Originally the lead guitarist in The Saints – Maurice Greer’s mid 1960s Palmerston North group (for more on Greer see The Four Fours and The Human Instinct) – Doug Rowe shifted with Peter Nelson and The Castaways to Auckland then Sydney where they had a sizeable hit with ‘Skye Boat Song’.
Cast adrift in mid-1968, Rowe formed The Flying Circus with James Wynne (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Bob Hughes (bass, vocals) and Colin Walker (drums) favouring a country/ folk/ rock sound. Signed to EMI's Columbia label, their first two singles – ‘Hayride’ and ‘La La’ – were “bubblegum pop” hits in 1969. Better still was December’s Rowe-penned ‘Run Run Run’, produced by fellow Kiwi Mike Perjanik, who’d also made the move across the Tasman.
In July they released their second album, Prepared In Peace, and won the National Grand Final of Hoadley’s Battle of the Sounds.
Other members included Greg Grace on vocals and harmonica, and bassist Warren Ward. Both quit the band in 1969. Ward was replaced by Terry Wilkins (formerly of Starving Wild Dogs) and Greg Grace returned in 1971.
In 1970, another New Zealander and former member of Starving Wild Dogs joined, lead guitarist and pedal steel player Red McKelvie. He pushed the group further towards the country sound evidenced on the 1971 Frontier EP.
In July they released their second album, Prepared In Peace, and won the National Grand Final of Hoadley’s Battle of the Sounds in Sydney.
McKelvie departed in October and followed his own eventful trajectory through the Australian music scene. Sam See (Hammond organ, guitar) replaced him as the group recorded their third album, Bonza, Beaut & Boom Boom Boom, consisting of all group originals. Two singles were lifted, but fared poorly in the pop charts.
Frustrated by their enduring pop image in Australia, they booked their Hoadley win tickets, heading San Francisco. Due to visa problems they based themselves in Toronto, Canada, where they gained a foothold and a tour contract and released singles ‘The Ballad Of Scared Falls’ and ‘Turn Away’ before returning briefly to Australia.
Back in Canada in late 1971 (minus Sam See but with Greg Grace back on board) they toured Canada in 1972 and recorded Gypsy Road for Capitol Records, spinning off a Canadian No.19 single, ‘Old Enough (To Break My Heart)’. Follow-up ‘Maple Lady’ made the lower reaches of the US Top 100.
But that was it. They’d peaked. There was one more trip back to Australia for a poorly received Sunbury Festival show in 1973, and one more album, Last Laugh, in 1974. The Flying Circus split late that year with Rowe remaining in Toronto. He returned Australia in 1982, setting in the Bathhurst region of NSW, where he performed country rock for many years notably with Pig Iron Bob.
Doug Rowe passed away in July 2015.
The New Zealand release of The Flying Circus' 1969 single Hayride was delayed after local radio programmers objected to the lyric "making love in the hay".
In his last years Doug Rowe worked at Charles Sturt University in the Division of Facilities Management, playing in bands in the evening.