Flashback: Yesterday was the beginning of his life

04:07, Jun 23 2014
Mark Williams
YESTERDAY: Mark Williams and Peter Hitchcock in the EMI studio.

A stolen $100 changed a young man's life and the face of New Zealand music.

If Mark Williams had not pinched his band's takings from Whakatane that night in the early 1970s, his group - Face - may not have split. He may never have recorded Yesterday Was Just the Beginning of My Life. As history would tell, he did.

On June 27, 1975, that song topped the New Zealand charts and Williams' name was cemented in New Zealand music history.

Mark Williams
ON SONG: The cover of Mark Williams' self-titled album.

Williams, on the phone from Australia, where he now lives, this week admitted "I might have been the cause of"' Face splitting.

"Somebody blamed me for taking $100 from a gig and going partying and they were absolutely right. One hundred dollars earned in Whakatane - I blew the lot."

Williams had started Face with mates from Dargaville High in Northland.


The band achieved some fame up north - helped by a third placing in the 1970 Battle of the Bands then a regular slot on television music show Happen Inn.

That fame started to "filter down into the heartland", Williams said.

Aged 18, he and the band headed south to Auckland, where they got a gig at the Otahuhu Community Centre, paying $20 a week.

In Wellington, producer Alan Galbraith was setting up a "dedicated group of recording artists" who would record out of HMV's (soon to become EMI) studios in Wakefield St.

The building was where the Amora Hotel now sits.

Galbraith had heard of Williams by reputation. He knew he was a "great singer" with a good reputation and, not long after Face split up, invited him to Wellington to audition.

"It was pretty much a foregone conclusion" that Williams would get the gig, Galbraith said this week. It was a time when producers would pick the artist, the song and the arrangement, then put it all together.

Galbraith had chosen a rock-pop number written by Australian songwriting duo Harry Vanda and George Young but "Mark wasn't quite so keen" on Yesterday, Galbraith recalled.

But Williams backed down and the song was rearranged in the Wakefield St studio on "pretty much homemade equipment" with a rhythm and blues-soul sound.

"The original demo was nothing like the end result."

To Williams, who recorded Yesterday in his second session at HMV, the big dials, reel-to-reel tapes, and the state of the art ARP synthesiser made the studio seem "like a control room from Flash Gordon".

Williams himself looked flashy for a conservative New Zealand in the 1970s, sporting an androgynous look complete with mascara.

It was his own take on the "glam" fad exploding in more cosmopolitan countries. "You didn't get much in the way of pictures or magazines. I just sort of imagined what it was like."

It was, to put it lightly, a far cry from the look expected of a boy from provincial Northland. "My father was ashamed of me," Williams laughed, then added: "Not that ashamed." But the look did no harm to Williams, who by now was living in a house in Worcester St, Wilton.

There were also appearances on television music show Free Ride to spur his growing fame. In his book Stranded in Paradise, author John Dix would note: "For more than anything, Free Ride will be remembered for launching the career of Mark Williams."

In June, 1975, six weeks after being released, Yesterday shot to the the top of the charts. The fame stunned the young singer. "I didn't feel like I was ready for anything," Williams said. There was constant touring, television, and recording. "It was full on."

Williams would record many more songs - most notably in the early years the 1977 rearrangement of Buddy Holly's It Doesn't Matter Anymore, and the theme music for Australian soap Home and Away.

He wrote the 1990 anthem Show No Mercy, culled Australian Idol contenders, and in 2006 joined New Zealand-turned-Australian rock band Dragon. But he still sings Yesterday, the song he has no doubt started it all. "I can just start the first two words and the audience will do the rest of the song."