Into the Deep Blue Sky
I have been neglecting this site recently, not through a lack of material, just other commitments getting in the way. So I haven’t had a chance to mark the passing on August 2 of Pixie Williams, the gracious singer of Ruru Karaitiana’s ‘Blue Smoke’. Pixie was a reluctant recording artist, and an even more reluctant star. Shortly after recording the song and several others for Tanza in 1948-1949, she followed her heart to Nelson. She then moved to Dunedin, where she married her husband Paddy Costello.
Fans throughout the country never forgot her, though. I was told by a radio colleague when I began researching Blue Smoke that if I phoned her, and said I wanted to talk about the song, she would hang up. So I didn’t bother her and instead used some quotes from interviews done by RNZ’s Warwick Burke and Jim Sullivan. They were very similar, though in one she mentions the sound of a printing press interrupting the recording sessions at Tanza, and in another it’s a fridge. On New Year’s Eve in 2002 she told Warwick:
We had one microphone , and they used to start the recording over and over, and it came to the stage I thought oh heck – I wish it’d disappear. But however… right next door was the printing office, so we had to stop and start. Because every time this printing thing started we could hear the thumping, the noise. … We did it about five times, I thought God I wish it’d go away.
Warwick asked her whether ‘Blue Smoke’ led to a singing career. “No,” replied Pixie. “You wouldn’t believe it but I wasn’t interested in a career. I just wasn’t. I wish I was like these kids today, they think here we are and take off and do things for yourself, start a career at singing. It didn’t worry me.”
Luckily, a couple of years before she died, Pixie’s daughter Amelia organised the remastering and release of all the tracks she recorded for Tanza. And thanks to Amelia, I got to meet her mother at the celebratory record launch. Amelia has also created a great website, which outlines the Pixie story in full, with marvellous pictures of her as a young girl. It also generously features an embeddable music player so that you can listen to the entire album. But the quality of the remastering is such that I really recommend owning a copy of For the Record: the Pixie Williams Collection.