Veteran country band celebrate 25 years

MIKE MATHER
Last updated 14:32 19/06/2014
The Warratahs
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GOOD OLD BOYS: Veteran Wellington country band The Warratahs' reunion tour brings them to the Raglan Club tomorrow night.

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David Lange was prime minister. Bananarama were singing Venus. And Radio With Pictures ruled on Sunday nights.

It was with this backdrop that The Warratahs played what turned out to be the first of many nights at Wellington's Cricketers Arms Hotel in 1989.

The band had a life of its own right from the start, with covers from the likes of Jimmie Rogers, Hank Williams and Hank Snow, as well as a handful of their own songs.

They quickly had an audience. They also found a sound of their own with a stripped-back band playing a brand of country/folk with the fire of 50s-style rock and roll.

Through the ensuing years, the heart of The Warratahs landscape has been the combination of Barry Saunders' voice and songs and Nik Brown's ability to set the music alight with his violin.

They recorded Hands of My Heart, a song written by piano player Wayne Mason and Barry Saunders in the Radio New Zealand studios. The song got extensive airplay and was a Silver Scroll finalist.

The band then signed to Trevor Reekie's Pagan Records.

Their first album, Only Game in Town, spent months in the charts, propelled by two hits: the aforementioned Hands of My Heart and Maureen. Both have become classics.

The band toured extensively from their base at Saunders and Mason's house in Austin St, Mt Victoria. The road seemed a natural home for their music, so much so that they left on the first tour leaving the front door wide open and all the gas rings on, coming home to a very warm house and a title for their next album, Too Hot To Sleep.

The two singles from that album were St Peter's Rendezvous, for which Saunders won songwriter of the year, and Bruno's Last Ride - a harmonica-driven instrumental.

In 1991 the band toured with Billy Joel and, a couple of years later, The Highwaymen with Johnny Cash. There were several trips to Australia over the following years, mostly Sydney and Melbourne. It had come to a point where they had to decide on which side of the Tasman to live. Since the music seemed to belong here, the band stayed in New Zealand.

Eight years of touring and recording had cemented The Warratahs as a household name. However, the members needed space. Mason left, Saunders recorded a solo album and the band did not play for a couple of years.

In 1999 they hit the road again with Sam Hunt joining them on the Drivin' Wheel tour, to find their following was as strong as ever. The band was invited to play the Tamworth Music Festival in Australia and was a hit with audiences playing songs from their new album, One of Two Things, including the single Rescue Me.

This year they celebrate 25 years with a new five-track EP featuring the new single Kupe's Tears, with a newly remastered 19-track Warratahs collection.

BE THERE

What: The Warratahs with Dave Maybee and Raven

Where: The Raglan Club

When: Tomorrow night

Tickets: $20 at the door

Website: warratahs.co.nz 

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- Waikato

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