Ian Chapman Rocks WORD Christchurch Festival

David Bowie, who had many connections to New Zealand, sadly only toured here four times, but for fans there was a rare opportunity to experience his genius again today at the WORD Christchurch Festival through an extraordinary and rousing performance by the academic musicologist and Bowie aficionado, and author of the book Experiencing David Bowie: A Listener’s Companion, Ian Chapman. Ian was brilliantly accompanied by Liam Donnelly on piano and Pania Simmonds on acoustic and electric bass, and sounds they made together were sublime. Those lucky enough to be there were treated to a wonderfully entertaining celebration of eccentric creativity, a trait that Bowie and Chapman clearly share in abundance, and which Ian refers to as the art of being different.

The trio played two mesmerising sets of early Bowie songs, which bookended a remarkable talk by Ian who explained to us exactly why David Bowie had such a profound impact on so many people’s lives, not least his own. This is perhaps best illustrated by comparing the two alternative covers of the 1970 album The Man Who Sold The World. The British version features a picture of David in a full length dress and boots reclining on a chaise longue. This being a bit too gender-bending for the Americans at the time, the US release features a cartoon version of a scene set in front of a rather imposing gothic building, which is the mental hospital where David’s brother Terry was incarcerated. The British cover symbolises David’s ever-changing persona and his compulsion to explore all aspects of his creative self, continually reinventing himself anew by inhabiting different identities; as evidenced by a comment on the back cover of the album Hunky Dory, David considered his performance to be an act rather than a reflection of his true self, whatever that may be. The American cover represents Bowie’s embracing of the outsider, rooted in his relationship with his troubled brother. As Ian told us, someone once described Bowie as “a flame towards whom dysfunctional moths flew”, which David was more than happy to make a virtue of.

Cosmic Jive Trio. Image supplied.
Cosmic Jive Trio. Image supplied.

The second part of Ian’s talk was much more personal and we heard what David Bowie’s music meant to Ian after things went terribly wrong for him as a child when his life was turned upside-down by a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, a message that Ian now takes to schools to empower young kids and address the issue of bullying. In the end, what we were treated to was a tour de force on the transcendent power of music and performance to lift us out of our everyday existence and, if only for a brief moment, to take us to another place entirely (brilliantly captured in a picture taken by Mick Rock that was eventually rejected as the cover image for the Bowie-penned single All The Young Dudes by Mott The Hoople). We may have been sitting in a dark room in a college building on a late winter’s day in Christchurch, but for me at least, for an hour or so this afternoon I was transported to the heady days of glam rock in 1970s, and nothing else seemed to matter. This was a wonderful tribute to a much loved, and much missed genius, by someone who delighted in sharing his obsession with us.

Before I go, I’d must give a shout out to whoever was operating the lighting. Nice work! It really added to the atmosphere.

Ian Chapman is Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Music at Otago University and Head of their Programme for Performing Arts. His doctorate was on David Bowie, and he has published many academic articles as well as several books about glam rock and the New Zealand music scene

For more about David Bowie, check out these two excellent online resources, which are available free to Christchurch City Library members

A favourite book of mine that touches on the darker side of some of the themes raised in Ian’s performance is All The Madmen (which interestingly, also features two of the musicians we heard playing before and after Ian’s show – Ray Davies of The Kinks, and Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd).

As well as Ian’s books, you can find dozens of others about every aspect of Bowie’s life and work on the shelves of your local branch of Christchurch City Libraries, as well as CDs of his music, including my own personal favourite Bowie album, Hunky Dory.

What’s your favourite?

More music at WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

A Date with Dylan at The Institution at tonight’s New Regent Street Pop-up Festival,Thursday 30 August 6pm
Philip Matthews, Adam McGrath, Jeffrey Paparoa Holman, and David Slack talkin’ bout Bob Dylan.

Soundtrack Or, Dancing about Architecture Sunday 2 September 11.30am to 12.45pm
Featuring Philip Hoare, Pip Adam, Chris Tse and Nic Low, hosted by Kiran Dass.

Samuel Flynn Scott: On songs Sunday 2 September 2.45pm to 3.45pm

More about Ian Chapman: Read Kim’s interview with Dr Ian Chapman: The Dunedin Sound and a passion for music

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.

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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.