The soul/funk tradition went back to the 1960s in Wellington and from 1976 to 1979, Rick Bryant kept the flame alive with his touring band Rough Justice, which included a young Stephen Jessup, who in the 1980s went on to play in Hulamen, The Tombolas and Holidaymakers.
When Hulamen released their seven-track mini-album in 1982, John McDougall had already gone AWOL, following his heart to Paris. When he returned in 1985, he started the Tombolas and released one Latin funk single 'Glad to Gladiate'/'Vandalised' on the EELman Record label.
After singer Peter Marshall and sax player Andrew Clouston returned from Australia in 1986, they joined former Rodent John McDougall and his Tombolas cohorts Steve Jessup and vocalist Mara Finau to create a new group, Holidaymakers.
The band recorded their own song 'Sensible Shoes' at Marmalade Studios with soundman to the Eelman scene Nigel Stone producing. Stone suggested that they record a little known Bill Withers song, 'Sweet Lovers'. McDougall told Rip It Up (May 1988), “We were all quite keen on doing original songs, in particular 'Man With A Lego Heart' but we'd only just got it together and it would have taken ages to arrange and record.”
Hulamen and Tombolas were part of a collective who put together the Eelman Record label to release their recordings but it was decided that the Holidaymakers single would be released on the Auckland indie label Pagan, which was more likely to get the single on radio and on the NZ Singles Chart.
When Holidaymakers played Auckland, 'Sweet Lovers' was At No.3 and was on the playlist of Auckland Top 40 station 91FM.
Wellington writer and music retailer John Pilley wrote about Holidaymakers in Rip It Up (May 1988) and said of 'Sweet Lovers', “The vocals are spine tinglingly superb. The single sounds like a million dollars, with world-class production and performance … and if it doesn't go Top 20, I'll eat a copy!”
When Holidaymakers played Auckland's Gluepot hotel (July 2, 1988), 'Sweet Lovers' was No.3 on the NZ Singles Chart and just added to the playlist of Auckland Top 40 station 91FM. The band's set included Hulamen songs 'Working for a Living' and 'Beer and Skittles'. Chris Bourke wrote in Rip It Up (July 1988), “'Do the Tombola' was a standout of their new material … the highlight of this and every other time I've seen the band was 'Sensible Shoes', their single's B-side that could become a hit on its own.” The band's Rodents’ soul roots were also audible on the night with covers of 'See Saw' and 'Love and Happiness'.
'Sweet Lovers' would spend six weeks at No.1 on the NZ Singles Chart and win numerous awards at the 1988 New Zealand Music Awards – Single of the Year, Most Promising Male Vocalist (Peter Marshall), Most Promising Female Vocalist (Mara Finau), Most Promising Group, Best Video (Fane Flaws), Best Producer (Nigel Stone) and Best Engineer (Nigel Stone).
The follow-up single ‘Waiting in the Sunshine’ was released in December 1988 and inevitably was not as successful, but it reached No.6 and stayed on the charts for six weeks ('Sweet Lovers' had stayed on the charts for 22 weeks). “How do you follow the biggest selling single of the year?” notes Pagan's Trevor Reekie.
Songwriter John McDougall left the band early 1989 prior to Holidaymakers travelling to Japan in April for the Asian And Pacific Music Festival in Fukuoka. They also played a show in Sydney on their way back. In 2013, the group's vocalist Peter Marshall commented, “I was fed up by that point as they didn't choose the song I wanted as the second single. We were rudderless by then. Once you lose your songwriter and team leader, it's over.”
Sweet Lovers is a cover of a Bill Withers song, originally titled We Could Be Sweet Lovers.
Sweet Lovers spent six weeks on top of the NZ Singles Chart and remained in the charts for 22 weeks. The song won several awards at the 1988 New Zealand Music Awards including Single Of The Year.
Richard Caigou - drummer
Andrew Clouston - tenor sax
Mara Finau - vocals
Barbara Griffin - keyboards
Stephen Jessup - guitar
Peter Marshall - vocals
Pati Umaga - bass
John McDougall - guitar