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2016

Volume pays tribute to Ray Columbus, New Zealand music pioneer

By Russell Baillie
Fri, 2 Dec 2016

Ray Columbus & The Invaders in Sydney

Courtesy of AudioCulture

With the passing of Ray Columbus, New Zealand music has lost not just one of its greatest early stars but one of its most enduring champions.

As leader of Ray Columbus & The Invaders, Ray proved a winning combo of self-confidence, musical smarts, and fronting a great band could get you far.

The Invaders paved the way for many other New Zealand groups. Their Australian number-one single 'She's a Mod' showed Kiwi acts could crack it overseas.

'Till We Kissed', number one in New Zealand, demonstrated a rock 'n' roll band doing sophisticated pop could conquer the charts at home too – and look stylish while doing it. The song became one of the first Kiwi music videos, which Ray directed himself.

With 1965 album, Original Numbers, the first totally self-written New Zealand pop LP, Ray's group made the creative leap that The Beatles and the Rolling Stones had.

Ray's star didn’t wane with the split of The Invaders. Basing himself in the San Francisco of the psychedelic era, he made a valiant attempt at getting a foothold in the US.

Home again a few years later, Ray became the face of many television shows. His television career made him a mainstream entertainer, the host of everything from royal variety shows to hoedown series That's Country.

But as well as managing acts and working as a producer and promoter, he continued to champion creative Kiwi acts like Split Enz and offer encouragement and advice to many others. He remained a long-time campaigner for local music on the radio.

Ray, a champion tap-dancer who joked he had a Fred Astaire childhood followed by an Elvis Presley adolescence, arrived as a high energy, photogenic, rock 'n' roll showman.

His hair-shaking Mod's Nod came to symbolise the youthful exuberance of the 1960s in New Zealand.

In later years, he became known as the 'Modfather', a moniker which acknowledged his business acumen as much as his musical beginnings.

Ray used the nickname as the title of his 2011 autobiography, subtitled 'the life and times of a rock 'n' roll pioneer'.

Raymond John Patrick Columbus, OBE, was certainly that. But he was so much more. He was one of our first music stars. And he never stopped being one.

The Ray Columbus story in Volume: Making Music in Aotearoa. It features the Loxene Golden Disc won by Ray Columbus & The Invaders in 1965, for the ballad 'Till We Kissed'.

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