Ticket, the best Kiwi band you've never heard of, finally make headlines – and Spotify
They were named to support Black Sabbath on a world tour. Then it all fell apart. Now there are hopes Christchurch band Ticket could reunite ...
It's 1970 and a band called Ticket is tearing up Christchurch. Longhairs from Auckland, they have a residency at Aubrey's (a club run Trevor Spitz, an associate of Auckland supremo Phil Warren) and they've taken the city by the bollocks.
Ticket, the best Kiwi band that you've never heard of. They almost made it big, but on the eve of fame they fell apart. It's a tale that's worth telling and they are a band you need to listen to.
Comprised of Trevor Tombleson (vocals), Eddie Hansen (guitar), Paul Woolwright (bass) and Ricky Ball (drums) the quartet paired psych-rock stylings with soulful Stax-style rhythm. They made two great albums, nearly toured the world with Black Sabbath, then imploded. All within three short, crazy years.
Ticket formed in Auckland but it was Christchurch that discovered them. A raunchy new history of the country's greatest music venues, Back Stage Passes, recounts how they were imported to the city by Spitz to headline a new club he was opening (the aforementioned Aubrey's) and after some faltering starts they built a great rep and the kids started flocking.
Ticket also provided sonic relief to kids whose homes were thousands of miles north of the garden city. Fresh from 'Nam with battle scars and great drugs, the US servicemen on R&R from the conflict were based at an airbase near Christchurch airport. They weren't customs checked when they entered the country and they brought acid and grass with them. And passed it on to the band.
Paul Woolwright (you may know the name of his nephew, Blindspott drummer Shelton Woolright) says the Vietnam kids would just head to wherever the band was playing. And together they would trip out. "They were just kids and our music provided them with some kind of escape from the horrors they had seen. It reminded them of the psychedelic music they heard in the States; our music really suited them."
It was at Aubrey's where hotshot promoter Barry Coburn and Aussie music entrepreneur Robert Raymond spotted Ticket on stage. The pair would go on to organise the country's first outside rock festival in 1973 (the great Ngaruawahia Music Festival), headlined by metal giants Black Sabbath. But in 1970 they were looking for new acts to sign – Ticket fit the bill perfectly.
Wearing a Stetson and driving a Merc, Raymond was a charmer. He offered Ticket the chance to do a show in Auckland – they leapt at the chance. They were soon the main act on the pair's books. They even set up a club (Levi's Saloon) to give the band an HQ from which to ply their dark arts.
And they were on the up. In 1971, they opened for Elton John at Western Springs Stadium. It was the first stadium show the country had ever seen and with the biggest attendance, 20,000 people. And soon after they were signed to Atlantic through Warner Music Australia – the first act outside the United States to be allowed to get on the label.
Ticket had released their first album Awake in 1970. They'd had a top 20 hit in New Zealand in 1971 with Country High (the slippery title may or may not reference the wasted mornings they spent watching the sun rise over Canterbury). The second album Let Sleeping Dogs Lie was recorded in Melbourne, where they'd been secured a residency at the popular Whiskey Au Go Go in 1972 by Coburn and Raymond.
The Melbourne days were pure rock'n'roll crazy. Drugs, booze, drugs, booze – late nights that turned into early mornings. And trouble.
"I remember this one time when the truck with all our gear went missing, so a roadie we were working with offered to go and find it for us. When he turned up with it the next day at Whiskey it was full of bullet holes," says Woolwright.
Australia was hard on the band. The schedule saw them playing six nights a week, partying til dawn, sleeping all day, turning up again at Whiskey. And Hansen, who'd become a bona fide guitar hero with mad skills on the six strings, was slipping deeper and deeper into the spiritual side.
It was hard work, but fame was courting. When Coburn landed the beloved Black Sabbath for the Ngaruawahia Music Festival and a following tour of Australia, he'd booked Ticket alongside them. The plan was the band would go back to New Zealand for the festival, then head to Australia alongside Sabbath, before launching on a tour of Canada.
"After that we were set to record an album in Alabama at Muscle Shoals Studio," says Woolwright.
The studio where Rolling Stones recorded "Wild Horses" and "Brown Sugar"; a studio immortalised in a documentary of the same name in 2013 featuring Mick Jagger and Aretha Franklin.
But it started to crumble. On the day of Ngaruawahia Music Festival, singer Trevor Tomlinson developed such a bad case on laryngitis that he couldn't perform. The show was off.
"The idea was that this was to be the launch pad for the Sabbath tour. The fact that we couldn't get up there and play was a massive disappointment," says Woolwright.
Then things get a bit blurry. The drugs, the disappointment of not playing Ngaruawahia, and then the breakup.
"I can't really remember how it happened, that time of life is a bit of a blur. We were back up in Auckland after Ngaruawahia and Eddie told me that the band was breaking up cos Ricky had another gig with a different band," says Woolwright.
"But I found out later that Ricky had gotten the gig with the other band because we were breaking up. I really don't know what the real story is. But we broke up."
Hansen, guitar god, was on another plane. One story has it that his new spirituality didn't gel with the other member's rock star lifestyles. He ended up reforming under the Ticket name with more sympatico types who shared his love of meditation and Krishna consciousness. The band didn't last.
"It was a shock when Ticket re-emerged with new people in it," says Woolwright. "It's all so hard to understand – I never really knew why we broke up in the first place."
No tour, no worldwide fame. The band that could have had it all, but never did.
But maybe, in a way, they did. After reuniting for two sold-out gigs in 2010, there are hopes they may get the band back together soon for more shows.
And no one knows how it happened, but two Ticket songs ("Awake" and "Dream Chant") appeared on a soundtrack to a movie that went on to become a cult surf classic Morning of the Earth. Ticket received no royalties for this, although the album sold in the thousands.
The album is now on Spotify, and the two Ticket songs have clocked up over 70,000 listens since it was released on the platform in 2014. The royalties are still missing, but the investigation is underway. To be continued . . .
* Do you know how Ticket tracks came to feature on Morning of the Earth? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE BEGINNING OF THE ENZ
Levi's Saloon on the corner of Custom's and Queen Street had a short shelf-life, but an enduring legacy as the birthplace of New Zealand's best beloved pop band.
Split Enz (who were then Split Ends) had their inaugural outing on the club's small stage. Comprised of Tim Finn, Mike Chunn, Phil Judd, violin player Miles Golding, and Mike Howard on the flute, in December 1972 the band had three newly minted songs that had never been played live.
These songs had been created in a single day by Tim Finn and Phil Judd. Mike Chunn describes the moment when he heard them as "a bit like Moses giving the sermon on the mount. Completely mind blowing."
The Levi's Saloon gig had come about after Chunn's brother Geoff mentioned a folk gig his band Rosewood was playing at Levi's: "We just rode on their coat tails and played our three songs. Even if there had been just one song we would have played. I was so proud of them," says Chunn.
In December 1972, the songs were debuted. Three songs, and one massive impact.
Two things happened after the three-song set. Firstly, a girl from a band who'd played earlier came up to the band and asked, "Only three songs? Can you play them again?"
Secondly, Coburn asked if they had a manager. "I remember looking at Tim and thinking, 'What's a manager?' We were so naïve."
Christmas 1972 – New Zealand musical history is made.
UP THE ROAD, ON LORNE ST . . .
Tabla was a club that attracted trouble. Established by Albanian expat Johnny Murahem (who had "known associates" who dabbled in all the dark criminal arts) Tabla was established in an old ANZ bank cafeteria on Lorne St.
The first incarnation of Dragon (an outfit that called themselves Anteapot) played here briefly, as did Human Instinct and scene mainstays Dallas Four.
Bob Smith from Dallas Four remembers that door skirmishes were regular occurrences, with casualties sometimes barely making it out alive. And sometimes the violence spilled on to the street.
One night, after The Dallas Four had finished playing for the evening, they went upstairs to find out what the ruckus was about. There was blood in the entranceway, cops everywhere, including top brass. Casualties were strewn along Lorne St.
Smith remembers the uniformed top dog trying to "help" one of those injured in the fight. "There was this guy lying in the gutter, with half his face hanging off. This officer went up to him and asked him if he was injured – the poor guy just looked up at him. He'd had a bottle to the face. The police officer (I think he was a lieutenant or something) just walked away."
Another night he recalls seeing a guy with a hammer-shaped indentation in his head, lying unconscious outside the club. The hammer was found later in the foyer.
Asked how he would describe the scene at the time, Smith chuckles. "It was the Wild West."
* Back Stage passes: The untold story of New Zealand live music venues (1960'-1990s) by Joanna Mathers (New Holland Publishers, $39.99)
Sunday Star Times