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Riding into the Sunset

September 6, 2014

Johnny Cooper albumJohnny Cooper passed away this week, aged 85, at home in Nae Nae.

New Zealand’s rock’n’roll pioneer was a cowboy at heart. Although in rock histories Cooper is praised for making New Zealand’s first rock’n’roll recording, a cover of ‘Rock Around The Clock’, his most significant release was a self-penned country song, ‘Look What You’ve Done’.

Cooper had a busy, varied career. In the early 1950s, before he ever heard the words “rock’n’roll”, he recorded several country 78s. He toured Korea three times as an entertainer for the New Zealand troops. He wrote what is regarded as the first original New Zealand rock and roll song to be recorded, ‘Pie Cart Rock and Roll’.

The rest of my profile of Johnny Cooper is here at Audioculture.

And here is an audio tribute I put together for RNZ National.

Johnny Cooper and Pat McMinnI especially love this photo of Johnny having a singalong with Auckland pop vocalist Pat McMinn during their tour of Korea in 1955 entertaining New Zealand troops. It captures the woolshed party quality of his music, and also the transition between old school pop and rock’n’roll.


June 16, 2014

Beatles 1984 Listener coverThe Beatles arrived in New Zealand 50 years ago this week. I was just about to turn five. We had a surprise guest at our panel discussion at Wellington’s Museum of City & Sea on Sunday 15 June: John Lennon’ second cousin, Lynda Mathews. It was her family in Eketahuna that Lennon’s Aunt Mimi visited while she was in New Zealand at the time of the Beatles’ 1964 tour. I didn’t realise Mimi stayed in the country four months, visiting all her relatives.

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Both TVNZ and TV3 showed an interest in the “We Come in Peace” talk, and featured items in last night’s news bulletins. The TV3 report concentrated on Lynda, while TVNZ showed archive footage and interviewed the two old enthusiasts who organised the discussion.


2 Listener storyFor a limited time, here is the Listener “oral history” cover story I did in 1984 – when the anniversary was only 20 years. The hand tinting of Jack Short’s Evening Post photo was by Karen Colebourne. Roughly photographed – but the pages should be readable if you click on them to expand.

© NZ Listener 1984

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There is also fascinating, but silent, footage of the Beatles’ arrival in Wellington at the Pathe news site, and a good clip of the airport hongi at the on-line encyclopedia Te Ara, and an article on their eight days in New Zealand at

Silver Sax Man

June 5, 2014

Stu BuchananOn the phone, Stu Buchanan was instantly likeable, and I regret that I never met him. The legendary Christchurch jazz musician – sax, clarinet, flute – wrote me a couple of wry letters after Blue Smoke was published. They were evocative and quick-witted and any criticisms were put across in a charming way. (“You’ve left some things out, but you’ve included lots of things I never knew …”). One letter was about his early years in Auckland, where he was an early devotee of the jazz scene, attending the radio dance band live broadcasts at 1ZB’s Durham Street studio, and witnessing some key musicians. If I’d known that I would have made certain I interviewed him, but I had thought his career began after the close-off date of the book: 1964.

Stu entertained thousands in a playing career of over 50 years, and influenced hundreds of Christchurch musicians as a teacher and an organiser of many bands (he formed the Garden City Big Band). As recently as April he was still playing, but he passed away this week. As a composer, he could be quite edgy, but was always accessible. (In 1989 the Silver Saxes of Stu Buchanan released The Beatles Revisited – jazz versions of early Beatles songs, on which he was accompanied by younger Christchurch musicians such as Tom Rainey, Tom van Koeverden and his son, the drummer Kere Buchanan. Another son, Lyn, is also a well-known, highly regarded drummer.)

On Facebook, John Dix described Stu as “warm and wonderful man, a fantastic musician and a Christchurch institution”, and the young Wellington jazz drummer Reuben Bradley said Stu was “probably the world’s best example of a gentleman and a rascal … definitely evident in every conversation and every ballad he ever played.”

In Jo Jules’s lovely 2009 pictorial history of Christchurch jazz, A Passion for Jazz, there is a lively photo of Stu and others having a blow in the Chook Fowler Septet in the early 1960s. The musicians feature many of the A-team of the era: Harry Voice, Mike Gibbs, Rod Derrett, Chook Fowler and Martin Winiata.

Stu was born in 1930, in the King Country, and grew up on a farm. As a child he enjoyed Hawaiian music and jazz. “The atmosphere of their music was very appealing to my childhood ears,” he told Jules …

I whistled and sang a lot as a child and I guess the extemporising area of music had arrived in my whistling world long before I picked up a blowing instrument. So I just mimicked what I had been whistling.

On YouTube there are some clips of Stu playing with the Garden City Big Band in October 2013, at the CD launch for Hey! What’s the Time? This clip is a medley of tunes from the album.

In 2012 I interviewed Stu and another Christchurch music identity, Neill Pickard, for special edition of Blue Smoke for Radio New Zealand that was devoted to Christchurch music from the 1930s to 1960s. Stu’s first-hand observations of characters such as Martin Winiata and “Mal” McNeill are priceless. The programme can be listened to here, and towards the end it features Stu with the New Zealand Jazz Quartet playing ‘Black Orpheus’ from the Peak album Makin’ Tracks. Also at Radio New Zealand’s website is a profile of Stu produced by Sonia Yee.

This Sunday, 8 June, there is a function for musicians and friends to celebrate Stu’s life at the Woolston Club from 5-8 pm. The Garden City Big Band will play some numbers including some of Stu’s compositions.

Maori Cabaret

June 2, 2014

I first heard about the Moteo Jazz Band when my friend Walnut sent me a photocopy of their studio portrait. It came from a book of regional history, he said, but I ran out of time to track it down. Besides, I knew nothing about the band. But the photo spoke volumes: here was an all-Maori band, formally dressed, who took their music seriously and proudly labelled themselves a jazz band. Unlike so many early “jazz” bands in New Zealand, there are no novelty instruments.

Moteo is a blink-and-you-miss-it settlement west of Napier, Hawke’s Bay; its paddocks are now teeming with grapes, but the marae is still there, near Moteo Pa Road. To think of somewhere so isolated producing such a well-presented, aware jazz band so early is just staggering – and wondering how they sounded is just fascinating. 

Moteo Jazz BandThis low-res photo of the Moteo Jazz Band comes from the Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi (#5692). I presume the woman is the pianist, and that it dates from the late 1920s or early 1930s. Note there is a double-bass player: early jazz bands, such as Epi Shalfoon’s Melody Boys in 1930, used a sousaphone for the bass lines.

The only references to the Moteo band I have found thus far come via PapersPast, in an advertisement from the Auckland Star of 27 March 1928. The band has travelled to Auckland to give three charity concerts, with the proceeds going towards “a proposed hostel for sick Maoris at Ngaruawahia Pa”. Moteo advert AS 27 March 1928Perhaps they were connected with Princess Te Puea; certainly they were well connected enough to play before the Prince of Wales, and the Duke of Duchess of York. Presumably the band entertained Mr and Mrs York – parents of the current Queen – on their 1927 New Zealand tour, when they visited Rotorua and recordings were made of Ana Hato. The Prince of Wales connection is more difficult: later known as Edward VIII, this prince was the Nazi-sympathiser who abdicated the throne in 1936 to marry the American divorcee Wallis Simpson. He visited New Zealand in 1920, which would make the Moteo group New Zealand’s earliest jazz band. I would have to say this is unlikely.  

Maori band, perhaps Rotorua, from Mark Nicolle FBTo make matters more intriguing, a friend recently posted on Facebook this image of another impeccably presented Maori band. Is this an earlier version of the Moteo band? As they are using a sousaphone, it is possibly earlier than the photo above. Perhaps there is a connection with the Maori Agricultural College, the Latter Day Saints institution in Hawke’s Bay, which had a strong music programme thanks to their early music master Walter Smith (composer of ‘Beneath the Maori Moon’). Hopefully posting this will provide a few more clues about the Moteo and other Maori jazz bands.

UPDATE: The Moteo Jazz Band did have a connection with Princess Te Puea. The Auckland Star of 1 May 1928 reports that a month after their fundraising stint for the Maori of Ngaruawahia, they travelled to the Waikato town. They took part in a ceremony greeting the Governor-General Sir Charles Ferguson to the “model pa” on the banks of the Waikato River. Stepping from the car, they were greeted by “a phalanx of Maoris, shouting loudly in the native tongue, dancing wildly, waving fronds of greenery and poking out their tongues in true native fashion.” Te Puea – “wearing a mat over her European clothes” – escorted Ferguson and his wife to the front of the Kimi Kimi Hall, where:

a jazz band of Hawke’s Bay Maori men, resplendent in evening clothes, played the National Anthem. Tonga Mahuta, a song of King Rata, spoke a few dignified words of welcome.

After the formal greetings, the festivities began: “A weird Maori chant, in a minor key, was sung by an aged Maor”i … a short programme of dancing and native songs … a solo dance by Te Puea’s husband in a solo dance “full of fire and the lust of combat”, and 11 Maori maidens in a graceful poi dance, singing ‘E Parira’ … the beautiful Niko Kaihau dancing a hula … plus:

a striking haka was performed by the whole assemblage in the body of the hall, one very ancient wahine causing some embarrassment to an immaculate young aide by backing into him in the course of her spirited manifestations of good-will. Six braves, stripped to the waist, performed a terrifying war dance on the electrically lit stage, and with such vigour did they dance in pursuit of an imaginary enemy that the footlights went out!

Mr DJ Twist

May 28, 2014

Tony and initialsTony Eagleton’s group Tony and the Initials was a prolific recording act and live drawcard in Wellington in the early 1960s. This week Tony passed away; the Initials’  drummer Harry McConnachie died in February. Here is the opening of the entry I wrote for AudioCulture – where the rest can be read, with some great photographs and music links.

Tony and the Initials seem to have gone down as little more than a footnote in the 60s pop boom. But at the time they were a substantial live name in Wellington, and they left behind a catalogue of strong-selling, well regarded recordings.

Import restrictions were harsh in post-war New Zealand. But in return for exporting meat and butter to Britain in the early 1960s, New Zealand received many small luxuries: Beano and Victor comics,Beat Instrumental magazines, Morris Minor cars, HP sauce … and rock and roll in the form of heavy vinyl records and the occasional musician.

Tony and Initials advertIn 1960 Tony Eagleton arrived as a crewman on the Dominion Monarch, the ship that also brought Tommy Adderley. During the first wave of rock and roll in Britain, Eagleton played guitar in groups backing Marty Wilde and Tommy Steele. Wanting to visit his brother in New Zealand, he signed on as a seaman with some musical friends. They performed together on the voyage out, and enjoyed their time in New Zealand so much they decided to emigrate, and try to earn a living as a band based in Wellington.

They called themselves Tony and the Initials, allegedly because when they all turned up for rehearsals they were all wearing initialled handkerchiefs in the breast pockets of their jackets. This was rock and roll, UK style, when the clean-cut Shadows ruled. […]

More here at AudioCulture. In the photo above, Tony Eagleton is second from the left; Andy Shackleton is third from left. His site Memories of New Zealand Musicians is well worth checking out for good stories and photos. The advertisement is for a gig at the Caltex Lounge, a Wellington dance hall above a petrol station at the bottom of Taranaki Street (beside the Green Parrot). It has only recently been pulled down.

Dunedin Sound, 1930s

May 15, 2014

Each generation is entitled to its own bad taste, suggested Dunedin music stalwart Walter Sinton in 1978 when writing about the 1930s:

Ambassadors, Dunedin WS088Ballroom dancing was a popular pastime in the early 30s and the [newspaper’s] amusement column advertising was plentifully bestrewn with the whereabouts of the various dances and the names of the bands.

These were the days when microphones were not needed by the instrumentalists and when saxophones, clarinets, violins, trumpets, banjos, string basses, drums and even sousaphones, on occasions, plus of course the indispensable piano, held sway.

What a contrast to the predominance of the guitars of today hitched up as they are to heavy artillery amplifiers, plus electronic devices such as organs and synthesisers.

What a contrast, too, in the names of the groups of yesteryear as compared to the somewhat weird “labels” chosen for many of today’s “pop” combinations. Maybe “weird” would be a more apt description of the appearances of present-day players in contrast to the dignified dress of the “old timers”.

The picture herein of “The Ambassadors” of the 30s, highlights the difference in dress and instrumentation and patrons of those days will recall that the dancers on the floor were similarly attired.

They will also remember names of some of the other bands such as, “Fraser’s Majestic”, “The Carlton”, “The Bandits”, “Smith’s Jubilee”, “The New Collegians”, “Stewart’s Imperial, “The Sports”, “The Ritz” and so on and band leaders like Arthur Frost, Alf Pettitt, Dick Colvin, Arthur Gordon, and the moto perpetuo, Doug Dagg.

As to which type of group you prefer, the “oldies” or today’s groups, it is the old, old story. It depends on your age and generation and your taste which is an automatic match. Yesterday’s lot gave their young bloods what they wanted and today’s bunch must be doing the same. After all, they’ve been at it for a fair while now.

But there are more than signs, particularly overseas, that the cycle is turning around again to the more formal [the Enemy? – ed], and that players of today, many of whom have been unable to play from the printed score, have perforce to learn to “read the dots”. Some folk will rejoice. Others will be saddened at the passing of an era. But let us “oldies” not forget how our forbears were shocked when the stately waltz gave way to the Foxtrot, the “one Step” and then, horror of horrors, the “Charleston”.

The picture shows the Ambassadors Band of the 1930s, Dunedin. From left: Ralph Hall. Jim Harris, Len Turner, Harry Aburn, George Walker, Hugh Weir, Dud Heathcote, Bert Munro, Jack Logan. Sinton’s story comes from his serialised history of Dunedin entertainment, Evening Star, 4 February 1978.

The Camel’s Back

April 3, 2014

Camels coverKen Avery’s memoir Where Are the Camels? is now available as a PDF that can be downloaded for free. It’s a fascinating memoir, the best available by a New Zealand musician of the 1940s to 1960s, full of wonderful stories and insights. Avery is now best known for writing ‘Tea at Te Kuiti’ and other novelty songs that evoke New Zealand’s suburban 1950s as effectively as a Neville Lodge cartoon. He wrote a swag of tunes, including ‘Paekakariki’ and ‘The Gumboot Tango’, but he was also a dedicated member of Wellington’s jazz fraternity, playing saxophone and clarinet in dance and jazz bands, organising Clare and Kencountless gigs and playing countless balls. He also performed on New Zealand’s first rock’n’roll record, the unfairly maligned version of ‘Rock Around the Clock’ recorded by Johnny Cooper.

Avery’s book Where Are the Camels? – A New Zealand Dance Band Diary is a local equivalent of George Melly’s classic muso-memoir, Owning Up. He wrote it in the early 1980s, just before his untimely death in 1983. For years photo-copies of Avery’s manuscript have been passed around local musicians, like a zamizdat novel in an oppressed society. In 2011 his daughter Clare turned the manuscript into a handsome book, that is full of terrific anecdotes, photos and memorabilia. (Clare is pictured at right with her father.)

In it are stories of gigs that went wrong, bad pianos, dodgy club owners, unreliable musicians – and magic nights when the music flowed like mercury. Avery describes his encounters with visiting musicians such as Dave Brubeck, Buddy De Franco, Ralph Pena and Pete Jolly, as well as locals including Bill Hoffmeister, Terry Crayford, Jack Claridge and the notorious Bill Crowe. When the Beatles came to Wellington, Ken Avery songbookAvery secured the loan of an acoustic guitar for Paul McCartney, but his NZBC manager stonewalled his chance of delivering it in person.

All this and more – including his thoughts on bad pianos, dodgy reeds and the effect of the Beatles on songwriting – is featured in Where Are the Camels? PDF copies of this 146 page book can be downloaded free at the website Clare has set up. Most generously, the website also features a downloadable PDF of The Ken Avery Songbook, which includes the sheet music of many songs, observations about their writing, and fascinating memorabilia. On the cover is a picture of Avery with one of his heroes, Spike Milligan.


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