When it came time to choose between moving to Australia or disbanding in late 1974, Bulldogs Allstar Goodtime Band unanimously decided on calling it quits with a Christmas-New Year North Island tour. The thought of starting over across the Tasman was just too much to bear.
Bursting onto the national scene as the NZBC’s Studio One New Faces winners of 1973, Bulldogs scored two top five hits, released an album, toured relentlessly, were awarded recording artist/group of the year at the RATA Awards and the group award at the NEBOA Entertainer Of The Year and even performed for and met the Queen. They had nothing more to prove.
The Bulldogs story starts with singer Neil Worboys, who became interested in jug band music through his older brother, Brian, and had formed his own jug band, Stupid Cat Requiem, during his first year at Wellington Teachers College in 1970.
Worboys had learnt to play the harmonica while at high school and had access to the standard jug band fare available on Vanguard Records. He was a fan of Jim Kweskin & The Jug Band, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and could often be found scouring second-hand shops for old 45s and 78s.
At the end of 1971, having seen Stupid Cat Requiem at the Maranui Surf Club, drummer Brien McCrea, another trainee teacher, suggested to Worboys the two start their own jug band. McCrea had briefly been in The Leaders with guitarist John Donoghue but they split up when McCrea bought a surfboard with money the band had given him for a drum kit.
When McCrea ran into Donoghue in Cuba Street and told him of the fledgling jug band at the teachers college, Donoghue jumped on board.
Donoghue’s band Timberjack gained notoriety in New Zealand in 1971 when their cover of Black Widow’s ‘Come To The Sabbat’ was a finalist in the Loxene Golden Disc Awards. The film clip, featuring skulls, sacrifices and a nude girl, brought numerous complaints and eventual television and radio bans which resulted in Timberjack’s demise.
When McCrea ran into Donoghue in Cuba Street and told him of the fledgling jug band at the teachers college, Donoghue jumped on board as tenor banjo player. He soon brought along his bass-playing flatmate Paul Curtis, late of country rock band Farmyard whose ‘Learning ’Bout Living’, written by Curtis, had also been a Loxene Golden Disc finalist in 1971.
At the beginning of 1972, Neil Worboys met Kevin Findlater when he started at Wellington Teachers College. Findlater was a guitarist in rock band Horse, who had spent more than six months rehearsing a repertoire that ranged from The Kinks and The Rolling Stones to Jethro Tull and Uriah Heep. After hearing Worboys tear through some Joe Cocker songs, Findlater invited him to join.
A Kapiti Observer article of the time noted that new addition Worboys was “spreading his interests, and also singing with a jug band!” Besides Worboys (vocals) and Findlater (guitar), the rest of Horse were Tony Hooper (guitar), Peter Gapes (bass) and Danny Shaw (drums). After one rehearsal, one photo shoot and a gig supporting Taylor at the training college, they broke up.
Findlater and yet another teachers college trainee, Richard Egan, were then drafted in to the jug band, by now rehearsing in a prefab at the Karori campus. The original line-up featured four trainee teachers (Worboys, McCrea, Findlater and Egan) and two well-known Wellington musician/songwriters (Donoghue and Curtis).
Their early repertoire included songs from Worboys’ second-hand 45s and 78s, the odd vaudeville selection such as ‘Yes Sir, That’s My Baby’, some Frank Zappa and John Mayall and a few originals – one of which was ‘Miss September’, a song Donoghue had written for a previous band The Cheshire Katt.
They named themselves Bulldogs Allstar Goodtime Band after the bulldog insignia on McCrea’s washboard bicycle bell.
They named themselves Bulldogs Allstar Goodtime Band after the bulldog insignia on McCrea’s washboard bicycle bell – the “Allstar” was added for theatricality and “Goodtime” for the brand of music they performed – and started playing Wellington’s coffee bars, surf clubs, dances, pubs and parks. Midyear they were the support band for Australian pop star Russell Morris at a packed St James Theatre.
When John Donoghue and Paul Curtis departed for full-time band work in Auckland, Bulldogs acquired former Horse guitarist Tony Hooper to play tenor banjo and another trainee schoolteacher Brian Hayward to play tea-chest bass.
The band bought an old truck for $60 and organised a North Island tour playing university arts festivals and gigs in Napier and Wanganui as well as playing at Neil Worboys’ wedding. They appeared alongside BLERTA and even contacted the organisers of The Great Ngaruawahia Music Festival of January 1973 who said they couldn’t guarantee them a spot but they would try. Pitching their tent next door to Black Sabbath, Bulldogs were so well received they ended up going on twice.
With Worboys taking a teaching job in Nelson, Brien McCrea taking up a position in Wellington and Richard Egan being posted up north, Bulldogs Allstar Goodtime Band went into hiatus until the Easter long weekend when gigs were planned around Wellington, including The Western Park Tavern in Thorndon.
More comfortable behind the scenes than performing, Luther had set up his own production and management company, Mardi-Gras Music. Knowing full well the power of television exposure – Hogsnort Rupert’s ‘Pretty Girl’ was NZ’s highest-selling single of 1970 on the back of an appearance on Studio One – he encouraged Bulldogs to enter the show’s New Faces competition.
He booked time at Broadcasting House and the band recorded John Donoghue’s ‘Miss September’, with which they successfully auditioned for and then won their New Faces heat, scoring a national No.2 hit and gold record along the way.
They knew they needed a strong follow-up for the November final and Kevin Findlater thought he had something with the working title of ‘Downtown Night’. When he played it for Luther, the pair loved the verse but weren’t too keen on the chorus.
Luther had a song he’d carried around for a while where he didn’t like the verse, but the chorus lyric, “Everyone knows you’ve been such a good girl” was extremely catchy. They joined the two together and presented it to the band but realised it was lacking a bridge. “Well, I’ve got this refrain,” Tony Hooper piped up and the complete ‘Everyone Knows’ was born.
Having recorded the song, They fronted up to Studio One director Chris Bourn with a bicycle that sawed wood in time with the music.
Having recorded the song, they fronted up to Studio One director Chris Bourn with a bicycle that sawed wood in time with the music for the final choruses of ‘Everyone Knows’. Bourn loved the gimmick, the judges loved Bulldogs Allstar Goodtime Band and they were crowned New Faces winners ahead of a field that included an early version of Split Ends.
‘Everyone Knows’ peaked at No.3 and with Dave Luther now as manager, all but Brien McCrea threw in their day jobs and turned professional. McCrea was replaced by another of the Horse alumni Danny Shaw, who had been touring the provinces as drummer with 5th Movement.
1974 was a huge year for the band. They toured the North Island with Tiny Tim, performed for the Queen at the Royal Variety Charity Concert in Christchurch, toured with Kenny Rogers & The First Edition and English one-hit wonder Daniel Boone (‘Beautiful Sunday’) and released the album Bulldoggin.
In between there were tours under their own steam and with Shona Laing, Ebony and Steve Allen, sometimes playing up to three shows a day, including a secondary school, with the band doubling as their own roadies.
Brian Hayward returned to Wellington Teachers College and was briefly replaced by Bill Wood, who’d been part of The Hot Mumble Jug Band with Worboys in Nelson the previous year, before the return of John Donoghue on guitar, Kevin Findlater switching to bass.
Two more singles were released – the Tony Hooper-penned ‘Baby Get Out…!’ from Bulldoggin and Donoghue’s ‘Television Mama’ – and Bulldogs won RATA (Recorded Arts Talent Awards) and NEBOA (National Entertainment and Ballroom Operators Association) group awards before the inevitable talk of crossing the Tasman surfaced.
For Neil Worboys, the decision was easy. Married two years, he and his wife wanted to travel. The rest of the band agreed it was better to end it while they were all still friends than to face the grind of breaking themselves in Australia, so one last tour was undertaken, headlining a package that included The Yandall Sisters, Mark Williams, Rob Guest, Laurie Dee, Lew Pryme and Pizzazz, before going their separate ways in January 1975.
There was a reunion in name only in the early 1990s when Brien McCrea instigated recording tracks to raise funds for Ronald McDonald House Charities. A four-song Bulldogs Allstar Goodtime Band cassette was released as Upside Down World but the only Bulldogs involved were McCrea, Worboys and Findlater.
In February 1993 and the Christmas holiday of 1994-95, there were full reunion tours, with the band recording six tracks at Broadcasting House in 1993, including John Donoghue’s ‘Tokyo Rose’, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s take on ‘Hard Hearted Hannah’ and a Frank Zappa number from We’re Only In It For The Money.
Worboys had found the Zappa song on an Underdogs 45 from 1969. Much to the Underdogs’ dismay at the time, label boss Eldred Stebbing had refused to release the single under its actual title ‘Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance’, so it was put out on Zodiac as ‘There Will Come A Time’.
The Bulldogs recordings were used for a radio programme but never released. Until now, that is. At the suggestion of Dave Luther, the 1993 tracks and nearly the entire Bulldoggin have been painstakingly remastered by Kevin Findlater for release on The Very Best Of Bulldogs Allstar Goodtime Band, due at the end of 2014.
Apart from three songs – ‘Miss September’, ‘Everyone Knows’ and ‘Television Mama’ – on mid-1980s compilation Something Old Something New, shared with Hogsnort Rupert, it will be the first dedicated Bulldogs CD and the first time any of their tracks have been available digitally.
During the 1980s and again since 1995, Neil Worboys and Kevin Findlater have been members of Hogsnort Rupert alongside former Bulldogs manager Dave Luther.
Neil Worboys - vocals, harmonica, kazoo, mandolin
Kevin Findlater - guitar, bass, vocals
Brien McCrea - washboard, bongos, vocals
Paul Curtis - tea-chest bass, vocals
Richard Egan - vocals, jug, percussion
Tony Hooper - vocals, banjo, guitar
Brian Hayward - tea-chest bass, bass
Danny Shaw - drums, percussion, washboard
Bill Wood - tea-chest bass, bass