Geith and Shirley Pickford - staying in tune, but now playing to a different beat…
By Jack Biddle
After playing thousands of gigs in his past life as a professional musician, Geith Pickford says one of his most nerve wracking performances is when he dusts off his trumpet and plays “The Last Post” for the annual Anzac Day commemorations in Whitianga and Matarangi.
“Having made a living for many years in the music industry, the opportunity to offer my services at no cost and perform on special occasions such as the Anzac Day commemorations is extremely rewarding,” says Geith, who, along with wife Shirley and son Christopher, owns and manages the Pinky’s variety store in Whitianga.
It’s a lifestyle far removed from when Geith and Shirley both hit the high notes in the music industry several decades ago. It all started when they were both living in Eltham, South Taranaki.
Geith started learning the cornet/trumpet when he joined the Eltham Brass Band as a 10-year-old. Eight years on, he teamed up with another trumpet player and formed a local dance band which played the popular, at the time, Mariachi/Tijuana brass style of music. Looking to expand their horizons, the band decided to try their luck in Australia in 1970.
Meanwhile back in Eltham, a young girl had started singing in, and winning, local talent quests which quickly lead to a successful recording career. Shirley Kay Angell, as she was known, went on to gain several Top 10 record releases at just 10 years of age. One of the most successful songs was called “Yoyo,” which some older music buffs may remember. That was followed by appearances on a number of popular TV music shows such as Happen Inn and tours of the country providing entertainment as part of the Miss New Zealand shows.
Back in Australia, Geith’s band was enjoying some success on TV talent shows in Sydney, which resulted in regular work from RSL and rugby league clubs. With a desire to try more hard rock-influenced music, Geith eventually moved to another band, which led to playing on cruise ships and a stint playing in a jazz trio at the famous Les Girls All Male Revue in Sydney.
By 1974, Geith had returned to New Zealand and had formed a heavy and rather loud rock band called Uncle Funky. “We enjoyed some notoriety or fame around Taranaki, depending on one’s point of view on the style of music we played,” says Geith.
It wasn’t long before the stars had aligned and Geith and Shirley were courting and playing together in a popular six-piece pub band around the large and popular Taranaki pub venues. Marriage soon followed and not long after that was the formation of a two-piece band called Shiner. It was an opportunity for Geith and Shirley to showcase their many musical talents with Geith playing keyboard and trumpet, peddling the bass lines, driving a drum machine and mixing the sound. Along with fronting the microphone, Shirley also took on the tasks of playing the keyboard, driving a vocoder and operating the light show.
Shiner went on to be contracted to Vacation Hotels in Queenstown and later to Lion Breweries. Geith and Shirley played in Lion Hotels nationwide for nearly two years, often alongside acts from the USA, England and Asia. It was a seven-day-a-week job, six days performing and the other day travelling to the next venue. It left them with virtually no spare time, but was an experience they both say they loved and have never regretted.
“In 1985 we decided to stop the road trips and settle back down in Taranaki and were performing regularly at a New Plymouth night club when I fell pregnant with the first of our two boys,” says Shirley. “Music was put on hold, although Geith did end up working in another local band. When the boys were a little older, I joined up with the New Plymouth Operatic Society and played leading roles in several productions, including Mary Magdeline in Jesus Christ Superstar, Sandy in Grease and the one I absolutely loved was playing Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors.”
A return to the band scene happened in the early 1990s with a new band called Tickled Pink and a new approach. Shirley and Geith had made a conscious decision when forming the band to try and give some younger musicians a break. This resulted in their band featuring some young and inexperienced players on guitar, bass and drums. “It was rewarding watching them develop into fine professional musicians who still keep in touch to this day,” says Geith.
Sometime later, Geith and Shirley and their two boys relocated from Eltham to Whangamata to continue the growth in their variety store business. It was during this time that boys Christopher (bass guitar) and Daniel (guitar and drums) had really caught the music bug and started playing seriously. By ages 13 and 14 they had joined mum and dad and were playing in their first professional gigs.
Geith and Shirley also served on the Whangamata Summer Festival Committee for several years helping to organise bands for the annual event.
In 2002, the family moved to Whitianga to open another variety store. Apart from producing and recording several catchy radio jingles, some of which are still aired today, Geith and Shirley were happy to park their successful music careers and concentrate on their growing business. Both their boys however, took off from where mum and dad left. Chris moved to Australia where he played in several different bands and returned home for a short tour when his band, Blatherskite, took part in the Whangamata Summer Festival. Daniel had moved to Auckland, started his own family and was producing music from his home studio.
Geith and Shirley consider themselves privileged to have been part of New Zealand’s music industry and have no regrets about getting out when they did. “Some stay in the business too long,” says Shirley. “We enjoyed the ride, but always knew there would be a point in our careers to move on and start something new. Music never leaves the soul, but as time moves on you need to be very selective when to bring it out and into the public domain.”
And as we stand in memory of those least forgotten on ANZAC day each year and listen to Geith’s rendition of “The Last Post,” let’s hope he keeps dusting off his trumpet for many years to come.