The band, who recorded 'I’m Happy Too' for Viking Records, had been written into 1960s rock lore as an Invercargill group who somehow picked up ex-Pleazers vocalist Bob London, moved to Dunedin and changed their name to The Defenders, then disappeared. In 1994 AudioCulture tracked Kerry Wright, the composer of 'I’m Happy Too' to his Cambooya, Queensland home to hear the true story of Hubb Kapp and the Wheels for the first time.
When The Defenders, a Toowoomba, Queensland beat/ R&B band, first landed in Auckland in June 1965, they had no idea they’d be scripted into NZ music history as Hubb Kapp and The Wheels. They were simply a band looking for gigs and more professional experience.
Even as one of the area’s top bands, they couldn’t get enough work to turn professional.
They played extensively around their Toowoomba and Brisbane backyard, but even as one of the area’s top bands, they couldn’t get enough work to turn professional. A move was needed: the band decided on three possible locations – Sydney, Melbourne or Auckland – finally choosing the latter.
The Defenders – Kerry Wright (guitar, vocals), Ron Smith (guitar, vocals) and Ray Moore (bass, vocals) – had to shed their Australian drummer when he refused to move to New Zealand, but shortly after landing, they picked Aucklander Rick Phillips to pound the tubs. Then they cut a track down to see promoter James Haddleton, hoping to score a support slot on the Pretty Things/ Sandie Shaw Auckland Town Hall concert of August that year.
The band’s audition at the Top Twenty club in Durham Lane didn’t gain them the prestigious support, but it did turn the ears of the club owner, who began to regularly book the band.
It also prompted A&R man Ron Dalton to ask the band to demo two songs at Viking Records Studios. The Defenders coupled band original, 'I’m Happy Too', with a cover of Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs’ 1960 number one US hit 'Stay'.
Good enough to be a record, Dalton decided, but not as The Defenders, so he re-christened the band Hubb Kapp and The Wheels, a name inspired by the recent convictions of Dion and the Belmonts for stealing hub caps.
The Defenders, doing quite well under their own name, thank you, refused to do like wise. Instead they added recently sacked Pleazers singer Bob London to their ranks, freeing the band from vocal duties and adding crowd/ sex appeal.
The limping, acne scarred London (real name Bob Cooper) was a genuine New Zealand rock wild man who’d recently raised the hackles of middle New Zealand with an August, 1965 television performance which prompted one Northland rock correspondent to describe it as the most disgusting performance he’d seen, and a letdown for all the country’s beat groups. London had apparently rolled around on the stage during a performance of Shel Talmy’s 'Bald Headed Woman' on an AKTV music show.
Soon after Cooper (as he was now calling himself) joined, The Defenders were offered fulltime work in Dunedin at Eddie Chin’s Sunset Strip teen venue in Rattray Street. Time for a change of drummers; Rick Phillips wasn’t keen on leaving the Queen City so Mike Conway was drafted on drums.
Hello Dunedin. Where the band soon left Sunset Strip, setting up their own dance club, the Nightspot, in George Street and playing Shindig dances at a number of halls.
They packed out the Dunedin Town Hall for a series of concerts including the Shindig Jamboree in April 1966.
They packed out the Dunedin Town Hall for a series of concerts including the Shindig Jamboree in April 1966, where they topped a bill featuring local crazies The Outer Limits and The Countdowns. Attendance was helped no doubt by The Defenders’ prominence on a local TV show, Clickety Click ‘66, which ran for 13 weeks, heralded by a theme song penned by Kerry Wright. The band’s onscreen duties included playing a handful of numbers (some original) each show and fooling around in crazy stunts with host Pat Wells.
Back on the live front they supported Millie Small, Herman’s Hermits and Tom Jones. In their adopted patch, the band and their Beatles, Hollies, Stones, Animals, Who and Zombies stocked sets weren’t easily topped.
Time for another challenge … Sydney, to be exact. Goodbye Defenders, with local keyboard player John Sayers in tow. It was mid 1966.
The band, re-named Chapter III (not to be confused with the Dunedin R&B group, Third Chapter), played around Sydney, then cut a single for Festival Records – 'Fool'/ 'Odd Man Out' – two originals. The record went nowhere chart-wise and the band, tiring of the showbiz treadmill, split up, with Wright, Moore and Smith returning home to Queensland.
They soon reformed as Chapter III, with original Defenders drummer Col Zeller – they represented Queensland twice in the national finals of Hoadley’s Battle of the Sounds. They also released a number of records and appeared often on local concert bills and TV shows until early 1970, when Wright and Moore moved on and formed the Peter Wright Revival backing Kerry’s brother, Peter.
Kerry Wright sums up: “As you can see, Hubb Kapp and the Wheels never really existed, except on record. Bob London married a Brisbane woman and moved to Canada, John Sayers went into record production in Sydney and Mike Conway is alive and well in NZ. The Toowoomba members still live in that area.”