(Above L-R – Teeks, Bic Runga, Dave Dobbyn, Tigilau Ness, John Rowles, and Lorde)
Welcome to our special New Zealand music blog which will feature many of the hits from the land of the long white cloud in the coming weeks, we love our neighbours across the ditch, and look forward to visting them now that there is a special travel bubble in place, following the COVID clampdown on international travel in the past year. A little known fact about NZ is that it has the rockingest Parliament in the Commonwealth, many current and past members have at one time been members of musical groups, current Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern once belonged to the Tabernacle Singers, past Prime Minister Helen Clark was a member of the new romantic Nouveau Bouche, current Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters played with rock group Electric Puha, MP Simon Bridges wore the leather with heavy metal band Wolfhammer, Green MP Chloe Swarbrick sang with Gaia and the Harem, and past member Paula Bennets bopped along with the good-time party band Girls Nite. With such inspired musical leaders, despite your political preferences, we think the country is in pretty good hands. Below L-R – Electric Puha with Winston Peters far right, Tabernacle Singers with Jacinda Ardern at far left, and Nouveau Bouche with Helen Clark at centre. We understand the Tabernacle Singers never trashed hotel rooms or threw TV sets into swimming pools, but they did leave Bibles in rooms if the Gideons copy was missing.
The music of New Zealand has evolved over decades of pre-colonial Maori tradition and post-colonial emigration and settlement, the prime ingredients have been Maori chants and ceremonial performances, blues, jazz, country, rock and roll, reggae, and hip hop, with many of these genres being given a unique New Zealand interpretation. Maori songwriters and performers were quick to adapt their tribal musical structures and sounds, and formed show bands as early as the 1950’s, often infusing their shows with comedy drawn directly from Maori culture, Billy T. James and the Maori Volcanics were a pre-eminent showband of this genre.
But musically New Zealand was a quite sterile environment up to the 1950’s, dominated by the conservative NZBC (the local equivalent of the ABC) which monopolised the airwaves and refused to play rock ‘n’ roll music. 1948’s Blue Smoke was the first wholly recorded and produced NZ hit song by the Ruru Karaitiana Quartet with Pixie Williams (above Ruru, Pixie and Jim Carter). Other local stars included hillbilly performers Tex Morton, the Tumbleweeds from Dunedin, the family-friendly Howard Morrison Quartet, Bill Sevesi and his Islanders band, and Pat McMinn and Bill Langsford with their 1955 local novelty hit Opo the Crazy Dolphin.
Emerging rockers Johnny “The Satin Satan” Devlin and his group The Devils (below centre) from Wanganui, charted with Lawdy Miss Clawdy, Johnny Cooper hit the charts with his self-penned Pie Cart Rock and Roll, in 1956 (below right), and the twangy guitar hits of Peter Posa (below left), all led the charge in the early days of rock and roll.
Things started to change after September 1966 when local journalist/DJ David Gapes set up the pirate radio station Radio Harauki on the ship Tiri, moored outside the country’s three-mile limit off the coast of Auckland. Despite fierce opposition from the authorities, the demand for popular music was ignited and commercial radio stations began to proliferate after 1970, playing the current hits of the day.
In the 1960’s the ubiquitous Sandy Edmonds (above) was an early pop superstar of the TV Age, the Liverpool-born dental assistant rose to become the swinging, groovy face of youth pop show C’mon, even though her musical contribution is barely remembered. Sandy was an icon of mod fashions and hairstyles, and C’mon, Let’s Go and Happen Inn, were TV shows that helped to define an era in NZ, and also encouraged other acts such as The Chicks (sisters Judy and Sue Donaldson) to jump on board the pop music bandwagon. Folk music was also popular in the 60’s and 70’s and such local performers as Peter Cape and Phil Garland were prominent, while the more successful country singers included John Hore, Patsy Riggir, and Gray Bartlett.
But the beat boom was in full swing after the Beatles toured the country in 1964, and Christchurch quickly became Mod Central, as Max Merritt and the Meteors (below centre) and Ray Colombus and the Invaders competed for chart success, along with Dinah Lee (below left), and all performed on the burgeoning club scene there at the Teenage Club, the Belfast, and the Plainsman Club, and later in Auckland at the Monaco Club, the Shiralee, and the Top Twenty Club.
Many NZ performers would cross the ditch to Australia and pursue fame and fortune in the 1960’s, Ray Colombus and the Invaders would score the first #1 hit there for a NZ band with 1964’s She’s A Mod, an opportunistic Beatles-sounding cover of a minor hit for UK band the Senators (see 4TR blog April 30, 2019). Max Merritt and the Meteors (below centre) soon established a fan base for their R&B/Motown/Soul -inflected sound amongst the Mods of Melbourne (see 4TR blog Jan 8, 2019), while Dinah Lee took Don’t You Know Yokomo and Reet Petite into the Australian top twenty in 1964, and guitar hero Kevin Peek and the La De Das (below right) quickly found fame in Australia and charted top 10 with Gonna See My Baby Tonight in 1971.
Back home local group Fourmyula (below) would record Nature, a wistful, folky song replete with vaguely psychedelic, pastoral imagery, reflective of the Kinks, Fairport Convention, and Lindisfarne, written by their keyboard player Wayne Mason, it was a curious piece that the band rarely performed live, and although it never charted outside NZ, it would resonate down the years as one of the country’s most revered original songs.
John Rowles was by far the brightest NZ star in the global firmament of the 1960’s, he relocated to Australia in 1963 and five years later he surfaced in London, recording Engelbert Humperdink-style ballads in his resonant baritone voice, and he had three top 20 hits in the UK, Australia and Europe including If I Only Had Time, Hush…Not A Word To Mary, and Cheryl Moana Marie, (see 4TR blog May 2, 2019), but strangely he has been overlooked for induction into the NZ Music Hall of Fame to this time, incidentally so has Split Enz.
The 1970’s and 80’s saw the rise of many NZ groups, Larry’s Rebels had many local hits, Dragon would dominate charts in NZ and Australia taking three songs into the Australian top 5 – April Sun In Cuba (#2 in ’77), Are You Old Enough (#1 in ’78) and Rain (#2 in ’83) (see 4TR blog March 7, 2019), Split Enz charted with no less than eight singles throughout the 70’s in Australia including their breakthrough #1 hit I Got You and in the 80’s took three consecutive albums to #1 – True Colours, Corroboree, and Time and Tide. Following the breakup of the Enz, Neil Finn would form Crowded House and achieve global domination throughout the 90’s, for a comprehensive coverage of Split Enz and Crowded House refer to previous 4TR blogs posted in the period April 7, 2020 – April 16, 2020.
Other Kiwi artists to chart in the 1970’s included Hello Sailor, Th’ Dudes (an early Dave Dobbyn band), Alison Durbin, Mi-Sex, Mother Goose, and Steve Allen with his feel-good Commonwealth Games anthem Join Together. Suburban Reptiles, The Doomed, and Riot 111 briefly flew the flag for the punk movement, and G Wayne Thomas had a hit in NZ and across the ditch with Open Up Your Heart.
The 1980’s and 90’s saw the blossoming of NZ performers internationally, many had relocated to Australia and became familiar faces in our clubs, pubs and on Countdown, some of those Kiwis who enriched our popular music scene will be featured in our NZ blog over the next three weeks – Jenny Morris (You I Know, She Has To Be Loved, Change In The Weather), Sharon O’Neill (How Do You Talk To Boys/Maxine),The Swingers (Counting The Beat), Dave Dobbyn and Herbs (Slice of Heaven, Loyal), Shona Laing(Glad I’m ) Not A Kennedy/Soviet Snow), Dragon (Rain, Young Years), Koo De Tah (Too Young For Promises), OMC (How Bizarre), Margaret Urlich (Escaping), and Bic Runga (Sway).
In the new millennium Ladyhawke (below right) has scored internationally with My Delirium, her anthemic/indie take on electronica, while Lorde (below left) has set chart records for her first album Pure Heroine and the singles Royals, and Team, unequalled by any other NZ performer, and 4TR will also feature these songs in our NZ blog over the coming weeks.
Although 4TR is not the place to explore a detailed history of NZ music, we look forward to reminding our followers of the many magical hits from the Land of the Long White Cloud, where the locals might translate the foregoing comments as follows “Eh bro, these hit songs are skux, so stock up your chilly bin, kick back in your bach, flip off those jandals and have a chur time, but don’t get munted.”
Above L-R – Top- Johnny Cooper, Dinah Lee, Max Merritt. Below L-R – Peter Posa, The Chicks, and Larry’s Rebels.