Billy T still gets them giggling

By Yvonne Tahana

Billy T James. Photo / Supplied
Billy T James. Photo / Supplied

Mahora Peters still gets the giggles at the trouble her bandmate Billy T James' Barry White impressions got him into with the ladies.

Tomorrow marks 20 years since the comedian's death but two new projects - a TVNZ biopic and a feature film Billy T: Te Movie directed by Ian Mune - are on the way to celebrate his life.

Mrs Peters is unquestionably the queen of Maori showbands. For more than 40 years she's been the nucleus of the Maori Volcanics which her friend "Bill" joined in the 1970s for 3 years.

Speaking from Australia, Mrs Peters, 72, said she'd be coming back for the film premiere on August 15 in Hamilton. That was just up the road from Tokoroa where she and her husband, also Bill, first heard the comedian perform.

"We first saw him playing at the Trees hotel down there. I think he had a little guitar group - you know the sound, kaplunk kaplunk. When my husband and I first saw him we thought 'whoa this guy's got some talent.' I don't know if he really realised it himself."

They asked him to join their band which also claims Prince Tui Teka and Dalvanius Prime as past luminaries. Billy T - who played guitar, bass, and saxophone - proved as multi-talented as the rest of the crew as they toured across Europe.

In the UK the ladies went crazy for him, she joked.

"He used to do the best Barry White, oh God he used to take him off. The girls just loved him.

"[Bandmembers] Dean [Ruscoe] and Charlie [Te Hau ] used to palm him off as Barry so they could get the discards.

Once after a show, the Volcanics let his fans loose on him.

"We looked out and saw all these blimmin' women, we thought 'oh gosh you've got to be kidding'.

"He went into the bathroom and we all shot out the back door and we said 'let them in'.

"All the women were pouring in and we could hear him yelling 'help'. We finally unlocked the door and he's got lipstick all over his face, his shirt's all askew and his tie's hanging off one side.

"He comes out and goes: 'Oh man, it's like a shark attack in there.'

"He was just a man you loved."

She reckons even on the road Billy T did slapstick well, including one hair-raising episode on Germany's autobahns when he was following her vehicle.

"We slowed down and Billy was sitting in the back with two bandmates and no driver. They'd tied these poles to the steering wheels and all sorts of things. I looked across and they had their arms around each other and they're grinning at us."

"No wonder the cars were almost crashing behind us."

She can't wait to come back in a week for the film premiere. "I don't believe it's 20 years, Bill was a pretty special guy."

- NZ Herald

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