June 1996 and we had visa issues
Pauly and I had been given 48 hours to prepare ourselves for a trip to London where, as our nerves told us, Pauly would perform OMC’s ‘How Bizarre’ on the massively important and nationally broadcast BBC’s Top of the Pops – in front of some ten million pairs of eyes.
And we simply didn’t have the time to get ourselves sorted with work permits for the UK. It was no real problem for me as I was not working in any way that visible on the Home Office’s radar, but Pauly was different – he was about to appear on one of the nation’s highest rating TV shows, where it was fairly likely he’d be announced as coming from distant New Zealand, enough to set off alarms if the wrong person was watching.
We had thought about getting Pauly to apply for the two year UK working visa all New Zealanders under the age of 28 are eligible for, but it wasn’t practical for a couple of reasons: first, you needed to show enough funds to get by for a reasonable period, plus a return ticket, which we didn’t yet have – and appearing on Top of the Pops doesn’t really fall under the sort of employment the working visa allows.
So, not really having much choice, we decided to bluff it. We would arrive at Heathrow and just go in as tourists, both of us, and hope that if the very worst happened and they did see Pauly on TV, by the time they caught up with us we would likely be going or gone – nobody foresaw more than one TOTP performance.
Not in our wildest dreams.
Pauly and I – he carrying an acoustic guitar that he wanted for media – wandered up to the guy at the Immigration desk. He, without any comment, stamped my passport. Pauly was next and the guy in uniform asked if he played guitar? "Yes," said Pauly, "and I’m here to play my new record on Top of the Pops." He began to extend the story but clearly the guy, disinterested in what Pauly had to say as he perused the arrival documents, hadn’t clicked, so I leant over towards Pauly and mouthed "Shut up." Pauly looked bemused – puzzled – and it occurred to me that this was the first time he had encountered a visa situation where a work permit was required. He simply wasn’t aware of the rules and regulations that cover the visas needed to enter most countries.
I hustled him away, and we found our bags fairly quickly. A promotions person, introducing herself as Wendy, from Polydor’s London office, found us as we walked into the mayhem of Heathrow’s concourse.
"How did you spot us?" I asked, with a smile. Pauly was silent, jetlagged and overwhelmed by it all, but as we were rushed toward the car spoke to her for the first time.
"When do we get paid?" he asked. Wendy didn’t answer. He repeated the question twice. She looked at him, I guess having dealt with all sorts over the years, and reverted with a snap "You haven’t done any work yet," which silenced Pauly.
We were utterly exhausted and beyond being able to focus and communicate on any rational level. I found it easier to nod or grunt and had to force myself to ask what the proposed schedule would be. I assumed we were going to be going the hotel to check in, and then, after a wind-down of sorts, and perhaps a snack, we would head off to this planned rehearsal.
How wrong I was.
We were, explained Wendy, skipping the first part of the plan I had established in my head: There was to be no hotel and no shower. We were going straight to the rehearsal rooms, where we would have to stay until 4pm-ish, some seven hours from now. We would eat on the way.
We stopped for a coffee and a sandwich on the way at a café outside Heathrow – I became reacquainted with the horrors of English fast food and coffee – and then headed north for what seemed to be an interminable journey to the suburbs. Eventually, we pulled up outside a faceless suburban semi-detached in Barnet, North London.
Meet ‘The OMC’
We met the band – the new English OMC.
Who were these musicians, and what did they know of the song or of Pauly? It really didn’t matter it was explained – these guys were only supposed to perform as a make believe backing band and we, beyond shattered, were stuck at a make believe band rehearsal.
Some years back the UK Musicians' Union had stomped on the miming of songs on Top of the Pops. They’d had enough it seemed, of singers with hits or wannabe hits, miming over perfectly good backing tracks instead of British musicians getting paid to perform these live.
The BBC and the Union had met head-on over this and neither would budge, which led to a boycott of the show for a brief period in the 1980s, during which the BBC featured only non-Union artists, thus cutting out many of the acts who were in the charts at the time. It was, without a doubt, a lose-lose situation all around. Musicians were not getting any work, even mime work, acts were not getting the important hit-making TV exposure, and the BBC was missing out on many of the name acts that it relied on to pull in viewers.
So they compromised. The BBC was not technically allowed to have acts with backing tracks, but the British Musicians' Union would turn a blind eye to this as long as all acts on the show were registered Union members. When they did perform to a backing track, Union members would have to be on camera pretending they were playing the songs that everyone knew and could see they were not.
This insane/inane pretence went as far as rehearsals too. The Union representative had rushed through Pauly’s MU membership approval as part of a standing reciprocal agreement with the NZ Musicians Union (which, like many NZ musicians, he had never belonged to) and he was likely to turn up at the rehearsal space in suburban North London with his membership card – where Pauly and the band had to pretend they were practising for the show the next day.
We had never seen this card but were assured it existed.
We arrived and there were four Black British musicians (we guessed that Polydor had made this choice, assuming Pauly was black) sitting around drinking coffee and smoking spliffs. We had a drummer, a guitarist (who doubled as a "horn player" on one of the actual shows despite the fact he didn’t play the instrument), a bassist and a female backing vocalist, almost like the record, which all this lot aside from the drummer admitted they’d not heard until the day before when Polydor had couriered each a copy.
After brief introductions, it was decided that since we were sitting there, a quick run through was perhaps appropriate, so, using the backing CD Alan Jansson had given me, the four plus Pauly mimed a rough version of 'How Bizarre' – but just the once.
Around four our label minders decided that the union representative seemed unlikely to arrive, given the distance and the traffic to get out from Central London, so she decided to take us to our hotel.
Finally to the hotel
We were driven to the hotel, the Metropole on Edgware Road, where we were checked in and told that we were to have dinner later with the Polydor UK management plus a crew from the London-based European head office.
The hotel itself was a bit of a dump. It was, so the literature in the foyer said, a five star, and part of the Hilton Group, with a pool and a variety of hugely overpriced restaurants and bars.
We had two adjoining rooms and were shown up by a surly porter who wouldn’t leave my room until I proffered a gratuity. He was less than impressed by my offer of a New Zealand $5 note. I had no other currency and he grabbed it and skulked away.
I had one pillow and it was rock hard. I rang Pauly’s room to see if his was the same. It was, so I called downstairs, asked for a couple more pillows and was told that they were five pounds each.
Are you serious?
I tried to argue the charge but hit a brick wall enforced by a rulebook. Assuming Polydor was paying, as we had not been asked for a credit card I told them to send up four, which another grumpy staff member, once again hand out expecting a tip, delivered shortly afterwards. Given that we were being charged five quid each I just said thank you.
The musty room looked like it had been renovated sometime in the 1970s, the most modern thing being an old-ish TV, complete with the usual pay-movies and porn. I rang Pauly again, and very firmly told him he wasn’t to watch any of these unless he had the cash to cover it.
The carpet had holes in it, the plant in the corner of the room looked mostly dead, and the wall had a picture of Edgware Road from the roof of the hotel, which, for some bizarre reason, featured the fortress-like Paddington Green police station just up the road – where IRA suspects were kept. Odd.
I rang downstairs and asked for an ironing board, there – predictably – being none in our rooms. I was told they were all out but they could arrange to a have a shirt pressed for another £10. That pushed me over the edge and I snapped back, and somewhat arrogantly, that we were guests and not just any guests but guests here to perform on Top of the Pops.
I’m sure that they, given that the hotel was used regularly by the record company, were not really impressed with that snippet of trivial bombast, but it seemed to work – an iron was found and sent up. Thereafter, I put it in my bag when I left the room and locked it.
We had dinner with the heads of every Polydor office in Europe. They were in town for a conference and thus we were drafted in for a meet-the-label evening that ensured that we were kept awake for another six hours.
Mostly we sat there, smiled and nodded. We slept well.
Top of the Pops
The next morning, Top of the Pops morning, Pauly woke me about 6.30. He said he had nervously been up for the best part of an hour, had taken a walk and a coffee and was now rather hungry. Pauly looking like a million bucks as always, and me still staggering with exhaustion – we headed down for the breakfast in the dining room. We looked around at the reconstituted eggs in watery yellow liquid, the reconstituted bacon, and cold white toast, and decided that we would ask Ommie, the driver we’d been given, to stop at a McDonalds drive-through on the way. We couldn’t go on eating like this.
The trip to Elstree was a very long and boring crawl through faceless semi-detached suburbia. Situated on the far northern edge of London’s sprawl, we had to drive for miles in morning rush hour traffic to get there, around what seemed to be endless ring-roads which blended from one into the next – all the time asking Ommie to stop if at all possible at a fast food outlet or a motorway service centre – one of the countless we seemed to drive past.
Eventually, about an hour after we left, we pulled up to the big green iron gates that were the entrance to the BBC Studios in Clarendon Rd, Borehamwood, a town that actually sits in Elstree Parish, but not actually in Elstree, that town being a few miles away, even though the studios were popularly called that.
At the gate, even at the early hour (about 9am) was a swarm of girls jumping up and down quite excitedly. As we drove in they banged on the windows, Pauly yelping and ducking down as we paused for the security check.
We soon worked out that these girls – or variations of them – were in residence there, day and evening. They would scream at virtually anyone who might be famous – just in case. Later in the day, and during the next visits we – various band members and our guests – would, if bored during those extended hours when we had little to do, wander out to the gates, stand there and get screamed at for a moment or two. It became something of a joke: What shall we do now? Oh, I know, let’s go down for a scream.
John, Paul, George and Ringo
The BBC Elstree Studios have an impressive and mighty history that goes back much further than their purchase by the state broadcaster in 1982, and as we were escorted down the corridor from the backstage doors to our dressing room, we walked past still shots from Star Wars, Bond movies, fifties epics with casts of god knows how many, classic TV shows, pictures of iconic, long-dead stars, and a whole lot more. Once we walked through those doors it quickly hit me that we were now in the gilded pop music zone. Almost every act I had idolised over the years had appeared on this show – and many had walked that same corridor in the decade since the show had moved there.
Top of the Pops was one of the holy grails of pop culture. The four stages were called John, Paul, George and Ringo!
We were at Top of the Pops.
After a food break, we were all called in for the first run-through. There we discovered that Polydor had hired, without our knowledge, a group of Hawaiian dancing girls to sway alongside Pauly. He was furious and told me that he didn’t want them anywhere near the stage. I agreed – it was pure tack – so I talked to the Polydor people who, used to new pop stars who do exactly what they are told or they get to go home, said that they would rather they stayed. The discussion faltered as I backed Pauly. After about 10 minutes, still in a stand-off, and the intervention of a grumpy floor manager who clearly didn’t care who or what you were – he wanted you on that stage for your allotted three minutes exactly when he said you were to appear, they agreed to pull them.
As they walked over to explain to the two girls that their gig was over, Pauly came across to me and said he was having second thoughts and now wanted the girls to add a "Pacific vibe". Fucking hell.
I had to now run across the soundstage and stop the impending sacking, before the two dancers left. Wendy shrugged her shoulders and walked away with a seen-it-all-before look.
The run through was pretty straightforward; the announcer touted OMC as having had the biggest ever record in the history of New Zealand music, and then the camera swung to the stage that Pauly had been allotted. There were two working stages – one featured the currently performing act, and the other was setting up. As one finished and the kids and cameras changed focus to the next stage, the host announced the act from somewhere else in the room, often up on the skywalk, or continued counting down the hits.
Wendy from Polydor took me aside after the rehearsal and quietly asked me if Pauly would be agreeable to appearing on camera in a short sleeved shirt, to show off his unique tattoos. I put it to him and he refused immediately. He was still very wary of showing these off but slowly over the next few weeks this would change.
That afternoon, for the final performance he would play in a long-sleeved suit jacket, covering those tats completely.
With the hula girls.
The next couple of hours were pretty boring – we sat around and I, who had given up a few years earlier, felt obliged to have a ciggie with the stewed flavourless coffee drawn from the free vats in the canteen. I sat in the sun and read a book on The Beatles – it seemed like the right place to do just that.
Wendy bought us lunch, grey hamburgers with more chips, the UK band looking more enthused about the offered fare than either Pauly and or myself. We waited.
Around four we were ushered back into the dressing room. Standing in the doorway was Neneh Cherry. I went all fan-boyish and just gaped.
Just before he was to go on, we were called out of the dressing room and ushered into this small room where we waited our turn – just Pauly and I as the band had gone through. Sitting across from us were five girls who all just sat and stared at Pauly, a couple with their mouths open in a drool.
The backstage producer came through and said to the girls – who looked like the sort of girls you would see in any small town High Street in the UK, hanging out in the mall or McDonalds – “Have you met OMC?” And to us he said, “Guys have you met The Spice Girls?” – “No,” we all murmured. I guess we were all aware of the growing hype around these five, but they were yet to have a No.1, and ‘Wannabe’, their debut smash, was still on the rise, about to hit No.1 the next week, where it would sit for close to two months.
Right now they were just another bunch with a hit to plug and we all just sat there looking at each other, with a couple of the girls very clearly interested in Pauly.
After a moment Pauly looked across and said, with a wink, “You’re spicy.” One of the girls, I have no idea which, immediately bounced back, “You’re bizarre,” and they all giggled.
The stage manager then called for OMC. We both nodded and went out into the soundstage. The room was a screaming mass of kids, with assistant stage managers screaming commands both at them and at the acts as cameras covered different parts of the huge room, sweeping swiftly across it on large cranes and rails. It was dark, and the massive spinning disco lights, mirror balls, smoke and strobes made it look like Studio 54. Being the first on the show, since our record was the last one to find a slot that week, the stage allocated to OMC was empty aside from the band’s gear. There wasn’t for OMC – unlike later acts – a chaotic rush and pressure to get a band off and another on, and the band had set up with some leisure.
“Smile at the camera,” I said to Pauly, telling him that the red light meant the camera was active. His response was that he “only smiled for the bank manager.”
“This will make the bank manager happy,” I replied.
The host introduced it as “the biggest song in the history of New Zealand music” and the cameras swung across to Pauly with hula girls.
Unfortunately, the performance was pretty perfunctory. Pauly was nervous as hell and he fluffed a few words, but he did, since Wendy and I were both at the side of the stage gesturing at him, manage a forced uneasy grin at the camera.
I wasn’t happy with it. Neither was Pauly: The outgoing, charismatic Pauly Fuemana, as seen on his videos and in a thousand photographs, was nowhere to be seen and I guessed, correctly it turned out, that it had hit him walking into that room with all the lights and screaming kids, just how important this all was.
It was nerves. He was terrified. Who wouldn’t be?
I decided I wouldn’t say a thing and he put his arm around my shoulders me as he came off, asking “Ok, bro?” “Yes, okay indeed, Pauly.”
“You just performed on Top of the Pops! You’re the first person ever to make a record in New Zealand and take it all the way to Top of the Pops.”
He smiled and I wasn’t going to say anything negative. It was, regardless, an extraordinary achievement for a guy from Auckland. I was proud and Pauly beamed.
We stayed side of stage and watched the rest of the show: Neneh Cherry, Los Del Rio, The Spice Girls’ first ever Top of the Pops performance, Pauly wishing them luck as they walked past and Baby Spice blowing a kiss back; and that week’s No.1, former Take That teen throb, Gary Barlow, who we both decided was pretty wack.
But, hell, he was No.1 …
The publicity rounds
At 7.30 next morning, the record company and the driver were waiting for us and we headed out. The traffic was horrendous. The whole London transport system – buses and trains – had decided to go on strike that day, and everything was gridlocked to a standstill. Adding to the misery, it was looking like a filthy-hot day, the sort that London gets once or twice a year, and as with almost all cars in the UK then, there was no in-vehicle air-conditioning.
We had three or four days of press and we were also waiting to find out if the record had gone up the charts. If so, we would perhaps find our way back onto Top of the Pops again.
The first stops were morning radio: Radio 1, Virgin, and Radio London. Over the next few days, Pauly would also appear on Capitol Radio, Kiss-FM, and a couple of random stations that I’ve simply forgotten.
By mid-morning we were sitting in the BBC’s studios in Great Portland Street, where Pauly was being interviewed live on Radio 1, transmitting nationwide to millions of listeners.
Asked about his success in New Zealand, he responded that his manager – meaning me – was one of the most feared people in Auckland and he told the UK public, “If people messed” with me, they “disappeared”.
On the sofa with me outside the studio, Wendy and another woman from Polydor looked across and slowly edged away.
The dreary tube and bus strike continued for most of the week. It was taking up to three hours in the oppressively hot car to crawl from interview to interview. After the radio shows there were various newspaper and magazine interviews – at least a dozen, almost all with the same inane questions, and all asked by people who really didn’t care about the answers – it was a job and they were mostly hacks.
One interviewer, from The Sun’s appropriately named “Bizarre” page, which covers pop and showbiz gossip, over a beer at a pub in Southwark, asked Pauly about his tattoos. Pauly, for the very first time since I had been working with him, was openly talkative about the tattoos on his arms and began to carefully explain exactly what each one meant. Then Pauly explained that the large black fish on one arm referred to a family legend that said they were descended from black sharks – that was, he said, what Fuemana meant.
The hack laughed, and asked if Pauly was having him on. Did he really think that the family was descended from black sharks? “Yes,” Pauly said, “that was the legend” – although maybe it wasn’t to be taken literally – or maybe it was.
The journalist’s name was Andy Coulson. He was later the editor of The Sun at the centre of the phone tapping scandal. He never printed the shark story.
On Wednesday, sitting in Polydor’s office in Hammersmith, we were told that the single had not moved on the chart, staying at No.19 and thus OMC were not eligible to do Top of the Pops this week and as a result thus we would be sent back home on Thursday. I was also given a message to ring Sydney as soon as possible. I rang: We were wanted next in Melbourne for a semi-live performance of the new Australian single, ‘Right On’. Pauly was booked on the TV show Hey Hey It’s Saturday this coming week, which meant transiting through Auckland, doing the show in Melbourne and then flying back to New Zealand on the Sunday morning.
At Polydor, I asked if they had any detailed UK airplay and sales data I could look at and I spent some time studying it. There was a clear repeat of the New Zealand and Australian patterns emerging. Airplay, despite the chart stall, was growing steadily, but more importantly, re-orders had rocketed in the past couple of days.
I took this to Polydor head David Munns down the corridor. Given what was in front of me, I suggested that ‘How Bizarre’ was probably going to jump substantially in the charts next week, but both he and Wendy were adamant that the UK never worked like that – sales came fast and early and there were few steady risers, let alone spectacular ones. Our UK chart run was likely over.
Or so they said.
We were driven to Heathrow and checked on a British Airways flight, which took us to Auckland, but tantalisingly only just.
In Hawaii, I took a call from Polydor Australia. The mid-week returns were in and the single was probably going up the charts. Really? They would confirm as soon as they knew.
Some 30 or so hours after Heathrow we landed at Auckland. Frustratingly, since we were booked through to Australia, we were forced to sit in transit, looking at home for a couple of hours and waiting for our flight to Melbourne. We were so close. Both Pauly and I, jetlagged and tired, spent the time calling family and friends since we were back in their time zone and had stories to tell.
The filming in Victoria was fairly straightforward. Sina had been flown over to meet us. UK female R&B act Eternal was also on the show and all came through to say hello to Pauly, as did Australian pop-media icon Molly Meldrum who was very profuse in his congratulations.
The next morning we all flew back to Auckland, and I walked through my door around 11am.
Less than an hour after I arrived the phone went. I was dozing in front of TV and it took a few moments before it registered.
The call was from Sydney, who said that London had just called, and yes they knew it was a Sunday but the sales of the single on Friday and Saturday were such that it looked like we were going to have to go back to the UK within 24 hours. I pleaded, if only for Pauly’s sake, to give us a day or two and she apologised and said, rather unconvincingly, that she would do what she could. Half an hour later she called – we were leaving that same night, to arrive back in London on Monday evening.
It went up the charts. I told you so.
Alan Jansson and I met around five – he gave me a couple of CDs of rough mixes of the almost finished album tracks for both Pauly and I to audition and comment on when we got to London.
In the cab to the airport, I gave copies of these to Pauly so he could listen to them on the aircraft, with the Sony Discman he carried everywhere.
At Heathrow, Ommie, our regular driver, was waiting for us, and we were soon back in the grotty old Metropole on Edgware Road. This time they gave us free pillows.
On Tuesday we were back into the media run. Around 11am we found out the record had bounced up to No.11 in the charts and that Top of the Pops was pretty likely to happen again. The chart jump meant that a few more media people wanted to talk to Pauly. Time Out, the listings magazine, wanted a shot for a potential cover (it was not used as far as I know), and MTV, courtesy of New Zealander Brent Hansen, boss of the European operation, approached me for an interview and a performance, which we happily agreed to.
It all began to tumble together but the pressure and demands for time were increasing daily. My phone was ringing non-stop, most of the calls being for yet more appearances to promote this or that, which I declined. Pauly was invited to open a shopping centre somewhere. I rang Polydor and angrily demanded that they stop giving out my number to anyone who asked. The calls slowed.
Top of the Pops said yes, late on Tuesday, so we worked around that. On Wednesday Pauly performed for MTV, singing ‘How Bizarre’. It was best described as uneven: He insisted on singing the verses, all the chorus parts, whilst playing his acoustic guitar. His vocal was – generously – flat.
Late on Wednesday, we hit a snag with the Top of the Pops performance. The producers, The BBC, had now asked to see Pauly’s work permit for the show. As with the previous trip, we had simply bluffed our way through immigration and carried tourist visas. What was a bluff last time was not going to work a second time, so the live OMC performance was cancelled and Top of the Pops agreed, after Polydor had kicked up a fuss, to run a video of the previous week’s performance.
However since the single was roaring out of the stores, re-orders were stronger than ever, and radio was still growing, it was increasingly likely that we would be able to perform on the following week’s show, and, as an added bonus, also be in town for more PR work. It was decided that on Thursday we would both be sent to France. We would go early on the train, via the Chunnel, and return later that night, picking up pre-arranged work permits on our return to Waterloo.
As much as anything it was an adventure and a huge one for Pauly who had never been in a non-English speaking country before.
I had never made the trip between Paris and London under the water rather than over it before and it was a buzz.
In Paris, Pauly seemed absolutely bemused by the fact that nobody spoke English, or at least admitted to it. He wanted a packet of cigarettes and came back irritated that he was unable to make himself understood. In fractured French, I bought him a packet of Camel Filters and we wandered off in search of a few hours to kill, not hard in Paris, and decent coffee, which we both needed after London.
We found ourselves in Rue St. Denis, a street notorious for hookers, and for both of us it was an eye-opener to see women sitting there half naked, breasts exposed, for sale or rent.
Pauly looked at me, “This ain’t High Street, bro.”
We wandered fairly aimlessly down to the river, by the Place de la Concorde, and I asked him what he wanted to do. Eiffel Tower? We settled on the markets across the other side, near Saint Germaine, where Pauly bought a beret and a few gifts for his girlfriend Kirsteen and others. We found a riverside tourist trap café where we bought rather good coffees at not-good tourist trap prices. I took photos of Pauly in the streets, negotiating and now enjoying the trans-national banter.
Again, though, he refused to smile for the camera.
I suggested Notre Dame since we only had a few hours to kill and digging deeper than the average tourist was impossible in that short time. Pauly knew it, perhaps from the story, and we walked the short distance to the famous cathedral.
We had to be back at the station by six but managed to find a taxi driver who had never heard of the Eurostar or the Channel tunnel and only just made it.
Pauly’s first trip to the city was largely a quick in and out, a tourist trap or two, plus food and drink, but his comment as we boarded was, “Nicer than London, huh?”
In London, at Waterloo, after some fluffing around, we managed to get the pre-arranged visas we required from immigration and returned to the hotel.
Back to John, Paul, George and Ringo
Top of the Pops was the next morning and we agreed that we would meet the band there in the dressing rooms.
We started a little later the next day and we made it to Elstree around 10am for the stage rehearsal.
This time Pauly was further up the pecking order, after the Britpop band Suede, so the changeover between acts was done under more pressure, but the stagehands, having done it a thousand times, simply forced it through. After run-throughs, I wandered around the back corridor and realised at one stage I was standing next to Cher.
I then went to the back lawn outside the café where a bunch of people, including one of my idols Paul Weller, whose new single ‘Peacock Suit’ was on the show this week as well, were standing around smoking and complaining about the previous week’s transport disruptions and the still sticky weather. Weller asked me about New Zealand and said he liked the OMC single. I was starstruck again but it reminded me: I’d lost Pauly.
After a quick scout around I found him inside the now quiet soundstage area, talking to a skinny guy with bad skin.
“Bro, do you know Bryan?”
No, funnily enough, I didn’t know Bryan Adams. Bryan apparently had introduced himself, asked Pauly where he was from and in the process made himself a quick friend.
“We should work together, maybe write and record,” he told Adams, who looked puzzled by the approach and made excuses.
Pauly had decided, after a couple of weeks of reflection, to wear a gorgeous short-sleeved Polynesian shirt he’d bought from Auckland for the show, one that bared his earlier hidden tattoos to the British viewing public. His head up, he radiated confidence, strength and style, and we went out to the side-stage.
Once again, I asked him to smile at the camera. This time, however, he said nothing.
The performance was light years ahead of the one from two weeks earlier. Pauly was completely charismatic and absolutely in control of the stage and the performance.
Two-thirds of the way through – after the pivotal “If you wanna know the rest/Buy the rights” line – he looked straight at the camera with the red light glowing on top, and threw a huge genuine grin at the millions watching.
Wendy looked at me, “You have just sold 20,000 singles.”
It was a phenomenal performance and I was quietly ecstatic. More, he knew he had pulled it off and glowed justifiably for several days.
At an Italian restaurant in Soho that night, Pauly was stopped several times and asked to sign all sorts of things. He drew the line at some girl’s bra – one she was still wearing.
Wave your passport in the air...
One of the messages at the hotel was from London-resident Aucklander Mike Corless, inviting Pauly and I to the opening of a new bar in Soho’s Chinatown district. The Polar Bear was a pub that had been around for years. I remembered it from the early 1980s when there was a rumour that someone had lost a python there, and it had – so the story went – disappeared into the plumbing via the toilets. No sign was ever found of the poor reptile.
In 1996 the place was being reinvented yet again, this time as an Antipodean pub catering for the huge numbers of New Zealanders and Australians that filled bars that flew their flags, played their music, and served their beers.
This particular Saturday the bar was having its grand re-opening party and Mike Corless had Mike King, the New Zealand comedian in town for a Comedy Festival, and had offered his services as MC.
And he was keen to have Pauly, the charting New Zealand pop star, as a guest. I was wary but thought it was fairly harmless and passed on that I also had a New Zealand rock and roll icon and former member of Th’ Dudes, Peter Urlich, in tow.
Thus, with Wendy from Polydor and a couple of others from the label, we arrived about 1pm on the Saturday afternoon to find the party in full swing, falling noisily out into the streets in Chinatown, and getting messier by the moment.
We were given a small dressing room downstairs and a free-flow bar tab. Pauly was less interested in the alcohol than the adulatory attention he was receiving from his massed compatriots.
There was a band upstairs turning out the sort of slightly clichéd NZ classics you would hear in any pub in the provinces. We worked out that Peter would go up and play with the band first, then to the backing CD I had in my pocket, Pauly would perform ‘How Bizarre’. Really, he could have stood up and crooned ‘God Defend New Zealand’, and this drunken crowd would have been blissful.
And ‘Bliss’ it was for Peter, the national bogan drinking anthem that he first recorded with Th’ Dudes back in 1979, with a verse inviting the listener to ‘sink yourself some bliss’ and ‘forget about the last one and have another’. He then whipped the inebriated crowd into a frenzy with the chorus ‘Ya, Ya, Ya, Ya, Ya…’ drifting on forever as Peter left the stage.
Pauly was announced. The crowd, by this time almost crawling, began to chant “How Bizarre, How Bizarre, How Bizarre” and Pauly, visibly shaking a minute earlier from nerves, walked fairly confidently onto the small stage.
400 obliterated New Zealanders hollered. The Polydor staff looked stunned. People passing in the street outside stopped – trying to work out what was going on, most quickly scuttling away when confronted with the crowd.
Pauly stood there and smiled widely. And then the CD player refused to play. Furiously the tech prodded and bashed at it but it was completely dead. The chanting continued, Pauly smiled, walked up the mike and hollered at it:
“Brother Pele's in the back…”
And the crowd roared back:
“Sweet Sina’s in the front…”
And then, all together, they chanted:
“Cruisin' down the freeway in the hot, hot sun…”
The place erupted with Pauly leading an a capella version of the biggest New Zealand-recorded record of all time.
Wendy from Polydor looked like she was close to tears and I felt a huge swell of emotion, not only from the reaction to the song we had recorded and released just a few months back, but for Pauly as well. This topped off a triumphant couple of days for him, with his remarkable TV performance the day before and now this.
He left the stage beaming and came over to me. "How did I do?” I hugged him, but the crowd was screaming for more. Pauly looked at Peter and shrugged. Peter, always the ultimate showman, grabbed Pauly by the shoulders and pulled him back up, which loosed another swaying roar.
Peter leant over the microphone and slowly sang:
“I have a band of men and all they do is play for me…”
Wendy, visibly concerned that they might blow it, whispered to me “This isn’t such a good idea, Pauly should leave it at ‘How Bizarre’.”
I looked at her and grinned “You’re not a New Zealander, this is pure genius … trust them.”
There are some things that go beyond the boundaries of taste, beyond cool, and for New Zealanders the cheesy old Englebert Humperdinck B-side (to his hit ‘Please Release Me’) is just that. The song from 1967 was a hit nowhere else in the world, however ‘Ten Guitars’ is ours – a tune that hit a casually strummed nerve (the strum we New Zealanders like to call the ‘Māori strum’) the very first moment some provincial NZ DJ decided to flip the UK hit 45 and play the other side all those years ago.
It’s something that only we understand.
That day in The Polar Bear everyone in the room and beyond, Wendy and the gathering police presence in the street aside, understood this perfectly as the endless choruses brought the house down as a finale.
We went downstairs and had more than a few drinks, ending up later in some West End club’s VIP room. We staggered back to the Metropole in huge spirits about 3am.
On Sunday afternoon Polydor rang – we were not going to be sent back to New Zealand this week, even if we didn’t get on Top of the Pops, as the single was likely to rise again, looking at sales (it went up to No.8 in the next chart) and it made more sense financially to simply keep both of us in a hotel in London until at least the middle of the next week.
We would, however, be moved to a cheaper hotel in the same Hilton group, this time The Hilton Kensington, at the distant Shepherd's Bush end of Holland Park Avenue. The girl from the label eagerly told me that The Small Faces and The Who once played extensively in a theatre nearby as if to compensate for the fact that we were now being housed miles from anywhere of interest.
Aside from a few bits here and there, media rounds were over so Pauly and I talked and explored London over the next while.
We found ourselves invited to a party at the famous Roof Gardens in Kensington High Street, where faux Moroccan and Tudor precincts surround a rambling pavilion filled with live Pink Flamingos. It was hosted by a music industry specialist insurance company, with UK superstar DJ Paul Oakenfold spinning old soul and hip-hop records for a crowd that included all sorts of stellar names, including an Oasis brother (Noel), and, very briefly, Richard Branson.
At Polydor’s regional office in St. James Square I met with the European team, and we timelined the European rollout within the next month, working out that Pauly would be needed in back in London and Europe for a couple of weeks at the beginning of October.
I had, via courier from Alan, almost final mixes of the album, which was scheduled for release across Europe on October 4, copies of which I left at the European office.
On the next chart the single rose to No.5, its highest UK placing, but Top of the Pops decided that there was no available slot so we were finally, after some hesitation in case it went up again, booked to fly back to Auckland on Monday, August 27.
On the Sunday morning, I caught a train to a small town called Burnham, just north-west of London, a fairly faceless dormitory town to the much larger Slough, which in itself is a satellite city to London. My friend Dave Daniels lived there and I decided to pay him a quick social visit.
The few hours ended in the local pub where the patrons all insisted on playing ‘How Bizarre’ on the jukebox over and over in my honour – repeatedly asking how me rich I was now (not at all really, was the correct answer) before dropping me off for the last train back to Paddington.
The carriage I was in was fairly empty until half dozen or so young guys staggered through, quite clearly under the weather and in a joyful mood.
Singing an Oasis tune or two, they then turned their attention to another popular song of the day and all burst into ‘How Bizarre’, mostly just repeating the chorus over and over again.
One guy looked across at me and said with a cheerful smile. “Do you like this song, mate?” Indeed I did. Very much.
The next morning, we were picked up at the hotel by the Virgin Atlantic Range Rover, and driven in style to the airport, to go home.
We arrived back in Auckland late on August 28, having been away for about five weeks.
The fun and games were about to begin.
Excerpted from the book How Bizarre: Pauly Fuemana and the song that stormed the world, published by Awa Press.