The wizardry of sheep shearing

There once were things called flexi discs. They were records, and you could play them on a turntable, but they were made of a thin sheet of vinyl. So thin that you could roll them up. Unrolled, they would still play. They were cheap to produce, and often included in magazines as a novelty. The Beatles put some out, for fan club publications, and these are now worth a mint. But the sound quality is not fantastic, and usually flexi discs were gimmicks, promotional materials of one sort or another.

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New Zealand travel poster c. 1936. Image: New Zealand Fine Prints

Here is one of those. It dates from the late 1970s, and promotes bus tours of New Zealand. It is, shall we say, a little try-hard. There are many excellent reasons to visit New Zealand. But the hub-bub of traffic in Auckland? The exciting modernity which is colour television? These are not what marketing folk call unique selling points.

This “sound journey through New Zealand” has its moments. Some nice Maori singing, the blub-blub of hot mud pools, the roar of a rugby crowd. And sheep. Yes, we are tantalized with the prospect of witnessing “the wizardry of sheep shearing”.

The disc does get one thing right: New Zealand genuinely one of the most beautiful and interesting places in the world. Among other things, there are an astonishing number of many fine artists, writers and musicians. Go there, do. Though maybe not on a bus tour.

  • Artist: Unknown
  • Title: Colonial Coachman: A Sound Experience of New Zealand
  • Format: 7”, 33⅓ rpm, vinyl flexi disc
  • Label: Ambassador Records
  • Made in: Australia
  • Year: Unknown (1970s)

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

 

Pacific Rim

Allegations are flying that Planet Vinyl has sold out. A puerile head of state, who shall remain nameless, has Tweeted: “So-called ‘obscure’ music blog writes about ROLLING STONES in failed attempt to boost LOSER ratings. Sad.” Well, Sir, normal service has been resumed.

I had never heard of Rim D. Paul, but one of his records came my way. And, wow! Yes, it is derivative. There is some Wilson Pickett there, and a lot of James Brown. But, who cares? The band rocks, and Rim gives a stellar vocal performance.

0638Rim, I learned, is a legend in New Zealand, a pioneer of Maori music breaking into the mainstream. The Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand. Like the indigenous peoples of my own country, and indeed pretty much every colonial-settler society, the Maori have had a rough road. But they are resilient, proud, adaptable, and a people with an amazing feel for music. Listen, just listen, to a Maori choir. A whole community singing together, weaving in Maori tradition, mission hymns, and the popular music of the world.

Rim Paul was a bridge builder. Back in the 1960s he led groups, such as the Quin Tikis, bringing Maori musical talent into the mainstream – first in New Zealand and later in Australia as well. He also worked with or led the Howard Morrison Quartet and the Maori National Choir, exploring an extraordinary variety of musical styles.

Wanting to learn more, I found an interview Rim did with Radio New Zealand a few years ago. He talks of his long, varied career, his journey exploring and recovering his Maori identity, the struggle to make a living as a musician. He shows an undiminished voice and love for music, not to mention a dignity and grace which the odd world leader could learn from.

  • Artist: Rim D. Paul
  • Single Title: All God’s Children Got Soul
  • Side A “All God’s Children Got Soul”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm
  • Label: Philips
  • Catalogue: BF-454
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1969

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

 

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

Many of the records discussed on this blog, and more than 1000 others, are for sale on Discogs.

 

 

 

Going to movies alone

I saw the film An Angel at My Table at a difficult time in my life.

I was very young, and working as a journalist on a daily paper. It was a stressful and high pressure job with a boozy workplace culture. The killer was the shiftwork. You could be rostered to start work at any time from 5am to 6pm, and the two days off you got each week were usually not consecutive, and which days you got varied all the time. You couldn’t really do anything which required a regular commitment. Playing a sport, doing yoga, taking music lessons, even just seeing a group of friends regularly – all the things that bring stability and joy into life, they become almost impossible.

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An Angel at My Table, dir. Jane Campion, 1990

There are people who can cope with this; I am not one of them. I quickly got into a downward spiral: exhaustion, anxiety, depression. A bad time, but one of the better things I did trying to make this strange existence work was to go to the cinema during the day. It is a little strange going to a movie alone, but I came to enjoy it. I could go to anything, and if it turned out to be a turkey I didn’t feel responsible to another person.

Jane Campion is a New Zealander, now famous as a film director, especially for The Piano. But in 1990, she was only small-big, known among arty types for darkly humorous films with a touch of magic realism. An Angel at My Table was completely different, a long film about the life of New Zealand author Janet Frame. I have mentioned in another post how film soundtracks can open our minds to diverse music, and that was the case here. There is a lovely original score, but it is interspersed with other music, from Schubert lieder to early rock’n’roll, to this song.7020 sleeve

“Po Ata Rau (Now Is The Hour)” is a farewell, in the Maori language, first sung in 1915 to farewell troops sailing off to the First World War. This version is not the one used in the film, but it is so similar that I had to check. It is the work of the choir of a Catholic school, St Joseph’s Maori Girls College, and comes from an EP they recorded in 1962.

It is only short, but it is a beautiful piece of harmony singing, and it lifted my heart on a grim day in 1990 and it still does now.

  • Artist: St Joseph’s Maori Girls College
  • EP Title: Maori Love Songs
  • Side 2, Track 3: “Po Ata Rau (Now Is The Hour)”
  • Format: 7” EP 45 rpm
  • Label: Viking VT62
  • Manufactured in: New Zealand
  • Year: 1962

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

 

 

Sorta Country

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.2183 label

“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.

2183 coverWhen 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.

2183 cover detail

  • Artist: Tex Morton
  • LP Title: Sorta Country (Various Artists)
  • Track: Side 1, Track 2 “The Cat Came Back” (first released 1961)
  • Format: 12” 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: Summit SRA-250-177
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1970