It had already been quite a career for Nelson. With his early groups in Christchurch, the Diamonds and the Castaways, he followed in the footsteps of Ray Columbus and the Invaders, performing in the city’s many dance halls, coffee lounges and clubs. The Castaways spent years of hard gigging in New Zealand and Australia, and recorded several highly regarded R&B singles for HMV (NZ) Ltd; among them were ‘Down in the Mine’, ‘So Don’t Go’, and the standard ‘Down the Road Apiece’. Nelson’s departure from the Castaways gave Frankie Stevens an early career break.
As a solo act in Asia, Nelson saw his own career come to fruition. The Vietnam War had opened up the region to a new invasion from the West – rock’n’roll – and he was riding the wave, first in Bangkok on US military bases, then in Hong Kong. Nelson and his band were filling the Scene Disco six nights a week and had appeared several times on local television station TVB which, the previous year, had pioneered free-to-air television in the British colony.
Willis – Mr Cilla Black – had deep industry connections in Britain, made through Brian Epstein and The Beatles. In Hong Kong he liked what he saw and offered Nelson the dream: move to the UK and I will make you a star. That meant something coming from Willis, and it wasn’t just a throwaway line: he was still dangling the offer six months later. What was a poor boy to do?