Davidson was still in bed, no real surprise to Horsham and his mate, drummer Jim Pullan. Davidson was a night owl familiar with the nocturnal delights of the beat and folk scene in the capital.
With Davidson collected, Charlie pointed the truck back around the harbour to the Hutt Valley suburb of Naenae, into the epicentre of post-war state housing.
They snared Davidson, a budding R&B bassist, in late 1965 through an ad in the Evening Post, and he slotted right in with vocalist Horsham, former folkie guitarist Rick Squires, and Pullan. They were an odd bunch, but there was a chemistry there that they hadn't felt with The Cavemen (Pullan and then bassist Horsham's Beatles-influenced practice room outfit from 1964 and 1965).
Friends Lyn Eathorn, Jim Hussey, and Bruce Fraser had fallen away from the band, though Fraser in particular would remain close, providing many obscure R&B covers for them to play.
They quickly discovered a knack for original compositions, jamming away for hours on one riff in the slow prowling folky blues style that became their own. A tape survives, recorded on reel-to-reel in Squires’ parents’ front room by his boffin brother. Amongst the stops and starts, songs grow steadily, feeling their way out from within, anchored around Davidson's big bass and Pullan's pared-down beat, as Horsham's voice grows steadily louder and more confident.
By the time they first played outside home, in June 1966, they were The Dead Things, a name that came courtesy of Jim Davidson and his interest in things black and Gothic. Appropriately the venue was The Tomb at the YMCA Hall in Treadwell Street in Naenae. In their set were 'Bald Headed Woman', 'Mama Keep Your Big Mouth Shut', 'Roadrunner', 'Big City', 'Moon Is Rising', some Stones, Downliners Sect, Yardbirds, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, very little hit parade stuff, mainly album tracks, B-sides, and their own songs.
They were playing most weeks in church hall dances around the Hutt Valley, and by late 1966, were beginning to score some slots with Tom McDonald's United Booking Agency. They played with fellow Hutt Valley R&B band, The (City) Derelicts, and with The Gremlins at the regular ‘Danceland '66’ spot at Taita Intermediate School. The (City) Derelicts were one of number of Hutt Valley R&B bands who preceded the Dead Things onto the live scene; others included The Bitter End, The Selected Few and The Roadrunners. Some were good mates and gear sharing was common.
Restless teens, with money in their pockets, in a low income housing area … it was perfect R&B turf.
In the Hutt Valley willing fans were many. In addition to the high school baby boomers, there were those who had left school to find plentiful jobs in the large industries that dotted the valley: the Petone Freezing works, amongst others.
Restless teens, with money in their pockets, in a built-up manfacturing and low income housing area … it was perfect R&B turf that Davidson compared to the city that birthed those electric sounds. "It was the same as Chicago, and with the industrial jungle, you got the hard edge music."
Not that everyone was sympathetic to the stylish long-hairs in their midst. Horsham: "We were amongst the first people around the Hutt Valley to grow our hair long. We'd get pulled up by police and they'd say ‘we're gonna get you’. There'd be people wanting to fight you so you had to be careful. We'd have to go out in disguise at night. At work [Horsham is a plumber], guys were offering to help my father hold me down to get my hair cut." Horsham's parents didn't take up the offer.
In a bid to fill out their sound, The Dead Things recruited Roadrunner hanger-on George Barris to play rhythm guitar in late 1966. Barris was one in a long line of short-term members and the only one to stick. The highpoint for the Dead Things was just around the corner. They entered the Wellington Battle of the Bands (later called the Big Beat Band contest) in early 1967 at UBA's regular ‘Danceland '67’ spot at Taita Intermediate School. First up they encountered The Intruders, The Phantoms and Tom Thumb. They won thanks to a riveting performance and their Hutt fan base.
Davidson remembers: "There were a lot of bands playing what we were playing, but not with the same demented intensity as us. Charlie was an uninhibited singer although basically shy and gentle. If the music didn't take him he'd go through the motions, but when he fired, he'd go off his bean bag." Horsham was also the best harp player around.
Tom Thumb bassist Rick White remembers the Dead Things: "They were content to be left-wing and alternative (like varsity bands these days) and not play all the time. They had no interest in being pro or pretending to be pro."
Dead Things’ Jim Davidson: "Rick White, he thought he was part of that R&B thing, but really he was a pop star, and when R&B stopped being pop so did he. We always kept the fire, that's why we never did weekend residencies." Rick Squires puts it down to not having the “nonce” to get the gigs.
But before we descend into the depths of the purist vs pop vs pro argument (they all seem to agree it's about an attitude), let's head back to the Hutt where The (Dead) Things have progressed through the heats to the grand final of the Big Beat Band contest — knocking off both The Selected Few and The Game on the way. The contest was down to The Things, The Suburban Mudd, and The Soul Sect and had moved up to the larger Lower Hutt Town Hall for the grand final.
Jim Davidson sets the scene: "When they threw a battle of the bands it would be chocka, and they'd be as many kids outside as there were inside." And there were 2,500 kids inside. Hutt Valley kids. No wonder The Things won. Their prize was £25 and no fee for the heats. Typical.
On the back of their Hutt Valley success they were playing at Napier and Wanganui, and at big band jamborees in Porirua and Lower Hutt with The Avengers, The PleaZers, and Sounds Unlimited, and in the city, playing The Place, Pedros, and the new Montmartre Lounge, a coffee lounge off The Place.
They were more often than not billed as The Things, to avoid offending punters. Promoter Ken Cooper ran this blurb in his live ad for a Dead Things show: "They were the Dead Things, but after their crowd-stopping performance last weekend we are proud to present the way-out blues sound of the Liveliest Ones (!?)." After a confrontation with Cooper they were soon back to being billed as The Things.
It was summertime, and the city had emptied out and gone on holiday to the South Island resorts of Nelson and Motueka, so it was only the lucky who got to witness The Dead Things. A Squires-devised sticker campaign had Pete Sinclair touting that Things Are Happening. But those who did see them would have been greeted with an unlikely sight.
Charlie Horsham: "We used to do this thing called Punjab Blues. We'd sit down and do it. Improvise a lot. Ricky liked picking. He was basically a folk guitarist and could make it sound like a sitar." Sounds like the onset of psychedelia. We'll the leave the boys there.
In Easter 1967, the Dead Things disbanded after playing their last show at the Upper Hutt Youth Club. Rick, Jim, and Jim would later reform as The Train to play a residency at the Psychedelic Id in late 1967. There was a one gig reunion in 1980 at Victoria University as Sibannac, but that was it. Dead and gone.
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