wolf’ from 20 minutes down to 3’15”.
The hardest part was when Morris cut their original live version of ‘Mr Wolf’, which often ran for 20 minutes, down to 3 minutes 15 seconds. “it was a bit of a shock so we sat on it for about a month, deciding not to make any hasty decisions. We had to rearrange the bass line which didn’t sit with us ... it was uncomfortable but we worked it through and realised there was something there.”
Brent, Joe, Anne, Ruia, Ranea, David and Kevin were all involved with the recording with Ani Crawford and Teresa also singing backing vocals on ‘Mr Wolf’. The drum sound was created by Morris on a Fairlight CMI drum sequencer.
“I don’t think everyone realised how lucky we were to work with Ian. The amazing work he did with the song gave it a new lease of life and a unique sound,” says Teresa. “Combined with Southside of Bombay’s awesome musicianship and Ruia’s inspired lead vocal, we ended up with a recording that to be honest was both scary and exciting, yet quite different than anything else that was out there.”
Teresa and Kevin approached a number of record labels and decided to go with Pagan Records.
The quirky NZ On Air funded video of the debut song, produced in August 1991 by Richard Bluck and Michelle Scullion of Melectra Management, quickly picked up TV airplay to support the single, released at the end of that year.
Campbell Tuiri had left the band before the recording, so they used temporary drummers (including former Kaihana drummer Neil Cruickshank) until Teresa’s brother Maaka “Phat” McGregor became the main timekeeper. Maaka had been in Aotearoa with Kevin and played with both Upper Hutt Posse and Dam Native.
“Maaka was living in Auckland so it was a trying time for the band for rehearsing and the like but we kept on writing,” says Kevin.
Cryptic and catchy
The catchy ‘What’s The Time Mr Wolf’ takes its title and chorus from the classic children’s game of tag but goes far deeper than a party tune. Ruia wanted to mark events in the 1980s that were a turning point for Māori, he told TV One in a documentary about his life.
The original inspiration for the song came from a sermon by T W Ratana’s daughter Te Reo Hura, tumuaki of the Rātana Church in the 1970s and 80s, who warned the people to beware of “a big bad wolf coming around with a big bag of money”.
That says Ruia, was her way of describing the era of Treaty of Waitangi settlements that were up ahead and the influence of commercialism.
“I wanted to use something familiar. There’s a line ‘Mr Daddy Longlegs climbing up to the ceiling where the sun don’t shine at all’ which is my way of acknowledging David Lange and the stance of keeping New Zealand nuclear free.”
In the video clip there are clear references to the 1977 occupation of Bastion Point; Dame Whina Cooper leading the 1975 land march to Parliament; the dawn raids on Pacific Island homes by police looking for overstayers (1974 to 1976); the opposition to the 1981 Springbok rugby tour, and Bob Marley arriving for his only New Zealand concert in 1979.
Marley had a huge impact on the Aperahama brothers and other members of Southside of Bombay and indeed Māori music in general. All up, says Ruia, ‘Mr Wolf’ is a celebration of a Māori reawakening and a marker in time that pinpointed significant changes. “I wanted to combine all these things in the song.”
For Ranea the song is timeless. “It is a personal reminder to keep tabs on the ‘time’.” To him, the Wolf is representative of Ihoa (Jehovah), the timekeeper signified by the clock on the Manuao, the main administrative, dining and function centre at Rātana Pā.
There’s also a large floral clock embedded in the grounds of the Rātana Temepara (temple) which cryptically points to three minutes to 12. “There’s a prophecy Ratana left behind regarding the clock and the twelfth hour,” says Ruia.
“It’s a reminder to hold on, in the last quarter, to the promise,” of better days ahead for Māori, says Ranea.
Southside of Bombay continued to play popular club and pub venues but hadn’t travelled far beyond Wellington, with “day trips” to Whanganui, Dannevirke, Pahiatua and Palmerston North in support of the single.
Further sessions with Morris at Marmalade Studios and supported by a Puatatangi (QEII Arts Council) recording grant resulted in the band recording ‘All Across The World/Puta Noa Te Ao’ (composed by Ruia) and ‘Changes’ (by Brent Thompson). Pagan Records released the songs as an EP in 1992 along with ‘What’s The Time Mr Wolf’ and ‘Say’ for added value.
‘All Across the World/Puta Noa Te Ao’ dipped into the Top 40 for a time and received NZ On Air funding for the video clip, produced once again by Bluck and Scullion. The song went on to win the band best Māori recording at the 1993 NZ Music Awards.
The horn section of Southside of Bombay, including the Aperahama twins, often joined Moana and the Moahunters, who were also making a bicultural mark on the music scene at the time by incorporating te reo in their songs. The band played alongside them and Upper Hutt Posse at the Gluepot in Ponsonby during the last week before the iconic venue was finally closed, in October 1994.
Kevin Hotu says Māori radio had a lot to do with the Southside of Bombay’s commercial success.
Kevin says Māori radio had a lot to do with the band’s commercial success. “That was an open market for us … and unfortunately, there were rarely bands to go and watch or to fill the gap in Māori radio. Most of the material being played in the 80s was either kapa haka or Herbs although by the late 80s or early 90s there was a whole movement of people wanting to hear and see Māori artists.”
He says Southside of Bombay was most popular where Māori radio was dominant: “Whakatane, Rotorua, Auckland, Tainui, Northland, Gisborne … very rarely did we go south.”
While ‘Mr Wolf’ and ‘All Across The World/Puta Noa Te Ao’ were hits on the network of 21 Māori Radio Stations throughout New Zealand, mainstream radio ignored them.
“This was the norm in the early 1990s,” says Teresa. “The lack of mainstream airplay didn’t surprise us but it was still really disappointing though, especially when the response out on the street and at our gigs was that New Zealand audiences loved the songs. Even five years later Apra was still reporting that only three percent of the music played on mainstream radio was made by New Zealand artists.”
Twins step aside
In 1993 Ruia and Ranea made a hard decision. Their father, Rapine Aperahama, was critically ill so the brothers opted to return to be with him at Rātana Pā.
“I wanted my two children to spend time and to know who their grandparents were and we’re grateful for that decision to this day,” says Ranea. “The band had to recreate itself. It was difficult for them to stay afloat, dealing with criticism and disappointment of not seeing Ruia or myself.”
Manager Teresa McGregor agrees. “The twins were a huge loss as they were so unique and talented. They were one of the main reasons everyone loved Southside of Bombay so much.”
With Ruia being the lead vocalist on the band’s first two single releases, other members had to front the band. “It wasn’t easy but SOB was strong musically, still had a good following, and our guitarist Joe was also a very talented singer-songwriter.”
Sales of Southside of Bombay’s EP which had sold steadily were starting to fade when Teresa asked Trevor Reekie at Pagan to follow up with Robin Scholes at Communicado about a new movie she’d heard about at a Māori music hui, based on Alan Duff’s book Once Were Warriors.
Trevor had seen a rough cut of the movie before the soundtrack had been added and believed there was a place for Southside of Bombay. After checking with Ruia, the go-ahead was given to license ‘Mr Wolf’.
When Once Were Warriors hit the cinemas in 1994 there were reports of people leaving in tears because of the traumatic events portrayed – but many left singing ‘What’s The Time Mr Wolf’. Pagan quickly re-released the song and this time around it received mainstream radio support and shot up the charts.
Resurgence in sales
The massive resurgence in sales and exposure saw Southside of Bombay in constant demand. Damon Grant was brought in on saxophone to keep up the big brassy sound. Other horn players included Stephen Butts, Mark Boyd and Damian Forlong.
Although Ruia and Ranea were no longer in the unit, their songs and dominant role in the video clips meant they were inseparable from the success of the band and the part it played in the indigenous Māori music revival.
In his 2003 book Ready to Fly, David Eggleton wrote that the band was extremely influential in bringing a brassy new sound to the capital city:
“If Wellington was the home of the best brass players in New Zealand rock in the 1980s, then some of the heaviest, funkiest, sharpest brass blasts around feature on the Ian Morris-produced ‘What’s The Time Mr Wolf’ – written by sax player Hareruia Abraham [sic] – with a horn section as colourful as a Rātana Church brass band. The song is an accurate indication of the band’s on-stage power – the rest of the band surging to meet the challenge laid down by the brass funkateers. Their signature song spent five months on the charts in 1994.”
The twins suggest everything is about timing, in music and in social change, and perhaps the earlier release faded for a reason. When ‘Mr Wolf’ resurfaced it was to widespread acclaim, but for Ranea and Ruia there were mixed feelings.
The band had mixed feelings seeing ‘Mr Wolf’ featured alongside the disturbing themes of ‘Once Were Warriors’.
Ranea says they watched the movie with family and friends. “You see the song presented twice, once in a rare time where Jake [Temuera Morrison as the disturbing “Jake the Muss”] is actually happy with his family in the car which was a pleasant feeling. The other time it’s playing is when he beats up a guy in the pub, so our feelings were as mixed as the themes of the movie … domestic violence, alcoholism and gangs.”
The movie soundtrack rapidly found its own niche, showcasing some of the country’s top indigenous talent with Tama Renata’s searing guitar instrumental as the undergirding theme, leading into tracks by Herbs, Ardijah, Upper Hutt Posse, David Grace & Survival, Gifted & Brown, Merenia and of course Southside of Bombay.
‘Mr Wolf’ was written in 1988 when New Zealand singles peppered the top 40: Holidaymakers, Tex Pistol, Ardijah, Crowded House and When The Cat’s Away. But when it finally shot up the charts six years later, funk-rock unit Supergroove was the only other local unit to make it onto the charts. ‘Mr Wolf’ went gold, becoming the second-highest selling New Zealand single in 1994, spending 25 weeks in the Top 40 charts and peaking at No.3.
Ironically Southside of Bombay’s most successful single has never received any New Zealand music awards. “Because it was a re-release it didn’t meet entry criteria,” says Teresa.
The Once Were Warriors soundtrack followed the success of the film overseas and was released in Australia, the United States and Europe. A promo video of ‘What’s The Time Mr Wolf’ was produced for international release, with the song receiving airplay in Germany, Brazil, South Africa, France, United Kingdom, United States, and Japan.