The Onslow College sixth former had made the semi-finals of NZBC talent show Have A Shot singing with school band The Silhouettes. The day after the episode, Vinsen wagged school and received a call from someone saying he was an A&R man who had seen her on TV.
Her mother invited the man to come and visit the house and he sat in the lounge telling them he would take Vinsen and her mother to Auckland for an audition with HMV. None of them were aware that the HMV studios were in fact less than 10 miles away in Wakefield Street, Wellington.
The man left with a promise to call with news of the trip. He looked vaguely familiar to Vinsen, but she thought no more of it. Weeks turned into months and her Onslow College class was on an excursion in the city when Vinsen noticed a sign for the HMV Studios.
She darted up the stairs and began telling a receptionist the story of the A&R man who had promised her an Auckland audition. In the next-door partitioned office the company’s real A&R man, Alec Mowat, listened intently before rounding the corner with the news that the visit was a hoax. But he organised for Vinsen to come in with her guitar the following week for an audition where he signed her up.
Born in 1946, Rochelle Vinsen’s father and uncle ran picture theatres in the town halls of Wellington suburbs Ngaio and Khandallah. The men would drag seats and rubber cushions from beneath the stages and Vinsen would see three or four feature films a week, falling in love with the Hollywood musicals starring Doris Day, Rosemary Clooney and Debbie Reynolds.
While with HMV from 1963 to 1965, she recorded eight singles, including the NZ Top 10 hits ‘My Boyfriend Got A Beatle Haircut’ and the duet with Jim McNaught, ‘I Like Your Kind Of Love’.
In standard five her teacher would have her in front of class singing songs such as Connie Francis’s ‘Lipstick On Your Collar’ with a tennis racquet as a guitar. Her parents paid for guitar lessons and before long she could accompany herself on material by Francis, Sue Thompson’s ‘Norman’ and ‘Sad Movies’ and Elvis Presley’s ‘One Night With You’ and ‘Jailhouse Rock’.
While with HMV from 1963 to 1965, she recorded eight singles, including the NZ Top 10 hits ‘My Boyfriend Got A Beatle Haircut’ and the duet with Jim McNaught, ‘I Like Your Kind Of Love’. Studio musicians on the recordings included drummer Bruno Lawrence, Premiers guitarist Neil Harrap and Laurie Lewis and The Blockbusters. Her second single, Wanda Jackson’s ‘Let My Love Walk In’, featured violinists from the NZBC National Orchestra.
Her debut single ‘Candy Kisses’ was the first HMV 45 to be released in a picture sleeve. The jacket featured a photo of Vinsen with the tag “Introducing a new star” and informed that she “records exclusively for HMV”. But the song was not played on radio because Wellington broadcaster Johnny Douglas decided the saxophones and backing music were “too loud”.
Its absence on the airwaves had her Onslow College schoolmates thinking she was making up stories about releasing a record. Unperturbed, Vinsen left school during the lunch break to visit the nearby home of 2ZB breakfast announcer Bas Tubert to tell him her tale. The next morning he played the flip side, ‘Tie A Ribbon In The Apple Tree’, and her peers were appeased.
Producer Nick Karavias came up with the idea of redoing the Donna Lynn novelty number ‘My Boyfriend Got A Beatle Haircut’. To emulate the percussive sound on the original, Bruno Lawrence or Neil Harrap stood in the studio rapidly rattling a teaspoon against the sides of two separate compartments of a pressure cooker.
Throughout her recording career she attended Wellington Teachers College, telling promoter Ken Cooper she was available for touring during the school holidays. Vinsen’s mother consented only after being given assurances that one of the more responsible musicians in the tour parties would look after her 17-year-old daughter. It often didn’t play out that way.
Her first tour was in the South Island with Jim McNaught, Freddie Keil and the Kavaliers and Lou and Simon. When the bus arrived at the first stop it suddenly dawned on the naive Vinsen, the only female in the entourage, that she was expected to share a motel unit with the male musicians. She was in tears on the bus when Lou and Simon arrived separately to rendezvous with the party.
Upon their first meeting, Lou Clauson soothed the young singer and put a call through to promoter Joe Brown organising Vinsen her own room at the same hotel Lou and Simon were staying at. The rest of the group were on their best behaviour when Lou and Simon boarded the bus for the first leg of engagements.
For the second week, Lou and Simon were replaced by Viking Records star Dinah Lee, who took the younger Vinsen under her wing. Her arrival was a signal for the male musicians to play up, telling dirty jokes just loud enough for the women to hear. During a visit to a department store in Dunedin, Lee taught Vinsen the benefits of keeping her dockets for tax purposes.
On another tour there were ineffective locks on the hotel doors and the male musicians decided to play a prank on Vinsen where one of them entered her room with a knife and sat chatting at the end of her bed. Innocent fun for the men, but it was anything but amusing for Vinsen. She was much more comfortable in the back seat of a car with Let’s Go TV presenter Pete Sinclair giving her a peck on the cheek to the amusement of onlookers.
When she went on sections to Johnsonville West School as a student teacher the children recognised her from TV appearances and she had them eating out of her hand, especially after taking one class on a trip to the HMV studios to see a record being made. It came as no surprise when she was informed she had the highest marks from sections of all the students in her year.
Her previous two singles didn’t sell well and in 1965 Vinsen concluded that to go any further in music she would have to move to Sydney. But the stories she’d heard of the drug scene there frightened her and by now she’d fallen in love, so she decided to concentrate on a primary teaching career. She continued to perform cabaret spots at the weekends when she was able.
By the late 1960s, Vinsen was a solo mother of two boys in New Plymouth. The family moved when her husband was posted there, but the marriage failed and Vinsen fell into depression. She appeared in the Cole Porter musical Can-Can and acted in the theatre show Barefoot In The Park and promoter Ken Cooper and her former singing partner Jim McNaught would keep in touch and bring shows to the Taranaki. While there she found the Baha’i Faith and after four years returned to Wellington.
When US soft rockers and fellow Baha’i adherents Seals and Crofts were brought to New Zealand by Stewart Macpherson in 1978, friends of Vinsen were contracted as opening act. She saw an opportunity and contacted Macpherson, who was open to adding a female to the first half of the show, where she got to meet the Americans.
In the early 1980s, Vinsen worked on the National Radio show Grampa’s Place that starred Goodbye Pork Pie and Smash Palace actor Des Kelly as Grampa and Vinsen as his grown-up daughter. Aimed at a preschool audience, the 10-minute spots were funded by the Education Department and lasted five years. One of the shows on stranger danger and inappropriate touching won a radio award in Japan. Courtesy of Radio New Zealand, two albums from the show were released on Kiwi Pacific Records under her married name Rochelle Brader, including her collection of children’s songs Rochelle’s Place.
After Grampa’s Place had been axed and in the aftermath of the murder of six-year-old Napier girl Teresa Cormack, Vinsen sent a cassette of the show to National MP George Gair with the idea of educating children to the risks of stranger danger. In two years they had raised $200,000 from various trusts and produced and presented the Keeping Safe video kit for preschools. Vinsen herself had been enticed into a stranger’s van at the age of five, but escaped relatively unscathed.
She was the subject of the play My Boyfriend Got A Beatle Haircut that was written by and starred her daughter Chantelle Brader, from her second marriage, and was performed at the Fringe Festival in Wellington in 2013. In the last few years Vinsen has sung at various charity concerts around Wellington.
Rochelle Vinsen made several appearances on the NZBC pop TV show Let’s Go, which was filmed in Wellington from 1964 to 1966 and was produced by Kevan Moore.