13 Jul 2024

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Th' Dudes


The national success of the Th' Dudes came about through a combination of genuine talent and clever marketing and, at the height of their popularity, the group acted and demanded to be treated like stars. For a while they were, but few groups have come tumbling down as fast as the Th' Dudes, leaving behind a trail of bad debts and bad manners.

Peter Urlich, Dave Dobbyn and Ian Morris were all school friends at Sacred Heart College and on leaving school they all shared the dream of entering the world of rock n roll.

In 1974 Urlich and Morris formed a band called Chillum with Glendowie College boys Andrew Bayliss, Glen Owen and Bruce Murdoch. Having no success as a group they disbanded in 1975. Urlich, Morris and another Sacred Heart College old boy, Peter Coleman, stayed together and, after several false starts, finally convinced Dobbyn to join them. They recruited Bruce Hambling on drums and called themselves Th' Dudes. The name of the group coming from Tony Benyon's Lone Groover cartoon character in New Musical Express. The Lone Groover was a hip, masked bandido who spoke in apostrophes and called everyone "dude" way before the surf culture claimed the term.

Th' Dudes began rehearsing in the summer of 1975/1976 and made their debut at Crofts nightclub. In September 1976, they were a late entry in the Battle Of the Bands contest, but proved successful by taking out first prize. They gradually built up a reputation as THE hard-rocking band for your club social or school ball.

In December the band appeared at a one-day festival at Waikino. Headlining acts included the Country Flyers, Rockinghorse, and Ragnarok. Also present were the up-and-coming Hello Sailor. Th' Dudes were so impressed with them that they became fanatical fans and even started modelling themselves on them. What they liked was the way Hello Sailor came across as being cocky, self-assured, dripping with talent, and with just a touch of decadence.

By 1977 there was enough interest in Th' Dudes for Kevin Lane to offer them the job of replacing Street Talk as regulars at the Windsor Castle, Auckland's Primo rock venue. Th' Dudes had been greatly influenced by the blues style of Street Talk, even covering one or two of their songs later on.

Lez White replaced Peter Coleman on bass in the middle of 1978. At that stage they were playing regularly at all the key Auckland venues, including the Windsor Castle, Globe, Gluepot and the Island Of Real. They became one of the Island Of Real's most popular bands and in July 1978, its owner, Charley Gray became their manager. He told the band, "if you want to be treated like stars, you have to behave like stars". It was an attitude that backfired on both Charley and the Th' Dudes, and in adopting this stance they were sowing the seeds of their own destruction.

When Hello Sailor left for the USA in August 1978, Gray was determined to make Th' Dudes the #1 group around. Their insistence on star treatment was getting bizarre. When they played support to Peter Frampton at Western Springs in November, even though they were not paid much, they spent more than their fee backstage and had better facilities than the star of the show.

A record contract was negotiated with Eldred Stebbing and in the beginning of 1979 came their debut single, 'Be Mine Tonight', written and sung by Dave Dobbyn, backed with 'That Look In Your Eyes'. The entire year was taken up with a gruelling touring schedule. It was a life style fit for stars, full of booze, drugs and groupies. They made a controversial move on Anzac Day, when at the last minute they pulled out of a concert at the Wellington Opera House, claiming the sound system wasn't up to their standard. The two support acts, Rough Justice and the Wide Mouthed Frogs, didn't see a problem and carried on. Th' Dudes lost more than a few Wellington fans that day and the backlash had begun.

Their debut album 'Right First Time' was released in June 1979. To promote it, the group took to the road with a recently imported Cerwin-Vega sound system, in order to show how it should be done. To handle all the gear, they had the largest full-time road crew in the country. This was certainly doing it in style.

The ANZ Bank sponsored a series of "lunchtime concerts" at high schools throughout the country. This brought Th' Dudes sound right to the fans they wanted to reach, and audience reaction was wild.

In November, they were in Australia doing a support tour for English group the Members, when the National Music Awards were on in Auckland. Being the stars they were, they were flown back to Auckland on the Friday afternoon and were returned to Brisbane the following morning. At the awards they picked up two prizes, 'Top Group' and 'Single Of The Year' for 'Be Mine Tonight'. They had an air of arrogance about them at the awards and generally made people feel uncomfortable around them. If they were best group, they certainly didn't give the industry something to be proud of.

Charley Gray now had a big problem with Th' Dudes, having encouraged them to act like stars, they were acting like superstars, running up enormous hotel bills and generally living beyond their means. Their appetites were being satisfied by booze and drugs. Things were getting out of hand. While overheads were increasing, crowds were starting to dwindle.

Two further singles were released during 1979. They were 'Right First Time'/'Tonight Again' and 'Walking In Light'/'Bad Boy Billy'. Australia even had a taste with 'Bad Boy Billy' and 'Walking In Light' both being released on the Big Mouth label, with 'Stop Crying' and 'On Sunday' being on the flipsides respectively.

In January 1980 was the Sweetwaters Festival and Th' Dudes were given the prime slot just before the headlining act Elvis Costello and the Attractions. It was the best performance of their career, and while being attacked by a small portion of the crowd, they certainly won over the vast majority of the audience. Too far in debt to disband, they kept performing for the next three months with a smaller sound system and road crew. But the end was near. The tour with the Members had shown them that Australia was the logical next step, but the idea of slogging around the dingy Aussie traps as relative unknowns did not appeal to Morris, and he announced that he was leaving in May 1980. The farewell performance, featuring a nude Ian Morris, was at Mainstreet to a fanatical crowd.

Although they had officially disbanded, they went back into the recording studio to complete their second album, 'Where Are The Boys?', which was released in July 1980, along with the single 'Bliss'/'On The Rox'.

Peter Urlich went overseas and later returned as a night club operator. Bruce Hambling disappeared from the scene. Lez White played with other bands, notably the Legionnaires. Ian Morris concentrated on being a recording engineer, later returning to the scene in a later version of DD Smash. Dave Dobbyn of course went on to a very successful solo career and also formed DD Smash.

Thanks to Sergent.com.au for this information!

Band Members:
Dave Dobbyn (guitar, vocals)
Ian Morris (guitar, keyboards, vocals)
Bruce Hambling (drums)
Peter Coleman (bass guitar)
Peter Urlich (vocals)





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