For Kiwi Music Munff: Giant Friend – Mutton Birds

I don’t think I’m the only person who, when this came out, thought they were singing about Janet Frame. 

That, though, would have been a bit too direct for Don McGlashan. 

Someone once defined the Muttonbirds as being like the a Kiwi version of the Kinks with a touch of Twin Peaks’ undefined menace to them.

That to me is almost right. The band – and Don McGlashan’s other work, with Front Lawn and Blam Blam Blam and elsewhere – certainly get, and convey, New Zealand culture in a way the Kinks, at their peak, were able to do for the English. 

But Twin Peaks?  Hmm.  You can see it a bit in this video clip, I suppose. But really, you don’t need to go offshore to seek influcneces.  The band is  like a rock muso version of Maurice Gee’s novels, or of some of our infamous ‘Cinema of Unease’.

If peoeple still bothered to market music compilations, someone could do a very good ‘Music of Unease’ of Kiwi Music. 

In fact, of course, you could probably make one of your own. 

John Clarke/Fred Dagg.

The late, great John Clarke/Fred Dagg on the meaning of life. An excerpt therefrom.


“Of course, in the 20th century, we have produced a fair array of theories about what life’s actually about and probably the existentialists take the buttered confection for getting closest to thinking they had it all worked out. They used to hang about in the Paris area, which is in what we used to call Gaul, and talk about how terrible life was and how they didn’t know if they’d really get to the weekend. They reckoned life was a pretty dreadful business and was filled with a thing called ennui.

“Now, ennui is a terrible thing, and seems to have roughly the same effect as terminal boredom. Ennui actually is a French word meaning Henry. And the story goes that once you get a touch of the Henry’s, it’s all downhill and the only way to relive the symptoms is to whip down the harbour and pull a wave over your bonce and call it a day.”

The full piece is here. 

Rest in Peace. Reports through from Sydney this morning he’s died, aged 68.

Clarke was the closest New Zealand has come to a genuine comic genius. An original, one who, mostly, based his humour on the way New Zealanders talk rather than by just adapting a sketch from Monty Python or Stan Freberg or the Frost Report to local conditions.
He first appeared to a wider audience on Country Calendar in the mid-1970s, just as the country’s economic reliance on pastoral products and the Brits was being pulverised.

He was a breath of fresh air, in so many ways: mostly because of how he talked.

It was very buttoned down Kiwi, but with an ornate side to it: “It’s a wee bit horrendous, this towngoing,” a diffident Dagg mutters in a voice over as he is seen parking his Landrover in Wellington’s Harris Street.

He laughed at the way we talked, but it was a laughter without jeers.

Clarke had the true comic’s gift of being able to show what was funny about New Zealanders but in a way which, somehow, celebrated rather than sneered at it.

There was always a sense of heart, a generosity of spirit, as he laughed – or rather, as he showed us what was funny.




Murray Ball

Murray Ball, RIP. Got a huge collection of Footrot Flats books. You didn’t have to have grown up on a farm to have got the humour of them, but by crikey it helped.

IMG_3274One of my favourites: just a one frame shot of Wal and Cooch, cleaning out either the shed or a pigsty, in the pouring rain. Wal is looking particularly grim and determined, and an air of resigned misery hangs over the entire picture.

Dog is looking out at the viewer, and is saying, ‘Well, it was either this or do the accounts.’

Ball was a junior All Black and perhaps could have gone further but, having spent some formative years in South Africa was particularly vehemently opposed to apartheid. I recall a story of his being on one of the early protests against the 1981 tour – it may even have been the Hamilton riot – and being appalled when fellow protestors starting pulling down the fence to the ground.

When a tour to South Africa was planned in 1985, he withdrew Dog from being the All Black mascot, in an open letter to the Rugby Union.

I clipped it and its selotaped on the inside of one of the collections of Footrot Flat cartoons [see pic]. It captured the turmoil a lot of us felt about rugby contacts with apartheid, at the time: his drawing of Dog taking off his black and white scarf and walking away in sorrow was eloquent and sad and so, so bang on.

Happier was the film of the cartoons strip the following year: it brilliantly caught the entire New Zealand farming world at a time it was changing forever.

Saw the film at Mission Bay cinema: it was thrilling to see something so New Zild on the screen, so recognisable; hilarious in bits and I remember even shedding a tear at one point.

RIP, Murray.

Reading – and how to do it wrong

IMG_7195Sometimes  you hear – or in this case, read –  something and just want to holler NO NO NO NO NO!

You want to take someone politely but firmly by the elbow,

or maybe their STUPID BLOODY THROAT,

take them gently to one side, sit them down, and talk gently to them about how they may have got things wrong or rather


In this case,  two things I have read over the past 48 hours which made me want to either give someone some kind words of advice


And it is about reading.

The first was yet another one of those awful ‘One Thousand And One Books You Must Read Before They Haul You Off To the Undertakers And Start Making With the Formaldehyde’ lists.

I hate these, mostly because they are so damn bossy, and they have at their  root the notion that there is a class of books which are ‘essential’ to make you better as a person.

To which I politely beg to differ. Oh, and


There needs, I think, to be lists of Books It Is OK To Hurl At The Wall Even If Your Cultured Friends Think This Makes You A Less Worthy Person.

I think I can claim to be a reasonably well-read sort of bloke, but a core part of my world view – in all spheres of life, and certainly those relating to personal taste –  is Each To Their Own.

I don’t, for example, think the fact I’ve never really “got” Jane Austen, despite having a reasonably determined crack at Pride and Prejudice back in my Uni days, makes me any less bloody cultured than those who do.

But if it rings your bell, go for your life.

The second thing which caused a bit of a spurt in the blood pressure department was something I saw on GoodReads yesterday which invited people to list the number of books they would like to read this year, as some sort of challenge.

And, again, NO NO NO.

Both these online missives make a similar mistake – even if this second one compounds that mistake with others.

Reading should never be a box-ticking exercise – in any way, shape or form.

Firstly, it is ok to not like books other many people think are great.

In fact, I think it is essential to not like books many other people think are great. It shows an independent mind, something any intelligent reader should possess and use with vigour, enthusiasm, and the occasional cry of THIS IS A LOAD OF ARSE.

And the books you do like, the ones that you will want to re-read later and will, each time you do, discover and delight in something you missed last time, will reflect – and possibly influence –  a mix of your own personality, your own circumstances, your own experiences of life and your own outlook on that life.

This will be a matter of quality, not quantity.

And above all, relax.

Book reading  – and yesterday, as noted earlier, was World Book Day – is not a syllabus nor an obstacle course.

It is one of life’s joys.

Don’t let anyone take that away. 

A note on Beer and Beervana

‘Find yourself at Beervana’ the banner stretched near Wellington’s Cake-tin Stadium recommends those who draw near.

It is a strangely new-agey slogan for Screen Shot 2015-08-15 at 9.42.10 amsomething associated with beer. Self actualisation amid the hops seems a stretch, somehow, although I suppose beer has been associated with rites of passage in New Zealand since time immemorial* so there is some sort of link to matters of meaning there.

Beer has changed. It isn’t flavourless, oversugared swill any more.

Wellington has become, for reasons which may not be totally clear, the craft beer capital of the country as well as being, you know, the real capital.

It is great for Wellers to be associated with something which didn’t have its origin in politics or government or those bloody hobbit movies.

Or does it?

OK, we can, thankfully, skip the political angle.

But I rekkin the emergence of craft beer as Wellington thing is linked closely to the Peter Jackson movies.

Firstly, something was needed to replace coffee for my fellow Wellingtonians to get precious about. Peak coffee snobbery in fact was reached sometime in the mid-late ‘90s – (for Auckland this happened around a decade later) and a replacement was a long time coming.

But the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings brought a new wave of people to the capital.


In this case, extras who played hobbits. Who, in the way of fillum extras everywhere, had to spend a lot of time hanging around waiting for the film technical folk to get film technical things just right.

You can see what happened.

Someone, one day, surveyed this bunch of intense, nerdy, short, bearded blokes hanging around listlessly with nothing to do, and had an idea.

“[click of fingers, lightbulb going off above head] BEER!

Not just any beer, but crafty, fussy beer these fillum types can make a big deal about. Beer which, it is claimed, is “hand crafted” – a term which always triggers a mental image of someone kneading the stuff.

And thus an industry was born.

Do not get me wrong. There are a couple of brew in this lot which I love. Tuatara comes tops – their Helles is a fantastic lager, and I’m a recent convert to their Copper-top.

Hallertau also has a couple of very good products – again, the red brew, ‘Copper Tart’ has a fine flavour which goes well with curries.

A darker brew is the Hallertau Deception. I’m quite a fan of dark lagers – I really miss Christchurch Dux de Lux brewer’s Hereford Dark Lager.

Anyway, enough of this.

Beer is for drinking, for talking over – not about.

*when Wilson Whineray retired from the All Blacks

‘If only….for a minute or two…’ Lucinda Williams, Side Of The Road

I was a cautious record buyer (yes, records, kids. Album length purchases) in my younger days, mostly because of financial caution.

I can name, off the top of my head, roughly half a dozen albums I bought on the strength of hearing one song off them.

This was one of them.

It is also the only time I’ve ever phoned a radio station and asked ‘What was that song you just played, and who sang it?’ – in this case, Auckland University’s Radio BFM, sometime in 1989.

The slightly sombre fiddle offsets Williams’ soaring, longing and oh-so-clear voice. It actually sounds like someone looking across fields, a bit of a wind blowing, grass or corn moving with the breeze. You can feel the space.

And lyrically, of course, it is Williams doing the Greta Garbo, ‘I Vant To Be Alone’ thing, only in a Louisiana accent.

This was ‘alt country’ or ‘Americana’ long before the critics came up with such a label. In the ’80s, country music was about as fashionable as white sports coats and pink carnations.

The entire album is worth it, by the way. A new, 25th anniversary remastered edition has just been released and it is marvellous.

I’m dubious about many of these re-releases – a lot seem to just beef up the bass, chuck in a couple of demos and live versions, and charge $48 for the thing – but the first CD version of the album had an extraordinarily thin sound.

This one’s a keeper.

The Long Shadow of the ‘Stones

It’s impossible not to end up being a parody of what you thought you were  Keith Richards muses in one of the more thoughtful bits in his autobiography, Life.

Keith and Charlie {screenshot from recent Glastonbury concert]
‘I can’t untie the threads of how much I played up to the part that was written for me. Image is a long shadow…I think some of it is that there is so much pressure to be that person that you become it, maybe, to a certain point that you can bear’.
I’m not sure if the Rolling Stones were the first band to self-consciously try to create a “legend” around themselves. Obviously, every rock music act, successful or otherwise, has tried to create an image around themselves. It goes with the territory.
But the ‘Stones set out to go beyond that, it seems to me, and to build the whole ‘outlaw’ thing around themselves. ‘The Rolling Stones are not so much a group, they are a way of life’ their first manager proclaimed sometime during that self-consciously legend-making time of the mid-60s.  And they decided to live up to that – the songs which were as much image making as music making (Sympathy for the Devil, Stray Cat Blues, Midnight Rambler, etc etc etc….)
The journalist in me finds all this a bit bogus. I love the music the band did, between 1968 and sometime towards the end of the 1970s (their last good album, ‘Tattoo You’, came out in 1981, but it was mostly outtakes from the 1973-78 period. I’m in a minority here, I know, but I think it’s better than ‘Some Girls’ – the groove tracks Tops and Slave have a real grinding funk missing off the more acclaimed 1978 album).
But what strikes me is some of the “legends” don’t quite ring right. Back in the late 90s I read a biography of Richards (very much an “as told to” effort by a transcriber by the name of Bokris) which had a number of claims Richards is careful to leave out of his official autobiography.
The Birth Legend is the best of these – born in the middle of a bombing raid.
‘Hitler had me marked!’he proclaimed to Bokris.
Richards was born in December 1943, and its a fact of history that most of what was left of the German Luftwaffe was on the Russian front, or converted to night fighters and trying to defend the Reich (December 1943 was the height of Bomber  Command chief Arthur Harris’s expensive and bloody ‘Battle of Berlin’) at that time.
And Richards, as a bit of a war buff, probably knew this.
So that Birth Legend sounded a bit bogus – and Richards, notably,  doesn’t repeat it in his official autobiography.
He specifically dumps on the ‘Keith gets his blood changed before every tour to flush the heroin out of his system’ legend – a throwaway comment to get rid of pestering journalists, he reckons.
That’s got the ring of truth to it.
So, the ‘Stones play Auckland tonight and I’m not bothering going. Garth Cartwright, in this week’s Listener, mentions something I’d also noticed from the more recent clips of the band in concert –  Keith is barely playing.
But if you look at them, here, playing ‘Jumping Jack Flash’, they’re in full flight – Richards playing to drummer Charlie Watts, whose precise, spare, neat drumming is the anchor which allows the rest of the band to meander off in their ragged fashion.
The whole band is playing their guts out here. They mean it. They’re not posing in this clip, they are playing. If you look at recent clips, there seems to be a lot of posing.
So this tour is about the legend, not the music.  And forgive me for being a cynical, black-hearted journalist, but I’m a bit allergic to self-conscious legend making.
Of which there has been much around the band. I’ve been de-toxing from the recent general election campaign madness by reading rock music autobiographies for some light reading.
Well, I says ‘light’–some of these buggers take themselves awfully seriously (looking at you, Townshend, Morrissey).
The Keith book caused a stir when it came out because he was so rude about lead singer Mick Jagger: the reviews mostly focused on the claim Jagger slept with Richards’ partner, Anita Pallenberg (which was not a new revelation) and also that Jagger has a small todger (which was, although given the way Sir Michael has put it around over the years, there must be a fair section of the female population – and if legend is true, one or two of the males – for whom it wasn’t such news).
He is also very rude about New Zealand’s very own Dunedin, during the ‘Stones first visit in the mid-1960s  – ‘I don’t think you could have found anything more depressing anywhere. The longest day of my life, it seemed to go on forever. ..Dunedin made Aberdeen seem like Las Vegas. Boredom is an illness with me and I don’t suffer from it, but that moment at the lowest ebb. “I think I’ll stand on my head, try to recycle the drugs”.’
Which, you have to admit, is pretty funny.
The public sledging of Jagger was already 15 years old when the book came out: they had a massive public spat in the mid-80s when Jagger recorded a couple of solo albums, and when the ‘Stones came to do their next album it was full of songs about fighting.
They even built what  – to me –  is their last great single around this, One Hit (To the Body) : the accompanying video shows Richards and Jaggar shaping up to each other (look at the clash around the 2 minute mark) and according to Richards’book, they nearly came to physical blows during the filming of this.
Personally, I smell more self-conscious legend creation.
But there is still the music – and that’s what matters here.  When I was growing up in the late 70s, the ‘Stones were on the radio a lot, but it was either the then-current stuff – Miss You, Faraway Eyes, and Beast of Burden off of ‘Some Girls’, or the Big Ones from the sixties/early 70s (Satisfaction, Brown Sugar, Jumping Jack Flash and Honky Tonk Women mostly).
Oh, and they were on the news bulletins, obviously. It was around the time of the legendary (there we go again) Toronto drug bust, when it looked like Richards would go to jail for drug trafficking.
I couldn’t have been less interested in the drug aspects (all that stuff struck me as being a bit silly, and still does) but I loved the guitar sounds. Most of the radio at the time was disco (or so it seemed) and there is something about the kerrang of an electric guitar and the swing and punch of a good solid rhythm section which still gets me.
But because I always liked to know the history of everything I got interested in, I started reading about this outfit….first year away from home, at Wellington Polytechnic, discovered the tape library and borrowed ‘Let it Bleed’and ‘Beggars Banquet’.

From the opening bars of ‘Gimme Shelter’   (this version, live from the late 1990s, is pretty good) I was hooked.

I bought my first copy of ‘Exile on Main Street’, second hand, in Cuba Street’s Silvio Records that year  – the first album I’ve ever bought on the strength of knowing only one track.

Still probably my favourite, the superb Tumbling Dice, of course: love the drunken skid of guitar at the start, then Watts rights the song with a couple of precise drum strokes.  (there is a *great* live version from the mid-1990s here, on Martin Scorseses’s “Shine A Light” film.)

I’m now on my fifth copy of Exile. It takes a while to get into, this album –it’s a double album which means almost all reviews call it “sprawling”–but its mix of country, blues and rock is something other, lesser bands, have been trying to recapture ever since.
This one leapt out at me the first time I spun that tape, and I still love it.
Torn and Frayed is *very* country, reflecting the Gram Parsons influence on Richards at the time. And, again, it is about the legend of the ‘Stones and of Richards in particular:  all about a band, and a guitar player ‘Joe’ who needs ‘codeine’ to fix his ‘cough’.  Umm, yeah.
Still. Magical track. As someone observed a few years ago, during the height of the alt-country thing a few years ago, ‘Alt country is just what the Rolling Stones were doing between 1968 and 1972″. Here’s your proof.
Jagger himself doesn’t like Exile much – too ragged and disorganised, apparently – and Richards has a final jab at him on the subject:
‘Whenever I heard “Oh we don’t want t go back and recreate Exile on Main Street” I’d think “I wish you fucking could, pal!”‘
Yeah, me too.