Deleting Music is relatively newish and yet has a resonance for me that goes much further back. It touches on something that I, as a fairly longstanding, one might say elderly, member of the New Zealand music industry, albeit semi-retired, feel quite strongly about, and that’s our quickly evaporating musical past.
In particular the quickly evaporating New Zealand musical past.
I’ve written about this here before (and am too lazy to find the link but it’s there and garnered quite a few comments the last time, perhaps some two years back) but we seem to have not moved ahead much, at least publicly, in the interim. That said, I’ve not been inactive and some things are skipping ahead in small increments with like minded people.
Three things have made me decide to post again.
Firstly there is the release of Chris Bourke’s monumental history of pre-and early rock’n’roll musical history, Blue Smoke. Buy it please. Enjoy it — you will. Immerse yourself in the music — you can’t. Nope almost everything he writes about in the book is unavailable. You can’t buy it. You can’t even steal it online. The same is true of the overwhelming bulk of the music I listed last year on my Zodiac page. And much of John Dix’s Stranded in Paradise.
Secondly, two friends died. One, Ian Morris, has parts of his legacy in catalogue. Late last year I made the remastered Screaming Meemees’ album he produced available again. However, the two albums by Th’Dudes are unavailable as is any collection of their work, including the anthology I put together with the band in 2002 (deleted after Stebbings lost the rights to the band and simply never reissued). Huge parts of Ian’s work is simply MIA.
The other friend, Tony Peake, who I posted about here, has only one track available, on a compilation put together by the tireless Rob Mayes. Rob, who really deserves a knighthood (which he would never accept of course) for his work in preserving New Zealand, and in particular, Christchurch cultural history, has been working on a collection of Tony’s work with an unspecified arrival date in the far future. However, right now, and every day since it dropped out of the charts in the early 1980s, The Newtones’ Painting The Town Red has been unavailable aside from the fact that it’s become a Christchurch live anthem I’m told — a Louie Louie of its generation. But you can’t buy the bloody thing. You can’t even steal that one despite the fact it was a hit just before the digital age.
The third reason was the launch of this, a history of the Internet in NZ. Why can geekdom (many of whom I admire immensely before anyone gets defensive about the tag) get it together, whilst what is one of our most tangible and individual cultural gathering points and identifiers, simply can not.
The fourth reason is to prod my personal ennui on this. The longer we wait, the more we lose. I’m in Thailand but given the digital smallness of our world there are no longer excuses and one thing I’ve always been rather good at is taking on silly projects and trying to make them work.
Just to make the point stronger, the following albums, from 1974 onwards, all important musical landmarks (and some are rather good too) are either unavailable or only out there in shitty first generation CD issues with appalling sleeves:
- Car Crash Set
- The Dance Exponents (the Mushroom albums are in print but almost unlistenable, the Ze Disc one has never been on CD)
- The Body Electric
- Grace (wonderful sweet soul from the Ioasa Brothers)
- Fuemana (parts of it are on Amplifier)
- The Deepgrooves Double
- The Dunedin Double (will no doubt turn up as the Flying Nun reissue program takes hold, but has never been on CD and has been unavailable since the 1980s)
- Hello Sailor (there are a couple of comps out there, but all the original albums are unavailable and have been for decades)
- Th’Dudes (as above)
- Miltown Stowaways — Tension Melee — and the rest of the Unsung label catalogue.
- Urban Disturbance — 37 Degrees Latitude
- AK 89 — In Love With These Rhymes (the very first NZ hip hop collection — it may be awful — it may not be, I don’t have a cassette deck and that’s the only way it existed — but it’s ours and it’s a part of what we are)
- Push Push — A Trillion Shades of Happy (the 1991 Band of the Year). Unavailable since about ’95
- Waves (hugely regarded NZ Folk Rock album in its day and a band that were a major part of the same scene that gave us Split Ends/z)
- DD Smash (all albums, there but in shitty sleeves and covers — as JP Hansen points out, the Live album — an NZ number I recall — has never been on CD!))
- Herbs — Greatest Hits only available — not the seminal mini album or anything else
- Don McGlashan & Ivan Zagni ‑Standards
- Lava Lava (3 tracks only on Amplifier)
- DLT — The True School (the album that gave the world the number one NZ single Chains) & Altruism (I was shocked to find these two off the catalogue)
- Nathan Haines — Shift Left (don’t blame me, blame Universal for that one) & Soundkilla Sessions Vol 1
- Nemesis Dub Systems (a pretty major release at the time — gone for at least 15 years)
- Jordan Reyne (the first few albums)
- 3 The Hard Way (the first album and the first big NZ Hip Hop album)
- The New Loungehead — Came A Weird Way
- and Split Enz – yes the albums are available and they’re remastered, but the packaging is appalling. In fact, the same could be said of all Warners NZ catalogue reissues. The care taken is insulting.
Remember The Wastrels? Probably not if you are under 40. They were a really big live band in their day, from the South Island, influencing a whole bunch of other acts and filling bars and clubs. People that did see them talk very fondly of them, and they headed quite a healthy and briefly important regional subculture. Wanna buy their records? Wanna find an image of the band? Sorry…
How about the healthy dub/alt-hip hop scene in Auckland around the end of the 1980s? Missing any and everywhere. No images, no documentation, no stories, no music. Gone. It arguably helped pave the way for the whole downbeat scene from the late 1990s and beyond.
And there are literally thousands of singles, like The Newtones’ two 7“s, simply AWOL (and, yes, I’m as guilty of that as anyone, but I’m aware of it) with related artwork and imagery, plus the stories that surrounded them just gone.
That list above took me all of three minutes to compile (and I may need to be corrected on a few of those, but there are literally hundreds more). EMI’s New Zealand office, when it was still more than a marketing office for Australia, made a reasonable stab at the 1960s a few years ago, but the 1970s, 1980s and large parts of the 1990s have simply dropped off the radar.
The awful part is not only are these records disappearing but most are also gone from the public consciousness — forever. They may sit in a dusty cupboard in a library amongst a collection of a million other non-related cultural artefacts, although many do not, but unless this culture is preserved and offered back to the nation, it may as well be dead.
The venues are forgotten. Who knows where the Jive Centre in Auckland was? 1 It was the dominant venue which shaped rock’roll in widgie and bodgie Auckland. A whole generation spent their youth there.
The original masters, too, often old analogue multi-track tapes, are often either gone or close to gone. A central depository for these things is also required — climate controlled and secure.
The only bright spot is Amplifier and its aggressively active management, who, in conjunction with small labels like Ode, are, steadily filling gaps. There are all sorts of bits turning up on Amplifier and some I would have deemed lost forever. However, as worthy as that is, it still exists in a vacuum of sorts and it’s beyond a private e‑commerce site like that to archive everything.
It’s too much and unreasonable to expect the bands and artists to be responsible for their recorded and cultural legacy. Many of course have simply died, and we are now seeing many of the bands of the fifties and sixties thinned. Almost all the important promoters and crucial movers of those decades — Eldred Stebbing, Benny Levin, Phil Warren, Dave Dunningham amongst them – are gone.
Many, most, of the music made in the last decades in New Zealand, was made by small independent studios, or for tiny recording studios. The ownership of these recordings is at best grey. Who owns the countless recordings issued on New Zealand’s first indie label, TANZ (which stood for To Assist New Zealand Artists), or Benny Levin’s Impact? How about the Johnny Devlin masters? They were released by Phil Warren on his Prestige label and for a while, Festival was licensing these before they worked out they only had rights in Australia and even that was dubious. The Phil Warren Estate now claims these but has no way of cataloguing or preserving. How about the 50 or so releases on the tiny, but important Robbins label from Christchurch in the 1960s. Jon Doe’s Hit Singles label? Audion Records run from Auckland University around 1960–61?
And so it goes on.
We have a film archive. We have a TV archive. We archive papers, documents, books, newspapers and just about everything else. Is it asking too much for a dedicated NZ Music Archive.…..