We appreciate your appreciation! The Gladstone

Saturday night at the DB Gladstone – ah, those were the days. The dingy old pub with cracked stucco walls, peeling paint and the stench of beer seeping from its pores slouched next to its corporate neighbours on the corner of Peterborough and Durham Streets and sneered at their clean concrete exteriors. In the ’80s, the Gladstone was the venue for great gigs. I remember seeing legendary Kiwi bands such as The Wastrels, the Dance Exponents and Pop Mechanix there and The Gordons in all their edgy glory.

It was the place to go. Saturday nights, I’d put down my Victorian poetry texts, backcomb my black and purple hair, squeeze into my drainpipe jeans, strap on my winkle pickers and head to the Gladstone to scowl with friends in dark corners.

Many of us did our courting there, pogo-ing into the night as the bass thudded on and the singers’ voices became husky with the clouds of cigarette smoke that engulfed us all.

I hope with the rebuild that there will still be room in Christchurch for a bit of grunge. We need a few haunts in which we can lurk and not feel obliged to be perky and bright and have our teeth whitened to fit in with the crowd.

Keeps it real somehow.

Out of this world Kiwi music

Some songs just make you feel good, don’t they? I first heard  Heavenly Pop Hit when I was studying Broadcasting Communications at CPIT. I was on work experience at the TVNZ studios on Gloucester Street watching the production team put together segments for What Now!  They ran the video and everyone started singing along. I remember jellyfish swimming in an amorphous mass of green and blue and feeling wow, this is great! It was a heavenly moment.

Heavenly Pop Hit

The Chills was formed by singer/songwriter Martin Phillips in 1980 after the demise of his punk band The Same. The Chills experienced Kiwi chart success throughout the 80s and 90s with hits such as Pink Frost and I Love my Leather Jacket and was one of the first bands to embody the Dunedin sound. Phillips has been the only member to stay with the band to the present day. The most recent album released by the Chills was Stand By in 2004 and they performed in Australia in 2010.

To create a zippy ending to this blog, I tried to sum up how I feel about great Kiwi music but the words were beyond me. I’ll just leave it to the master:

So I stand as the sound goes straight through my body,
I’m so bloated up, happy, and I throw things around me.
And I’m growing in stages, and have been for ages,
Just singing and floating and free.
Martin Phillips – Heavenly Pop Hit (1988)

The Eastern – Genuine Christchurch Rock

album coverThe Eastern embody Christchurch spirit through and through. They’re a band of hard-working, no-nonsense folk who sure haven’t let an earthquake get in the way of making music. The perfect band to open NZ Music Month at Christchurch City Libraries at Central Library Tuam tonight at 7pm.

Chart, Christchurch’s music website, defines The Eastern as ‘ a string band that roars like a punk band, that swings like a gospel band, that drinks like a country band, that works like a bar band, that hopes like folk singers, and sings love songs like union songs, and writes union songs like love songs, and wants to slow dance and stand on tables, all at the same time.’ I think this sums things up pretty well.

I first came across The Eastern at The Mussel Inn in Takaka and was blown away by their talent, diversity and passion for music. Charismatic Adam McGrath has a voice as gritty as Waimak gravel and complements Jess Shanks who sings like a angel.

The Eastern is based in Lyttelton. Their first self-titled album was released in 2009, charity record The Harbour Union debuted at 20 in the NZ Charts, and their most recent recording Hope and Wire will be used in the soundtrack behind the upcoming television mini-series by the same name which portrays life in Christchurch after the quakes.

These hard core musos have played around NZ and the world and have opened for acts such as Fleetwood Mac, Justin Townes Earle, Vic Chestnut and Jimmy Barnes. They average 200 shows a year and will be performing along with Luckless and Katie Thompson at Central Library Tuam tonight at 7:00pm. Don’t miss them!

Blue Smoke and all that jazz

Blue Smoke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sound of Muzak

I’ve been put on hold, or I’m in an elevator or at the supermarket. Something is my brain is screaming ” Noooooo!”  It’s that Sound of Muzak that suddenly becomes unbearable and I want to flee the building or throw the phone against the wall. This nasty stuff lulls us into wandering aimlessly through the supermarket isles blissfully picking up biscuits we don’t need and specials that will sit in our cupboards gathering dust.

After a  brief search through The Source I found this information about the history of Muzak.  It makes for interesting and somewhat scary reading and it reminded me of visiting my daughter who was working in a well known clothing store. I hated the music and asked her if she could change it.  She said they couldn’t as it was all preloaded and designed to fit the store’s brand. I had no idea that muzak had left the elevator and was now affecting my life in more ways than I expected, or wanted!

Muzak is not after all actually about the music, it is about the emotions that the music creates.  It encourages us to buy, to want to be associated with the brand that the company is selling.  We might hear music for example from Surfaid artists in an urban surf store, or drift along to the likes of  Norah Jones in a store seen as catering for the older and more refined.

Thank goodness once you have reached the luxury of your own home you can play music to suit your mood and taste.   Come into the Library for May Music Month.  We promise that there will be no muzak!

Beautiful Babelfish

Babelfish performing at the LibraryWhile all those clever literary types were hob-nobbing in Auckland last weekend, some of us stayed in Christchurch and worked.  However, the could-have-been-onerous nature of this work was hugely mitigated by the fantastic May Music Month performance right next to my desk.

Babelfish are a Christchurch-based folk and gypsy duo who play guitar and violin.  They have been performing together for some time, and seem to work really well as a team.  I wasn’t sure what to expect (there’s something about the word ‘gypsy’ that I find slightly unsettling, and my personal music tastes lean slightly more towards screamer punk than symphonic melodies), but the performance was simply lovely.

The songs and melodies were pitched just right for the audience, and there were rows of very appreciative library patrons, several of whom appeared to have timed their visit to coincide, but many others who were drawn in by the performance.  My only (and tiny) quibble was that it would have been nice to have just a wee bit of introduction, or perhaps one or two words about some of the songs, particularly for those of us who are less than familiar with the genre, but the hour flew by, and it was with great reluctance that we packed up and turned The Blue Lounge back into just Plain Old Magazine Reading Area.