Al Dawson – Biography
Al was born in Napier, and at a very early age, his parents moved to Hastings, where he attended Central Primary School and Hastings Intermediate. He had always been fascinated by the music he heard on the radio. Money mattered a good deal in those early days, so Al hand-made his first guitar when he was 10, and taught himself to play. He attended Hastings Boy’s High School, where he was presented with a Diploma in Art, but out of school hours, whenever he had a spare moment, he would practice playing on his guitar. When his school days at HBHS came to an end, Al went to work as a Canvas & Leather Tradesman at Land & Heighway, but music had opened up a whole new world for him, so in between day jobs, he formed his first band.
Al was also a founding member of the Hawkes Bay Hotrod & Custom Club, and during this time, he built up and owned several classic cars and hot rods. Al performed for the first time in public, on the Napier Soundshell stage, for a Rothman’s New Year’s Talent Quest, in January 1965. The band was named ‘Group X’, and they played a rocking version of ‘In the Mood’.
A year later, in 1966, with a new Fender Stratocaster guitar and a Vox AC30 amplifier from Sutcliffes Music Shop, Al joined Napier’s top/pop group, ‘The Hand’. From there on, it was full speed ahead, sometimes in the holidays, working many nights in a row, while trying to do daytime jobs at the same time. ‘The Hand’ were billed as one of the Bay’s hottest bands, playing Teenage Dances, Youth Club Cabarets, and Fashion Shows. They won the ‘Aussie a-Go a-Go’ Battle of the Bands contest in April 1967, played gigs from Hawkes Bay to Gisborne, Taupo to Palmerston North, recorded Jingles and Commercials for Radio 2ZC, then won the Hawkes Bay ‘Battle of the Sounds’ Awards in June 1968.
From 1966 to 1968, ‘The Hand’ were also popular favourites at Napier’s hottest nightspot, the Top Hat Ballroom. They performed there with most of the big name stars of the ‘60’s, such as Mr.Lee Grant, The Chicks, Larry’s Rebels, the Fourmyula, the Avengers, Simple Image, the La de das, and many others. The ‘Hand’ disbanded after two and a half years to pursue other careers, and in 1969, Al formed the ‘Twin City Invention’, a new band with a driving sound, a mixture of blues and commercial pop. They performed at the Top Hat Ballroom, and after only two weeks together, won Benny Levin’s ‘Battle of the Bands’ competition, and were flown to Auckland to represent the Bay in the National Finals.
In 1970, Al formed the ‘Creation’, a classy five piece band featuring electric organ and brass, and once more won Benny Levin’s ‘Battle of the Bands’ contest. They were flown to Auckland to represent the Bay in the Nationwide Final on May 16th 1970. Later that year, Al reformed the band as a 3-piece combo named ‘The Gentry’. They played at the Top Hat Ballroom, Hastings Mayfair Hotel, and Napier’s famous Cabana Hotel, before briefly reforming again with a new lineup, as ‘The Lincolnwood Trio’.