Graham Reid | | 3 min read
Quite why the Pictones would record an instrumental enticingly titled Hashish back in '62 has long fascinated those who explore the less traveled paths of New Zealand music.
But when Elsewhere posted the track and opened up speculation (here), the answer was almost immediate. Dave Clarke the guitarist from the band – now 71 – got in touch to explain. But first, how did Clarke, who wrote Hashish, actually find Elsewhere?
Simple really: “Well, I stumbled on your site. I Googled 'Pictones'.”
Clarke tells me the band actually came from Palmerston North – not Levin as I stated – but they recorded in Levin and that's where he now lives.
As with most bands then and now, there were a number of line-up changes from their inception in “around about 1958, maybe '57” to when they split up in 1967.
“We used to play the supper extras, when the current band went to have supper we went up and played. They named us [the Pictones] at the Rainbow Room in Palmerston North which was above the opera house, because they had to call us something when they advertised us. He said, 'You've got picks, so we'll call you the Pictones'.
“I was about 17 at the time, I worked on my father's farm. Our band was our lives.”
The witty Clarke is taken aback by the interest in the Pictones (“I find this incredible, I'm overwhelmed”) who appeared on the Tala label (To Assist Levin Artists) “because I knew Wally Clark who was the owner of the Levin recording studios in conjunction with Levin Sound Center which was a retail outlet".
"Our first recording was Pistol Packin' Mama [which opens with the sound of horses hooves] and My Bonnie, and then Call of the Sea with Donna Reid, in '58 and '59.
“Basically we were an instrumental group and I was very much influenced by the likes of [Italian] Marino Marini Quartet and [country-jazz outfit] Grady Martin and the Slewfoot Five, it was magic, it was all rhythm. The [Martin band] were American and I loved their records. They were all rhythm and playing simple songs.”
Over time the line-up changed and eventually things “thinned out”.
“We had thrushes [women singers] like Sheree Locke [right]. We went on a North Island tour. Tala Recording Studios jacked up a tour in 1962 and it was our own tour. We recorded about five singles.”
And of course he doesn't have copies.
“My kids took care of all that. My daughters would say, 'Dad we're going to a party tonight, can we take your records?' and guess what?”
He's disappointed not to have a copy of their bossa nova-influenced single “Anna, with Zambezi on the other side, and I'd really love to retrieve that because that was a lot better. We did a lot of demonstrations all over the North Island promoting the bossa nova”.
As guitarist, Clarke's influences were the obvious ones: the Shadows, Ventures, Peter Posa . . .
“Gray Bartlett, my gosh. He's alright now but it took him a long time. But Peter Posa was dynamic. I listened to Chet Atkins and a little bit of Les Paul. I liked songs that were melodic.”
When the Beatles changed the direction of pop music in 1963-64 a lot of older bands, especially those which were fundamentally instrumental outfits playing dances, were sidelined.
But Clarke says “we just cruised on and accepted that and it was business as usual. Back in those days we were playing a minimum of three nights a week. We tried to keep up and we even wore Beatle wigs . . . although we had grey suits, that was the image we had. They were real hair, I've still got them. They're here in our music room.”
And he says “I'm still playing, My bird Rhonda has a magic voice and I write the songs . . . and we produced a CD last year”.
But of course what we want to know is . . . Hashish?
“Wally Clark who owned the recording studios said, 'Hey that sounds like a drunk person wandering around or a person on drugs' That's where the name came from. He named it.”
And of course being young fellows they didn't have a clue as to what it meant?
“No! No idea at all. We were so naïve. We toured with a female vocalist and if anyone suggested anything in appropriate they would have been dead meat. We were just kids.
“I played with the Satellites and a couple of nights with the Keil Isles when Olaf the guitarist was ill. Mate, they were magic days.”
And did he ever make any money out of music?
“Not a cent.”
Below: The Pictones who recorded Hashish; from left; Dave Clarke (lead guitar), Bruce O'Conner (piano), Trevor Harrison (bass), Brian Dredge (drums) and Colin Severts (rhythm guitar)