We need to talk about America…

Not that we haven’t been doing just that for the last few months, but there’s so much to say. America fascinates and repulses me. I couldn’t live there – not just because I would eat all the food – but it is a fascinating place to observe, and we are fortunate to generally be able to enjoy its cultural output, both high and lowbrow. So naturally I was intrigued when I spied Claudia Roth Pierpont’s American Rhapsody in a bookshop in Auckland. I immediately went to the nearest library, hopped on the wifi and requested a copy (btw – aren’t libraries great?).

Cover of American rhapsodyIt’s a funny book, endeavouring to “present the the kaleidoscopic story of the creation of a culture.” Lofty intentions indeed! However, it is more of a collection of biographical and critical essays about a range of major players in American culture. The first two-thirds of the essays – which include Wharton, Fitzgerald, Hepburn and Gershwin are perfectly okay, but it’s the final third where, for me, the book truly comes alive. Orson Welles‘ and Laurence Olivier‘s (not from the US but that’s not the point) approaches to acting and Shakespeare are compared and contrasted. What is naturalism, how – and should – America tackle Shakespeare? These themes of naturalism and an American theatrical tradition are continued in an essay on Marlon Brando.

Cover of James Baldwin: Early novels and storiesWe are reminded that Brando was a supporter of the Civil Rights movement, and the last two essays cover novelist James Baldwin and singer Nina Simone who – to my shame – I didn’t know much about at all. Reading about these two African-Americans and learning more about the the nuances and iterations of the wider Civil Rights movement is inspiring me – to read their words and listen to their music and make an effort to further understand America’s painful history.

So, I’ve come away from this book thinking about acting and how we express our country through our cultural creations, and also with some new inspirational figures to look to. We need them.

The Gig Guide: February 2017

Planning on attending a concert, show, or gig in Christchurch? Then why not take a look at what we’ve got of that artist’s back catalogue?

Comedy

Kids

Music

What gigs are you looking forward to in the near future? Anything we’ve missed? Do let us know in the comments.

Last of the Giants: The True Story of Guns N’ Roses

CoverWith sales of over 100 million records, God knows how many downloads and sold out arena tours from the late 1980s until today, Guns N’ Roses are long overdue their definitive biography.  Mick Wall, a former writer for Kerrang, Sounds and Melody Maker has finally written one – The Last of the Giants: The True Story of Guns N’ Roses.

Mick Wall became close to the band during their ascent, gaining access to their dark inner world until he angered the band’s singer, Axl Rose. This earned Wall a name check and a vicious put down in the Use Your Illusion II track, Get in the Ring. Despite this, Mick Wall takes a very even-handed and sympathetic look at the band and their enigmatic lead singer. The focus is on the personalities and music, as much as the eye-watering tales of rock and roll excess, violence and insanity – of which there are many.

Wall describes the dizzying rise of the band from the L.A. glam metal scene with the accuracy of someone who was actually there, charting their beginnings in tiny, sleazy clubs while living in poverty and squalor. Their rapid ascent is described by industry insiders who helped them, with former managers telling detailed and brutally honest stories of brilliant live shows and dreadful behaviour.

The band’s many controversies are dealt with – from the death of two fans at an English show, to the heavily criticised lyrics to the song One In a Million. Wall has the clarity and insight gained by 25 years’ worth of hindsight. While there are no new interviews with any of the band members, Wall has drawn from a wealth of interviews from the era and new interviews with many who were there at the time. The splintering of the original line up is detailed in all its depressing, drug-soaked inevitability, and he lists the factors and pressures that broke the band at the peak of their fame.

While all members of Guns N’ Roses have their story told in full, including several chapters on the short-lived but popular supergroup Velvet Revolver, Wall does focus on the temperamental figure that is Axl Rose. We hear his story from his abusive childhood, his unwavering determination to make Guns N’ Roses the biggest band in the world, and his perfectionism and desire for control that ultimately broke the original line up. The subsequent revolving cast of musicians that make up Guns N’ Roses are covered with an in-depth and surprisingly enthusiastic review of the much maligned Chinese Democracy album. In fact his obvious fondness for the album made me give it another go and he is right. It is a better album than I remember it.

Wall makes the case that Guns N’ Roses were the last great band of the “Rock Era” – a time when a rock and roll band could be a truly subversive cultural force while reaching a huge audience.  It’s a hard theory to argue with when you start trying to list all subsequent contenders. Cobain?  Too depressing. Eddie Vedder? Too populist. Jack White? Too niche and he arrived a little too late.  Eminem? Perhaps, but do genre definitions and his arrival as popular music stopped being the dominant cultural force disqualify him?

What is impossible to argue with is the story of Guns N’ Roses as one of rock’s most absorbing and fascinating tales.  Drugs, sex, violence, controversy and great music are all there in abundance and Wall’s insider knowledge and palpable love for the both the band and the era make Last Of The Giants a cracking good read for anyone who misses the glory days of rock and roll.

More Guns N’ Roses

Guns n" roses

The Last of the Giants: The True Story of Guns n’ Roses
by Mick Wall
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9781409167228

Simon H
New Brighton Library

 

The Gig Guide: January 2017

Planning on attending a concert, show, or gig in Christchurch? Then why not take a look at what we’ve got of that artist’s back catalogue?

Comedy

Kids

Music

What gigs are you looking forward to in the near future? Anything we’ve missed? Do let us know in the comments.

David Bowie : The Man Who Stole the World DVD

On 10 January 2016 David Bowie died, leaving us his last album, Blackstar. The world as we knew it changed forever.

The Man Who Stole The World DVD is a tribute to the man “who stole the world and put it in a better place”, according to the narrator. The short documentary, the first to be released since his death, covers David Bowie’s life and music, looking at what made his albums so ground breaking; changing people’s perceptions of themselves, music and society.

I was worried, as a huge fan, that it would be corny and sensational. It isn’t. This is a moving account of the man’s life and incredible creativity. The DVD includes interviews with people who had a business or personal relationship with him, such as English DJ Paul Gambaccini and former NME photographer, Kevin Cummins. Some of the footage is new, and some you may have seen before.

Merry Christmas, David Bowie Fans

Christmas Tree, Central Library Manchester (Angel made by Kelly Davies)
Christmas Tree, Central Library Manchester (Angel made by Kelly Davies)

More music resources

The Gig Guide: December 2016

Planning on attending a concert, show, or gig in Christchurch? Then why not take a look at what we’ve got of that artist’s back catalogue?

Comedy

Dance

  • St Petersburg Ballet – Swan Lake 29-31 December

Kids

Music

What gigs are you looking forward to in the near future? Anything we’ve missed? Do let us know in the comments.

The last of the Bee Gee…??

At the age of 70, Barry Gibb has released a new album In the now, his first in 32 years, is at once a memorial to his brothers and a possible departing letter to his fans.

I’ve read anecdotally that Barry received ‘visions’ of his deceased brothers (Andy and Robin) which helped him in his drive and direction for this new album. Whether or not these ‘visitations’ influenced his work or not, the new album stands up as classic Barry Gibb songwriting craft and is full of Bee Gees flavour in performance.

The style runs across from the punchy dancey tracks most associated with the Bee Gees, through to the balladic style more akin to their early roots. Add to that some smooth Latin grooves and a hint of country-pop stylings, some superb quality production, and you’ve got a dynamic and soulful selection of tunes. At the grand age that he is, Barry has still got a voice that is as timeless as his craft.

The influence and importance of the brothers Gibb can’t be overstated in the annals of music history IMHO. With 28 US Top Ten singles, they were rather unfortunately overshadowed by The Beatles frenzy. But they were at the very forefront of the disco music movement and highly regarded in the industry for their songwriting.

There’s a whole raft of articles from music journals in history documenting the rise & rise of the Bee Gees, and you can access these through our fantastic resource Rock’s Backpages using your Christchurch City Libraries login.

Bee Gees

The library also offers opportunities to explore the Bee Gees back catalogue with scores & P.V.G (piano, vocal, guitar) sheet music.

In a time of bands of yesteryear still continuing to tour with material that is 40+yrs old, it should be celebrated that a giant of music is still producing quality original compositions, and he’s still touring and on his way to New Zealand in April 2017!

Barry is joined by his two sons, Ashley & Stephen, for this album which is a fitting tribute to his family’s musical history, making this another Gibb family gem – get your ears around it!

eResource Spotlight – Rock’s Backpages

I’ve decided to give everyone a little run through on some of the eResources we have on offer at Christchurch City Libraries to help let people know about some of the great databases we have access to.

Rock's Backpages

While I’m not officially in charge of knowing about Rock’s Backpages I couldn’t help but promote it! This site collects over 30,000 articles from a huge array of music journalism publications about various rock and roll bands from the last 50+ years.

The archive features:

  • Full-text articles that can be searched by artist, writer, date, genre and keyword;
  • A – Z lists of subjects, artists, writers and publications you can browse;
  • Audio recordings of interviews etc;
  • Previously unpublished pieces about the Beatles, the Doors and many others;
  • Seminal interviews with major artists from Bob Dylan to Radiohead.

Most of the publications the articles are sourced from are from the UK. Over 40 articles a week are added, with contributions from over 600 journalists. The term “Rock” is very loosely applied to all manner of bands, so there will be something here for everybody. Look up your favourite musicians and see how they have been written about throughout history, like a nice wee time capsule. Especially great are album reviews of now quintessential rock music that critics panned at the time, or live show reviews that can give you a sense of just how “out there” Alice Cooper really was in his prime. Well worth a look

Ben
The Library at Te Hāpua: Halswell Centre

The Dunedin Sound: Some Disenchanted Evening

The Dunedin Sound: Some Disenchanted Evening by Ian Chapman is a uniquely archival book celebrating the music known as the ‘Dunedin Sound.’ Predominantly pictorial, it is a plethora of personal photographs and memorabilia which, in the words of Graeme Downes from The Verlaines, ‘is a testament to a bunch of people desperate to create something in any way they could. And that something is pretty darn special.’

Here, we take a look at the book alongside our interview with author Ian Chapman.

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An image from the book of the first Chills line-up: Jane Dodd, Alan Haig, Martin Phillipps and Rachel Phillipps, at the Terrace Lounge, Otago University, May 1981. (Photo credit: Alister Reid)

The ‘Dunedin Sound’ descriptor has been tagged to a host of bands such as The Clean, The Chills, The Verlaines, Straitjacket Fits and many others you will encounter in this celebratory book of some of the Dunedin Sound’s seminal bands like The Puddle, The Bats, Bored Games, The DoubleHappys, The Stones, Snapper, Sneaky Feelings, Look Blue Go Purple, The Rip, The Dead C and The 3Ds.

Seed-rich pods cast to the wind

Kicked off by Chris Knox, “with the inimitable punk-infused force that was The Enemy in the late 1970s, it was carried to the world throughout the 1980s (and beyond) in true seat-of-the-pants style by the Flying Nun record label. Nobody could have foreseen the huge impact and lasting legacy that a pool of young songwriters and musicians from unfashionable Dunedin would create” says author Dr Ian Chapman.

Their feats are revisited within these pages which include stories and select discographies of an array of bands, critiques, and reminiscences from band members, fans and those in the music scene including Records Records shop-owner Roy Colbert, Gary Steel, Simon Grigg, drummer John Collie (writing about album cover art), Natasha Griffiths (who casually mentions her classmate David Bain and tells a funny story about what her older brother Shayne Carter did to her teddy-bear on stage) and Jeff Harford – who describes the music as “seed-rich pods cast to the wind.”

After Chapman put out an appeal for photographs for The Dunedin Sound, he got excited by the quality of the images coming to light, the majority of which had never been seen publicly.

The notion of preserving visual history began steering the book in an even more pictorial direction, to the point where the text has ended up supporting the images rather than vice versa. However, this in no way lessens the wonderful efforts of those luminaries whom I have invited to make written contributions to the book. Outlining their own personal stories and engagements with the Dunedin Sound, these pieces offer a variety of perspectives and experiences.

Some contributors, like music critic Gary Steel, actually question and contest the mythologising of the Dunedin Sound, which gives the book more depth. Also included in the book is a priceless pull-out poster, a labour-of-love by The Bats’ Robert Scott, ‘Sound of Dunedin’, which provides a comprehensively charted timeline of the bands playing in Dunedin in 1977–1992, when the Dunedin Sound was born. This chart makes it evident how impossible it was to include all the bands in the book. Chapman highlights 17 acts and while critics may say some bands are left out while others are given much prominence, the main character throughout is the Dunedin Sound, albeit “nebulous” and ill-defined.

New Book 2016.jpg

The Dunedin Sound – published by David Bateman – has high production values (despite some low-fi source images) and is in full-colour. It contains, as Ian Chapman, says:

The many photographs that have lain unseen for decades, the beautifully crafted posters that once adorned walls and bollards around the university and wider Dunedin, only to be torn down and thrown away, bar a precious few kept by those with more foresight than most — in these images, the pioneering, non-conforming and rebellious ethos of the Dunedin Sound can be seen.

This sentiment is echoed in the introduction when he explains why he particularly chose this cover image of Chris Knox to encapsulate that ethos.

For our Cantabrian readers, it would be remiss not to note that it was the Christchurch-based Flying Nun music label that helped a lot of the Dunedin Sound really take off. And many performed at The Gladstone that was once on the corner of Durham and Peterborough Streets. A number of the musicians are settled in Christchurch these days, working within the art and music sectors such as Bruce Russell, Paul Kean, John Collie, John Kelcher and David Pine (who has been instrumental in setting up the newly formed Flying Nun Foundation archive).

With its hardback cover, The Dunedin Sound feels substantive, yet the short and varied writings accompanying the images make it easy to dip into anywhere rather than having to follow a chronologically written history. It feels intimate – the personal ephemera are wee treasures (irreverent notes, earnest letters, album art, hand-written set lists, magazine clippings) and the private and behind-the-scenes photos are refreshing in an age of self-aware snaps and selfies. Here, the boxes of old family photos have been nostalgically dusted off – only the ‘family’ is the Dunedin music scene. A great gift for fans of New Zealand music, this book is for anyone who was there, anyone who wishes they were or who wonders what they missed.

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Another image from the book: Graeme Downes at home, 1985. (Photo credit: Jo Downes)

Read our interview with Ian Chapman about his book The Dunedin Sound and his passion for music.

Several others have been working on related books including one by Graeme Downes. Alan Holt is writing a book about the history of Flying Nun Records; Graeme Jefferies memoir Time Flowing Backwards is due out April 2017 and Needles & Plastic: A Flying Nun Discography 1981-1988 (2016) by Matthew Goody and Sean Elliot is out now.

Martin Phillipps (The Chills) and Graeme Downes (The Verlaines) performing at the book launch of The Dunedin Sound, 17 November 2016 at The University of Otago. (Photo: John Collie)

Find books about the Dunedin Sound in our collection

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Read AudioCulture articles about Dunedin bands.

Dr Ian Chapman – The Dunedin Sound and a passion for music

The Dunedin Sound: Some Disenchanted Evening was launched in Dunedin in November with live music by key players Graeme Downes (The Verlaines), Robert Scott (The Bats) and Martin Phillipps (The Chills).

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Author Dr Ian Chapman at the book launch / gig for The Dunedin Sound, 17 November 2016 at The University of Otago (Photo: John Collie)

To coincide with our review of the book, I interviewed the author Dr. Ian Chapman:

Ian, what inspired you to create this book when there are a few books celebrating Dunedin music already?

I didn’t feel there was a book that celebrated the Dunedin Sound adequately. Certainly, Matthew Bannister’s Positively George Street told the story from his personal Sneaky Feelings’ perspective, but you wouldn’t term it a celebration. And yes there are chapters in other books about the Dunedin Sound/Flying Nun scenes amid wider critiques of New Zealand popular music. There are also websites and many magazine articles over the years that are available online.

But in my view the Dunedin Sound deserved its own standalone book. And I also wanted to be able to point out that the Dunedin Sound and Flying Nun are not interchangeable terms though they are often used in this way. There were Dunedin Sound acts never signed to Flying Nun, and also a lot of Flying Nun acts that were not from Dunedin. I wanted to put Dunedin back at the forefront of the Dunedin Sound, which is why the book features only Dunedin acts.

What do you feel this book is adding to the archive of Dunedin music history?

As witnessed by the recent formation of the Flying Nun Foundation – with preservation a part of its goal, as I understand it – I think many people are starting to realise that the heyday of this scene was now more than three decades ago and time is precious. Peter Gutteridge has recently passed away, and the main protagonists will not be around forever – that’s the cold reality.

With the book being so wonderfully pictorial, I very much had the sense as I was collecting photographs and ephemera from here there and everywhere that this historical flotsam and jetsam is equally not going to last forever. Preserving it in a book like this – I’ve felt as much a historian, archaeologist and curator as an author. Simply, like the excellent job the the Hocken Library (in Dunedin) does, I hope this book with become part of the archive of Dunedin’s music history and ensure such ‘stuff’ is not lost forever.

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Straitjacket Fits Hail album poster, Designer: John Collie

Tell us about some interesting things you discovered in the process of creating the book? Hidden gems unearthed?

I knew it before I started on the project, but through talking to so many musicians, fans, and others involved in the scene in some way or another, it brought home to me once again how contentious the term ‘Dunedin Sound’ is. Even within the camp. That was interesting.

I was also reminded, when talking to others from the era who weren’t involved in ‘the scene’ – mostly musicians of other ilks – of the resentment that still exists regarding the media attention and resultant opportunities that the primary proponents received. It is still seen as something of a ‘club’ by many, and not always in a good way.

In terms of hidden gems unearthed, there are so many images that have never been seen before, and finding these – from old suitcases, basements, tops of wardrobes – stuff that hasn’t been seen the light of day for 30 plus years – was the biggest thrill. Forced to name a couple, I’ll mention the wonderful early photos of The Enemy taken by Ian Bilson and Josie Haines. Discovering these really got my heart racing.

Another discovery was just how close the music and the artwork/design aspects of the Dunedin Sound was. Again, I’d expected it, but not to the extent I found. With so much of the artwork and design done by the musos themselves, or by close friends and family, there’s a synergy between the two that you could never have got from faceless, uninvolved designers trying to portray the music while working in an office behind chrome and glass at some mega record company located in another city.

What have you enjoyed most about putting this book together and what were the challenges?

I enjoyed the feeling of preserving history, and meeting so many awesome people. Key collaborators on the book’s content included Graeme Downes, Alan Haig, Robert Scott, Stephen Kilroy, Roy Colbert, Sarah Williamson (research assistant). But really, everyone was wonderfully supportive of the project.

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Musician Graeme Downes performing at The Dunedin Sound book launch, 17 November 2016 at The University of Otago (Photo: John Collie)

The biggest challenge was finding the origins of hundreds of photos. Many great pics were supplied to me by people who had them in their possession but had no idea who took them in the first place or how they came by them. More often than not, once I’d tracked them down, the musicians in the photos didn’t know who took them either, being so long ago. So, being a cold-case detective was extremely challenging. I still have dozens of fantastic pics in my ‘photographer unknown’ folder on my laptop that didn’t make it into the book for that reason.

From The Star, Friday January 29, 1982

You also wrote Glory Days: from gumboots to platforms (2009) and are a musician yourself. Can you talk about your alter ego, Dr Glam?

Sure. He’s a glittering 1970s-esque glam rocker based Coverupon Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust persona. He was my confidence-resurrecting imaginary escapist fantasy figure during my very troubled teens (during the 1970s) but was laid to rest when I left my teens behind. When I started teaching at the university post 2000 I wanted to show my students an example of a performance persona in order to help them learn to combat nerves and stage-fright etc; ways to suppress self-doubt and become 10ft tall and bullet-proof on stage. So rather than just talking about it, I brought Dr Glam out of the crypt and began performing.

I had an absolute blast, and it got the message across as my students saw their quietly spoken genial lecturer become a posing, pouting, glittery monster in 8 inch platforms, makeup and spandex, ha ha. (Did I mention the fun aspect???) But, by its very nature, glam rock(ers) shouldn’t go on for too long, and so I killed him off in 2014 at a dramatic Death-of-Dr-Glam gig. Nite nite and thanks. But I pulled him out of the grave one more time for this year’s David Bowie tribute show at Sammy’s. To all intents and purposes, though, Dr Glam is dead. I have since reinvented myself in the guise of his anagrammatic cousin, Mr Glad, and with my band, The Skeleton Family, we do twisted cabaret type gigs now and then.

Thanks Ian… Can you recommend some music-related books and DVDs that you really enjoy?

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What’s next?

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Ian Chapman is a musician, author and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Music, Theatre and Performing Arts at the The University of Otago. A musicologist, he is working on his seventh book at the moment titled Experiencing Alice Cooper: A Listener’s Companion (Rowman & Littlefield 2017), which pays album-by-album tribute to another of his rock-theatre heroes.

Several others have been working on related books including one by Graeme Downes. Alan Holt is writing a book about the history of Flying Nun Records; Graeme Jefferies memoir Time Flowing Backwards is due out April 2017 and Needles & Plastic: A Flying Nun Discography 1981-1988 (2016) by Matthew Goody and Sean Elliot is out now.