Peter Nelson

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Peter Nelson Collection


Peter Nelson still at his best at Flaxwood Festival 2012

Peter Nelson was born in Christchurch in 1942.  He lived in Opawa and attended St Mark's Primary School before moving on to St Andrew's College (an élite traditional Scottish Presbytarian private college founded in 1917) for his secondary education.  By the age of 16, he was singing in a group called The Metronomes, with Bob Hancock on drums, Ashley Glubb on bass, Stu Moore on guitar and Ken Richardson on sax.  They played at weddings, 21sts and and various local venues, developing a repertoire of jazz, swing, Frank Ifield and Bobby Darin, but nobody was getting rich or becoming famous.  Peter's day job at the local Press newspaper as an apprentice Linotype mechanic, was enough for Peter to keep his Honda motorcycle on the road.  1962 saw him join The Diamonds, and after a few iterations the line-up was settled, with Doug Petrie on drums, Ray Messervy on bass, Don Clarkson on rhythm guitar and Dave Henderson on lead guitar.  At that time Kaye Bassett was also a member of the band and sharing vocals with Peter.


The Diamonds - Safari Lounge (Christchurch)
Ray Messervy, Don Clarkson, Doug Petrie, Dave Henderson
with vocalists Peter Nelson and Kaye Bassett

Peter Nelson + The Castaways - Safari Lounge (Christchurch)
Peter Gillette, Doug Petrie, Peter Nelson, Len Ormsby,
and Doug Henderson


Ray Columbus and the Invader's departure from Christchurch opened the door for The Diamonds to move in to entertain US servicemen at the US Deep Freeze Base, before the group transferred to the Safari Lounge when it opened in Tuam Street the following year.  Ray Messervy left in early 1964 with Dave Henderson, taking The Diamonds name with him.  Don Clarkson then moved to bass guitar, and Len Ormsby and Doug Henderson (from Timaru band The Falcons) joined on lead and rhythm guitar respectively  —  thus was born Peter Nelson and the Castaways.The new band got its break at the end of 1964 when Prestige Promotion's Ken Cooper booked them to play at the Nelson Sports Hall for Christmas and New Year, and they were spotted by an HMV talent scout, who immediately signed them up.  With rock 'n' roll dreams to the fore, Christchurch was never going to hold Peter Nelson and the Castaways, and come Easter, to his parents' annoyance, Peter had quit his job at The Press and was heading to Wellington where the band obtained a residency at the Teenarama Club on Hill Street behind Parliament buildings where (now without Kaye) they were soon joined by Peter Gillette on keyboards.  Once established in Wellington, Peter Nelson and the Castaways played locally and appeared on the local TV show Teen Scene.  Onwards  —   and into the HMV recording studio laying down their first single Baby Can I Take You Home // I'll Never Be Blue, (a Gary Thain original).  Sundays were spent on stage at either the Taita or Porirua Youth Club.  There were another two recording sessions as well, delivering the singles I'll Go Crazy // Down the Road Apiece with Don Clarkson in the vocal slot, and Down in the Mine // So Don't Go.  This last single was an all Kiwi affair with Premiers' bassist Peter Hindmarsh having written Down in the Mine and the Castaways' new bassist, Doug Rowe, writing So Don't Go.In the letter part of 1966, Peter Nelson and The Castaways moved to Sydney from where Peter Nelson left in 1967 to try his luck in the Asian market.  The remaining Castaways replaced him with Frankie Stevens on vocals, changed the band's name to The Castaways, and continued as a major club band in Australia for some time.  There were still two singles to be released as Peter Nelson and the Castaways  —  Knock On Wood // Old Man Mose and At A Time Like This // A Little Lovin' Somethin' and both were released in 1967.  As the Castaways they released the singles Any Little Bit // Early Morning in 1967 and One More Fool // Baby What I Mean and Angelica // Love Is A Hurtin' Thing for EMI in Australia before returning to New Zealand in 1968.  During their time in Australia, Len Ormsby was replaced by Reno Tehei, Doug Petrie by ex-Twilights drummer Laurie Pryor, and Peter Gillette by Lance Dixon.


Peter Nelson + The Castaways
HMV Publicity Shot

Peter Nelson + The Castaways
HMV Publicity Shot

Peter Nelson + The Castaways - Live on Australian TV
Channel 7's "It's All Happening"



Back to the future  —  more recently Peter Nelson and The Castaways got themselves back together for the Spencer Street Revisited Concerts in Christchurch Cathedral in September of 2006, and for the first ROCKONZ Concert in 2007 in the Christchurch Town Hall.  On both accasions, Peter Gillette featured on a genuine old L-100 Hammond Organ (thanks to Kevin Frewer allowing the old girl to come out of retirement for the night).


SSR Concerts - Christchurch Cathedral 2006

ROCKONZ Christchurch Town Hall 2007

ROCKONZ Christchurch Town Hall 2007


Peter started his Asian work-out in Bangkok in 1968 and spent 3 months gigging on US Military Bases around Thailand before flying to Hong Kong to join Little Sammy and the In People as their lead singer, playing at The Den in the Hilton Hotel on Hong Kong Island, but after things went wrong, was lucky to be offered work with local favourite band The Lotus, with whom he had performed on Hong Kong TV in his first month in the colony.  Within weeks Peter and The Lotus were playing six nights instead of three and filling the basement venue, The Scene - with its money-was-no-object sound system, capturing the Kowloon movers and shakers who no longer had to cross the harbour to enjoy themselves of an evening, as they could party on without worrying about catching the last ferry back from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon.  As it turned out, Peter eventually got to front the In People.


Renaissance 1970

Renaissance 1971

Renaissance II 1973/74


A three-month contract with local television company Rediffusion for a show called Tonight with the In People eventuated, and Peter was asked to go to England so he could be the UK entry in the 1969 European Song Contest (which would later become the Eurovision Song Contest).  Unfortunately he was unable to secure the open round-trip air ticket he needed to ensure he could get home if things didn't work out in the UK.  The band began to fall apart, with some giving up and heading back to Australia, leaving Peter to find replacements - including former Invaders Billy Kristian and Wally Scott, but the last straw came when Sammy's brother Tony, the drummer and band leader, failed to show one night and was found to be on a plane to Australia - unbeknowns to the rest of the band who were due on stage and couldn't find their drummer.  In order to keep the contract at The Den, Peter formed a new band - Renaissance.  The Den put Peter in front of all the right people, and his regular television appearances also helped a lot.  EMI Hong Kong, bought some of the masters of his earlier Australian and New Zealand recordings and released them in south-east Asia.  Then, when the Hilton contract ended in October 1969, Renaissance got a six-month contract to open a new nightclub  —  The Marco Polo, in Bangkok, and yet another at the new Singapore Hilton in Orchard Road.  That was called the Spot Spot, and it ran for nine months.  From there, they headed to Tokyo and its famous Mugen Club, where they shared the bill with, among others, BB King and The Bar-Kays - they also did their first colour TV show, on the TBS network.  Peter still has an original 1" black and white video tape of a performance on Hong Kong's HKTVB in August of 1971, which he is hoping to one day have converted into a modern digital format.


Peter Nelson caught on Australian TV

A publicity shot from 1976

Don Clarkson and Peter Nelson


An offer came from the Ala Moana Hotel in Hawaii - a 12-month contract for six nights a week in the 1600-seat Hawaiian Hut, the biggest venue in Honolulu; but in June 1972, as the contract was nearing its end, things once again fell apart.  Peter was left with no choice but to return to Hong Kong, where he opened the new Furama Hotel with a new Renaissance II, but work was drying up by 1974 as hotels began the switch from live music to disco.  Peter quit the stage and went behind the scenes in the entertainment industry, installing sound systems and curating music for entertainment venues.  In 1976 a self-titled album was released, with backing on some songs by the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra - tracks included Feelings, Sailing and No Regrets.  Various TV commercials and film themes also regularly put him back in front of a microphone.  Peter returned home to New Zealand in 1996.


Additional Peter Nelson and related groups information is available on the following individual pages, as well as the Audio Culture Website .....


Use links to supplementary data Peter Nelson + The Castaways   º    Renaissance Use links to supplementary data


Use links to supplementary data Use links to supplementary data