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The Librettos were, at one point in the mid-'60s, the top rock & roll group in New Zealand -- a status they deserved based on their recordings, which were among the hardest-rocking sides of this era to…
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The Librettos were, at one point in the mid-'60s, the top rock & roll group in New Zealand -- a status they deserved based on their recordings, which were among the hardest-rocking sides of this era to come out of New Zealand or their transplanted home, Australia. And at least one of their members, Brian Peacock, went on to an international career that took him all the way to England. The band was formed in 1962 at Rongotai College in Wellington, where all five of the original members -- Roger Simpson (vocals, piano), Rod Stone (lead guitar), Paul Griffin (bass), Johnny England (guitar), and Gordon Jenkins (drums) -- attended school. They built a reputation locally in Wellington, at dances and the like, before their first breakthrough, a residency at a club called Teenarama -- the latter became to Wellington's (and New Zealand's) rock & roll community something akin to what the Cavern was in Liverpool and the 2I's was in London, a mecca for audiences seeking good music and managers and producers seeking worthwhile talent. The band gained a huge fandom in 1963, though they did lose their original drummer, Gordon Jenkins, who was replaced by Dave Diver late that year. And they were soon spotted by Kevan Moore, a television producer who installed them as the house band on his weekly program, Let's Go, a kind of pop/rock showcase aimed at younger viewers.

They lost rhythm guitarist Johnny England a little later, and he was succeeded by Lou Parun, who had already recorded four singles under his own name. And Paul Griffin left and was succeeded by Brian Peacock on bass, formerly with a band called the Downbeats. And with the departure of Roger Simpson later in 1964, this left the Librettos as a quartet, of which lead guitarist Rod Stone was the only original member. This configuration was leaner and punchier, mixing the British beat sound that they were hearing on records coming in from England and Australia with American R&B. The group got a recording contract in 1964 with the EMI label imprint HMV and debuted with "Funny Things" b/w "I'll Send It Your Way," followed by "Young Blood" b/w "That's Alright with Me" a few months later. "Baby It's Love" b/w "Great Balls of Fire" was released in late 1964, and "It's Alright" b/w "Walkin' the Dog" appeared in 1965. And amid that string of four singles, they also issued their first and only LP in 1964, Let's Go with the Librettos. That record has a pleasingly raw, crunchy garage band sound to it, reminiscent of the early Kinks. They also got to appear with Roy Orbison and the Rolling Stones when they toured New Zealand, and shared a bill with Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs, one of the top rock & roll bands in Australia.

The Librettos realized by the start of 1965 that they'd gone as far as they could in New Zealand and turned their sights toward Australia. They turned down another season of Let's Go and headed to Sydney, where they found a thriving -- and also almost impossibly competitive -- band scene. Dave Diver went back to New Zealand, to be replaced by Craig Collinge, and the band soldiered on, releasing a single of "Great Balls of Fire" b/w "Twilight Time" in the spring of 1965. Another single, "Ella Speed" b/w "I Want Your Love," followed in the fall of that year, which was only issued in New Zealand. Gradually, they broke through to a serious fandom and began separating themselves from the competition, and even managed to return home to New Zealand every so often to huge audiences. Meanwhile, back in Australia, they left HMV for the Sunshine label, through which they released "I Cry" b/w "She's a Go-Go." Both that record and a follow-up, "Rescue Me" b/w "What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For," failed to chart.

By 1966, Parun had returned to New Zealand, and the Librettos decided to continue as a trio. They also relocated to Melbourne and recorded the single "Kicks" b/w "Whatcha Gonna Do About It," which proved to be their swan song. Peacock and Stone were offered spots in the Playboys, the backing band for Normie Rowe, who was getting ready for a British tour, and that was it for the Librettos. Their final recording, "It's Loving Time," cut in the summer of 1966, wasn't even issued, and remained in the vaults until 1997. Brian Peacock later formed Procession, while Rod Stone became part of a late-'60s band called the Groove, and was still active in music at the start of the 21st century. Meanwhile, the Librettos' music was unearthed in a CD compilation, which included most of their recorded output, released by EMI in 1997.