Almanac Music: The other KB

 

 

 

Richard Griffiths and Kevin Borich

 

 

 

For most readers of this publication the initials KB would immediately conjure thoughts and images of the former Richmond Tiger champion and 403 game record holder the great Kevin Bartlett. The will-of-the-wisp rover and goal-kicking forward was a true champion of the game and remains relevant to this day through his insightful media work at 75 years of age.

 

 

Kevin Borich in his La De Das days

 

 

But there is another KB who has been a part of my life over the last five decades through my love of music. I first saw the La De Das on Channel 2 (ABC) on a program called GTK (Getting to Know), a ten-minute magazine program focusing on the music industry aired Monday to Thursday just before the 7pm news. It was 1973 and colour TV was yet to reach Australia. I recall the grainy black and white clip of this band with a strange name playing a catchy pop tune called ‘Gonna See My Bay Tonight’. The guitarist/vocalist was wearing denim, sported straggly long hair and a surfie type goatee beard. His name was Kevin Borich – the other KB.

 

In 1974 my school would put on the occasional lunchtime concert for students. I recall one concert featuring a band called the Kevin Borich Express. At that stage I hadn’t put the connection between the La De Das and Kevin Borich. I don’t remember much about the entire performance, but I do vividly remember his cover version of the Dylan/Hendrix classic ‘All Along the Watchtower’ – his precise guitar playing and dexterity on the wah pedal blew me away.

 

I bought a couple of his albums in the late 70s and early 80s including Celebration and saw him play at the Mushroom Evolution Concert at The Myer Music Bowl over the Australia Day weekend of 1982. It wasn’t until I moved to Southeast Queensland in the late 90s that I saw Borich again performing at the Broadbeach Blues Festival in the mid 2000s. Again, I marvelled at his playing. I was witnessing a guitar god some 40 years on from that school concert way back in 1974.

 

Fast forward to 2022 and somehow, I find myself Chairman and presenter of a community radio station based in the Hawkesbury beyond western Sydney-PulseFM. Our station manager Kathryn rang me one day and asked if I had ever heard of a musician call Kevin Borich. “Are you serious?!” I retorted. I pointed out that Borich was arguably the greatest Oz guitarist (despite the fact he is a born Kiwi who moved to Australia in the late 60s) and that I had been an admirer for nearly five decades. “Well, I’ve arranged an interview with him for your Sunday afternoon program Richard’s Retrospective.”

 

I interviewed Kevin Borich for 40 minutes tracing his musical roots in New Zealand, the formation of the La De Das and their move to Australia, the demise of that band and the creation of the Kevin Borich Express to The Party Boys and beyond. We spoke of the time he joined Carlos Santana at Sandown Raceway, playing at Sunbury with Deep Purple and Queen, playing with Joe Walsh from The Eagles in the Party Boys, his recent health issues and the halcyon days of live pub rock in Melbourne and Sydney. There was an instant connection.

 

The Hawkesbury Valley has suffered from severe flooding over recent months with the Nepean and Hawkesbury Rivers impacting on local businesses and residents alike. The extraordinary amount of rain has left the community devastated, and many have lost their homes and livelihoods.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a community media outlet how could PulseFM support those affected by the floods? Answer-put on a Flood Relief Charity Concert featuring local artists and a headline band. All proceeds would to go to Rotary with funds distributed to those most in need. Great idea! Gathering local artists was an easy task but who would we call upon to help our cause as a headline act? Shannon Noll? The Bounty Hunters? Angry Anderson? Then Kathryn had a thought. Why don’t we ask Kevin Borich? Good idea but a few issues. One, he lives on the Sunshine Coast and two we couldn’t possibly afford to fly him and his band into Sydney. Then she chimed in with, “You’re in a band Richard why don’t you play with Kevin?” To which I responded “What?! You must be crazy there is no way the great KB would want to play with a bunch of amateur musicians he’s never heard play before.”

 

“I’ll ask him anyway,” she hastily replied.

 

And lo and behold Kevin Borich happily agrees to fly down and be part of our event. I quickly call my bass player and drummer and without hesitation they jump at the chance to play with Australian music royalty.

 

 

 

The playlist for the concert

 

 

The next challenge was to agree on a set list with KB. We agree that a combination of his original material and some classic covers would be the best way to go. He provides some Mp3 recordings of ‘Snowball King’, ‘Heart Starter’, ‘Angels Hand’, ‘Don’t Let Go’ and the like and the band diligently goes to work learning these songs note by note – thank God for YouTube. We hire a studio and rehearse as a three piece on three consecutive Mondays leading into the concert. The first rehearsal was scratchy to say the least but by our last rehearsal we were confident we would do justice to his songs.

 

Kevin flew into Sydney airport on Friday 29 July, and I eagerly waited by the luggage carousel to help collect his guitars, pedal board case and suitcase. As I approached him to introduce myself, I was greeted by a distinguished, cool looking man with longish hair and prominent earrings. I was somewhat surprised by his diminutive stature as I recall him in his hey day as quite a strong looking man. A recent battle with cancer had resulted in significant weight loss and he maintains a healthy dairy free diet.

 

We drove directly to the Richmond Club some one hour from Sydney airport, and we quickly developed a rapport based on our love of music and in particular the early 1970s progressive rock scene in Australia.

 

By 6.30pm the other band members had arrived, set up their gear and with the PA system installed we prepared for a full two-hour rehearsal of every song. From the opening chords of ‘Snowball King’, it was apparent that our hard work in learning his songs had paid off and we sailed through the rehearsal with only some minor adjustments. Standing alongside the great Kevin Borich playing his songs was an exhilarating experience. The soundscapes he was producing through his extensive effects pedals and his stereo Fender Deville amps was a joy to behold and we completed our rehearsal satisfied we would put on a musically tight and exciting show.

 

The concert was held on Saturday 30 July and ticket sales were healthy and with walk ups we were confident of a good crowd. The show kicked off around 6pm with local artists the James Brothers, Mady Disbray, Matt Charnley and Jed Zarb. They were the perfect precursor to what was to follow.

 

Kevin Borich and band hit the stage at 8.45pm and delivered a knockout show which lasted in excess of two hours. Borich was in his element and played with energy and vibrancy beyond his years. His stagecraft was engaging and his playing sublime. Some Borich devotees had travelled long distances to see him perform and they were not disappointed. Halfway through the set I started those iconic opening chords to the Hendrix ‘All Along the Watchtower’ and as Borich came in over the top with the opening lead riff my thoughts turned back 40 years when I saw him perform the very same song at a school concert. This is not happening I thought to myself.

 

We ploughed through the set and finished off with an encore of the Buddy Holly (and Rolling Stones) classic ‘Not Fade Away’. We walked off the stage satisfied with our efforts and Kevin was glowing in his praise of the band’s performance. Mission accomplished.

 

Kevin Borich is approaching 75 years of age and is about to embark on a national tour promoting his upcoming three CD compilation Legacy. An autobiography of his life will also be released to coincide with the tour.

 

 

 

Kevin and Richard on stage together

 

 

Sharing the stage with Kevin Borich is something I will cherish forever but it was the time spent reminiscing on the great era of Australian music; its bands and its musicians, comparing the greatest guitarists of all time, discussing the inspiration for his lyrics and music and the opportunity music has presented to him that will resonated. We spoke about Australian music icons such as Russell Morris, Renee Gayer, Doug Parkinson, Le De Castro, Mark Kennedy, Harry Brus, Gulliver Smith, Mike Rudd, Bill Putt and Bon Scott. He told me what a great bloke Shirley Strachan was who had a stint in the Party Boys and recalled the day of the tragic helicopter accident on the Sunshine Coast. He told me of the time he met Ronnie Wood in a New York apartment, supporting the legendary Jeff Beck and sharing the stage with Carlos Santana. We even spent a good 15 minutes dissecting the legendary Spinal Tap movie! God, we laughed!

 

For me the ‘other’ KB is as much a legend as the former Tiger great and long may he continue to perform and create the masterful music we have enjoyed for nigh on 50 years.

 

 

To purchase his latest release Legacy and for tour details in 2022 go to www.kevinborich.com.au

 

You can read more from Richard Griffiths Here.

 

 

Read more stories from Almanac Music  HERE

 

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Comments

  1. Colin Ritchie says

    Wow, what a fab experience!

  2. Andrew Fithall says

    Fantastic story and so well told. Thank you

  3. Les Everett says

    Brilliant

  4. Bravo, Richard! A cracking story.

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