Going back to nature

By Scott Kara

The Fourmyula five piece line up of (clockwise from left) Carl Evensen, Chris Parry, Martin Hope, Ali Richardson and Wayne Mason in their period finery. Photo / Supplied by Grant Gillanders
The Fourmyula five piece line up of (clockwise from left) Carl Evensen, Chris Parry, Martin Hope, Ali Richardson and Wayne Mason in their period finery. Photo / Supplied by Grant Gillanders

The Fourmyula recorded and released many songs during their five-year reign at the top of the Kiwi pops.

But because of Nature - their "airy fairy hippy" track which won the title of the best New Zealand song ever - their other work has been overshadowed.

"We've got some really good songs apart from Nature, but they never really see the light of day," says Wayne Mason, the band's keyboardist, guitarist and vocalist who penned the 1969 No 1 hit and Apra Silver Scroll winner. "That's what you get, though, one song tends to overshadow the others."

Until now, that is. A new four-disc box set, collecting together the band's singles, B-sides, three studio albums, and 1970s unreleased LP Turn Your Back On the Wind, showcases the band's vast back catalogue of both original and cover songs.

It includes stand-out early singles Come With Me and Alice Is There, which is testament to the band's insistence on recording original songs, through to 1970s chart-topping thigh-slapper Otaki, and a sprawling live version of the Beatles' Day Tripper.

And next week the Fourmyula - made up of the definitive line-up of Mason, Ali Richardson (bass, vocals), Martin Hope (guitar, vocals), Carl Evensen (vocals) and Chris Parry (drums) - will play in Auckland for the first time in 40 years.

"One of the good things about having this box set out, and doing a few shows," says Parry, "is that it helps put us in the right place in the pantheon of New Zealand artists because I think it is a bit skewed because of Nature."

Formed in Upper Hutt in the mid-60s by a bunch of teenagers who wanted to be in a famous pop band, and featuring briefly one future NZ Idol judge, the Fourmyula became known as the "New Zealand Beatles". However, thanks to record label problems and fatigue the band broke up in 1971 during their second trip to Britain.

In the words of Mason, Parry and founding guitarist Martin Hope, this is how the story of the Fourmyula unfolded ...

SCHOOL DAYS

Hope: I had the job to put a band together for Heretaunga College in 1963. I got a mate of mine from primary school, and a fellow called Frank Stevenson - I think he's called Frankie Stevens now. We put a notice on the notice board, Wayne came along and we basically had a band. Things really took off when Chris joined because he was very organised.

Mason: I joined Martin and Grub [Les Greubner, bass player]. I'd never met them before, I was just walking down the corridor and someone asked me if I wanted to have an audition for the school band.

Parry: I had a drumkit. I saved up to buy it on layby from a shop in Lower Hutt. After about 10 weeks I finally got my drums. I was invited to audition for a band called the Sinewaves at Heretaunga College and I guess I would have been 15 at the time. I had a truck and I turned up and they were in the music room, Frankie Stevens was there, Martin was there, and Grub, and we played some songs and they said, 'Great, yeah'. They liked the fact I had a drumkit - and a truck.

Mason: We started off playing school socials, then dances in Upper Hutt, and that's how it got started. We loved playing. But even back then we were quite ambitious to do well as a band and had quite a serious attitude towards it.

Hope: We were totally dedicated and it was our life mission to put out a record. We were really young and really naive, so we just did what we did.

Mason: We were doing pop songs by the Kinks, Rolling Stones, just 60s pop material, really, and that was our bread and butter. We didn't really start writing [original] songs until '66 or '67.

Parry: ... and the Animals, Kinks, probably the Byrds, and Frank used to like to sing Unchained Melody.

FRANK DEPARTS, THE FOURMYULA BEGINS

Mason: One day Frank was singing, not for us, but at a dance at St Johns Hall in Upper Hutt and he broke a blood vessel in his throat and started bleeding from the mouth while he was singing. They rushed him to the hospital and he had to lay off singing for three or four months. Suddenly we had no singer, so we just carried on as a four-piece. Frankie never rejoined the band because he went on to become a singer for the Castaways in Australia.

Hope: Alistair [Richardson, bass/vocals] came along and he was really creative and him and Wayne started writing songs. They called it Mason/Richardson because we all liked the Beatles so much that we copied Lennon/McCartney.

Mason: We changed our name to the Fourmyula in '67 and we started making in-roads into the Wellington area so we'd go to Wainui, Porirua, and started travelling to Palmerston. Carl [Evensen, singer] joined in '68 but by then we'd already won the Battle of the Sounds [in January 1968] as a four- piece before Carl.

Hope: Carl was shy. But he came out of his shell by being on stage and the girls loved him because he had long blonde locks. And he became the voice of the band.

Parry: When Carl joined it all came together because we had a lead voice. Back then we didn't know if we had a unique sound or not. But looking back, when Carl joined we had evolved into a band who had a good rhythm section, was in control of our instruments, the harmonies were becoming characterful, and the songwriting was beginning to emerge.

GOING PRO

Mason: In 67 I was working on a rubbish cart with Frankie Stevens. So we all had day jobs for about two years and then it became obvious that we were going to be travelling round New Zealand. We stood around one day and said, 'If we're going to make a go of this we're going to have to throw in our work'. It solidified us as a band and we had all week to practice and we treated it like a 9 to 5 job.

Parry: We didn't really go professional, if you could call it that, or make any money out of it until 1968 when we started putting out records and that's when it became a bigger affair.

"NZ BEATLES" GO UK

Mason: We were totally besotted by them. We used to await their album releases and have group listening sessions and we'd analyse it to death and listen to all the things they were doing.

Parry: The Beatles were more of a reference point because we were writing our own songs, and we had the harmonies, but I don't think anyone thought the Fourmyula sounded like the Beatles or anything.

Mason: We had gotten so Beatles-orientated that we saw England as the pop music capital of the world.

Hope: Winning the Battle of the Sounds and the free trip to England that went with it meant we could get there for nothing. Recording at Abbey Road was a highlight. The Beatles were recording in there one weekend we were there. Wayne met John and Paul, and I got to meet George Harrison, but it was a brief conversation. I said to him, 'We're from New Zealand, we're recording in the next studio'. And he said, 'Oh, we usually record in there', and that was about the conversation.

Mason: The low was running out of money completely, after spending all our money on expensive Marshall gear and not thinking about eating, and having to stay in bed to stay warm.

NATURE

Mason: Ali and me had been writing collectively for years. But when we came back from England in '69, I made the move to go away and start writing stuff by myself again. It was one of the first songs I wrote when we got back. I was at my girlfriend's house in Upper Hutt and it was just one of those songs that appeared.

Hope: Wayne came in with the song, we listened to it, and I thought it was fantastic. It was an airy fairy hippy kind of song but it had everything. I think Wayne and I used our girlfriends' acoustic guitars, because we didn't have acoustic guitars, or anything suitable. It was just another song for us. But it took off.

Parry: It's amazing how it has endured. I think a lot of it came down to Ali, who was the lyricist at the time, and Wayne being bloody lazy actually. 'La la la de de de da da.' But it's got a nice tripping beat, that I tapped out on a drum case, and a rather atmospheric lyric.

BACK TO BRITAIN

Parry: Decca really wanted to record us, and they were prepared to put some good money down, and they wanted to make an album so there was no reason for us not to go for it.

Mason: We changed our name and I always thought that was a mistake. We changed ours to Pipp which meant nothing to us. It was the business side in Britain - the booking and management side of it - that was so difficult to crack.

Hope: And then Decca ended up dumping the band because they were having a reshuffle. That was hard.

Parry: We had other record companies sniffing around, but the [unreleased] record [Turn Your Back On the Wind] was probably a little eclectic, times had changed, there was a heavier scene coming around. We couldn't get a record deal and if we couldn't do that then we were going nowhere.

Mason: Martin left, and one night after a gig Chris said he couldn't keep doing it. So when he left we basically stopped.

THE LEGACY

Hope: We were an innovative band doing all original albums in the 60s, and a concept album [Green 'B' Holiday (1969)]. We were really lucky to have a combination of musicians who knew one another really well and there were no big egos.

Mason: We were doing stuff that was quite eccentric: rock, vaudeville, pop. And it was an amalgam of guys who had a lot of enthusiasm.

Parry: When we got back together for my 50th birthday [in 2000] we just dropped straight back into it and it's because we played so much together in those formative years, from the age of 15 through to 22. We're not like soul mates, but we are when it comes to music because we have an intuitive and evolved sense of what it is to be in the Fourmyula.

LOWDOWN

Who: The Fourmyula, reunited after 40 years
Where & when: MonteCristo, Nelson St, Auckland, March 18 (venue changed from Windsor Castle). Also playing Expressions, Upper Hutt, March 20
Line-up: Wayne Mason (keyboards, guitar), Ali Richardson (bass), Martin Hope (guitar), Carl Evensen (vocals) and Chris Parry (drums).
Latest releases: The Complete Fourmyula, out now. Unreleased 1970 album Turn Your Back On The Wind soon released on vinyl.

- NZ Herald

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