Monday, February 22, 2016

Marcus William Turner, 16th February 1956 — 2nd February 2016

New Zealand folk music icon and former children's television presenter Marcus Turner died suddenly at his Dunedin home just shy of his 60th birthday.

Born to English immigrant parents in Roxburgh, Marcus grew up with his younger brother and sister, Linus and Marcella, in the small East Otago village of Karitane. Both his parents were psychiatric nurses at the then Cherry Farm Mental Hospital, where he himself sometimes worked. He became head boy at East Otago High School and majored in Zoology at Otago University, graduating with honours in 1978.

Marcus started work in television for the NZBC, initially in front of the camera – most notably as a presenter of the children's programme Spot On – then as a producer, writer and director of Play School and the inspirational children's natural history programme Wildtrack. In later years he worked in the Natural History Unit of Television New Zealand, where he remained through all its iterations to the overseas-owned NHNZ of today. He was highly respected as a researcher, writer, director and producer.

It was through his television work that he met his wife, Anne Hewton, then a production assistant, and together they moved to London briefly in the late 80s where Marcus would try to make his mark on the international folk music scene.

From his earliest university days he became involved in folk music, singing and learning to play a prodigious number of instruments. He was a member on Dunedin's first bush band, The Ginger Minge Binge Bush Band performing at barndances around Otago and had a regular spot at the Law Courts Hotel in the late 70s. However, it was his prowess as a gifted songwriter that would bring him to the attention of a far wider audience.

Since the unlikely minor hit single of his satirical Civil Service Song in the early 80s, he gained international recognition with performances at New Zealand, Australian and British festivals, coming to the attention of many other performers who have covered his songs: most notably Irish singer Andy Irvine who recorded his astounding When the Boys Are On Parade, a cunningly woven protest song that leaves the listener in some doubt as to which side they should be on:

“You may well prefer abstention,
But I feel compelled to mention,
You'd do well to pay attention,
When the boys are on parade.”

All over the world people are singing his Spider in the Bath song and “When you're feeling down the best way up is chocolate...” His concert performances were legendary for his humour and wit, both in and around his songs and his ability to take his audience on a roller-coaster ride of emotion. He was something of a linguistic virtuoso as his song lyrics will attest.

While living and performing in London, Marcus came quickly to the realisation that he didn't have the stomach for the highly competitive and sometimes acrimonious performance world of English folk clubs and returned to New Zealand to raise a family and resume his television career, with music as an important sideline. He and Anne took up residence in their Macandrew Bay home where they remained for the rest of their lives. Anne died in 2014 after a long illness.

For all his considerable output, Marcus recorded only two albums: the LP The Best is Yet to Come in the early 80s and more recently the CD Laid Down. For a quarter of a century, he was a member of the innovative string band The Chaps and made three recordings with them, all of which contain songs written by him. The band toured Europe in 2003 and 2006 and played at many festivals throughout New Zealand, although Marcus carried on his solo career as well.

Over his adult life, Marcus acquired a huge array of traditional folk instruments from all around the world and could play them all to some degree, and often performed the traditional music and songs associated with them. He was nothing if not authentic.

Marcus was a founder and life-long member of the New Edinburgh Folk Club, spending several early years on its committee in all capacities. He was a guest at the club's most recent Whare Flat Folk Festival, its 40th,,where he debuted a number of fine songs that he was planning to record and take with him on a tour of Germany scheduled in September. For all his charismatic stage presence, he was in reality a quiet and unassuming person, exceedingly humble and a gentleman in every sense of the word.

He was an early adopter of the internet, setting up and maintaining with the author a New Zealand folk music discussion forum and a website ( that is a directory of the NZ folk music scene since 1993.

Living on his beloved Otago Peninsula, he found no shortage of inspiration in the natural world around him, with a cynical eye for its future. He had an inquisitive nature and a thirst for knowledge his whole life, learning several languages and teaching himself computer programming, making him all the more valuable to his colleagues at NHNZ as they broadened their markets across the world. He had a particular love for, and  a deep knowledge of penguins. He kept hens, just because he liked them.

Marcus is survived by his daughters Cushla (25) and Maura (20).

This obituary is presented here as submitted to the Otago Daily Times - Mike Moroney.

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