As a school boy singing Yardbirds covers in a South Auckland blues-rock group in the early 1960s, Clive Coulson could never have imagined he would one day audition to sing in that band or become a friend and road manager for two of its legendary guitarists, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck.
Coulson formed his first band, The Dark Ages, in Papakura after connecting with classmate Mick Sibley at Otahuhu College in 1964. He and Sibley, a lead guitarist who also played harmonica and sang, had a common interest in white boy blues music coming out of the UK.
They were soon joined by Vaughan Stephens on bass, Ian Thomson on drums and Darryl Keogh on rhythm guitar and vocals and moved into playing material by The Pretty Things, Downliners Sect, Rolling Stones and Yardbirds.
They managed to score work at South Auckland dances and socials and then latched on to the Auckland scene, playing Queen St clubs including the Top 20 where they became regulars alongside Larry’s Rebels, The Premiers and The Four Fours (later to become The Human Instinct).
The boys were emulating their heroes The Pretty Things in more ways than one with their long hair, unkempt look, couldn’t-care-less attitude and a bluesy rock repertoire that was louder and more left of centre than most bands of the time.
When UK industry wild boys The Pretty Things performed at Auckland Town Hall in August 1965, they were also booked for three lunchtime spots at the Top 20 with The Dark Ages as support.
Whether it was a tribute or a challenge no one knows, but when The Dark Ages went on they played Pretty Things covers including ‘Hey Mamma Keep Your Big Mouth Shut’ before the originators of those songs hit the stage.
The Dark Ages recorded ‘Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day’ with Bo Diddley’s ‘Cadillac’ on the B-side at Viking Studios in Newton Rd.
Ropey single pays off
“It was pretty ropey and out of tune really. It helped us in Auckland but didn’t get on any charts and we certainly didn’t do any TV shows because we were too long haired and a bit too outrageous,” said Coulson during an interview in 2003.
After working with rock greats Jeff Beck, Led Zeppelin and Bad Company, Coulson, on returning to New Zealand in the 1990s, discovered among his archives a copy of ‘Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day … ’ b/w ‘Cadillac’. It was unplayed and still in the Beggs paper bag.
He was surprised to discover it was such a sought after item. “I wondered who the hell would want to buy that but it went to an American collector for $US1,700. I’m told it’s the most expensive New Zealand single that’s ever been sold.”
After becoming an underground cult success at Auckland clubs and undertaking a North Island tour The Dark Ages struggled to stay together, eventually disbanding in 1966.
After becoming an underground cult success at Auckland clubs and undertaking a North Island tour The Dark Ages struggled to stay together, eventually disbanding in 1966. Mick Sibley went on to join the original Underdogs and Coulson found himself in demand as a show compere and a solo artist.
He was asked to join The Rayders, after they had recorded a couple of singles and spent time in Sydney. Following a short stint at Auckland’s Galaxie nightclub in downtown Auckland, they returned to their home base in Hamilton as residents at the Three Musicians Club, playing three nights a week and Sunday afternoons.
Coulson was on board for two further singles on Eldred Stebbing's Zodiac label in 1966: ‘It's All Over Now Baby Blue’ b/w ’Mother May I’ and ‘Working Man’ b/w ‘In Time’. When band members went their separate ways, he joined another popular Hamilton unit, The Mods, before leaving with his brother to join their parents in England in 1967.
He knew The Four Fours, who had changed their name to The Human Instinct on the ship to England in 1966, and had been given drummer Maurice Greer’s phone number by former Breakaways and Saints guitarist Dave Hurley.
Hijacked sound system
Coulson was welcomed into the fold by Greer and the band, and travelled around the traps for several months helping out as roadie and friend. His payment? “Fish ‘n’ chips and stuff.”
“They were one of the first Kiwi bands to have any real success over there, although I do remember watching TV and there was this Kiwi, John Rowles, with his woolly jumper on with sheep knitted on the front, obviously something his mum had made for him.”
When The Human Instinct returned home after their two years playing the circuit and recording a handful of singles, second guitarist Dave Hartstone remained behind. The deal was he would make the final payments on the Transit van and the sound equipment the band had nearly paid off because he owed them some money.
Hartstone, however, was close to skint and in a last ditch effort to keep his head above water, rang the shipping brokers, claiming the band owed money on the equipment and had one last gig to do to clear the debt.
He admitted in an interview in the late 1990s that he took the Transit down to the wharf to retrieve the Marshall amps, quad boxes and massive PA system to start his own sound hire business. International Entertainers Services (IES) was subsequently used by top name bands and concert venues through the rest of the 60s and early 70s.
Hartstone split the big stack of Marshall amps and PA to create two systems. “He’d hire a couple of drum kits and do the cabaret and pop bands and I’d do the others,” says Coulson, who now worked with him as a road manager.
He had some harsh words to say about the hijacking of The Human Instinct’s gear but admits his work with Hartstone, who had strong contacts in the UK music scene, kickstarted his career. “He was the first person to get into big PA systems and studio quality desks and actually hired an electronics designer to work with him to manufacture a sound board,” says Coulson.
In for a Free ride
The first international group Coulson worked with was Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band. “These American musicians were a little up themselves and the drummer in Captain Beefheart said to me, ‘I can’t use these Premier drums. I use Ludwig.’ ”
Hartstone rented The Human Instinct’s old Revox reel to reel recorder to Free, on which they first recorded ‘All Right Now’ and other songs.
Coulson, describing himself as a straight up New Zealander, said “Well if they’re good enough for Keith Moon then they’re good enough for you, you either use them or you don’t. He went very quiet and said … all right then.”
Coulson credits his ongoing success to “getting down and doing the business”. He got involved with the band Free while they were still rehearsing and writing songs. Hartstone rented The Human Instinct’s old Revox reel to reel recorder to Free, on which they first recorded ‘All Right Now’ and other songs that appeared on their first album.
Coulson said singer Paul Rodgers, guitarist Paul Kossoff, drummer Simon Kirke and bass player Andy Fraser were all rather short people and none had a driver’s licence. “No one could drive so there was me driving Human Instinct’s old Transit van around for their first tour with Alexis Korner. That’s how they got started.”
Hartstone hired equipment to Jeff Beck, including a C3 Hammond organ speaker box for his guitar. While working with the master guitarist and his band, which included Rod Stewart on vocals, Ronnie Wood on bass and drummer Cozy Powell, Coulson built up a friendship with his manager Peter Grant.
Grant had been managing the ever changing Yardbirds at the peak of their career. He has been described as “one of the shrewdest and most ruthless managers in rock history” and widely credited with improving pay and conditions for musicians in their dealings with concert promoters.
In 1968 when The Yardbirds finally dissolved, Grant began looking to rebuild what many thought might have been called The New Yardbirds, based around the remaining member, guitarist Jimmy Page.
Coulson, still thinking he might still earn more money as a singer than a road manager put himself forward. “After the audition I had to own up that I wasn’t really up to it.”
Grant and Page eventually pulled together Robert Plant on vocals, John Paul Jones on bass, John Bonham on drums and after completing some old Yardbirds contracts in Scandinavia, Led Zeppelin was born.
Meanwhile Coulson was back on the road working with a range of bands before joining Jeff Beck on a tour of the United States. Dave Hartstone had taken an interest in talented New Zealand guitarist and session player Doug Jerebine who later recorded the progressive rock album Guitar Absolution In The Shade Of A Midnight Sun under the name Jesse Harper.
A tape of this recording had a major impact on New Zealand bands The Human Instinct and The Underdogs over 20 years before it was actually released on vinyl.
Hartstone had recommended Jerebine as the bass player on Jeff Beck’s US tour but Coulson says it wasn’t the right combination. “He just didn’t crack it. He was too placid for Jeff and there was a lot of internal politics.” Beck sacked the band after only two shows in the US. “He wanted Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood back in.”
For Coulson however, the timing of that decision proved to be a game changer. He arrived back in London after Led Zeppelin had just finished their first tour and an opening appeared for a road manager.
Read Clive Coulson Part Two: From Led Zeppelin to Bad Company here
Personal interviews with Clive Coulson in 2002 and 2003
Interview with Dave Hartstone, 2000