Having made a comeback after heart surgery in 1990, legendary entertainer Billy T James passed away in August 1991. Four years later that anniversary was commemorated with Billy T James - A Celebration. Hosted by Pio Terei, the special highlights some of Billy’s best moments of both comedy gold, and his vast talents as musician. Interviews with Billy T and his colleagues (including showband veteran Robbie Ratana, comedian Peter Rowley, and screen wife Ilona Rodgers) offer insight into the real man behind arguably New Zealand’s most beloved entertainer.
The meteoric career of one of NZ’s greatest entertainers is examined in this documentary. John Rowles went from a Kawerau childhood to stardom in London at 21; but, after headlining in Hawaii and Las Vegas, he saw it all slip away. Those roofing ads and near bankruptcy followed, but Rowles has retained his self belief and that voice. A stellar cast of interviewees analyse his strengths and weaknesses, including Sir Cliff Richard, Tom Jones, Neil Finn and late promoter Phil Warren. Amongst the star cameos, John’s sister Cheryl Moana explains the downside of his best-known local hit.
Tired of working his go nowhere job at Pete’s Emporium in Porirua, Jamie (Jamie McCaskill) persuades some of his workmates (Cohen Holloway, Rob Mokaraka and Jerome Leota) to form band The Māori Sidesteps. Throughout this web series they find themselves at inopportune gigs, deal with interference from their over-reaching manager Dollar$ (Raybon Kan), and face an early band break up. Luckily the band is reinforced by Jamie’s brother Kelly (Erroll Anderson), who joins as a fifth member — outshining several other auditionees (including Jemaine Clement).
“The big ALL FUN show for the whole family to enjoy!” said the ads for this musical comedy, which was one of only two Kiwi features made in the 1960s. Moving from Sydney to a Rotorua music festival, it follows the romance between a lively drummer (Gary Wallace) and Judy (Carmen Duncan), and the hurdles they face to stay true. That's only an excuse for a melange of madcap musical fun. Made by John O’Shea for Pacific Films, the movie featured performers Howard Morrison (who sings in this excerpt), Lew Pryme and Kiri Te Kanawa, plus distinctive graphics by artist Pat Hanly.
Directed by Tainui Stephens, this 1990 TVNZ series surveyed Māori contemporary music. This second episode looks at the showband era (1950s - 70s), when musicians mixed genres (electric guitar, rock’n’roll) with Māori culture, to make a unique contribution to Kiwi show business. Acts like The Howard Morrison Quartet, The Māori Volcanics, The Quin Tikis and The Māori Hi-Fives took songs from marae to international cabarets. Music historian Chris Bourke praised the series for marking the role of showbands in the whakapapa of entertainers from Billy T James to Rim D Paul.
In this documentary Cherie James pays tribute to New Zealand’s best-loved entertainer, telling Billy T James story from a daughter’s perspective. Performers who worked with Billy in his showband The Maori Volcanics also share their memories, as do family members who reminisce about Billy's early life growing up in the Waikato. Cherie provides her perspective on the well-publicised arguments that occurred after his death and why it was so important for Billy to be buried beside his mother on the sacred Taupiri mountain overlooking Huntly.
James Tito, Maaka Pohatu, Matariki Whatarau and Francis Kora make up the Modern Māori Quartet.
Kawerau-raised John Rowles was inspired to become a singer after witnessing Māori showbands like The Howard Morrison Quartet. Following varied musical ventures in Australia, he was invited to England by manager Peter Gormley, to join Gormley's roster of ballad singers like Engelbert Humperdinck and Tom Jones. Ballad 'If I Only had Time' got to three on the UK charts in 1968; fourth single 'M'Lady' did best in Aotearoa. In the 1970s Rowles became a nightclub fixture in Honolulu and Las Vegas, punctuated by occasional Kiwi hits and tours. By the 80s he was living in Australia. His autobiography landed in 2012.
Mika (aka Neil Gudsell) has had a diverse career from aerobics champion and actor, to dancer and singer.
At one point Mike King was so famous, he appeared on three TV channels on the same night.