Peter Collins

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Peter Collins 2023


Peter Collins Collection


Peter Collins  —  lead guitarist with Peter Collins and his Deaconaires circa 1960-1963


Peter Raymond Collins was born in Ashburton in 1941 and passed away peacefully on Monday February 19th, 2024 at Christchurch.


Peter Collins
.... in Country and Western mode


Peter presents his musical history in his own words .....

My music interest started when I was about 10 years old, when my cousin Billy Collins (aged 12) purchased a Tex Morton  guitar.  He got tuition from Maurice Liebert’s Music Studio in Christchurch by correspondence.  I endeavoured to play it without success as I did not have the money to purchase one myself.  A good classmate at St Joseph’s School, Johnny Moylan frequently visited after school to play rugby and cricket with brother John and myself, and he mentioned that he had a 3/4 sized Spanish guitar that he did not play, and offered to lend it me to try.  I tuned it to the open, Hawaiian tuning and played it by placing my finger across the full fretboard, which gave me some satisfaction, until Johnny found the tutor manual and this got me started with the correct way.  Johnny, brother John and myself started playing harmonicas and together, with me on guitar, managed songs such as the Sons Of The Pioneers’ number "Cool Water" and "The Call of the Bellbird", which were popular at that time.  This was great wet weather or evening entertainment for us, along with table tennis and it continued for quite some time, and as I progressed with the guitar I turned to "Cowboy Music" which my cousin Billy was trying out - but he was not making much headway.  My choice was the Tumbleweeds and I was getting their records when mum would release the money.  We went to all the touring shows that came to Ashburton and I still have the autograph that Cole Wilson gave to Johnny, Billy, Peter Tutty and myself back in the early 1950's.


Peter Collins
.... on stage with Doreen Thompson


Hijinks at The Radiant Hall, Ashburton

Peter Collins and his Deaconaires
Trevor Hawke, Ken Millichamp, Brian Deakin, Noel Cameron and Peter Collins


As time went on, Cole Wilson’s brother Les came onto the scene - he was a soloist with guitar and sometimes sang with his wife Jean Calder and they made a hit with their recording "The Wahine Song".  Les Wilson appealed to me more than The Tumbleweeds as they were a group and hard to follow.  Les and his wife toured and visited Ashburton on a number of occasions, but I only got his autograph on records which I no longer have (they were the breakable type 78's).  I took a liking to the blonde guitar that he played and when I started working after school with my uncle Stan Sinclair at Hannah’s Shoe Store, I saved enough to purchase an identical guitar (£13) from Naysmith's Music Store.As I progressed with the cowboy music I began entertaining at charity concerts such as the Salvation Army.  Beryl Thompson held fundraising concerts at Methven and there were other country venues.  Slim Dusty was a relative newcomer but his "A Pub With No Beer" was a great hit and this started me on playing Slim Dusty numbers as well as Les Wilson.  Through Johnny Moylan's father, Ernie Moylan, I got invited to entertain at the Celtic Football clubrooms on Friday nights.  It was upstairs, down the alley behind East Street and H.B.'s menswear store. They were great evenings because with six o'clock pub closing they served beer up till 9pm (illegally) for members.  I got free beer for entertaining.  Localite Neil Reed and members of the Savage Club also entertained, along with others.  Beryl and Claude Thompson’s family were extremely musical and I played with them on occasions - John Thompson on piano, Jim on trumpet or sax and Peter on drums.  They visited home on a number of occasions much to my dad’s (Pat Collins) delight as he would join in with his cornet.  Leroy Van Dyke came on the scene with the "Auctioneer" when I was about 17, and this number took my fancy.  After many hours of practice I finally managed it.  By this time I was working full time at the Borough Council Office with my brother John.  Doug Pearson was the assistant Town Clerk at the time and he was also secretary of The Ashburton Silver Band, which was trying to raise funds for new uniforms and decided to hold a Talent Quest to help.  Doug persuaded me to put my name forward as a contestant.  The Talent Quest was held on Sunday nights in the Orange Hall on the corner of Tancred and Cass Streets, and I won the first night with "A Pub With No Beer" and the Auctioneer.  At dad’s work (Pyne Gould Guiness Grocery) the next day, a customer said to him (not knowing he was my father), wasn’t it terrible that a person singing "A Pub With No Beer" on a Sunday night won the talent quest.  This amused my dad immensely.  The final of the Talent Quest was held at the Regent Theatre, and I was placed second, next to Robert  Wilson, a one man band performer from Methven.  The winners were decided by audience vote.  Because of the popularity of the Talent Quest the band held another the following year, and this was totally held at the Regent Theatre to hold the large following it attracted.  I did not enter as a vocalist but joined Brian Pearson and George Nelson on harmonicas, Brian on chromatic, George on chorda and myself on bass.  We managed third on the first night which put us in the finals, however, when their church read the paper’s result of the Quest and it being on a Sunday, they were prohibited from appearing in the finals.  In the same Quest however I had joined Garry McNair (a vocalist and guitarist like myself) with my guitar, Richard Russell a player of the tea chest bass, and a drummer.  They were called "The Devil Rockers" and performed Elvis Presley numbers including "Jailhouse Rock", which got them into the finals, but no further.  A great team, we continued as friends for a number of years.  When I reached the age of 18, I felt that cowboy music was not for me and turned my guitar playing to the instrumental type like Guitar Boogie and other guitar instrumentals.  Duane Eddy came on the scene with Rebel Rouser and this really appealed to me.  I well remember going to Auckland to stay with Laurie and Claire Taylor (my parents’ friends) and playing Rebel Rouser on every jukebox that I came to on Queen Street.


THIS IS WHERE THE DEACONAIRES BEGIN.  One Sunday afternoon Brian Deakin arrived at my front door.  He had not long since arrived from the UK with his parents and he was trying to find some guy who played guitar and he thought he had won a Talent Quest.  Thinking this was me (because of his accent I could hardly understand him) I invited him in and after an hour or so talking, and a lot of "what did you say again", we finally got it and Brian went away and got his Hofner guitar and very small amplifier, and came back.  I got out my Pamphonic amplifier and blonde Antoria guitar and we started playing (or trying to play) "Volare" again and again.  After that session my neighbour Bertha McIntosh told my mother she hoped she never heard Volare again.  Brian actually was trying to find Geordie Robinson (also a friend of mine and far superior guitarist to me) and fortunately for me he got the wrong directions.   We have remained life-long friends).  I was always trying to find new and better sounds from the electric guitar and friend Malcolm Nish came onto the scene, and he understood what I was trying to achieve.  He and a Christchurch friend of his made me a tremelo (an electronic device which plugged into my Pamphonic amplifier and gave a variable speed echo effect.  I began to expand my instrumental guitar numbers and was given exceptional advice by Brian, who was a wizard with chords on his guitar.  Brian and his sister were frequent visitors to The Radiant Hall Saturday Night Dance, run by The Scottish Society which was strictly old time dancing.  I would go along late in the evening (to avoid the admission charge) to watch them Rock'n'Roll in the corner of the hall.  It was all the go in the UK before they left for New Zealand, but the dance organisers did not approve and they would be asked to stop, or leave, but not before collecting a heap of pennies thrown at them by the patrons, which would pay for a couple of beers for Brian next Satuday before doing it all again.  One day Brian said the had a tune floating in his head that he had composed while coming to NZ on the ship "Captain Cook", with his parents Jim and Kathleen Deakin on an assisted passage for UK citizens who wished to settle in NZ.  We juggled with the tune and I came up with a middle part which he called the "middle eight release" and this was to be "Diamond Lill".  Brians name of Diamond Lill came about when he was sitting on the deck of the Captain Cook and an attractive girl used to occasionally wander past and her walk prompted the bouncy rhythm of Diamond Lill.  Her name was Lill and she had a diamond shaped birthmark on her upper arm.  As time progressed and our repertoire increased, we decided we should approach other guys who could be interested in forming a Rock'n'Roll band, but this was not easy - plenty of guitars, but bass players and drummers were scarce.  I knew Noel Cameron (drummer) well thru the Silver Band, and his father Doug who worked for the Council’s works department.  Noel was willing to give it a go as he said he was a free-lance drummer and would take the best offer going at the time.  Noel suggested that I contact Trevor Hawke a bass player who was playing at the time with Steve Mulqueen and Bill  Anderson in a similar type band to what we were proposing, but they did not seem to be achieving a lot.  Noel drummed for them if he was not required by Ray Daybourn's or Chloe Gordon's dance bands.  Trevor was a little hesitant at the start but suggested that we have a session in his workplace social room above Gluyas Motors garage, to see how it went together.  It went well enough to hold Noel and Trevor's interest - meantime and we had a few Saturday afternoon sessions there putting it together.  Rock'n'Roll was new to NZ and a number of our friends used to come to our practice afternoons at Gluyas Motors social room to listen to our music, and a suggestion was put forward hold a Friday night gig that anyone (invited) could come to.  A venue was the problem, however my uncle Stan (whom I regularly visited), suggested that I approach his neighbour Ian Guiney who was employed by NZ Railways as a locomotive driver.  NZR had an old building that was known as the Railway Hall on West Street opposite the Domain which was available for hire provided it was booked by an NZR employee with a donation being made to their Social Club.  Ian agreed to book it and we commenced monthly gigs on a Friday night.  It was a good night with friends of friends and BYO beer, and we had a collection for the donation to the NZR social club.  Eventually the crowd became too big for the hall so time to move on.


UNIVERSAL S500A (LL101) - Diamond Lill

UNIVERSAL S500B (LL102) - Fire Devil


3YA Tape - 11th January, 1961

3YA Tape - 11th January, 1961

3YA Tape - 11th January, 1961


VIKING VS64a - Shortnin' Bread

VIKING VS64a - Tamiami


Our second recording was due, and John suggested we do Blowing Bubbles/Shortin' Bread as a single.  He contacted Adriene Vincent, a top class pianist, to give a fuller sound.  3 weeks before our scheduled recording session at 3YA I taped off short wave radio Tamiami by Bill Hayley and the Comets from the Indian "Bonarta Hit Parade".  Tamiami was far better than Blowing Bubbles and had not been released by The Comets in NZ at that stage.  With lots of getting together by the band, we managed to produce the recordings with NZBC saying that Shortnin' Bread must be the A-side.  It was a must that bands went along with the NZBC otherwise they would not buy your record for all their Radio Stations throughout NZ.  Pacific Roll, a number I dreamt up and Whistle in Blue a number Brian Deakin had composed were also taped at this session.  Pacific Roll was declined by NZBC because I had asked the sound technician at 3YA to put a sound effect recording of the rolling sea and seagulls in the background.  The NZBC said it made the recording sound like a scratchy worn record otherwise it would have been OK.  They were not easy to deal with back then.  Shortnin' Bread/Tamiami was released on the Viking Label.  This was conveyed to me by Murdoch Riley, the director of Viking Records by phone, with him saying that any future recordings would be released through Viking and not Universal Records, although he gave no reason other than to say that the contract between us and Universal would be honoured.  I still have the master tape from 3YA of Shortnin’ Bread, Tamiami and a couple of others, but it is on 15ips speed which is required for producing records.  Unfortunately I cannot locate the Fire Devil tape.  JB Enterprises of Auckland have been chasing me for it as they wish to re-release another 45 of it with some other artist on the flip side.  They say they cannot do the recording from the existing 45  because of surface noise and must have the original mastertape.  It will turn up one day.  Fire Devil has however been released on 2 different CDs of compilations of NZ artists by Collector Records and White Label Records (Dutch labels owned by the late Cees Klop).


Trevor Hawke, Noel Cameron, Ken Millichamp, Peter Collins and Brian Deakin

Trevor Hawke, Peter Collins,
Bob Milsom, Ken Millichamp and Brian Deakin


3YA Tape - September, 1963

3YA Tape - September, 1963

3YA Tape - September, 1963


Since the Railway Hall was too small for our Friday gatherings John Scammell suggested that we start a Friday public dance and we thought it was worth a shot and would give us a few pounds to update equipment if it all went well.  We hired the Jaycee Hall on Havelock Street and Cass Streets (now the Dental Centre site) an old wooden building for our first public show which included Garner Wayne as our guest artist.  The hall was packed, and two weeks later our second public dance had an even larger attendance.  It was obvious that Rock'n'Roll was going to take off in NZ and so we expanded to George Gales Arcadia Lounge - a very new hall which George had renovated primarily for wedding receptions in conjunction with his tearooms.  George was a little reluctant at first to the idea of a Rock'n'Roll dance in his new hall, but after assurances that we would make good any damage, should it happen, and my dad Pat talking to him, he agreed to give it a trial with no guarantees of on-going availability.  This was the start of regular dances on Fridays for Ashburtonians as Saturday had always been dance night with the Scottish Society Radiant Hall old time dance.  John Scammell was unable to make every Friday night so we had to farewell him and find a new drummer.  Bay Milsom of the Motor Registration Department of the Post Office was a good friend of mine through the Borough Council, and he said his nephew Bob Milsom who lived in Christchurch had taken up drumming and was looking for a group to join.  Bay said he would give him a bed after our dance to avoid him travelling back to Christchurch that night if we would take him on.  Thus it was agreed, and Bob became our third drummer.  He was exceptionally good and was promoted as NZ's Sandy Nelson at a dance we played for at Oamaru.  As Bob needed regular playing we had to move to weekly dances and this put pressure on us to keep our attendances up but as we were now getting invites from other centres it was not an initial problem.  Bart Ball an entrepreneur and promoter in Christchurch was running regular dances with Pat Nehoneho's Saints and invited us to play along with them on occasional nights - these being a Saturday did not clash with our own dance – and all went great with Bart suggesting that we went half shares in promoting Lynn Barnett from Auckland to be guest at our dances on Friday in Ashburton and Saturday with him in Christchurch.  Lynn was currently making a great name for herself on the Auckland scene.  I took up the offer and later found that Lynn's  mother came from Ashburton, and her grandparents were still living on Eton Street in Ashburton.   This was great for publicity and we held the dance on the Friday night at the Radiant Hall on Wills Street.  Just as well we took a larger hall as it was packed and we needed to open the supper room behind the stage to accommodate the crowd (probably illegal) but we did it.  The Scottish Society said it was the biggest crowd the hall had accommodated since the end of WWII celebrations.  Ken Millichamp had just joined the band on saxophone and with his father's Chev Bel Air was able to chaffeur Lynn and her mother around Ashburton and back to Christchurch for Saturdays show.


Bill and Boyd

Radiant Hall Concert / Dance - 1963

Bob Paris


When Bart Ball realised the potential in Ashburton after Lynn's attraction, he decided to bring Peter Posa to Ashburton on our Friday night and also have Christchurch on Saturday (being a bit greedy we felt) so I rang George Tollerton in Auckland who provided entertainers for shows like ours and he said it will be a bit expensive but I can get you Lou and Simon (a vocal pair and comedian act) for the same weekend.  I took the risk and hired the RSA hall on West Street as Bart had the Radiant. Lou and Simon and Peter Posa were on the  same flight from Auckland and were a bit confused at what was going on.  We took Lou and Simon to The Timaru Bay Hall on Saturday, hiring a Mid Canterbury Transport Bus and taking Noel Johnson's group the Corvets as a support band, and a number of our Railway Hall supporters to fill the bus.  On the Friday night I went to the Radiant and caught up with Peter Posa at about 11pm.   He said it was the most disappointing audience that he had played to there being only about 50 there while we had about 300 but still not enough to cover costs.  Saturday at Timaru was a good night but overall we still lost money but not as much as Bart did.  We had no further invasions from him thereafter, and we continued to bring artists from the North Island every 2 or 3 months having some very good nights including Bill and Boyd,   Bob Paris, Ray Wolfe and The Southerners, as well as many smaller groups from Timaru and Christchurch.  We were getting more out of town shows, the biggest being at the recently constructed Cowles Stadium in New Brighton.  It was the biggest rock concert that had been held in Christchurch at that time and was televised live.  It was also the hardest night's playing we had ever done, and it was alongside Max Merritt and the Meteors and Ray Columbus and the Invaders, plus Tony and the Initials from Wellington, The Saints and The Southerners from Christchurch.


We made a number of visits to Oamaru to St Patricks Hall to their Club 100 and stayed at Oamaru's Brydon Hotel, but only once.  Ken had a few too many after the nights playing and left a mess in his room, so the next time we tried to book we were politely refused and had to move to the out of town Glenavy Hotel.  Brian Deakin was at that time employed by the Singer Sewing Company in Ashburton and one day said "sorry chaps but I am being transferred to Te Puke".  This was a headache for me as Brian was a close co-ordinator of shows and numbers over the years.  Terry Helm, a local and a member of Steve Mulqueen's band offered himself as a replacement  for Brian which we accepted, and Terry suggested that we do a South Canterbury/Otago trip around Camping grounds over Christmas and New Year.  We did this, and had a lot of fun entertaining free for the campers at Naseby, Ranfurly, Te Anau, Queenstown and back to Naseby, where The Mayor, Charlie Knowles, gave us free use of the hall if we would do an afternoon/evening dance for the campers and their children, and took up a collection for the band.  This was a great gathering and a lot of fun, Bob got a free night's accommodation at Charlie's hotel, The Ancient Britain for doing a small signwriting job for him.  He was not into tenting! We froze in our tents even though it was mid summer.  After we returned we resumed our weekly dances and we realised that the music world was changing, and vocal groups like the Beatles were the in thing.  We didn't have a good voice between us as we were followers of The Shadows.  The numbers attending the dances were OK, but gradually decreasing.  I had the opportunity to take up the job of assistant town clerk with Doug Pearson who was now Town Clerk of Temuka, and with my pending marriage to Pam on September 26th 1964, decided that this was probably the right time to exit the band scene.  We had had a good few years of fun so that was the end of the Deaconaires.


Telegram from Joe Brown advising Peter of his selection for a test-slot in Joe's nationwide Radio Search For Stars

Peter with Rockhappenz' John Campbell 2022


At this point I would like to go back to the beginning of 1960.  Joe Brown was a big name in the NZ music industry and also in the promotion of the Miss New Zealand Contests and he had arranged for a Nationwide Radio Search for Stars Talent Quest.  As a fun idea I sent in my name expecting to hear nothing more.  On the February 10th, 1960 I received a telegram saying that I had been selected to appear on the Joe Brown Show at the Regent Theatre the following Tuesday.  I polished up my cowboy numbers including the "Auctioneer" and went along and performed to a packed Regent Theatre.  I was fortunate enough to win this quest and as it was a one night only for Ashburton it put me in the Canterbury/West Coast finals to be held at a later date at the Civic Theatre in Christchurch.  The finals were held about 4 -6 weeks later and compèred by Selwyn Toogood presenter of "It's in the Bag", the most popular Radio Show at the time, and sponsored by Lever Brothers - makers of Rinso and Knights Castile products.  This show was recorded by the NZBC for broadcast at a later date, and allowing listeners to "vote" for their favourite contestant by sending in the number of the artist on a Knights Castile soap wrapper.  No hope for West Coast and Ashburton against Christchurch.  Needless to say I did not win, but Charles Hikana of Christchurch did, and it was an amazing experience.  They did not divulge the placegetters, however my father was told by a traveller for Lever Brothers that I was second (this was never verified), and I don't care! It gave me wide coverage for entertaining in Canterbury, with me going with Tommy Kahi and his band to Temuka on a number of occasions performing at Trevor King's charity concerts at the Civic Theatre, St James Theatre, Theatre Royal and a number of other venues in Christchurch.  It opened the door for me to be an entertainer - a challenge I did not accept, as NZ is too small and I was not good enough.  In August 1960 I had a visit at my workplace (The Borough Council) from the winner of the canterbury section of the radio talent quest, Charles Hikana.  He was visiting as director of "NZ Talent Toppers Stage Show" in conjunction with Joe Brown Enterprises, with a contract for me to join the Tour of the South Island for a road show headed by the overall winner of the nationwide quest, Joe Nathan of Palmerston North, Max Merritt and his Meteors and many others.  They were offering me twelve pounds a week tax paid along with top hotel accommodation for an initial six week stint.  At that time the Council was paying me five pounds less tax.  I signed the contract there and then not thinking of the consequences from my boss Harry Childs.  He said it was out of his hands as a contract had been entered into, but I had to use all my accumulated holidays in lieu and John would have to carry the can for any work unable to be done by the rest of the staff during my absence.  He took it very well really.  The tour left from Christchurch with Max Merritt's band doing the backing for most of the performers which included Charles Hikana himself  from Christchurch, The Watson Sisters from Rotorua and Tommy Orchard (Fire Eater) from Auckland.  Roy Cook from Wellington was the compère and vocalist, plus The Spook Show which was a USA imported act.  The tour was more than I ever expected and visited smaller towns such as Ranfurly, Twizel, Winton, Riverton, Gore, the West Coast and Nelson, along with cities like Invercargill, Dunedin, Timaru and Christchurch.  The people one met, and friends one made were the best part of the tour, and it was over much too soon.  I was offered a further contract for eight weeks for the North Island with the same team, so I phoned John from Nelson and asked him to ask Harry if I could sign the contract.  He said to tell me yes I could sign it, but not to expect my job to be there when I returned.  That was the end of a very eventful exercise and holiday.


Additional Peter Collins and his Deaconaires information and YouTube videos are available via the links below .....


Use links to supplementary data Diamond Lill / Fire Devil   º    Shortnin' Bread / Tamiami Use links to supplementary data


Use links to supplementary data Use links to supplementary data