The story of Bouldah starts in 1973, when I returned to Wellington from the UK where I’d been playing in a band with two other Wellington musicians, Dennis O’Brien and Nick Theobald. I was looking for a gig here, and knew Desna Sisarich, a great singer-songwriter.
Desna was involved at that time with Ziggy’s, and her producer, Mike Le Petit, had the “house” band, Isis, at the club. She introduced me to him. He and Dave Orams, ex-The Breakaways and Quincy Conserve, were using whoever was available on drums, so I joined them as their regular drummer. Mike played Fender Rhodes, and Dave was on bass and vocals.
After some time, we decided it would be good to add a guitarist, so I asked Dave “Ned” Knowles, whom I knew from Dennis’ band before we went to the UK, to join Isis. Not long afterwards, Orams was offered a gig in Melbourne (allegedly with Little River Band) and Mike got married and moved to Christchurch to work in radio. Knowles and I got a couple of other guys, both called David, one an Australian singer, the other a local guitarist, to join us and we played as David for a while. We briefly called ourselves “Trevor” as well, just for the hell of it. But it was just a stopgap band.
One night, two rather raddled guys staggered into the club and we got chatting. Pat McKenna was a singer and Robbie Harper played bass. They were keen to play, so I asked them to become part of the new band, which I named Bouldah – sort of a play on “hard rock”.
I think we had two practices, and then we hit the stage as the new house band. A regular band was badly needed at Ziggy’s, so time was of the essence. We didn’t fanny about creating a flash repertoire, just pooled our respective knowledge of basic/classic/pop/rock and roll songs and tunes and cranked them out loud and fast. The game was on.
The guys were only too willing to dress up, spray our hair different colours every night, basically do whatever it took to be different.
When I left the UK, glam rock was all the rage – Mud, Sweet, Suzy Quatro, Roy Wood’s Wizard, etc. – so I had the notion to do something similar here. The guys were only too willing to dress up, spray our hair different colours every night, basically do whatever it took to be different to whatever else was going on here at the time. Of course, alcohol helped.
So we dressed up, had fun, played loud and fast and people began to come in droves to boogie all night. So it got looser, louder, crazier, faster and the punters loved it. Within a few weeks, we had a packed dance floor every night – they were actually standing and waiting on the dance floor for us to start playing!
Interestingly, there were never any fights at Ziggy’s when we played, just a heaving mass of bodies going like mad things while we massacred classic songs in our crazy repertoire. No matter what the song, we thrashed ‘em all to death at maximum volume and frenetic pace. I’m sure the sound quality was abysmal but the energy of the band was very high – we didn’t care how it sounded too much so long as people enjoyed it.
After a few months, we wanted to extend the sound a bit and Ned brought in a colleague from work, Dave Reid, on piano. Now we were five.
When we started playing at the club, we played on one of the side stages: when you walked into the club, to the left was a seating area and a bar (un-licensed, of course) and in front of that the dance floor; to the right of the entrance was a corridor that also led around to the dance floor. So facing the dance floor, to the left was a low stage and on the opposite side of the dance floor another low stage. At the far end overlooking the dance floor was a high balcony with tables and chairs. We played on the low stages initially.
One night we realised that the original multi-level stage that the Quincy’s played on was probably under the balcony. We demolished the balcony and there it was … fantastic! There was even the old band room alongside the stage, so that’s where we played from then on. It was cool to have the privacy of the band room, and we could get tanked up out of sight before staggering on to play!
By 1976, Desna and I had become a couple. We were knackered, what with both having fulltime day jobs as well as working the club for all hours. Ziggy’s took up all our spare time including most of Desna’s regular job salary – there’s no money in night clubs, folks! Not in those days, anyway, just lots of hard work. Malcolm was also a casualty, verging on a nervous breakdown, so we decided to call it quits and hand it over to other members of the “society”, who had up until then not really been involved much in running it at all. I left the band, and I think Roger Clarke stepped in. We heard the news some months later that the club had been firebombed, allegedly by rival club owners, and the entire city block burned down. Incredible.
It’s general knowledge that the club unsuccessfully relocated to the Trades Hall on Vivien Street after the fire. Bouldah staggered on, with Delatour Ranginui, an old band mate of Robbie’s from Levin, coming in on drums. It was never going to be the same, and quite soon it all just faded away. The original Bouldah did try to record a few songs at Radio New Zealand’s Bowen Street studios, but I never heard any finished product and have no idea what happened to the session tapes.
Pat McKenna - vocals
Roger Watkins - drums, vocals
Dave Knowles - guitar, vocals
Rob Harper - bass, vocals
Dave Reid - piano
Roger Clarke - drums
Delatour Ranginui - drums