Roger Moroney explains how a bunch of Brit boys staked a claim on NZ music history

They are arguably among the most recognised words spoken during a song. A song which in 1970 sparked a remarkable and enduring moment in New Zealand music history.

Come on my luvva ... give us a kiss.

If you are of a certain age you will follow that by making the sound of a booming beating drum, before launching again into the chorus. Pretty girl can I take you home ...

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Hogsnort Rupert.

A group of lads who, as vocalist Alec Wishart said, "always kept our feet on the ground."

Their success delighted yet occasionally baffled them, but it was a success which spread from the far north to the far south of the land.

Hogsnort Rupert were ... BIG.

To celebrate and commemorate 40 years in the music business, the band has pulled itself back together again and is set to hit the stage for what may be the last time in Hawke's Bay.

"I think it might be," Alec said.

"We're all pushing on a bit," he said with a smile.

"So this might be the last time ... but I suppose you never know,"

The band was originally set to do just one concert in Napier's Century Theatre, but the theatre management persuaded them to do two.

So a Friday night and Saturday night (November 5 and 6) celebratory outing it is.

"We chose the theatre because it's smaller and nice and intimate. That's what we like because we can interact with the audience, have some fun." It was during a time when the New Zealand music charts were dominated by pop and rock bands that Hogsnort Rupert emerged, a group of English immigrants who arrived in 1965/66 and began playing while members of the Wellington Diamond United soccer team.

They began playing at the clubrooms under the name Hogsnort Rupert's Original Flagon band, then at a couple of bars "for free drinks".

They also got a gig at the Hungarian soccer clubrooms.

"So we got free goulash as well," Alec laughed.

It was simple stuff. Guitar, a washboard, a kazoo, a harmonica, some drums, a bit of bass - pretty well how it still is today.

Alec had never been involved in the music business back in the UK.

"I used to like jazz and skiffle, but I didn't get into it until I got out here."

It was in 1969 that the lads (then Alec, songwriter; Dave Luther; Ian Terry; Frankie Boardman and Bill Such) decided to hire a studio to make a couple of recordings to send back home to their folks in England.

Just a bit of a giggle really.

They recorded four songs and at the end of it all approached the sound engineer and asked how much they owed him. He declined payment ... saying "just hang on, because I want someone at HMV to hear this."

The result?

"Someone" at HMV heard what they'd done and 10 days later a five-year recording contract was on the table. An album was put out but failed to ignite much interest and in 1970 they released a harmonica-driven foot-tapping single Gretel.

It reached a modest but satisfying 11 on the charts.

Then Dave wrote a song called Pretty Girl and it was released in the weeks leading in to the band's appearance on the New Faces television talent show.

It sold 400 copies over six weeks, but the day after their appearance the sales exploded.

"HMV called ... they said they were selling 2000 a day!" Alec laughed.

Pretty Girl shot to number one on the charts and the rest, as they say, is history. Albums, touring, more singles, personnel changes and instant recognition wherever they went.

But they only stayed professional for 18 months.

That was enough, Alec said. The constant touring and pressures took their toll, and they backed off - preferring to record and play at their pace.

In 1981 Alec and Dave decided to get the Hogsnort train back on the rails, and called in ex-Bulldogs All Star Goodtime Band lads Kevin Findlater and Neil Warboys.

They produced an album and went back on the road again.

While Alec was offstage doing another of his many costume changes, the rest of the group chugged on as Dave and the Dynamos - one of their songs Life Begins at 40 went to number 1 and stayed in the Australian Hot 100 for six months.

The Hogsnorts carried on doing shows, intermittently, through until 1988 when they again closed the guitar cases and put the harmonicas away.

But in 1995 they hit the stage at the Mission Concert - opening for The Beach Boys before the biggest crowd of their lives.

"In all those 40 years, that was the highlight. To feel the warmth of that crowd. People were up and dancing halfway through the first song ... it was just amazing."

Alec said he had never been so nervous in his life, but keyboard player Graeme Luther (Dave's son) was even more nervous.

"For the first couple of songs he just looked down at the keyboard ... he couldn't look up."

Alec reckons the recipe for the success they achieved, and in marking their place forever in Kiwi music history, was that they wrote and played their own songs.

"Around that time most of the bands here were doing covers. We did our own stuff, and it was different ... and people seemed to like it," Alec said with a grin.

When they play what could be their last Bay gigs next Friday and Saturday night the old songs will be laced in with the latest recordings.

"Yeah, Dave's still writing ... he can't give up."

It will be nostalgia and colour and irresistible foot-tapping fun.

And what better way to say gidday and then maybe farewell to a couple of soccer players and their mates who came up with an iconic sound and staked their claim to music legend Down Under.