I was born in Larne, County
Antrim, Northern Ireland, a little town on the coast of Ireland.
Larne is where the ferry comes in from Stranrear, Scotland, and many
tourists passed through my town. My parents George and Sarah Hillis,
were grocers and owned a wee shop in Barnhill, where their trade was
mainly for the local people.
I went to Larne Grammar School
where it was the best year for graduates and many of my friends became
successful in the business world. I studied to be a History and
Geography Teacher and went to Stranmillis College, and although
completing my final year, only taught for 6 months, where upon Music
became my salvation, and I formed my first group called the So and
So’s with Noel McAtasney as my rhythm guitarist. We had some success
with that group while at college, opening up for such acts as Lulu,
the Honeycombs, P.J. Proby and The Fortunes. Group disbanded and Noel
and I with a girl singer called Jenny, had some success around Belfast
folk clubs and summer seasons in England, Blackpool and Isle of Man
and Morecombe. Jenny peeled off to become a teacher, Noel and I after
graduating, decided to try the show biz angle, and had no idea what to
call ourselves, and seeing we were newcomers to the business, settled
for The Newcomers as a stage name, and who would have thought it would
still be here to this day, after so many years.
Noel and I became quite
successful in England, managed by the Agency, representing Herman’s
Hermits, Freddie Star, The Move, The Hollies, Billy J. Kramer and The
We were being groomed for the
top, by this agency, having won the television variety show
“Opportunity Knocks” and releasing three or four singles, none of
which made the top ten, except the version of Leonard Cohen’s song
“Suzanne”, which crept into the lower half of the charts. It was
enough to get the recognition for us to be asked to join Danny Dazielle, lead singer of The Honeycombes, to form a new band. This
did not eventuate because Noel and myself had been called down to meet
the famous pop producer Normal Newell at the E.M.I. Studios, St.
John’s Wood, in London, England, where we signed a recording contract
for ourselves – The Newcomers.
While in Manchester, England, I
was offered a part, in a then new television show called Coronation
Street, which I turned down, thinking – this will never last. How
wrong was I!!
With this recognition in our
pocket, we started doing some of the major clubs in England, like the
Astor and The Queen’s Court, backed by the Tony Evans Orchestra. This
in turn led to major tours of Europe and The Far East, and also all
the major club throughout England, Scotland and Wales. We felt we
were on our way!! And then, on a tour to Germany we met Robyn, my
future wife, and Alida, who became Noel’s fiancé. We teamed up and
again toured England, Ireland and Wales with many cruises in the
Mediterranean on the P. & O. Lines a major cruise ship line at that
time, sailing on the Canberra, Oriana, etc., where we were fortunate
enough to be photographed for the P.& O. Lines brochure throughout the
world, by England’s number one photographer at that time, David
Bailey. What a coup!!
Arriving in North America,
started with the C.N.E. in Toronto, with many T.V. appearances on
C.B.C., and then we hit the United States, working Miami Beach,
Americano Hotel for the Democratic Convention, where we were asked to
extend our engagement for another 6 weeks. Then the Americano Hotel,
New York, on Broadway, where I was offered an engagement by Marilyn
Chambers, the hot porno star at that time, to open for her at The
World Trade Centre. I had to turn this down because of my allegiance
to my then wife Robyn and to the group. While in New York we were
approached by Kevin Hunter, the then Manager of the famous Canadian
group The Bells, but we turned him down and he moved to L.A. to
manager Natalie Cole and Peter, Paul and Mary. This obviously was a
wrong move on our part, however, one cannot cry over spilt milk.
Since then, it has been a struggle all the way.
While in Vancouver on one of our
many tours, we were the last group to close the legendary night club
The Cave and Robyn and I were approached by Ken Gibson, producer of
The Irish Rovers television shows, and head of light entertainment of
C.B.C., to be featured in our own television show, however, another
husband and wife team, called The Raes, with a hit record on the
Canadian charts, “Que Sera, Que Sera”, pipped us at the post as
undoubtedly in his opinion, they would be easier to market and that’s
what did happen. Always coming in second.
But since then we have worked all
over North America teaming up with Michael Dunne and have managed to
have a successful show business career. However, the Big Time, seems
to have evaded us, but as they say – “Never Say Die” or “You Won’t Win
If You Don’t Stay In The Race”.
If anybody out there reading this
has lots of money to spare and lots of push and has an interest in
show business and would like to promote this well and true tried act –
give us a call!! If not – Rest In Peace!!