At the end of the first series of C’mon – in winter 1967 – the show’s resident acts began a national concert tour.
The idea was a sure-fire winner, but it gave Kevan Moore, the programme’s NZBC producer, a dilemma. “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.
Moore’s solution was inspired. “In my absence, I delegated The Underdogs to look after the girls, which was a bit like putting the lunatics in charge of the asylum, but it worked. Suzanne and Judy have told me since on numerous occasions that that tour was the most miserable tour that they were ever involved with [as] after the show each night the Underdogs would lock the girls in their room while the rest of the crew partied.”
The Underdogs regarded Mr Lee Grant with disdain and made it their mission from day one of the tour to cause mayhem for him at every opportunity. “We saw him as everything we as blues musicians despised,” confesses Lou Rawnsley: “the clean-cut image with the mod clothes and a rather snobby attitude.”
Murray Grindlay, The Underdogs’ singer, recalls a memorable occasion at the first show in Christchurch: “We were in the basement of the hall and the windows were frosted and all the girls were outside screaming for Mr. Lee Grant. ‘LEE, LEE’ they chanted. Neil Edwards put on his deep-voice impersonation and went up to the window which only opens a few inches and says ‘Hi girls it’s me, Mr. Lee Grant’. After the screams died away in the chilly winter air Neil told them to pass through their autograph books, a lot of books came through that little gap. Neil ripped them all up and threw them back outside and all the girls were calling Lee a bastard and crying.” But the torment didn’t end there as Edwards recalls: “On several occasions I would sit behind Sandy Edmonds and Lee Grant (they were a bit of an item) and all the kids would congregate outside the bus when we were leaving town, sitting behind them I would put my arm through the side of the seat and give everybody outside the bus, the fingers, and they all thought it was Lee. Lee and Sandy would be so busy chatting away that they never noticed. We would be driving away and all these girls thought they had been given the fingers by Mr. Lee Grant. All the spurned girls would be saying, ‘Oh f--k you then Mr. Lee Grant’ – and Lee would be sitting in the bus wondering what the fuss was all about.
The tour was only into its first week when members of the crew started coming down with colds and flu, but the show had to go on. Grindlay was an early casualty when he contracted pneumonia in the first week. He recalls: “Sandy Edmonds, bless her soul, was an angel, she sat at my bedside, making sure that I stayed hydrated and wiped the sweat from my brow for several days until we arrived in Dunedin, where I was admitted to Dunedin Hospital.”
While Grindlay was in hospital, Edwards took his place: “I had never sung lead vocals before, in fact, I didn’t even know half of the words, On the first show without Murray, I was out front singing away and the power went off for about 30 seconds, there was only one plug on stage which all the amps were going through, the extension cord was too short and was pulled so tightly that it was off the ground and the plug just slipped out of the socket which didn’t do a hell of a lot to ease my nerves. During the second half of the show they had a choreographed song-and-dance medley routine. I had to take Murray’s place in that as well: so when Murray re-joined the show three days later, I was a happy man.”
C’mon band drummer Jimmy Hill was invalided off the tour with severe tonsillitis. This was a recurring problem for him: a heavy work schedule since 1965 during the heady days of Ray Columbus and The Invaders meant that he had no time to get his tonsils removed. During the Rolling Stones’ 1965 tour with Ray Columbus and The Invaders, such was the severity of his condition that Hill had to be stretchered onto a plane. Underdogs’ drummer Tony Walton was commandeered to play his own set and back all the other acts. By the end of the tour, only three members of the C’mon contingent escaped the flu: Peter Sinclair, Sandy Edmonds and Mr. Lee Grant.
Out of hospital, Murray Grindlay re-joined the touring party in Invercargill. Accepting an invitation to a party after that evening’s show Grindlay and his fellow bandmates piled into a car with a few locals, dragging Sue and Judy of The Chicks with them so that they could keep tabs on them.
Lou Rawnsley recalls a harrowing ride: “The guy driving us to the party was a bit of a hoon and as we left the bright lights of Invercargill he started showing off, and the next minute he lost control on some loose gravel and rolled the car. I think we rolled about three times before coming to a sudden but gentle stop. It was pitch black, we were all shaken but no one was really hurt: I think that there were so many people in the car that we cushioned each other. We shook ourselves off and managed to cadge a ride back to our motel. Out of interest we went out and had a look at the scene the next morning in the light of day – and here’s the car in the middle of a long stretch of road resting against the only tree for miles. Looking down into the gully we couldn’t help but wonder if we would have survived, had it not been for that lone tree stopping us … Oh well, no time to dwell on it: we had a bus to catch for the Greymouth shows.”
As the tour bus approached Arthur’s Pass on the route to Greymouth, word came through that the Pass had been closed to buses and other heavy vehicles due to bad weather, slips and possible snow falls. With a show in Greymouth that night, the alternative route of heading north and crossing at Lewis Pass was not an option. Trevor King (tour manager) and the driver discussed the slim alternatives. The bus driver assured King that he could get the bus and crew to Greymouth via Arthur’s Pass, safely and on time. With this, King kicked caution into touch and the tour bus continued. Greymouth was abuzz in anticipation of the show, and an early evening matinee had been added to quench the demand for tickets – so any deviation from their current route would put both shows at risk.
It wasn’t long into Arthur’s Pass before road conditions and slips forced the bus to stop and the driver to re-evaluate the situation. “Okay everybody off the bus please” he ordered. The C’mon party were then instructed to follow on foot while the driver moved the bus into the clear. This scenario happened several more times, Sandy Edmonds recalled: “There were a few people that were so ill that they had to stay in the bus. If they could have seen what we were seeing as the bus got close to the edge – then I think that they would have tried to climb through the air conditioning portals if they had to. I can still remember how cold it was: in fact, so cold that it actually felt warmer outside than inside the bus.”
“Okay everybody off the bus please,” ordered the bus driver
Billy Kristian, armed with his 8mm movie camera, took some footage at another perilous stop: this shows half of the width of the back tyres clearly over the edge of the road and, as the camera gets closer, a sobering steep drop into the ravine below is revealed.
A relieved touring party eventually limped into Greymouth on time and unpacked their gear while King and the driver pleaded ignorance to the waiting local police Sergeant. To his credit, a stern warning sufficed and no further action was taken: after all, this was a much-anticipated occasion for the locals.
Murray Grindlay: “In Greymouth, there were a lot of Māori teenagers in the front rows, the stage was only a foot high and the front row of seats were very close to the stage. Pete was on stage announcing the next act and we rolled a really evil stink bomb onto the stage behind him and the next minute these Māori kids are yelling out ‘Hey Sinclair you stink, you’ve dropped your guts’. He knew it was us and when he got off stage we ran and hid, I thought he was going to burst a blood vessel, he was so mad. No one was safe from our dastardly deeds. The Chicks and Sandy Edmonds would have at least three costume changes during the show, so we would sneak into their changing rooms and hide their costumes, you could always tell when they had come off stage because there would be this almighty yell, ‘YOU BLOODY UNDERDOGS’.
To keep the crazy Underdogs in tow, Trevor King approached them on several occasions and issued subtle warnings as Rawnsley recalls in his best impersonation: “Now look you guys, I’ve got Larry’s Rebels up in Auckland, fresh from Australia, just waiting for my call to fly down and replace you guys. So no more shenanigans – okay?”
As the tour bus left Greymouth, heading north, the C’mon tourists were oblivious to a controversy that they had left behind. Thirty female pupils of St Mary’s High School were suspended for being an hour late for morning classes after farewelling the C’mon show. One parent reflected in the local press that, “Surely it would have been better to give them extra school work as a punishment, say, an essay on the delights of Kiri Te Kanawa’s voice.”
Murray Grindlay recalls a brush with the law, location unknown: “The tour bus pulled into a fish and chip shop somewhere down the line and we all squeezed into this shop. Peter Sinclair gives me this look and drew my attention to this big silver salt shaker on the counter and whispers, ‘Psst psst. Hey, Muzz look at that. I’d really love one of those, go on grab it, stick it under your jacket for me – they won’t notice it was gone’. And me like an idiot said, ‘Shit yeah’ – and put it under my jacket. When the bus rolled up to the place that we were playing at that night there was a police sergeant and two constables waiting for us and Peter comes running over to me and pleads ‘Don’t tell them that it was me who told you to take it’. The sergeant just gave me a warning, I said to him – “Oh dear! I’ve never done anything like this before, sir’. I nearly shit myself.”
It was a close shave for the group on this occasion but it was only to be a matter of time before the Underdogs’ high-risk brand of humour would see them in real trouble with the law.
Neil Edwards recounts that after the C’mon show performed in Tauranga, “We commandeered the leftover piss from the previous night’s party. The motel that we were staying in had dinghies for guests to use. At about four o’clock in the morning, Lou, Tony and Murray rowed out into the harbour and climbed on board a moored launch. The next minute Murray and Lou jumped back into the dinghy and headed back to shore laughing their heads off and poor old Tony was left on the launch. I’m not sure how Tony got back, anyway that night we were just about to leave for the show when the cops turned up and carted Lou, Murray and Tony away, so I had the night off.’
Three Underdogs were summoned to the Tauranga District Court to face charges ...
Several months later the three Underdogs were summoned to the Tauranga District Court to face charges of unlawfully being on a motor launch. According to Grindlay, it turned into a bit of a circus. “The three of us were standing in the dock clutching those spikes that surround the defendant’s box. One of the witnesses was giving evidence and the judge intervened and in that long drawn-out upper-crust manner that only judges do, asked the witness ‘Aannddd did theeey have any girrrrls with them’ and he replied, ‘Geez ya honour I thought they were all Sheilas’. We were just pissing ourselves with laughter.”
Sickness and delinquency weren’t the only disruptions to the tour, with personal itinerary clashes and unexpected events occasionally cropping up. Peter Sinclair left the tour on several occasions to host his nationwide New Zealand Top Ten radio show; Bobby Davis filled in as the C’mon show compere. In Hamilton on the 8 September 1967, Mr Lee Grant opened the show and sang five songs in rapid succession before being whipped away in a waiting car to receive the Entertainer of the Year award later that night in Auckland. This was a big disappointment to the capacity crowd in Hamilton, reported the next morning’s Waikato Times: “Left without this talent, the show took on the air of a footie team that had lost three of its players. Even the polished presentation and way-out clothes of Sandy Edmonds failed to bring anything other than warm response. But in trotted the Underdogs to the rescue. Like great St Bernards, they soon had the audience warmed with their shagginess and tail wagging.”
The C’mon tour was an unmitigated success with all shows (matinee and evening) sold out; in some centres, extra shows were added. As the tourists traversed the country they left thousands of happy fans and reams of glowing headlines in their wake. Napier: HERE WAS NZ MUSIC AT ITS BEST. Otago Daily Times: ‘C’MON CAME AND CONQUERED’. Christchurch Press: C’MON REALLY DELIVERED. Invercargill: C’MON WAS BRIGHT, BREEZY AND SLICK. New Plymouth’s review said, “The performers and audience at last night’s C’mon show can extend their compliments to the builders of the Opera House: the roof stayed on.”
Lou Rawnsley sums up the tour from an Underdogs perspective: “The tour was an interesting social experiment. It was very noticeable that the further South that we played, the more derogatory the comments about our clothes and hair became [and] the missiles thrown at us on stage became bigger and bigger. The first time that I was ever hit on the head with a cabbage was in Invercargill – funnily enough, the gig was in the Agricultural Hall. Mind you, we probably did our selves no favours in the local press the day before the show. A local journalist asked us a pile of dopey questions so we answered them in the best way we could.” When asked about long hair, one of the group said, “We get paid to look like this and it keeps your head warm.” To a query about LSD, the response from an Underdog was, “I’d be very tempted but I wouldn’t try it without a doctor being there.”