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Andrew McAlpine

drew_mcalpine@hotmail.com

Robyn Hillis....

I was born in the beautiful town of Perth, Western Australia.  A Millionaire's Paradise.

My Mum - Beryl Northover, was a star in her own right on Radio for many years in West. Australia, and was a comedienne.  A Shirley Temple of Australia, in her own time, and I guess I got the smell of the boards from her.  My Dad, Ted Withell, was a sportsman.  Any sport out there, Dad played. From cricket to Aussie Rules football - East Perth Footy Team and as kids, my sister Gail and I cheered for the "Royals". Mum and Dad were always playing some sort of sport, when Gail and I were growing up, from tennis to lawn bowls, and they were champs in everything they played.  Mum represented Western Australia in the Lawn Bowls Championships and won several trophies in that area and Dad was right behind her, although not quite as successful.  Maybe, that is where I got my competitive edge, from them both and was successful myself in representing Western Australia in the Netball Association (Basketball) as Captain of the Junior Team for 3 years.
 
I also dabbled a bit in modeling, doing photographic and catwalk, and won a couple of Beauty contests. One being Miss Rowing of Western Australia and Miss Perth.  Won a trip to Tasmania for Miss Rowing, which gave me my interest to travel and see the world.  Was invited to enter the Miss Western Australia competition, but by then had had enough of that and was then interested in music and auditioned for an Italian Band (The Peter Piccini Quartet) as a singer.  I was terrible. And my first audition song was "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'" by Nancy Sinatra - I mean how wrong can I go with that.  So they hired me, but only because I looked Italian and could play a "mean" tambourine.  So my life in show business was "Born"!  I loved it and couldn't wait to get up on stage and sing harmony to anyone.  Mind you, I had been singing harmony with my sister Gail for years, at all the family get-togethers, and we were a hit.
 
So I worked from Sunday to Wednesday in the evenings, at The Nanking, singing with the Peter Piccini Quartet, as well as working Monday to Friday in my normal job, at The Chamber of Manufacturers Insurance Co., as a stenographer. Mind you, I must admit, I did fall asleep taking dictation from my boss Paul Holland, as I spent too many nights partying after the gig.  But life opens doors in so many ways, and while performing at The Nanking, I met my friend and heart sister Alida, who was an exotic dancer, and taught me so much about life.  She moved into my parents home and lived with us for a couple of years, as by then my own sister Gail had moved on with her life and married and had started her own family.  Alida, being from Holland, wanted to go back and see her routes, so we saved up our money and sang for our passage on The Flotta Laura Lines - The Achilli Laura was the ship we sailed on, to Naples.  We did a double act on board, singing and dancing and met many interesting people and disembarked in Naples and made our way to Holland.
 
After returning to Rome we met up with a gentleman, who was playing in a piano bar in Rome, and asked Alida and I to sing around the piano and he became a very dear friend and ended up writing an act for us. His name is Bill Conti and he conducts the American Academy Awards and has written many hit songs, one being the Theme for the movie "Rocky" and the theme for 'Dynasty" and many more movies. He was married at the time to a girl called Shelby, and we were looking for a name to call ourselves, so decided on "The Shelby Sisters" which we used for years.  Bill got us a gig at the base in Naples, where The American Fleet were in port and the organizers were looking for strippers, which we did not know, at the time.  So down we went, and when we found out it was a strippers haven, Alida suggested we go on last, as that way we might have a chance of surviving. Well, we were dressed in black lace pant suits - covered from head to toe, with our hair up on top of our heads.  We looked like ballerinas - so square - and we killed them.  We got standing ovations after every song, 10 encores - had to keep going back out and sing the same song, as that was all we had at the time - and no one could explain it.  Afterwards we figured out, because the guys had been out at sea for so long, and after seeing the other 9 strippers, we were like their sisters and girlfriends etc., and we reminded them of home and they loved us. Well that set of a few sparks and all the agents were called and we were propositioned by every back alley agent in Italy to perform at places I had never heard of, but there was one guy called Ronnie (who looked like Michael Caine) and he was an agent for the bases in Germany, and he came and met with us and offered us a contract for Germany. So why not!  Off we went to a place called Wiesbaden in Germany, which is near Frankfurt and that was where we made our home for two years performing for the American Armed Forces, along with the British and Canadian Bases as well. Ronnie decided he was going to take us over to Britain and make us Stars, so off we went, but because Alida still held a Dutch passport and at the time the Common Market was still ago, Ronnie said she should go back to Australia to re-enter and get an Australian Passport, to make it easier for us to work around Europe.  But guess what, Alida's time had run out to re-enter, as she could only be out of Australia for 6 months, so she was screwed, and had to stick with the Dutch passport.  Which meant, that made if difficult for Ronnie to book us, so back to Germany we went to perform for the bases, not only in Germany, but we went to Turkey, which is where I celebrated my 21st birthday - that was a real winner. Just traveling on the trains across Europe, for two girls on their own, was an experience in itself.  We performed in so many different countries and had such a good time, it was an education in itself.
 
Well, the time was running out for our return tickets to Australia on the Achille Laura, so we decided to take the trip back to Aussie and called my parents telling them we had sold out tickets to two German girls and would they meet them in Fremantle and give them a day out, as they were traveling on to Adelaide. Meanwhile, I had an Uncle who was an editor of The Western Australian Newspaper, and asked him to give Alida and I some news coverage coming back home again after being away for two years.  Well after surprising my parents, that it was actually us, and not the German girls, and getting front page coverage of my local paper, we hit the trail on board the ship again to Adelaide.  So every port we sailed into, the local papers picked up our story and ran with it and we became the most talked about singers in Australia.  We got offers to appear on  all the television shows from Perth to Adelaide to Sydney to Brisbane - we were a hit.  We had an offer from a promoter to make us big stars in Australia as long as we could have enough money to sustain ourselves in the interim.  So off to Perth we went to do a couple of shows and get some pocket money, and got offered a gig in Hong Kong for 6 weeks.  We decided to take the offer and ended up at The Mandarin Hotel in Hong Kong with news coverage all over Hong Kong about these two Australian girls who had beaten the odds of working in Europe and surviving, and had a ball.  Met more interesting people, and although we were supposed to go back to Sydney to open up for "Tiny Tim", had three weeks before that date started and decided to go back to Germany and visit Alida's sister Lennie and rang our agent in Wiesbaden and asked him to book us into a show while we were there, so that we could earn some money.  So he booked us into a show with two guys from Ireland called "The Newcomers".  One being Ian Hillis and the other being Noel McAtasney.  Just them and us and we opened the show for them.
 
Well that started a whole new chapter in our lives with these two guys.  We rehearsed with them and although we did our own act and introduced them, we all ended up together, at the end of their act with a Mamas and Papas type of thing doing 4 part harmonies and the collection of talent was a hit at every base we performed at.  We did well, but our time was running out and Alida and I, by now, had missed our date with "Tiny Tim" and had now gotten dates in Pakistan and Thailand and Japan, on the way home, and took off, only to get as far as Pakistan, as by now Alida and Noel were involved with one another, and Ian and I were sort of interested, but I had an American boyfriend in Rome who was an actor, and Ian had an English girlfriend in the South of France, so we were sort of committed to them. But love won out for Alida and Noel, and by now the guys were cruising for P. & O. Lines out of England, and had spoken to the Entertainment Director about us, and offered us a contract to come back to England to cruise for the P. & O. Lines.  So off we went again, back to England to meet up with these two Irish guys.  So we met back up again with Ian and Noel and moved into their cottage in Epping, which unbeknownst to us, was called "The Knock Shop" by the Fish and Chip Shop across the way, by all the chicks coming and going out of their cottage.  I happened to find that out, one day ordering fish and chips for us all, and believe me, that set of a few arguments, as you can imagine. Bags were packed and we were nearly off and running again, only to stay for some cruises on the Canberra and other ships of the fleet.  Needless to say, we persevered, and cruised for two years.  Had some wonderful times, great memories and visited many ports, and Noel and Alida ended up getting engaged on board one of those cruises.  We threw an engagement party for them and went ashore at one of the ports and bought all the booze real cheap and invited all the crew from the Captain down, and many of the passengers. We were supposed to serve punch, but somehow, the booze kept creeping into the punch and before we knew it, the punch was getting stronger, as we were running out of mix, and basically drinking straight booze and serving it to everyone, who thought it was very tasty.  Well, the crew, who were supposed to be staggered in sittings, stayed on, and were talking to the Captain on a first name basis and telling him what they thought of the running of the ship. The passengers who came in so classy, went out staggering, saying it was the best party they had ever been too, and we never saw anybody for two days - all hung over.  Whoever drove that ship that night, must have had it on automatic cruise, as everyone was loaded. Amazing what goes on on those ships.  A night to remember.  Ian and I decided to get engaged a year after them, still cruising for P. & O. Ours was a much quieter moment, as we bought our engagement ring in South Hampton, and never spoke to one another until we got back to the ship when Ian said, I think you should put that on, and I said, does that mean we are engaged, and he said yes.  No big celebration for us. Ian is a man of few words.
 
We went to Belfast shortly after that, and a promoter called Robert McGratten, came up to us after working in The Abacorn Bar, and offered us a contract to come to Canada for three years.  Well, we were actually on our way to Australia, via P. & O. Lines, with stop offs in South Africa, and work all lined up in Sydney, so were not interested in Canada at all, but Ian being the History and Geography Teacher, as he was trained to be, said why not give it a try for a couple of months, as we may not get the opportunity to see Canada again, so we all decided, we'd give it a go for 3 months.  We were working with a sister and brother act on board the ship at that time called Sue and Phil Dobson, (The Dobson Twins) and because we had to have a band to go to Canada, offered them the same contract to come out with us. We got our pictures taken as a group and off we trottled to Canada.  Ian and I had $40 to our name, between us, when we landed in Niagara Falls, New York.
 
We were picked up by Robert McGratten, who managed The Dublin Corporation, at that time, and he drove us to Toronto and we stayed with him for about 6 weeks, in the basement of his house while we got the work visas, musicians union, and whatever else we needed to work in Canada, all lined up, and our first gig was in Chatham. Now bear in mind, we had all just come from London, England, where the style of clothing was way ahead of its time, and Alida and I had hot pants, mini skirts, maxi skirts and all the stuff of the 70's that had not reached here yet.  The guys were in Green velvet suits and ruffled shirts and black patent boots and a whole lot of other designs that the country folks of Chatham had never seen before.  So our opening night was a complete shock, not only to the audience, but to us - What had we come to!!!  We got paid at the end of the week, and after paying the Dobson Twins and all the back handers, it took to get us on the stage in the first place, Ian and I ended up with another $40.  We went to a Pizza place after the gig that night and everyone was starving, and Ian ordered a medium pizza (thinking the British version) and me, being ever so polite, said I was not hungry (meanwhile I was starving, but didn't think we would have enough money to cover it). When the Pizza arrived, we both looked at one another and said, wow, now we have breakfast and lunch for tomorrow as well.
 
So it was onwards and upwards for "The Newcomers" featuring "The Shelby Sisters".  We made great waves, right across Canada.  Sue and Phil left us after six months while working in Ottawa, as they were offered a contract with The Holiday Inns, for just the two of them, which meant we had to get another band. So we got several versions of Irish bands behind us. One such band was Ivan Pepper on base, Tommy McKernin on drums (he has now crossed over) and George Pliacus on guitar.  What an interesting trio. Dermot Woodfull  joined us at one point, but then we found out that he was only in our band for the time being, as he was really coming out to join Dublin Corporation.  So we were "used" to spend our money on bringing him out for the Corporation.  Left a bit of a sour taste in our mouth. Managers, never tell you the truth. Our Manager at the time was Peter Dempsey, but it was not his doing, he was goaded into it.  Peter was a sweetheart, and one of the nicest men we have ever dealt with.  He had a heart, and knew what is was like to be hurt, so addressed others accordingly, and he always did the best by The Newcomers.  He is no longer with us, but always has a place in our hearts.  Then we had Bill Martin and Jack Proacher an absolute wonderful duo of Canadians I have ever had the pleasure to work with.  Bill eventually ended up with The Corporation as one of their lead singers, although he was on keys for us, but what a great voice.  Jack, goes without saying, as one of the most technically brilliant drummers around.  It was a joy to work with those guys.  But everyone moves on.  Ian and I decided to get married and went home to Australia to do just that.  We worked New York City after returning from Australia, and did a bit of a tour of the States, but Alida and Noel were not getting along so Alida left the band, as she and Noel broke up.  Alida married Brian Lopatriello and Noel married Helen Aikenhead and they had two lovely boys.
 
Then we had an all Irish band.  Ray Elliott (professor of music on so many instruments) originally from the group "Them", Van Morrison's original band, (Ray is now in Rock & Roll Heaven), Ned Campbell, an unbelievable guitarist, (no longer with us), Paddy Nash, what a drummer and singer, Paul Novotny on base (great musician). That Band Rocked and should have been bigger than what we were, but wasn't meant to be.
 
Noel eventually decided it was time to hang up his hat, as he and Ian were not seeing eye to eye, and that left Ian and I with a band of five guys. Willy O'Hagen, Paddy Nash, Mick Firth, Ray Elliott, and then we brought Mick Dunne out from Ireland to join us.  That was an interesting time, for me to fill Noel's shoes and pick up his place on stage, and bring me forward to be Ian's straight person. But the band had much success, and we traveled right across Canada, from Toronto to Vancouver meeting up with The Rovers and becoming good friends with them, heading down to the East Coast and back to Toronto with many stories to go with it.  We had a roadie at that time, whom we picked up in Thunder Bay, called Mick Carlin, who was great support for us.  We now had three Michaels in the band - confusion - how to identify everyone.  So Mick Dunne, was Mick, Mick Firth was Michael, and Mick Carlin was Mike, and everyone knew who they were.

Many memories with those guys - another page to fill - but everyone moves on, and we found ourselves with another all Canadian band. Evan Tarlton on base, Raphael Farano on drums, Eugene on guitar, Jim Fitzgerald on keys and several other players who came and went in the night. That put us into a complete different hemisphere with these guys, and by now, Ian and I had started our family with the birth of our first son Ryan, so he was traveling on the road with us.  We did fairs out West, got burned out of one club in Regina, did a fair in B.C. with the dust of the fire popping out of Ralph's drums - a nightmare, as he was breaking skins with every roll he did.  But we got through it.

Ian and I were offered an engagement in Perth, Western Australia at Romano's Night Club and went home to visit my family for a couple of months, with our two sons in tow.  By now we had had our second son Kyle and along with Ryan, we spent two months performing in Perth, with Ryan going to school in Perth.   We went back another time to Perth, and when returning this time to Toronto, our band had decided to go out on their own and do their thing, so we were without a band.  At the same time Mick Dunne, who had been doing double acts, ironically enough at one time, with Noel McAtasney, another time with Frankie Bension, and at other times, with several other singers, was also on his own, and asked us if we wanted to join him as a trio.  At the time, we were unsure, as we were so used to working with a 5 piece band, to come down to a one man band, was beyond comprehension, but we decided to give it a try, as things were drying up for the bigger bands.

So hence the Birth of "The Trio" and we still kept the name of "The Newcomers".
 
The rest is history, and we have all been together for a number of years now and still going.  We have been entertaining people for many years and hope to do so for many more to come.
 
Hopefully this will bring some insight into my life in show business and you can read the rest of the story, as they say, on Ian and Mick's sites and get an insight into their lives.