Rockers take a walk down memory lane

ROCK ON:  Hall of Fame inductee Bryan Gerrard singing up a storm in the second Vision lineup on Saturday.
ROCK ON: Hall of Fame inductee Bryan Gerrard singing up a storm in the second Vision lineup on Saturday.

Anyone here here older than me?" Echophonics lead guitarist Dave Wells asks the 900-strong audience gathered before him.

"Don't put your hands up all at once, you'll create a draught."

The years roll back and the building shakes on Saturday night as Southland rockers from the past and present seize the stage for the Stars of the Sixties Revisited show.

Despite not having played together for more than 40 years in some cases, the musicians to a man and two women grab their hour of glory and relish their return to the spotlight.

The Echophonics, reunited after four decades from as far away as Toowoomba, arrive complete with their own fan club – two tables of punters dressed in black T-shirts bearing the band's name.

The band nails down a set of classic rock 'n' roll and surfing tunes, drummer Ian Kennedy's powerhouse hitting a talking point.

The Drifters look sharp in their black suits and sound just as sharp playing Beatles and Shadows tunes.

Despite briefly considering investing in some new strings, Alan ( "Anna" ) Russell is playing the same set he's had on his bass for 30 years. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

The mark two lineup of veteran Southland supergroup Vision plays seriously heavy versions of Uriah Heep's Gypsy and Easy Living and Bryan Gerrard sings up a teary-eyed storm in John Lennon's Imagine.

All the bands are superb, the odd spot of rust and bum notes merely water under a very solid and dependable bridge.

Everywhere you look around this huge, jam-packed room there are happy faces, people of all ages revelling in an atmosphere many are too young to have known, while others had their first taste at the legendary Invercargill dances of the 1960s.

The annual rock revival show is a high point on the social calendar for hundreds of Southlanders, who flock to the events to celebrate the excitement of their youth and to soak in the soundtrack of the rock bands they used to dance to.

At our table, Norman Payne recalls watching the Drifters play more than 40 years ago.

He says he never missed an RSA dance, coming into town from Orepuki every week to meet up with friends who travelled from Lumsden.

His eyes light up when the reunited Drifters – Peter Skerrett, Robin "Skin" Adam, Alan Russell, and Dave "Deke" Kennedy – play the Shadows' famous instrumental Apache, Adams' taut guitar lines dripping with reverb and echo.

"I remember Alan (Russell)," Norman says. "He was always the cool dude."

Norman's friend Ivan Lucka says he has been following bands since 1962, when he came to Invercargill from Yugoslavia.

Lorraine Allardyce has come from Alexandra to be here. "I do it every year," she says.

People do. You see them year after year at these shows.

On stage, there are numerous moments of magic.

Dave Gillies' Hammond organ whirs with overwhelming majesty through a giant spinning Leslie speaker during Vision's definitive version of A Whiter Shade of Pale.

Dave Kennedy sounds as much like Marvin Gaye as a skinny white boy from Invercargill has a right to during the expectedly buff-polished set by The Answer. Drummer Chris Self is acutely alert to the music being made in front of him, peering with fixed intensity through a sea of gleaming cymbals for the cues and changes.

Gentle debate still occurs between the people who used to be in the Answer camp and those who supported contemporaries the Farthings, in much the same way as you're either a Beatles fan or a Stones man. The Answer does make a compelling argument.

Absent friends are acknowledged. Bryan Gerrard and Craig Allott fill in wonderfully well for Answer originals Hedge Keeler and Barry Preston.

The Echophonics – the other David Kennedy, Dave Wells, Dick Whatson and Ian Kennedy – are in dynamic voice, singing lusty, full-blooded harmonies like they've never been apart.

John Kennedy's smart sax chops bring a sense of urgency to Vision's heavier songs, while recruited backing singers Belinda and Cheryl Anderson add lustre and warmth to the mark two lineup.

The dancefloor is seldom less than packed to overflowing. The impression is that Rugby Park wouldn't be big enough to contain the seething, happy throng.

During Vision mark one's powerhouse version of Gimme Some Loving, I notice for the first time that the floor of this huge upstairs concrete room is reverberating from the pounding exertions of the dancers. It becomes literally impossible not to feel the earth moving in the charged atmosphere.

As a precursor to this extraordinary night of nostalgia and top-notch entertainment, six of Southland's finest are inducted to the Southland Musicians' Club Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Alan Russell (Drifters), Chris Self (Answer), Bryan Gerrard (Vision), John Kennedy (Vision), Warren "Bricky" McLew (Vision) and Evan MacIntosh (Echophonics) join the growing list of our elite rock performers of yesteryear.

Compere Nic Tansley wears a luminous oversized green suit and nobody goes home disappointed in the evening's festivities. They'll all be back next year, touch wood.

The Southland Times