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.

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The Secret Life of John Rowles

2008 - Television

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.

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Royal Variety Performance Show 1981

1981 - Television

This live TV spectacular documents an 18 October 1981 Royal Variety performance in front of the touring Queen Elizabeth and Duke of Edinburgh. Performers in St James Theatre included Ray Columbus (in That's Country mode), Sir Howard Morrison and John Rowles. Dance is represented by Limbs and the Royal New Zealand Ballet, while McPhail and Gadsby and Billy T James deliver pre-PC gags. There’s a show stopping all-singing all-dancing finale, and what seems like the entire roster of NZ showbiz of the time lines up to greet the Queen, including Lyn of Tawa.

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Tania

1978 - Music video

By 1978 UK chart success and an extended club residence in Hawaii were behind John Rowles; he was broke and looking for a hit. His earlier smash 'Cheryl Moana Marie' had been named after two of his sisters. For his comeback Rowles reprised the gesture, penning a song to sister Tania. The single topped the New Zealand charts for four weeks. This clip sees him donning a green suit to mime 'Tania' for local music show Ready to Roll. His 1978 album This is My Life did well on both sides of the Tasman, priming a 20 year stint in Australia performing on the Leagues club circuit. 

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John Rowles - 'Cheryl Moana Marie'

1976 - Television

These two clips provide a handy introduction to a Kiwi musical classic. The first clip sees John Rowles showing how he can hold the long notes, as he performs 'Cheryl Moana Marie' on a self-titled live special from 1976, made for state television. In the second clip — an excerpt from 2008 Buto Productions documentary The Secret Life of John Rowles — the singer recalls coming up with the chart-topping 1969 ballad, an array of Kiwi musicians provide their own take on it, and Rowles' sister talks about the ups and the downs of finding fame as a child, through someone else's song. 

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John Rowles

1976 - Television

This 1976 concert sees Kiwi entertainment great John Rowles bring his cabaret show to His Majesty's Theatre in Auckland. Back from a hotel residency in Hawaii, Rowles belts out the ballads in his booming baritone. Tanned, in pastel blue flares, wide lapels, and plenty of bling, Rowles (here nearly 30) croons about wahine from Mandy to Sweet Caroline, to his iconic "island sweetheart" Cheryl Moana Marie. Memorable moments include tributes to Norman Kirk and singer Inia Te Wiata, a haka with Dave from Palmerston North, and a rousing finish with 'Mr Bojangles'.

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John Rowles, Ladies and Gentlemen

1969 - Television

In 1969 Kiwi music legend John Rowles was in his early 20s, and flush with UK success: appearing on Top of the Pops and celebrating a single – ‘If I Only Had Time’ – which got to number three in the British charts. This fly on the wall documentary records his homecoming tour, complete with cigars, turtlenecks, rehearsals, press interviews, dancing, hongi and a civic reception in Kawerau (where he’d been fired from a mill job five years before, for arriving late). Rowles launches single ‘M’Lady’, soon to top the NZ charts, and reflects on how he's changed since leaving Kawerau.

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M'Lady

1969 - Music video

In 1968 John Rowles scored a top three hit in the UK. Late that year he returned to New Zealand to a rapturous welcome. A fly-on-the-wall documentary was made about his homecoming tour, from which this clip of Rowles performing ‘M’Lady’ is taken. On the tour he launched 'M’Lady' as his next NZ single; he tells an Auckland DJ that it's his best "uptempo" song yet, and the tune scores scenes of Rowles galavanting around a playground with a cigar, pretending to drive a tractor, and licking an ice cream on the beach. 'M’Lady' went on to top the Kiwi charts.