A band forms to play some of their favourite music for a couple of weeks, 25 years and 86,000 albums later it is still very much alive.
David Lange was PM. Bananarama is singing ‘Venus’. And Radio With Pictures ruled on Sunday nights.
It was with this backdrop that the Warratahs played, what turned out to be, the first of many nights at Wellington’s Cricketers Arms Hotel. The band had a life of its own right from the start, with covers from the likes of Jimmie Rogers, Hank Williams, Hank Snow etc plus a handful of their own songs - they quickly had an audience. They also found a sound of their own with a stripped back band playing a brand of country/ folk with the fire of 50’s style rock and roll.
Based around Barry Saunders voice and songs and Nik Brown’s ability to set the music alight with his violin, this has remained the landscape of the Warratahs sound.
They recorded ‘Hands of my Heart’, a song written by piano player Wayne Mason and Barry Saunders in the RNZ studios: it was different to anything else and got played extensively, and was a Silver Scroll finalist. The band then signed to Trevor Reekie’s Pagan Records.
The first album “Only Game in Town’, spent months in the charts propelled by two hits: ‘Hands of my Heart’ and ‘Maureen’, both have which become classics.
The band toured extensively from their base, Barry and Wayne’s house in Austin St, Mount Victoria. The road seemed a natural home for the music, so much so that they left on the first tour leaving the front door wide open and all the gas rings on, coming home to a very warm house, and a title for the new album ‘Too Hot To Sleep’.
The two singles from that album were ‘St Peters Rendezvous’, for which Barry won Songwriter of the Year, and ‘Bruno’s Last Ride’- a harmonica driven instrumental. In 1991 the band toured with Billy Joel and a couple of years after, The Highwaymen with John Cash. There were several trips to Australia over the next two years, mostly Sydney and Melbourne. It had come to a point where they had to decide on which side of the Tasman to live. Since the music seemed to belong here, they stayed in New Zealand.
Eight years of touring and recording had cemented the band as a household name, the members needed some space. Wayne left, Barry recorded a solo album and the band didn’t play for a couple of years.
In 1999 they hit the road again with Sam Hunt joining them on the ‘Drivin’ Wheel’ tour, to find their following was as strong as ever. The band was invited to play the Tamworth Music Festival in Australia and was a hit with audiences playing songs from their new album ‘One of Two Things’, featuring the single ‘Rescue Me’.
This year they celebrate 25 years with a new 5 track EP featuring the new single ‘Kupe’s Tears’ with a newly remastered 19 track Warratahs collection. There is also a new video for the single, made by filmmaker Brian Culy.
Much has been written about the band over the years; they have never gone out without something new and have remained creative. There has never been anything like the Warratahs, and maybe never will be, Hard to define, but really, it’s all in the music.
BARRY SAUNDERS vocals guitar harmonica
NIK BROWN violin mandolin
MICHAEL KNAPP drums
NICK THEOBALD bass vocals