YEARS AGO

 

Ray Colombus

 

She’s A Mod (T Beale) – Ray Columbus and the Invaders – 1964

 

The classic Ray Columbus and the Invaders lineup of Billy Kristian (bass), Dave Russell (lead guitar), Wally Scott (rhythm guitar), Jimmy Hill (drums) and Ray Columbus (lead vocals) did not click until 1963. Ray Columbus had performed with various local Christchurch groups including the Downbeats and Ray and the Drifters and four bass guitarists and several drummers and guitarists had rotated through the lineup and other prominent local groups including Max Merritt and the Meteors in the preceding years, but they had built a strong following in their home town of Christchurch, and were developing a unique rhythm and blues repertoire.

Lyttelton Port in Christchurch was the base for US Navy ships engaged in missions to Antarctica known as Operation Deep Freeze, so the band was exposed to the latest American R&B music, by the servicemen who attended their concerts at the Enlisted Men’s Club, who encouraged them to play the latest hits from the US, that featured on the club’s jukebox.

The band moved on to perform at Christchurch’s Plainsman Club and were spotted by Auckland-based promoters who encouraged them to move there.

In 1963 the band commenced a residency at Auckland’s Monaco club and with their R&B-influenced sound, Fender guitars, dynamic stage routine, and sharp suits were quickly the top act in town, they signed with Zodiac records and hooked up with local A&R man Eldred Stebbing and British sound engineer John Hawkins who had worked with Joe Meek (Telstar, Have I the Right, Johnny Remember Me) in the UK on several recordings with Petula Clark.

Early success was elusive, Money Lover, a Columbus/Dave Russell composition stiffed as did several subsequent covers and instrumentals, but they were working on what would prove to be their breakthrough hit in Auckland at the Zodiac Studios, the band sensed that the time was right to break into the Australian market, and the invasion commenced in 1963.

Stebbing convinced John Harrigan to give the band a slot at his Surf City disco (Syd) and they quickly segued to appearances on Bandstand and Sing, Sing, Sing. She’s A Mod was released in 1964 and unaccountably stalled in New Zealand but following a successful appearance on Sydney radio 2UW’s Radio Theatre, it took off and went to #1 here, a delayed reaction kicked in back in NZ and the record went to #1 there as well.

She’s A Mod, was written by British musician Terry Beal, of the Birmingham group the Senators, and it launched the dance craze the Mod’s Nod” with a frenetic Beatlesesque workout, complete with lots of yeah, yeah, yeahs borrowed from the Fab Four’s She Loves You.

The vision of the band performing the song on Bandstand is classic 60’s nostalgia, with Ray Columbus energetically demonstrating the requisite dance moves, which were a combination of the Swim, the Frug and the Hitchhiker, as his longish rocker hairstyle flops around, guitarists Russell and Scott lean in on the chorus with their menacing Fenders, and the bassman up the back sways from side to side like a demented metronome.

 

 

The song was a perfect piece of opportunistic pop, it was the first song by a NZ group to hit #1 in Australia and the 13th biggest-selling record overall in 1964, and it may have been inspired by another Kiwi who was also racing up the charts at the same time, Miss Mod herself, Dinah Lee.

The band landed a spot on the Rolling Stones/Roy Orbison/ Newbeats tour of New Zealand in 1965 and quickly followed up with another original composition, the more R&B-influenced Yo-Yo/She’s Gone which hit #1 in NZ but stiffed in Aust; the boys would return to the Aust top 40 again in 1965 with Till We Kissed which climbed to #29 and was yet another NZ #1, but it would be their last as the band broke up a year later.

Ray Columbus relocated to California (USA) in 1966 and formed a psychedelic group known as The Art Collection who issued four singles but without success, he turned down an opportunity to audition for the Monkees and thereafter pursued a career in band management, ultimately returning to New Zealand to play the heritage rock circuit there, Ray Columbus sadly passed away in 2016.

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