Miller was shocked. ‘Mr Guy Fawkes’ was his baby. He’d wanted to musically approximate a devastated world similar to the scene in the film On the Beach (1956) where a submarine ups periscope in Sydney Harbour after a nuclear holocaust. “It had an effect on me," Miller told me in an interview back in the mid-1990s. "The emptiness. I wanted a ghostly narration of the thing. My voice with all the tones stripped down.”
Up until then, the company had so much confidence in Miller they hadn’t bothered to attend the recording sessions. Spin ended up releasing the single only because the record had already been pressed.
‘Mr Guy Fawkes’, a cover of a Jimi Hendrix-produced Eire Apparent album track, went to No.2 on the Australian charts.
They should have stuck to their original instinct. ‘Mr Guy Fawkes’, a cover of a Jimi Hendrix-produced Eire Apparent album track, went to No.2 on the Australian charts, stalling just behind The Rolling Stones’ ‘Honky Tonk Woman’. Leading music publication Go-Set rated it the best Australian record of 1969. It is now considered an Australian classic and the peak of Miller’s musical career.
Ray Columbus, Dinah Lee, Max Merritt: Christchurch’s 1960s rock and roll alumni were an impressive bunch, and the trail they blazed from Christchurch through Auckland to Sydney was a compelling one for any local vocalist or musician. Dave Miller had been pushing to make the hop to Sydney since his days fronting the (New Zealand) Byrds. After a brief period back in Christchurch as a soloist, he made the move.
Once there, Miller did the rounds of pubs and clubs looking for work. He gravitated towards The Bowl, promoter Ivan Dayman’s club for his Sunshine Records artists Mike Furber, Tony Worsley, Peter Doyle, and Normie Rowe and The Playboys.
His contact was Graham Dent, New Zealand’s best rock publicist. Dent jacked him up work as a compère, DJ and singer with featured bands, before asking Miller to put together a resident band, who would also back visiting artists.
Miller’s first call went out to former Rayders drummer Ray Mulholland in Auckland. The line-up was completed by Mick Gibbons on guitar, young Swiss bassist Harry Brus, and Greg Hooke playing keyboards. It was all too good to be true. Miller: “Ivan Dayman let me down flat. Dayman is a promoter I don’t have a lot of time for. I’ve had too many problems working for Ivan and to this day I’m not comfortable with some of the things that happened, having been around him.”
With The Dave Miller Set unwanted and Ray Mulholland on his way over from New Zealand, Miller was in a jam, so he started hustling. The new outfit got a gig at Sydney Royal Easter show, playing with Johnny Young and Kompany, and Ronnie Burns, to many thousands of people each day for 10 days. It left Miller exhausted and “skinny as my little finger”.
He headed back to Christchurch to marry, leaving the band with gigs to get on with. Miller: “I wasn’t serious about continuing with The Dave Miller Set. But when I arrived back at Mascot Airport in Sydney I was confronted by the entire band, who’d had so much feedback from the Easter show, they were very determined to carry on.”
So be it. Mick Gibbons was replaced by John Robinson, a 17-year-old virtuoso guitarist who’d made a name for himself among the older music fraternity. Miller figured that with the rise of guitar heroes such as Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix, a resident version wouldn’t be such a bad idea. One hitch: Robinson wanted his bass player Bob Thompson in the band. Out went Brus.
The Dave Miller Set soon signed to Spin Records, home of The Bee Gees and Jeff St John, and in November 1967 released their first single, ‘Why Why Why’, a Paul Revere and The Raiders album track from Spirit of ‘67. ‘Why Why Why’ received some airplay, television exposure and a New Zealand release.
Next, says Miller, they were the first pop band in Australasia to work the cruise liners in the South Pacific, stopping off in Fiji and Nouméa on the 10 day cruise. Their eventual destination was Auckland for two months, working from December 1967 to January 1968 at fairs, carnivals and holiday spots. But plagued by lousy equipment, they arrived a crumpled heap. A sponsorship from Jansen, a music equipment manufacturer and a parental loan soon fixed the band up with a better class of gear.
Onstage, The Dave Miller Set favoured the guitar-led sound of Hendrix, playing a substantial part of the current Hendrix songbook — ‘Stone Free’, ‘Purple Haze’ and ‘Hey Joe’ — but they were quickly forced to revert to a soul set. That didn’t stop Auckland pirate radio station Radio Hauraki playing the hell out of ‘Why Why Why’.
Back in Sydney, The Dave Miller Set recorded ‘Hope’ with Spin Records producer Pat Aulton, using members of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. The single hit the Top 20 in May 1968 on the back of heavy airplay from Ward Austin at 2UW. The topside appealed to the emerging rock audience, while the flipside, ‘Having A Party’, a Sam Cooke soul cover, kept them in the pop consciousness. It was a schizophrenic existence: dressing up for the pop crowd, and down in long hair and sandals for the more progressive university and college campus scene.
Equipped with new gear, The Dave Miller Set’s sound was getting being bigger and louder. They were finally making money when Bob Thompson went back to England. His replacement in February 1969 was longhaired Leith Corbett from Heart and Soul, a Sydney big soul band. Miller reckons him the Jim Morrison of the band, and a fan of loud bass. The Dave Miller Set tested Leonard amp company equipment and Leith got four huge cabinets to play his bass through. The era of the wall of noise was upon them.
At the end of 1968, The Dave Miller Set played another P&O cruise. In Auckland things were quieter than the previous visit although the band got as far as Dunedin this time.
For their third single in September 1968, The Dave Miller Set chose Miller’s psych-pop original, ‘A Bread and Butter Day’, flipped with Dino Valente’s hippie anthem, ‘Get Together’ (a song which had been completely overlooked when The Youngbloods released it the year before in Australia). The new version featured John Robinson playing a sitar he’d ordered from an old Indian firm.
Miller: “Psychedelia was starting to take shape. Jefferson Airplane was in vogue. We didn’t ape that. We went hand in hand with the technological development with all sorts of sound shapers and phasers.”
The times were high. Australia was the lucky country, and hippiedom had arrived. The Dave Miller Set could be found playing Mad Mel’s Big Stirs in air thick with marijuana smoke. People were transported to another place by LSD Fogg’s smoke machines and light shows. Three to four minute songs had given way to 20-25 minute marathons, which gave the group the chance to stretch out and discover new things musically.
Complete with stormy sound effects, 'Mr Guy Fawkes' gave eerie notice of the clouds that were on the horizon for Australian-produced music.
That adventure spilled over into their fourth single, the effects laden ‘Mr Guy Fawkes’, written by Eire Apparant’s Mick Cox, and plucked from Sunrise, the Irish band’s only album for Buddah Records. It made No.6 on the Sydney Charts in November 1969. By then Ray Mullholland had left, replaced by Mike McCormac (ex Sect).
Complete with stormy sound effects, 'Mr Guy Fawkes' gave eerie notice of the clouds that were on the horizon for Australian-produced music. From late 1969 until mid 1971 radio and record companies were locking horns over whether radio stations should pay for records. The Dave Miller Set was annihilated. Miller tried to rush something out before the strike in March 1970 as Dave Miller, but the prophetic ‘Does Anyone Really Know What Time It Is?’ (backed by Miller's psychedelic original ‘No Need To Cry’) tanked.
Miller had had enough. He wanted to write his own songs and then head to England. Retaining Leigh Corbett and utilising a number of friendly drummers, Miller and Corbett recorded Reflections in August 1970 and released it in October.
Miller took those songs with him when he joined Sydney’s Sunday Mourning in a new group called 2000. A new Dave Miller Set, with John Robinson returning and with Steve Hogg on bass and Steve Webb on drums, gathered in February 1973. Miller headed to England six months later. Reflections is now considered to be an Australian classic and has subsequently been reissued.
Dave Miller - vocals
John Robinson - guitar, sitar
Harry Brus - bass
Ray Mulholland - drums
Greg Hooke - keyboards
Mick Gibbons - guitar
Bob Thompson - bass
Leith Corbett - bass
Mike McCormac - drums
Steve Hogg - bass