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.
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.)