18 Nov 2010

Hi-Revving Tongues - Fame and Flares

From Musical Chairs, 2:00 pm on 18 November 2010
Hi-Revving Tongues (left to right) keyboardist Bruce Coleman, drummer Rob Noad, vocalist Chris Parfitt, lead and rhythm guitarist Mike Balcombe  and bass player John Walmsley. Taken at the Loxene Gold Disk Awards in 1967.

Hi-Revving Tongues (left to right) keyboardist Bruce Coleman, drummer Rob Noad, vocalist Chris Parfitt, lead and rhythm guitarist Mike Balcombe and bass player John Walmsley. Taken at the Loxene Gold Disk Awards in 1967. Photo: Courtesy Mike Balcombe archive.

Keith Newman talks to Hi-Revving Tongues founding singer Chris Parfitt and band leader and guitarist Mike Balcombe, now living in Melbourne, in Musical Chairs featuring Hi-Revving Tongues - Fame and Flares.

The Hi-Revving Tongues were among New Zealand's earliest purveyors of psychedelic pop music, wowing audiences on both sides of the Tasman with their madcap antics.

The band known for its organ driven music, tight vocal harmonies and guitar phasing evolved from North Shore unit Species Nine when members joined with former Sierras guitarist Mike Balcombe.

They chose their curious name in what he describes as a Monty Python moment and within weeks of forming in 1967 had recorded an acetate disc of what has been described as New Zealand's first psychedelic song.

The Mike Balcombe song Illusion was personally taken into pirate radio station Hauraki, where it was given immediate airplay and voted likely to succeed. The band then signed to Allied International, re-recorded it and gained minor success.

The hard working unit was further elevated into pop star status with regular work on the dance scene and the release of the single Tropic of Capricorn written by singer Chris Parfitt.

Hi-Revving Tongues stage shows were always unpredictable and by today's standards downright dangerous. Bass player John Walmsley, the mad scientist in the group, devised a range of explosion that would be triggered at appropriate points in the show. Dummy amplifiers and prop guitars would be set alight in mid performance and loud sound effects, smoke bombs and other unexpected pyrotechnics would keep the audience on edge.

Hi-Revving Tongues won Benny Levin's 1968 Battle of the Bands and toured with the finalists and then with Larry's Rebels and Johnny Farnham before heading across the Tasman as part of their prize.

After eight months performing in the heart of Sydney's club scene the band's single Rain and Tears, a cover of a Demis Roussos song, began soaring up the New Zealand charts. They were called home by manager Eldred Stebbing to promote it and support its entry into the Loxene Golden Disc Award. The song reached number one on the national pop charts and saw the band win the group section of the Loxene Gold Disk Awards in 1969.

After a couple of line-up changes the group changed its name to simply The Tongues, recorded a second album and after a round the world cruise moved to Australia where they became Caboose before folding in 1972.

Produced and presented by Keith Newman for Radio New Zealand National.

Get the new RNZ app

for easy access to all your favourite programmes