My grandfather’s brother never came back from World War One. He’s buried in Armentières, France. My grandmother’s brother lost his leg, so the family farm in Southland had to be sold – he couldn’t take up his inheritance. My great aunt’s fiancé returned a shell-shocked alcoholic – PTSD, they’d call it these days. They parted and she never married.
In the retellings of the larger stories of war it is often these vignettes of personal loss, the consequences felt by loved ones, that speak quietly but with a universal relatability.
I found myself thinking of those members of my family, and the war that changed their lives, when listening to the beautiful lament E Pari Rā.
Written by Paraire Tomoana (Ngāti Kahungunu and Ngāti Te Whatu-i-āpiti leader) for his relative, kuia Maku-i-te-Rangi Ellison, E Pari Rā gives a lasting voice to her pain and grief over the loss of her son Whakatomo Ellison, who died in the battle of the Somme. Its beautiful metaphor for grief as the surging tide is both deeply personal, and universal.
E pari rā
E pari rā e ngā tai ki te ākau. / The tides surge onto the seashore
E hotu rā ko taku manawa. / with each throb of my heart.
Auē! Me tangi noa / Alas! Weeping without restraint
Ahau i muri nei / for I am left behind,
Te iwi e he ngākau tangi noa. / everyone is utterly heart-broken.
Tēnā rā! Tahuri mai! / So please come back, return
E te tau! te aroha. / my beloved, my love
Tēnei rā ahau te tangi nei. / I weep here
Mōhou kua wehea nei. / for you now far away
Haere rā! mahara mai. / Farewell! And remember,
E te tau! kia mau ki au. / Beloved! Be true to me
Haere rā! ka tūturu ahau. / Farewell! I will be true to you
Haere Rā! / Farewell!
Haere rā e tama / Farewell young man
Haere rā. / Farewell.
Haria rā te aroha i ahau / Take my love with you
Auē! Me tangi noa / Alas! Tears fall
Ahau ki muri nei / as I am left behind here
Te iwi e he ngākau tangi noa. / the hearts of your people weep openly
She will be playing her much-lauded and loved songs that have stood the test of time such as Sway, Suddenly Strange and Bursting Through, alongside songs since then, included in The Very Best of Bic Runga (released 2017).
There must be quite a few of us who, in their 20s, would have filtered their relationships and emotional experiences through the lyrics of Bic Runga’s songs when the album was first released, and sang along to Drive, while driving around. Her music has cross-generational appeal and now I don’t know who is the bigger fan, myself or my daughter, but we’ll both be there up front in the majestic theatre to sway to her beautiful and equally majestic voice.
We caught up with Bic for a few quick questions ahead of her concert in Christchurch. She shares her reading interests and formative library memories.
Bic, you grew up in Christchurch, in Hornby, and went to Cashmere High School… what special places do you think of fondly here?
My favourite places are the Arts Centre where I did a lot of hanging out as a teenager. Lyttelton and Governors Bay are also really special places to me.
What role did libraries play in your life growing up?
I used to catch the bus to the library in town most Saturdays, and I discovered all the music I love there. I used to get out cassette tapes and that’s where I discovered The Smiths, The Sex Pistols, The Cure, The Cocteau Twins. It was unlike the music my parents played at home, so it was really my own place.
What type of reading do you enjoy? Any recommendations? What are you looking forward to reading?
My kids are mad about Minecraft, there’s an unofficial Minecraft book they quite liked called the Elementia Chronicles by Sean Fay Wolfe. So if you can’t peel your child away from Minecraft, you could try the book!
Can you recommend any music or artists out of Christchurch who have taken your interest?
If a young person was interested in being a musician today, what advice would you give them?
I’d say just practice a lot, practice slowly and make it your meditation. Everyone wants fame, but it seems no one wants to practice enough!
We asked Bic to share a surprising fact about herself (and it may just be her next creative project) …
I’ve just learned how to draft clothing patterns slowly over the last few years and I’m ready to do a fashion project, maybe using wool. I’m really excited to do something creative that’s not music, but I think the two will work together well.
Finally Bic, you are donating money from every ticket purchased to your Christchurch show to the Māia Health Foundation, who are raising money for projects for Canterbury’s health system. Can you tell us more about that?
Bic has won a multitude of awards and worked on many musical projects and collaborations in the twenty years since Drive was released, too numerous to mention here. Most recently, Bic has written a song for a New Zealand children’s annual of stories, poetry, comics, art and other miscellany Annual 2 which has just been published is aimed at 8 to 12 year olds. Her song, Next Thing You Know You’ll Be Happy, is based on the idea that happiness comes from simple pleasures.
It was one of those moments when you hear your crazy calling and decide in a split second to just indulge it. Your favourite singer was performing 3 nights in a row on the same island as you … why not go to all three gigs?
Sure it meant driving more than the entire length of said island in less than 3 days, while going to three concerts, booking motels, concert tickets, taking a half day off work, but life is for living and following your passions, and everyone knows I’m passionate about the glorious Tami Neilson.
Luckily for me my husband is a fan boy of almost equal proportions (competitive moi?), so he was all up for the adventure.
The first night of the adventure was a Thursday night, and Tami was performing at Charles Luney Auditorium here in Christchurch. It was sold out and it was a very refined, well behaved audience… well except for the devotees like us, who of course know the words of her songs and cheer and whoop enthusiastically.
Friday lunchtime, we leave work at 12, rush home, throw some clothes and snacks in the car and head nonstop for Dunedin. Another awesome concert – a different crowd and venue gives a different vibe, more intimate and grateful. You get the sense so many more people here actually know her music.
Next morning, and we’re heading to Queenstown, through parts of the country we haven’t seen in decades, if ever.There’s a little snow around, hardly any traffic, and the rolling hills through the Rock and Pillar range are truly breathtaking. Road trips in New Zealand are just wondrous.
It’s a weird little crowd at this last gig. They’ve got a definite country pub thing going on, a lot of them have been drinking for quite a while, so are behaving rather boorishly and in the end, Tami, after trying her darnedest to engage with them, gives them what they want, music to dance to – she even sings Happy birthday.
We get back home that night wishing we didn’t have work in the morning, but the memories and the music are buzzing in our brains, and does so for days after.
If you have a passion for music, check out the wealth of music and learning to be had within Christchurch City Libraries’ databases, like American Song which offers rich pickings in many genres, Gospel being among them.
So, moral of this long tale? Take a chance, if you say, “no, that’s crazy I shouldn’t” then I strongly recommend that you do. Feel the fear and do it anyway.
The Warratahs Runaway Days that came out last year. In a time where folks seem to care less and less about records, The Warratahs put a pole in the sand with a flag on the top flying high and strong with the words ‘Yeah, So what…’ stencilled on it. Any album with the song ‘Kupe’s Tears’ on it would be a classic out the block and that would be enough, but after 30 years of song for the Warratahs to still be punching in that division makes me feel unworthy and ready to give up. And also to keep swinging, get better and lift my reps of songwriting push ups.
Which other instrumental musician would you most like to share a stage with?
Well I would like to stand in the middle of the sound of Booker T and The MG’s. Al Jackson, Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn and Booker T create the sound of God in both my ears and my heart.
Who would be your ultimate singing duet partner?
I would happily be the Cisco Houston to Woody Guthrie, or the Marvin Gaye to Tami Terrell, or the Gram to Emmylou, or Sam with Dave or any of those perfect combos. But in reality I’m the most excited about singing with the random stranger after the gig around a table. They are the shining-est (I know that’s not a word, but it feels like it should be in this context) moments of singing I could think of and no matter the fame or wonder of any of those others, there is nothing more holy than a post gig sing-along.
If a song started every time you walked into a room, what would you like yours to be?
“Rock n Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution” by AC/DC or “I just want to see his face part 1” by the Staple Singers or “High Hopes” by Frank Sinatra.
If you could’ve written any song ever written, what would it be?
I would be proud to sing Anchorage by Michelle Shocked if it was me who’d come up with it.
Horses Patti Smith tied with Master of Puppets – Metallica
That’s my list and I’m sticking to it.
Top five musical influences?
And what album is on high-rotation for you right now?
Over the years I’ve become very frightened of flying and considering I fly every week, this is very troubling. Every take off and landing I listen to ‘Hats’ by The Blue Nile and it helps chill me out. Also every morning I listen to Gorecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs as I sift the many confusions in my brain over coffee.
Tell us about your first live (and paid) performance?
Singing Heartbreak Hotel at the 1980 A&P Show in Christchurch. I was four and I was paid an orange popsicle. I don’t remember singing so well as it was my dancing which won the day. Never underestimate the combination of candyfloss, roman sandals and a hot day to bring out your best performance.
As a grown up, it would’ve been playing a backyard party for Dig-A-Tattoo. I was paid the handsome fee of one black flag tattoo on my wrist.
Which venue in the world would you love to play?
I always had a dream of playing inside Sun Studios in Memphis, and I was lucky enough to get to do that nearly fifteen years ago. Now considering I make my living playing music I’m more than happy to say “The next one”.
Are there any old Christchurch music venues that you’d love to see revived?
There was a moment for about a year in 1998 (before it moved to the Southlander tavern) where the Jetset Lounge in the side bar of the Provincial Tavern, seemed like a perfect place to play. Otherwise I would like to go back in time to when I was 12 so I could re-sneak in to the Blenheim Road Motor Inn and see Hammerack and Shihad when they still played covers.
What was your local library when you were growing up and which one do you use most nowadays?
Bishopdale! And it is still my Bone Marrow fave!
Do you have a favourite book/author/style?
My favourite book is The Fools Progress by Edward Abbey. My favourite author is just maybe Kurt Vonnegut or Ernest Hemingway. And my favourite style is anything that aches with some sadness but has an essential good heart running like a thread or a beam holding the whole thing up.
Where do you go in NZ when you need a holiday?
Generally I just go home. Waking up in my own bed feels like a holiday as I spend so much time away. However Arthur’s Pass is my favourite bolthole.
This Beats Perfect is a contemporary young adult story about finding your voice. There’s music, social media and girl meets boy. Author Rebecca Denton was a teenager in Dunedin in the early 1990s rocking out to the ‘Dunedin Sound‘ and has been ensconced in the music scene ever since. Her novel even includes a playlist. We went ‘backstage’ to talk to Rebecca about writing her first book and musical influences.
The novel’s title is a perfect play on words. The story is based a little bit on the author’s own life experiences of being 17. Denton was a singer-songwriter herself but too shy to put herself forward due to a “fear of failure.” She says that “always in the back of my mind since I was really little I wanted to write… a book, a movie… write, write, write” and that it was a matter of finding “creative courage” to do so. In a way, this first novel is like putting a song out there. I interviewed Rebecca to hear more.
Rebecca, you have said you still feel like a kid, 18 at heart, and in This Beats Perfect you say you get to revisit dreams that you didn’t chase. Can you tell us more? Both the main characters Amelie and Maxx are held back by a fear of failure – about playing their own music to a wider audience – whether it’s anonymous Amelie feeling performance anxiety as she falters at her auditions or famous Maxx afraid to break out of the boy band mould he’s found himself in. Has this focus on a fear of failure come from somewhere for you?
I picked up the guitar from 14 (after I rather shortsightedly deemed my piano and trumpet were highly uncool). I wrote a few songs and played the odd gig but I was so terrified performing that I never chased this passion with the ferocity I should have. As a teenager I was afraid of being judged for many reasons but one of the most critical was that I felt if I wasn’t exceptional then it wasn’t worth trying.
This all or nothing fear of being nothing but *the best* never left me. It followed me right through my career in advertising and TV and really held me back. I was too afraid to stand out creatively, make bold decisions and believe in and listen to my own voice. Because of this I never fully put myself out there.
Then I got older, wiser, and realised that creativity can be a personal pleasure and it didn’t matter if that outspoken friend or peer I looked up to didn’t like what I did. It didn’t need to be for them. When you get wise to the fact that critics are not the custodians of pleasure, you become free. See: PUNK ROCK.
“Not everyone is going to like what you do no matter how real you are.” – from This Beats Perfect
How does the saying ‘write what you know’ apply to your novel?
When I decided to write a book, I didn’t have time for tonnes of research (due to small children) so I thought: What did I do at 18? Who did I want to be? Let’s relive that. And luckily I’d spent my career working and being around music and musicians so I was able to draw on that. I didn’t know everything of course. I got a little help from some friends.
Rebecca, you moved to Dunedin as a young teenager and went to Logan Park High School. How has growing up in Dunedin shaped this young adult novel? Tell us more about the influence of this time and place on your novel?
Frankly, I hated high school. But Logan Park has produced some pretty crazy talented folk* over the years. I didn’t click with my music teacher, or perhaps any teachers while I was there, but I appreciate some things looking back. The school was far more liberal and supportive of creativity than some of the more conservative single sex schools in Dunedin.
By the last couple of years of school I was so tediously bored and from about the age of 16 I started sneaking out of school and hanging out at the student union at Otago University in my school uniform or this little café near the university where they sold Dime bars, mugs of tea and single Camel cigarettes.I fell in with a music crowd and started sneaking into gigs at the Empire and the Crown. The 3Ds, The Clean,The Chills, The Bats,Bailterspace, Straitjacket Fits – I listened to or saw them all, multiple times. I was so lucky to be living in Dunedin at that time – it felt important. And in the days before the internet, small towns in the South Island never really felt important.
This time of my life totally influenced the book. I had the most amazing, clever and eccentric group of girlfriends with whom I shared everything and explored everything. There was a lot to love, and a lot to leave behind but it’s still with me, everyday. There are elements of people who have been a part of my life intertwined everywhere.
The tagline title to This Beats Perfect is ‘She’s NOT with the band…’ In your novel, the main character Amelie is definitely NOT a groupie. Tell us about the character’s need to not be defined by a either a boy or her father.
I wanted to explore an area of music we don’t normally find a lot of women – and that is production and composing. PRS for Music (The Performing Rights Society) did a report in 2011, and discovered that only about 13% of registered composers in the UK were woman – I’ve not seen the numbers but I’m pretty sure it’s around the same or maybe even less in engineering and producing. So a heroine songwriter was a must – but a budding engineer was even more interesting to me.
Amelie shows her nuanced musical knowledge in the novel, rattling off obscure genres (like Nerdcore, Japonoise, Baby Metal, Nintendocore, Happy Hardcore and Fidget Bass). A depth of music appreciation shows in your writing. The playlist aspect you’ve created to tie-in with the book is unique. Each chapter is titled after a song. Can you tell us more about that idea?
My editor gave me feedback in the editing process that I needed to pack the book with more music. And I was struggling to come up with titles for chapters – so I thought, ‘hang on what about a playlist that reflects Amelie, the story and me?’
You have specifically referenced Lyttelton musicians Aldous Harding and Marlon Williams in your novel. When Amelie’s sound engineer father encourages Maxx to find the soul of his own music, he takes him to see a musician he feels embodies this…
“His voice was deep as Johnny Cash, but with a modern cabaret feel, inspired and exquisite storytelling over timeless melodies.” “This isn’t songwriting for money, for fame, even for the audience’s entertainment.” … “Reminds me of Marlon Williams…”
I just want to support Kiwi musicians as much as possible, and I absolutely love what Marlon and Aldous are doing. Marlon Williams’ cover of the Screaming Jay Hawkin’s track Portrait of a Man is just so… so good.
Any favourite memories or places in Christchurch for you?
When you live in Dunedin, Christchurch is the big smoke. I specifically remember I saw The Bats there when I was 16 (braces and all) with my friend Marea. She wore my mum’s home-knitted emerald green ’60s dress and I wore some cobbled together monstrosity.
What did you READ when you were a teenager?
You know, not a lot. I kind of stopped reading at around 13, well books anyway, and all my spare time was dedicated to music. Playing, listening, memorising lyrics. I did love books like Flowers in the Attic (yikes!) but honestly I just didn’t really read very much. I wish I had. I think if there had been a more interesting YA (young adult) reading community like there is today I would have read much more.
What role did (or do) libraries play in your life?
My father is an academic and writer so I spent a LOT of time in libraries with him when I was younger. Even today, when my Dad visits there will probably be some kind of trip to the library involved. I love going to them with my kids as well, snuggling up on a sofa and reading Hairy Maclary for the 100th time.
What’s your next project Rebecca? Any encores?
Book 2 follows on from This Beats Perfect, but it’s not Amelie’s tale, but the story of two young women: the privileged daughter of a record label executive who gets caught up in the business of selling celebrity secrets. And a hyper bubbly fangirl who has outgrown her idols and looking for what to do next. It’s fun, but also probably more layered than This Beats Perfect. Book 3 is in the same fictional world as well. I’m just starting it, but it will be about an all-girl punk band who scam their way to international glory. I can’t wait to write this book.
Rock on Rebecca!
This Beats Perfect would make a great read for artistically inclined teens or any young person wanting to give their passions and talents a push. This is the sort of book I want to give my musically minded daughter in her teens. It is published by Atom Books and Hachette New Zealand.
This Beats Perfect
by Rebecca Denton
Published by Hachette New Zealand
More about the author: Rebecca is originally from Melbourne, moved to Dunedin as a young teenager and later spent many years in the UK. New Zealand sits deepest in her heart. She now lives in Austria with her young daughters, a trumpet, 2 guitars, a keyboard, several vintage computer games. She spent her career travelling the world making music TV for MTV and Channel 4, and wrangling young adult audiences for the BBC and ITV. She’s filmed Iggy Pop, MIA, Kaiser Chiefs, Sonic Youth, Jack White, Dirty Pretty Things and The Klaxons, to name a few.
Rebecca says: YA literature is SO MUCH MORE than fantasy. There are so many incredible books out there (200+ debuts in the USA alone this year).
Everyone teenager (and adult) needs to read The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. The story was inspired by the killing of Oscar Grant, an unarmed 22 year-old African America by a transit officer and is one of a crop of books exploring racial injustice out this year.
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli is going to be a cult movie – so read the book first! And one of the most hotly anticipated YA books of the year is The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich. A fellow YA author said to me that it is ‘one of the best books you’ll ever read.’
Grace Taylor. Seek out some of her spoken word performances online or Taylor’s TedX Talk. And then buy, share, support and help to raise up voices of the marginalised in New Zealand.
Go to Art Ache if you can (it offers original pieces of art at affordable prices). There was one recently in Dunedin, and they happen regularly in Auckland. Buy some affordable limited edition pieces by other New Zealanders and help boost our artists.
If you like the sound of This Beats Perfect …
You may also like the recently released Lonesome When You Go by Saradha Koirala. Paige plays bass in high school rock band Vox Pop, which means keeping steady even in their most raucous rock and roll moments. But in the tense build-up to the Rockfest competition, Paige finds she can’t control everything in her life, no matter how hard she practises. Lonesome When You Go is a novel about practising solo, performing like a rockstar, and how contributing your best self to something can create a force greater than the sum of its parts.
Author Saradha Koirala taught English at high school in Wellington for ten years. Read an excerpt from Lonesome When You Go.
Whether you’re religious or not, churches are often very pleasing spaces, and well suited for musical performance.
Now in its eighth incarnation, The Church Tour has become something of an institution as each year a different set of talented Kiwi musicians and songwriters perform acoustic sets in a selection of houses of worship up and down New Zealand.
This year the combined powers, voices and songs of Sharon O’Neill, Shona Laing, Debbie Harwood and Hammond Gamble will fill our churches with the sounds of new material and Kiwi classics as you’ve never heard them before.
There will be two Christchurch shows this tour, the first in St Michaels & All Angels on Friday 30 September and a second concert at the Transitional Cathedral on Saturday 1 October. In either venue it looks to be a great night out for music lovers.
We have one double pass to give away to the first Church Tour date here in Christchurch on Friday 30 September at St Michael’s & All Angels. Just email email@example.com subject line “The Church Tour” and tell us your name and your favourite song by Sharon O’Neill, Shona Laing, Debbie Harwood or Hammond Gamble. Entries close Wednesday 21 September at 6pm.
Terms and conditions
A winner will be selected by random draw.
If you are a winner, you consent to your name and photograph being used for reasonable publicity purposes by Christchurch City Libraries.
Staff of Christchurch City Libraries and their immediate families are not able to enter.
The competition ends on Wednesday 21 September at 6pm.
We will notify the winner by telephone and/or email on Friday 23 September.
The judge’s decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.
Playing to a packed house, the evening was a mix of nostalgia, pass the mic, performance and hope. While I felt 20 again listening to Graeme Downes play “Two O’clock in the Afternoon” and Jay Clarkson covering the 3Ds, Hollie Fullbrook (Tiny Ruins) wished she had been around in the heydays. I’m glad she wasn’t, because she is an excellent flag-bearer for the future of Flying Nun.
The lending of 7, 10 and 12 inch vinyl sound recordings began in September 1955, with a collection of 542. It consisted of “major orchestral works, chamber music, complete operas, vocal extracts from operas, full-length performances of dramas, and certain classics from the light opera and musical comedy field”, together with “a small collection of high grade recordings of first rate jazz orchestras and artists”. There was a charge of 2/6 a week for single discs and a sliding schedule for records in sets which made for a lower per disc charge for these. Twenty years later, the stock totalled 7,471, with an average of 37 added each month. Over the first year of operation issues averaged 544 a month; twenty years on it was 602. A total of 132,500 issues had been made to the end of 1975. The first stereo recordings were bought in October 1960, the first cassettes in January 1974, and the first compact discs in late 1985. The main problem in earlier years was distance from the source of supply. Soon after the commencement of the collection, import restrictions were imposed and, despite approaches to the Government by individual libraries, the New Zealand Library Association and record retailers, this situation lasted for over 25 years. The Library had a licence to import $500 worth of recordings but that didn’t go very far. There was not one good record shop in the city until the mid 1970s. Standard works were often unobtainable in these years, or took a long time. E.g, it took six years to get the first set of Bach’s Wohltemperierte Klavier and four to get Ravel’s L’heure espagnole.
I’m mocked mercilessly about my raving and hyperventilating but I don’t care, I know exceptional talent when I see it. I won’t be swayed from my mission to getting everyone I know to listen to my favourite singer and all time amazing person, Tami Neilson. A Canadian now living in New Zealand, she has a powerhouse voice with a stunning range, able to belt, swoon or blues her way through the songs she writes that are about heartache, love and loss but also just the joy of living.
She is a winner of the Apra Silver Scrolls Award for best song and has numerous NZ Music Awards, and you may have seen her on numerous television shows, most recently 7 Days and singing with Dave Dobyn at the Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards. She also created the soundtrack for local series The Brokenwood Mysteries.
I thought I’d let everyone know that we have just received in her latest album, Don’t Be Afraid, into the library collection, to add to her other earlier ones, and it’s a doozy, just like last year’s epic and award winning Dynamite (which I am told is on it’s way into our collection soon).
With a soulful voice straight from the golden age of country and rockabilly music, Tami Neilson has been described as “A red-hot honky-tonker, somewhere between Patsy Cline and Wanda Jackson with perhaps just a little bit of Peggy Lee sophistication.” -Nick Bollinger, NZ National Radio
I’ve stalked her like a Justin Beiber fan stalks the Beibmeister, having seen her perform four times in the last year, even flying to Auckland recently so I could be at her album launch. It’s almost reached the restraining order stage, as Tami now knows my husband and I by sight and gives us great big warm hugs, “Hey, you guys!”, and I’ve got a picture of her with me and everything…. (yes I’m 53 not 13!)
There’s been this huge upswell of Alt Country/Americana awareness in this country over the last year or two, in part mostly to artists like Tami Neilson, Dave Khan and some Canterbury boys; Delaney Davidson, Marlon Williams and Ben Woolley. Marlon just picked up two awards at the New Zealand music awards mentioned above. These talented young men have been in well known local bands such as The Eastern, Unfaithful Ways and Devilish Mary and the Holy Rollers. Original music, passion and talent combine, and to see them live is just a joyous night out, pure and simple.
But if you can’t get along to a gig, we also have their CDs in various forms, and you will often see on the album sleeve a selection of the above artists as they often get together to add their talent to each other’s projects. There are so many exceptionally talented New Zealand musicians trying to make a living out there, so if you’re into music, keep your eyes open for local gigs, they’re everywhere.