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The Troupadors - Australia's Greatest Showband Part 1: 1963 - 1970

Updated: Nov 6, 2020


Perth showband the Troupadors knew how to put on an entertaining show and they did it better than anyone else. Despite numerous line-up changes, they were able to maintain the same high level of performance throughout the band’s lifetime, which was close on 40 years. In the very competitive Perth dance scene of the late 60s they were the premier showband, then when they relocated to Australia’s east coast in the early 70s, they became the No.1 act on Ivan Dayman’s lucrative hotel circuit. In a letter to the author in 2003, the late Ngaio Dayman wrote,

“His (Ivan’s) greatest love of bands went out to the Troupadores whom he named ‘Australia’s greatest showband’. They were a great group of young men all from Western Australia, the leader Peter Bull a most reliable person, the type that would keep his band and ones business flowing with good reports from all parts of Australia.”

The Troupadors evolved from a group called the Malayan Devils who were originally a folk/doo-wop acoustic quartet in 1960. The line-up included Lloyd Abeysekera, Jimmy Lee, Doshi and an unnamed member. Lloyd and Jimmy were students studying in Australia. Lloyd Abeysekera from Singapore was an outstanding sportsman who at one time held the Junior Bantam Weight Boxing Title of Singapore. Jimmy Lee Choe Hoe from Malaysia was a former student of the Penang Free School for the top 5% of students in Malaysia. He had a business brain and could see the potential of an entertaining and visual showband with strong vocal harmonies, performing current Top 40 material.


In 1961 the group changed their name to the Waywards and added Peter Bull on guitar and Rhien Rawland, also from Malaysia. Peter Bull was born in Birmingham, England in 1942 and moved to Perth with his family when he was 8 years old. His father was an electrical re-winder and started his own business in Bunbury, where Peter grew up. When he left school, Peter worked for a short time for the Department of Main Roads until he met Jimmy Lee and became a guitarist. Towards the end of 1962, the Waywards became the Troupadors. The group gradually introduced electric guitars, moving away from their initial acoustic sound and extended their line-up and began playing rock’n’roll. During 1963 the line-up consisted of: Jimmy Lee (bass, vocals), Lloyd Abeysekera (piano, vocals), Peter Bull (rhythm guitar, vocals), John Lemin (lead guitar, vocals) and Peter Hannan (drums, vocals). Henry Habercost, a local bank manager, occasionally filled in on lead guitar.


Another part time member of the group at this time was Peter Nell. Peter was born in Rangoon, Burma in 1941. His father was the Superintendant of Government House for the British Governor of Burma and when Burma gained independence, the family relocated to Singapore, then moved to Australia in 1948. Peter joined his first band the Zodiacs (who later became the Tolmen) in 1960, then in 1963 he joined the Leedons, who may not have been great musically but definitely looked the part wearing specially made blue satin suits. While he was playing with the Leedons, Peter became good friends with all of the guys in the Troupadors. He started turning up at their rehearsals and then was invited to perform with them at gigs as guest vocalist. Peter recalls,

“I used to go and travel with the Troupadors and we used to go down to Bunbury, Collie, Geraldton, and I’d be the guest singer up there in my dark blue satin suit.”

The Troupadors were probably the first Top 40 band in Western Australia to consistently play in hotels including the Raffles, the Knutsford Arms, the New North Perth Hotel and various other hotels owned by the Swan Brewery. In 1964 there were more line-up changes. John Parker replaced Peter Hannan on drums, Rick Selby replaced John Lemin and Peter Nell was asked to become a permanent member replacing Peter Bull.

Rick Selby was born in Melbourne in 1945. His father, who was from Perth, was in the airforce and was posted to Melbourne for 12 months. Rick was born during this time and when the posting was completed the family returned to Perth, where Rick grew up and lived for most of his life. Rick started his first band with a friend in 1962 called Russ & the Torquays, led by singer Russ Kennedy. Kennedy would later become a popular singer in Perth scoring hit singles with Russ & the Nomads and Russ & the Little Wheels. Rick recalls how he came to join the Troupadors.

“One day I was at work and Jimmy Lee and Peter Bull came up and asked me if I’d like to join the Troupadors. John Lemin was leaving and I jumped at the chance. A band with bookings, it was great.”


The Troupadors started to build up the reputation of being a highly entertaining group and began playing to bigger and bigger crowds. The Perth dance scene was flourishing and one of the largest venues was Anzac House, run by Peter Mack, who became the band’s first manager. Peter Mac was important to the group because he introduced them to a younger audience. There were many bands playing around Perth at this time all vying for work. It was competitive, but the rivalry was friendly, as Rick Selby explains,

“I feel really proud of the fact that there were so many bands and the bands getting the most bookings, probably about 10 of them, were all good friends. So we had this friendly rivalry going on. It was never nasty, I’m really proud of that.”


In 1965 the nightclub scene in Perth really started to take off with clubs like Top Of The Town and Chequers being the most popular. The Troupadors were booked to appear at the Capitol Theatre on February 1st as a support act for the Rolling Stones/Roy Orbison Australian Tour. New Zealand group Ray Columbus & the Invaders also played on the show and backed Orbison.

In 1966, drummer John Parker left and was replaced by John Gotch, who did not sing. One of the conditions of joining the Troupadors was that as well as playing an instrument, you had to be able to sing. Gotch agreed to fill in until a suitable drummer/vocalist could be found. When former member Peter Bull returned after being in New Zealand for two years, Jimmy Lee asked whether he could master the drums in three months. Peter only had a cursory knowledge of the drums but was keen to return to the band. The Troupadors needed Peter’s high voice to round out their harmonies, but needed a drummer not a guitarist.

After three months Bull had sufficiently improved his drumming skills to once again take his place in the band. The line-up that was recognised as the ‘Original Troupadors’ was now complete: Jimmy Lee (bass, vocals), Lloyd Abeysekera (piano, vocals), Peter Nell (rhythm guitar, vocals), Rick Selby (lead guitar, vocals) and Peter Bull (drums, vocals).

In 1967 the Troupadors were playing to full houses whenever they performed including massive crowds at the Highway Hotel in Bunbury over the Easter long weekend. Due to the licensing laws in place at the time, the band also played shows commencing at midnight at the Southway Hall on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The following Easter the Swan Hotel chain asked the band to perform at the Mariner (Marquis) Hotel in Geraldton and at the same time they performed midnight dances at the Wonthella Hall. Peter Nell recalls,

“We used to get huge crowds. The halls weren’t capable of handling the crowds that were trying get in. This happened both at Bunbury and at the Wonthella Hall in Geraldton and there’d be people literally hanging off the rafters. They’d be climbing on the roof and doing all sorts of crazy things.”

The large crowds the Troupadors were attracting to their shows did not happen by accident. The group worked well together with each member contributing to the performance to make a highly entertaining show. Rick Selby was a talented guitarist who could handle all the latest Beatles and Stones songs with ease. Peter Bull had a unique voice that suited Roy Orbison songs. A feature of each show would be when Jimmy took over on drums and Peter would come to the front of the stage and sing all the big Roy Orbison ballads.

Peter Nell was a good-looking guy with a velvety voice who would sing all of the great ballads of the Drifters and the Platters. His show-stopping number was Cara-Mia, the song made famous by Jay & the Americans. Everyone loved Lloyd whose specialty was performing Little Richard songs, which he did with lots of energy and passion. Throughout the show Jimmy would be fooling around and making everybody laugh. Rick Selby recalls,

“It was just a magical combination where we had all those different personalities presenting on stage. I was the young Australian and Peter Nell, he used to sing all the beautiful ballads because he had the beautiful voice. We had cute little Lloyd and Jimmy Lee who used to muck around and Peter Bull with his magnificent Roy Orbison voice. We had these five totally different personalities and it really gelled.”

During 1967 the band was in demand for corporate events and school balls. The nightclub scene was flourishing and the band were playing two shows a night to packed houses, six nights a week (at one stage they played every night) at the top nightclubs. These included West End, Top Hat, Chequers, Two Eyes, Pinocchios and the Waldorf. Peter Nell recalls,

“Perth in the latter half of the 60s had an amazing nightclub scene. A lot of people made a lot of money, a lot of people had a lot of fun and there was next to no drugs. The Troupadors were in the forefront of it all.”


Somehow among all the live work the Troupadors were doing, in early 1967 they recorded their first single with Martin Clarke at Clarion Records. Big Boat/Near To Me was released in February 1967 and caused a fair amount of local interest and became a Top 10 hit. Big Boat, a novelty song well-suited to the Troupadors, was originally recorded by New York doo-wop group the Tokens, best remembered for their 1961 hit, The Lion Sleeps Tonight. The B-side Near To Me was an original co-written by Jimmy Lee and Rick Selby.



Even though Peter Nell was the lead singer, the rest of the group would not allow him to sing the lead vocal on the record. The reason was that, at about the same time, Perth singer Glenn Ingram scored a national hit with The Skye Boat Song. When the song became a hit, Ingram received a number of offers from promoters in the eastern states. The offers were too good to refuse and he left his band the Hi-Five, leaving them high and dry without a singer and no work.

The Troupadors were concerned that the same thing would happen to them. Unknown to the rest of the group however, Peter had already received two or three offers to leave the band and move interstate. Melbourne promoter Ron Blackmore had visited Perth and watched the Troupadors play live. He made Peter an offer to leave the band and launch a solo career in Melbourne. But Peter rejected the offer and was quite happy to stay where he was at that stage.


A second Clarion single, Come Home/Little Boat followed in January 1968, but did not create a lot of interest and failed to make the charts. Come Home was a cover of an obscure Wilson Pickett number and Little Boat was a song originally recorded by the Springfields in 1963. The Troupadors stuck to what they did best, performing live, thrilling audiences with tight vocal harmonies and entertaining floorshows.

During 1968 the Troupadors had such an abundance of bookings that they decided to open their own booking agency. They formed their own company called Troupador Holdings Pty Ltd and established the Quill Organisation. Before too long, Quill was booking 90% of Perth’s bands as well as importing groups and solo acts from the east coast. When the band tried to register the name Troupadors, they had trouble. An ‘e’ was added and the group now used the spelling Troupadores.



The booking agency was doing so well that the group started buying nightclubs. They established the Troupadore Club, then bought the Blue Meanies (originally called Two Eyes) and changed the name to Napoleons. Then they bought a third club, Top Of The Town and re-named it Whiskey-A-Go-Go.

The extra worked load created by running the business resulted in founding members Jimmy Lee and Lloyd Abeysekera leaving the band to concentrate on running the agency. Rex Bullen (formerly of Bakery) took Lloyd’s place on keyboards and guitar, Graham Flintoff took Jimmy’s place on bass and Lynne Mather was bought in as an additional vocalist. Lynne was a solo vocalist from Melbourne who had already worked with the group a number of times as a guest vocalist.

Melbourne singer Lynne Mather began her career in music as a member of the 3-piece folk group, the Greenwood Singers (with Tony Greenwood and Brent McDonald), playing in coffee bars and late-night restaurants. She then started a solo career singing with a dance band in local hotels, which held dinner dances and floorshows. Some of the headlining acts at these shows included top international stars Brenda Lee, Petula Clark, Lulu and Cliff Richard. Gaynor Bunning and Heather Horwood were fellow Melbourne artists Lynne sometimes shared the stage. Others included Normie Rowe, Marcie Jones and Joy Lemmon.


One day Lynne received a phone call from Melbourne based talent agent Ron Fletcher. Ron asked if she would be interested in taking a singing engagement in Perth to take the place of Yvonne Barrett who had taken sick at the last minute. Lynne agreed to take the Perth gig and when she arrived she met the Troupadors, who were her backing band for her Perth shows. Lynne recalls,

“The guys and I rehearsed hurriedly and did several gigs together. Found respect and a love of similar music. I had always loved “harmonies” and now had the chance to do this often, not always being the “lead” singer. Our time together was great fun. What a surprise when they called me back. I made the move to WA and joined them.”


Jimmy Lee went to Singapore to set up Quill International, which resulted in him securing a 6-month gig for the Troupadores in Singapore. When the Singapore tour was announced, however Peter Nell decided he did not want to go and he left the band. As previously mentioned, Lynne Mather was bought in to replace him. The line-up for the first trip to Singapore included, Peter Bull (drums, vocals), Lynne Mather (vocals), Rex Bullen (keyboards, guitar), Rick Selby (bass, vocals), and Graham Flintoff (lead guitar, vocals).


Lynne Mather took Singapore by storm. Wearing short mini skirts and different coloured wigs she attracted a lot of attention and received numerous offers from some very wealthy businessmen. The band appeared at a number of different clubs including The Kelong at The Cathay Hotel, widely regarded as Singapore’s finest entertainment rendezvous, The Moonshine Nite Club and The Ocean Beach Hotel, said to be an exclusive new dine and dance spot that had just opened that month. They also had a regular Sunday T-Dance gig from 3pm to 6pm at the Baron. Entry was free into this club, which offered fine cuisine and dance hostesses. Lynne Mather recalls,

“It was a great time to be in the music business with soul music coming to the fore. I had always loved Motown stuff and now had the chance to sing some of my favourites as lead or as back up.”

During their time in Singapore the Troupadors stayed on the 18th floor of a huge apartment block called Pacific Mansions. There were several other bands from Australia there at the time and they would often hang out together after their gigs. One group they kept company with was Perth group Hole, featuring lead vocalist Tom Grainey. The group also made friends with many locals residents, but one that Lynne Mather has some particularly fond memories of, is an Irishman named Bill. Lynne recalls,

“He was a “man of the cloth” … a preacher from Ireland who had recently made Singapore his home and gathered his Christian flock. Bill was not your average preacher. He rode a big black Norton motorbike. I did ride pillion just once. Peter Bull told me that if I did that again he would put me on the next plane back to Perth.”

Jimmy Lee was the group’s manager while they were in Singapore and he arranged for them to record a 3-track EP for the local Life label. The picture sleeve shows the group standing in phone booths at what was then Singapore’s International Airport (now the Paya Lebar Air Base). The tracks included great covers of the Dionne Warwick hit I Say A Little Prayer, the recently released Cilla Black power ballad Conversations and I Can’t Quit Her from Blood Sweat & Tears first album ‘Child Is Father To The Man’.

After their 6-month contact was completed the band returned to Perth and back into the nightclub scene. The band also travelled to Adelaide for a season at the newly established Old Lion Hotel run by Howie Sangster and Ron Tremaine. Lynne Mather recalls,

“We did the trip to Adelaide and back by road with three cars and a big red Bedford truck. Not all of the Nullarbor Highway was sealed at that time and most of our belongings were covered in red dust. We built a great following in Adelaide.”

Early in 1970, Rex Bullen and Lynne Mather decided to leave the Troupadors and form their own band, Natural Gas to play a more progressive style of music. Rex and Lynne later married and returned to Singapore for a two-month engagement and then onto Japan for six months. While in Japan they supported some top international acts including Jethro Tull, Deep Purple, Led Zeplin and Steve Miller Band.

Natural Gas disbanded before returning to Perth but Rex and Lynne formed a new line-up featuring vocalist Wendy Bailey whose voice and presentation was similar to Janis Joplin. The group received a great deal of praise when they supported the Rolling Stones at the WACA in 1973.


Early Discography:

Big Boat(Peretti, Creatore, Weiss)/Near To Me (Rick Selby, Jimmy Lee)

Clarion MCK-1722 02/67

Come Home Baby (Mann, Weil)/Little Boat (Springfield, Westlake)

Clarion MCK-2104 01/68

The Troupadors EP Life 4-027 1969

Conversations (Greenway,Cook,Lordan), I Say A Little Prayer (Bacharach,David), I Can’t Quit Her (Al Kooper, Irwin Levine)


Sources

Lorraine Bull – Interview: May 13th, 2020

Lynne Layng – Information via email - September 6th, 2020

Peter Nell – Interview: February 2nd, 2020

Peter Nell – The Evolution of the Troupadores, 2020

The Profile with Gary Dunn

– Peter Nell Ep.82 Feb 15th, 2019; Rick Selby Ep.63 Oct 12th, 2018

Rick Selby – Interview – June 19th, 2020

singapore60smusic.blogspot.com

– article by Dr Steven Farram & Andy Lim, February 2nd, 2017

Rick Selby – Interview – June 19th, 2020

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