In his definitive 1989 overview of the 1960s Wellington scene When Rock Got Rolling, writer Roger Watkins calls The Bitter End “the Beastie Boys of the day”. Indeed, anyone you talk to who saw the band live tells of wild and raucous stage shows, played at some volume with an off-stage presence to match.
Their solitary release, the January 1967 single ‘Single Man’, an almost perfect R&B stormer on HMV, supports that.
The Bitter End were formed as The Portraits in Upper Hutt in 1965 by Peter Hall (vocals), Peter Raxworthy (vocals, lead guitar), James Dwan (rhythm guitar, vocals), Roger Knox (bass, vocals) and Allan Bateup (drums). They changed their name to The Bitter End shortly after. Supported by the flourishing youth club scene in the new Upper Hutt city, they drew inspiration from The Pretty Things, The Who, The Kinks and other British bands at the wilder end of the R&B explosion.
The band’s line-up changes – totalling 23 in three years – began early on when guitarist Dwan left and was replaced by Englishman Dave Longmore. This kicked off a mindboggling sequence of changes and members over the next three years including Ben Kaika (bass), George Barris (guitar), Glyn Mason (guitar, vocals), Dave Orams (bass, keyboards), Noel Koskella (bass) and Bruno Lawrence (drums) – who seems to have played with everyone in Wellington.
The Bitter End roamed widely in throughout New Zealand and garnered quite a national following, not least in Auckland where they drew strong crowds to their residency at the Galaxy.
Peter Hall remembers, “The Bitter End had a host of talent, much of it poached by Auckland bands like The Underdogs, Larry’s Rebels, Sounds Unlimited and even [Wellington’s] Quincy Conserve.” Hall was the only member to last the distance, and it was he (with Dave Longmore and Allan Bateup) who wrote ‘Single Man’ – released on the eve of their supporting The Animals on their New Zealand tour in early 1967 – backed by an energetic cover of Chuck Berry’s ‘Too Much Monkey Business’.
The Bitter End roamed widely in throughout New Zealand and garnered quite a national following, not least in Auckland where they drew strong crowds to their residency at the Galaxy. Their management, UBA, decided to send the band to Dunedin for nine months in 1966, a stay less than fondly recalled by Hall. “We were considered the next big thing, however management wanted a pop band, which we weren’t, and sent us packing to play in Dunedin in crappy venues.”
In 1967, the band backed former Howard Morrison Quartet star Gerry Merito on a provincial North Island tour. Peter Hall recalls that they sometimes had to sleep rough at maraes on the East Coast.
The raw R&B that had first given the band their live reputation mutated to a more soulful sound in 1967, with covers of Motown and Stax staples creeping into a more sophisticated set, coupled with a growing number of self-penned songs in that style.
Inevitably unstable, The Bitter End finally split in 1968, with Hall heading off to sea before finding his way to the group Train, who would hold a residency at Wellington’s famed Psychedelic Id, and Glyn Mason replacing Larry Morris in The Rebels before ending up with Australian 70s blues superstars Chain. George Barris and Dave Orams had already moved on to The Underdogs.
An album for HMV was half completed before the band broke up, despondent over lost opportunities and what they saw as gross mismanagement. The original and only The Bitter End single would become increasingly sought after over the years, with ‘No More Monkey Business’ appearing on several globally released garage compilations. At the time of writing, Peter Hall is still playing regularly in Australia, in a band with former Fourmyula and Human Instinct member Martin Hope.
'Too Much Monkey Business' was the title track of a 2015 collection of New Zealand 60s' garage bands issued by Universal in late 2015.
Peter Raxworthy - vocals, guitar
Peter Hall - vocals
James Dwan - guitar, vocals
Roger Knox - bass, vocals
Allan Bateup - drums
Dave Longmore - guitar
Ben Kaika - bass
George Barris - guitar
Dave Orams - bass, keyboards
Noel Koskella - bass