Who says they don't make 'em like they used to? That's just what Rob Innes, Virgin's latest homegrown artist, does. Innes, and his tenor, will remind listeners of the days when singers really sang. One listen to any of his CD's and names like Tony Bennett, Jim Reeves and Englebert Humperdinck spring to mind. And Rob sings real songs, songs that have become standards such as Blue Moon, Only You and On Broadway.
In an age where many record companies are on the prowl for the latest fad and the most outrageous performer, Rob Innes stands out as a singer, pure and simple.
But there is nothing simple about Rob's rise to success. The Scottish bred crooner has lived in New Zealand since 1958, but not before touching down in England, Scotland and Cyprus. He grew up listening to a healthy dose of pop, country and rock & roll and taught himself how to play the guitar. By 1969, he was ready to make his public debut and appeared on New Zealand television's talent show Studio One. The public responded immediately to Rob's big, warm voice and he was into the finals. Looking back, Rob describes the experience as "exciting and nerve-wracking." Not surprisingly, he follows Idol singing programmes closely. "I know how those guys are feeling out there. There is much more hype now than there was back then".
It was the hype and the stress of performing in front of a live audience that caused Rob to put a halt to his singing career in the mid-70s. "It's actually a case of severe nerves that caused me to back out of my singing", reveals Rob.
So for the next 25 years or so Rob was a typical Kiwi bloke working as a farm hand, a meat inspector and a cardboard box salesman. But at a time when most people are settling in for a comfortable middle age, Rob Innes decided to shake things up. Thanks to support from his wife Sandra, he chucked in his steady job and decided to pick up his singing career that he had abandoned 25 years earlier.
The plan was to live on Sandra's earnings while Rob built up his reputation. But sometimes things don't always go as they're planned. Just after Rob gave notice to his job, Sandra found herself redundant at hers. "Panic set in," remembers Rob, "we thought, well, what are we going to do now?" Rob had already recorded his first album (at the couple's own expense) and so they decided to carry on and promote the album.
"We sang for free wherever we could. A friend of ours owned a little shop in Ellerslie and she invited me to set up my gear, stand out in front singing and selling CDs. We did that, in the rain, on a cold day and we were overjoyed because we sold four albums!"
But that four eventually turned into four thousand over the course of 18 months. The album This Time was named after Rob's first original composition. Incredibly, that song went on to become the #1 most requested song for 2003 on the Southern Star Radio Network. In fact Rob has cultivated a growing radio audience thanks to play on Newstalk ZB's 'Nostalgia' programme where he was the #1requested artist for 2003 (topping the likes of Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra). He has also featured on Wayne Mowatt's National Radio show along with Radio Pacific, Radio Rhema and many community radio stations throughout New Zealand.
Rob is not surprised that his traditional approach to singing has attracted such a large audience. "It's real music. People can hear the words and sing along. A lot of the artists who have been singing these songs aren't with us anymore, so I'm able to bring that music alive again."
Rob believes the inspiration for his songwriting comes from a spiritual place. "I do get help from above. I'd never written a song in my life, I can't read or write music. So I sat down with my guitar and the melody just started to flow. I'm really thankful to God for that inspiration because that's where it comes from."
Flush with the success of This Time, Rob headed back in the studio and recorded a dozen more songs for his second album. Along with chestnuts like For The Good Times and By The Time I Get To Phoenix (the song Rob performed on Studio One), Rob has penned two more originals, You Were There, which has become the title track for the album, and I Never Believed, which he wrote for his wife, Sandra.
But Rob had bigger things in mind than just selling CDs out of the boot of his car. When You Were There was ready, Rob sent copies to all the major record companies. "We'd been sending demos to wherever we could and of course you get a lot of closed doors. I contacted EMI and spoke to Chris Caddick (EMI'S Managing Director) who encouraged me to keep in touch." Rob did just that, calling every couple of months to see if a deal could be worked out. Finally, when it was announced that Rob was Newstalk ZB's most requested singer, Rob shot off an email to Chris and before long, Rob was in Chris' office signing a contract. Rob's persistence paid off and now Chris and the label are firmly behind their newest artist.
According to Caddick, "Rob has a proven track record, a dedication to making it in the music world and of course a glorious singing voice. There is a choice of many tenors from overseas but I thought the New Zealand public should have the opportunity to enjoy one of our own."
So now the stage is set for all of New Zealand to hear Rob Innes once again. It's been a long time since he wowed TV audiences in the late 60s and early 70s but his voice is as strong as ever.
But how about those nerves? "I've got it under control," assures Rob. "Once I get out there and get started, into the first song, then I'm away. Fortunately, I've got my nerves under control." That's good news for fans who want the great songs sung well. Rob agrees, "It's music that brings back good memories for a lot of people. Those songs will be around forever and a day".