Show Chapters

The Chicks part 2 - C'mon C'mon


With the release of their second album, The Chicks’ contract with Viking came to an end. In one year flat The Chicks had recorded and released five singles, three EPs and two LPs for the label.

 

Sue: “Dad went out and got someone else to do our next singles because at the end of our contract (which Dad had signed) we owed Viking one and four pence halfpenny. I clearly remember the amount.”

Judy: “At that point I suppose you could say Dad became our manager, but really he didn’t know much about it. Initially Ron Dalton was our manager, but as soon as our Viking contract was over he disappeared. We never heard from him or saw him again. I know he was managing Maria Dallas after us.” 

Sue: “Dad had some sort of kerfuffle with him over royalties. I know the record company was part of that and probably some of the income from shows too. We never even thought about it but Dad was outraged that we owed them money at the end of the term. We’d had hit records and sold many singles and albums. There were a lot of other artists in the same boat as us. I don’t know what money we made or didn’t make, but we sure had a jolly good time!”

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The Chicks - Judy and Suzanne Donaldson. - Judy Donaldson Collection

Judy: “Especially being 14 and 16 – we were just having fun. It was Dad that was worried about the money – ‘I’ll do the right thing by my daughters’ was his attitude.”

Ross Hindman: “Mr Donaldson pulled the plug too many times. When he thought the backing band was too loud he’d say: ‘you can’t hear my daughters singing’ …” 

Sue: “… and he’d just pull all the plugs out so there was no music at all!”

Sue: “Dad signed us to Benny Levin’s Impact Records. Levin insisted that we record ‘Tweedle Dee’. It was the worst 1950s type song ever – so uncool. I cringed at the thought of singing it.”

Sue: “So that was it with the Impact label.”

Judy: “Dad had to go too. It was bit embarrassing but Dad had to go. He was also trying to run his real estate business so it was all a bit much for him really.”

In May 1967 The Chicks signed a two-year management contract with Doug Elliott.

Sue: “Elliott was Allison Durbin’s manager. We met him on an Impact tour with Allison Durbin, Larry’s Rebels and other artists that were on Impact – Warren Lambert [from Whangarei] was on that tour.”

Judy: “Elliott signed us to Festival – that was when we did ‘River Deep, Mountain High’.”

The Chicks recorded two singles for Festival at Mascot Studios with Jimmie Sloggett: ‘You Won’t Forget Me b/w Gotta See My Baby Everyday’ in July 1967 and ‘What Am I Doing Here With You b/w  River Deep, Mountain High’ in June ’68.

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The Chicks kicking up heels with Jim McNaught and Ken Cooper, Wellington, mid-1960s - Ken Cooper collection

The Festival singles bookended another serious illness for Sue, ruling out live work in October and November 1967. The Sunday News of 5 May 1968 reported that Sue had been suffering from throat nodules, reporting dramatically:

“Several months ago the blonde half of The Chicks Sue Donaldson was told she would never sing again … The operation date was set but then postponed for three weeks when the anesthetist became ill. Miraculously in that time the nodules cleared up. But Sue had been out of action for so long she had to learn to sing and to some extent talk, all over again.” 

Ross Hindman (The Surfires): “She’d had trouble with her voice for quite a while. We backed The Chicks when they came down to Hamilton to play at The Starlight Ballroom. We had a run-through in the afternoon and Sue didn’t get up for the run-through because she was trying to protect her voice. So Judy took the rehearsal – I remember it well because Judy got up and said to us ‘this is going to sound a bit funny because I sing the harmonies.’ ”

 

Judy: “So we practised with me just singing the harmonies. The Surfires always backed us when we went to Hamilton, Te Aroha and other places around the Waikato.”

Sue: “That’s when I started going to [voice coach] Hubert Milverton-Carta.”

Judy: “We both went to him.”

Sue: “Great name isn’t it? I had two years of voice training lessons with him.”

Judy: “He showed us how to use our voices properly.”

Sue: “I thank him every day as he gave my voice longevity. Judy and I now know how to sing properly thanks to Hubert. Our singing suddenly started sounding a lot more posh and a lot more trained.”

Judy: “By the time we recorded ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ we were pretty good with our singing ability after all those lessons.”

Sue: “If you listen to ‘River Deep’ you can hear the difference in our technique, and it’s this technique that I teach nowadays. Milverton-Carta used to teach at Covent Garden in England. His pupils included Donald McIntyre, the well-known opera singer. He came out here to retire – he was about 75 when he started teaching us. He was a funny little rotund man.”

Judy: “He loved talking about Donald McIntyre.”

Sue: “I adored him. I credit him with my singing career really. A lot of it is learning muscle memory – if we think correctly our body will react correctly. It’s like playing a very sensitive instrument and the body is the instrument. You’re not playing something external so if you learn to drive your own instrument properly you can sing for hours.”

Ross Hindman: “Hubert ended up being MC at our wedding [Ross married Judy]. We hadn’t invited him but he turned up anyway. It was lucky he did as we had Peter Sinclair lined up to be Master of Ceremonies for our reception and he just didn’t turn up …”

Judy: “…so Hubert took over. He was brilliant, so funny.”

Ross Hindman: “Peter Sinclair never apologised or even explained why he didn’t turn up …” 

Judy: “… probably washing his hair that day!”

With Sue recovered a relentless run of live shows began again. Meticulous preparation contributed to their success.

Judy: “A week or so prior to our gigs I used to package up and post bundles of 7” singles of the songs we intended to play. That way the backing band could work out the keys and practise the arrangements.”

Ross Hindman (The Surfires): “This made a world of difference. The Chicks were the only artists that did this. I remember backing Sandy Edmonds. She just turned up and we were expected to know all the songs with no practice.”

February 1968 saw The Chicks touring Taranaki with Lew Pryme and The Action. Gigs were supplemented by a typically punishing schedule of radio and press interviews, record-store signing sessions and even fashion show modelling.

 

Judy: “We had an interesting experience with Lew Pryme in New Plymouth. Heading there to perform in his car the windscreen smashed. Lew stopped and took all the broken glass out. He then proceeded to wave out the front window to everybody as we were going past.”

“We arrived at a camping ground with huts in Waitara. Somehow the local the Black Power gang had found out that we were going to be down that way. Suddenly these very loud motorbikes arrived en masse at the campground. Lew said to us: “Quick, hide – get under the bed.” We wriggled right underneath these bunks. We could hear them grilling Lew: ‘Where are The Chicks? – We know they’re here somewhere.’ We were terrified. Lew replied calmly: ‘Oh no they’re not here. They’re not coming down till tomorrow and they’re staying in Stratford.’ It took him about 20 minutes of fast-talking until they finally went away. Eventually Lew called out: ‘Okay you can come out now girls’.”

Sue: “The next night the Black Power boys came to our gig. It turned out that all they wanted to do was come and see us and say hello – they actually liked us! When the gig was over they gave us a motorbike escort on the way out of town and waved us goodbye. So it turned out their intentions were good.”

Judy: “But we didn’t know.”

Sue: “And neither did Lew.”

Judy: “On another visit to Taranaki the promoter had booked a motel for us under the name ‘The Chicks’. We checked in and were given a double bed for The Chicks – Mr. and Mrs. Chick. We thought that was hilarious.”

C'mon C'mon

In November 1966 TV producer Kevan Moore had filmed a pilot episode for a proposed new TV series, to be called C’mon.

Kevan Moore: “In the first year of the series, 1967, I was cautious about inviting The Chicks to become residents, as they were so young. They stood out, as it was quite unusual to have a girl duo in those days. Of course their matching costumes and dancing ability were right in line with the strong visual aspect of the show.”

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The Chicks on the set of C'mon. - Judy Donaldson Collection

The Chicks appeared on the pilot show and made several guest appearances during the first series in 1967. The format of the show was to have artists singing excerpts from the top chart hits of that week, and preview hot new releases. Songs covered by The Chicks during their 1967 appearances included ‘Western Union’, ‘Sit Down I Think I Love You’, ‘Gotta See My Baby’, and ‘Puppet On A String’.

On completion of the TV series in July 67 the C’mon concept was taken on the road as a live show. The tour covered New Zealand pretty comprehensively, including shows in Invercargill, Westport, Gisborne and New Plymouth amongst its 40 dates.

Judy: “In ’67 and ’68 there were fabulous C’mon tours right throughout the country, lasting for five weeks or so. After the ’67 series the bill was Mr Lee Grant, Sandy Edmonds, Herma Keil, Bobby Davis, Sonny Day, The Underdogs and us – Peter Sinclair and the go-go girls came on tour with us as well. The same C’mon show band that was on the TV series backed us.”

Kevan Moore (from the liner notes of the Frenzy Records C’mon CD): “I added The Underdogs to the bill for the national tour. The Chicks were also on the tour and I promised their parents that I would make sure that the girls were properly chaperoned for the tour’s duration. Apart from doing a few quality checks in a few venues I wasn’t part of the tour. In my absence I delegated The Underdogs to look after The Chicks which was like putting the lunatics in charge of the asylum, but it worked.”

Neil Edwards (The Underdogs): “With their harmonies and costumes The Chicks really had it all down – well before C’mon even. They always had two seats reserved on the tour bus and two of us from The Underdogs sat behind them. We kept a close watch on them but we did tease them quite a bit.”

Sue: “When Judy and I were on stage on the C’mon tour we’d have extra pairs of boots out the back. So we’d race off stage for a costume change and find that The Underdogs had broken raw eggs in our boots. Squelch! They were very naughty boys.”

Murray Grindlay (The Underdogs): “The Chicks were just so good – Suzy’s lead vocals were amazing even then. They were so young and very special to us, like younger sisters really. Mind you we were just boys ourselves, around 17 at the time of this tour. We tortured them quite a bit but we made absolutely sure nothing untoward happened.”

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Suzanne Donaldson in Napier, 1968 tour. - John Pilcher

“We had a bit of a close call after the show in Invercargill though. We’d been to a party out in the country and The Chicks and us were being driven home – none of us had driver’s licences – in a grey Austin. The driver rolled it going round a corner. It was a miracle no one was seriously hurt.”

Sue: “When the car rolled everybody panicked. Except old Attila The Hun here who said: “Right! Everybody over to the left side – stop stressing. We were with The Underdogs, so we all inched over and got out of the car on the dirt side ’cos I got Louie [Lou Rawnsley] to put his foot out and there was no ground on his side at all.”

Murray Grindlay: “We managed to walk back to our hotel. The next morning we returned and were astounded to see that only a cabbage tree had stopped the car rolling down a sheer bank to the river below.”

Newspaper reports from the tour were enthusiastic about The Chicks’ performances:

“The Chicks drew 140 decibel ratings – about the noise of a victory siren from the audience. They added interest to the show with well-rehearsed dance routines and good singing.” (Oamaru Mail)

“The Chicks drew frantic applause from the capacity audience and even though Sue was fighting off influenza their singing was as polished as ever.” (Taranaki Herald)

“They came on stage in gold and silver trouser suits – but when the spotlights changed so did the colour of their outfits … both the girls and their outfits sparkled.” (Wairarapa Times-Age)

The Sunday News of 5 May 1968 reported that “The Chicks, Shane, and Tommy Ferguson have been booked as residents for the new C’mon ’68 show. The Chicks’ new formula should surprise and please the fans.”

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The Chicks onstage, 1968 tour, Napier. - John Pilcher

The Chicks accepted the C’mon residency over offers to tour in Australia and the Far East.

Judy: “We were chosen for C’mon by Kevan Moore – he was the big boss.”

Sue: “They called him God.”

Judy: “God chose us!”

Sue: “We were terrified of him.”

Judy: “The C’mon series took over our lives. We rarely performed other shows when C’mon was on. C’mon went out live at 6.30pm on Saturdays and we’d be working all week towards it. We were pretty stuffed after that.”

Sue: “On the Monday you chose your songs for two weeks out. We had a meeting – songs were played and divvied up between the artists. It was easy for us: any girl songs we got, basically. They were covers of chart hits. There were more male songs so they had to work out between them which ones each artist was going to do. Kevan usually had it all mapped out before we got there but if you didn’t like something you could say so. It was recorded in the AKTV2 studios upstairs in Shortland Street.”

Judy: “Then we had dress fittings as well, and dress rehearsals.”

Sue: “Tuesday we rehearsed and we had to get the keys etc for the songs for the following week to the musical director. Wednesday we had our first off-camera rehearsal. We’d start planning when to run up the ramp, where we’d be standing, and the go-go girls would be learning their routine.”

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On the set of C'mon '68: Shane, Suzanne Lynch (The Chicks), Ray Columbus, Judy Donaldson (The Chicks), Tommy Ferguson and Ray Woolf. 

Sue: “We had two different sets of clothes every week. Tuesday afternoon we’d madly have our dressmaker making clothes for us. We’d have a dress fitting on Wednesday for the clothes provided by the show. Thursday was a full rehearsal with our new clothes. If we were singing say, ‘Angel of The Morning’ we’d wear white dresses. For every week that the song remained in the Top 10 we’d wear the same dresses. But each week we’d perform it with a new routine.”

Judy: “Annie Bonza, who also made outfits for the go-go girls on C’mon, made some of our more fabulous outfits. She was an up-and-coming fashion designer who did unique designs with paint on material, among other things. The Chicks dress in the Volume exhibition was one of hers. Annie had a shop called Boutique 202 in Jervois Road, Herne Bay. She also made us some beautiful coats: dark brown, lovely soft imitation fur. They had just three buttons down the front, came in at the middle then were open and flared from the waist down.”

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Chicks costumes - Volume exhibition, Auckland Museum, 2016-2017

Judy: “At the end of each show was the week’s Top 10. In this segment it was just one verse and one chorus. That’s how we got so well known for ‘Timothy’ – it was in the Top 10 for weeks so we got to sing it again and again and again.”

Sue: “Friday was full rehearsal.”

Judy: “There was a great camaraderie among all the artists and go-go girls.”

Sue: “Saturday we had another rehearsal then lunch followed by a dress rehearsal at 5. And then the show at 6.30.”

Judy: “Host Peter Sinclair had a great voice. I’d heard him on Let’s Go, but once he hit C’mon his delivery changed. I was amazed at his skill. He used to just sit there reading a book. When it was his cue he’d just put the book down and babble away at his lines and then pick the book up and read again while we were singing – unbelievable. I was so in awe of him. He was a very clever guy.”

Judy: “There was something every day. It was like a full-time job. We had the morning on Sunday free – to sleep in.”

Sue: “Some of the singers went and did a live gig after the TV show.” 

Judy: “We certainly didn’t – we were too whacked out. We came home to wind down and rest. Mum was very good at fielding the phone calls.”

Sue: “Sunday afternoon you did your pre-recording – tracks for the following Saturday. Everything was lip-synched; they didn’t have the technical equipment or expertise to go totally live in those days.”

Judy: “Touring stopped when we were doing C’mon as it lasted three months, but we certainly had lots of work coming in when the series was finished for the year.”

Sue: “We did it endlessly then we did a tour at the end of it. It felt like it took up most of the year.”

Judy: “When the TV series finished the C’mon tour started.”

Commencing on 19 August with a date in Timaru, the C’mon ’68 tour ran for four weeks, ending on 15 September in Pukekohe. A flavour of the excitement generated by the tour can be gleaned from Sue Ling’s review of the show at the Auckland Town Hall in the Auckland Star of 11 September 1968:

“With almost deafening volume, C’mon ’68 took the stage last night and pounded its programme at a breathless pace. The thumping sound came from The Troubled Mind, who provided the backing for a line-up of talented performers and also proved a hit in their spot numbers … Two bright performers were the Auckland sisters, The Chicks … With its backdrop of explosive colours and the four go-go dancers, C’mon ’68 was well presented. And it delighted its teenage audience.”

Sophisticated Ladies

The Chicks supplemented their income with regular work, singing radio and TV commercials. These included Greggs Instant Pudding (‘Whisk Up A Treat’), the Tea Council, McCarthy Diamond Rings and Radio Hauraki, with which The Chicks enjoyed strong links throughout their existence.

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The Chicks, endorsing tea for the New Zealand Tea Council, late 1960s. - Judy Donaldson Collection

In October 1968 The Chicks signed a recording contract with Philips’ Polydor label. Meanwhile, Festival issued an album called Greatest Hits which included tracks licensed from Viking, and both sides of the Impact and Festival singles.

Judy: “The reason we didn’t proceed and do more recordings with Festival was probably something to do with our father – some problem with the contract or the deal – or that he thought they weren’t looking after us well enough. Any time Dad wasn’t happy he would kick up a song and dance in the house: ‘You’re not going to stay with them – they’re going to rip you off’ and all the rest of it. Whatever the reason, it wasn’t good enough for our dad. But we did get ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ out of it.”

Sue: “At Philips we dealt with John McCready and Terry Condon.”

Judy: “We flew to Wellington for the signing. We arrived in the afternoon. Terry Condon took us around to some friends of his, and said: ‘Can you look after these girls for the afternoon, I’ll be back to pick them up later.’ When he returned it was dark. We were in a house that was still being built. I walked out the back door first not realising it was two floors up, and turned the wrong way. I was just putting my foot down into a void and would have ended up on the concrete below, dead for sure. Sue grabbed hold of my arm and pulled me back. Without Sue, I would have been a complete mess on the footpath and The Chicks would have been all over.”

In late 1968 The Chicks recorded the first of their two Polydor albums, named opportunely, C’mon Chicks. With music arrangements by Jimmie Sloggett, the recording was done at Mascot Studios with Ray Columbus producing and Bruce Barton engineering. Columbus also wrote the sleeve notes:

“In May 1966 I had the pleasure of hosting the TV series Swingin’ Safari for AKTV2. On one of the shows, two young girls sang and especially impressed me with their slick presentation. I predicted on that day that those two teenagers, The Chicks, would be big stars on the New Zealand scene for a long time to come. On my return from the US two years later, I was thrilled to find that I would be working with the talented duo on the C’mon ’68 TV series. From the outset The Chicks knocked me out with their versatility, and in my humble opinion they are without doubt one of the very few world-class acts Australasia has ever produced. When it’s then taken into account that they are only 17 and 19 years old (Sue and Judy respectively) their talent is even more astounding. The 12 tracks on this album were recorded in answer to hundreds of requests from Chicks fans, and all of them are given standout treatment by the girls. There’s something for everybody, ranging from folk hits ‘Angel Of The Morning’ to beautiful ballads like ‘Best Of Both Worlds’, or wild soul like ‘Think’. Take your pick, they’re all great. And they’re all for you.”

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The Chicks' third album, produced by Ray Columbus, recorded at Mascot Studios and released in 1968 on the Polydor label. Cover design by Ron Fulstow.

 

Sue: “When we were recording our first album for Polydor we still had no say in what tracks were recorded. The musicians had already recorded their parts – we just had to turn up and do the vocals.”

Judy: “It took three days to record, and that was it.”

Sue: “By that stage that’s the way they did it – it wasn’t live with a band anymore.”

Ross Hindman: “It wasn’t multi-track recording either: the band was all going onto one track so we’d be down a generation to put on the vocals and if you put more vocals on everything went down another generation.”

To top off a highly successful year The Chicks were finalists once again in the Loxene Golden Disc Award with ‘River Deep, Mountain High’. They missed appearing at the final however as Sue once again succumbed to health issues. The Sunday News of 3 November 1968 reported that:

“Accident-prone Sue Donaldson, blonde half of The Chicks singing duo, went horse riding yesterday and ended up in Waikato Hospital after her SEVENTH accident this year. And minutes later she notched up her eighth accident of the year when the car in which she was being driven to the hospital crashed … just five days before Sue and Judy are due to star in their first Golden Disc Spectacular.”

Sue: “I fell off a horse and broke my arm. I was in seven car accidents in one year, but never driving once. One time my father concertinaed our car on the way back from Orewa. The doctor in the hospital in Hamilton suggested that the next time I got in a car I throw the keys away. Luckily I was never badly hurt.”

Ross: “We always used to say Sue was jinxed when it came to cars.”

In 1969 The Chicks featured several times as guests on the rapidly-waning-in-popularity C’mon TV show, now relegated to a Wednesday evening slot and with a new set of resident artists.

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Manager Ray Columbus signs The Chicks to Polydor in 1968. On the right is Polydor A&R manager Robin Robinson. Ray managed several artists very successfully in the late 1960s and early 1970s as part of Phil Warren's Fullers organisation. 

With Elliott’s contract now up, 1969 saw another change of manager for The Chicks. This time they signed with fellow artist Ray Columbus.

Sue: “We got to know him through C’mon. He was an artist and a manager at the same time – he also managed The Rumour, and Shane as well.”

Sue: “I’d have been 18 by then – grown up!”

Judy: “And I was 20.”

Sue: “I always say I went to the Ray Columbus school of music because he, and Kevan Moore, between them taught us professionalism; and Hubert saved my voice. So it’s those three people I always thank for my career.”

Judy: “When we split up Columbus continued as Sue’s manager. He was great, he wouldn’t stand any nonsense.”

The Columbus era marked a change away from incessant touring to a series of residencies, though one-off gigs were still completed at a frequency and geographical spread that would probably make a modern-day band blanch. A lengthy spell at Mojos commenced in February 1969.

Judy: “Mojos nightspot was hugely popular in the late ’60s, run by Hugh Lynn. It was upstairs near the corner of Queen Street and Wakefield Street. As Mojos was not licensed, people would buy a Coke and mix it with their favourite tipple that they had hidden in their bags under the table. Jimmy Hill was the drummer and Billy Kristian was in the band, but other musos such as [drummer] Bruce King filled in for them sometimes.”

Sue: “A typical nightclub gig would have us doing two sets of around 10 songs each, one around 11.30pm and the other at 1am. Kids really didn’t go out till quite late in those days.”

Judy: “In June 1969 we did a TV show for Columbus called A Girl To Watch Music By filmed in Wellington. It was a series of four shows. Our show was just Ray and us. It was very sophisticated – we had our hair up and everything – it was cabaret type stuff.”

On the 12th of June, The Chicks commenced a four-week residency at a new restaurant, the Beefeater Arms, at 105 The Terrace in Wellington, arranged by the owner Bob Sell.

Judy: “Bob Sell was a well-known entrepreneur. He ran the Hungry Horse and the Hungry Leopard in downtown Auckland – very popular restaurants when we first got married.” 

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The Chicks - Judy and Suzanne Donaldson. - Judy Donaldson Collection

Sue: “The Beefeater Arms was a posh dine-and-dance place, it had a dance floor like a cabaret. But nobody would dance when we were on, they just sat at the tables where they’d had their dinner and watched the show from there, spellbound.” 

Sue: “We loved it and they loved us. The contract was initially two weeks and then extended by a further two. We stayed in a motel that was a lovely old house. It was just a short walk from there to the Beefeater Arms. We entered through the back door, through the kitchen, and said hello to all our friends in the kitchen every night before we went on.” 

Bob Sell [Sunday News, 13 July 1969]: “I’ve always liked The Chicks, but no one knew how they would go over in a nightclub atmosphere. They’ve always been in pops up until now. Well they’re pulling the customers in like crazy. And the audiences are practically eating out of their hands.”

The Chicks returned to Wellington to record their fourth and final album from the 10th to 12th of September 1969 with producer Rob Robinson. Recordings took place between 2pm and 5pm each day.

Judy: “We recorded the album in Wellington at HMV in Wakefield Street. Don Richardson did the arrangements; he was our musical director. He wrote all the charts and organised the band. Once again the band had all been recorded by the time we got there.”

Judy: “We had a bit of a say in the track selection for the last one, Long Time Comin’. They gave us a whole lot of records to choose from and we were able decide what would suit us.”

Sue: “We listened to around 20 tracks from which we had to pick 10.”

The sleeve photograph of The Chicks showed a shift to a more adult look. Shot by 23 year-old Roger Donaldson the cover saw the girls striking a serious pose behind a gauze curtain. In perhaps a portent of things to come the album ended with solo tracks chosen by Sue and Judy themselves (Dusty Springfield covers ‘Goin’ Back’ and ‘The Look Of Love’, respectively).

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The Chicks' fourth and final album, with cover photography by a young Roger Donaldson.

 

‘Miss You Baby’, a single from the album, saw The Chicks make the final 10 in the Loxene Gold Disc Awards for the third time.

In October 1969 The Chicks returned for a further two weeks at the Beefeater Arms in Wellington, often heading out to Ali Baba’s on Cuba Street for a second gig on weekend nights. The year was rounded out with assorted gigs up and down the country including two short tours of the South Island, and Christmas party gigs for Radio Hauraki and Prestige Promotions.

As early as June 1969 John Berry was reporting in the Sunday News, “There has been an exciting offer to Sue Donaldson, younger and blonde member of The Chicks as a solo act. But it seems that she is reluctant to break up the combination with her sister Judy.”

Sue: “I just didn’t really want to go solo.”

After a whirlwind five years Judy was getting restless and wanting to try new things.

Judy: “We split up because I wanted to pursue more activities. It was the dawning of the age of the three-girl groups. You had one in the front and two behind. I sort of felt uncomfortable being a ‘two’. I felt uncomfortable because we were always on our own: the only duo. Throughout our career we didn’t seem to qualify for any awards – it was either a group award or a solo and we were never included, as we weren’t considered a group. As soon as Sue went solo of course she won Entertainer Of The Year – the very same year!”

Sue: “I finally discovered and fell in love with music – before, I was just doing what I was told.”

Judy: “Sue wore a gold ring all the time that said ‘I’m married to my music’.”

The Chicks performed what turned out to be their final show on 25 March 1970 at Western Springs as part of the star-studded line-up of Super Pop ’70. Put together by Max Cryer, the event was a showcase of New Zealand talent put on for Prince Charles and Princess Anne, then touring New Zealand.

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Prince Charles meets The Chicks, Super Pop '70, 25 March 1970. - Judy Donaldson Collection

Max Cryer: “By now Sue and Judy were amongst the top stars in New Zealand. They were always very good, with great audience appeal. They sang with their bodies as well as their voices.” 

Sue: “Charles and Anne were perched in a special booth up the back. Poor things – I felt really sorry for them. It was a long show with a huge line-up of artists. After the show we all met them and had our photos taken with them.”

Max Cryer: “The Chicks appeared in this show in matching gowns, looking very sophisticated really and like each artist, performed just one song. We’d constructed a specially built two-tier stage so we could transition from one artist to the next with minimum delay. It poured with rain throughout the show so I had to warn each of the artists not to touch the microphones.”

Barely into their 20s, The Chicks broke up at an age when many artists are just starting out.

Sue: “I was madly listening to the Fifth Dimension and all those sort of groups. I was always the younger sister doing what I was told. During the time I was in The Chicks I decided I wanted to be a singer as a career so I always say I fell in love with music. Judy was older and wanted to do other things basically. She met this man [Ross] and he was a big distraction.”

 

Sue: “I think we just got to the point where we felt we’d ‘been there, done that’.”

Judy: “It’s like in any job you eventually feel like you want a bit of a change and to see what else you can do. Yet we often hear from people who say they were devastated and to this day can’t understand why The Chicks broke up.”

Sue: “I just say we grew up. I was studying at home: I certainly didn’t have any dates. We were always escorted everywhere and I must say we were looked after very well. People used to say ‘gosh you must have an amazing lifestyle’. Well I can tell you I was usually at home reading the Woman’s Weekly. I must say I’m very grateful now. Our father was very strict: he’s in a rest home now, Mum died about 25 years ago. There is no huge mystery about why we split up really.”

Judy: “I went to Hong Kong and sang with an Italian band that couldn’t speak English. That didn’t work out very well. I then moved to Australia and joined a group called the Rubber Band. I loved it. There were six of us – a lead singer out front, plus me – I harmonised and played tambourine.”

Following the split Sue went solo, recording four albums for Polydor as Suzanne, before moving to England and reaching whole new levels of success. [Her solo career is the subject of a separate, upcoming AudioCulture feature].

Judy: “Once back in New Zealand I joined the The Rumour. I’ve been with them for many years now, it’s been great fun.”

The Chicks re-formed briefly for the TVNZ 25th anniversary special in 1985 and again for a C’mon reunion tour in 1998.

Nearly 50 years after the breakup of The Chicks, Sue and Judy are still recognised on the streets.

Sue: “I had a lady the other day say ‘you must be what, 75 by now?’ She said ‘you look amazing’. I said if I was 75 I’d agree!”

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Suzanne (left) and Judy Donaldson (right) with Ray Columbus (centre) and friends. Back row, L to R: Shane Hales, Kevin McNeil, Ray Woolf, Shade Smith. - Judy Donaldson Collection

In 2014 The Chicks reunited for a recording session for a track for the Radio Hauraki film 3 Mile Limit (2014). Suzanne, who was the musical director for the film, had a gap in the soundtrack. The Chicks recorded a new track, ‘He’s The Boy’ written by Kevin McNeil of 1960s Zodiac recording artists The Mods.

Sue (Speaking to the Woman’s Weekly in May 2014): “It was an eerie feeling of déjà vu when it came time to record the new song. It was just like riding a bike though; we slipped right back into it. Once we got singing it was just like old times. The strange thing is we sounded just like we used to – we still sounded young! We still sounded like The Chicks – we’re not The Chooks yet!”

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The Chicks part 1 - Down on the farm

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