Review: John Rowles' If I Only Had Time

JOHN ROWLES: Opens up about his life in his autobiography If I Only Had Time.
JOHN ROWLES: Opens up about his life in his autobiography If I Only Had Time.

To me John Rowles was a favourite big ballad sound frequently heard coming from our record player when I was a child.

My amateur musician and music teacher mother was a big fan and his early records would have pride of place in her music collection with the likes of singer Nat King Cole and pianist Winifred Atwell.

In a tell-all candid autobiography called If I Only Had Time, John Rowles OBE now 65, speaks about his early struggle-street Heartland existence as the youngest biological child of Maori father Eddie and Pakeha mother Phyllis, growing up on New Zealand's North Island East Coast.

The Rowles childhood story probably best resembles the recent light-hearted movie Boy, mingled with the odd bit of biffo from some of the more lighter scenes of Alan Duff's raw story, Once Were Warriors.

The singer tells philosophically and with humour, of winning and losing in the cut-throat global entertainment world and the pioneering steps he took from his beloved tiny New Zealand, to where it was all going on, from Australia, to the United Kingdom and then tackling the home of popular music, the United States.

He speaks of rubbing shoulders with the Rock 'n' Roll King himself, Elvis Presley, performing with US comedienne Phyllis Diller and meeting up with the Rat Pack of whom he does exceptionally clever impersonations in his own shows.

He talks about the highs such as early chart-topping stardom in the UK and filling big hotel showrooms in world meccas like Las Vegas and Hawaii, to lows like being dropped by business people, record companies and constant promises of song material from some writers that never came to fruition.

His autobiography could possibly be used as a handbook on how to survive after falling off one horse and then getting back up onto another, not just once but over and over again.

The singer, a constant promoter of his homeland, seemed to get frequently thrown down and many sky-high successes would be followed by earth-shattering lows, some beyond his control and others because of being green.

The way the singer tells his story shows a cast-iron inner personal strength and resilience perhaps not often found in some of the more fragile international stadium-filling set.

He seems brutally honest about his earlier years' weakness for beautiful women and the frenzied and sometimes unhinged reactions from female fans and groupies to his dark, exotic looks.

Rowles speaks about one early relationship, together with the pull of the land of opportunity - the US, that may have been the catalyst to hailing the end of his UK career - one situation he recounts with significant regret.

Probably the most endearing part of the singer's story is his love of his two young sons Dane and Blake, who have come along late in his life.

He speaks openly and fondly about the boys' mother, model/back-up singer Deborah-Leigh Ashton, a woman 20 years his junior and who he refers to as the fourth love of his life and who appears to be the most dignified.

He says the couple are no longer romantically involved but they work together as parents for the sake of their sons.

If I Only Had Time, by John Rowles with Angus Gillies (New Holland $49.99), is out now.