Still, The Quincy were no copyists, and while their recorded output necessarily included a bunch of covers, their originals stand up as some of the best work by any New Zealand band of the 1960s or 1970s.
On top of that, The Quincy Conserve, in all their different line-ups with Malcolm Hayman the only constant throughout their reign from 1967 to 1975, were tight, musician’s musicians, a description that’s often been used as a backhanded compliment to explain the group’s lack of commercial success.
What I didn’t know back then, in the early 70s, was that Malcolm Hayman had already been an integral figure in New Zealand popular music for more than a decade. In fact, he arrived on the Wellington scene as a gigging musician in the mid-1950s, and it was blues, then the first rock and roll revolution, that turned his ear.
“Blues, because there was no real rock and roll,” said Hayman. “Bill Haley started releasing records about two years after I started playing. Before that, it was general blues stuff like Bill Doggett and Arthur ‘Guitar Boogie’ Smith. Commercial Negro music was the basis of it all, then the English started getting into it in 62, 63 with all their Mersey stuff, which influenced our guitar sound a bit, along with The Shadows, that sort of thing.”
Hayman’s pre-Quincy story deserves telling in full another time. What laid the foundations for The Quincy Conserve in 1967 was Hayman’s time in Australia, where he spent 18 months studying at the New South Wales Conservatorium of Music. “I worked with horns in Aussie, worked in a couple of clubs that had resident horn sections, big bands, the Channel 9 band I worked in for awhile. Everybody sits there and plays off the dots, and if it doesn’t sound right it doesn’t matter. I got into the arranging of horns, and when I came back from Australia, I had ideas of working with horns in a rock and roll sense."
Before returning, though, Hayman spent several years playing the cabaret circuit “through France, England and the New Hebrides.” In his book Stranded In Paradise, New Zealand rock historian John Dix claims that it was a bout of tuberculosis in New Caledonia that led Hayman to return to Wellington, but Hayman told me that he came home because his mother was supposedly on her deathbed. In 1986 Hayman said he regretted having come back to New Zealand: “Probably the worst thing to do. I should have gone and gone. But my mother decided she was going to die and I came back to NZ, but she didn’t die." Hayman's mother was still around in 1986, "doing rather well for a dying lady!”
Hayman’s return was a stroke of good luck. He brought with him skills that had been lacking in the popular music arena.
Whatever the truth – perhaps a combination of the two events – Hayman’s return was a stroke of good luck. He brought with him skills that had been lacking in the popular music arena: his years of experience leading bands had turned him into a rigorous professional, and his newfound skills as an arranger made him invaluable both to his own band, and as a hired hand.
In a time before organised music education for anything but classical repertoire, Hayman was a one-man school, finding the best players and pushing to get the best out of them. He was also renowned for being a somewhat fractious personality, and would fine his musicians for any misdemeanors. This aspect ensured the Quincy line-up was in constant flux. By 1975 Hayman was the last original member; musicians either left in a huff or, as with Bruno Lawrence, were unceremoniously fired.
“We were in a lucky situation [in the late 1960s]. We had a resident dance hall that has long since gone, and we were also the resident band for EMI for their recordings. We used to back everyone up – all the schmaltz singers, Suzanne, Craig Scott. We had the recording down here sewn up. We used to spend all day in the studio and all night at work, 12 to 14 hours a day, every day. There were [import restrictions] on US and UK records and of course Aussie and NZ groups started covering them.”
“So from 68 to 74, of my own band I [recorded] five albums and something like 14 to 20 singles, which was an awful lot of material for a band in a country of this size, plus covers and backing for other people.”
Even today, it’s hard to get one’s head around The Quincy Conserve, and its leader. On the one hand, for many years they were the go-to band at residencies in Wellington, and were so good they were employed to back visiting international acts like Millie Small, Clarence “Frogman” Henry and Sonny Til of The Orioles, and the supporting musicians for touring roadshows of pop stars including Allison Durbin and Craig Scott. On the other, they were central in turning Wellington into the core of the NZ recording scene in the early 70s, where various permutations of the group provided the musical backing for dozens of pop records. The group was even, as Hayman explains, the culprits behind those dire sound-alike hit compilation albums that once plagued the bargain bins:
“We used to turn out these Cindy [label] records. They were albums that had covers of everything on the charts in the States and that. They used to give you half a day to do a whole album, and you’d go in with three bands and mix guys up, use the drummer out of one, the brass player out of another. They were cheapie albums, with the top 10 on one side and the top 20 all over them. You just had to do these tunes with whoever you had available. They were pretty rough, you can imagine what they were like. They were the beginning of K-Tel Records. We’d fly people into the city, bung them in the studio, teach them three times through the number, then do it. Three and a half hours to do an album and it was on a 4-track tape recorder, so there’s no overdubbing, nothing. Bang it down, that’s it. Close enough’s good enough.”
It all started in late 1967, when Hayman scoured the country for the best players he could find to play a residency.
The relentless seven-night weekly residency, along with work backing pop singers, undoubtedly allowed Hayman to keep Quincy’s professional footing firm, and to nurture the style that they encapsulated on their own records, which still sound fresh today.
It all started in late 1967, when Hayman scoured the country for the best players he could find to play a residency at Wellington’s popular Downtown Club. The Quincy Conserve Mk1 solidified around bassist Dave Orams (The Underdogs), keyboardist Rufus Rehu (Quin Tikis), saxophonists Dennis Mason and Johnny McCormick (both Sounds Unlimited) and drummer Raice McLeod (after brief stints by Breakaways drummer/singer Bryan Beauchamp and Earl Anderson), although the line-up would weave a complex series of fluctuations thereafter.
The group’s first single, ‘I’m So Proud’ b/w ‘I’ve Been Loving You Baby’ was released through HMV in June 1968, and like all subsequent singles and albums, it reviewed well but was commercially inconsequential.
The first album didn’t eventuate until 1970. Listen To The Band featured the group’s best song, the Bruno Lawrence-penned ‘Ride The Rain’, but its tacky cover and unnecessary cover versions prevented it from becoming quite the classic it should have been. Lawrence had joined the band on drums, but his wayward, uncontrollable personality would quickly prove tiresome to disciplinarian Hayman, who sacked him after an infamous debacle at the Loxene Golden Disc Awards.
The group’s most consistent album is Epitaph (1971), which featured Hayman, Mason, Orams, Rehu and McCormick from Mk1 with the addition of drummer Richard Burgess (who would later, improbably, move to England and work with New Romantic groups Visage and Spandau Ballet) and trumpeter Barry Browne-Sharpe. Sadly, the album’s hugely enjoyable blend of jazzy funk (and brilliant tracks like ‘Aire Of Good Feeling’ and ‘Alright In The City’) failed to prevent its quick descent into bargain bins, mainly because the band had decided to break up before its release.
Hayman quickly changed his mind on the band’s demise, and reformed the group in 1972, and in 1973 the comparatively disappointing rock oriented Tasteful album was released to wide indifference. An attempt to capture the group live in the studio (albeit with no audience), it felt jaded, and lacked the inspired grooves and horn arrangements for which the band was famed.
In many ways, Quincy Conserve’s last, self-titled album, released in 1975, is their best.
In many ways, The Quincy Conserve’s last, self-titled album, released in 1975, is their best, with the stellar work of up-and-coming jazz musicians like Billy Brown (drums), Peter Blake (keyboards) and Rodger Fox (trombone) sending the sound in a very jazz-rock-fusion direction. Hayman’s vocals have evolved to reveal one of our best, most emotive stylists, and all the original compositions are first-class. Unhappily, this album has never seen the light of day on CD, nor have any tracks from it turned up on the two compilation CDs.
But in truth, the plug was pulled shortly afterwards, when a side project called The 1860 Band stole Quincy Conserve’s pub residency, leaving Malcolm Hayman high and dry without a band to front. Hayman ended his professional career with the rock group Captain Custard, where he seemed to retreat to playing for bucks.
When I spoke to him in 1986, Hayman was melancholy but proud of his group’s achievements in the recording studio. “It was a highly… personal thing. We got to the stage where we used to do a number, and if we put a number down that wasn’t what we wanted, I used to get a magnet and just wipe the tape off. I’m not going to sell that to the public, you know? It’s not what I want it to be. And they used to think I was a nutcase. I’d spend four or five hours in the studio doing a band track putting it all down, but if it wasn’t what I wanted, I had to go away and rethink it. And of course we had the ability to do that because everything we did sold well. They [HMV/EMI] would look and say ‘the last five records have sold well, he must know what he’s doing.’”
When Quincy broke up in 1975, it was the end of Hayman’s dream gig, but it had already been on the slide for a while. “I had a nine-piece band, and the money was phenomenal, but we had to earn two-and-a-half thousand per week to support the band. So slowly the band went smaller and smaller, and then soon the general basis of economics broke it up. The hotels started budgeting, cutting back. So it’s back to four-piece R’n’R.”
While he talked with admiration of his chums in Captain Custard, it was clear that Hayman missed his halcyon years in Quincy: “I find it limiting. I always like to do something I know can be done well, but I haven’t got enough instruments to do it, and therefore you compromise. I always feel compromise leaves something lacking and I don’t like to feel you can’t produce what you hear in here [pointing to his head]. It’s an expansion of something – I can hear this other instrument playing all the time, and it annoys me. You get frustrated with yourself. It’s not the ideal end to it all.”
Malcolm Hayman - vocals, guitar, arrangements
Dave Orams - bass
Johnny McCormick - saxophone
Dennis Mason - saxophone
Kevin Furey - guitar
Barry Brown-Sharpe - trumpet
Tom Swainson - drums
Graeme Thompson - bass
Peter Blake - keyboards
Geoff Culverwell - trumpet
Murray Loveridge - bass
Bill Brown - drums
Paul Clayton - guitar
Bryan Beauchamp - drums
Earl Anderson - drums
Mike Conway - drums
Peter Cross - trumpet
Harry Leki - guitar
Fritz Stigter - bass
Johnny McCormick and Dennis Mason amplified their saxophones by using old hearing aids as microphones.
The Quincy Conserve was named by Dalvanius Prime.