‘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.

Don’t You Worry About Daggy Boy

A Tractor Drive down memory lane tonight with a Fred Dagg special.

Unlike many of these things I think this will be actually worth watching.
Fred Dagg came at a time when our agonised public intellectuals, whose favourite pose was that they were the only cultured ones in a nation of barbarians, used to rend their garments in the Listener and bewail the lack of a sense of humour in New Zealand.

Fred Dagg/John Clarke proved this wrong, and – by and large – he is yet to be bettered.

One of the reasons he was so good was his humour was based on observations of New Zealanders as they are, and did something weird with them.

Of more recent local humour, BroTown has managed this, with an urban, Polynesian and very Auckland feel.

Billy T managed it occasionally. So – a bit more obscurely – did BFM about 15 years ago with their “Dad’s Tips” sketches.

Too much of our televised humour (McPhail and Gadsby, Pete & Pio being the most glaring examples) were based on taking some offshore comic ideas, usually from an amalgam of Python/Goon/Firesign/Freberg, and adapting them locally.

At times it worked, and at times they managed to go beyond this (I still treasure the memory of McPhail doing Muldoon singing Rod Stewart’s “Do you think I’m sexy?”).

Clarke/Dagg only did this sort of borrowing offshore ideas once – with the Gumboot Song, which was a takeoff of a Billy Connolly number. It was hardly his best work.

He did two much better songs: one, “We don’t know how lucky we are” is fairly well known and I’m not the only person who believes it should be our national anthem.

The other one, less well know, was on a single and called “It’s not a bad day for it.” It was a catchy, country-ish number, funny and exuberant. Great stuff.

A couple of memories: being interviewed about a brilliant idea he’d had about saving energy by running a generator off the back of the power take off on the back of the tractor.

The interviewer asking whether what was gained on electricity savings was lost on the petrol used by the tractor.

Dagg, pausing, removing the ciggie from his mouth and muttering,
“Oh yeah, you been to university, have you?”

Another one, parodying Muldoon’s speech at the National Party conference in the run up to the 10975 election, crying “Wallace Rowling has warts on his bottie! Are you going to vote for a man with warts on his bottie?”