Tandem Turns 40. The Beginning - John Phair, Founder 1974
John Phair (76) established Tandem Studios as a recording studio in 1974.
John had previously worked for Robbins Recordings and recorded bands such as the Detours, The Strangers, The Southerners and individual artists such as Brendan Dugan, Danny McGirr and Suzanne Prentice. “It was 1961 and I had completed a carpentry apprenticeship and was building the studio and control room for Keith Robbins when he became ill. He had a booking to do commercials for some local retailers so I decided to try my hand at recording. No problem! I then had to cut the recordings onto acetate disc at 78rpm. So started a new career.”
(See the video interview below with John Phair)
In the years that followed John recorded many commercials and jingles for clients such as Firestone, Aulsebrooks, Gillette, Baxters, Edmonds, Lichfield, Wilfrid Owen, Four Square and IGA. “Many iconic jingles were created during that time such as “I’m for Aulsebrooks” and “Stop and shop at Foursquare”.
In the early years the voices used were Bernard Kearns, Pat Smyth, Mavis Reesby, Norma Thompson and many others. We then got permission to use radio announcers from Radio NZ – voices like Murray Forgie, Grant Walker, Dick Weir, Steve Parr, Ian McMillan, Barry Corbett and Paul Holmes.” John, who was married to Keith Robbins daughter, left his father-in-law’s business in 1973. Initially he returned to carpentry but then decided to use his recording skills and set up Tandem Studios on the corner of Colombo and St Asaph Street.
John’s then business partner Kevin Toneycliffe was a member of a band called The Chapter, winners of the major New Zealand music award The Loxene Golden Disc. Kevin wrote more than 50 jingles for the company before leaving for Australia to set up his own jingle company there. Kevin was also a jeweller and operated his jewellery business from the studio. It was the two businesses operating from one premise– in tandem – that led to the name Tandem Studios. After Kevin left the business John employed Eric Johns part-time. Eric was a former member of international band “Heatwave” which recorded the hit single “Boogie Nights” amongst other notable charting singles. “He became an excellent jingle writer and engineer,” says John.
The mainstay of Tandem’s work at that time was writing and recording jingles and voiceovers for commercials for radio and television and functioning as a studio for South Island talent. “Over the years I worked with advertising agencies like Charles Haines, Stuart Wearn, Jack Penny, J. Illot Advertising, Shirwin Advertising, Saatchi & Saatchi, Claude and Associates, McCann Erickson and many other top agencies. We recorded large numbers of soundtracks for retailers’ tv and radio commercials, including the first Canterbury Savings Bank commercials right through to when it changed to Trustbank . “There were a lot of rules and regulations in advertising at that time,” says John. “It was a big battle for us to retain the agency work in the face of stiff competition.”
The Gold Albums
Tandem Studios also recorded many very successful albums by well-known New Zealand artists. A large number of artists’ albums reached two and five times gold status in New Zealand and achieved similar sales success in Australia. The company notably recorded many albums for popular country music artist Suzanne Prentice, several of which sold more than 20,000 copies. Christchurch operated differently from other main centres at the time. There were benefits and drawbacks to that, says John. “A lot of artists and singers went north. There was a belief that New Zealand stopped at Wellington and you couldn’t make it unless you headed north.” John regretfully sold the business in 1987 on medical advice due to serious heart problems.