Based in Brisbane since 2000, Parlane had collapsed after a gig and it was revealed he was suffering from the deadly cancer associated with exposure to asbestos. It was thought he had been exposed to fibres while working for a tyre company as a teenager in Dunedin.
He passed away at his home on June 21, 2015, at the age of 64. His loss was keenly felt through the New Zealand and Australian country music communities. Parlane had released 18 albums, including four that attained gold status at home. He was a regular on the That’s Country television show in the 1980s and had appeared on the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.
Noel Linton Parlane was born in Roxburgh, Central Otago, on March 19, 1951, one of eight children. In the early 1960s the family moved to Dunedin, where he attended Kaikorai Valley High School.
As a 10-year-old, he became a regular performer on the weekly Radio 4XD children’s programme The Smile Factory, hosted by “Aunt” Josie Cooper. It would be the start of a long friendship with pianist Trevor Dawe – the boys would catch the bus back to the same suburb after the show and went on to compete in talent quests around the South Island.
At one such competition in Ashburton, they were beaten by young pianist Stuart Pearce, who would eventually find his way to Auckland and become part of bands such as Street Talk, Coconut Rough and Hello Sailor, as well as playing on Noel Parlane albums.
In 1968, Parlane and Dawe formed The New Era, performing around Dunedin for about a year, and then The Coastal Phogg. They struck out as The Noel and Trev Duo, earning $6 each at the Victoria Hotel on a Friday night. When the pub employed them on Saturday nights their wages were bumped to $10 each.
They brought in bass player Lex Perriman and became The Sundowners, donning cream Crimplene suits, white and green shirts, green ties and sombrero hats. The trio even released a couple of 45s before coming to an end in late 1975.
He was becoming well known for his yodelling ability and earned the nickname “the Singing Milkman” whilst delivering milk in Ravensbourne and Mosgiel.
Noel Parlane appeared on TV on Opportunity Knocks and The Entertainers and in 1977 entered the South Island Country Music Awards, winning the songwriting section with enough points to secure the overall South Island Country Music Scroll. He was becoming well known for his yodelling ability and earned the nickname “the Singing Milkman” whilst delivering milk in Ravensbourne and Mosgiel.
He would later tell the Taieri Herald of the advantages of such a livelihood. “It is the ideal type of business, that left me free to pursue a singing career at the same time. It was also a good backing because the entertainment world is a dicey business.”
In 1978, he won the best male and yodelling sections and the overall title at the Gold Guitar Awards in Gore. Part of the prize was an audition for Hoghton Hughes’ Music World Ltd record company.
It was a success and Parlane’s debut LP Noel Parlane Country was recorded at Tandem Recording Studios in Christchurch and released in 1979. His next four Music World albums were certified gold – Country Heartaches (which also sold in excess of 40,000 in Australia), Old Time Country Music, Trucks & Trains and Country Love.
By 1983, Noel Parlane was a regular on Television New Zealand’s That’s Country. When US superstar Emmylou Harris was a guest on the show, her legendary road manager Phil Kaufman warned the cast about approaching her, but Parlane and others took the opportunity of a chat when Harris was alone backstage. Kaufman had been appeased elsewhere with a large amount of local beer.
His versatility and enthusiasm endeared Parlane to That’s Country producers, cast and band alike and enabled him to take on any style of country asked of him. It also saw him return to TV screens as a guest on Patsy Riggir’s Beautiful Lady special in 1985 and the Patsy Riggir Country series in 1986.
Parlane broke away from Music World in 1984 and approached Gary Daverne of Viscount Productions to produce his next album at Mandrill Recording Studios in Auckland. Drinking Them Beers was released on RCA. His ensuing albums would not benefit from the mass marketing of Music World, but he at least had some control over content.
The Australian Country Music Association inducted Parlane into their Hands of Fame at Tamworth in 1985 and there were two more releases on RCA to round out the 1980s – Let’s Sing A Country Song, produced by Daverne, and Stepping Out, produced by former That’s Country musical director Murray Wood.
In 1988, Parlane sold up his milk run after about 12 years and relocated his family and his beloved Mark IV Zephyr to Brisbane in an attempt to make inroads in the Australian country scene. At the time he bemoaned the fact local radio would not play his records and that there were fewer opportunities at home.
“One has to leave town for them to play your songs,” he told the Taieri Herald at the time. “In a nutshell, I could stay here and do an album a year, but it is just a dead end and I can’t go any further.”
In the early 90s, he was back in New Zealand performing all over the country. He started his own label called Spectrum with the intention of helping out young New Zealand artists. His first album on the label, Can I Count On You, was arranged and produced by Graham Wardrop and was released in 1996. It was picked up by Hawk Records in Northern Ireland and released throughout Europe.
A trip to the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville and an appearance on the Midnight Jamboree Concert led to the recording of ‘Merry Christmas, Mama’ in Nashville, released as a single in the United States.
Parlane moved back to Brisbane permanently in 2000. While compilation albums were released in New Zealand, he forged a relationship with Tamworth recording artist and producer Lindsay Butler and signed to his LBS Music label.
The label released new albums No Limits and Encore as well as distributing Parlane’s past New Zealand releases Can I Count On You and the 2003 EMI NZ compilation Choosey (made up of the Gary Daverne-produced material from the 1980s). But by 2013 Parlane was again searching for more control of production and material.
He assembled the cream of the musicians he’d used as backing bands during his time in Brisbane and began recording at Domenic Sound, taking care of rhythm and bass guitar duties himself. A ring-in was his old mate from That’s Country days, Paddy Long, on pedal steel guitar.
Everybody’s Here finally saw the light of day with an Australian release in November 2014. When Parlane collapsed after a gig the following February he initially put it down to a busy schedule of daytime club gigs around Queensland to promote the album. But the awful diagnosis was mesothelioma.
Noel Parlane passed away peacefully on June 21, surrounded by his wife Marie and their four children.
Noel Parlane’s early-70s band The Sundowners recorded 'The Wahine Song’ with lyrics written by Parlane’s aunt, who had been on the Wahine ferry when it ran aground in April 1968, killing 52 people. A second single – ‘All I Want’ b/w ‘Nobody Cares’ – was produced by Robert Penty and released on his own Penty Productions.
Noel Parlane's gold-selling Music World release Old Time Country Music was his sole entry in the official NZ album chart top 20, peaking at No.9 in May 1981.