Black and Blue
The cover of the 1944 song ‘Kiwi Blues’ insists the song is “A melody you should be proud to know”. A quick sight-read at the piano suggests that’s not possible. Melody is the one thing missing from Sapper CF Rayner’s song, which he wrote while a prisoner of war in Germany. The cover design shows Rayner in uniform, wearing a 2NZEF lemon-squeezer hat, and surrounded by illustrations of a meeting house, Maori warrior and Kiwi.
The lyrics are a delightful grab-bag of Kiwiana. Rayner describes missing home, though the mailbag brings news of his family waiting patiently. What else is he missing? The rivers, lakes, fishing and bushy hills. He also misses the sound of timber mills (dealing to those bushy hills), pohutakawa, and the shining Southern Cross. Rayner’s New Zealand is still distinctly rural, with images such as the milking shed, the monthly cheque, the country store and “dancing till daybreak on the shearing shed floor, haunting hoki mai, it calls and I can’t refuse, so to Aotearoa I’m making my way …”
He doesn’t seem to draw breath, but the song is to be played “not too fast”, in Eb. Perhaps the limited, tuneless melody is a reflection of how constricted Rayner felt by barbed-wire fences that weren’t there to contain sheep. Certainly, Eddie Rayner – any relation? – could come up with a far more flamboyant arrangement than the composer’s friend, Sapper CJC Curtis. But even Ed needs a melody to work with. Thanks to antiquarian bookseller and country music aficionado John Quilter for the chance to try out the ‘Kiwi Blues’.