When they returned to New Zealand in April 1968 after 20 months in Great Britain, The Human Instinct were buoyant and optimistic. They’d had five singles released on major labels in the old country and toured with The Small Faces, Cat Stevens, Spencer Davis Group and the Jeff Beck Group, with Rod Stewart. No other New Zealand 1960s group could claim that level of success and exposure in the heart of the pop revolution.
After a week’s rest they reconvened as a trio, with guitarist and composer Dave Hartstone choosing to remain in England. They borrowed some equipment from Jansen Electrical and arranged a Sunday showcase performance at the Shiralee.
Two weeks later, the group rushed down to the shipping company freighting their new Marshall PA and amps to New Zealand. There was some gear there all right, but no band equipment apart from drummer Maurice Greer’s timpani drum. They checked the bill of lading. No Marshall gear was listed.
Bill Ward, the band’s other guitarist, was soon on to the London shipping company. “It never left England,” he was told. The gear had been stolen from the warehouse in England.
Ward was shattered: “That was the end of the band for me. I had no savings apart from a little bit of money we’d brought back. I said to Maurice, “That’s it, I quit. I’m going back to Tauranga.” Greer and bass player Frank Hay decided to carry on. Meanwhile, Dave Hartstone set up an equipment rental company in London.
Their final British single, a cover of The Byrds’ ‘Renaissance Fair’, had climbed into the American Top 100.
Then finally some light – The Human Instinct’s English manager had been onto Maurice Greer. Their final British single, a cover of The Byrds’ ‘Renaissance Fair’, had climbed into the American Top 100. Get back over here, he said, and I’ll get you to America. Maurice approached Bill Ward. But the disillusionment had hardened. When Greer returned later that year, it would be a totally different Human Instinct with Billy TK, the “Māori Hendrix” on guitar.
Cut to Tauranga – a sun soaked city on New Zealand’s east coast, sometime in 1964, where the city’s top rock and roll band The Four Fours have just finished their set at drummer Trevor Spitz’s waterfront Inferno Coffee Lounge. With a handful of singles out on Allied International and Bay of Plenty area fame assured, they’re looking forward to a move to Auckland, New Zealand’s biggest city.
For six years they'd been riding a wave that begun in 1958 with a jazz-inclined quartet. Rock and roll and pop became the band’s standard fare as the 1960s dawned, and the entrepreneurial Spitz started running dances in the St John’s Ambulance Hall and the YMCA before opening The Inferno.
They'd already made inroads into the richer Auckland market through well-received live and recorded performances. In Christmas 1964 they were there with new bass player Frank Hay. He couldn’t play, but that didn’t hinder his first appearance as a Four Four, miming third single ‘Barrow Boy’ on Auckland Television. He learnt his instrument quickly.
The move proved good timing. The NEBOA (National Entertainment and Ballroom Operators Association) strike had stripped the town of performers, who’d decamped with promoter Graham Dent to Australia. Hitting town on spec, The Four Fours scored a regular spot at Fred McMahon and Dave Henderson’s Platterack in Durham Lane.
It was an eye opener for the rural boys. Bill Ward: “The Platterack was a seedy scene where we met prostitutes, sailors, strippers, pimps and queers and got to know some of them quite well. They were good people when you got to know them.”
Better still, Henderson and McMahon came up with a permanent 8pm to midnight Friday night slot at Phil Warren’s Monaco Ballroom. It soon became a Friday and Saturday slot. It was quite a dash getting from the Monaco Ballroom up on Federal Street, the half mile or so to Durham Lane with instruments to the Beat Room under the Platterack, scramble onto its small stage and play the week’s Top 10 hits (faithfully learnt each week) as DJ Keith Adams counted them down. Then it was upstairs, lugging gear through the descending patrons to play.
It was a hectic schedule, practice every day, expanding and refining their sets with material from the pre-release singles Fred Noad received at Allied International.
Ward and Hartstone were the band’s songwriters. Hartstone was the instigator and Ward the melody man. They had a big New Zealand hit in 1965 with an instrumental called ‘Theme From An Empty Coffee Lounge’. The song’s most notable feature was Hartstone’s whistled melody, which somehow survived from a demo part to the final product. A national tour followed in September 1965 but they were unable to follow up their first big hit.
‘Theme From An Empty Coffee Lounge’ was one of eight singles, all original songs, released on Allied International.
‘Theme From An Empty Coffee Lounge’ was one of eight singles, all original songs, released on Allied International – one notable release being the raw R&B of ‘She’s Gonna Get Me’. Ward, more a ballad and harmony singer, wasn’t comfortable with Hartstone’s enthusiasm for The Rolling Stones and R&B, but that was the direction the band went in after switching to Zodiac Records in 1966.
Their third release, ‘Go Go’, a sinewy R&B rocker about the Go Go girls at the Monaco Ballroom (backed with ‘Don’t Print My Memoirs’), featured a hyperactive teenage drummer, Maurice Greer of Palmerston North. Trevor Spitz had split.
Greer was a cherub-faced pop kid who’d drummed with Palmerston North’s top show band The Flares on the regional ball and openings circuit, playing extensively throughout the middle and lower North Island until he and two fellow Flares got other ideas and The Big Three with Peter Knowles (guitar) and Trevor Harrison (bass) appeared.
Next up were The Saints with Dave Hurley (guitar). They were a Merseybeat band with a regular gig at the Greer brothers’ Flamingo Coffee Lounge in King Street, behind the Regent Theatre in Palmerston North. The Saints were hard to miss in their gold Beatle suits, a very visual act enhanced by Maurice singing and drumming upright with raised drums, a rare sight. When The Saints played Auckland's Shiralee Ballroom, Frank Hay was watching.
Bill Ward: “Maurice was a stand-up drummer, a real showman. He was a draw with his multi-coloured hair and a star with the girls. He was young and good looking and a good singer. He brought a freshness to the band which we needed. We’d never done any Beach Boys stuff, and suddenly there’s Maurice with a falsetto. We could do falsetto harmonies. We were a four singer line-up.”
Maurice splashed out on new clothes and a Chevy Bel Air and the band upgraded their gear and talked about England. They canned Australia. Too predictable, everybody was going there. “Nah,” said Hartstone, “England was it.” They’d come this far, why not a bit further?
The stability and vigour of the new line-up was mirrored in their new recordings. ‘One Track Mind’, a song Hartstone brought to the group as an original riff, is a copy of The Knickerbockers' song of the same name. Nobody noticed at the time and Bill Ward was convinced it was a Hartstone original.
In February 1966, The Four Fours landed the plum support spot for The Rolling Stones on their second New Zealand tour, much to the dismay of their competitors. They opened in Wellington, top of the local bill behind The Searchers. The show was wild. Greer remembers the officials having to calm the fans down even before The Four Fours came on.
They were watching the Stones play from the side of the stage when a guy from the audience jumped up and started hammering Mick Jagger.
They were watching the Stones play from the side of the stage when a guy from the audience jumped up and started hammering Mick Jagger. Two security guys ripped him off and swung him one-two-three back into the crowd. As a riot broke out, Bill Wyman and Keith Richards dropped everything, flicking their guitars off and running off to the side of the stage, where they watched the chaos. Later that evening, a girl plummeted from the balcony onto the stage, dislocating her legs.
The Auckland show was calmer.
In August 1966 on the heels of a big farewell concert at the Auckland Town Hall, The Four Fours set sail on the Fairsky to England. They were well ready by then, promotional kits printed, letters of recommendation from Phil Warren and Fred McMahon pocketed, and savings stashed for possible bad times.
As they boarded the ship, Hartstone was stopped by a bailiff who demanded the guitarist honour a debt of several hundred pounds. Hartstone balked. He didn’t have it. Everything was going to shit. So the others chipped in and paid the debt. Hartstone said he’d pay them back.
Press reaction to The Four Fours departure was muted. Playdate’s Johnny Mann in Pop News bade them an acidic goodbye, noting, “Pity the Four Fours left the country leaving a bad taste in many mouths.”
It took five weeks to get to England. The band kept busy playing the ship’s back bar to large crowds as part of an agreed discount on their fares. They also changed their name to the more contemporary sounding The Human Instinct. A good move, time would reveal.
The Human Instinct arrived in Southampton on a dreary wet night in September. The next day they arrived in London on the train and the enormity of their gamble came home. They had nowhere to stay and no contacts.
Hay, Greer and the Hartstones found digs in West End Lane in West Hampstead. The Wards were further afield, down south London in Thornton Heath. The hunt for work began straight away. They updated their image (no more suits) and started rarking up their set, hassling agents, and pestering Mercury Records (Zodiac Records' UK agent) to release some new songs.
The work was slow coming. It wasn’t until Christmas Eve that they got their first show at the black and white striped Zebra Club in Soho. After a bare first three months and a pauper’s Christmas it was a welcome sign that their luck had turned. Better was to come in the New Year.
After a gob-smacking audition in front of promoters at the Starlight Ballroom in Wembley – a rousing version of The Beach Boys’ ‘Good Vibrations’ with their four part harmonies setting them apart – they found a good agent in the proprietor. Work offers picked up radically. “The band with the stand-up drummer, who sung ‘Good Vibrations’” as they were often called, were playing three times a week, supporting top line acts – The Small Faces, Spencer Davis Group, Jeff Beck Group, Roy Orbison, Spooky Tooth, The Move, Moody Blues, Long John Baldry, Manfred Mann, Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band and Cat Stevens. Just about everyone who was – or was soon to be – anyone in British pop. Having come to England to be at the heart of the rock revolution, The Human Instinct were undisputedly there.
They did the rounds of the London Clubs and dances, playing the Marquee (with Jeff Beck Group), a Monday residency at the Tiles Club and several weekly slots at the Playboy Club in Park Lane, after which they’d smuggle their bunny girlfriends out to Grumbles for an illicit breakfast. They took over The Peddlers’ residency at The Pickwick Club while they were overseas, but didn’t go down well with the jazz-inclined audience.
Then there was the Ram Jam Club. Ward: “It was run by blacks with an all-black audience. I’ll never forget going into the loos and there was a guy shooting up with a needle and you’d smell this funny smell.”
They zig-zagged their way up and down England, Scotland and Wales playing halls, out-of-the-way clubs, university balls at Oxford and Cambridge. They played Motherwell, where everyone was searched at the door. Cornwall, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, a submarine base in Northumberland, Wales with Cat Stevens, and a violent show where the band were driven from the stage by a bottle barrage between mods and rockers. They grabbed their gear, backed the van up to the door and peeled out double-time to the sight of a young mod getting the shit kicked out of him on the road outside as youths took to each other with fence palings.
On the way home, they encountered other acts on the road, huddled over early morning meals at one of the cafes favoured by rock and roll bands. Imagine Jimi Hendrix in an old army overcoat, munching baked beans.
With their live profile up and plenty of work coming in, The Human Instinct secured a recording deal with Mercury Records.
With their live profile up and plenty of work coming in, The Human Instinct secured a recording deal with Mercury Records. First up in March 1967 was ‘Rich Man’ backed with ‘Illusions’ (covered by The Tunespinners in New Zealand). Like all The Human Instinct releases it received good press but few sales. After two more failed singles – ‘Can’t Stop Loving You’ and a lame re-recording of ‘Go Go’ from June 1967, The Human Instinct hooked up with producer and A&R man Mike Hurst, formerly guitarist and singer with The Springfields (as in Dusty).
Hurst was an innovative producer and in The Human Instinct, he had the perfect raw material, a pop band that could play and sing four-part harmonies, qualities he knew well and that fitted snugly into the whimsical-pop-with flowery-edges that was Britain’s psychedelia.
First up for new label Deram Records – Decca’s psychedelic imprint – which also released David Bowie and The Buzz, Cat Stevens, and The Moody Blues – was ‘Day In My Mind’s Mind’, recorded at Olympic Studios and released in December 1967.
‘Day In My Mind’s Mind’ was described 30 years later by English critic Jon Savage as “a blurring of the real and the fantastic, aurally reproduced by de-tuned raga-style guitars and fey voices” – with driving, clapped rhythm and eerie flute, no less. The Human Instinct may never have tripped (not then anyway), but they had the new drug-influenced sound down.
It was a deft pop single, but that wasn’t always enough, as The Human Instinct knew only too well after three failures. Their manager had an idea. If the right amount of money (1500 pounds) were to reach the right hands, your record will chart, he said. The money changed hands, but nothing happened. The band were upset, but were told to hang on because “the first one never does it, that’s getting it known amongst the people who matter. The next one will chart.” It didn’t.
Then there was the notorious ‘Visions Of Flowers’, Hartstone’s attempted flower power cash-in, recorded between their two Deram Records singles. Mike Hurst wheeled in session pianist Nicky Hopkins, and finished the song with a bizarre psychedelic mélange of harp, motorbike sounds and sound effects fade. It was never released.
‘Renaissance Fair’ was a Byrds B-side from March 1967 that The Human Instinct made their own. Mike Hurst got the London Symphony Orchestra in to embellish the mystical, beautifully sung, upbeat psych-pop chugger.
Again there were good reviews, but the single stiffed in February 1968. That was it for Ward. He wanted to go home to join his wife; he’d left her behind in mid-1967. Frank Hay was also homesick. The experience had run its course. It was time to go home.
Dave Hartstone tried to convince Maurice to stay. He was getting into management, he said. Maurice had had fun while they “kept on the gain, creeping up”, but he too decided to leave. He could (and would) come back. But it was hard. Hartstone was like a big brother to him.
Hartstone stayed. He had seen moneymaking possibilities in London. Even so it must have hurt. All that work for nothing, certainly not the fame he desired. He’d written songs, driven the band and put up with the same deprivations as his fellow musicians. But there was nothing he could do.
They divided the gear up. The band got the PA and amps. Hartstone got the Transit van. They trucked the gear down to the wharves, insured it and left it in the warehouse for freighting home. Then they caught the plane back, returning on Anzac Day in 1968.