A substantial cache of rare New Zealand pop and jazz from the early 1950s has just been remastered and re-issued. The Stebbing recording studio in Auckland was extremely active at the time, and was the main rival of the Wellington-based Tanza. Unlike Tanza, Stebbing’s is still in business, recording, mastering and releasing music. The studio was founded by brothers Phil and Eldred Stebbing in the late 1940s, and Eldred was the mainstay until his death in late 2009. The studios’ output from the 1960s and 1970s is well known, among them are classic discs by Ray Columbus and the Invaders, Hello Sailor, Th’ Dudes. But the earlier activity of Stebbing’s has been almost unheard since it was released on 78s in the 1950s, and never converted to vinyl or CD.
Recently Steve McGough, an engineer at Stebbing’s, has been restoring and remastering these recordings, and they are available as MP3s for purchase and download at Amplifier and other sites. While it seems odd that the target market for this material would now be aged in their late 70s and 80s, and would be happier with a CD that downloading MP3s, at least it is a start. (And it is probably a realistic approach, given the limited demand for this material – though I think a $10 compilation sampler should be released through the Warehouse.) So far, 150 tracks have been issued – in seven themed volumes of CD length. Each volume costs $19.99, though the tracks are available individually for $1.99 – and every song can be sampled at the Amplifier website.
The first volume in the Stebbing-Zodiac Archive Series 1945-1956 is called Pretty and Popular. It features the family friendly pop that so dominated New Zealand’s airwaves in the pre-rock’n’roll years. While some of the material is a little bland, there are some highlights: Mavis Rivers channelling Billie Holiday on ‘All of Me’; the Harmonaires’ excellent take on the spiritual ‘Dem Bones’; George Campbell and His New Sound’s version of ‘I’ll See You in My Dreams’ (which opens with an ethereal keyboard sound, straight out of Star Trek); and Dutch expatriate Ellen Vann’s swinging, samba rendition of ‘Perfidia’. Also among them, and pictured above, is Stebbing S102, Stewart Harvey’s big, Italian-style tenor voice on the standard ‘Autumn Leaves’, backed by Derek Heine’s orchestra. The hero behind so many of these recordings is Julian Lee, who was the Stebbing’ s musical arranger from 1952.