For some years Chris travelled the country looking for new talent to make their debut on Television. New Zealand has a history of talent quests at the beach over summer or in local halls up and down the country raising funds for all sorts of projects. Radio and television had early versions called “Have a Shot” often compered by John Maybury. But he remembers a few auditions which returned huge rewards.
So picture this: A cheerless cold, empty audition studio in Wellington on a bleak Saturday afternoon. It’s 3 pm after dozens of hopefuls, usually pressured by their immediate family, had paraded their ‘talents’ stretching the patience of my musical director Garth Young (one of NZ’s best known musicians) to breaking point. But a small number of these auditions returned huge rewards.
In walks a young teenage girl, her hair still wet after swimming in the harbour, dressed in a shapeless kaftan and holding a battered guitar. She plonked herself down tuned up and began to play. The hair literally stood up on the back of my neck and I glanced across at Garth who also appeared mesmerized.
She finished her song. Finding composure, I stammered that I’d never heard that song before and asked who wrote it? “I did” she said. The song was 1905. The bedraggled unlikely composer was Shona Laing and 40 years later is still in the Entertainment business after an outstanding career.
Another studio, this time in Christchurch again following dozens of would be ‘stars’ all stamped hopeless. The door opens and a very young teenager, immaculately dressed in a fringed suede jacket and perfectly made up, presented herself (accompanied by her Mother). My first observation was that the guitar appeared to be larger than she was. She sang beautifully, maturely and with great confidence. I thanked her Mother and asked to speak to her privately. After confirming she was 13 years old I explained to her Mother the downside to being exposed on television to national criticism so early in her career. I advised her to audition again next year.
She made her first appearance on television the following year singing “Funny Face” and progressed straight through to the New Faces final, and so began the stellar international career of Suzanne Prentice.
Over the years this audition process discovered ”Split Enz”, “Steve Gilpin”(Mi Sex), “Hogsnort Rupert”, “Space Waltz”, “The Rumour”, “Bulldogs Allstar Good time Band”, ”Yolande Gibson”, “Brendan Dugan”, and “The Society Jazzmen”.
How lucky was I having seen and heard these outstanding entertainers at the very start of their careers.