Peter Nelson Profile

aka Peter Nelson and the Castaways
Mark Wilson
18 Oct 2018

Hong Kong, 1968: a 26-year-old former Christchurch schoolboy has a big choice to make. British pop superstar Cilla Black and her husband/manager, Bobby Willis, are in town. Always scouting for “the next big thing”, Willis popped in to the Scene Disco at the Peninsula Hotel, one of the city’s top venues. On stage, Peter Nelson is fronting a band of mainly local musicians, belting out covers of Lou Rawls, Wilson Pickett and James Brown in a voice that soared across three octaves.

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.

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Promotional photo for EMI Australia, 1966. From left: Len Ormsby, Peter Gillette, Peter Nelson, Doug Petrie, Doug Henderson.
Photo credit: Peter Nelson collection
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Review of a concert by Renaissance at the Peninsula Hotel, Hong Kong, August 1971. 
Photo credit: Peter Nelson collection
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Publicity photo for HMV Wellington, 1965. From left: Lenny Ormsby, Doug Henderson, Peter Nelson, Doug Petrie, Doug Rowe.
Photo credit: Peter Nelson collection
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Renaissance, 1970, Singapore Hilton Hotel. From left: Wally Scott, John Gordon, Peter Nelson, Brian Robertshaw, Billy Kristian, Steve Tebbutt.
Photo credit: Peter Nelson collection
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Renaissance in a promotional brochure, Mugen Tokyo, 1971.
Photo credit: Peter Nelson collection
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The Diamonds, Safari Christchurch, 1963-64. From left: Ray Messervy, Don Clarkson, Doug Petrie, Dave Henderson, Kaye Bassett, Peter Nelson.
Photo credit: Peter Nelson collection
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Peter Nelson and The Castaways on the Australian TV show 'It's All Happening', on Channel 7. The live Sunday evening pop show was hosted Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, which included two New Zealand musicians at the time: drummer Johnny Dick and bassist Teddy Toi. 
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Promotional photo for EMI Australia, 1966. From left: Doug Henderson, Peter Gillette, Peter Nelson, Lenny Ormsby, Doug Petrie.
Photo credit: Peter Nelson collection
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Peter Nelson in a publicity photo for the release of his LP, Hong Kong, 1976.
Photo credit: Peter Nelson collection
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Renaissance II, Furama Hotel 1973-74. From left: Peter Nelson, Greg Lyon, Mick Kenny, [Seated] Roberto Pettaccia, Peter Thoms, Andrew Oh, Lance Dixon.
Photo credit: Peter Nelson collection
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Christchurch band Peter Nelson and The Castaways were based in Wellington between 1965 and 1966, where this shot was taken. In 1966, they moved to Sydney where Nelson left in 1967. They replaced him with Frankie Stevens and continued as a major club band in Australia for some years.
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New Zealand-born journalist Hilary Alexander, in the Hong Kong Standard, August 1971. Peter Nelson: "She gave us an amazing write-up re our three concerts at The Scene."
Photo credit: Peter Nelson collection
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Peter Nelson's Renaissance at Safari night club, Siam Intercontinental Hotel, 1971. 
Photo credit: Peter Nelson collection
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Renaissance at Hawaiian Hut, Ala Moana Hotel, 1971.
Photo credit: Peter Nelson collection
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TV & Entertainment Times cover, featuring Peter Nelson's Renassance at the Siam Intercontinental Hotel, Bangkok, 1971.
Photo credit: Peter Nelson collection
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With BB King in Mugen, Tokyo 1971. From left: Peter Nelson, BB King, Wally Scott, Billy Kristian.
Photo credit: Peter Nelson collection
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Renaissance, the band formed by Peter Nelson to play the clubs and hotels of Asia in 1969. Billy Kristian second from left.
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Spencer Street 2006 concert in the Christchurch Cathedral, our original lineup. From left: Peter Nelson, Peter Gillette, Doug Henderson, Don Clarkson, Doug Petrie, Lenny Ormsby.
Photo credit: Peter Nelson collection
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EMI