29 Nov 2016

NZ pop pioneer Ray Columbus dies

6:39 pm on 29 November 2016

One of the country's biggest pop music stars, Ray Columbus, has died at the age of 74.

The Christchurch-born and raised entertainer will be remembered for his stylish dress, his unique dancing style and a string of hit records.

View a collection of multimedia stories about Ray Columbus

The single 'She's a Mod' in 1964 cemented Ray Columbus and the Invaders a place in New Zealand music history, when it reached the top of the charts in Australia.

They were the first New Zealand group to record an entirely original New Zealand album - Original Numbers.

Their single 'Till We Kissed' was this country's biggest-selling pop single for 30 years.

Columbus then went solo - becoming a TV star in the pop show C'Mon, and later in series such as That's Country, which he produced and presented.

He won many awards, including Entertainer of the Year, and in 1974 was the first of this country's pop entertainers to be awarded an OBE.

Columbus made many other contributions to New Zealand music - promoting it overseas, managing performers, and serving on the Arts Council and professional bodies.

He died at his home north of Auckland today after four years of ill health, and is survived by his wife Linda, two children and three grandchildren.

'A real professional to the end'

The Invaders bassist Billy Kristian told The Panel Columbus fought his health issues all the way.

Wally Scott, Dave Russell, Ray Columbus, Jimmy Hill, Billy Kristian, 1964

Ray Columbus and The Invaders in 1964: Wally Scott, Dave Russell, Ray Columbus, Jimmy Hill and Billy Kristian Photo: Courtesy: AudioCulture

"Ray was always, as far as band members of all the Invaders, he always pushed the band and he always worked hard to get it going.

"He never pushed himself further than the other guys, he always kept us equal."

Long-time friend Suzanne Lynch, who was a member of The Chicks, described the late performer and his band as New Zealand's answer to The Beatles or The Rolling Stones.

She first met Columbus at the Gold Disc Awards when she was 14, in the mid-1960s.

"I just remember thinking 'wow, this is amazing'... Girls would be screaming, fainting, I mean, he was the biggest thing since sliced bread back then in those days. It was just fantastic.

Watch music videos for two of the band's top hits:

He had always been a great promoter of this country's music, she said.

"Helped a lot of artists behind the scenes with contractual things, all sorts of things really. He taught me professionalism, that's for sure.

"If you watch Ray Columbus, it was all about performance, he made up the mod's nod, all that sort of thing, he was ahead of his time really."

Another friend, Suzanne Prentice, who appeared on several series of That's Country, paid tribute to him as someone who was "larger than life".

"His stature was small but his talent was absolutely huge. His professionalism, and his care of other people I think, would be the main thing that I remember. He was the absolute professional to the max.

"He was one of the ones I can remember telling me, never waste an opportunity," she said.

"We were talking about the filming of one programme of That's Country and he said 'treat every rehearsal like it's the show', and that's advice that I've never forgotten and I've always used."

Other musicians and music critics have also been remembering the "modfather", describing him as clever, kind and someone who managed to always keep in touch with the industry.