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.
One 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
Catalogue: EA 168
Manufactured in: New Zealand
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Like quite a few great Australians, including Pharlap, Tex Morton was actually a New Zealander.
Born in Nelson in 1916, he started performing at 14, and enjoyed success with travelling bands, playing and recording country songs. In the early 1930s he did what all ambitious New Zealand musicians do: crossed “The Ditch” (the Tasman Sea) to try his luck in the larger market of Australia.
“Larger” is a relative term, of course – Australia was still a small country. But here Morton managed to make a living from his work, touring endlessly, doing tent shows and vaudeville, mixing in whip-cracking, jokes and sharp shooting with his music.
Like many country singers in this part of the world, how to sing was a problem. Singing American songs with an Australian accent tends to sound wrong, jarring. We speak with very flat vowel sounds, and that doesn’t translate well to singing.
When Australian singers try to adopt an American accent, the result can be even worse: a kind of trans-Pacific accent which sinks somewhere near the Line Islands. But it can be done – just takes practice and trial and error, and Tex was a pioneer in this. In his early recordings he attempts a nasal Appalachian twang, but with time his voice becomes smoother, his delivery more assured: recognisably not American, but not jarring. Morton was among the first people to write and sing songs about the Australian experience with any success.
This song is not one of those – we’ll meet him again on Planet Vinyl soon enough, don’t worry – it is his take on an American comic song, “The Cat Came Back”. It appears on a 1970 compilation Sorta Country, put out by the budget label Summit in 1970. Originally released in 1961, it is funny, assured, well-played and sung, and is fitting for Tex Morton. When it was very tough to make a living form music, he kept on touring and singing and playing, developing his own style, through the Depression, through war, through the arrival of television and pop music, doing his own thing. He was the cat which kept on coming back.
Artist: Tex Morton
LP Title: Sorta Country (Various Artists)
Track: Side 1, Track 2 “The Cat Came Back” (first released 1961)