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Writers on Wellington Music: Chris Bourke

Last edited: 30.10.14 | Comment? | By

We’ve been checking in with some people to get their thoughts on what makes the Wellington Music scene unique, and to get their take on some of their favourite Wellington sounds…

Chris Bourke, author of an essential book on the New Zealand music scene, the NZ Book Award winning Blue Smoke: the lost dawn of New Zealand popular music, 1918-1964, was kind enough to stop by and share some of his thoughts and memories on Wellington music…

‘What makes Wellington music unique? Its music scene has always been diverse, but it’s far from alone in that. Plenty of other cities have R&B filling pubs while experimental bands fill living rooms on the other side of town. If anything connects the Wellington bands over the last few decades, it is thoughtfulness and craft. In the 1960s, bands such as the Fourmyula and the Avengers were as meticulous about their pop as the blues aficionados were about their roots music. The mid-70s were the heyday booze barns and cover bands, but Midge Marsden was serious about having fun with the Country Flyers – a huge drawcard at the Royal Tiger on Taranaki Street – and Maori funk band Collision perfectly emulated cutting edge grooves from black America in clubs such as Dr Johns or Speakeasy. In the 1980s, arty bands such as Beat Rhythm Fashion – such a great name – and Naked Spots Dance put as much care into their creations as the scholarly Bill Lake did in his bands the Pelicans and the Living Daylights. Even Riot 111 thought carefully about their political thrashing and statements.

As much as I tried not to miss any gigs from Toy Love when they passed through Wellington in 1979 and 1980, my own tastes favoured the school of R&B that was so strong in the city from the 1960s. I was too young to see any of the seminal bands such as Gutbucket or Mammal, but followed the next couple of generations that emerged from them: Rough Justice – who while an R&B covers’ band were still an original entity – then later the Hulamen and Holidaymakers. As an Auckland Rip It Up writer said sometime in 1985, many Wellington bands seemed to share the little featus virus following the US band’s visit in 1976. He was talking about the Tombolas – a short-lived band that was really a rest stop for the Hulamen on their way to becoming the Holidaymakers. But that R&B influence goes right back to the mid-60s and bands such as Bari and the Breakaways, and continued to the 2000s and groups such as Trinity Roots and Fat Freddy’s Drop. If anything, the roots bands and the art bands intermingle more than they ever did in the 1970s and 1980s…

Some of my favourite Wellington albums:
The Librettos – Let’s Go With the Librettos
The Fourmyula – Green B Holiday
The Maori Volcanics – Live at the Broderick Inn
The Hulamen – Beer and Skittles
The Pelicans – Banana Dominion
The Warratahs – Too Hot to Sleep
Age Pryor – City Chorus…’

Cover image

Chris’s award winning book ‘Blue Smoke: the lost dawn of New Zealand popular music, 1918-1964’ is available to purchase here and you can read a review here

Posted in: Chris BourkeGeneralWriters on Wellington Music


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