By GRAHAM REID
When the four-piece Radars take the stage at the Blind Musicians Festival in Parnell today, their collective musical experience adds up to something over 150 playing years.
Drummer Feau Halatau, 55, says the band formed after playing together in a brass band at the School for the Blind. Forty years on, four of the five musicians in the original line-up are still playing together.
He and bassist Neville Tura have a little sight, lead guitarist Ray Lemmon and rhythm guitarist Andrew Taylor are blind.
Back in 1961 when they came together as the Radars they played rock'n'roll and then moved into the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, "and anything that came out at the time."
They went on television programmes in the 60s such as Have a Shot, recorded four singles (their first in 64 was a cover of Sam Cooke's The Piper), Billy T. James played lead guitar with them in the late 60s ("before he became Billy T. James") and they had a residency at the Gluepot for more than seven years until the mid-70s.
'Since then we've played just about every place in Auckland," says Halatau.
Their first paying job was a wedding ("I think we got a couple of pounds each") and in 1983 they won the Maori and Polynesian category at the New Zealand Music Awards for their playful version of the Fijian party song Tulu Tululu.
"Musically we have open minds and play whatever is going, we move with the times. We do middle of the road to country and ballads.
"Rock'n'roll is our era but we do old-time stuff, too. Not many bands can do that, and we are doing the RSA circuit at the moment, so you've got to please the oldies. Although we're the oldies now.
"We don't do too much rap, we're trying to leave that to the young ones. We can do it, but it doesn't look suitable for us. Mind you, a lot of those rap fellers are getting a bit old now."
Bad luck has hit the Radars recently: twice in the past few months they have had equipment stolen.
"It's been a bit of a struggle to get gear together," says Halatau. However, their enthusiasm is undiminished, certainly for today's show where they are part of an 18-act bill which includes blind or partially sighted performers such as Auckland jazz singer Caitlin Smith, internationally renowned jazz pianist and arranger Julian Lee, singer-songwriter Mark Laurent and country singer Josie Kurie.
The programme at the Recreation Centre of the Foundation for the Blind in Parnell, includes music from Celtic songs to rap and hip-hop styles.
It will be the biggest gathering of former students of the historic Parnell institution.
"It's sort of going back to school for us," says Halatau.
Blind Musicians Festival with Caitlin Smith, Julian Lee, Eddie Low, the Radars and more - Recreation Centre, Royal NZ Foundation for the Blind, Parnell, 2 pm today.
By GRAHAM REID