Hamlet: The Video Game (The Stage Show): Q&A with Kathleen Burns

Shakespeare with tentacles, teenage sex, dead bodies galore, and nerf guns. Yup, you heard right. Hamlet: The Video Game (The Stage Show) is on now at The Court Theatre until June 24, and it is nothing like the Shakespeare you learnt at school.

Kathleen Burns is one of the cast, and we had a chance to ask her some questions about Hamlet, gaming, and this show.


Kathleen Burns

Shakespeare! Guns! Gaming! Kicking ass! Hamlet: The Video Game (The Stage Show) at The Court Theatre sounds awesome! Thanks for chatting to us about it – it sounds like a really interesting mix of everything.

Before we start, let’s play ‘Two truths, one lie’ to get to know you. What are two interesting facts about yourself? And what about one thing that’s not true? We’ll see if we can guess which one’s the lie.*

1: I am really good at saying the alphabet backwards super fast.

2: When I was a girl, I had webbed fingers and had to get them surgically un-webbed.

3: I can’t click my fingers.

That first one’s an impressive skill – I hope you’ve found some way to get that into one of your shows! Now that’s out the way, on to the important stuff. Old Will Shakespeare. We had to study one of his plays each year at high school. I think I just about died of boredom watching every girl in my class act out Romeo’s death in a Yr 11 English assessment – do you know just how long a 16-year-old can drag out a death scene?! It was painful!

What about you? Did you have to suffer through the plays in English class or did you actually enjoy learning about the Bard?

At first it was totally daunting… like… what are all these people on about…? But, I had good English teachers who broke it down. It’s actually super easy… this person wants to kill that person, this person wants to sleep with that person… Also I often got asked to read it out loud, and you know… any chance to be centre of attention haha!

What about now? Have your thoughts on him changed, or do you still feel the same way?

The older I get, the more I either love or hate it. Like… “Yay! Titus Andronicus is so cool! Let’s put people in pies!” or “OH EM GEE Hamlet is so annoying, I wish he would just make up his mind…”

So … Hamlet: The Video Game (The Stage Show). That’s quite a mouthful! I looked it up on The Court’s website, and the description for the show was:

“Rebooting the story of Hamlet as a video game, this show blends Shakespeare with modern gaming culture to create a uniquely entertaining live experience. You’ve never seen the Bard this bad-ass!”

What does that actually mean? Most people would say video games and 17th century plays don’t really go together. What exactly are we going to see when we go see Hamlet: The Video Game?

Are you kidding me? Shakespeare and video games are pretty much the same thing. Bloodthirsty violence, revenge, high body count, teenage sex… all of the fun stuff. In this show you can expect to see an epic nerf gun battle, an abundance of gaming jokes, and hearts torn out of chests both literally and figuratively.

So it’s not going to be an old guy standing alone on a dark stage talking to a skull in Ye Olde English that we’re not going to understand? Phew!

Hamlet: The Video Game (The Stage Show) got shown for the first time back in 2015. It obviously did well to come back for a second go, so who is the show *actually* for? Usually people who go and see plays are not the people who’ll spend time playing computer games, so where did the decision to merge classical theatre and gaming come from? And who’s the target audience?

The idea came about from Simon Peacock, who started as a court jester here in Christchurch but now works in the video game industry in Canada. He directed the voices on one of my favourite games: Assassins Creed! This show is totally for gamers. I mean yeah, Shakespeare lovers are loving it too… but it so so packed full of jokes for gamers.

In video games, the gamer is in charge of choosing what their avatar is going to do next, or where they’re going to go, and that happens in this show too, right? So it’s kind of like a choose-your-own-adventure version of Hamlet! That’s pretty cool.

Hahahaha no. It’s not a pick-a-path. Any experienced gamer will tell you that video games only offer the illusion of choice. At its heart, it’s the story of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. But with video game tropes over top, like, at the start, the audience get to customize their Hamlet character. So far the mohawk has been really popular. But can you please come along and choose the beret for once??? It looks kick ass and the audience hasn’t chosen that one yet!

Got it. Always choose the beret.

Back in the day, girls and women weren’t allowed to act in old Will’s plays – apparently boys and men did a better job of playing the female characters than actual females did. That’s pretty dumb, I reckon, but I guess that was just the way society was back then. There’s a real live female actor in this show though, right? Playing a real live female character? Does she get to do really cool stuff, or is she stuck at home doing embroidery and cooking and looking after the kids? Of course, if a female wants to stay in and do sewing, she totally can – you be you, girl, and do what makes you happy! Anyways – what are the girls up to in Hamlet?

Well actually it’s funny you mention that because…. I am totally a girl. Yip. Boobs and everything. And I’m a gamer too. (Pause for shocked silence) The most domestic thing any of the female characters get up to in this is when Gertrude in her bed chamber brushing her tentacles. Yip, that’s right, her mighty tentacles that come out of her head. When she’s not doing that, she’s kicking ass.

Shakespeare and the tentacles. Not a sentence I thought I’d be writing, but there it goes.

Lots of schools use Hamlet as one of their English texts. How close is this play to the actual Hamlet play? If I go see it will I be able to write about it in my NCEA exams?

It would actually totally help you to understand the basic story of Hamlet… I wish I had something like this when I was in high school!

All right, so you must have thought about this – if Hamlet actually got released as a video game, who would you choose to voice the characters? And why?

I will voice them all. With a million different hilarious voices. And maybe some voice changing technology to make my voice sound deep and evil for Claudius.

Right … you did say you wanted to be centre of attention at school. I guess some things don’t change.

How many of the folks involved in this show are actually gamers? And what’s the fave game at the moment? Although I bet they’re all pretty busy at the moment making sure this is  finished and ready for the audience.

All of us are either current gamers, or have been at some point in our lives. Personally, I’m looking forward to playing Andromeda because I’m a huge Mass Effect fan!

So… Hamlet: The Video Game (The Stage Show) is at The Court Theatre until June 24. It sounds like it’s going to be an amazing show to watch and should have something for everyone.

We’ve opened already! Only a week and a half left, so get in quick!

Thanks for chatting with us, Kathleen – have you got any last words for people out there trying to decide if this show’s for them?

It’s for you. If you come to the show, and then are like “maybe that wasn’t for me”, I will personally come into the foyer and admit to your face that I was wrong. (THIS HAS NEVER HAPPENED)


So there you have it, folks – Hamlet: The Video Game (The Stage Show) is for everyone. If you love Shakespeare but don’t game, or play video games but aren’t a fan of the Bard, or love Shakespeare AND gaming, go see it – it’s only $26, and it’s Shakespeare and tentacles. What’s not to love?!

* Oh, and in case you were wondering: the lie was … number 2.

Images supplied by the Court Theatre.

Tami Neilson curls up … with a good book

Hair she comes! Hot ticket Tami Neilson kicks off her Songs of Sinners tour, performing in Christchurch tonight (Thursday 25th May) as part of The Cavell Leitch New Zealand International Jazz and Blues Festival with her Hot Rockin’ Band of Rhythm, belting out soul, country, gospel and blues.

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Tami’s tour merchandise features a silhouette of her signature black beehive with the proclamation: “The higher the hair, the closer to God.” A couple of us gals working here at the library have been Tami fans for a while. She may just be our alter ego and I fondly remember seeing her play with local boys Marlon Williams and Delaney Davidson at the wee Wunderbar in Lyttelton a few years back.

Tami and her big hair certainly command a much bigger stage now, and the accolades and awards never seem to end for Tami. Possibly even more rewarding for her than a gong was recently getting to open the stage for her idol – blues, gospel and soul singer Mavis Staples.

While she’s got hair up to heaven, Tami now has two young boys to bring her back down to earth. Considering how busy she is with touring and family life, it is a wonder Tami has time to curl up with a good book, let alone curl her hair. But Tami loves libraries and literature (from classic reads to chick lit) and she graciously took the time to answer a few questions about her reading pleasures and sings the praises of a good book.

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Tami, are there any special books you remember fondly from your childhood?

I was completely obsessed with Anne of Green Gables from age 11. I read the whole series and then moved on to all of L.M. Montgomery’s books. I own her entire published works, as well as her more recently published journals, which are fascinating and actually quite dark in contrast to her novels. I have visited her various homes across Canada while touring with my family band when growing up. I still re-read her books regularly. The Emily series and The Blue Castle are my enduring favourites.

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What role have libraries played in your life – either growing up and / or now?

I have always loved libraries and spending time curled up with a book. In my early 20s, when we came off the road and settled into the small town in Ontario where my Mom grew up, we didn’t have a computer yet and the local library is where I would excitedly go each day to check my emails and write to a certain Kiwi guy that I ended up marrying!

The library has played a huge role in my outings with my little ones since becoming a Mum myself – from the time they were babies, I took them to Wriggle & Rhyme and we go every few weeks to swap our books for new ones.

What books are your two young sons enjoying at the moment?

We’ve read to our boys since they were babies and they love books. We visit our local library regularly… a current library favourite is Super Stan, and we have a huge collection of the works of Dr Seuss, which are their go-to bedtime stories (and Mummy’s favourites to read to them!)

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Do your kids love your songs (or are they over them) – do they have their own favourites?

They have their favourites, which they perform for us regularly on Saturday mornings. They set up their “stage” on the couch and haul out all their little toy instruments and play their repertoire of ABCs, Christmas songs, nursery rhymes and Mummy’s songs. Their favourites are Texas (written for Charlie), Loco Mama (written for Sam) and Holy Moses.

Tami would have a bookshelf the size of Texas if she could…

Tami, any books you’d love to recommend?

Anything by Barbara Kingsolver. Her books and characters never disappoint. Long-time favourites are The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg, The Help by Kathryn Stockett, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (I have a thing for Southern US writers and/or stories set in the Southern States…just like my musical influences tend to stem from there!) also, The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood – such a Canadian treasure, that woman.

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What music related books can you recommend? 

I tend to always have a musical biography on the go. I loved Shout, Sister, Shout, the biography of Sister Rosetta Tharpe and I’ll Take You There bio on The Staples Singers when I was researching for my new show, “Songs of Sinners”. What Happened, Miss Simone? about Nina Simone … and I recently picked up a copy of Roseanne Cash’s Composed memoirs when touring through Nashville. She writes so beautifully and I loved that it wasn’t a chronological account of her life, just colourful snapshots strung together with the language of a woman who has been writing songs her whole life.
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Secret reading pleasures? What do you read when you’re waiting for your curls to set?

Every novel written by Marian Keyes! She’s my trashy, chick-lit go-to and makes me laugh out loud. Same with Janet Evanovich‘s Stephanie Plum series. I think I got up to #17 and had finally reached my fill, but, the very best of guilty pleasures.

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What’s on your TBR (to-be-read) pile Tami?

I’ve been working through H is for Hawk for over a year now…having lost my father, it’s a hard one to read and gets too close to the bone at times that I have to put it down for a while, read something else and come back to it. It is so exquisitely written that I don’t mind that it gets read in short bursts, as it makes it last longer.

I also picked up The Rosie Project from the library the other day on a friend’s “light-reading” recommendation, so, it’s on my bedside table, waiting for me to finish The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd. I loved her novel The Secret Life of Bees and liked The Invention of Wings, but, am halfway through this one and have to admit I’m a bit disappointed thus far. I don’t like the main character and just feel annoyed at the end of each chapter!

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What writers would you love to meet?

If I could jump into a time machine and have a chat… C.S. LewisL.M. Montgomery, Mark Twain, The Bronte Sisters, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

You travel a bit so I imagine you have to read ‘one the go’ – are you an eBooks/eReader convert or strictly old-school?

I have a love/hate relationship with my eReader. I love its convenience and the fact that it doesn’t take up half the weight allowance of my luggage like books used to when I was on tour!

However, part of the reading experience for me is the feel of the pages, I play with them the whole time I read (much to my parents’ and brother’s annoyance when growing up and now my husband’s!) seeing how far I have to go so I can prepare myself for the ending when it’s book full of characters I don’t want to part with, being able to lend a good book I want to share with a friend, see it on the shelf next to my other books after it’s been read (nothing better than a full bookshelf!) and my favourite smell in the world is that new book smell!

Tami, your tour is called Songs of Sinners but you seem so wholesome… can you tell us more about this juxtaposition?

Songs of Sinners is the story of how the gospel and blues music of the Southern States became Rock and Roll. Many artists grew up singing and learning to perform in the church, but then became “Sinners” when they “abandoned” their church congregations for a “life of sin”. From Ray Charles, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Mavis Staples … these artists then influenced future stars Elvis, Bob Dylan and Prince. This tells the story of how many of these more well-known artists wouldn’t exist without first hearing those early gospel and blues artists that may not be as well known.

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At the end of touring this year Tami will be back in the studio to record songs for a new album.

Tami, with your album Dynamite! (2014) you came out “all guns a blazing” and Don’t Be Afraid (2015) was a tribute to your Dad. Has the next album you’re working on got any ‘feel’ or direction to it yet? What can you tell us about it?

I’m currently writing my new album and the emerging theme seems to be sass! A lower tolerance level for putting up with people’s opinions or judgments. A result of getting older, being a mother and losing my Dad all intersecting, I guess. I’ve also been hugely influenced by performing the Songs of Sinners show this past year and being challenged vocally and as a performer, so I think that is trickling into the songs I’m writing as well.

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Countrymusichair

Get the look: Country Music Hair by Erin Duvall (2016)
This recently published book showcases the most notable bobs, beehives, bouffants, mullets, hats, wigs and curls from the 1960s to the present, alongside interviews with hairstylists and musicians and a full history of the ‘dos of the decade with the likes of locks belonging to Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn.

Get tickets: Tami Neilson Sings! Songs of Sinners Thursday 25th May at the Charles Luney Auditorium at St Margaret’s College, Christchurch
We’ll be there with bells, polka dots and sequins on! She is performing material her New Zealand audience hasn’t heard her sing before, including music by Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Howlin’ Wolf, Johnny Cash, Blind Willie Johnson and Sister Rosetta Thorpe.

Watch: Tami with local Lyttelton musicians Marlon Williams & Delaney Davidson

(Images supplied by Tami Neilson)

Q&A with Adam McGrath (part 1)

Kia ora music lovers!

Adam McGrath (Image supplied)

The big music news for 2017 is that Christchurch City Libraries will be featuring Adam McGrath for New Zealand Music Month 2017.

Adam is best known for his work being the driving force of the band The Eastern, who are widely regarded as the hardest working band in the lands. But did you know about his social conscience and the value he places on not only community but public libraries too?

I posed a series of questions to Adam in order for us all to get to know him a little better…

So Adam, what was the first album you ever bought?

“When I was ten. I hadn’t seen or heard from my Dad in two, nearly three years. He never paid child support and his name was dirty in my house. So he was like a ghost that I vaguely remembered.

One day I got home from school and on the doorstep was ZX spectrum 16kb computer and a jar full of money delivered courtesy of my erstwhile father. I was stoked, my mum full of sighs. We plugged the computer in and it worked, surprisingly. Come the weekend we hit New Brighton mall for a little shopping with the jar money, Mum got some new threads ready for a dance at the working mens club. I got a GI Joe Cobra Bore, “rip and roar, cobra bore, lots of trouble for GI JOEEEEEEE!” I still remember the advert.

But for me the holy relic of purchases on this day was a copy on tape of ‘Raising Hell” by Run-DMC. This changed my life, made me obsessed and hungry for music in a way I had never felt before, either for toys, or lollies or anything else my young brain had ever thought it wanted. That desperate desire continues unabated today. After 1000 failed jobs and nowhere/nothing starts there was no choice but to give my self up wholly to the blessing and curse of full time music and song slinging. I blame my dad, Reverend Run, Darryl McDaniels, Jam master Jay and New Brighton Mall.”

Which instruments do you play (on stage and not)?

On stage; guitar and harmonica and the nodules in my throat. On record I’ve played bass, mandolin, and keyboard. However not a single one of these, on stage or off would anyone (including most people in my band) say I was anything more than a hack and a chancer.

Is there an instrument that you don’t play but which you would love to be able to?

I would like to play the tin whistle. However whenever I pick up a tin whistle everyone around me suggests I don’t take it any further.

What was your first guitar and do you still have it?

I guess what I call my first guitar was an old F-series Yamaha, I bought for $100 at a junk shop on Manchester Street. I used to go in and play it and listen to the proprietor’s problems, health emotional and otherwise. This served me in good stead because the guitar was actually $120. It had a crack and the top lifted off from the sides, so I taped it together with yellow and green and white insulation tape.

I took that guitar all around the eastern and southern states of America whereupon even in its battered state it kept me feed and watered as it sung out across street corners from Philadelphia to New Orleans to Nashville and many smaller more lonesome corners between. After some time I guess it sensed that I had improved enough for something a little better. It’s job done, it pretty much committed guitar suicide whereupon all parts of it decided to more or less break at once; machine heads popped off, bridge pulled up, neck snapping. It was time to let it go.

It was called Rosilita and the last I saw of her she was in a wardrobe in the town of Conshocken, Pennsylvania waiting for either the dump or the next pair of desperate hands crazy enough to take her out into the world.

From now until his library performances in May, Adam will be reaching into the depth of our digital resources, he’ll be searching and exploring our physical resources, and most of all he’ll be connecting with the people of Christchurch by hearing their stories and discussing their lives/loves/losses. He will use much of what he discovers to inspire new works, songs and music, and during May, Adam will be available for a series of “Live with the Library” concerts, during which he will tell his stories of us, the people of Christchurch.

And here are the dates and times for Adam’s performances;

Central Library Peterborough – The Showcase Concert 

Saturday 20 May, doors open at 7pm

Te Hāpua: Halswell Centre

Friday 26 May, 3:30pm-4:30pm

New Brighton Library

Saturday 27 May, 2pm-3pm

South Library

Sunday 28 May, 2pm-3pm

Stay tuned for the next installment of our Q&A with Adam McGrath!

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.

“Christchurch is where it all started for me” – an interview with Roger Shepherd – WORD Christchurch

Kim interviews Roger Shepherd ahead of his sold-out session In Love With These Times: A Flying Nun Celebration, on tomorrow (Saturday 27 August) at Blue Smoke.

Roger Shepherd. Image supplied.
Roger Shepherd. Image supplied.

CoverRoger, In love with these times is your personal experience, and it is about your role in the New Zealand music industry. There is a real sense of ‘being there’ in a certain time and place. A lot has been written about the music, so I’d like to focus more on place and – since you’re also an avid reader, on your love of books and libraries.

You write that during your upbringing “Reading became central” to your life. Tell us about some books you recommend.

David Stubbs: Future Days (Faber & Faber, 2014). This is a great exploration of what was an insular but fragmented (it happened all over Germany rather than in one locale) musical phenomena. I love the music and this book helped me make sense of where it came from (German youth rebelling against their Nazi tainted parents and teachers) and how it happened and it sent me back to listen to all of the music again. Can, Neu, Harmoniam Amol Duul, et al.

Geoff Chapple: Terrain (Random House, 2015). This is really a fantastic read for anyone curious about why our country looks the way it does. Landforms are the fascinating dynamic basic structures that shape our lives in New Zealand and learning to read them is immensely rewarding.

Rob Chapman: Psychedelia and Other Colours (Faber & Faber, 2015). This is my current music read and it’s very informative and delightfully opinionated. The ex Glaxo Babies singer – and now music writing academic – describes the very different development of psychedelic music in the USA and the UK and isn’t afraid to shoot down some longstanding myths and reputations. It’s a straight shooting and unglamorous look at one of the key musical strands that defines the 1960s. I found the section on The Beatles particularly rewarding.

Geoff Park: Ngā Uruora The Groves of Life – Ecology & History in New Zealand Landscape (VUP, 1995). This book is built around a handful of sites where the once common giant Kahikatea once stood or still stands just hanging on. Somehow I manage to read a fair bit of nature writing and this book is one of the most remarkable I have ever read. And perhaps the saddest.

Richard King: How Soon Is Now. This is about the development of the independent record labels in the UK and the USA that catered to the exploding number of bands that formed during and after the punk and helped connect them to the new audience that appeared alongside them. An erudite entertaining read about the rise and almost inevitable fall of of labels such as Postcard, Rough Trade, Blast First and Mute. Flying Nun isn’t discussed but fits right in there with what was happening internationally at the time.

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You grew up in Aranui and went to Shirley Boys High and you write in your book about your fond memories of going to New Brighton Library every Saturday with your family. What place have libraries played in your life?

I love books and reading and tend to look for them in a number of different places. Bookshops selling new books obviously have the latest releases but second hand book shops have otherwise unavailable gems and oddments and I will travel considerable distances to attend book fairs.

Libraries have a different selection again and remarkable ones at that. I love to browse. As a kid we went to the old New Brighton library on Shaw Ave on a Saturday while my mother did her weekly shopping. It didn’t have a big selection but did have a rotating range of books that came out from the central library in town. I got started reading pretty tame Willard Price boys adventures (one of the key characters dies in one of them by getting his foot stuck in a giant clam, or did he fall into a volcano?) before moving on to John Wyndham and Fred Hoyle and other English science fiction writers. A road that took me all the way to J.G. Ballard who I greatly admire for the quality and originality of his ideas.

My taste in fiction is rather broad, Nabokov (skip the overly literary Lolita and check out one of the greatest books ever written, Pale Fire or the funniest, Pnin) and there are a number of New Zealand writers that I have followed including Maurice Gee, Emily Perkins and Damien Wilkins. I mix up my fiction reading with plenty of non-fiction. I read a good amount of travel writing (including Colin Thubron, Richard O’Hanlon (Trawler is especially good), Nick Dyer, but the best is Norman Lewis amongst a mass of other stuff including books about music, psychology, food, nature, history, geology and art.

I remember finding the Thames and Hudson William S. Rubin’s Dada & Surrealism art book one Saturday at the New Brighton library and that really opened up my mind to what existed beyond my closeted Aranui existence. My father must have been horrified. He certainly was when I started listening to punk rock a couple of years later.

With such a vastly changed landscape post-quake it is great to have the memories – an archive if you will – of the people and places in Christchurch that you document in your book (music venues, your various Flying Nun offices) to orientate readers in the city. You used to work at the Record Factory and near Shand’s Emporium too. You write of your memories of working in ‘the Square’, a centre city so vastly altered now, and you share your memories of music venues and music stores in Christchurch. How do you feel seeing sites in Christchurch where you used to work and play? Post-quake where do you find yourself drawn to with so much changed? Where do you ‘find’ yourself when you come to Christchurch now? Is that even possible now?

Record Factory was on Colombo St. The first Flying Nun office was on Hereford Street next to Shands. I’ve been lost in central Christchurch the last couple of times I have visited. I don’t think people outside Christchurch understand the devastation unless they see it for themselves. Surely the word “munted” must has been coined to describe what has happened in Christchurch. The physical central city I grew up exploring and then working and living in seems to have completely gone.

Fortunately the people remain and I have huge admiration for those who have done so with the clear intention of rebuilding the city. Where do I go when I am in town visiting my mother? I’ve always loved the Museum, Botanical Gardens and Art Gallery and make time to check out them out, to see what is new but mainly to be reassured by what is the same. I find those reconnections amongst the mass dislocations rather vital.

You talk about what drove you as a fan was the feeling that a lot of the music would have been lost if it wasn’t recorded. It seems hard to imagine Flying Nun was such a fruitful endeavour without cellphones and the internet, with the biggest excitement being the fax machine. What aspects of this ‘old school’ way do you think made Flying Nun a success in a way that wouldn’t happen in today’s high tech, globally connected world and ‘record me!’ culture? Any special piece of advice for budding music industry entrepreneurs today?

Despite all the technological advances I think what was always hard has become even harder to achieve. A new label needs to be working with bands that are new, exciting and unique. There has to be some momentum and some early sales to get the cashflow moving and confidence up.

This is something that normally grows out of the development of a scene. A scene is a localised outburst of communal creativity normally bourne out of geographic and socio economic isolation. Bands starting up and supporting each other and swapping ideas and making and playing new kinds of music which is what happened in both Christchurch and Dunedin in the early 1980s.

The internet connects people and makes everything totally absolutely available but works against that insular hothouse effect by accelerating the ongoing homogenised fragmentation of music. It’s harder to create music that is different enough to grab an audience’s attention let alone pay for it so a band or artist can start building a career.

Can you recommend any music or artists released out of Flying Nun today or out of Christchurch in general who have taken your interest?

Christchurch is where it all started for me. The Gordons who somehow later became Bailter Space. The Pin Group were special. The Bats are a fine example of musical evolution. From being very quietly country influenced to becoming very subtley krautrock flecked. A brilliant band that endure despite the non evolutionary force that is fashion. I really rate T54. I can’t wait to see Zen Mantra in a couple of weeks time at The Others Way in Auckland. And as always I am a huge fan of The Terminals and very much looking forward to eventually checking out their recently developing “side project” Dark Matter.

Flying Nun Records: The Clean, Ying1 (FN002), The Pin Group. FN 001CL-Ephemera-Music-Rock-1980s-Poster0017
Flying Nun Records: The Clean, Ying1 (FN002), The Pin Group. FN 001 CCL-Ephemera-Music-Rock-1980s-Poster0017

You mention in your book you like to cook and are an avid cookbook collector. Share with us some of your favourite cookbooks.

I like to cook and I have a big collection of cookbooks although there seem to be so many published these days.

CoverSarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich’s Honey and Co (Saltyard Books, 2014). My wife came back from London with this book and its Israeli middle eastern cooking is very much in the style of the excellent Ottolenghi books. I see a connection here to what first enthused me about cooking in the mid 1980s, Claudia Roden’s television series Middle Eastern Cooking.

Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers The River Cafe Cook Book (Edbury Press,1995): I love the first two River Cafe cookbooks. Simple modern Italian recipes that place the emphasis on using quality ingredients.

Chris Maynard and Bill Scheller’s Manifold Destiny (Villard Books, 1989). I have never cooked anything out of this book but love the idea that I could wrap up dinner in foil and cook it on my car engine as I belt along the motorway listening to The Clean’s ‘Point That Thing’.

Simon Hopkinson and Lindsey Bareham’s The Prawn Cocktail Years (Macmillan, 1997). These two excellent food writers get together to give the best quality recipes for former British comfort food favourites such as Chicken Kiev, Spaghetti Bolognese, Shepherds Pie, Lasagne al Forno and our Sunday brunch favourite, Kedgeree. Yum.

Share a surprising fact about yourself.

I have a number of loose amateur enthusiasms and geology, cartography and stamp collecting are among them. I’m very keen on volcanos and have good sized collections of postcards and souvenir teaspoons featuring them. Yes, I am strangely attracted to cardboard but I no longer collect it. Otherwise, it’s books that consume most of my spare time, seeking them out and then reading them.

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WORD Christchurch

Win an interview, VIP afternoon tea with Andy Griffiths, & two tickets to his show!

Christchurch kids, you can win the chance to interview Andy Griffiths and share a VIP afternoon tea in town with him – as well as two tickets to see his show – thanks to WORD Christchurch and Macmillan!

Have you read all of Andy Griffiths’ books? Do you know all the floors in the 78-storey Treehouse? Have you read The Bad Book over and over? If you answered yes to all these questions we have the most amazing chance for you!

Andy Griffiths, the author of the Treehouse series, the ‘Just’ series and The Bad Book, is coming to Christchurch on Friday 16 September for a special presentation by WORD Christchurch. Andy is going to be talking at a SOLD OUT session on the Friday night, as well as a morning session at Te Hāpua: Halswell Centre on Saturday 17 September.

But wait, there’s more! You can win the chance to interview Andy Griffiths while having a VIP afternoon tea with him. All you have to do is email competition@ccc.govt.nz and tell us the one question that you would ask Andy if you had the chance to interview him. Make sure to include your name, phone number and address so that we can contact you if you win.

This prize includes afternoon tea with Andy Griffiths for you and a caregiver at 3:30pm on Friday 16 September, and tickets for two to his show at Te Hāpua: Halswell Centre on Saturday 17 September.

Competition closed Wednesday 7 September. The winner was Jorja.

Thanks to publishers Macmillan and WORD Christchurch for bringing Andy to town! The WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival kicks off today (Wednesday 24 August) and includes cool events for the whole whānau.

Terms and conditions

  • To enter this competition you must be between 8 and 13 years old and live in Christchurch. We may ask for proof of your address and your age.
  • If you are a winner, you consent to your name, photograph, entry and/or interview being used for reasonable publicity purposes by Christchurch City Libraries.
  • The winner must be available to come to the afternoon tea at 3:30pm on Friday 16 September.
  • The winner must bring a caregiver to the afternoon tea with Andy Griffiths.
  • Staff of Christchurch City Libraries and their immediate families are not able to enter.
  • The competition ends on Wednesday 7 September at 6pm.
  • We will notify the winner by telephone and/or email on Friday 9 September.
  • The judge’s decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.
  • Prizes are as stated and are not transferable.
Image supplied.
Andy Griffiths. Image supplied.

Anna Smaill – from a writing musician to a musical writer

Meeting Anna Smaill is almost like a scene from a modern James Bond movie. Hurrying up the stairs of Aotea Centre, she is not aware that I am following right behind her. Once inside the lobby, she reaches for her phone. Before I can say hello, the phone in my pocket starts to ring. Anna slowly turns around, puzzled, still holding her phone close to her ear. We find ourselves in an awkward moment. We don’t know what to do with our hands – greet each other or turn off the phones. Looking at each other, we burst out laughing, leaving the phones to echo around the lobby.

Cover of The Violinist in SpringEven though Anna published her debut novel The Chimes at the beginning of this year, she is definitely not a new name in New Zealand literary landscape. Her poetry featured in Best New Zealand Poems in 2002 and 2005, as well as numerous journals and magazines, before it found a permanent home in her first collection of poetry Violinist in spring (2006). Despite her dedicated academic pursuits – Masters in English Literature (Auckland University), Masters in Creative Writing (IIML, Victoria University of Wellington) and a PhD (University College London) – she never felt entirely suited for academic world. Most of all, she enjoys writing fiction. “It’s because it draws on all parts of me and it’s fun.” She quickly adds how “really really hard” it sometimes is.

The ChimesHer musical background has evidently marked not only her poetry but also her prose. Themes and style of The Chimes, dystopian novel set in alternative England, stem from the idea of music as an overpowering and navigating force of reality. An immense musical instrument, the Carillon, controls lives of remaining population. Brainwashing happens regularly with Matins, which tells “Onestory” – the only acceptable truth about the “Allbreaking”, the fatal discord, that broke with the past (now refered to as a “blasphony”) and established the present order. This is followed by violent erasing of – not only personal but collective memory as well – at Vespers with the Chimes. Among “memoryloss”, people who have suffered incurable damage, and “prentisses”, workforce which helps maintain the functioning of this complex musical tyranny, run by the Order, are outcasts. They forge for the “Lady”, a metal substance out of which the Carillon is made, and hold on to their “objectmemories”, the only remnants of their previous lives and selves. These enable them to trigger and nurture their personal memories.

The main character of the story, Simon, is a young orphan, who joins the pact of outcasts and soon realizes he possesses a special talent, that might change everything. With its unique style, which draws from the music, myriads of themes, relevant to a present day, and a clever narrative this work holds a reader in a grasp of perplexity and amazement until the very end.

I met up with Anna at Auckland Writers Festival to talk about her work, her life and The Chimes – of course.

Lives of people in The Chimes basically depend on their memories. What are your first memories of books, reading or libraries?

We used to go religiously to the library on Friday nights with my family. But I used to go to the library every day on my own after school as well, so it was almost like a second home for me. On Friday night we actually got the books out and we had a big red sack that we filled with books. I remember coming home and feeling reassured and excited. It was a bit like coming home from a supermarket after you just bought enough food for the week – only that I had enough reading material for a week. I was a total bookworm. Also, my family didn’t have a television.

Cover of TintinWe, children, were really lucky as our parents read to us a lot. I do remember the frustration before learning to read. I was trying to get my sister to read out Tintin comics for me. I also remember wishing to escape to my room to be able to read in peace during children’s parties. I found reading much more exciting.

Libraries are – just like museums and galleries – treasurers of collective memory. What is your opinion on cutting down library fundings, which is becoming a real fashion all around the world?

It’s a worrying development. People have a right to access literature. I do see it as a worrying sign. Although here in New Zealand libraries are so much part of the community, they are used by a broad section of the community and they feel very vital. In the UK, it didn’t feel like they were being that well used. There is more time to go to the library, here in New Zealand. In UK people are time-poor.

What has brought you to writing? Where does the need to write stem from? Is it just the fear of letting memories slip away, as you mentioned in a post on your web page, or are there any other inner motives and impulses?

The first impulse is the sense of time going past. It’s almost having the experience of pathos in the moment, having feeling of something happening that is already gone. I’ve always had very acutely this feeling of things being transient and ephemeral and I wanted to capture them.

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Karen Healey – Mistress of Supernatural New Zealand

I confess to not having read a lot of supernatural themed novels, I’m more of a sci-fi nut, but I may have been turned. Maybe not to the ‘dark side’, but definitely to the side of myths and supernatural beings.

Karen Healey’s debut work, Guardian of the Dead,  is a powerful Young Adult novel set in a Christchurch that is decidedly modern and familiar but surprising twists and turns in the story transform the Garden City into a place not quite as we know it.

As main character Ellie says in the book:

In less than a day I had been harrassed, enchanted, shouted at, cried on, and clawed. I’d been cold, scared, dirty, exhausted, hungry and miserable. And up until now, I’d been mildly impressed with my ability to cope.”

Karen has deftly woven Maori mythology, creation stories and creatures definitely more out to be your ‘beastie’ than your ‘bestie’ together with a story of teenage love and friendship, triumph of self doubt and in-your-face terror.

I’m not sure I’ll ever look at Riccarton Bush the same way again and will definitely not venture there after dark!

Karen now lives and works in Melbourne, but spent time in Christchurch and at Canterbury University, where some of story is set.

I read it in anticipation of hearing Karen speak at the The  Press Christchurch Writers Festival, but when this was sadly cancelled due to the earthquake, we decided to ask for an interview. She was very obliging, despite suffering the writer’s curse – RSI.

She is working on a new novel, due out next year called The Shattering. Her blog says that ‘the shattering’ happens to the peace of the little fictional West Coast town of Summerton, mental stability, families and bones. “You know, my usual,” she says.

I look forward to its arrival, and in the meantime, check out her interview, and her fun website and blog, that are filled with great insights and wry humour for readers and inspiring writers of all ages. I especially liked her week in food, where she photographed her dinners every day for week and put them on her site – to show what fuels the writer’s brain.

Does the comedy-writer make his family laugh? An interview with Roger Hall

He has spent three decades making audiences laugh, but is the prolific playwright Roger Hall funny at home? Ah, the suspense. You’ll have to read his recent interview with us to find out!

In the absence of  The Press Christchurch Writers Festival, CCL came up with a plan. Yes, the festival was cancelled due to the unexpected arrival of that disruptive quake, but that needn’t stop us from bringing a little bit of the festival to our loyal blog readers! I had really been looking forward to Roger Hall’s session, “Fifteen Years to be an Overnight Success.” When the festival was cancelled, I emailled Hall and he kindly agreed to an interview. And I had oh, so many questions.

Eighteen actually. He replied via email with a “phew” when he’d finally gotten through them all.

One of those many questions was, “How do you view and use libraries?” He replied in part:

Libraries have always been a big part of my life, thanks to my parents’ love of reading. In my childhood it seemed we went almost daily (an exaggeration, surely) but it indicates how important it was… When I first came to NZ, it was the Wellington Central Library…  In recent years it’s been the Takapuna Library, part of the North Shore, and now, bliss, once the Super City comes about, I can use my card back at Auckland Central if I wish. I have been researching Russian immigrants to New Zealand for a play which I hope will be coming to The Court in 2011 (may as well get a plug in now). One Russian lady said ‘Your libraries, so nice, so friendly!’ Yup.

Find out what books are on Roger’s nightstand, which one of his plays he would have liked to act in, what he’s working on now and what book he wouldn’t be “Roger Hall” without. It’s all there. Enjoy!

Festival Wrap-up: Friday

The pace of the festival is going up a notch, and the blogging team had a busy day interviewing, attending sessions, writing, which in Moata’s case included flying to Wellington to the Qantas Media Awards. Did she win? Listen to the audio to find out!

You can listen to Richard, Robyn, and Joyce’s impressions of day two in this nine-minute recording below, and see the latest photos on the library flickr.

Another busy day awaits the team, with several sessions on the to do list including several free public readings by an incredible mix of authors: