Thursday, December 13, 2007

NZ Folklore - Swaggers

From the nz-folk list:

I'm sure that you are aware of those excellent books by John A. Lee of the New Zealand swaggers - the colourful itinerants who roamed New Zealand in pioneering days seeking a living from doing odd jobs on the farms.

Many were returned soldiers from the Crimean War. Most were down on their luck and had to scrape a living using their wit and ingenuity to earn a crust, a drink and shelter for the night. Their honesty and integrity was legendary, but like the Irishman 'The Shiner' from County Clare, putting over a fast one on a publican was always good for a free drink - usually a shot of Jamieson.

Some were accomplished entertainers - step dancers, musicians, poets and balladeers.

The Shiner was an expert Irish jig dancer, and frequantly would win the various step dance contests at Caledonian Scottish Games etc. Indeed his exploits are the first references that we have for Irish step dancing in New Zealand. It remains for enthusiasts to search for further references to his exploits in the old newspapers of the times.

Meanwhile here is a lecture by John A. Lee rescued from an old recording - dating back to the 1960s. Incidentally his books are still in print from Amazon - "Shining with the Shiner" is a good one. (12.96Mb / 55mins : 20 secs)

Chris Brady

P.S. If anyone has a more complete version please let me know. The ending kind of peters out a bit. Also if anyone knows where and when it was recorded please let me know. Maybe it was one of Frank Fyfe's recordings?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Tony Hillyard Interview

An audio interview with Tony Hillyard can be heard at Tony is a folk singer/guitarist and recording artist who convenes the Singers' Club at  the Roxy Café, on Tuesday evenings (203-205 Cuba St. Wellington).

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

On the Road with the Maritime Crew

From nz-folk:

A personal memoir from Rudy Sunde  - with some additional comments by Warren. 

I started writing this report while in Europe and gave it the above title ON THE ROAD WITH THE MARITIME CREW little realising how prescient such a title was - as you will find out on reading further. This the Maritime Crew's third trip to Europe having been invited to take part in maritime music festivals. On the two previous occasions, we had applied to Creative New Zealand for help in paying our air fares but they declined on both occasions. This time we did not bother them and hoped that our performance fees would cover most of our travel expenses.

Four members of  The Maritime Crew - Lew Black, Bob Large, Warren Payne and Rudy Sunde - departed form Auckland airport on 1st August 2007.  Two other members of the Crew - Paul Howarth and Alex McClennan - could not go because of family and/or work commitments. We travelled with Emirates - an airline that I would not recommend if one is travelling economy as the seats are so close together. Including stop-overs between planes, it took us the best part of 35 hours to get to Bremen.

We were going to Bremen to participate in the famous annual Vegesack Maritime Music Festival running from 3rd to 5th August. We were proud to have been invited to take part in such a big festival with about 30 other shanty groups from around the world - Holland, Germany, UK, Norway, Sweden, Poland, USA, Cuba, Spain. These were mainly small shanty groups with only half dozen or so shanty choirs.      

All the participants were treated splendidly by the organisers. Our accommodation, breakfast and some dinners were paid for. We and quite a few other shanty groups were billeted on board the magnificent Sail Training Ship Deutschland. This is a lovely 86 metre vessel built in 1927 but now retired from sailing. Beautifully maintained it is a splendid example of the tall ship builders' art.

The Vegesack Festival takes place mainly along the banks of the Weser River though there were 2 city venues where we and other groups performed.Along the banks of the river are walkways and on either side of these paths were kiosks selling beer, sausages, beer, kitsch, beer, souvenirs, beer, etc. You get the idea. Thousands milled around - enjoying  the beautiful summer evenings or going to the various concert venues which were dotted along the riverside.

We sang at 6 different venues over the weekend and were always received with great acclaim. I think that audiences respected the fact that we had come from so far, far away, that we had a great selection of interesting songs (traditional and contemporary New Zealand songs with a couple of Maori numbers) and that we sang them well. When we were in Germany 2 years ago, we made some good friends and quite a few travelled many miles to Bremen just to hear us again. Among those who came to see and hear us again were Heiko Tieseler and his wife Brigitte who videoed most of our performances. Then there was Ullrich, Dieter and Manfred who with their wives came from Niebull to see us. Iwe van der Beek came from Holland with his singing partner Jaap and also there was Conny Beckman - another good friend.

The Final Grand Concert was a magnificent event with all the groups doing a 10 minute spot and then the Grand Finale with everybody on stage doing "Oh Roseanne". And then there was a marvellous fireworks display over the Weser River. (Fireworks for Auckland Folk Festival?? Now there's a thought.) We stayed on board Deutschland for an extra day after the festival finished in order to relax after the hectic weekend.

The following Tuesday, we were picked up by Johannes van der Werf of the Folsgearster Folkgroup. They had invited us to visit them in the village of Folsgear in Friesland , northern Holland. We had met them in  Niebull, Germany 2 years ago and while they could more properly called a folk group rather than a shanty group we still had lots of songs and shanties in common. They say that the Friesian language (a variant of Dutch) is closely related to English but I am afraid that I did not notice any resemblance. Luckily, all our contacts there had a good command of English. Friesland is flat for miles and miles and miles with canals everywhere. Dairying seems to be the main farming occupation with big cow barns attached to the farmers'  houses.

Bob and I were lodged in the home of Gerritt and Rinske Rypma - a lovely couple  while Warren and Lew stayed with Johannes  and his wife Margriet. Gerritt has a nice studio in which we and Folsgearster Folk rehearsed some songs together. We were taken sailing on one of the numerous lakes to watch a boat race between some typical sailing craft called SKUTJE. Next night, we sang at a barbecue party. The nearby town of Sneek was then visited and I must say that I am impressed with all these Dutch towns that saw. Clean (no graffiti), prosperous looking, very neat and tidy. The following night we sang at a local museum devoted to old time farming practices. On the Saturday, we were taken to a local saw mill. This is not the usual sort of tourist experience but this saw mill is different. It is powered by big sails - a typical Dutch wind mill. This mill was built  in 1685 and though it might not be compared to modern mills with regard to speed of cutting a log, nevertheless it is a magnificent piece of engineering and I am pleased to see that it is being kept as a going concern. That same night we performed to a large crowd in the Folsgear church and, as ever, we were warmly received.

Before we had left New Zealand, the Folsgearster Folk group made what seemed to us to be a very ambitious suggestion. They said "While you're over here, let's make a joint LIVE CD". We wondered at the possibility of doing this but when we met them and had a couple of rehearsals, we thought, hey, this going to work! Sunday saw us in the recording studio. This was in one of the old cow barns that had been converted into a sort of club with seating for maybe 50 or so. And the studio! I have seen a few in my time but this guy's equipment was top of the range. Folsgearster Folk did 5 songs, we did 5 and then we did 4 together. All this before an appreciative audience. Mixing was done the next day with  Johanne's son Franz creating the insert. This where my prescience comes in because they had decided to give  the CD the title 'ON THE ROAD TOGETHER'. We have brought the master home and will be producing copies of this CD.

On Tuesday, Roel Boer of de Flagellanten in Giethoorn picked us up (after sad farewells to the Folsgear folk) and drove us to his home town. He provided us with accommodation in a so-called shed (actually a sort of replica of an old farm house) at the back of his section. Giethoorn is described as "the Venice of the North" because of its extensive system of canals. It is a lovely town - charming old houses with thatched roofs which were formerly farmers' houses but which have now been upgraded and are most comfortable dwellings. All access to the houses is by boat - no cars anywhere. More than a million tourists visit the town every year and go on sightseeing cruises up the canals.

De Flagellanten is a bunch of maybe 18-20 male singers who dress up in old style clothing - sheepskins, clogs, etc. - and who specialise in doing good time music - exuberant stuff all sung with great enthusiasm. Easy listening. They perform at the Fanfare Cafe every Tuesday evening so we heard them that night. The next night, we were on at the Fanfare together with de Flagellanten. We sang sets alternately until the very last when we did some songs together. The highlight for me was when Roel and I jointly took the lead for my song "SPRAY OF THE OCEAN". It was lovely hearing the voices of the de Flagellanten singers behind me singing my song and I was quite moved. (When we were in Niebull 2 years ago, we met Tobias Kretchsman ( a young 14 year old lad) and his family and they became great fans of ours. Well, Tobias and his father drove from Dusseldorf to Giethoorn, a distance of about 300 kms, just to see and hear us again.)

The next day we took a train from Steenwik to Harlingen Hafen where we caught the ferry to the island of Vlieland. This is a sandy island lying some 20 or so kms off the Dutch coast. Remote areas of the island with sand dunes covered with marram grass resemble some far north Auckland beaches. On Vlieland we were looked after by Nils Koster and Ger Lamerus who together are called Drijfhout (Driftwood). They are sometimes accompanied by a woman called Susanne Kunenborg..

The main street of the town of Vlieland is closed to vehicular traffic - except for goods delivery vehicles and bikes. (Bikes galore on the island!) On our first day we were taken down the main street where the town brass band was playing - quite well too.The leader of the band is Jan Houter and he was too the man paying us for our performances on the island. He is a prominent local businessman owning the hotel where we were lodged, a pub and a bike hire place. Anyway, Jan introduced us to the crowd (saying that we came from Australia -which was greeted with howls of protest from us and became a standing joke during the rest of our stay.  Wee had to do a couple of songs to promote our forthcoming performances. The next day saw us performing a 2 hour gig on the hotel terrace with Nils and Ger joining us for the last 20 minutes or so. Next night we were at the pub "Old Stoop"  (Grand Cafe Oude Stoep) where we shared the stage with Driftwood - they doing 40 minutes, we 40 and then a joint 40. As ever our New Zealand songs were very warmly received. Another two and half hour set on the hotel terrace the next day.

Our next performance was the following day when we joined the Vlielander Seaman's Choir singing in the church to maybe 250 - 300 people. The choir did 5 0r 6 songs, we did 5 and then we jointly did 10 songs with the choir.I know this gets repetitious but as ever, we were very well received. evidenced the next day by the number of times we were stopped by appreciative attendees. Our songs and presentation of them always receives audience approval. Jan Houter gave us all a CD of photos that he had taken of us and told us how pleased he was to have us on the island. On our last evening on the island, we were taken on a bus ride some 15 or so kms up the beach. The bus looked very much like the ones used on Ninety Mile Beach. At the end of the ride up the beach we were taken to a large stockade made of Driftwood  where a large fire was soon burning and a can of  hot chocolate was being heated. Nils and Ger did some songs then we did some to entertain the people there. We started a jolly sing-along in the bus on the way back and were delighted to let the teenagers take over with their songs.

We said our sad farewells to Nils and Ger the next day and boarded the ferry back to Harlingen Hafen. Waiting for us on the pier were most of Folsgearster Folk. They had come to escort us down the dyke towards Amsterdam. At a popular stopping place in the middle of the massive dyke, we were joined by Johannes and Ben and, unbelievably, they had with them the master of the CD plus personal copies for all. Incredible! Said our goodbyes once again to most of Folsgearster and then Marco drove us down towards Amsterdam. Took a train for the last 15 or so kms to Amsterdam Central Rail. Coming into a big city was a bit of a shock after being in quiet places like Folsgear, Giethoorn and Vlieland. So many people!  We took a ride on a canal boat the next day and saw some more of this fascinating city. A general impression of Holland is that it is a prosperous looking place - everything neat and tidy, friendly people.

A short flight to Basel on the next day and we were met by Bruno Mueller (our interpreter and general helper) and Ken our driver who drove us to Romanshorn. We were dropped off at the Uttwill Stubli - a combination guest house and restaurant. Markus Studerus, a member of Singing Sailor's Crew Romanshorn and one of my email correspondents was there to meet us. Friday (next day) and we met a lot of the other shanty groups that were there for the weekend. We all took turns to do some songs. One of the most interesting songs we heard that night was a group doing the well-known New Zealand traditional song "Soon May the Wellerman Come". They did it in a more up-tempo style than what we are used to but it sounded great. And then, coming home in the bus to our digs, they sang it again! Fancy that! Being sung as a bus party song!

On Saturday, we and the Pirates ( a lovely group of young French girls from Brittany) took the ferry across Lake Bodensee (aka Lake Konstanz)to the German town of Friedrichshafen. We took turns in singing on board. That afternoon, we did a gig at the Down Under tent (named in out honour). That evening was the BIG evening with the monstrous tent filled to capacity. We did a show together with the Romanshorn Singing Sailors.One of my songs is called "Hurrah for our Captain". The Romanshorn Choir has taken my tune (with my permission) and written new words for the song. Note, their version was written many months ago and yet it extolled the virtues and skills of Swiss sailors. (Now and again they would slyly remind us that they now held America's Cup but we replied that it was only because they had some Kiwi sailors on board.) Anyway, we sang my "Hurrah" and they responded with their version. All good fun. Once again I was moved to have my work being performed by others. After we had performed that night, Bob informed that he had received a text message saying that my wife Pat had returned from Australia but was now in Waitakere Hospital with a chest infection, so the next morning, with Markus' assistance, I got hold of Emirate's Zurich office and arranged to fly home that evening - one day earlier than planned.

Down to the nearby cafe that Sunday morning where a large number of shanty singers were having a good time - laughing, chatting, drinking beer, listening to songs. We did 4 songs. Standing ovation! Well not quite but greatly appreciated. To the main tent that afternoon where Romanshorn did "Hurrah" once again and we did 4 songs.

And that was the finish of the Romanshorn Festival for me. A hurried trip back to our digs where I changed my shirt and Markus took me to the rail where I took a train to Zurich. Interestingly, the train took me right into Zurich airport and then a long lonely flight home.

To summarise :- We had a fantastic best part of 4 weeks in Europe. The weather was kind - summery just about every day. But the people we met were kinder . We were appreciated both for the interesting songs that we sang and also for the way in which we performed them. We have made many friends in Europe but I have one regret and that is, that at my age, I don't think that I will ever make that trip again. But The Maritime Crew has made 3 trips to Europe and I don't see why the younger members of the group can't go again some time in the future.

I would like to inject a personal note here. I am rather proud that 4 of my songs have found favour overseas. "Auckland to the Bluff" is sung in USA and UK  while "Spray of the Ocean" and "The Orpheus"  is sung in Giethoorn and,as you have just read, "Hurrah" in Romanshorn.

During the 28 days (including travel) that we were in Europe, we gave 23 public performances. This not counting the late night parties where lots more singing took place. Being a senior citizen, I missed out on these parties as I was in bed earlier than the others. I believe that they had great times singing until the small hours on many occasions.

The Maritime Crew is most grateful to all the people in Europe who invited us to perform at the various festivals, clubs, etc.

In Bremen, we had Lutz Hosselbarth, Patricia Feuss, Fritz Rapp, Brigitte Schiller-Hehl and Kersten of Vegesack who organised things so well for us.

In Folsgear, there was Johannes and Margriet van der Werf, Gerritt and Rinske Rypma, Marco and Rinske Rypma, Ben Regeling and Peter van der Werf who were our admirable hosts and singing partners. Delightful people who did everything for us.

In Giethoorn, Roel Boer and his wife (name eludes me) provided us with accommodation and food. His de Flagellanten singers are a great bunch of guys who know how to enjoy themselves - by making great Music!

In Vlieland, we were looked after by Nils Koster and Ger Lamerus - two great musician and singers. Our accommodation was provided by Jan Houter and very nice it was too.Once again, words fail me in attempting to describe how well we were treated - how good everybody was to us.

Finally in Romanshorn we were particularly well looked after by Bruno Mueller, Michael Kowalski and Marcus Studerus. Switzerland is a delightful country with delightful people - kind, generous, friendly and just generally very nice indeed, especially the Singing Sailor's Crew Romanshorn.

When I first got The Maritime Crew together way back in 1994, little did I think that one day we would on a singing tour of Europe. Once would have been incredible but we have done this 3 times now and that is just amazing. I would like to thank everybody who has helped to make these trips possible. And also I must thank members of The Maritime Crew for performing so well while on our overseas tours.

Thanks again to EVERYBODY.


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Monday, August 27, 2007

Songs of Sweated Labour

From the nz-folk list, John Archer writes:

Attention has been drawn to the sweated labour of young girls in South China. There are several New Zealand folk songs denouncing this abomination.

From Neil Colquhoun's Song's of a Young Country

Who robs the young girl of her right
by work that takes her day and night
to earn her poor starvation mite?
The sweater.

Who is it that will cheat and lie
and every cunning trick will try
his greed of gain to satisfy?
The sweater.

He is society's disgrace
and must be told so to his face
so out with him. Leave him no place
The sweater.

From Rona Bailey's Shanties By The Way

In the lands beyond the sea
where Khan and Sultan rule
Where they drink their coffee thick and black
and sip their sherbet cool
They have white Circassian girls for slaves
as well as nigger black
And now it seems in our own free land
that slavery's coming back.
It's fenced about with common law
and given a pretty name
But despite the paltry wage that's paid,
it's slavery all the same.

Such a good woman is Mrs McFee,
toiling with voice and hand
In the cause of the little Chinese girls
away in a distant land
Such a good woman is Mrs McFee,
for hers is an open door
And her name's at the top of the charity list
for the wives of the drunken poor
But Amelia Jane has a hungry look,
with hollows under her eyes
She says she was starved. But everyone knows,
Amelia Jane tells lies.

Silly and light is Amelia Jane,
she has no ideas of her own
You would never think her the bright little girl
that you one once on a time had known
She was clever enough when she went to school
she was pretty enough in her way
She hasn't improved, her schoolmates think,
when they met her in town today
It's all her fault, for whatever the cause,
I'm sure that Mrs McFee
Is a model mistress in every way,
and with that you will agree.

And my aunts taught me this song - there was a young boy on a the next
farm to theirs in South Taranaki in the 1920s who worked from dawn
until after dark seven days a week.

One day when I was out of work a job I went to seek
To be a farmer's boy ....
At last I found the very job at half-a-crown a week
To be a farmer's boy ....
The farmer said, "I think I've got the very job for you
Your duties will be light, for this is all you've got to do....
Rise at three every morn, milk the cow with the crumpled horn
Feed the pigs, clean the sty, teach the pigeons the way to fly
Plough the fields, mow the hay, help the cocks and hens to lay
Sow the seed, tend the crops, chase the flies from the turnip tops
Clean the knives, black the shoes, scrub the kitchen and sweep the flues
Help the wife wash the pots, grow the cabbages and carrots
Make the beds, dust the coals, mend the gramophone....
And when there's no more work to do.... the rest of the day's your own"

I would like to feature these on the NZ Folksong website and I would welcome any song-writer's compositions on the current New Zealand practice of conspiring in the deaths of young Chinese girls by buying sweated goods.

John A

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A True Heritage Instrument

From the nz-folk list, Noelle Jakeman writes:

"I am trying to find out about my randfathers kauri timber elaborately Maori wood carved lap steel guitar with paua shell inlay and all original 8 ivory keys which has been handed down to me. It opens out in the back and the electricals inside are in need of repair and needs new strings however the body is in excellent condition and is a beautifully handcrafted instrument. My mother had bought it for my grandfather back in the 1960's from a music store in Queen Street Auckland called 'Harmony House' which has since closed down and no longer there. I was contemplating selling it and had emailed images of it to vintage guitar dealers and collectors overseas and was surprised to get some very interested responses that it has since prompted my interest to find out the guitars origins and history. I did manage to speak to a local lapsteel guitar enthusiast here in Auckland who had mentioned these guitars popularity back in the 50's and 60's with country and western and Maori showbands and I've been trying to make contact with other NZ music stores in the hopes finding out more about these guitars as well, anyone there able to shed some more light on these guitars for me?"

John Archer wrote:

"That carved Hawaiin guitar a piece of folk history. Haere mai, everything is kapai - Daphne Walker - Sam Freedman - Johnny Cooper and His Range Riders.
"The expert on evaluating and repairing that is Simcha Delft in Otaki.
Eight years ago artist Michael Parekowhai put on a fancy installation in a
posh Auckland gallery with ten beautifully made f-hole inlaid paua
guitars. Maori bro's sat around on beer crates playing the guitars while
Jafa glitterati stood around drinking champagne.
"Parekowhai was commenting on the detribalized de-cultured urban Maori of the 1960s. But Noelle's lap-top is a much more poignant relic of that
time. Once Were Warriors - Paradise Lost."

There were a few other posts imploring Noelle not to sell it, to which she most eloquently replied:

"Greetings all,
Thank you all who have responded to my inquiries about my grandfathers lap steel guitar with some great advice and wonderful information. To perhaps answer some of the questions some of you may of had about my earlier notice and intention to sell the guitar I hope the following will offer you some insight. The guitar was a a gift my Mum had bought new for her Father around the 1960's from a music store in Auckland. It is a well loved family instrument and I've been told that my grandfather and muso granduncles would play this guitar and have jam sessions back in the day.

"It is a well loved family instrument and being Maori myself I am aware of the importance of family taonga and have discussed my intentions to sell the guitar with my Mum who had handed the guitar down to me. The guitar has been in my care for a few years now and I've been able to admire its beautiful craftsmanship and uniqueness however as I travel a lot and have very few personal possessions I would much prefer to have the guitar in someone elses care who'd appreciate and hopefully play it again.

As a recently self employed artist relying totally on the income from my artwork this is the only item I have of value and I know that should I eventually sell it, it would help a lot toward much needed tools and equipment that I need to continue making my work. I believe this to be an honorable purpose for selling the guitar and my Mum has given me her full support as well. I plan to make sure that should it eventually get sold it's to an appropriate person that will appreciate care for and hopefully get it playing again.

It's only been just over the last week that I've made inquiries to various NZ music/guitar stores and sites along with vintage guitar dealers and collectors overseas trying to find out a little more about the history of these guitars and an idea of it's value. So far most of the responses I have received back have been from the US and UK. All have been guitar enthusiasts who've only had positive things to say, and as well as admiring the Maori carvings they've also been really helpful with information about the lap steel guitar as an instrument. I have been involved in the Maori visual arts scene for many years now and am very aware of the exploitation of our Maori taonga and imagery and others ignorance as to the importance it is to our people. However it is a family taonga and I have asked the appropriate person in my whanau to do this, the notices I have sent out has been in no way to exploit or disrespect my Maori culture and I too believe that this is a wonderful piece of our NZ music history and would like to eventually find a good home for it. Regards, Noelle

Sunday, August 05, 2007

The Southern Man Song

I've been noticing one of the more frequent key word searches within the KiwiFolk site has been for "southern man". I was there (in my role as a Pog) at its inception and it's still one of the most requested songs in my repertoire.

I've written up the history of the song as it relates to the Pog Band but it would be good to hear anyone elses point of view. Particularly, it would be good to get some dates around those rugby games.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Tommy Makem dies age 74

From the nz-folk list:

Irish singer, songwriter and storyteller Tommy Makem has died after a long battle with lung cancer. For over fifty years Makem entertained the world with self-penned songs and Stories. Makem died in Dover, New Hampshire (USA) where he lived.

Makem grew to international fame with The Clancy Brothers in the late 1950s and 1960s.

Listen to Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem:
When The Ship Comes In' (YouTube)
'Ballad Of William Bloat' (YouTube)
'Red Haired Mary' (YouTube)

VIEW PHOTOS: Makem's career spanned more than five decades
TALK ABOUT IT: Share your memories of Makem's life and work
ARCHIVE 11/21/06: He still sings to Irish ears
On the Web:

Monday, July 23, 2007

From Wellington

From Barnsey:

"Dear all nz-folk,

"Firstly some breaking news - Tim van Eyken has had some great news in that he has been offered a part in the National Theatre Christmas production. It's a direction he has been wanting to go in for some time, however as it means solid work from August through February he won't now be able to attend our festival this year. So we're following up a couple of options and will let you all know what eventuates.

Tim is re-arranging his flights to come out next year instead, and hopes to be able to be in the country rather longer. Secondly, get booking for the festival to take advantage of the earlybird discount and especially if you want bunks. Go to the website and go to the Registration page. I'm looking forward to seeing lots of you there...

Cheers, David

Friday, July 20, 2007

Website Rant

From the nz-folk list, Jo Foster writes:

"I am going to offend at least one person without doubt but it has to be said. I keep coming across club pages, individuals websites, and a plethora of others just like this

"If you have a website advertising your group club or event take the time to build a reasonable quality homepage. A hastily erected homepage with broken links half completed pages, cute but unreadable fonts and backgrounds, full of moving graphics, files and links which dont work are detrimental to the growth and wellbeing of your organisation.
People use search engines, when they look for a band name in a certain area and you have a website or a homepage with details on that band, your site will be somewhere on the top of the search list, take the time and the care to do it properly. If your site is not up to scratch, fix it. It doesnt have to be fancy, it has to be not broken. There are thousands of guides and templates available online, if html in its raw form scares you, use your word processor.
A simple well laid out website is by far much better than a website with graphics leaping all over the place, a giant watermark in the background, 3 year old details to people who have either passed away or moved, and a bunch of broken links. Forget cute javascript popups - just about every user these days has a popup blocker of some sort, forget anything difficult to use, many users have difficulty (believe me - helpdesks are a real eye opener on skill levels).

"To the outside world this is your advertising, your personality. People will judge your organisation based on your website, if no one has the time keep it as simple and as dateless as possible, add a photo gallery for interest, and encourage members to submit photos. If you cant dedicate time do not put information online that can become dated quickly."

Mike adds:

"When I'm putting together publicity for festivals or concerts I go to the artists' websites and look for some quotable text. Often I find their gig information, latest blog entry (aimed at people who know them, i.e preaching to the choir) or quirky flash files which are not pasteable into my document. You'd be amazed at how many sites have the most useful text as a graphic file.

"What I'm looking for is a succinct description of the artist and what they've done, that will be informative to someone who has never heard them before. It's lovely to have an interactive website for your fans but unless you're catering for the first-time visitor and providing useable copy for promoters, you're wasting your webspace."

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Songwriters' Workshop Online

During New Zealand Music Month (May 2007) I was invited to give a workshop at a seminar run by the NZ Songwriters' Trust. I was also invited to be one of the judges for their original song awards. I have reconstituted the workshop here as a series of web pages.

I was in the highly auspicious company of Don McGlashan, perhaps our greatest ever songwriter. It was a privilege to see his presentation, to see how he writes, where he gleans his ideas from and how he draws inspiration from the seemingly ordinary and mundane.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Cafe Culture Downunder

CoffeeGeek - Cafe Culture Downunder - explains why we in NZ have become such coffee snobs and why we can't find a decent cup of coffee when we go overseas!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Wellingtonians: The Singers' Club Needs You!

June Sizzled at The Singers’ Club!

Our superb guest line-up of Darren Watson plus Bob Cooper-Grundy with Kate Marshall turned up the heat and gave a full house a truly memorable evening of music that had Upper Cuba Streetjumping, despite the winter chills.

However, there will be no Singers’ Club in July! We’re taking a Mid-Winter Break to catch our breath; get ourselves organised and do some recruiting.

We have lost two of our original Residents, Alistair and Catriona, and we can’t function properly with just the two of us remaining to run the club, run the sound and stage and host the evening. Not to mention the odd performance, which is the object of the exercise!

So we are actively looking for one or two new Residents to help us. Ideally (but not necessarily), musicians, who are easy going, with a passion for live acoustic music. They should also have a small talent for organisation and a big sense of humour. We do this for fun!

There’s not a huge amount to do. We’re well set up and we have a full Programme of Guests organised out to the end of the year and the venue and the audience to support the Club. So contact us now as we need you urgently. 021 253 8996

We’ll update you about August and any changes or news nearer the time by Newsletter; and we’ll update the webpage

But, don’t despair, there will be live music at The Roxy on Tuesday July 31st.

Bob McNeill is in concert at the Café on that night (see below for details), so keep the last Tuesday of the month programmed in your diaries for great live acoustic music.

As ever, if you don’t want to get news about the Singers’ Club, just send us an email with ‘I don’t want this stuff!’ in the subject line. J

The Singers’ Club Residents:
Tony Hillyard & Tracey Haskell

For regular news about who’s playing at the Singers’ Club on the Last Tuesday of every month, go here:

If you’re interested in playing at the Singers’ Club contact Tony Hillyard:
021 253 8996 or:

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Phil Garland seeks Kiwi Rhetoric

Phil writes:

Greetings all,
This is a call for any Kiwi sayings, ditties, drinking toasts, farewell toasts, backblocks rhymes and simple ditties. If you know of anything appropriate to this subject would you please contact me either on or off list.

I have collected many such pieces of folklore over the years and should anything of note come to light I would like to feature it in my almost completed book of Kiwi folklore and music. Acknowledgements and sources will be given wherever appropriate. I look forward to hearing from you in due course.
Many thanks.
Phil Garland

Monday, July 02, 2007

Kiwi Records, the History of a New Zealand Record Label.

Kiwi Records (NZHistory) This essentially Maori and Pacific record label became very supportive of our own Pakeha folk music artists, Kiwi’s recordings of ballads and folk songs captured the past that the publisher's books celebrated. Neil Colquhoun’s group, the Song Spinners, put out Songs of the whalers, Songs of the gold-diggers and Songs of the gumdiggers. In 1972 Colquhoun produced the landmark collection Songs of a young country. Other typically Kiwi Records artists were balladeer Peter Cape, songwriter Ken Avery, song collector Les Cleveland, the Kokatahi Band of Westland and the Hamilton County Bluegrass Band.

YouTube posts on the nz-folk List

Anton Karas plays Zither
This is a most amazing piece of footage - you'll know the playing for sure. I bet you thought it was a guitar!.

Jake Shimabukuro plays "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"
Who says ukulele is not a serious instrument?

John Fahey - 1969
"American primitive" open tuned guitar styles explained and played.

Bothy Band from 1977
Kevin Burke (fiddle), Triona Ni Dhomhnaill (vocals, clarinet, harmonium, keyboard), Michael Ni Dhomhnaill (guitar)

Paul Brady playing Arthur McBride, 1977
"Beautiful Pat, just beautiful. Genius at work. The album is still on my
most frequently played list - a treasure trove of stunning music. Lots
more clips of Brady there too. Thanks mate - Tony Hillyard"

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain - You Dont bring me Flowers
Who says ukulele is a serious instrument?

Friday, June 22, 2007

Battlefield Band Concert Review, Dunedin

It was not without trepidation that I waited for the doors to open at the Regent Theatre at 7pm. I tried to suppress an initial flush of optimism as a few people fronted up right away and headed for the ticket counter. I allowed myself a small increase in positivity as an orderly queue of twenty or thirty assembled at the auditorium door. By the time those doors opened and the bow-tied and suited ushers were tearing tabs off tickets, I was something approaching elated. This was a big financial undertaking for the club and it was looking like any bath we might take would at least be a warm one.

A healthy Thursday-night cohort of about 450 people settled in and Lindsey Shields cut a dapper figure as she strolled into the limelight to welcome everybody and introduce the support act, Ben the Hoose. Bob and Kenny played a sterling set, Kenny’s Scottish fiddle styles were sublime and Bob delivered his self-penned songs in what proved to be the pick of the voices this night. His warm tones rang around the Victorian alabaster and shut the Scottish cold out. It was pleasing to see a New Zealand act every bit the equal of the international act to follow.

And follow they did. The first half of the Battlefield Band concert seem to set them all up individually, featuring each in turn playing to their strengths: a rugged set of pipe tunes from Mike Katz, an inspired set of strathspeys and reels from Alisdair White who has just released a solo album (“The White Album” – no mention of The Beatles) and songs from Sean O’Donnell (the Tom Waites Shiver Me Timbers being a particular favourite) and band kaumatua, Alan Reid. Reid took great delight in the theatre’s Yamaha grand piano which enabled him to move away from his twin keyboards for a more traditional Scottish accompaniment.

In the second half the band delivered en force tunes and songs that made the wee hairs stand up. The unison playing of pipes and fiddle were perfect to the finest ornament – it is only in a sound-reinforced concert or studio recording that these two instruments could be equal in volume, so it is pleasing to be able to experience the synergy of both. And as for the sound, while for the most part perfectly balanced, I did find the overly lavish reverb left a harsh tail on the vocals, fiddle and whistles which I found quite distracting.

All in all though, it was the most pleasing way to spend one of the coldest Dunedin nights for a while.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Whare Flat Folk Festival

Several great artists have been confirmed already for this year's festival (December 30th 2007 - January 3rd 2008) including the amazing and prolific Irish singer/songwriter Kieran Halpin, Scandanavian trio Habbadám (featuring the wonderfully charismatic Hannah Wiskari, the guest saxophonist of two years ago) and the highly acclaimed Sam Burke and the Wifeys from Melbourne.

More information on the Whare Flat Folk Festival website.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Grada Concert Review

Sean Manning reviews the Grada concert, April 28th at the Dunedin Railway Station.

Now I have to say that Grada are a very good-looking band. Structurally similar To Lunasa – guitar and bass on either side holding the thing together and driving the music along, with the tune players, and in this case the singer, in the middle. They are young, energetic, and seem to really enjoy what they do together. There were no moments of ennui, no difficult dynamics. Even after god knows how many almost identical concerts, they seemed to be really having a good time. They told an illustrative story, how on their only day off in an Australian tour, which happened to be in Bondi, they stayed at home to rehearse new material.

They also seemed to be genuinely friendly. After the concert I went up to see what kind of guitars Gerry Paul was playing – he was off somewhere talking to someone else – and the fluter, Alan Doherty, merrily invited me to have a go with them. When their owner returned he was even more encouraging.

(For the guitar players, mostly he played a McIlroy, made in County Antrim by a refugee from George Lowden’s guitar factory, where they make instruments with a major reputation among folk musicians – Donal Hennessey of Lunasa plays one. Another graduate of the same school, Sam Irwin, made one of my guitars. The other one was a 1960-something Martin, a lovely little parlour guitar with tremendous intonation.)

With Gerry Paul crouching over his instrument on the right and Andrew Laking bending across his stand-up bass on the left, both of them New Zealanders, the music was pushed along – they don’t do much in the way of slow tunes. At times it was too complex for me, I wanted to yell, ‘hang on a bit, what happened there? Do that bit again.’ But they were already on to the next, equally complex measure. I can’t really complain, I found the whole concert completely engaging, which is remarkable, coming from this old grump, who can find something boring or just wrong with almost anything. As the concert developed, the layers of the music became plainer – I suppose they were teaching me to listen.

What they do has some roots in Irish diddley-aiddley music, but while superficially similar groups like Lunasa, Danu or Solas remain with the traditional, albeit in a modernized form, What Grada do turns it into pop, jazz and poetry. Nicola Joyce’s singing was not an old-fashioned traditional voice. She delivered the songs with passion and lyricism. An old-fashioned critic might carp that the words were indistinct, something that usually irritates me, but even that was OK, probably more a result of the venue. On their CD, I discovered later, the words are clear.

On either side they were flanked by two stunning instrumentalists – Alan Doherty of flutes and Colin Farrell on fiddle, both also playing whistles on occasion. These are both clearly capable of playing in a traditional style, but apparently impatient with that, their harmonies and solos owed much to improvisation and sounded at times more like jazz.

Favourite moments? Well, the encore for a start (so to speak). They did two things. First, Nicola Joyce and Gerry Paul returned to the stage and did the only reasonably slow thing of the evening – Suzanne Vega’s ‘The Soldier and the Queen’. Not an easy song, it was breathtaking. Then the whole group did something very fast that ended in a chaotically deliberate and high-spirited cacophony. But the best for me was as much visible as auditory. There was a duet on identical low whistles from Doherty and Farrell. Both dressed in black, they framed the singer who sat in the middle playing bodhron, and were framed in their turn by Paul and Laking. To add to the effect, Laking, left-handed on the right, played with his right hand above the left on the whistle, and Doherty, on the left, had his left hand on top. They are the most symmetrical band I’ve ever seen, and they didn’t even know it. When I told Gerry Paul about it afterwards, he seemed bemused.

Friday, May 18, 2007

e-Interview with Ben the Hoose

Ben the Hoose is the award-winning duo featuring fiddler Kenny Ritch from the Orkney Isles and songwriter-guitarist Bob McNeill from Glasgow based here in New Zealand, albeit in different cities. Their music is a spirited interpretation of the dance mu-sic of Scotland; uniquely rhythmic and energetic, they embody the modern Scots tradition. I asked them a few questions by email.

Scottish fiddling is the new gravy on the potatoes of Celtic music. John McCusker is all over and under everything that comes out these days. Is this a good bandwagon to be on? Do you think there is a Renaissance in Scottish music?

Bob: Yes I suppose so. I think the Scottish music world is in a very healthy state. In the last few years I think there’s been a real revival of what I see as the spirit of the music, in contrast to the tendancy for some of the drier institutions to view it a bit academically. There are so many young ones playing now, it’s fantastic. And so much diversity.

Kenny: I’d say that Scottish fiddling has been gravy for a very long time and by that I mean very nice, slightly peppery gravy with no lumps. Being on the Scottish music “bandwagon” is a great thing and Bob and I both know how lucky we are to have grown up with it. A renaissance in Scottish traditional music has been going on for years now. Blazin’ Fiddles injected a lot of life into the scene back in 1998 and it really opened the eyes and ears of young folk all around Scotland who perhaps didn’t appreciate the music they had at their fingertips. Since then young Celtic bands have been appearing all over Scotland.

Do you prefer the guitar for accompaniment rather than the cittern/bouzouki or, for that matter, the piano? Bob, what instruments are you currently playing?

Bob: I like both guitar and piano for accompaniment. It’s not the instrument, it’s the person playing it! Generally, I like far more guitar backers than piano backers. I’m not a huge fan of the “vamp” style on any instrument, especially piano, so I’ll leave that alone, thanks. I also really don’t like the modern splashy right hand style they have in Cape Breton. Kenny and I found early on that guitar worked much better for us in Ben the Hoose, to the extent that I don’t play bouzouki at all in the band now. I wish my piano playing was better!

Kenny: I’ve always loved hearing piano and fiddle together. My Granny, when she was alive, was a lovely pianist and she used to play with me at competitions when I was living at home in Orkney. When Bob and I started playing together, Bob played as much bouzouki as he did guitar. It didn’t take us long though to realise that the sound we were after only came out when he played guitar. Yes, I obviously love the guitar (how could I say otherwise?) but a tune with a great piano player is a magical thing too.

Who is inspiring Ben the Hoose?

Bob: Gavin Marwick, Jonny Hardie, The Iron Horse, Capercaillie (their early music especially), Cry Cry Cry, Richard Shindell, Mark Nevin. A big mix of people.

Kenny: Fiddlers Johnny Hardie and Gavin Marwick are two huge influences for me and the two albums they made together are unforgettable. As far as bands go I’d have to say Session A9 and The Iron Horse and the early Capercaillie stuff. Then there’s Alistair Fraser, Gordon Gunn, Eilidh Shaw, Jennifer Wrigley …

There's a fair bit of kudos in winning the 2006 Folk Tui but is it helpful?

Bob: Well. We suppose it will be especially so when we go abroad (outside NZ) with the band. For us I guess it came across as a sort of vote of confidence in what we were doing – that a Scottish album (albiet with some New Zealand flavour to it) could win in NZ.

Winning the Tui was a great thing for us and has certainly helped to boost album sales. Bob and I didn’t set out to win an award with the album – it was just a good way of solidifying a lot of the music we had in our heads – but getting recognition for it is always appreciated.

How do Orkney fiddle styles and arrangements differ from Scottish?

Bob: Orkney has theoretically been Scottish since 1472. However, its culture and by entension music, seems to have remained quite unique until fairly recently. Kenny’s the expert here, but I hear a lot of north east fiddle style in Orkney music now – all the regions in Scotland have borrowed, expecially recently, from all the others – Bands like Blazin’ Fiddles, Session A9 and Fiddler’s Bid, all of which have lots of fiddlers, have encouraged this

Kenny: It’s hard to say if there’s any difference at all. Perhaps 100 years ago you could have drawn a distinction, but not now – there’s just too much blending of influences. That said, I’m sure if you asked a Scottish mainland player about Orkney fiddle playing they’d swear it was fuelled solely by beer and single malt. Who am I to argue?

Bob, your original songs are particularly well crafted and evocative of the bleaker bits of Scotland and its history. There seems to be a very methodical approach to you songwriting, is this so? Who is covering your material?

Bob: Thank you! But that’s really only one aspect of my writing. I’m not a historical writer at all in fact – just that, when I started writing songs, I found that type of song easier to write. Most of the stuff I’ve written in the last three years has been contemporary, about modern themes.

I can’t do what somebody like James Keelaghan can do with real stories. (By the way, the Scotsman newspaper described him as the “Master of Disaster” - brilliant).

I think when you’re talking about songwriting you can get very technical about some-thing that really isn’t – there’s a particular evocation of sound and melody that I’m going for, every time, to frame the words and the way the character is saying them. The lyrics, phrasing, singing style, guitar style, chord shapes and tuning are all textures that, if you get it all right, will make the listener hear what you heard, when you wrote the song. Great songwriters make you feel what the character feels, not what the songwriter feels, I guess. That’s what you aspire to.

Who’s covering me? I don’t actually know, a lot of the time. But I do know that people are. I get emails asking for backstory and lyrics etc, the two most recent ones from Ireland and Germany, and I do get the (small) cheques, too, so I know people do actually do them and report it, bless them. I don’t Google myself much. Should I?

Explain the cuisine component of the full Ben the Hoose experience.

Bob: Difficult. I refer the interested reader to The Playboy Gourmet Cookbook by Thomas Mario. There you will discover a world of cuisine, elegance and class that I personally found hugely appealing. It may be a strange thing to say, however, in my opinion at the time, this was what was missing from Scottish music.

Kenny: When Bob and I started playing together in mid-2005 we quickly realised that we both have a bit of a passion for good home-cooked food. We did a wee workshop at the Dunedin Celtic Arts Festival that same year that involved us playing tunes and yapping while cooking steak (with a particular tasty red wine sauce). We did plan on putting recipes on our album sleeve but it never happened. Anytime we’re together having a tune, mince and tatties, bacon sandwiches or steak feature high up on the meal list. Music and good food is a killer combination.

Rumours of Bob's imminent departure from these shores would appear to put the duo into recess - or is it something that can be maintained and developed despite the 'tyranny of distance'? Does Ben the Hoose intend to do some international touring? Does Ben the Hoose aspire to being an internationally recognised unit?

Bob: Yes. Yes. Yes.
I wouldn’t think that if either of us were to return to Scotland it would make all that much difference to Ben the Hoose’s modus operandi. We tend to do gigs in bunches anyway, and living in different cities, we have to do a fair bit of planning ahead. Currently gigs have to pay a certain amount before they’re feasible – that’ll just get more pronounced. We’ll just do fewer gigs, but bigger ones. Longer term, having one of us in Scotland, for example, would be a big advantage – there are a lot of festivals over there.

Kenny: Certainly Bob being in Scotland is a trickier situation than him being in Wellington but we intend to keep things going. We’re looking at the possibility of touring Scotland, Ireland and parts of Europe and having Bob based over there will make that easier.

Both of you being musicians AND working in computers must make you Super Geeks. How do you manage to communicate with your audiences?

Bob: For me, it’s the left brain – right brain thing. It may sound hackneyed, but it’s true. A good balance is to use both. I suppose that our core audience is from the Web generation as well, they’re our age anyway, but I hadn’t really thought about it like that… I’ve always regarded having a day job as fairly separate from what I do at night.

Kenny: By talking out of our mouths. In these days of email and text messages it’s quite a novel way of communicating, but it really does work. But, if that fails, the following computer code usually works:

10 Print “Hello, we’re Ben the Hoose”
20 Print “Here’s a set of Scottish tunes …”
30 GOTO 20

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A Small Diversion on the NZ Folk List

Brian Dooley writes:

This all reminded me of the Bog Pipe, a classical folk instrument that I recall from schooling in Britain. I went to Amersham College of St Thomas a Becket, on the outskirts of London. Despite its impressive name, Becket School (called thus, as there was another Amersham College) was largely made up of prefabricated buildings. To complete the picture, I remember when my friend Jeremy, alias Stick, threw his father's WWII bayonet into the wall between classrooms and it collapsed.

But there was one permanent building made of stone blocks from an earlier era; of course, this would be the loo. It stood by itself, and had been re-plumbed from something else many years previously. Now, this having been a part of a larger complex, and the materials being ancient stone, the original plumbing still ran through the walls and exited through an open pipe that would have connected to the previous building. Young criminals in waiting that we were, the player would wait for a visitor to visit this loo, and, whilst he was comfortably ensconced upon the throne, would submit embrochure to pipe end, and blow a furious tune in the manner of a bugle. A terrible moaning would erupt throughout the small building, and the walls would literally shake. The terrified visitor generally came flying out the door, whilst the player of the Bog Pipe, now away from the dread instrument, would look on quite innocently - doubtlessly infected with a multitude of cooties from the mouthpiece, and yet, content in the results of his recital on that grand old organ!

Friday, May 04, 2007

2007 Country Music Award finalists announced.

News release May 4,
Two relative newcomers and one of New Zealand’s favourite country duos are the finalists for the Best Country Music Album of 2007. Perennial Kiwi country favourites The Topp Twins join Wellington’s Warren Love Band and Johnny Possum’s Good Time Hootin’ Band from Christchurch as the three to compete for this year’s Tui award. The winner is to be announced at the Gold Guitar Awards in Gore in June and will also be acknowledged at the New Zealand Music Awards in October.Jools and Lynda Topp have been selected as a finalist for their album “Flowergirls & Cowgirls”. The Waikato-born and Auckland-based duo aren’t strangers to the music awards stage after winning the best Country Album Tui in 2001 for their highly successful ‘Grass Highway’ album.

Former busker Warren Love’s debut album “Warren Love Band” comes off the street, teaming up with some of country’s leading New Zealand musicians. They include Warratahs’ accordionist Al Norman and local music icon Wayne Mason, writer of ‘Nature’.Formed in 2005, Johnny Possum’s Good Time Hootin’ Band’s debut CD “Tickets” features old and new country favourites as well as an original single called ‘Bluegrass Saved the Earth’. Taking their cue from traditional country music roots, the band has included several standard tunes with new arrangements whilst also digging deeper into 19th century blues to apply the special Possum treatment.

New Zealand Music Awards spokesperson Campbell Smith says the finalists represent a cross section of country music in New Zealand.“Jools and Lynda are New Zealand’s icons, superb songwriters and entertainers.“Johnny Possum and Warren Love bring a fresh new perspective to country music with their modern interpretations and wonderful story lines.

Country music is very much alive and well in New Zealand as the standard of these finalists shows,” Campbell says.“It’s fantastic to see our Country artists producing great music, and when they come together in Gore at the biggest Country music festival in New Zealand, it makes for a very special occasion. ”The winners are announced at the New Zealand Country Music Awards on Friday June 1 in Gore as part of the Gold Guitar celebrations. Attracting more than 5,000 country music fans during the festival, Gold Guitar week is in its 34th year. For more information visit: More information about the Country Music Album of the Year Award is available at

About RIANZ: The Recording Industry Association of New Zealand Inc (RIANZ) is a non-profit organisation representing major and independent record producers, distributors and recording artists throughout New Zealand. RIANZ works to protect the rights and promote the interests of creative people involved in the New Zealand recording industry.endsIssued for the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand (RIANZ) by Pead PRRIANZ Best Country Music Album (Tui award)For more information including award criteria and history, and finalist information please contact:
Pead PR ContactBonnie Smail, Pead PR, Tel: 0-9-918 5581, Mob: 021 722 276, E-mail: Bonnie Smail( bus +64 (9) 9185581 mob 021 722 276Level 2, Carlton DFK Centre, 135 BroadwayPrivate Bag 99911, Newmarket, Auckland

The Wrong Trousers

Couple of YouTube clips of a great young trio - double bass, mandolin and harp.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Folk and Country

A while ago, somewhat unintentionally, I chucked a hand-grenade into the nz-folk list. There was a post, mentioned in an earlier blog:

"Folk? The Warratahs? They are listed as a Country band."

To which I somewhat rashly replied,

"Something I notice that we have trouble getting our heads around is that country music is the folk music of this country."

The response was astounding, from those who thought I was joking to those who were indignant and miffed (and those who agreed and told me so quietly in the background).

"Mike, I am guessing that you are teasing when you say that country is the real NZ folk music, but I'll react just for fun... Country has always been a small, but welcome part of our folk music, but is hardly the folk music of New Zealand because it has always so commonly featured American culture: All that fake rolled-r accent emulating Texas, the whiny nasal singing about county jails and horses, the Stetson hats & braided clothes and boots with spurs. Contrast that with our our Swandris, stockmen's hats & oilskins & gumboots."
"I find it rather interesting that Bluegrass music is seen as part of the folk scene, whereas 'whinge and cringe' country isnt."
"There's been no mention of Victorian palour music or classical music which I think has had a huge influence of NZ music from the early days right through to the Verlaines and beyond."
"But to say it's THE main influence? I don't think country is quite a 'national' music here in the same way as in Australia. It's big and been around for a while, but so have brass bands and Highland piping."
"I tend to agree with Mike, Phil and Alan that country music has had a strong influence on 'homemade' songwriting in NZ, ever since it was the latest trendy music back in the 1930s."
"And as far as I´m concerned, country music stemmed from this celtic stuff anyway... don´t believe me?? Go out and rent Songcatcher."
I have no problem with any of this. I was talking somewhat historically. Back in the 50s and 60s as the folk revival burgeoned, folkies started looking at their own rich traditions; Ireland and Scotland had their celtic musics, America had its dust-bowl ballads and blues and appalachan traditions and so forth. New Zealand folkies, NZ being a much younger country, struggled a bit to find a traditional identity in their music. We tended to look straight past characters like Tex Morton and Cole Wilson because they were a bit recent, a bit twee and maybe, a bit naff. Paul Metsers wrote Farewell to the Gold to get the ball rolling in the NZ folk songwriters' camp, Neil Colquhoun collected some songs of a young country. Phil Garland wrote, resurrected and reconstructed contemporary and other material and so did Martin Curtis (these are the most noteable I can think of, there were heaps of others). We looked at our fields of gold and gum for old songs. But meanwhile, perhaps from as early as the 20's, there was a mainstream music that was being played in parlours, theatres, pubs and shanties that was "ordinary" and played with instruments of the day. A lot of formal music was based around the piano, but those songs that were based around more portable stringed instruments were undeniably "country" in sound.

Now whatever you choose as your folk music is absolutely fine by me whether it's based on a tradition or not. But when you're talking about the indigenous music of this country (with a respectful nod to the tangata whenua), it's country music that has been the mainstream music of the dock worker, the stockman, the tramp, the soldier, the miner and the digger.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Pillar to Post

Our local folkclub prides itself in giving our visiting artists all the bells and whistles when it comes to providing sound for our iconic Victorian venue. A hard room to play at the best of times, so we spend a bit on hiring the right gear for the job and having done a few dozen decent sized concerts now we (me and my team of hardworking, unpaid techies) believe we have finessed the venue. It's a wide, high vaulted room with inopportunely placed pillars but we've found the best layout, built a stage platform and arrange the room accordingly. It's a great venue when everything is working.

15:00 The boys turn up and we start lugging the speakers in (2 JBL Concert series), place them on their plinths, angle them just so - experience has taught us this is critical for uniform coverage of this widish room.
15:30 We're running out the multicore and plugging in the amps - about a kilowatt per side. The thing we know well is that big is always better where folk and acoustic music is concerned. No other music, except perhaps classical music, is more demanding of power for its wide dynamic range (soft to loud) and intolerance to any form of distortion or unnatural artifacts. "Headroom" is key and we strive to keep the sound warm, real and uniform across as much of the room as possible. To do this you ideally need big speakers gently moving swathes of air through the space to avoid peaks and troughs in different locations. It's those annoying peaks that listeners percieve as "too loud".
16:00 The lights are going up and the sound system is ticking over nicely with a CD playing through it. Lines, mics and di's are checked, the desk is EQ'd and things are looking good.
16:30 We're onto the housekeeping, taping down leads and packing cases away. Time for a celebratory beer. No hitches, callbacks or toolkit breakouts.
17:00 Soundcheck time. Enter the Talent, who look aghast and say, "We won't be needing that, this is not a rock and roll gig. We've brought our own gear."

I have to say, I was reasonably impressed with how good their own system sounded given it was one tenth the size of the system we were now packing up. Apart from being annoyed at the wasted expense (money and time) I was sad that, given how good this group was, we couldn't have made them sound as good as they could have. Needless to say, tiny speakers on a stick were never going to cut it in front of 50 plus people spread across a room as wide as this. As expected, intelligibility fell right off 30 degrees off axis, so unless you were right down in front, it was a bit of a struggle.

I suppose it comes down to a matter of trust, really. When you turn up at an unfamiliar venue, do you trust that the locals have got it sussed or do you manage what you can with what you've got. The problem here was that the detail of who was doing what was not sorted out by their agent at the time of booking. We both made assumptions.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Canterbury Festival

Review by Bernadette:

My review of the Easter folk festival held at Waipara will concentrate on the aspects of the festival that I didn’t expect. Guests like Chris While and Enda Kenny are known quantities so it is pointless for me to spend time discussing their performances.

The first pleasant surprise at the festival this year was the weather. The forecast horrendous and after freezing last year, I went with every snuggly garment I have, along with extra quilts and a wheatbag (they do have a microwave available for campers) for night time. However, only Saturday was wet and the rest of the time the sun shone and I don’t think overnight temperatures got anywhere near zero!

Several guests stood out for me. Lindsay Martin’s violin playing and accompaniment is always a pleasure to hear but this year he shone on the mandolin. He is not only a skillful player but he seems to know just how to fill in the spaces without taking over the performance. For those of you who have never been to the Canterbury Fest, they have created a clever idea of having a ‘blind date’ concert where anyone who is attending the festival who wishes to perform, puts their name into a box, including all the guests, and the names are drawn out to go into groups. These people then get together and create a number to perform in a special concert on the last day of the festival. It is always great fun and sometimes some amazing acts appear. This year, Lindsay obviously decided to be the ‘blind date’ and he dressed up beautifully with a blond wig, tasteful makeup and a ‘stunning’ outfit. He looked amazing and you could see that he was playing some rousing mandolin breaks but it was a real shame that something was wrong within the sound system and he could not be heard more than one row away from the stage. The other act in this concert that I loved was Enda’s group who did a great précis of The Sound of Music.

Another guest that I particularly enjoyed was Lindon Puffin. From beginning to end of his concert he hardly stopped talking and he was very funny. His rendition of ‘Baker Street’ on the kazoo was inspirational. Add to silliness, a great voice, plenty of stage experience and tons of ‘street cred’ and you get some idea of what he was like. Often people who are not from the folk world feel out of place and have no idea of how to act at festivals but he came along to sessions and joined in where he thought he could without taking over or opting out.

I didn’t get the see Adrian the Clown do his clown act but as a compere he was an inspired choice. He is obviously a ‘street performer’ with lots of clever tricks to get people involved and they worked amazingly with a concert audience – some good ideas for the rest of us to steal.

The President’s choice this year was also a departure from the norm and Russell asked ‘Dunedin’ to be the guest. So a jam session was arranged on stage. Even though I was in this myself I will say that I enjoyed it immensely. Some of the numbers I have heard people do in the past worked incredibly well with the wall of sound behind them – and everyone was obviously having fun!

So, as a festival organizer myself, I have to say that my hat is off to Russell and his team for thinking ‘outside the loop’ with their guests. It was fun festival and I would recommend it to anyone.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Canterbury Folk Festival, Easter 2007

From the nz-folk list:

A quick report back on a very mellow and lovely Canterbury festival. Thanks to the organisers. It gets better every year! Or is that just me who gets to know more people every year and so enjoys it more? Quite a mixed bag of musicians this year, from an English trad feller through thirties swing to some younger local (and loud!) artists, all tastes catered for. Enda Kenny and his great band were my highlight - I just love the way Enda uses words and the naughty way he delivers them, and Lindsay is a GREAT backing fiddle player. Mike Mikaelides Moroney was an added bonus in the band at the final concert. James Wilkinson was in fine form, I've never seen him play with such fluidy and verve.

My partner Fran got some nice pics of him (and lots of other stuff), shortly to be up on the site .

Chris While with the voice of gold added her own magic to the mix. There were also a raft of wonderful workshops, topped by the magnificent tunes workshop :) And the usual Easter delicacies like the blind date concert, fairy "bondage" grotto for the kids and the much-patronised coffee bar. I sampled a variety of late night sessions from serious diddly through to lovely English trad harmony, mmmmm.

The spoons were a great idea for meeting people, what a nice pickup line "may I spoon with you?" Thank goodness nobody thought of playing the damn things. And after four years of going to these festivals, I've finally learned how to stay awake until the wee small hours and then still be able to function the next day! My body must have acclimatised to the folky

See y'all there again next year.

Jenni K

Monday, March 19, 2007

Beware of Fake Shure Mics

From the Trademe site, a reseller points out the salient differences between the real SM58 and the typical fakes that abound.
Click for larger image
Click for larger image

Click for larger image"Be aware that there have recently been quite a few fake Shure SM58's on trademe, if you buy one of these you may as well just go down to Dick Smith and buy a $20 mic as that's all it's worth.

"If you have bought a SM58 on Trademe and are concerned that it's a fake then have a look at the pictures on this auction. In all these pictures the one on the left is genuine, the one on the right is fake. If yours is not identical to the one on the left in all aspects then Click for larger imageyou've got a fake.Take a look at the metal ring under the grille, if it is flat then it's fake. If it is contoured like the one on the left it could be real but it's still not gauranteed. And yes they even copy the warranty card too although this is different to the genuine one.

"If your mic comes with a cable packaged in the box then it is also sure to be a fake as real ones don't come with a cable. Most of the fakes are of the switched version so if you have a bought a switched one then be even more careful.Lets face it if it seems too cheap then it's likely to be a fake, no-one in their right mind is going to be selling a real SM58 for less than $180 unless it's stolen or fake, just look at the cheapest price you can buy in the US, add on the shipping and do the maths!!"
Other references:

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

An Interview with Phil Garland

I shared the stage with Phil at the Hokonui Moonshiner's Festival in Gore last weekend and I took the oportunity to ask him a few questions:

Perhaps more than Neil Colquhoun or any of the other veteran collectors of NZ folk songs and lore, you are the most well known and respected. What do you credit this to?

Stickability is the buzz word! Hopefully it's because I've been steadily collecting, researching, recording and performing for over 40 years now and if one keeps persisting with something you really love, then eventually you must get noticed. I do maintain a high profile and consequently manage to entertain all manner of audiences throughout New Zealand and Australia. Fortunately most of them all seem to like what I do.

Tell us about your recording label, Kiwi Pacific and your relationship with them. How many albums have you recorded?

It's an interesting relationship. I first joined forces with them back in the early 1970s - the original deal was done with the shake of a hand and they've been looking after me for some 35 years or more. They used to pick up the expense tab for all my recordings, but that changed after "How Are You. Mate?" in 1990. Since then I've either had to self finance all my projects or find sponsorship from other sources. Kiwi still take care of cover design, packaging and pressing, so I consider myself quite fortunate in this regard. If the albums didn't turn a profit, then I'm sure I'd have been an indie artist long ago.

I've recorded some 16 albums in all mostly with Kiwi Pacific bar one and been involved with or contributed to a further 6 with other companies over the years.

Your latest CD has a Southland theme. What brought this on? How much of this material is your own?

I was commissioned by Creative Southland to research and write appropriate material related to a tourism package combining arts and heritage trails around Southland. I wrote 8 songs for the Southern Odyssey project, and included a couple of trad songs plus some appropriate material from the likes of Paul Metsers, Dusty Spittle, Helen Henderson and Brendon Fairbairn.
The project isn't finished yet - I understand there are still another seven trails to come on board, which means I may well have to write some more songs in the near future.

You have a fairly simple, no nonsense approach to recording your songs. Do you worry that your recordings may become dated or is that consistency a plus for your audience?

Yes I try keep things as simple as possible in the studio. I normally record my voice and guitar at the same time, which I think helps give it a better feel of "live" performance - it sometimes requires a little more effort in miking up to obtain the best results, but it is the way I work best. I have had some very understanding musicians working alongside me over the years and I'm very grateful for their ongoingsupport.

I do my best to work within the parameters and boundaries of the tradition. I don't want to compromise my ideals too much, although I must admit I have made use of modern techniques when recording my backing artists. My feelings are that if the technology is available then why not use it.

I have never worried about my recordings becoming dated - I'm sure they must do over time, especially given the rate of modern technological advancements. If I started to worry unduly about such things then I'd probably never get anything started or finished. Regarding 'consistency' it's not something I've consciously thought about, but there may well be a stream of consistency lurking within!

I really can't answer for my audiences, although to be fair I have had the occsional person say they preferred an earlier and simpler arrangement of a song, to a more modern up to date treatment of the same piece.

I know you sell albums overseas. Is there a good level of interest in your material outside of New Zealand? What other artists recorded your songs?

There is a good level of interest overseas and in this regard a number of people make contact searching out my recordings of New Zealand songs. This has certainly been helped by the world wide presence of my website,enabling me to sell to people in countries I've never been to. Interestingly, whenever I perform at specialised outdoor events and a queue forms to buy albums afterwards - I can guarantee that over 90% of those purchasers are from overseas - In many ways I feel the cultural cringe is still alive and well in Aotearoa New Zealand.

There are a number of overseas artists, who have either incorporated my songs into their performing reperotires or in some instances even recorded them. A few that immediately come to mind are Gordon Bok and Schooner Fare in the USA - Martyn Wyndham Read and The McCalmans in the UK as well as such artists as Wongawilli Bush Band, Leaping Lizards, The Pioneers, Denis & Lynne Tracey, all of whom are from Australia. Graham Wilson - Mike Harding - The Worsfolds - Shona Lang and The Pog Band [oh yeah, that's right - Ed] all recorded something of mine down the years for which I'm eternally grateful as well.

What is your vision for New Zealand folk music and folklore?

I would like to see New Zealand folklore and music incorporated into the education syllabus and eventually made available as a fully fledged folklore studies unit in the Universities. I long to see more Kiwi songs being sung in schools and more people being exposed to our wonderful musical heritage. Radio NZ is the only network that does lend real support to the music via The National Programme. I'm convinced that if more people were made aware of the music it would start achieving better listening levels Maybe even better use of such music at overseas promotions marketing New Zealand. I live in hopes!


Thanks Phil. You can see Phil on YouTube here and visit his website here.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Russian Jack

From the nz-folk list.

John Archer wrote:
I was looking on the internet for details about the swagger Russian Jack (it may have been him who came through the Mangamahu valley in about 1948 and whose reclusive ways scared all us kids) and I came across an article by Wairarapa archivist Gareth Winter containing this quote from an 1880s ballad.

‘Oh, leave me not,’ the maiden cried,
‘To eat my heart in grief away.’
‘Let me depart,’ the youth replied,
‘I must go south to Peter Gray.’
The parson said, ‘My flock, farewell,
‘I must be going without delay;
‘And someone else can toll the bell,
‘I’m going south to Peter Gray.’

The article says the Ballad of Peter Gray became known among all the workers and swaggers of the North Island. He was reputed to have been a contractor, awarded a large contract to clear a substantial amount of scrub. He offered good contracts for workers and men flocked from miles around to work for him. But they had to buy their gear and food from him and they usually ended in debt.

There is also an 1860s comic American Peter Gray ballad, based on Blow Ye Winds of Morning, but there it is the girl who leaves the boy, and it has a different rhyming structure.

I phoned Gareth Winter (who was most helpful) and discovered he had got his NZ Peter Gray quote from the book Swagger Country by Jim Henderson. So any of you who comes across such a book, you may find more of this interesting and well-written ballad. Has anyone already come across it? Phil?

Also, folk researcher Frank Fyfe used to live in Masterton, and if I remember correctly I was was told all his research was left in a box on the veranda of his house, and thrown away when he died. But Gareth mentioned that the Wairarapa Archive has a large number of Frank Fyfe's papers, although he doesn't know of any folk songs among them. The Wairarapa Archive database has this information that I have summarized here:

His papers reflect the wide variety of interests he held:

  • the Greytown Film Society that met in the converted barbershop he and his wife Anne owned;
  • his presidency of the Greytown Folklore Society.
  • researcher of the Wairarapa Branch of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust
  • research into historical affairs in Wairarapa.
  • the formation of the MAJIC, providing employment for middle-aged jobless.
  • political causes, as can be seen by various Labour Party material,
  • he stood for the South Wairarapa District Council, appointed to fill a vacancy in 1995,

Following his death the papers were gathered from various rooms in his house and deposited with the Wairarapa Archive. No order has been imposed on the papers other than keeping obviously similar records together.
John Archer

I am aware of the Peter Gray song and have a 3rd verse for you:-

"The farmer left his untilled crop,
He left uncut his crop of hay,
The woman wept, he would not yield,
But went down south to Peter Gray."

There is a chapter on Peter Gray by John A Lee in his book "Roughnecks, Rolling Stones & Rouseabouts" which is where this verse is printed. Lee states that "a road rhymster wrote hundreds of Peter Gray verses, which were added to by others as his infamy was disclosed> >From an old diary, I cull three verses........
Your original two plus this one!

It would be a most enlightening exercise to research John A Lee's papers, which I believe are deposited in Auckland University Library - feel free to correct me If I'm wrong! I also have "Swagger Country" by Jim Henderson.

Re Frank Fyfe's papers - it's probably best to talk to Michael Brown, who did a lot of research on Frank Fyfe, when writing his wonderful thesis last year. I believe only some of Frank's papers are in the Wairarapa Archive, mostly to do with his Wairarapa research and publishing. Nothing from his folklore collecting days.

None of the Folklore Society Field tapes and inter branch correspondence appear to have survived. The story I heard was that it was all stored in a box, that got rain damaged from a leak developing in the roof directly above. Everything was so damaged that it was unfortunately dumped. Such a shame/disaster in this technological day and age, when some of the important material may well have been retrievable. But it's no use crying over spilt milk - "Such is life" as a well known Australian republican was heard to say just before he departed this mortal coil.
Fortunately I made copies of most of my field tapes before sending the masters up to Frank in Wgtn for deposit in the Turnbull Library, something else that never happened.
Phil Garland

I think Gareth probably got it out of "Roughnecks, Rolling Stones and Rouseabouts" by John A. Lee.Over the last few years I've gone through the National Library archives looking for anything relating to Frank Fyfe's collecting, likewise the Wairarapa Archive. Neither have any of the original fieldwork (tapes, field notes etc.) of the NZ Folklore Society in Wellington. I've been told by a family member that the story about the box of stuff being thrown away after Frank's death is correct. It had been stored in a garage and the material it contained was discovered to be water-damaged. Luckily a few songs were published in 'The Maorilander' and 'Heritage'.The Wairarapa Archive has some of Frank's later field notes in it, but nothing pre-1975. And I didn't find any songs, apart from one he wrote himself about Robbie Muldoon (it wasn't complementary).Thankfully, it seems most of the NZFLS fieldwork done in Auckland and Christchurch has been preserved, thanks to the good efforts of Phil Garland, Rudy Sunde, and Angela Annabell.
Michael Brown

Sorry John, I forgot to mention that "Swagger Country" (1976) has two chapters about Russian Jack, which might help give you a clue whether he was the swagger you saw in 1948. Apparently he mostly swagged between Rangitikei and Wairarapa, including the Para Para road, which would have put him in your neck of the woods. He is described as:
"A tall well-built figure, he had a dropping Stalin-like moustache. He always wore a wide-brimmed felt hat... He always carried a huge pack."
If I remember rightly his battered, knarled boots used to be on display at the tiny Tinui museum near Castlepoint.

Michael Brown

Your mention of Russian Jack, John, takes my mind back to when I was a child and Russian Jack stayed at our house. I was only about 4 and a half and we were living in a settlement called Homewood, on the East Coast of the Wairarapa. Dad was working as a roads labourer and for the rabbiting board. Interesting times for my young parents who’s minds still harked back to the time of the 2nd world war.

Anyway, we lived in this wee cottage in the middle of no where and my mum tended her 60 Rhode Island Reds and sold the eggs, and made her own butter… you know the kind of thing. Russian Jack stayed with us at least twice, perhaps three times. He would never sleep in the house, preferring the outdoors, so my parents made him a bed of hay in a redundant bathtub which awaited installation in vain on the back porch. He seemed a happy guy and not at all scarey, tho my sister said he smelled bad. I never noticed that. He had very intense eyes and leaned down to talk to us. He seemed to think we should dislike him which, of course, made us like him the more.

He did odd jobs for my dad, who in turn mended his boots, which were very worn and holed. And he had a curious layer of newspaper on his head and chest which he said kept out the cold, and wads of newspaper stuffed in his ears.To keep out the bugs, he told my horrified mother.
He was very deaf, so we all had to shout, but it could just have been the wads!

When he went off on his travels , the parents would fill his two billy cans, one with milk and the other with eggs and off he’d go with his billies dangling off his pack.

My parents liked him because he would milk the cows and stuff, but when another traveller turned up my dad took him in dislike and sent him away. He didn’t want to work, my dad said.
We found a wee pile of stones with an arrow of stones pointing to our house. Dad said it was a signal for a sanctuary on the road and that we should leave it alone.

My parents were travellers themselves , in their way, and shortly after Russian Jacks’ last visit we moved away. But it was a happy place with happy memories , and a large part of what made it memorable was Russian Jack.

Cheers, Beverley Young