Don McGlashan: On the unpopular edges of a popular field

Don McGlashan, who played North Hagley Park on Saturday, is one of New Zealand’s foremost songwriters. His name appears four times in the APRA Top 100 songs of all time – with Blam, Blam, Blam, The Front Lawn and The Muttonbirds.

This eight-minute interview was  an opportunist one – after his songwriting session at the Auckland Readers and Writers Festival he generously agreed to answer a few questions.

Fascinating to talk to, McGlashan shared his love of “Dickens with cannons”, which Roger Hall put him on to; his belief that he is on the unpopular edges of a popular field; details of his 1930s cowboy guitar which he bought in Christchurch; and some of the  literary-style techniques that he uses in his songwriting.

The book that McGlashan talks about in the first part of the interview is Bounty, by Caroline Alexander.

Did you see Don at Sounday? And what’s your favourite song of his? Or is his style too much for you?

In the company of Kage Baker

I’ve just read of the death of sci-fi writer Kage Baker and am moved to write and sing the praises of her Company series of books. I don’t know who or what led me to pick up her first novel of the Company series In the Garden of Iden – not being much of a science-fiction or fantasy reader. It was probably the notion of time-travel, of someone juxtaposed into the 16th century.

I found reading nirvana – that holy trinityof interesting characters, ingenious story, and loads of rollicking action – this was a book (and then luckily a series of books) to get pleasurably lost in.

This review from Dayid Soyka on the SF Site explains the series well:

Kage Baker’s latest in her series of stories about the Company, a mysterious 24th century conglomerate that recovers lost artifacts from the past. Salvage operations are performed by a network of immortal cyborgs — surgically-created humans recruited as children (the process is not suitable for adults) throughout the eons — on the scene of various disasters to recover items just before, say, the Alexandria Library burns down or the San Francisco earthquake hits. Thus, the paradox of time travel — whether going back in time can cause events that will change “the present” — is sidestepped by using agents who are “of the time,” though the time of their existence lasts for centuries, and who are careful not to alter the known historical record.

Phew. But the way Kage writes, it’s not gimmicky at all –  there is clarity and cleverness.  And characters … what characters!  Our main protagonist Mendoza is a young woman from the time of the Spanish Inquisition who is charged with preserving botanical specimens. And I am utterly in love with the male hero and his various incarnations – Nicholas Harpole/Edward Alton Bell-Fairfax – and can’t help but envisage someone intense and delicious like Christoper Eccleston playing him in a movie.

The Company series finished recently, but now it looks like Not less than gods has added to the story.

So rest in peace Kage, you’ve given this reader immense pleasure, and I’m just one of many who’ll miss your creations. Luckily the ones you given us are here to stay.

Vintage style fabrics

I have to say I have always been a sucker for the whole shabby chic movement with the gorgeous vintage fabrics.  This lust is being kept well fuelled by some new offerings by the library  such as Rachel Ashwell’s  Shabby chic interiors and Cathy Kidston’s Sew! and her not so new Tips for vintage style.

Given the reserve lists on these items, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who drools (chicly of course) over the glossy pages.  My biggest problem with it all has been my inspiration has often been curbed by trying to find the right materials – in most cases the material itself.  Imagine my joy when I was introduced to a wee treasure trove of a shop in Tarras that had beautiful jewellery, second hand shabby chic furniture and even wonderful vintage style fabrics.  Great for when I’m down in Central Otago but what to do when at home?

Last week I finally checked out a local offering: Femme de Brocante.  If you love fabrics and like me have trouble sourcing vintage style fabrics, this place is fantastic.  Now if I could just get the hang of sewing…

Celebrating Essie – a New Zealand romance

Love is in the air, yes even in New Zealand, and nobody did more to promote Aotearoa as an island of lurve than Christchurch born writer Essie Summers. Essie wrote 55 romance novels, sold 19 million copies and right from the outset used New Zealand’s dramatic landscape as the back drop for her tales of triumphant amour. Often set in the windswept high-country, her couples overcame initial misunderstandings and obstacles to find true and enduring love. Bless them!

To celebrate kiwi romance Central Library is having an Essie Summer’s display, so come in, feel the love and borrow some marvellous Essie Summers.

But as wonderful and romantic as the stories themselves are, I’m almost more smitten by the covers. The women are young, delicate and beautiful, and always immacutely turned out, while the men are all strong-jawed and über-manly. Moon over the alps published in 1960 has a rather tasty blond chap clad in skivvy and swandri, casual and macho but the exception to the romance cover man rule who at least in the 50’s and 60’s would normally be wearing a shirt and tie, if not a formal suit.

Mills & Boon turned 100 in 2008 and Harlequin celebrated 60 years in 2009 both providing an opportunity to look anew at the romance novel, its enduring success and what the romantic fads and fashions reflected in these titles tells us about the dreams and romantic aspirations of real women. The art of romance by Joanna Bowring and Margaret O’Brien charts the history of romantic fiction and includes loads of book covers from Mills & Boon and Harlequin novels from the 1920’s through to the current day. “The Heart of a woman”, a recent 60th birthday display of Harlequin cover art held in New York showcased the work of artists such as Norm Eastman, Paul Anna Soik and Jack Harman. Beautifully curated by Elizabeth Semmelhack, click here for some fantastic images on flickr.

And to prove that romance is still alive and kicking in New Zealand we have an interview with writer Natalie Anderson, keeping the romantic genre sizzling and sexy from her Timaru love-nest and scaling the heady heights of USA Today’s top 150.

Christchurch is a jazz talented city

Jazz AotearoaThe jazz scene in Christchurch has always harboured a wealth of talent, much of it sadly unheralded.

For many years Doug Caldwell, also known at the “Maestro”, was the leading light of our jazz musicians. He not only performed all over the world, but contributed so much locally that in 2006 he was awarded the MNZM for services to jazz in New Zealand. His Garden City Big Band also graced many a stage around the city.

Other talented musicians to forge international careers are Malcolm McNeill and Fiona Pears.

However, there is also a raft of professional musicians like Keith Petch, Bob Heinz, Tom Rainey, Janice Grey, Ian Edwards, Ted Meager, Stu BuchananHarry Harrison, Elizabeth Braggins and many others who laboured largely unsung in studios and on stage in shifting alliances, providing a rich and rewarding vein of talent for any who took the trouble to find it.

Much of this talent was fostered by groups such as the Musicians Club but the arrival of the CPIT Jazz School in 1991 bought a new focus in the musical life of the city. They produced a new generation of talent. Jennine Bailey for example, whose beguiling album “You go to my head” launched her career in 2003, is in our collection and also available for sale at the jazz school. The school even bought new talent into the city in the form of staff members like the multi talented Australian vocalist Susan de Jong.

Not that  CPIT have it all their own way Naomi Ferguson, a festival favourite who, according to one reviewer is “a superb musician with a gorgeous, golden voice”, is a graduate of CPIT, University of Canterbury AND Christchurch College of Education.

Who do you think is our best Jazz talent?