Cheryl Collie - ‘Go Go’ Girl to Shimmy Gran

4 minutes read
Posted 28 August, 2023
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Cheryl, second from right, performing in Barbershop quartet – The Bellebirds in 2010 with, from left, Jill Tremain, Vicki Buckham, and Pip Macauley (far right)

Cheryl Collie has always had the music in her. From the age of six learning piano with the Convent nuns in Riverton, as a family it was “just what we did”.

Her dad, Bill McLachlan, was a household name in Invercargill – a talented boogie woogie pianist, who played by ear, entertaining at city balls from the late 40s until the early 70s. Cheryl’s mum and grandmother were both classical pianists, Grandma also playing dances. Little brother Roger was the founding bass guitarist for Australia’s Little River Band, and is still a well-known Melbourne musician.

“Dad had Roger and I on stage singing and playing ukelele quite young.”

At school Cheryl was always given the lead singing roles – a memorable introduction to musical theatre, starring in Oklahoma at Invercargill’s Tweedsmuir Intermediate.

In the mid-60s – an exciting time to grow up in Invercargill, Cheryl and three friends were 14-year-old ‘Go Go Girls’ performing at RSA, YMCA and Waverly Bible Class dances in their radical short skirts and white boots. “Every so often I do the shimmy for my grandchildren, who say, ‘Grandma! We can’t believe you did that,” laughs Cheryl. “I remember The Beatles and their long hair coming out with ‘She Loves You’. We hadn’t heard or seen anything like that, but they were easy tunes to play.”

At 17 she left school, worked at the Invercargill Law Courts, and joined the Invercargill Operatic Society.

She even performed on TV’s New Faces series singing ‘Girl From Ipanema’ in 1973, still singing in her dad’s band at the time.

Music took a back seat after marrying Southland farmer Rex Collie in 1971, Cheryl instead having three kids in quick succession, driving tractors and lambing ewes. Rex bought her a piano for a wedding present and she was soon driving into Invercargill on Saturday nights to play the Grand Hotel’s dining room piano.

In the 1980s they sold the farm, moving to their Queenstown holiday home, Rex working as a real estate agent and Cheryl initially playing lunchtime piano in O’Connell’s Pavilion. Cheryl then opened Collie’s Footwear in Queenstown Mall. Seven-day shopping wasn’t approved anywhere else, but it was open slather in Queenstown. “People came up from Invercargill at weekends. It was amazing. There was no competition.”

In 1989 she joined the Queenstown Musical Society (later Showbiz Queenstown), starting with ‘Annie’. Now a life member, and more than 30 years and 25 shows later she’s done a show every year - musical director, rehearsal pianist, playing or leading the band. “It dominated my life for three months a year and has always been a huge passion.”

Among her favourites were Cabaret, Chess, and Jesus Christ Superstar. “We did Jesus Christ Superstar twice and the first one (1999) had a huge impact on me.” An electrical storm cut power to the hall leaving the cast singing (unplugged) and only the drums playing, no stage lighting, right in the middle of the temple marketplace scene.

The calibre of the band for ‘All Shook Up’, featuring Elvis Presley music in 2011, was such that musician Peter Doyle suggested they start a big band. The 18-piece Queenstown Jazz Orchestra, with Cheryl on the keys, plays everything from Michael Bublé and Frank Sinatra to Glenn Miller, performing at the Christchurch Big Band Festival, swing dances, Winter Festival balls and the likes.

‘The baby’ of the Arrow Miner’s Band at 73, Cheryl, also has a passion for Barbershop music, forming the first local women’s group – Birds on a Wire, in the early 2000s.

She’s left her imprint on the keys of many community pianos, leading and performing in community choirs, like the Central Otago Regional Choir, Remarkable Vocals and Peregrine Singers, and at weddings. “It’s been so rewarding to give young people an opportunity to perform through local musical theatre, watching them blossom and grow.” In 1999 she and renowned local performer Kath Brentwood produced and directed a Songfest involving some 150 local kids who performed in the old Wakatipu Gymnasium.

Cheryl’s been involved with Altrusa Queenstown, but one of her greatest loves now is playing for the elderly at Wakatipu Home and Senior Citizens. “Music is a huge part of my life, and it gives me great joy to entertain older people and take them back to the music they enjoyed when they were young. Being with others and sharing music is what I love.”

After Cheryl’s father died in 2015, she bought herself a grand piano and her legacy lives on. “One of the best things is that my 11-year-old granddaughter is now learning piano and loves it.”

“I feel so fortunate that music was born and nurtured in me. It’s a huge part of my life.”

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