Photo recall: When Johnny came marching home

By Poppy Wortman

International chart sensation John Rowles was treated 'like the Beatles' on a flying visit to Kawerau in 1969.

Photo / NZ Herald, Photo research / Emma Land
Photo / NZ Herald, Photo research / Emma Land

When legendary Kiwi crooner John Rowles fleetingly returned home after his 1967 move to England, he found himself welling up.

"I got off the plane and there were about 1000 people waiting for me.

"Auckland Airport was saturated with bodies of people. That was the most touching moment. When I saw the TV footage of it later, a sense of pride touched my heart and tears fell from my eyes."

It is 45 years since Rowles' first big hit in the UK, If I Only Had Time, peaked at No2 on the British chart and stayed a contender for 18 weeks. He admits he was extremely "teed off" his track did not make the top spot.

"Louis Armstrong knocked me off, so at least it wasn't some 19-year-old."

But he revels in the song being a slow-climber. "It wasn't straight into the Top 10 then out again, it moved down from 98 to 96 to 87 and so on, so it had more of a longevity.

"I always remember one of my record company executives saying to me when it got to the top 10, 'If you never have another hit, this will keep you alive for the rest of your career'. And so far, it has."

Pictured is Rowles kicking off a game of rugby with the neighbourhood kids during his flying visit to his hometown of Kawerau.

"I was treated like the Beatles. After the game, some horses were brought around, and me and my musical director jumped on them.

"I was smoking a big fat cigar on the horse," he chuckles.

"That poor horse."

Now residing in Te Atatu, Rowles still performs around the country and is planning on going to Australia and Hawaii.

"I'm still going, still got heaps of energy. What I have retired to, philosophically thinking, is to just keep writing the songs and keep recording them, and make a commitment, because it's not easy to come up with magic ... I'm just glad that I had the X factor when I was 19."

- NZ Herald

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