Mark Williams: the pop hero from Dargaville NZ

Mark Williams should really have been born hollering: “Here I come, ready or not.”

I often see or hear the work of former journalism students on radio or TV who I taught at university a few years ago, and it’s always a pleasure. But such an experience is even more pleasing when it comes out of the blue, as an unexpected blast from the distant past.

When I was working recently on my post about our life in Dargaville, New Zealand, I happened across an image that rang a faint bell. I almost missed it, but even as it flashed by I thought I recognised a schoolboy called Mark Williams, who I knew briefly when I worked as a teacher at Dargaville High School in the late sixties.

What I not could know then was that Mark would become a national pop sensation only a few years later, the first local act to top the New Zealand National Sales Chart on June 27, 1975 with ‘Yesterday Was Just The Beginning Of My Life’. I had no idea until now.

Once I recognised Mark’s photo, the rusty memory cogs began to turn and I recalled a chance meeting with Mark in a street in Ponsonby, Auckland, after he had left school. I can’t put a date on it, but it was probably around 1968 or 1969. He seemed happy, living with a friend, full of enthusiasm and enjoying a hectic city life, a welcome change from his back-blocks days at Dargaville High under the despotic Dewhurst regime.*

And, together with a vague impression of a feisty, fun-loving schoolboy, that’s that’s my only personal recollection of Mark Williams, the likeable young guy from Dargaville, later to be the first kiwi pop chart topper.

Fast forward: almost fifty years later, once I had caught up with Mark’s story, I did plan to insert it into my account of our 1967 / 1968 Dargaville days, but once I started digging I judged it was worth a post of it’s own.

I didn’t have to dig deep. In fact I struck gold, in the form of an excellent two-part online biography written as recently as 2018, by freelance writer Alan Perrott. Rather than duplicate it, let me simply quote Alan’s intro to his first article and then recommend you read both “The New Zealand Years” and “The Australia Years.” It’s quite a story.

“Mark Williams should really have been born hollering: “Here I come, ready or not.” Because, by the age of 20, his afro, satin flares and eyeliner was pushing groove and ambiguous glamour onto a musical landscape dominated by earnest hippies, cookie-cutter family entertainers and pub rockers. Ask anyone who was a child when they first saw him on television – he was impossible to miss, given New Zealand only had one channel – and they’ll likely recall the instant reaction of the adults in the room: “I can’t tell if it’s a boy or a girl…”

Mark Williams: the New Zealand years, Alan Perrott 16 May 2018

Mark Williams: The Australia Years, Alan Perrot 17 December 2018

Both of these excellent articles, based on an interview with Mark in 2017, are stuffed with audio and video clips (some not available in the UK though) and stills. Alan notes that the word courage cropped up in the interview; it’s clear Mark’s journey has not been a easy one:

“It took a long time. If I’m doing stuff for myself the lack of courage comes back. But the moment I step on stage I’m all right.” Performing was easier with the band. “I love it. I’m so thankful. I’ve got three other people with me. It’s not just me. But in another way I really like that fear of going on stage. Sometimes I miss it. But it never leaves me when I go to do my own stuff. It comes right back again.”

In this interview Mark looks back briefly to his early days in Dargaville and later at art college:

It seems that despite problems with his voice, Mark is still performing, having moved to Australia first in 1976 and later in 1978. I don’t know if he ever comes back to Dargaville.

Links

Wikipedia page
New Zealand History Page Nga korero a ipurangi o Aotearoa
New Zealand days: Dargaville *
NZ On Screen: Yesterday was just the beginning of  my life (video, 1981)
NZ on Screen: It doesn’t matter any more (video, 1977)
Alan Perrott’s website (The Spinoff)

Request: If you knew Mark, or still do, I’d love to hear from you. And of course if you are Mark! (Just comment on this post.)

9 thoughts on “Mark Williams: the pop hero from Dargaville NZ

  1. Mark still comes back from time to time from AUstralia to see whanau (and to occasionally perform if we are really lucky). In the late 1950’s @ Dargaville Primary School MArk would take his guitar to school for morning talk! The teacher had to eventually stop it after we just wanted to hear Mark play instead of doing our morning talks!

  2. Hello, Mr Dewrance! This is Arthur Barnes. I was one of those students you taught at Dargaville High School too. Mark and I were best mates then and still are now. We both remember you well. And fondly. It turns out those were great days for us and we realise we were lucky enough to have had great teachers who taught us well, yourself included. We didn’t know it then, of course. But we do now — now that we can look back. I see you mention you taught journalism at university. It might interest you to know I have worked in journalism all my working life, mostly on newspapers. I am now semi-retired (Mark and I both hit 66 this month) and still loving life in Northland, Aotearoa. I will email you Mark’s contact details. Like me I’m sure he will be totally chuffed to hear from you. Cheers!

    • Hallo Arthur! It’s at times like this that I realise what a wonderful thing the internet can be. So interesting that you talk about Dargaville High in such positive terms – I had problems when Dewhurst took over, and we might have settled ther but for him, but apart from that we loved living there in those days. We became friends with Brian Anderson and his family, and many others on the staff, and I always found the students so pleasant and mostly keen to learn. Thanks for remembering me! I came back to Dargaville briefly with one of my daughters in 2000; what a shame I had lost touch with you and any other former DHS students. Interesting you became a journalist – what papers did you work for? My story is that when I left teaching and went to work for the NZBC I worked alongside the journalists, and much later in the BBC. I did also produce and direct quite a few factual programmes over the years and wrote a lot of scripts, but I would not claim to be a journalist as such. That’s great about that Mark will remember me – so looking forward to meeting him online. Anyway, thanks so much for your help, and let’s keep in touch.

  3. Hello Peter am finding your article on Mark brings back many memories! I was born in Dargaville but left when my parents split when i was 8. My father(a gum diggers son from the Island of Korcula Yugoslavia in those days) at that time my father was a Taxi Driver alongside Marks father Fordy(ie) and on occasions Mark & I would spend time together he being a few years younger than myself.
    I have this one vivid memory of a small Mark & I playing a duo on the piano when we visited their home, at the time they had moved to Paparoa. There was an old quarry behind the house and we were told not to go near it, as kids you can imagine what that meant to us, when i look back at our attempt to investigate this thing called a “quarry” it certainly held an attraction for us, I can remember lying on our bellies looking over the top into the void with excitement not knowing what could happen should we slip!! To this day the memory stays with me and now knowing what our fate could have been i shudder when i recall this memory. I did bump into Mark a few times over 40 years ago in Sydney when I first left New Zealand but have not seen him since then.

  4. Hi. We have corresponded before. I have known Mark since my high school days .And later his parents and sisters.HIs dad Fordie worked for our family business in the 1980’s. His daughter is doing well in the music industry too

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