Blue Smoke and all that jazz

Blue Smoke

I went to hear Chris Bourke speak about his new book  Blue Smoke: The lost dawn of New Zealand Popular Music 1918-1964 at the Auckland Art Gallery.

Blue Smoke is a comprehensive look at the Auckland music scene between 1918 when WW1 finished and 1964 when the Beatles arrived in New Zealand and changed the popular music scene forever.  The book, richly illustrated with photographs and memorabilia, captures a time when jazz was a happening thing, crooners and charmers filled the music halls, and the Maori Community Centre was the ‘jazziest, jumpingest place in the city’.

I know very little about music and this session was filled with people in leather jackets, tight t-shirts and vigorous hair who greeted the author enthusiastically and nodded knowingly when he spoke of this jazz trombonist and that jive pianist. I felt totally out of my depth.

However, I was in for a real education. Chris Bourke is former music editor of Rip It Up and Real Groove, and author of the Crowded House biography Something so strong.  He has a quiet, unassuming manner and his breadth of knowledge is astounding. What this man doesn’t know about music in New Zealand, isn’t worth knowing.

He narrowed the field to speak about Auckland in the 1950s and 60s when jazz permeated local culture through films and jukeboxes. Local artists played at venues such as the Crystal Palace, the Orange Ballroom and the Hi Diddle Griddle to bohemians, cool cats and the smart set. People filled the halls and danced the night away in spite of the pubs being closed at 6pm and Prime Minister Walter Nash wanting ‘everyone to be in bed by eight’.

Chris Bourke at Auckland Writers and Readers Festival 2012Artists such as Mavis Rivers, Johnny Cooper, Walter Smith and Rush Munro were legends. Ray Paparoa, the ‘Maori Elvis’, emerged on the scene in his teens. The drummer in his band was just 12 years old.

The Maori Community Centre was set up in 1949 as a meeting place for Maori coming to the city for work. It was the place where “the lights were dim, the music was real cool, and there were no restrictions.” Howard Morrison, Johnny Devlin and Ray Colombus cut their musical teeth in the talent quests there. In 1950, Ruru Karaitiana’s ‘Blue Smoke’, became the first pop song to be written and produced in New Zealand. It was a hit. The album Kiwi Nostalgia gives you the flavour of some of these artists.

I thoroughly enjoyed this session. Chris Bourke played excerpts from old music recordings that set my toe tapping. My father-in-law is a mad keen jazz fan. He and his brothers are always swapping recordings they find through friends or online. I now understand what the fascination is. I’m going to buy him this book for his birthday.

Why does love do this to me?

There’s something about a Kiwi love song that just makes them unique. They are not all hearts and flowers and ‘I’ll love you until the stars fall out of the sky’ nonsense… they can be sweet and sentimental at times, but also gritty, cynical and giving you love as it can be, complicated, hard or just plain messy… and I love them for that.

Some of my favourite Kiwi love songs and lyrics?

Love not given Lightly by Chris Knox

This is a love song to John and Leisha’s mother
This isn’t easy
I might not write another

But it’s you that I love
and it’s true that I love
and it’s more than what it might be
But I knew this was love
And it’s you that I love
And it’s love not given lightly

Why Does Love Do This to Me?  by The Exponents

I miss you
You know that
But when I see you sometimes
I’m cut up and I’m broken
There am I asking you how you are

I See Red by Split Enz

Squeezed me out of your life
Down the drain like molten toothpaste
I feel used and spat out

Don’t Fight it Marsha it’s Bigger Than Both of Us by The Mutton Birds

And I want you to be happy,
But I’d rather that you were still with me
Don’t Dream it’s Over by Crowded House
Now I’m walking again to the beat of a drum
And I’m counting the steps to the door of your heart
These are just a few of my favs, What are yours amongst the New Zealand Music collection?