Take me to the January Sun in Cuba…. Maw-hawll-aul….

Pegasus
Vellichor: the Second Hand Book Store vibe, this one from Pegasus Books.

There is a thing I call the Cuban Meander: start anywhere in Wellington’s Cuba St quarter and wander around, dropping into any shops or cafes which take your fancy.

Or stare at the Bucket Fountain and wonder if it is taking kitsch a bit too far.

The Cuban Meander was something I started doing, in true exploratory and unfocussed form, in 1982: The Southern Cross, just off the top of Cuba in Abel Smith St, was the unofficial Wellington Polytech pub and it used to be the place to meet in the evenings for the journalism course I was on.

Technically I shouldn’t have been there at all: the drinking age was still 20 and I was, at the start of the year, a very green and young looking 17.

The pub owner was blessed with some admirable and commercially astute powers of tactical myopia when it came to pouring beers for people for patrons whose faces were apparently held together by acne. The age issue only came up when his hand was forced or he simply wanted to get rid of someone.

Mind you, one member of the journalism course did rather force the issue when he applied for a part time job behind the bar there: you had to be 20 to work in a pub as well and he assured the owner he was of age despite looking about 15.
All went well for a week or so until they were discussing rugby: the lad was discussing his own abilities on the pitch and the owner asked him what level he played at.

“Oh, the under-19s…” began the soon-to-be ex-barman.

Anyway, it used to be my practice to have a beer or two on Thursday or Friday nights and then weave down Cuba St, popping in to the second hand book and rekkid stores as I went.

Few are still there: Slow Boat was, from memory, about two doors up from where it is now but it was much more gloomy and crammed, and certainly far less well organised. Pretty sure it had had different owners then.

The Ferrit Book store was – again, from memory – about where Olive Cafe now is.

I don’t know if Pegasus Books was in Cuba St then or not. I have an idea it may have been way down the bottom, over the road from James Smiths.

Anyway, they have survived.

Cuba Street is the place for things that survive, often against the odds and certainly against whatever the current trend is doing.

I’m hardly an ‘alternative’ type of character but I love these places: they are needed because any society needs its diversity, not as a slogan or a badge of moral superiority as that term tends to be used these days, but as a simple unaffected reality.

And as for my favourite type of shop – the secondhand book shop – they are havens and laid back, non-authoritarian schools. Second hand book shops will, I believe, be the last repositories of civilisation.

Anyway. Here’s Dragon. Cuba St

‘Meanwhile, back….’

Been a year of anniversaries, hasn’t it?

As an aside, the first modern centenary, according to a thing I read on the weekend in the TLS, was 400 years ago, 1617 – the 100th anniversary of the start of the Reformation. It marked the occasion when Martin Luther popped down to the local Mitre 10 and got a hammer & some nails, all the better to affix his wee note on the problem with Catholicism to the door of the local kirk.

We just, for New Zild political nerds, had the 30th Anniversary of the fourth Labour government’s December 1987 economic package. It was this which finally split that government, eventaully, with the ripping noise being the main political sound effect for the next 12 months.

More recently there was the 100th anniversaries of the Russian Revolution – the October, Bolshevik one, that is – and the Battle of Paschendale.

January 2017 was 50 years since Rob Muldoon first became finance minister, and didn’t that end well?

Musically, 1967 was a biggie.

I’m going to focus on music now, simply because I’m sitting in a hospital waiting room so screw having a look at anything serious.

Earlier in the year it was 50 years since the Beatles released their Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album.

Someone coming to the matter, cold, would be left with the impression this was one of the greatest cultural event since the last greatest cultural event which got the baby boomers all excited.

There is, of course, the release of yet another rerelease/reissue/remastering of the album, this one is ‘super deluxe’ one in which you can hear Ringo scratching himself in both mono and stereo.

As someone who was only a month or so off my third birthday, I have to say Sgt Pepper didn’t make a great deal of impact on me at the time.

I can remember Penny Lane on the radio, earlier that year. It was, I now gather, originally intended for the album, as was the other side of that single, Strawberry Fields Forever, but they wanted a single and, as was the custom with British bands, it was released separately.

I think both are better than anything actually on the album, with the possible exception of A Day In The Life. Years later, as a teenager taking an interest in music and being more than a little disgruntled with what was on the radio at the time, I asked for the album for Christmas. It was, after all, supposed to be the greatest album of all time, according to the musical books I’d read.

It was…interesting, certainly. Great swirling depths on some tracks, especially ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ and ‘Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite’. Some of it was a bit naff. It was ok, and interesting – certainly more so than the disco (and worse) on the radio in the late’70s.

But ‘Penny Lane’ is a song I still associate with childhood summer: to me, those high exuberant trumpets sound like the sun on the skin feels. Dad had made a sandpit for us at the start of the summer and I remember playing with this great little red tractor in it; the sound of the old radiogram coming through the window, the kind of deep, wooden mahogany tones which are unique to the sort of cabinet those old devices came housed in.

I’m sure being mixed in mono had something to do with it, for audiophiles, and probably being played on vinyl also had an effect.

But I’ve never heard music with quite the same warm rich tones since. This is probably partly nostalgia but hey, its Christmas.

It is a bit weird, looking at the video clip the Beatles did at the time, because it is so clearly the dead of northern hemisphere winter and it is a song which to me beams the laid-back heat of a New Zealand summer.

Other music from that year – and it must have been a time I was starting to notice what was on the radio – was Bobbie Gentry’s Ode to Billie Joe.

This was very much to my taste, because it mentioned ‘my brother was out baling hay’. I loved the machinery brought in for making hay on the farm, especially the baler. There should be more songs which mentioned baling hay, I remember thinking at the time. The rest of the song seemed a bit pointless.

The Fear….

…and more on the rugger.

An English bloke I met trekking in Nepal, in 1998-99, had been in the English schoolboy rugby team and had played against our lads.
He’d been coached by Terry Cobner, pack leader for the 1977 Lions – he may have been vice captain, I’m not sure.
Anyway, Cobner coached them on the psychology of New Zealand rugby: we play not out of joy of winning, he rekkined, but out of a fear amounting to terror of losing.

cobner
Terry Cobner, wiliness personified, during the 1977 series

I had to point out that, at the time, the  All Blacks seemed to have regrettably overcome this fear – 1998 was one of the worst seasons ever, something Liam Hehir indirectly reminded me of on the Twitter this morning.

Perhaps it is also why New Zealand is treating last night’s draw as a loss, while the Brits are treating it as a win.

Fifteen All? Perhaps it was deserved. Would have been happier if it had been deserved bacause of some iffy play by the ABs in the first half, and not some even iffier decidions by the reff in the final quarter.

Third Test against the Lions…40 years ago

This was Graham Mourie’s first test. Huge build-up. The ABs had lost the previous test and only had an iffy win in the first test. Coming the year against a lost series in South Africa, there was a sense of crisis.

The selectors went berko after the second test loss, making six changes and – most shockingly of all – dropping veteran halfback Sid Going.

It was an extremely wet winter, and Carisbrook had been rained on all week. From memory, the rugby union hired a couple of helicopters to fly up and down the ground for hours before the test, trying to dry out the ground with the downdraft from the rotor blades.

This may be a bit of a legend. I don’t know.

The dropping of Going at halfback was seen as a signal the All Blacks would run the ball through the backline rather than having Sid Going have a go on his own and fold it back into the forwards.

Anyway, they showed they would do that, right in the opening minute. Bruce Robertson – Counties’ only player in the side, something I kind of noted, as a Waiuku lad – had a fantastic day.

After a couple of years without a decent goalkicker – Joe Karam, who has since gone on to fame in other areas, had been a dead-eye dick with the boot for years but in 1975 he went to league – the new boy at fullback, Bevan Wilson, was a real find.

And of course it was Kirkpatrick’s 50th try.

Anyway, it was a really great game. Here’s the highlights.

And here’s hoping to a decent win tonight.

Where Have All the Good times Gone?

Ray Davies wrote this when he was 21. His producer apparently said it was the kind of thing a 40-year-old would write.

Personally, I was about one year old when the original came out, at the end of 1965, but when I was discovering the Kinks in the late 1970s, this was on a live album.

It’s a somewhat rocked up, stadium version, it has more bounce than the original recording, but retains the same knowing, warily ironic lyrics. I fell in love with the Kinks around this time, even though they were well past their best. It was difficult to get hold of out-of-print albums in New Zealand then, but I managed, after a few years, to scour enough second-hand bins to put together a collection.

I loved them because they were so damn different to anything else going on – even though you could hear their influence in a lot of the music of the time.

Ray Davies visited Buck House last month and arose Sir Ray.

Davies sang like an old man, well before he was one. The run of recordings from roughly  mid-1966 to mid-1969,  although spread around several different albums,  some nominally formed around “concepts”, plus a splattering of magnificent if often neglected singles,  is like a unified body of work.

A body of work completely out of sync with its times:  amid the spectacular multicolour of psychedelia and the self-conscious,  self-dramatising youth revolution of the late 1960s,  Ray Davies penned a series of monochrome songs about the world that was being lost.

“Dead End Street”, a single at the end of 1966, could probably began this body of work, although there were glimpses in some of the tracks on the ‘Face To Face’ album earlier in the year.

“Dead End Street”  is more reminiscent of the 1930s than the 1960s:  Davies’ vocal begins,  pinched and cold,  like an unemployed man huddling into a cold army surplus overcoat for warmth.

‘There’s a crack up in the ceiling
And the kitchen sink is leaking …’

The rhythm is a march: there are horns, like a northern brass band, and it calls to mind mental pictures of the Jarrow March of 1936 rather than the psychedelic “happenings” of 1966.

The video is silly, but one thing it has in common with the song is it is in black and white.

Davies’ songs from this era all sounded monochrome: they were like Ealing, or Boulton Brothers, films set to music.

‘Dirty old river, must you keep rolling, flowing into the night?’

Including, of course, the masterpiece: Waterloo Sunset. A big part of the appeal of the song is the loneliness of its narrator (‘every day I look at the world from my window’) and the imagery of the detached, solitary observer viewing the bustling crowd and the dirty old river, rolling, flowing into the night, sticks in the mind.

There’s both a distance and a clarity and a detail in what Davies is singing about – again, the imagery is monochrome, and his brother Dave’s guitar matches the mood perfectly.

And if words, and playing is gritty and monochrome, the ethereal backing vocals float away, above the busy urban scene, like Philip Larkin gazing through his High Windows, nowhere and endless.

This body of work culminated in two albums, ‘The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society’ and ‘Arthur or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire’  – the latter from a tv play by Julian Temple which was, in the end, never made.

Davies has since redone it, with a choir – there’s a live version here. It works, pretty much.

Davies said once, somewhere, that Waterloo Sunset is him at his best, and he himself as not as good as Waterloo Sunset. I recently read Johnny Rogan’s recent biography of him, ‘Complicated Life’ and this is certainly a piece of that good old English understatement. While not exactly a hatchet job, Rogan – whose earlier book on the Kinks was subtitled ‘A Mental Institution’ – does not exactly go out of his way to hide his subject’s flaws.

But it’s always the way, isn’t it? Brilliant creativity – and Davies’ influence can be heard on musos as diverse as David Bowie, the Who, the Smiths, Ian Dury, and even our own Split Enz – often goes hand in hand with a certain personal rebarbativeness of character. “A miserable little bleeder” one of his uncles dubbed him when he was a child, and there’s no doubt Davies, from childhood, was suffering from some form of undiagnosed mental illness.

There’s a good recent interview with him in the New Statesman here, where he discusses hipsters and Pete Townshend, amongst other things.

He’s clearly an awkward bugger, somewhat at odds with life. But that kind of goes with the territory, it seems.

 

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. 

‘And another thing, I’ve been wondering laayte-lee’ ….

Ok, finishing the weekend with another Aussie outfit – the Hoodoo Gurus from 1987. Great year.

Introduced by Suzi Quatro wearing the most awesome mullet of all time.

Superb, surging powerpop/rock, this number.

‘Oh where oh where can my scene be….?’

So gloriously different: Do Not Adjust Your Set

Scene: A field. An unmistakable historic figure from 200 years ago stands, alone and glowering, in his French uniform, his arm tucked in characteristic pose. 

A stentorian voiceover demands, rhetorically: ‘Why did Napoleon keep his hand inside his waistcoat?’

Napoleon pulls his hand out. His trousers fall down. 

This was one of the earliest things I can remember laughing like a drain at for several hours afterwards.  It is stuck in my mind for that reason and also because it was the first time I realised how you pronounced ‘Napoleon’. 

 I had read the word – probably in Look and Learn magazines –  but had no idea how to pronounce it.

Napoleon was, I think, played by either David Jason or Terry Jones.  The sketch  was from  Do Not Adjust Your Set, a tv series made in Britain in the late 1960s by several people who went on to form of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

It is best described as a kind of children’s version of Monty Python, although it pre-dates that series.

It was shown in New Zealand in the early 1970s –  I think 1972.

And I loved it.  The combination of eccentricity,  humour,  and historical references like the one above was just magical.

It was just so gloriously different. 

It’s been on my mind at the moment because I threw together an iTunes music playlist for a road trip last month labelled “Brits” which included the obvious ones such as the Kinks and Madness and Ian Dury and the Jam and the Smiths…and then, for light relief, the Bonzos.

Vivian Stanshall was…well, an alcoholic nutter, and probably rather awkward to be around. A brilliant eccentric, though.

The Bonzos only had one hit – I’m the Urban Spaceman – and the B side was this lovely piece.

I first heard this on a jukebox in an Auckland cafe, sometime in the mid-eighties, and lay on the floor under the table laughing uncontrollably.

 

 

‘It may not be the new sensation, but it’s the nearest thing to heaven….’

 

Something exuberantly innocent about this song

 One of those online discussions that you get into, or rather arguments I should say, this week featured the pros and cons of National Radio’s “Matinee Idle” programme.
I’m a defender of the programme. I enjoy it. It’s often a bit naff, and to be frank I don’t want to listen to it for long stretches. But it’s fun.
The comparison I use is that it is like one of those old motor camp lounges. These may still exist. I hope they do.

They’re the sort of places that are furnished with ancient, dishevelled chairs and lounge suites, out-of-tune pianos, a rich supply of books, many of them Reader’s Digest versions, slightly dodgy novels from the likes of Harold Robbins and Sven Hassell, probably a few new-agey books on meditation or transactional analysis, plus the occasional gem such as Evelyn Waugh’s ‘Scoop’ or Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Slaughterhouse Five’.(Don’t laugh: I’ve found both these in motor camp lounges)

There will be books about World War Two – of course there will. The large ones about tanks will have pages torn out, and perhaps drool stains.
And there will be one of those ancient Ultimate radiograms, probably stocked with scratchy recordings of the Beach Boys Golden Greats, Trini Lopez Live at PJ’s, the Howard Morrison Quartet, and various 20 Solid Gold hits volume Umpteen compilations.
On wet days, and even and the occasional dry days, there will be some kids either playing on ping-pong tables, or some sort of go-round-the-room-by-leaping-around-the-furniture-so-you-don’t-touch-the-floor games on the ancient long-suffering furniture.

Someone will have “Spiders and Snakes” or “Fernando”  going on the stereo. There will be some kids trying to bash out ‘Chopsticks’ on the old out-of-tune piano.

That’s the Matinee Idle vibe. It suits the Kiwi summer brilliantly  like a battered, over-worn jandal.

Okay, I’m sounding completely nostalgic here. The list of examples  outlined probably betrays my own age, a 1970s childhood. It’s been much on my mind the past few weeks, partly because summer always seems to engender at least some wafts of nostalgia.

Someone once called this the “L & P Tinted Spectacles”  view of Kiwi summers. I can’t claim credit for that phrase – I wish I could, it’s brilliant – but I’m inclined to engage in the behaviour, while being aware of the pitfalls.

My earliest memories of summer are of the ground. I suspect this is not unusual: one is rather close to it at that stage of one’s life.

Drought-hardened ground, often with Onehunga weed, particularly noticable as childhood involved going everywhere in bare feet. The pads toughened up by the end of summer, which was useful for going to school: a half mile walk up a gravel road at the start and finish of each day.

There was the hard dry ground of the farm in summer: being taken over to either the hay shed or whichever hay paddock was being worked at the time.

The dirt tracks, usually graded at the start of the season because they would have become so puggy during winter, flattened by the tractors towing the hay tedder and baler, and then the truck carrying loads of hay.

The sounds, too: the rattle of the old tedder we used when I was young, a converted International make which had originally been towed by horses.

The hay baler, with its spurt, spurt, spurt, engine pushing out the hay bales and which always managed to sound more urgent when there was a rush on – either because of looming rain clouds or simply because there was so much to get done.

First time I heard the word ‘message’  was about haymaking – I was about four, and was told Grandma would be coming down ‘with a message about the baler’ – and Mum would have to take it over to the where Dad and Grandpa were working. I had to look out and tell her when Grandma was coming.

I wanted to see what this ‘message’ thing was. I pictured something physical and was disappointed when, in the event, nothing was actually  handed over.

The smells, of course…freshly made hay smells uniquely sweet, but not in a sickly way. It has an uplifting freshness, even when – as when I got a bit older – you’ve been hauling the bales around all day.

The hay smells though are mingled, in the hay paddock, with other aromas: old fashioned baling twine has its own, grease-like smell, and of course there’s is also the smell of grease itself, from the continually working hay tedder and baler.

‘..across the fields of stubble where the bales, they had been….’

Grease, to me, always smells no-nonsense , businesslike. It’s a very practical smell.

Summer holidays, usually a week, sometimes 10 days, one landmark  year a whole two weeks at Camp Morley on the shores of the Manukau.

It’s still there but very different now: all Lockwood chalets.

Back then it was four buildings, two family sized units in each. The buildings were old army huts from World War II – I think they’d been used by the Americans in New Zealand. at the end of the war they’d been put on barges in Onehunga and shipped across the Manukau.

They were pretty basic. Everything in them was second hand.

Ancient beds, with sagging wire bases. Didn’t matter after a while: a lot of the time we’d camp out somewhere along the beach. It tended to be roughly the same families at the same time every year and we all got to know each other pretty well. Friendships – and alliances and rivalries – built up over successive summers.

After dinner: the whole camp would usually join in a huge game of longball which lasted until the sun went down, sometime after 9am.

There were no TVs in the camp. Some of the caravanners would bring in portables but this was widely regarded as kind of copping out on summer. It missed the whole point.

It was on the southern side of the Manukau, across from Mangere Airport. The year the first jumbo jet landed – 1971, I think, one of the first years we went there – the entire camp sat along the edge of the foreshore to see it coming in, One of the older kids (i.e. about eight or nine) running up and down and yelling ’the jumbo jet! The jumbo jet!’ As it came in low towards Mangere.

Being the Manukau, the tide went out a long way. At low tide, in the distance, were two rocks. A couple of kids walked out to them one day and came back reporting there was a whole lot of bombs out there, and the rocks were in fact very large slabs of concrete.

No-one believed them, of course, but enough curiosity was roused for a general expedition the next day.

This produced about half a dozen little bomb-like things, in various stages of corrosion and general dismemberment. Full size they were about the length and diameter of a fully grown guinea pig.

One of the adults at the camp – a Territorial in his spare time – took one look, turned puce and phoned up the Ardmore Military Camp (it dates this piece that there still was a camp at Ardmore).

A couple of Serious Uniformed Blokes turned up in a landrover. Looked at the bits of bomb spread out on the footpath by the temporarily abandoned home made go-Karts, chuckled, and suggested they had once been smoke bombs, probably, but 30 years previously. They were no risk to anyone now, at least not explosively.

Lurking on the edge during all this was a lad, about 17 I’d say, who worked on the farm next door. He was hanging around because – as was plain to me even at that age and with my tendency to be oblivious to these nuances – he had a huge crush on one of the girls.

He mentioned, to the army blokes, there was a bomb-like thing over at the farm. it was propping up the door to one of the sheds, he reckoned. “Oh, go and get it, we’ll have a look,” says one of the Army guys (they had relaxed, and someone had made them a cuppa and had brought out the biscuit tin.)

The lad returns, 10 minutes or so later, with this missile-shaped device: bigger than the ones hauled out of the Manukau mud, about a foot and a half long  and in pretty good condition.

The army blokes leap up from their tea with some urgency, carry it delicately out to the middle of the field where we played longball and indicate, with some  degree of excitement, that everyone should keep away for a bit.

A bit of historical research turned up a few facts: there had been an air-base further along the spit of land the camp was on, and both the blocks out at low tide, and the concrete building in the paddock next to the camp, had been used for target practice during World War Two by squadrons based there.

The following year, a bunch of us announced we were going to go along and find the old airbase site.

It was a big expedition, set up with all the focus and serious determination small boys can bring to such projects. We packed lunches, drinks, and set off at low tide to find the base.

Operation Seagrove – ‘Seagrove’ being the name of the base – took a couple of attempts, but like good keen young Kiwi lads, we eventually knocked the bugger off.

That is the other thing summers are for, regardless of your age. Expeditions, voyages into the unknown, whether the “unknown” is river, sea, mountain or other natural spaces, or the inner spaces explored by new books, or old books re-discovered.

Summer break gives the rest of the year some perspective. It involves taking some distance from the day-to-day. This often involves an indirect route, but indirect routes, on such intrepid journeys, only add to the depth and experience.