In 1973 The Kal-Q-lated Risk decided to shorten their name to The Risk. “We decided that The Kal-Q-Lated Risk, with the ‘Kal’ and the ‘dash Q’ had become a bit clumsy and old-fashioned – very much the decade before,” Coulter says. “People used to call us The Risk and we thought, ‘Oh, The Risk is quite a good name.’”
New name, new singles
EMI released two singles in 1973 under the band’s new name, both produced by Alan Galbraith. The first was a Coulter song, ‘21st Birthday Party’, backed with ‘River Road’. The A-side is a catchy pop-rocker, which sounds quite like Sweet – particularly the singing.
“That’s probably right,” Davidson says. “Sweet were very popular at that time. They toured here – they actually came to Palmerston North, while we were there – and they had hit after hit, so we probably were influenced by them.”
“I was in England in 1972 and that Slade/Sweet glam thing was everywhere,” Galbraith says. “That sound was almost all you heard in England. That was the sound I was looking for with The Risk – a local group that would do something of that nature. It was probably me, even unconsciously, driving them in that direction.”
Sweet were sitting down the back of the pub, with all their gear on, having a beer ...
“We weren’t into glam rock but, before we left to go overseas, Sweet and all those sorts of bands were big,” Hope says. “We had the high heels and a bit of the stuff that we’d bought in Sydney, but we didn’t do makeup. Sweet came and saw us play in Palmerston North, because they were doing a gig there. It was really weird. We were playing on a Wednesday night and there were about 50 people there, and we had our three-piece suits on because we were a pub band. Sweet were sitting down the back, on the way to do their gig, with all their gear on, having a beer.”
“I did actually go and see Sweet in Palmerston North,” Coulter says. “They were the loudest band I’ve ever heard – my ears rang for about four days after the concert. We did a few glam rock songs, like ‘Ziggy Stardust’. ‘21st Birthday Party’ was a little rockier than a lot of the stuff we’d done in the past. In retrospect, I think it’s an innocently naïve kind of song – but, hey, it is what it is.”
On ‘River Road’, the band’s backing track was embellished with saxophone.
“That would have been Johnny McCormick, from Quincy Conserve,” Coulter says. “The Quincy Conserve brass section tended to become session musicians for EMI, when they weren’t doing their own thing.”
Second single under the band’s new moniker was a two-minute sing-a-long shuffle called ‘Clap Your Hands’ backed with ‘Nikki Hoi’. The A-side had been a hit in 1960 for Canadian band The Beau-Marks and the B-side was a cover of a song from Flo & Eddie’s The Phlorescent Leech & Eddie album.
“Flo & Eddie had fantastic voices,” Coulter says. “Because the song was so left-field, we decided it should go on the B-side, as that would help balance the commercialism of the A-side. I remember some Jamaicans, or whatever, coming into the studio with their steel drums and playing on ‘Nikki Hoi’. We probably should have put an original song on one side of the record, but we didn’t. We did ‘Nikki Hoi’ on stage and the audience loved it.”
The band really hit their straps on 1974 single ‘Soul Singing Lady’ backed with ‘Bye Bye’ – both originals.
The band really hit their straps on 1974 single ‘Soul Singing Lady’ backed with ‘Bye Bye’ – once again produced by Alan Galbraith. Bob Coulter wrote both songs. The finished recordings exuded the sort of effortless, rock swagger that would have been right at home on the first and second Bad Company albums, which came out later in 1974 and in 1975.
“They were coming into their own, then, and they were starting to write more,” Galbraith says. “After Bob Coulter joined, I think they became more confident as a rock band, rather than a ballady pop band. They were certainly becoming more proficient and knowing more about what they wanted, rather than doing what I said – which is always good to see, as a producer. You like to see people make more of their own decisions.”
“Paul Rodgers and Rod Stewart were key singers at the time,” Davidson says. “I was always more a Paul Rodgers person than Rod Stewart. I fell into learning their phrasing and that type of thing. I’d been listening to Paul Rodgers for a long time, with that big vocal sound. It was all very big, stand-up, hairy-chest type singing. That’s what I was trying to achieve. A lot of work had gone into ‘Soul Singing Lady’. Robert had written the bones of the song and we would all try and get as much out of it as we could. It was a good, strong song.”
“Willie loved that kind of singing and he could belt out a rock song with the best of them, or sing something quite gentle,” Coulter says. “He was singing incredibly well by the time the band finished.
“We’d played ‘Soul Singing Lady’ live. It was a song we used to close a lot of the gigs with. Live, it was a pretty big statement, so it was a perfect finale for us. It’d been through a few machinations – it started life as a folk song and then eventually morphed into a screaming guitar, very heavy thing. I wrote the song about the lady who used to be in Vinegar Joe with Robert Palmer – Elkie Brooks. I’d seen them live and I was blown away by the band – by Robert Palmer and by her. We recorded that relatively quickly, once we went into the studio, because we knew it pretty well. It didn’t take a lot of experimenting. We knew exactly what we were going to do, and we did it.”
“It was a really good session,” Galbraith says. “The song was theirs, it sounded okay in rehearsal and when we opened up all the mikes and started recording, it just sounded so good – it was just so solid, right from the word go.”
Phil Hope’s stinging, melodic guitar playing is an integral part of the song.
“Yes, there’s some fairly gnarly guitar playing on that,” Coulter says. “Phil used to come up with some lovely, melodic lines. He would play different melodic interpretations of the same thing, until he settled on something that he would then play, because it was an integral part of the song. And that’s it, there on that recording.”
“Sometimes I played live through a Leslie cabinet that was mostly used with Hammond organ,” Hope says. “Around that time I was listening to songs such as ‘Badge’ by Cream and heaps of American stuff such as Three Dog Night. These guitar players achieved a fat sound at low volume, which was ideal for grumpy desk operators to record us live in a studio!”
Another great song recorded during the ‘Soul Singing Lady’ session, ‘Moonshine Wine’, was not released at the time. However, it was retrieved from the session master tape and included on a digital-only Kal-Q-Lated Risk Greatest Hits album, which was compiled by Chris Caddick and released in 2015. The song has a funky, country rock feel and, like ‘Bye Bye’, is a narrative song that conjures up images of the American Old West.
“I remember being very influenced by Bernie Taupin’s old Americana landscape lyrics for Elton John,” Coulter says. “Mine paled by comparison, but that’s where that came from. In the Palmerston North days, we were very into Leon Russell, Ry Cooder and Little Feat, and a whole pile of those American things.”
“In Wellington, around about that time, Little Feat were very big – much bigger in Wellington than in Auckland,” Galbraith adds. “Little Feat were idolised by a lot of Wellington musicians.”
Midge Marsden introduced Davidson and Coulter to a wealth of new music.
Midge Marsden introduced Davidson and Coulter to a wealth of new music.
“Willie and I used to head down to Wellington almost every Saturday night, after the Awapuni gig,” Coulter says. “On Sunday, we would head to Midge and Debbi’s small house in Taita to be schooled on the subtleties of Little Feat, Free, Leon Russell and many other fantastic bands and musicians we had never heard of. Both Willie and I agree that we can’t underestimate the importance of Midge’s input to the musical development of the band.”
Being well paid by Lion Breweries allowed the band to upgrade their instruments.
“The early HMV stuff was mostly recorded with a Les Paul copy guitar, crafted locally by Gerald Bull,” Hope says. “It had Gibson SG pickups fitted. It had a great sound. Unfortunately, it didn’t have a truss rod and it became unplayable, so I replaced it from 1972 with a ’62 sunburst Fender Stratocaster that I still play today. I found it in a second-hand shop in Otahuhu, Auckland. It was on its way to Zettwitz to be done up. I bought it for $210. It would have been worth about $400, if they’d done it up. Zettwitz did a whole lot of resurfacing and rewiring, but I wanted to keep it as it was.”
“When I started, I bought a Guyatone bass,” Coulter says. “It was an exact Japanese copy of a Gibson SG bass. And the reason that I wanted a Gibson SG bass, but couldn’t afford one in the very early days, was because Andy Fraser in Free played one, and I thought, ‘If I could get half the sound that he gets, I would be delighted.’ In 1972, I bought a Fender Jazz bass in Palmerston North, which I’ve still got to this very day. It’s a beautiful instrument, but I wish I’d never sold the Guyatone, because I think they’re a bit of a collector’s piece, now.”
“They were the nicest bunch of guys I’ve ever worked with,” says Alan Galbraith, who produced eight of the band’s 11 singles. “Everything about working with them was always extremely easy. There was never a drama about anything, we got on really well and there was mutual respect. It was a working relationship made in heaven, really. I would have been more than happy to keep working with them forever. They were talented, nice guys and it was a pity they didn’t go on to find greater fame.”
Off to England
An opportunity arose in 1974 for The Risk to follow in The Fourmyula’s footsteps and travel to England.
“We were asked to do a trip around the Pacific Islands on a Shaw Savill ship in 1971, which we did,” Coulter says. “Then they came back to us and asked if we’d like to go to the UK. We had just released ‘Soul Singing Lady’ at that point. We went on the ship to the UK, like The Fourmyula before us. You couldn’t really buy good band equipment in New Zealand, at the time, because of the whole import duty or ‘made in New Zealand’ thing. You could only get New Zealand-made Jansen or Holden equipment, and things like that. If you wanted good English gear, you had to go offshore to get it. So the intention, really, was to buy good gear in England, head back to New Zealand and carry on life as we had done.”
Prior to heading to the UK in April 1974, the band had had a succession of drummers.
“Steve Hudson didn’t work out, so we got Craig Nicholson in from Dave Kennedy’s band Link,” Carey says. “He was a nice guy, but that didn’t work out either.”
“Craig joined us for about three months,” Hope adds. “He did some recording. I think he played on ‘Soul Singing Lady’. It didn’t really work, though. We had good drummers, but they didn’t quite have the edge that we wanted.”
“We all thought we were better drummers than the drummer,” Carey says. “If they cocked up a beat, we’d have a word to them and tell them off. We were doing exactly what Peter Hitchcock was doing to us – they’d be sitting there, as nervous as. We then had another drummer called Rex McLeod, from Auckland. He’s a very well-known drummer up here now, with a drum school. We took Rex on and he was going to come to England with us, but that didn’t work out. We were desperate, so our good old back-up Barry Rushton did the trip to England with us on the Northern Star.”
“We got £2 each a day, playing on the cruise liner to the UK,” Hope says.
“It was a time that the band felt connected again,” Rushton says. “The trip was five weeks long and we were scheduled to play a short set during lunchtime, then a longer set in the evening. It seemed as if the band had passenger privileges, as well as being regarded as part of the crew – we used to go down to the crew’s quarters on occasions and play a set for them.”
“At that point, my kind of influences were people like Free, Steely Dan and the Eagles, I suppose – it was kind of more educated sort of rock, rather than heavy for the sake of heavy,” Coulter says. “We considered ourselves relatively good musicians who could play all sorts of stuff, which is what you have to do if you’re playing in New Zealand. You go somewhere and you play country music, and you go somewhere else and you play whatever.
“When we went to the UK, we went and saw a few bands that we’d admired from afar and, to our consternation, most of them, live, were hopeless – or, we considered them to be hopeless. In fact, we thought we were a lot better than many of them – as a live act. And that wasn’t just ego, it was us looking at them and going, ‘We could blow these guys off the stage.’ So we thought, ‘We really should have a crack at it.’”
“When we first got to England, Bruce and Suzanne Lynch [who were working for Cat Stevens] very kindly put us up in their house in Fulham Palace Road for a week,” Carey says.
“Barry Rushton did the trip over and then left,” Hope says. “He just helped us out getting over there. He sold his drums and then flew back.”
Rushton’s wife had had a baby while he was on the ship. Although Rushton knew he’d be absent for the birth, he agreed to do the trip to help the band get to England.
“We arrived in England and decided, like the Vikings, that the best way to attack England was from the south,” Coulter says.
“We arrived in England and decided, like the Vikings, that the best way to attack England was from the south,” Coulter says. “So we based ourselves in Cornwall, in the south of England. We recruited a good Scottish drummer, Ian Kennedy, but we realised that he wasn’t going to see the distance. We were improving a lot more quickly than he was. When we went back to London, we auditioned and got Bob Millar,” who’d been with Supertramp from 1970–71.
“We were in St Columb Minor, a beautiful, quaint town near Newquay, in Cornwall,” Carey says. “We went down for a summer season. We were consolidating our sound and we had regular work. Believe it or not, we played in those Butlin’s holiday camps, as well as pubs.”
“We played at a holiday park called Trevelyan,” Hope adds. “The DJ there was a guy from Dunedin named John Barry. I think his partner was Lesley, another Kiwi! It was funny how things fell into place, like that.”
Back in London, the band recorded several songs for a publishing company in Denmark Street, London’s Tin Pan Alley, but didn’t sign with the company. EMI also gave the band some studio time. Then Bob Coulter approached an old acquaintance, John McCready, who’d worked at Phonogram in New Zealand, in the early ’70s. At the end of 1973, McCready had moved to London to work for Phonogram UK. By late 1974, he’d joined Decca, as Pop Music Marketing Manager.
“He signed up Shona Laing and a whole pile of people like that, in the early ’70s,” Coulter says. “So I rang him up and he remembered the band.”
McCready arranged an audition with Decca, but otherwise remained at arm’s-length. The band spent two days in July 1975 recording an audition tape of original songs with Decca house producer Nick Tauber, who’d previously worked with Thin Lizzy. Decca pressed a seven-inch ‘advance recording’ acetate of two of the songs from the audition session – ‘Soul Singing Lady’, arranged much like the New Zealand recording, and a breezy new song called ‘Miles Of Smiles’.
“About four days later,” Coulter says, “we got a phone call saying, ‘Brilliant, guys. We want you to come in to sign a recording deal.’”
At that time, Bernie Carey was still managing the band.
“That was a mistake,” Carey says. “You can do it in New Zealand, but when we went to England, I was still doing it. It was wrong.”
Decca wouldn’t sign the band until they had a manager on board and helped the band find one.
“Decca brought down a guy called Cliff Cooper to see us play,” Coulter says. “He was the man behind Orange amplification equipment.”
Cooper was managing John Miles, who had hits ‘Highfly’ (No.17 in the UK, in October 1975) and ‘Music’ (No.3 in March 1976), with Decca. A decade earlier, Cooper had played bass and sung in The Millionaires, releasing a Joe Meek-produced single, ‘Wishing Well’, on Decca.
“So we signed up with him and we signed the deal with Decca to do an album,” Coulter says. “We got paid a £30,000 advance, which was big money in those days.”
By now, the band had been in the UK for the best part of two years. During that time, the band’s sound and songwriting had continued to develop. Their musical style had become more refined and laid-back.
“We were probably slightly more into that American sound with harmonies, like Steely Dan – more musical, with an American flavour to it,” Coulter says.
In fact, the band had spent three months in Rota, a small fishing village in Spain, playing the clubs on a large American naval base, nearby. They played to sailors, who demanded hard rock; to junior officers, who wanted to hear Stevie Wonder and Fleetwood Mac songs; and in the officers’ club, where country music ruled.
The band’s name – The Risk – was discarded in favour of Biggles
Cooper didn’t like the band’s name, so The Risk was discarded in favour of Biggles – Weta had also been considered. Biggles recorded the album in mid-1976, at Decca #2 Studio in Broadhurst Gardens, London. The album was produced by Nick Tauber and engineered by Graham Meek and Nick Raymonde.
“Graham Meek was a massive Eagles and soft-rock fan,” Tauber says. “He was very suitable for them.”
No expense was spared. Respected session musicians Vicki Brown (backing vocals) and Ray Cooper (percussion) were brought in. Noted Irish composer and arranger Fiachra Trench provided orchestration, which was played by the London Symphony Orchestra, and additional instruments were brought in for the band to use.
“It was the first time we’d used a Martin acoustic guitar, and they got a Les Paul in there for me,” Hope says. “They had a Fender Rhodes piano brought in, and we didn’t have any of that. If we wanted it, we got it and it was a good studio.”
Garth Young had orchestrated some of the band’s early singles. Now Fi Trench – who would later write arrangements for Van Morrison, Boomtown Rats (including the strings on ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’) and The Pogues, and compose many film scores –had been brought in to embellish the new material. Did the two arrangers interact with the band?
“Garth Young worked totally separately,” Carey says. “Fi Trench did, too. Even though he was kind enough to invite me and one or two of the others along to watch, I had nothing to do with the arrangements. I was just lucky enough to see how he did it and he was polite enough to say, ‘This is what I’m going to do here. What do you think about bringing the strings in here?’ He was such a neat guy, too – this lovely Irishman.”
“We went into the studio one morning and the arranger, Fi Trench, was going to conduct the string section [and part of the brass section] of the London Symphony,” Coulter says. “We were very excited to go in and watch. There were all these people, about 20 of them, sitting in this huge studio. They were all reading the paper and smoking cigarettes. Not one of them had their instrument out.
“Fi comes in, taps on the sheet-music stand in front of him, and they all put their cigarettes out and papers down, pick up their violins and cellos, and then play this whole backing piece that he’s arranged perfectly through once. I was just gobsmacked.”
After recording the backing tracks, the band went out on the road, supporting John Miles on an eight-theatre tour of the UK, in late May and early June 1976. The opening show was in Glasgow in the north and the final show was in Southampton in the south. The penultimate show was at London’s Hammersmith Odeon.
“It was very exciting,” Davidson says. “I’d been to the Hammersmith Odeon so many times to see groups I wanted to see. I was quite overcome by the whole thing, really. But I think we held our heads up and we played well, and got a good response as the opening support act.”
“The guys from Queen came to watch – not just us, but John Miles,” Coulter recalls. “One of them popped his head into the dressing room and went, ‘Fantastic sound, guys.’”
“There was a party afterwards at a club in the West End,” Davidson says. “We met the Queen guys there and the piano player [Morgan Fisher] from Mott The Hoople. He was quite a character – nattily dressed and with a pencilled moustache.”
After the tour, the band returned to the studio to complete the album. The finished album of all-original material sounded remarkably fresh and classy. There’s a very even quality to the songs across the album and it grows in stature with repeated listens. Some of the songs sound reminiscent of the type of music that Little River Band would make in years to come. All five musicians shine, none more so than Bernie Carey, whose keyboard playing is central to the album’s sound. Carey himself regards Phil Hope as “the top musician in the band.”
“Phil Hope was the one in the band, that I noticed, who blossomed the most in terms of his playing ability,” Alan Galbraith says. “He was the one who improved out of sight. But I think Bernie Carey’s musicality was central to what we were doing, even though his keyboards didn’t always feature that much. He, musically, was the one who seemed to be holding it together, for me.”
Two of the album’s 10 songs, ‘Waiting On You’ and ‘Soul Singing Lady’, had previously been recorded in New Zealand. The UK recordings sounded radically different, with ‘Soul Singing Lady’ now stretching to nearly six minutes.
“We changed both of them quite dramatically,” Coulter says. “We took ‘Waiting On You’ and dismantled it, and rebuilt it. ‘Soul Singing Lady’ became slower, not the big rock epic that it was, and Vicki Brown joined Willie on the English rendition. It’s a much more laid-back, cruisy, still rock song in the UK. Through its transformation, it probably lost a little bit of its commerciality, I suspect.”
Producer Nick Tauber has fond memories of working with the band.
The UK album was very American, “like a cross between the Eagles, Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers”
“I loved it,” Tauber says. “I loved the guys. They were really good players and the songs were really cool. It was a really, really good record. It had so much potential. It was very American – like a cross between the Eagles, Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers. It had all that good influence.”
The album title was There’s No Mouse In The House, after a line from one of the songs, ‘Lazy Love’. Decca pressed ‘factory sample’ acetates of the finished album and received good feedback from its American affiliate.
“Decca had sent a copy of the acetate to their American affiliate Capitol and Capitol were eager to release it – they thought it was fantastic for the American market,” Coulter says.
However, all was not well in the Biggles camp. In hindsight, Bob Coulter thinks the band had too much influence in the studio.
“Nick Tauber was a perfectly competent producer, but because we were pushy little shits, we probably bossed Nick around a bit, which we shouldn’t have been able to do,” Coulter says. “In many instances, we got our way, and I don’t know whether we should have.”
“Yeah, that’s probably true,” Tauber says. “They were just a little too smart for their own good. I know so many musicians like that. When you’re young, you think you know everything.”
There was friction within the band over the prominence of some instruments in the final mix and Fi Trench’s orchestration became a point of contention. Much of Trench’s orchestration had been left off the final mix. What remained were strings and brass on ‘Soul Singing Lady’, flutes on ‘Shoot ’em Down’ and a stunning string arrangement on ‘Cross Point Of View’.
“Fi scored the whole album,” Davidson says. “When it came back to us, it was just so overpowering, we couldn’t believe what he had done. But the majority of us didn’t particularly like it, because we saw ourselves as a rock and roll four-piece band with a singer, doing basic stuff. But Bernie was very upset about that, because he loved everything Fi did. And I would love to hear that now I’m older and mature, because I’m sure he did a fantastic job.”
“I was devastated, when I heard the mix,” Carey says. “A few songs Fi arranged weren’t brought into the mix at all. We needed to realise that we were the shell or the skeleton that other musicians were interweaving with. But the guys didn’t see it that way. You look at Cat Stevens, who we were rubbing shoulders with, or even the Moody Blues, who were recording in the studio above us at Decca, and came to sit and watch us. When we went into Cliff Cooper’s office, he said, ‘Why didn’t you bring up the strings and all the orchestration. What have you done?’”
Cooper played the album to Mickie Most, producer of acts such as The Animals, Herman’s Hermits, Suzi Quatro and Hot Chocolate – and owner of RAK Records.
“Mickie Most said, ‘I think this is a fantastic album, but it doesn’t have a hit single on it. You need to have a single and I don’t hear one,’” Coulter says. “Mickie Most made a comment about the production, as well. He said, ‘It’s fine, but you should get a name producer. These guys would really benefit from some really good production.’”
“That’s typical of Mickie,” Nick Tauber says. “That’s exactly how he judges things. I know Mickie – he was brilliant. He was a hit man – a singles man. It all had to be about singles. In the ’70s, it wasn’t all about singles. It was a lot about the sounds and the feel, and they had a great feel, that band. I just think what they needed to do was get their heads around the fact that it was like that. There were bands out there like Steely Dan. Although they had a few hits, they didn’t have a lot. It wasn’t all about hits, it was about the albums.”
Based on Mickie Most’s advice, Cooper decided the band would redo the album.
Based on Mickie Most’s advice, Cooper decided the band would redo the album. It was agreed that Elton John’s producer Gus Dudgeon was the man for the job, and the band waited for Dudgeon to become available.
There were also disagreements within the band about songwriting credits and concern from Coulter about Cooper’s proposed publishing arrangement, which was for the band to sign over the publishing to Cooper – without an advance. This ran counter to advice Coulter had received from Australian-born friend John Farrar and from the music publishing company the band had earlier recorded a demo with. The publishing company told Coulter, “We’ll give you £25,000 to sign the publishing to us.”
“That was really the first big fracture in the band,” Coulter says. “I signed with Cooper under some duress, really. I realised we probably weren’t going to be a band if I didn’t sign.”
Cooper had wanted the band to stop gigging until the album came out, when he planned to put them in bigger venues. But when the wait for Dudgeon stretched to several months with no end in sight, the band did resume playing at pubs and clubs in London.
“We sort of ignored Cliff’s instruction not to play live,” Hope says. “The situation went on for about six months. We played at the Greyhound and places like that – and at the Marquee. But we weren’t regularly gigging. Some of us had got day jobs. We got used to having a bit of money. When you don’t have money for two-and-a-half years, and then all of a sudden you’re getting money again, it changes your whole outlook. You begin to think, ‘Maybe we won’t rehearse quite as much or maybe we won’t do any gigs,’ and that can sway you into not doing anything.”
Members of the band saw Split Enz play in 1976, soon after they’d arrived in the UK to record their second album with Phil Manzanera.
“Most of the record companies in London were there at the Marquee to see this group,” Davidson says. “And they blew everyone away – they were just so good. They were so entertaining and so different. The people there were gobsmacked.”
The broader musical landscape was changing at the time, and enthusiasm and confidence within the band began to wane.
“Bob Marley was there and the Sex Pistols were just starting,” Hope says. “We were kind of like Supertramp without the sax. It wasn’t boring, but it was very sedate music. It was very studio orientated. The Bob Marley stuff was very live, the Sex Pistols were really live, and the punk thing was just beginning to happen. Our music didn’t really look like it was going to be in the charts – it wasn’t going to be earth-shattering.
“That was the difference between us and Supertramp. They could have all these amazing albums, and then they could also write a really good, three-minute pop song. But I think if we’d done more gigs and been out on the road, we would eventually have re-arranged the songs to be not quite as long or drawn-out, or got the beat a little bit stronger, or put more hooks in there.”
“It was disappointing and no one really wanted to do the album again,” Davidson says. “We’d spent the summer of ’76 recording the album. In those days you spent a lot of time doing an album. It was a long process. But it was great. Decca was paying us £70 pounds each a week to do this, which was great money. It really felt like we were onto something, and on our way. In a lot of ways we just couldn’t bear to go back in and do it again. I’m sure we would have, but for some reason we just ran out of strength, I think.”
“After a while, we were starting to run out of money,” Coulter says. “Months went by and there was no sign of Gus Dudgeon or, in fact, any producer. I said to the guys, ‘This is my worst nightmare. We can’t do anything. Our publishing is with this guy, our management is with this guy and our recording contract is with this guy. We are tied up.’ We eventually said to Cliff, ‘If you don’t have a recording date absolutely guaranteed by this day, in this month, in three months’ time, we’re breaking up,’ because we didn’t have any money. My marriage had broken up. There were casualties starting to happen.”
Cooper wasn’t able to meet the deadline and the band did break up; the musicians were still only in their mid-twenties .
Six years earlier, The Fourmyula had recorded an album, Turn Your Back On The Wind, in the UK for Decca – it was not released until 2010. Sadly, the Biggles album recorded for Decca in 1976 has yet to see the light of day. However, the album’s two quarter-inch master tapes and a further seven two-inch multitrack tapes, which would include Fi Trench’s orchestration not used in the final mix, still exist. The tapes are being stored in Universal Music’s archive, leaving open the possibility of a belated, but well-deserved, release.
Phil Hope and Willie Davidson returned home in 1977, while Bob Coulter and Bernie Carey stayed on in the UK for some years. Coulter worked for a drinks company owned by Pernod Ricard and Carey continued his classical music studies in London.
“We’d just had enough, really,” Phil Hope says. “A couple of the guys had work visas because they had British grandparents, but a couple of us had to leave the country every six months and then come back in again. Around that time, my partner’s father got sick and there wasn’t much happening with the band, so we thought we’d come back here. We were there from 1974 to about half-way through 1977.”
Phil Hope continued with music back in New Zealand and worked in the film industry, processing celluloid film.
Willie Davidson works for a government department and plays music at the weekends with jazz trio Bare Essentials.
“I came back here to Dunedin,” Davidson says. “I got a day job, and straight away was back into the music, at the weekends, playing with old friends. So I’ve always been involved with music at the weekends, playing pubs and clubs, but I never went back professional.”
The final word goes to Bernie Carey, who regarded the band’s UK experience as an opportunity lost but now sees a silver lining: “In actual fact, it was the best thing that ever happened to us, but, at the time, you couldn’t see it.”