Wednesday, June 23, 2010

I'm looking through you / you're not the same

This blog has now moved to my own dedicated server. The address is the default address for the blog.

These pages, which are also hosted on the new site, will remain as archives.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

So they flew the Super-Constellation all the way from Rimini / And feasted them on fish and chips from a newspaper facsimile

What a very odd few months it has been.

What a surreal few weeks.

Both gross understatement I think, but better that than gross overstatement. I think odd and surreal describe the extended period better than any adjectives that imply bloodshed, disaster, civil mayhem or urban warfare.

There have been those much reported moments of awfulness too but mostly those were limited to four bloody bursts with extended periods of stalemate, which when they came were truly horrific, even sitting on the outside looking in as a (close) observer who could, this last week, see the smoke rising a few kilometres away, whilst, however, pretty much everything in our almost completely Thai suburb, seemed day to day to be as it always was, which of course gave it another level of surealness.

And indeed that was the way for 90% of this city, where life was largely unaffected until the very last few days when a curfew and the curtailing of train services finally intruded into the rest of the town.

However if you read the voluminous posts from much of the international media you could be forgiven for thinking that Bangkok, and indeed Thailand, had turned into some huge war-zone, with The Times in one report calling Bangkok a 21st Century Sarajevo for god's sake, which was not only inane but plain irresponsible. CNN said Bangkok was almost unrecognisable after four days of clashes. Really? I guess the ten million or so here missed that bit as they mostly went about their daily lives, although for others, inside the more troubled zones, life changed a lot, and, even more so for the thousands who were trapped without power and water for 48 hours or more as chaos ranged outside their doors.

For a better commentary on this, I point you towards this pretty convincing and well argued blog post from Somtow's World:

There is one final element that must be mentioned. Most are not even aware of it. But there is, in the western mindset, a deeply ingrained sense of the moral superiority of western culture which carries with it the idea that a third world country must by its very nature be ruled by despots, oppress peasants, and kill and torture people. Most westerners become very insulted when this is pointed out to them because our deepest prejudices are always those of which we are least aware. I believe that there is a streak of this crypto-racism in some of the reportage we are seeing in the west. It is because of this that Baghdad, Yangon, and Bangkok are being treated as the same thing.

I found the repeated claims of a descent into civil war made by offshore media and, much worse, the more idiotic non-professional commentators had the same taint, especially when you, with even a little bit of research would likely come to the same conclusion that this poll (conducted by a reputable University, not any governmental organisation) arrived at: 74.5% of Thais support the current government's road map. This may well develop into an uglier situation and standoff, but it is not there yet.

I was amused by this, from a Thai English language news parody site:

Finally reaching the nearest fire, a smoldering noodle shop on Rama IV, they piggy-backed on the hard work of locally based correspondents who had been covering the story for months and years, been shot at and risked their lives.

Funny but oh so true, more than a few journalists arrived at the airport, donned a flak jacket and were instant experts.

As this story approached the end of this particular stage (you would be nuts to think that this anything close to over) there seems to be some sort of consensus that only one network or major news-outlet that came out of this with reputation more or less intact, Al-Jazeerra, who not only seemed to actually capture the story correctly as it happened but didn't fall into the cliches about despotic third world governments and selfless unarmed freedom fighters for democracy. CNN, BBC, The Guardian, The Times, Reuters, AP and others all got a huge fail in their attempts to add perspective. The NYT seems to have been unable to work out exactly what was going on so gave up. Foxnews were unable to work out if Thai people came from Taiwan and couldn't find that on the map either so decided to concentrate on the bigger story: an Arab-American Miss USA. CBS went even further with that and decided to work out if this had an impact on national security, good grief......

Fortunately you could, and indeed were wise to, largely ignore the traditional media as this (Bangkok, not Miss USA) was a incident, or more correctly, series of increasingly violent incidents that were utterly dominated by the newer media. The reporting from Bangkok in the past weeks was completely owned by Twitter, supported strongly by Facebook and YouTube, perhaps more so than even Iran a year earlier, given the deep penetration of smart phones in this society. The traditional news services and wires were largely irrelevant to the ceaseless and immediate flow of news, information, data and propaganda. Indeed, if you relied on those services you were way behind the day's flow. Brigid, three days back, commented to me that the story being run by the New Zealand Herald was such old news, and I had to point out that it was Reuters sourced and correct about twelve hours earlier, but the torrent of instant twitters, with images and video, made it seem like such ancient history.

The visuals on various blogs and twitter services like TweetPhoto and Yfrog were both incredible and instantly broadcast globally, and, yes, made mostly from phones, although the odd more traditional site provided some incredible imagery, with deserving some special mention.

I've had an endless stream of emails from from all over the world asking if we were ok. I think it's fair to say that not for a moment did we feel threatened and there was never an inclination to leave, with pretty much the whole expat community, outside the immediate central zone where this mostly took place, sitting tight and sharing that sentiment. The streets around our part of upper Sukhumvit were never less than bustling with people of all races throughout this.

And the questions as to whether we regretted leaving Bali seven months ago have the same answer: no, not at all, not for a second, quite the opposite. For all the awfulness of the past two months, this is still a wonderful country and city; and unlike Bali where we were very much targets, you simply don't have to live with the oft stated 'it's not a matter of if but when' that you hear everywhere there, from Indonesians and foreigners alike.

Now, I guess we wait.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

So let me sing a song for you / Just to help your day along

How many of the world's armies travel with mobile Karaoke trucks?

h/t to ThaiVisa

Friday, May 07, 2010

The bats have left the bell tower

Hugely recommended, this interview with Martin Mills, owner of the most important independent record label in the world (and the bloke who released some of my favourite records ever and still does):

The internet has revived interest in music, thinks Mills, by encouraging people to experiment.

"It's made so much more possible - a greater and deeper love of music. It's re-stimulated my own involvement in music generally, rather than just my business. The links people send you allow you to go off down a path and discover something great.

"People who in their 30s a few years ago who may have stopped listening to new music, or were listening to iterations of music they heard in their late teens or early twenties, are now able to discover entirely new things. You've got new artists being discovered by 30, 40, 50 and 60 year olds. You'll now have a group of friends talking about music and sending links. I think that comes from the integration of the laptop into both our working and our personal lives, the internet is so great at spreading the word."

[From Indie music mogul: The net's great for us • The Register]

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Two minutes fifty / it’s a 45 single / oh yeah

This post, originally from August, 2006, in reply to a question from Robbie Siataga on an earlier post, linked, still seems to work for me. I thought I'd repost it for NZ Music Month, and because of the ongoing discussion on Public Address:


This was a question I received from Dubmugga;

where do you see New Zealand music going and what measures would you implement to ensure it's continued relevance in the standardised global media market ???

This is not somewhere I really wanted, as I said, the previous two posts about this topic, to end up. I don’t want to dig myself a hole here I can’t easily get out of, but I suspect I’m about to.

So a qualifier again: this post is not trying to offer definitive answers, rather it’s a series of random thoughts, written as they occur. My opinion is just that and I don’t pretend to have any answers or pretend to be able to predict anything. I’m no seer, and I'm no self proclaimed expert.

DM…you expressed your fairly strongly held, feelings about NZ on Air and the way they administer the brief they have from the people of NZ, via the current government, to promote the nation’s music across the broadcasting spectrums. Your opinions are not uncommonly held and are regularly expressed on various forums and elsewhere.

Whilst I have my problems too with some of this they’re not nearly as pronounced as yours and others' are. It is a topic, however, that a lot of people, musicians especially, feel very strongly about.

Myself, I think NZ on Air is trapped a little between the need to promote something with a strong indigenous flavour (i.e. the cultural side of its brief) and the commercial radio stations who, despite lip service have no desire to play any real percentage of New Zealand music and would, if the political environment was right, drop most of it as fast as they possibly could. It’s a tough place for Brendan to be and for this reason, and a few others, I am of two minds about the concept of a quota. On a clear downside, and evidenced in NZ recently, the quota (and I’ve said this many times) strips the music of its identity, especially its cultural identity, in the mad drive to get songs on a radio system that is obliged to play a percentage but only wants to play songs that fit easily.

They don’t want songs that quirkily stand out, they want songs that blandly sell ads, songs from acts like Breaks Co-op, the new Stellar and Brooke Fraser which are facelessly unthreatening. I’m not saying they’re bad…Breaks Co-op are quite pleasant. But that, sadly, is not what the NZ music industry, if it is to thrive and survive, needs. It needs raw and rough originality, music that sounds different to that global mass released daily. I think Scribe had that, it was so wonderfully Newzild despite its pretensions to being otherwise.

However, I have to say, it’s an ominous sign that his new, massively overdue, album is being recorded (partially with DJ Premier, a bit of a hero of mine) in NYC. But that’s what the soulless bulldozer that is Australian A&R (which has had a shitty record in recent years) does I’m afraid, as I know from personal experience.

The US music industry is in massive trouble and yet these acts strive to sound like it, where the hell is the logic in that. The most influential NZ music in recent decades, the music which has had an international presence (with the exception of Haley, but that’s another whole thing) is music that sounded drastically different to everything else out there, and was, with the exception of How Bizarre, deemed to be decidedly radio unfriendly (and HB was deemed to be unsuitable for radio in NZ by every programmer but one originally). I’m talking about early Split Enz and the Flying Nun catalogue of the eighties. Nothing else out of NZ has had the musical influence of those three outside the country.

Up against that is the need for hits. Pop music is driven by hits which traditionally are driven by radio and video, hence the two main targeted focal points for NZOA. And I agree with that focus generally. Without hits, underground or overground, no sales. You can’t survive on credibility, as Flying Nun found, being forced to bring in Mushroom as a partner (which started the process where NZ’s most important catalogue disappeared into an American corporate which will inevitably eventually forget it exists).

But that formula…radio, video, hits…is changing and will change in future years (and not too future…very few predicted Youtube five years ago, although the pointers were there) in ways we can’t imagine yet. How the hits will come will change and that change has already begun. Digital access to everything, unbelievable interactivity in our entertainment and the sheer amount of material available to each and every one of us is inevitably going to force a sea-change in musical entertainment as radical as the one the planet endured when recorded music first became widely available about 90 years ago.

Already one thing is obvious. The album as such is more or less in its death throes. It’s going to take a while but it’s inevitable. The song, which is where this all started, is where it’s all going back to, and the delivery medium is a form of digital or the suchlike. It’s easy to forget that the album as a force is less than 40 years old. And there are very few successful albums that haven’t been driven by one or two key songs. Even the iPod and its equivalent is just an interim step…already music capable phones are dealing to standalone MP3 players in the more technologically advanced societies of Asia.

This inevitable step makes the major record companies largely redundant. All they really offer now is the means of distribution and the money to record and make videos. The last two requirements have more or less already slipped out of their hands as the means to do both are to a releasable level are within the means of virtually anyone.

The video delivery process too is in the process of being democratised. The means of distribution offered by the majors will still be a strength as long as people want to buy CDs from brick and mortar shops, but the end of that is in sight too, perhaps not in the next couple of years but sooner than most people realise. And any requirement for physical CDs will be fulfilled by central warehousing linked to shops that are little more than ordering and listening booths, mostly in Wal-mart / Warehouse type operations. Already the hardcore artist fanbases are almost exclusively catered for on-line.

The only other thing the big boys can offer traditionally is marketing muscle. Once again the digital revolution, right now the likes of MySpace and the p2p sites and MP3 blogs are removing that from the domain of the majors and placing it in the hands of the artists or their switched on management. Ever wondered why the big boys are so violently against the P2P sharers. They’ve been screwing people for decades without a conscious ethical murmur, so the righteousness of their position is questionable. No it’s because it removes another layer of control, of need for their services. The majors will soon be reduced to little more than catalogues to be licensed, and a few mega acts that can’t survive outside the machinery of those companies.

In 2006 over 20% of the music sold globally now comes from sources outside the majors. As that creeps more and more on-line it means that a larger percentage of the return from the sales of music will return to the makers. A record or CD will no longer need to have a massive comfort zone in the pricing (about $10 per CD on a full priced NZ disc) to cover the majors’ bloated costs, or the “warehousing”. The artist will, hopefully, no longer have to suffer punitive recording contracts. Even the role of the publisher is reduced to little more than a bank and a sync negotiator as the digital age and various performing rights organisations provide all the services a writer really needs. The balance shifts.

So what has this got to do with the future of NZ music. Everything, actually. It’s a reasonable assumption that in the medium term multinational labels will cease to invest in local music. Australia has already seen a huge drop in local signing in the past couple of years and the same is evident in NZ.

In my previous post I talked about the digital divide between New Zealand and the rest of the planet. On the NZ Radio list I was lambasted a while back by someone for saying that NZ has no hotspots. The argument was that NZ did not have the population of support such technology. That, of course is nonsense. Here in Bali, with a population of 3.5 million, they are everywhere, in the tourist areas, in the domestic areas, in the malls, the food halls; and it’s the same across much of the world. That’s a little thing but it’s important as it signifies the gulf that has developed between New Zealand and much of the world. I now reside in a third world country but I feel that, visiting New Zealand regularly, as I do, I’m going into a technology vacuum there. The technological gulf has tempered the music buying habit that we took so much for granted in previous years. And for kids to buy music, especially NZ music it has to be two things, exciting and accessible. The quota has largely removed the exciting bit, and the difficulty of getting local music beyond the traditional means (which means buying an album, not the songs you want) has dampened accessibility.

As the digital move is made away from majors and multinationals, so NZ on Air’s role will have to change. How exactly I’m not sure, but a return to their grassroots seems obvious, supporting the smaller, cutting edge, more innovative music being made at that level. I think the export drive, the funding of such and the relentless talking, committees, and reports are and were a waste of space and time. Unless of course you have something viable to sell. No one was doing Fat Freddies abroad but there are 200 Brooke Frasers. Which one makes more sense to push. And yet the whole NZOA system has been dedicated to the likes of that latter because it made our radio happy and worked for the quota. FFD on the other hand were made by the fans, both in NZ and abroad, and, like Split Enz, in 1979, driven to radio by the public.

So as I said earlier, the mad rush to radio removed the things that made so much music identifiably ours. The industry got caught up in the whole “kiwi music” thing and “kiwi music month” so much that it lost track of what was special in the first place. I think we do our best musicians a disservice too by putting all “kiwi music” on such a pedestal, forever saying that we have so much talent in NZ, implying that it is somewhat more advantaged than the rest of the world.

Of course we have talent, but no more so than a city of four million people anywhere else in the world. There are some, no make that, many, truly awful musicians and bands in the country too. Being “kiwi” doesn’t make the 50% of stuff on most “Kiwi Hit Discs” that is un-listenable, any better than it is in the real world.

Our edge and the ability to sell New Zealand music elsewhere doesn’t rely on where we come from, to most of the world, it matters little. They don’t care and don’t want to care when they hear Six Months in A Leaky Boat or How Bizarre, on the radio, where it was recorded. Lets not be parochial and arrogant about this. Our edge comes from the fact that these songs sounded completely, radically, different to whatever else was on the dial. A difference that the quota has dulled, with tangible results now.

Ok, that’s enough from me…I’ve said my bit, probably a bit too much. Some of the opinions expressed are probably rather crudely put and need fleshing out somewhat but I think I need a Bintang……

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Besame mucho / love me forever and make all my dreams come true

Bangkok design

The preacher talked to me and he smiled / Said, come and walk with me, come and walk one more mile

This is an interesting, and I think fairly perceptive overview of China's possible media future, from journalist and media observer Charles Mabbett:

When China’s most popular blogger Han Han had his recent post about a spate of violent attacks in Chinese schools taken down, it wasn’t the first time that he had courted controversy and it is unlikely to be the last.

The post entitled “Children, you’re depressing grandpa” was critical of a media ban on reporting the latest attack in Taizhou, Jiangsu Province, at a time when the Shanghai World Expo was due to get underway. Evidently,, the website that hosts many of China’s most popular blogs determined it was too sensitive to keep online.

Han Han represents a relatively recent phenomenon in China, one that commands millions of readers and is highly influential as both social commentary and barometer of public sentiment. As of April 2010, his blog had attracted 350 million hits, making him by far and away, the king of China’s blogosphere.

[From Bloggers and Chinese Twitter, China’s new media wave | Asia New Zealand Foundation]

The underlying fact that should never be ignored is that China is only 30 years into the post Mao era, and the massive social momentum that Charles saw in-country is hard to describe unless you see it first hand. And never underestimate the Chinese pragmatism.

This fairly radical revision of the boundaries of twitter, which I didn't know, fascinates:

While Chinese Twitter can accommodate up to 400 characters, it is more common for users to post messages up to about 120 characters. Compared with English, Chinese characters allows between two to eight times more information to be packed into the same number of characters.

Which makes it vastly more powerful as a social networking and news dispersal medium. Twitter has played a huge part in the bloody political head-butting that hopefully reached some resolution yesterday here, and I'm keen to find out the Thai script limitations.

Update: Shorty after I posted this, I found this post on the Bangkok protests and the rise of Moblogging:

About the same time as my first tweet, I also posted my first "moblog". This is an abbreviation of "mobile blogging", which, as the name suggests, is blogging from your mobile phone. This was the most exciting development for me. For the first time I was able to post blogs while I was still on location and my thoughts were still fresh. If you visit you will be able to see some examples of my moblogs. The main difference between the blogs here at and those moblogs are obviously the number of words. However, if you compare my earlier moblogs to the ones I do these days, you can see that I am now typing longer moblogs on my iPhone. Sometimes, I post about the same event on both blogs, but the moblog is definitely more laid back and relaxed and has more of my daily life that I don't write about at Even if the events are the same, the pictures are always different. This is because I use my big DSLR for this blog and my iPhone camera for the moblog. As I carry my iPhone around with me all the time, unlike the heavy DSLR, you will find the I write moblogs more frequently. And I also now find it easier to process pictures and video in my iPhone and then use a Word Press application to write my moblog. These are then uploaded up onto the Internet. Whenever possible, I try to post while I am still at the event.

[From Paknam Web: An iPhone, Twitter and the Red Shirt Rally - (Thailand Travel, Culture, Food and Life)]

Although I didn't for a moment feel threatened going about my daily business in the city, and I think the same goes for just about every expat here, there being absolutely no outflow of resident non-Thai and an ongoing daily arrival of 20,000 tourists (down from the normal 30,000 a day) which is still an incredible number, the live twitter stream on google, which in my office I kept open on my second monitor, was pretty much the live news stream I needed to carry on in a fairly normal way.

The world, how we approach it and how we draw information from it has changed just that little bit more in the past few weeks.

Monday, May 03, 2010

A Chill in My Vein

In honour of New Zealand Music Month, from Otaki (and a huge hattip to Yvette Parsons, without whom we may never have seen these):

or the live version:

With the upload comment:

only thing the annoys me is the sound person did not know how to do the sound correctly, so...that's why I was off pitch. sorry guys, but I did do the best I could under that situation.

I gave you silk suits, blue diamonds and gucci handbags / I gave you things you couldn't even pronounce

The Take me Back Weekender

Sunday, May 02, 2010

There's nothing I wouldn't be / Oh that's the gift of schizo

Oo-eee, in the USA this wack-job would be only slightly to the right of centre, but in the UK? Surely not. Perhaps so these days......

A high-flying prospective Conservative MP, credited with shaping many of the party's social policies, founded a church that tried to "cure" homosexuals by driving out their "demons" through prayer.

Philippa Stroud, who is likely to win the Sutton and Cheam seat on Thursday and is head of the Centre for Social Justice, the thinktank set up by the former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, has heavily influenced David Cameron's beliefs on subjects such as the family. A popular and energetic Tory, she is seen as one of the party's rising stars.

[From Rising Tory star Philippa Stroud ran prayer sessions to 'cure' gay people | Politics | The Observer]

Zip a de doo dah

In the mid 1970s I read and re-read a book about Phil Spector. It was a inspirational book for me at that age. Out of His Head by former (and later) Melody Maker editor, and one of the most important music journalists of his time, Richard Williams, was the first biography of Spector and indeed one of the very earliest serious biographies of a rock figure that wasn't all PR puffery and gloss (I'm thinking of The Beatles by Hunter Davies for example, which looked at the good bits and completely ignored anything that wasn't quite so, a little like the Beatles own Anthology too).

Williams wrote the book primarily about the man who made the music, and the music that the man made, the records that redefined what music production was (Williams revisits Spector here, post trial). He completely changed the way we create music and you hear his influence in almost every pop and rock record made to this day; and not only that, if it wasn't enough, he also invented the concept of the producer as an artist, not just a man (or woman) who sits in the booth and works out the balance between instruments, and he did this from his very first recording with the post-doo woppers, The Teddy Bears, in 1958.

Joe Meek, in the UK, was a little later but did much the same, although he didn't cause anything like the musical shockwaves that Spector did, even if he was arguably even crazier, and, yes, he took a life too.

When it came to The Beatles, neither Lennon nor Harrison had, by their own words, ever been produced as such as they were by Spector, a decade after his girl group period began, when he moulded what were for both, their finest solo records and radically different to those sixties pop symphonies but no less brilliant.

Spector's life and the life he enforced on others seems most demented and harrowing when you look at the life of poor Ronnie Spector, who's own book is pretty heavy reading. There is also a chapter in another book, Josh Alan Friedman's Tell The Truth Until They Bleed, where a tragic Ronnie Spector, divorced from Phil, broken and still in her early twenties, is, with yet another of the endless stream of no-name rocker boyfriends that she tagged on to or vice versa, staggering from oldies gig to oldies gig for a pittance, when, it can be said with some confidence that she possessed and maybe still does, one of the greatest female voices of her generation. Few come close, and those records, every one, the hits, the flops and the ones that seem to have completely slipped through the cracks before they were even released, are majestic symphonic pop masterpieces that can tear at your soul, and in my case, aged 16 when I first heard them, very much did.

I've just finished another Spector book, Mick Brown's Tearing Down The Wall Of Sound, which does just that, tears down the myth far more thoroughly than any of the earlier books, by making the story of creation of that music almost incidental to the monster that created it, as if the music was an inevitable by-product of the horror of his life. It's the story of the human train-wreck that Phil Spector was from that very first record through to the murder that eventually ended the his own life as well (unless by some miracle the appeal due shortly allows him to walk, it is after all California). The overwhelming tragedy is that he caused pain for just about everyone he touched, he was in every way possible, a monster and a monster for some fifty years.

But amongst all that there are still those mind-boggling records and I remain as confused as ever as to how we treat things like this. Do we dismiss the music, wipe the tracks I've posted below from pop music's historic record. No, I think not, it wasn't even really a question for me as The Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica is still an album I would happily spend the rest of my days with, but it's a question raised by one of the projects I'm working on at the moment (and, no, I'm not about to make a record with Ronnie..I wish) and thus I voiced it.

In the meantime, the music stands, I guess, and I'm happily, and without guilt, going to post these wonders:

The big hit from Ronnie etc:

A couple of (towering) non-hits from The Ronettes:

A song from The Checkmates Ltd, which was really no longer of its time when Spector released it in '67, but sounds pretty fine 43 years on:

A snippet of Spector in the studio:

And this throughly bizarre video where the odious, convicted, and jailed for underage sex in a very predatory way, Jonathan King, pays tribute to the murderer Phil Spector, which is only really topped by the fact that Spector is, they say, in the same cellblock as Charles Manson, who so wanted to be a Beach Boy, a band who's music centre was besotted with Spector, so much so he had trouble speaking in his presence for years.

This odd matchup does, as way of justifying its inclusion, use as audio, another wonderful Spector produced track, from The Checkmates Ltd (a band who's one big hit, Black Pearl was also a big hit for the NZ band Moana & The Moa Hunters in the early 1990s), Love Is All I Have to Give:

It really is too odd....

Friday, April 16, 2010

There's a stack of shellac and vinyl / Which is yours now and which is mine? / 45

Since we're celebrating record stores and all things vinyl, I thought I'd repost this, originally from August last year.

I've had a couple of conversations of recent with people about record stores in Auckland...the lost sort..where was Record Warehouse? When did Taste close?

That sort of thing.

I guess its part of being some sort of aging vinyl buff, but the thought of all those places, many of which I spend endless hours in as a kid, or older, still gives me some sort of huge nostalgic buzz. I used to spend days trekking around the second hand stores and the junk joints, most long gone, looking for the hundreds of 45s that I still have in boxes in my storeroom.

Rhythm Method outside Rock'n'Roll 1980Rhythm Method, outside Rock'n'Roll Records, Queen St, 1980

There have been countless record shops in Auckland over the years, we New Zealanders consume vast qualities of music, but I've only listed ones here in central-ish Auckland (Newmarket, the CBD, K Rd and Ponsonby) and shops that have closed down. The stores that are still open can tell their own stories. And I've only mentioned the stores I actually personally remember, and, yes, despite my best efforts I've clearly made some mistakes (and missed a few stores).

These shops were often filed with passionate people, both in front of and behind the counter (and more than a few snotty know nothing kids who looked down on almost all their customers and helped kill the stores) but despite that record retailing is an extraordinarily risky business and more than a few of these stores, most in fact, including some big operators, went bust and disappeared from the streets of the city forever.

However many of the most colourful and creative people I've known over the years came out of record retail or supported their creative enterprises on the rarely good wages paid in record shops.

I worked in several of these shops over the years myself and have huge memories of scaring the fuck out of quiet Parnell with the New York Dolls, or the joy of turning someone who'd never bought jazz (and actually asked for Kenny G) onto Miles and then watching him grow into Coltrane, Bird, Gillespie and beyond over the next few years.

Now where is that copy of Neat, Neat, Neat I bought at Direction Records in 1977....

Lost Record Stores In Auckland

Record Warehouse

One of the major players in central Auckland retail from about 1977 to 1987 when it went under. It was originally owned by Mike Dow and Guy Morris, and, later, Roger King amongst others and grew out of the collapse of the Direction chain. It’s major branch was in Durham Lane West, with the best 7” selection in Auckland, thanks to the wonderful Kerry O'Connor, and at other times had branches in other locations in the city, including The Corner (the old Peaches store) and in Lorne Street (which they called Rio for some odd reason). Record Warehouse went the way of most record retailers and ceased trading after the stockmarket crash. It's staff included Trevor Reekie, who worked there when he was playing his huge part in inventing the indie label in NZ. Roger King also managed Dave Dobbyn for many years, and later managed Don McGlashan. In the interim he spent time in Wellington working for the Alliance Party. Mike Dow was instrumental in bring FM radio to NZ, and later sold real estate in Omaha. He died in June, 2009.

Sounds Unlimited

Sounds Unlimited began life in Newmarket in a small shop in Remuera Rd in the early 1970s, owned by Henry King. He opened a second store with his brother Jim running it in Panmure about the same time. He quickly expanded to 101 Queen Street, Papakura and into much bigger premises still in Remuera Rd. They also opened a second store in Broadway (see Broadway Records). In 1982 Henry sold the chain to Gary Nuttall (the Newmarket stores), Terry Anderson (Queen Street) and Jim Lum (Panmure). Nuttall and Anderson kept the names and traded as a unit for a brief time but fell out, with Anderson keeping the name and Nuttall rebranding as Tru Tone. King moved to Sydney where he opened Chelsea Records, passing away a few years back.

Sounds Unlimited eventually expanded across Auckland but went under in the early 1990s. Out of its collapse came the Sounds chain, which also went under a decade and half later, costing the record companies millions. It had, at other times, stores on the corner of the Strand Arcade and Queen Street, 256 Records (see below), and a store in K Rd, infamous for it’s big coke bust in the early 1990s. Robin Lambert, the group’s sales manager was perhaps the best salesman I’ve ever seen in a record store. His famous refusal to sell a customer the third Iron Maiden album, because he didn’t own the first two and would not understand it, was typical (the guy left the store with all three, very happy).

Under Henry King, Sounds Unlimited revolutionised music retail in NZ and paved the way for a new generation of aggressively fronted, with loss leading items, and discounting, record stores. For better or worse, it paved the way for the current dominance of The Warehouse, whose music retail, appropriately, is headed by Terry Anderson. Henry's name survives with King Exports, an independent distributor. Sounds Unlimited's buyer, Steve Morice, also managed Push Push, which can't have hurt their chart returns.

Tru tone

Gary Nuttall, with his wife Allison, rebranded his stores as Tru Tone (with the exception of Broadway Records, which kept it’s name) after the fallout with Terry Anderson, and expanded into the malls and ‘burbs. Of note was the St. Lukes store, staffed by Phil Bell, Jason Howson, and Andrew, the drummer from Garageland. Under their management it became a centre for imported dance music, both house and hip-hop. Tru Tone went under in 1999, and many of the stores were taken over by either Sounds, with some irony, or ECM.

Direction Records

Direction Records

The first of the alternative stores of the post hippie era, dating from about 1971, and owned by Guy Morris, Direction was quite an empire for a while. It had stores in Darby St, Swanson St, Queens Arcade, and outside Auckland, and sold hip records in recycled brown paper bags. Direction ran a record label, which not only released local bands but licensed overseas labels like Casablanca, and they were also tied to Hot Licks, the alternative music

magazine edited by the late Roger Jarrett, which is the blueprint and granddaddy of all NZ music press since. The shelves were often full of imported pressings of hard to get underground records from the US, but, like all NZ indie chains, it inevitably went bust, in the late 1970s. From it arose The Record Warehouse.


Peaches was owned by industry veterans Brian Pitt and John McCready, and was essentially the retail arm of the RTC operation, which had NZ rights to Virgin Records and a few other labels. It operated from the mid 1970s in The Corner (formerly John Courts, and now Whitcoulls, Queen Street), and for me is remembered for all those well priced Virgin reggae imports, and, especially, as the place where I managed to pick up my EMI pressing of Anarchy In the UK. Record Warehouse took it over around 1980 and it closed shortly thereafter. They also had a branch in the old Direction store in Queens Arcade.

Taste Records

Taste was, with Direction, the other post hippie retailer, moving into the punk era. Taste was owned by David Perkins and, for a while, Rhys Walker. Rhys had worked for Pye Records and David had worked, in the 60s whilst at university, at a store upstairs in Vulcan Lane, called The Loft. Taste opened first in Lorne Street in the shop under what is now The Lorne Street Lofts, and had a special listening booth with extraction fans to allow the listener to get him or herself in the right state of mind to listen to that new Yes album. It was extraordinarily hip and moved early 1975 into the Southern Cross building in High Street (leaving the booth behind sadly), where along with the rock, it imported jazz and underground music. I was there one day in 1975 waiting for that first Split Enz album to arrive, and I bought one of only two copies of the first Ramones album in NZ there in 1976 (Johnny Volume bought the other). In 1979 it took over Professor Longhair’s in Parnell (acquiring me in the process). I managed the shop briefly in 1980 and ran my first label out of it, but Dave Perkins had lost interest and shut it in September that year. He later ran Snake Screen-printing studios which dominated NZ music merchandising for years, and died in 2004. His funeral was like a who’s who of the NZ record industry of the last three decades. RIP Dave.

Professor Longhairs

Professor Longhair’s was an offshoot of Richmond Records in Melbourne and owned by Nadine Huru, an Australian who had come to NZ with her husband in the mid 1970s and opened the store in small space just up from the Alexandra Hotel (now Iguacu). The shop was, from late 1977, the only shop which really stocked and played the punk and new wave sounds in Auckland, thus became one of the epicentres of that scene, which was helped by the fact that not only was it the only record store open on Saturdays in Auckland City, but was 150 meters up the road from The Windsor Castle, which was home to many of the Auckland punk bands on Saturday afternoons from late 1978 onwards. I ran it for Nadine from early 1978, with the legendary graphic artist Terry Hogan (the man who signed Toy Love to WEA, and did the AK79 sleeve) as my weekend staff. It was taken over by Taste Records in 1979 and I went as part of the package, before moving to Sydney for six months.

Basement Records

A second hand shop in the basement of The Corner in the late 1980s. They were, as I recall, briefly in the old Record Warehouse space in Lorne Street too for a while.

Rock’n’Roll Records

Jan, the owner, opened Rock’n’Roll Records in Symonds St, on the corner of City Rd, in the early 1970s, as the first dedicated second hand store in the city. It moved to Queen Street, just down from where Real Groovy is now, in the middle of that decade, where it’s staff included Simon Mark-Brown and Kerry Buchanan. It was a mecca for the vinyl obsessed (yes, guilty) and the shop’s rare records auctions were huge drawcards. I remember outbidding Graham Brazier on a Stooges album about 1979. I loved the huge boxes of 7" EPs and 45s behind he counter. In 1983 I sold much of my record collection to Jan & Kerry before moving to London (their prices were never less than fair but damn, not a day goes by when I don't regret selling what I sold). It moved to Fort Street, in a space next to the small Fort Lane, in the 1980s, and added Kirk Gee to the staff. Jan sold out to Real Groovy in the late 1980s and they closed the site, moving the staff up to the Queen Street store. Phat Wax took the site briefly and it's a laundromat now.

Record Exchange

Along with Rock’n’Roll Records, Record Exchange dominated the second had market for years. At one stage it took up much of the end of St Kevin’s Arcade in K Rd. Neville Lynch and Chris Hart opened it in 1976 and it soon became a second hand mecca with thousands of copies of everything imaginable and tons of rarities. Neville bought Chris out later in the decade (he then opened Real Groovy) and eventually bought in his son, Liam, and moved in the 1990s to K Rd itself, near the Queen Street intersection. There was another shop too, briefly, further along K Rd. The retail shop has gone now but Neville and Liam continue to trade successfully via TradeMe and Ebay and claim to have 200,000 records in their catalogue. I don't doubt it...

Quaff Records

Owned by Phil Clarke and UK DJ, Roy the Roach, Quaff initially took over Bassline’s shop before moving down the road to a space in O’Connell Street next to Zambesi. It lasted some 2 years from about 1994.

The Big Orange

This was not just a record shop but the best example of that long forgotten artefact, a head shop. It sold music, incense, clothes, posters, and accessories of all sorts (including bongs and the like). It was around from about 1970 for a year or two in the Canterbury Arcade.

Criminal Records

A dance specialist in Symonds Street owned by Nick Collings, it traded for 8 years and specialised in hard dance and trance. It closed in 2007.

Revival Records

This shop began life in the late 1980s as a second hand shop in Victoria St, about where the Sky Tower is now, moving in the 1990s up to K Rd, before closing down later that decade.

256 Records

At 256 Queen Street, this store was owned at various times by a couple of guys, Godfrey Woods and Kit Kingston, and also by Sounds Unlimited. I’ll always be grateful for the gross underpricing of the 18 volume Philadephia International boxed set, which I picked up for $50 one day. 256 was the first shop to import dance music as a speciality and amongst its staff were Grant Kearney and Sam Hill who went on to found Bassline Records (see below). It's staff also included Kerry George and Mike Haru.

Broadway Records

A Sounds Unlimited / Tru Tone owned shop in Broadway, Newmarket, that specialised in Classical and Jazz. I worked there for about three years part time to support my record label work, in the early 1980s. It was managed by Mel Moratti, a record industy legend who knew literally everything about classical music and the world’s classical releases, and is still employing that knowledge at Marbecks at the time of writing. It was the first shop in Auckland to have a CD player and stock CDs, when the local record companies were still rather nervous about this new tech.

246 Records

On the first floor of the 246 Shopping Centre in Queen Street (where, incidentally, the mezzanine café had the best Iced Chocolate in the city). It was partially owned by Dennison Smith’s in Rotorua and was renown in the 1970s for having the best annual sales in the city. I’m unsure exactly when it opened but it closed some time in the early 1980s. Derek Fletcher, who ran it at the end, assisted by Joanne Middlemiss, later opened a health food shop on the site of the old Direction Records in Darby Street.

HMV Records

In about 1994 the HMV chain re-entered the NZ marketplace and rented the space on the corner of Vulcan Lane and Queen Street. They opened with a huge band, putting some $10,000 on the bar at Cause Celebre. However they closed about two years later and the space is now occupied by the National Bank.

The EMI Shop

EMI was owned, of course, by EMI Records, (originally trading as HMV) and at one time sold all sorts of things like Fridges and Washing Machines as well as vinyl and cassettes, dating back to the 1940s when they dominated the NZ music industry. In the 1960s and 1970s they had a large store in Queen Street about where Burger King is now, near Victoria Street. They carried a huge stock and later moved up to where 256 Records was. In the late 1970s EMI upgraded the stores and opened one in the Downtown Mall. This was staffed initially by Peter Hewitt (who was later manager of 256), and then by Chris Caddick, who was later to become MD of EMI NZ, and Adam Holt, who is now MD of Universal NZ. EMI closed these in the late 1980s and a Sounds store was in the Downtown site for a while. EMI briefly re-entered the retail world with HMV in the 1990s.

Bassline Records

Owned by Sam Hill and Grant Kearney, both ex-256, Bassline was Auckland’s first dedicated dance and DJ store, and was DJ central for some years. Situated in what is now the Karen Walker shop in O’Connell Street, it was famous for Grant killing the records being played regularly so he could listen to the horse races through the PA. And the mad rush as the imports arrived. It opened in 1989 and closed about 1993 when Quaff took over the site. Grant Marshall provided the staff and the shop was often filled with friendly record company staff on Fridays filling out the chart return to pad NZ’s eternally and completely inaccurate charts.

George Courts

In K Rd, had, for years, a record bar just inside the door, with a smallish selection, but great sales bins. Closed well before the store closed in the 1980s.

Lewis Eady’s

In Queen Street, next to Whitcombs and Tombs (now Whitcoulls) near Durham Lane East, Lewis Eady had a multi-floor store with sheet music, instruments and a massive but almost impenetrable record selection, which nobody in the staff seemed to know or care about. Although it had been there forever, and in Queen Street selling music since 1918, it closed in 1980 and moved to the ‘burbs, where it remains now, albeit without the records. They also pressed vinyl and had their own label at one stage in the distant past.


Heath Burgoyne ran Cyberculture and sold alternative and electronic music from K Rd for most of the 1990s. The shop was a heaven for the eclectic and the leftfield.

Arthur Eady

One of the seemingly endless number of retail offshoots of Lewis Eady, Arthur operated until the late 1960s at 112 Queen Street, on the lower side of Vulcan Lane, selling instruments, sheet music and records.

Crucial Records

Crucial was owned by Miles Kuen and Matt Drake, upstairs in Canterbury Arcade from the late 1990s until about 2003, selling a huge range of techno and house vinyl and CDs.

Beautiful Music

In K Rd, near the Newton Post Office, from the mid 1990s, Gary Steel’s Beautiful Music offered his personal selection of interesting, the eclectic and the plain desirable. Amongst his clients, famously, was the late John Peel.

Phat Wax

Tony Young, an Australian DJ, opened a record store in a house in Jervois Rd, moving it to the old Rock’n’Roll Records space in Fort Street when Real Groovy bought them out. He later moved to a space in Victoria Street East just up from Lorne St. The shop had a range of Italian house to begin with, which rather confused NZers, as the style had never really crossed the Tasman, but later expanded to cover other styles, although it never really worked.


The Lamphouse was an appliance, and lighting store, with a mezzanine floor that stocked records. It was a great place to pick up long deleted obscurities that had sat in the racks for years. Closed in the 1980s after being in the same spot for several decades, on the corner of K Rd and Queen St.

Bond & Bond

I have vague memories of a Bond & Bond with a fairly healthy vinyl department in the Dilworth Building in Customs Street in the 1960s

John Court

Where Whitcoulls is now, John Court once had their department store with a smallish record department. Closed in the early 1970s.


Another department store that had a record department, just inside the door and to the right as I recall. They shut the record dept in the 1980s.

Farmers Trading Company

And another. The record dept in the Hobson Street store was at one stage quite large but mostly full buckets of Zodiac and Viking Peter Posa or Pacific albums with half naked girls on the cover. I guess that was their market.

Milne & Choice

And another. They had records for sale in both Queen Street and Remuera Rd, until they closed Queen Street in the 1970s, and Remuera a few years later. I remember buying David Bowie’s Pin Ups there in 1974 (and, yes, I still have it).

Second Hand shops Q St

For years there was a row of bric-a-brac stores on the eastern side of Queen Street, about where Mayoral Drive cuts through now, full of ever changing boxes full of dusty vinyl, with loads of 7” singles and sixties soul and pop.


Sounds, the last of the mega chains, with it’s roots in the Sounds Unlimited chain, had, amongst it’s dozens of stores in NZ, the huge one in the old Whitcoulls shop on the corner of Queen and Durham, one in the old 256 store (now a games shop), one in the Rialto mall in Newmarket and one in the old EMI shop in Downtown. Probably lots more but they were largely faceless...

Record store in Little High Street

There was for a year or two in the 1990s a record store in the mall called Little High Street, a shop packed full of imported US cut out and new release hip-hop and r’n’b vinyl. It didn’t last but was a goldmine, but perhaps better suited to South Auckland. The name escapes me.

The Vulcan Lane stores (updated!)

The names of both of these escape me too, although they were quite different. The first was upstairs between the two pubs, and I think was simply just called Upstairs Records, and closed about 1970. It's staff member, Dave Perkins, later opened Taste Records. The second was owned by RCA / Pye at one time (it was tied into the RCA Record Club) and managed by Lorraine Tennant (later of Peaches). It was downstairs in part of the space now occupied by the CD Store, next to the city branch of the Pancake Parlour (the chocolate and banana pancakes were delicious..this becoming a theme I think). Update: It was Music City..thanks to Jock Lawrie who bought his first album there (Beatles Hard Days Night in '74...not a bad way to start...).

Update: Nige Horrocks says the one upstairs in Vulcan was Gordon's, and that rings a bell, but the one I meant, Chris Bourke rightly recalls as The Loft. And Nige reminded me about another one:

Beggs Wiseman

The national chain had a store in Queen Street, between Durham Lane East and The Canterbury Arcade, although I'm unsure when it stopped selling vinyl

Woolworths & McKenzies

There was a McKenzies, which was kinda like a NZ owned K-Mart, in Queen Street, which ran between what is now the ANZ Bank and Vulcan Lane, it sold vinyl near the Vulcan Lane door. I used to like the grand portrait of the founder, Sir Something McKenzie, on the staircase. Woolworths, before they became just a supermarket, bought them up around 1980, and closed the Vulcan / Queen Store shortly afterwards. The Woolworths store near Queens Arcade continued for a decade and a half, rebranded as DEKA, and it too sold music but very mainstream

Current retail outfits old locations…

Real Groovy was intially at the top of Richmond Rd, then the top of Mt Eden Rd and then on the corner of Queen Street and City Road before it moved to where it is now. Conch was in the Canterbury Arcade for several years before it moved to Ponsonby.


In the Lagonda Arcade in the 1990s, had it's own record label

Play Records

Another K Rd store, in the Lagonda Arcade, specialising in dance, in the first years of the 2000s. It was later Lopass Records and is now Uptown, specialising in dubstep and grime.

Central Station

An Australian dance store that opened in Durham Lane East in the late 1990s. Like Phat Wax it missed the mark because NZers really had a more developed musical taste than the cheese that sold so well in Australia. It moved briefly to the top end of Vulcan Lane before closing.

Bizarre Beats

Another on K Rd, which started in St.Kevins Arcade in the early 1990s, then moved down to O'Connell Street in the mid 1990s to share with Quaff, before heading back up to K Rd where it shared a space with Virus Clothing. They stocked alternative and industrial and still can be found via the Club Bizarre website, run by owner Mark Wallbank.

BPM Records

yes I'll get to that...

And an update...a word from the legendary Terry Hogan :

Hi Simon .. nice work. There was another Eady store (was it Sydney Eady?) on the corner of Queen and, I think, Swanson, where I got a brand new copy of Love's "Forever Changes" for a dollar from a bargain bin one day in the late 60s. True, a buck was still worth something then, but still..! And I bought it on the cover alone but sometimes that works out fine.

Your mention of the second-hand places up the top end of Queen Street calls to mind a real treasure trove that used to sit just below City Rd where I picked up a lot of US stuff that I still have, Stooges, MC5, and a personal fave, the Sir Douglas Quintet's "Mendocino". Can't remember the shop's name but the LPs were $2 and $3 (I never figured out how that distinction was made) and the guy was friendly and I dips me lid to him.

And yep, fond memories of working Prof Longhairs .. but go easy on the "legendary".


Monday, April 12, 2010

Play the string gently now / Pull the bow

There is so much stuff online documenting and commenting on the riots and the before and aftermath, it's hard to know where to start. I've spent large parts of the day sifting through all sorts of pages and links, but still in a state of shock. This is in the city I live in, in streets I walk down, if not every day, at least once every two or three weeks. I know by sight some of the vendors around there, who's world as surely as anything can be sure, has come crashing down in what they say is over a billion US dollar loss to the Thai economy so far, and the tourists stay away.

The irony in that is that tourists and foreigners, even with the accidental death of the Japanese newsman, are not targets and are not at risk, unlike something like the Bali bombings where tourists were the primary target.

I went down to the Ratchaprasong intersection near Chit Lom BTS station this afternoon and I'm going to post a photo or two but before, I thought I'd post three videos from Thai-faq's Tony Joh, which are simply incredible and, as Thai Twittersphere has been saying, should really be award winning stuff:

I knew i could't get there on the Skytrain, which we were told terminated at Asoke, about 2km before Ratchaprasong, so I guessed I'd have to walk and thought I could go the last part of the way on the Skywalk which hangs under the trains' tracks and branches out to malls (all closed I guessed but I actually found a couple partially open, including the five story DIY store at Ploen Chit..odd) and usually provides an easy way to get around avoiding the traffic and the grime. Why did I go? I guess I like to observe and I want to try and get a grasp on what is happening to this rather wonderful but perplexing country.

Sukhumvit Rd, where this shot was taken, near Soi 12, is usually 24/7 at a traffic standstill or at least groaning under the weight. Today, though:

Sukmumvit Rd

Further on, at Wireless Rd, the first of two roadblocks, manned by red marshalls:

Wireless Rd

Chit Lom Rd., normally gridlocked on a Sunday with shoppers and taxis:

Chit Lom Rd

The second roadblock, at Chit Lom into Thanon Rama 1:

Roadblock at Chit Lom

From another angle under the Chit Lom BTS Station:


The McDonalds beside Erawan, doing huge redshirted business:


rest spot

The main rally stage, with a massive PA that was staggered all the way down the street for a km or so:

stage Two women Zen Zen crowd crowd crowd woman red

Not sure what the middle upper one is supposed to represent:


She asked me if I liked the Redshirts, I said I did and she gave me a B5 discount on my fresh juice:

Drink Woman monk

Parts of the area were quite sparse, there had clearly been quite a drop off in numbers since Saturday's mayhem:

looking back just folks

And lots and lots of people asleep everywhere you looked:

asleep guards dog tailor crowd flag gate bike traffic warden Pratnum Intersection

If I was asked, I'd say the mood was somber, very tired and yet still staunch. It's very much not over yet.

And yet it was still welcoming to me, and to answer the questions after the last lot of photos, not once did I feel threatened in any way, quite the opposite in fact, people smiled continuously at me, asked me where I was from, what I thought about all this and shook my hand. And, aside from a couple of cops I saw sharing a coffee with two redshirts at one end, there was no military or police presence.

But I have to ask the same question that Tony does in the videos: this is costing a fortune. Who's paying for it all?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Cos the moral doesn't matter / broken rules are all the same / to the broken and the breaker / who's to bless and who's to blame

The last twenty four hours in Bangkok have been horrific, with two opposing political factions refusing to back down from confrontation, one egged on by a leader sitting in a plush suite in Dubai. I'm not going to go into the political back and forth here, partially (and it's a huge part) because I don't understand Thai politics which are enormously complex, and I don't want to mis-state things I don't quite get. I always think that westerners who try and pretend they fully understand and who tout themselves as immersed and more Asian than the Asians are amongst the saddest people you find in this part of the world.

As I said when I posted a couple of weeks back, I spent some hours wandering and photographing the red crowds and it was a staunch but uplifting occasion, almost fair-like in its atmosphere. Indeed I was about to head down to the Chit Lom intersection yesterday when the government shut the BTS (Skytrain) and I doubted I'd find a cab to take me there so I canned the idea, much to Brigid's relief.

Clearly, in the past few days that changed and it got ugly. That some of the protestors were using live bullets and grenades was awful and clearly speaks to a, I think, small, but heavily militant element which ramped things until it got out of control. And it was inevitable the government would have to say enough, that much was always clear.

I was especially upset for the kids. There were thousands of young people and children amongst the crowds I witnessed first hand, and I thought of families like this, who were so kind to me, and I hoped they were ok:

family with Redshirts

Late last night I began to to scurry through the international media to see what the coverage was like. This page, of incredible shots, stood out, as did this footage on Swedish TV, and this slideshow from Reuters, the last two both showing Khao San Rd, backpacker central, and the generator of vast amounts of revenue for the city, which last night became a war zone.

Google News indicated that the most recent story was being covered by over 6,000 outlets around the world, as one of the biggest stories on the planet:


So I thought, at about 6am New Zealand time, about 12 hours after the shit had hit the fan, if you will, and bodies had begun to fall in Bangkok, I'd see how the biggest news outlets in NZ were covering this. After all, it's on our doorstep, we are in the same region, members of APEC, associate members of ASEAN, thousands of New Zealanders (far, far more than visit Poland yearly, or ever) have been here, many Thai live in New Zealand and we have a free trade agreement.

This is what I found:

NZ Herald




I was reliably informed that this was the news item that had gone through to the editors at TVNZ. They'd chosen not to run it but gone with the death of a politician that almost no New Zealanders could name from a country that few New Zealanders could pin-point on a map instead as lead item. I wonder how many New Zealanders are in Thailand right now?

Surprised? No, not really. Shocked? Yes still, but appalled is probably the better word, and ashamed. Is It any wonder that New Zealanders seem, if my personal experience is any guide, to be giving Americans a run in the global ignorance stakes these days.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

As they pulled you out of the oxygen tent / You asked for the latest party

I’m writing a lot at the moment. I’m writing stuff that probably won’t appear for a long time. Hell it might not even appear at all. But I’m writing, and getting things off my chest which satisfy me and scratch an itch, if you will.

But I think I need diversion, so I’ll tell a story. It’s a story I’ve long wanted to tell but to be honest it was only after a bit of prodding from Brigid that I decided to put pen to screen. I guess its been long enough now.

It was a wedding. A huge wedding and really, to toss an overused turn of phrase in the air, not just any wedding. A celebrity wedding. And not just any celebrity wedding but a wedding between an All Black (for anyone not living in New Zealand, France, several small Pacific nations, the honky bits of South Africa, small parts of New South Wales and smaller parts of several other European nations, that’s a male who plays a game a little like a bastardised mutant fusing of American and non-American won’t have heard of it but it’s huge in New Zealand in the way that Basque Pelota is huge in Central America) and a member of a manufactured pop quintet who, for a very brief moment were bigger than Barbie with adolescent females and housewives across New Zealand (and who’s existence directly paved the way for the global Pop Stars and Idol franchises).

They were called TrueBliss and I somehow found myself in the middle of the whole thing.

I’ll try to explain although the whole thing, the pop thing, not the wedding which I’ll get to, was an incredible haze and would take more than a few paragraphs in a blog to cover.

I managed Anthony Ioasa, songwriter extraordinaire, music producer and a man who now, for his own reasons, calls himself Anthony Gold.

Ant was approached by Jonathan Dowling, a filmmaker, to work on a concept he had. He wanted to create a pop group, five girls, and film the process from audition to group to recording studio to record label to video shoots to gigs and their lives in between. It was a new concept, called reality TV.

Jonathan didn’t invent the format or invent manufactured bands. What he did do first was to meld the two things together and it was a stroke of brilliance that should, when one considers how far the concept has been taken, have made him rich beyond his dreams. But somewhere along the way he lost control of the intellectual property in the concept and, for want of a better word, was screwed.

And yes, that’s another story.

Yep, Truebliss (the artwork spelled it tRueBliss but this far out I’ll pass) were massive. Jonathan and his partners took it from a rough concept through to a TV series that dominated the nation’s TV screens for two and a half months in 1999, then filled New Zealand’s town halls and theatres for the next two months with sell-out dates.

The album, quickly produced, written and mostly recorded by Anthony, with a select bunch of musicians, including Joost Langveld, did rather well selling some 40,000 copies in just over a month, with a number one single that went platinum two times over.

And then it all fell to bits. Inevitably. The concept was the TV show and the band was always going to have a brief life.

I really liked all five girls and got on with them all pretty well, most especially Jo and Carly but the end loomed, even if it wasn’t obvious to the five at the centre of it.

After the number ones and the sell-out tour it stopped like a maglev train hitting a brick wall. Single three didn’t even chart and the money, which was always tight, ran out.

And the recriminations began.

There were sorts of media reports that these poor girls had been screwed by the TV show’s producers, one of whom, Jonathan, not Peter Urlich who was scripted into the show as manager but never had the role outside that, was also the band's manager.

In November 1999 they fired Jonathan as manager, although he still controlled just about everything, and I was asked by the girls to act as manager, which all parties agreed to.

Time went by and in the nicest possible way we tried to ease them into a quiet understanding that it was, unless a miracle happened, over. We tried to engineer that miracle via their Sony deal and indeed we worked towards that with a new album full of Carly Binding authored songs, and an American producer. Then Sony pulled out and Carly decided to leave the band, for her brief solo career.

We sat in their lawyer’s office one afternoon and tried to tell them, the audits had been done, Jonathan was squeaky clean and it was over. One, Jo Cotton, looked at us and asked “Can’t we just do it again?” (Ironically some years later Jo got her wish when she won some TVNZ talent contest, now forgotten).

But in early 2000 one of the five decided to get married.

Megan Cassie decided to marry her long-time boyfriend and father to her daughter, Pita Alatini, who was, I’m reliably informed, an All Black (not that I would know one if, as seems to be the case as often as not, one randomly punched out someone in the street in front of me).

The invites, for Brigid, our daughter and myself, arrived in January for a wedding in February with a service in Otara and a reception at the Formosa Country Club out on the eastern perimeter of Auckland and a place I’d never heard of.

Carly wasn't invited.

Screen shot 2010-04-06 at PM 03.09.32

We were offered an option to rent a chalet at the club for the night and duly did exactly that. It was, I guessed, going to be the celeb wedding to end all celeb weddings in that nether-land partially occupied these days by truly bizarre sites like this gruesome oddity (why would you want to be anywhere near it…) but in 2000 was the exclusive domain of the weekly gossip rags.

And so, we suited up and packed ourselves into the car, and headed off to the church.

Somebody, I’m unsure whether it was Pita’s agents, or Megan’s family, had done an exclusive deal with The Woman’s Day for pics, for, and this may be an incorrect memory this far out, but it was a big wad, $40k cash plus a fair slice of the cost of the wedding, and there they were there, snapping away at famous guests as they arrived (famous people like to hang with other famous people I discovered and you only have to be famous for a Woman's mag cover or two to be one of them).

And they were, I guess, bemused and increasingly pissed off at the other lot, from the Woman’s Weekly, doing exactly the same thing.

Whichever party had sold the rights to WD hadn’t told the other party (and no-one at all had bothered to tell me) who had then sold the same rights, both exclusive of course, to the other magazine.

It was fractious but the bride arrived and looked duly fab, The groom looked sharp and another of those All Blacks (don’t ask me which, but he seemed to have an aura of desirability about him, given the looks and drools from both sexes that followed him) was best man.

The wedding went off without a hitch, all tears and that, it was quite lovely, and the best man looked bemused by it all.

Outside there were hundreds. A smattering of Truebliss fans and literally hundreds of mostly Tongan (the groom was Tongan) folks who, in what I was told was a very Tongan way, were openly invited to the ceremony.

Cool. The folks outside seemed to be loving it and proved to be pretty colourful subjects for the competing camera crews.

After the wedding we jumped in the car. I had Jonathan and Anthony in mine and we headed east. And east and east. Eventually we found the venue, after asking at a shop or two, and found ourselves driving up the long winding approach to the grand be-pillared reception.

And it was odd. Very.

I’ve not been to Palm Springs but I’m guessing that it’s full of these sorts of mutant private clubs where the riff raff are kept out and the rich old folk go to drink far too many cocktails, and eventually die. Except this one was targeted at the rich old Chinese folks, as the name suggested, and looked like it came in a your own country club box complete with dozens of fully mature palms, twee little bridges over twee man-made ponds, and a beautifully preened golf course for the stinking rich to wander around on the plentiful golf carts whilst the less privileged watched from outside.

Hey, it’s their money, but it did feel a little like we were sitting in some tacky privileged zone on the edge of the outerworlds. Screen shot 2010-04-07 at PM 09.51.43

I was, I have to say, impressed by the chalet. Not really the chalet as such, but the massive bathroom which was about the size of our whole house back in South Herne. And we were given our very own own golf cart.

It was, when we checked in, early afternoon, about 1 I think, and we took a couple of pictures of the private golf cart (I don’t play so it was a novelty) then, leaving it parked outside, wandered over to the gathering storm.

People had begun arrive, the sun was beating down and the kids were all ushered away to a separate zone where they would be entertained by clowns and fed vast amounts of coca cola and McDonalds. As a responsible parent I wandered off to get a drink myself.

A beer. There were a range but I took a Stella. And the sun beat down. We wandered around looking for shelter but there was little so we had another drink and the sun beat down so I moved on to the Pinot Gris.

An organiser of sorts told us that the main event would begin around five in the big marquee, a huge marquee actually, and we all conveniently had names on tables. Handy, since it was getting blurry.

Inside the tent was a huge table running down the west side (I think) set up for the official party, who now, I was told, included big parts of the All Black squad, parents, and guests from South Africa (Megan’s family is Zulu).

And there were lots of fab and famous people wandering around..TV folks, the odd Shortland Street bod and All Blacks.

So we all had another drink and the sun got stronger.

I looked around for food. There was none. Just aggressive wine waiters offering top ups. The few packets of crisps that were out when we arrived were long gone, so I went into the kids room and stole two cheeseburgers from the distributing Ronald, handing one to Brigid. It was something.

It's incredible what hunger, mixed with Pinot Gris and Stella will push you to do.

Around 4, we were staggering a bit under the weight of all this and I watched the kitchen folks putting out the sucking pigs. Along the front of the official table they were laid out, with one per two people. Little fat ones (this far out I can’t recall through the blur if they had an apple per mouth or not) that sat in the heat and starred blankly out en-mass. So we had another drink and the musos puffed on some green stuff (I don’t do that, and haven’t for many years: I start thinking my friends are policemen/women so it’s best to pass).

It was starting to fill up. The guest list was, I was told, officially about 300 people, but many of those who’d arrived uninvited at the church had made their first foray out to the Formosa Country Club and had parked their vans and cars in a large, pretty, grassed area behind the tent where they were pulling out the pub pets.

Their numbers had grown to about 400 I guess.

The security guards looked itchy but they were unsure what to do.

Around five, as the sun still pummelled us, and we were almost crawling, the announcement came to enter the tent.

And we did. Brigid and I found ourselves seated with Jonathan, Malcolm Black from Sony, and three Tongan fa'afafine from Sydney. A prime table right in front of the happy couple. We started to chat to the trio from New South Wales. You’re with the Alatini family? Oh, no dear. Oh, you must be with Megan then? No, we’ve never met either of them. So who invited you? No-one. We just thought we had to be here so we booked a flight and here we are. But you’re seated on one of the best tables in the house. Oh god..we just waited until everyone sat down and were pointed by an usher to these seats.

We actually hit it off rather well with these three, as we discovered, dressmakers, from Sydney who had no connection to the wedding but had the best seats in the house.

Okay, we were seated but the speeches began..and we had a new batch of this time for me, delivered to the tables.

The talking carried on, and in a very Island, and I found out shortly, Zulu way, every speech demanded several extended responses.

There was no food. There was no ventilation and the temperature was rising.

Three hundred completely inebriated, legless, guests, at least a dozen now frothing dead pigs that had been in the February heat for about 3 hours and rising temperatures and noise were heading to a climax.

I went for a wander to check on daughter and found the hundreds of uninvited guests behind the tent had started digging up one of the gorgeous golf greens for umus to cook the basket loads of food that were now being unloaded from vans. Pub pets (they’re the plastic beer containers that breweries sell their cheaper brands in, in bulk) were being tossed around the course and all over the beautifully manicured gardens where they were now sticking out like mutant gnomes from the New Zealand hinterland.

Isabella was fine and it was heading towards 8pm. The whole place was completely shitfaced. The two sets of photographers were glaring at each other across a divide of angry, hungry, loud people. The odd scrap was breaking out and nobody was paying the slightest bit of attention to the bride, groom or whichever official guest was making the umpteenth response to whatever response. All Blacks were chatting with girls who lined up to be chatted to, and every now and then one or two would wander outside..for a breath of fresh air of course.

And then they announced the dinner would be served table by table as they were called.

Immediately there was, from every table, a mad demented rush to towards the food. The catering manager leapt at the clawing mass of completely obliterated guests, abusing them and physically pushing them back.

And then the power went off and a table full of food collapsed as 100 starving drunk people forced their way to it in the pitch black.

After about 20 minutes of clawing and scraping, the power came on and people forced themselves back up and found their way through the mess and confusion to their tables.

The tent slowly wound down as food calmed the masses and the tap on the free-flow booze was, smartly, turned off by someone. And of course a few people simply passed out, drunk in the overpowering heat.

I went outside to see how the umus were going and the security guards were doing their very best to get the old Cortinas and the rest off the golf course before they settled in. As I watched two golf carts, with people hanging off the roof and sides, wheeled past and onto the next green where, as much as you can with overladen carts, they tried to do wheelies and drifts.

It was time to leave and we crawled back to our wee chalet and promptly passed out.

The next morning I wandered down to the reception past the tent. There were bodies everywhere, mostly the uninvited masses who pitched their own pup tents or simply slept where they fell. A golf cart was in the garden.

We paid and left as quickly as possible. I've not been back, although Isabella was keen.

The next day Woman’s Day tried to demand their money back, but, caveat emptor, it was done and gone.

Both mags ran stories about the gorgeous celebrity filled wedding and printed endless shots of famous people and Peter Urlich.

I read somewhere that they, in 2009, renewed their vows.