A tall man in a blue uniform

A little boy lost! Heroic police! A fruitcake competition! This child-safety record from New Zealand has it all. Music, jokes, and possibly the silliest “stranger danger” song ever performed.

7012One thing you won’t hear is a New Zealand accent. The record is undated, but it comes from a time when anyone seeking to make a living as an actor in the antipodes had to acquire a British accent. Thus it is that My Friend the Policeman sounds as if narrated by the Presbyterian Ladies’ College lacrosse coach. And the man who plays the honest bobby on duty at a country show – well, he must have taken elocution lessons.

Ah, but who cares. From the opening riddle, to the instruction to turn the record over, to the deeply entrenched gender-stereotypes, this bizarre record is a hoot.

  • Title: My Friend The Policeman
  • Author: Kay Mayo
  • Performers: Kate Harcourt, with Peter Harcourt and Marjorie Orchiston
  • Format: 7”, 45rpm, mono
  • Label: Kiwi
  • Catalogue: EA 168
  • Manufactured in: New Zealand
  • Year: Unknown

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Flavoursome creamy goodness

I was born too late, but I would have loved to have done the voice-overs for the old newsreels. You know the kind of thing: we see grainy footage of Lancaster bombers taking off, while a slightly posh, nasal, monotone voice intones “The brave boys of the RAF take to the air, off to give Jerry a packet. You won’t be getting much sleep tonight, Mr Hitler!”

2082Sometimes these soundtracks turn up on disc, and this is one of them. It is the voice-over which was played to accompany a six-minute film promoting a brand of butter, Western Star, in about 1962. Western Star was then, and is still, an iconic brand in this part of the world.butter

The butter, I’m happy to say, is genuinely excellent. Sadly, I can’t eat butter any more – cholesterol issues, weight, all that drab stuff which comes with middle age. But tell you what, listening to this makes me want to rush out and buy a pound of “flavoursome creamy goodness” and whip up a sponge cake.

  • Artist: Western District Co-operative Co. Ltd.
  • LP Title: Western Star Butter
  • Format: 12” acetate LP, 33⅓ rpm, mono
  • Label: Audio Visual Australia
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: c. 1962

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Converting me into a bullet

Richard Harris is now chiefly famous for two things: singing the mysterious, melancholy song “MacArthur Park”, which was a huge hit in the late 1960s, and playing the role of Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter films.

2041 sleeve backHe was not especially good as Dumbledore, though in fairness he was in poor health. His singing on “MacArthur Park” is impressive: Harris has an expressive, slightly cracked voice, of great power. But. The song was written by Jimmy Webb, who is among the finest writers of the popular song ever to pick up a quill, but the essence of Webb’s best work is simplicity, economy. That is not the characteristic of the many songs he wrote for and with Harris – they tend to be over-complicated, over-arranged, over-worked. There is great skill in every aspect of these recordings, and millions loved them and still do, but I have followed the Planet Vinyl manifesto – just listen! – and they just are not quite my cup of tea.2041 sleeve label

However, there is a track on this album, a 1973 “best of” package, which is unlike anything else on the record. Indeed, unlike anything else.

Generally, when a singer recites a poem it is a false move. But Harris was first and principally, an actor who sang. His first starring role was in the 1967 film Camelot, and that was after years of treading the boards in the West End and on Broadway. Perhaps his singing is overly theatrical? Depends on your point of view. Clearly, though, his theatricality is what gives life to the poem “There Are Too Many Saviours on My Cross”.

2041 sleeveHarris was Irish, and a Catholic and a Republican, and he wrote this poem about the Troubles in Ulster. If you know the story of that bitter strife, the references will be obvious. If you don’t know the story, it would take too long to explain. But that doesn’t matter. This is about people killing for God, and we have plenty of that going on now, even if the scene and the actors have changed.

The voice is that of Jesus, and this is Jesus’ cry of horror, seeing what is being done, ostensibly in his name.

Shame on you again and again
For converting me into a bullet and shooting me into men’s hearts.

It is not comfortable listening, but though it is addressed the Ireland of 1973, reeling from Bloody Sunday, it speaks just as much to our world.

  • Artist: Richard Harris
  • LP Title: His Greatest Performances.
  • Side 1, Track 4: “There Are Too Many Saviours On My Cross”
  • Format: 12” LP 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: ABC Records
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1973