Category Archives: Music

2 Days in Christchurch (part 1)

Christchurch is the town that made me. I was born here. Grew up here. Shambled into adulthood here. And while I have nearly spent more time living away from my home than in it, Otautahi contains my greatest trove of formative memories.

It is the place I look back to as I grope my way through Dante’s darkened forest of middle-age.

Why am I here?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I am in Christchurch to revisit the past (something that gets ever harder each time). Yes, family and friends have moved on, but so have the physical surroundings.

I’m here as an old friend has just turned 50. We went to school together. Played in a couple of bands around Christchurch and New Zealand in the ’80s and ’90s. It’s a time that I’ve never really looked back on until the last few years. I had little desire to wallow in a past that was fun but never golden.

Six months ago I was sent a thumb drive with live recordings of two gigs from 1987. Rob, the sound engineer who mixed us, had recorded the performances. As an avid archivist I appreciated the gesture but the thought of listening to juvenilia held little appeal.

But after a few drinks I gave them a listen. To my surprise I really enjoyed them. Yes, the crowds were often indifferent to our efforts (and talent), but we were (often) tight and the songs were (sometimes) good. It was a revelation. For a couple of weeks it was my favourite music to listen to.

It made me seek out another friend and former school/bandmate who had mixed our gigs (and made home recordings) to see what he had stashed away.

home-recording-session-with-damian-zelas-home-built-mixer-sept-1984-photo-by-henry-zelas

I sent Damian a text. He sent back a meticulous list of about a dozen gigs and home studio sessions he had on tape.

That was the easy part.

Like me, he no longer had a working cassette player (but many boxes of tapes).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I got hold of a cassette digitiser from another friend (Fiona, who does transcription services), downloaded some ropey software, and stumbled my way through digitising the tapes. It was quite an effort. Most recordings were indexed on the case but a lot were punched into and recorded over with something different. It is nearly nine years since I worked as a sound man, even longer since I drove any audio software. A lot of trial. Many errors.

afd-playing-support-at-gladstone-22-april-1986-photo-jonathan-hall-copy

All this faffing about turning arcane ‘80s into shiny 21st century 1010101010101100011s that can be trimmed, indexed, Dropboxed, iPoded and shared lead to the most interesting bit for me – digging out my diaries from their dusty banana box downstairs.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s a funny thing looking back at your teenage self from the vantage point of 50 circles around the sun.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My diaries are full of details that get more and more… detailed. I first played in a pub as a 16 year-old schoolboy and my ‘diary’ that year was just a few lines scrawled on a calendar. By the end of that year I was jamming about 100 tiny words into the box of each day. Three years later I was churning each day into 800 words of… stuff. Nuggets like 3 pieces of toast for breakfast. Watching the Adrian Mole TV series. Impressed. Waiting for my sisters to have showers. Going to psychology and philosophy lectures.  Getting drunk and talking to girls. Doing radio shows at UFM. Countless band rehearsals. Regular gigs. Occasional insights and surprising hopes for the future. Avoiding writing an essay on morals day after day after day after day. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Nearly all the venues All Fall Down played between ‘84-‘87 are gone. Gladstone, Star & Garter, Zetland. All the pubs, social halls, University Ballroom, party-houses, squats, warehouses, flats and garages flattened by earthquakes or history.

I’ve only listened to bits of the recordings, to check the files are okay, but in the spaces between the songs hide golden nuggets. Our teenage voices call out for more fold-back, try to jolly the murmuring crowd, shout-out to mates, complain about the hulking great par can lights burning our legs or hair.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I can’t wait for to tomorrow. To drink beer with Blair and listen to the past. To look at press clippings and dorky publicity shots. To skim my diary entries, laugh at ourselves and celebrate the amazing feat of still standing in this town after 50 circuits around the sun.

img_1390

 

 

Love Is

What is love? It is an English word. A very old, Old English word. So how is French the language of love? These are things I have thinking about lately thanks to some of my favourite podcasts and a bit of reality TV.

CUNPp1tWwAAj2fL

resize

 

The TV show I’ve become addicted to is First Dates, where people with similar interests meet for the first time on a discretely filmed dinner-date. It makes me smile and feel good about life. These people often have very certain ideas about what love is. They just haven’t found it yet.

254655-Love-Is...

So what is love? That is a question that can be answered in any number of ways, in film, story, song or life. But what it wasn’t when love (lufu) was used in Old English was romantic. It was a feeling of wanting, lusting for food or hunting. It wasn’t applied to romance in English until Eleanor of Aquitaine married the English king Henry II in the 1100s, bringing her favoured troubadours over to entertain her court with songs of devotion and unrequited love (themes that define our idea of love to this day).

eleanor-of-aquitaine-1-sized_6081

 

But where did Eleanor’s entertainers get this new-fangled idea of love? From her grandfather, William IX of Aquitaine, who loved to pursue women, married or not, and wrote verse about it (his most famous love was Dangereuse… pronounced “Danger-Rosa”!)Dangerosa

Aquitaine, being in the warm south of France, was free of constant fighting so they had time to contemplate love while the cold war-like north (like England) favoured heroic tales of battle and sacrifice.

Romantic literature was around before this, of course, just not in Western Europe. The Ancient Greeks wrote extensively about erotic love, as did the Roman poet Ovid (Shakespeare’s favourite), but it was banned by the time of Caesar c.60BC as people feared it promoted adultery and loose morals. So for 1000 years it was absent from Western culture.

Ovid1

The south of France was also close to Muslim Andalusia where the great princess and poet, Wallada, held poetry salons in the early 11th century. gran_wallada2ce3She had a long, famously tortured romance with Spanish poet-philosopher Ibn Zaydun. After they met she wrote, “Wait for darkness, then visit me, for I believe that night is the best keeper of secrets”. From rival families, the Muslim Romeo and Juliet exchanged long love letters written in verse, where the gallant suitor humbled himself before his superior lover. Their poems were loved in Aquitaine influencing the idea of ‘courtly love’.

Ibn Zaydn Wallada

 

This is the concept of love we inherited from Eleanor. An instant attraction. The fear of rejection. Longing. Unrequited lust. Devotion.

CShNsx4WcAAuYtA

These ideas permeate pop songs, rock songs, country music, opera, movies, television, books, blogs, our minds and hearts to this day. It’s certainly what the would-be suitors talk of in First Dates. How they decide if they want to see each other again. But what are they looking for? Big shoulders, nice teeth, blonde hair, a bald head? These are merely initial visual preferences based on what they have liked before. But what drives what they are feeling?

oxytocin

We are visual creatures with huge visual cortices. When you see someone and go “wow, who’s that?” your brain has a massive hit of oxytocin, the drug of attraction. If you then talk to them you are rewarded with a blast of dopamine, which makes you feel pretty darn good. If you kiss technique is involved, but you are also tasting their MHC (major histocompatibility complex) which indicates if their genetic make-up is the same, or different, to yours. The more different the genes, the better they taste, indicating any ensuing offspring will be stronger with better immunity than if your genes are similar.

maxresdefault

But oxytocin degrades fast and those first hours/days/months of “wow!” do not last. At its max you have 18 months, probably less, to step up to beta endorphins, the natural opiates that take over in long-term relationships where you miss each other when apart and feel better in one another’s company.

8464758160

So which of these things is love? The wow of lust or comfort of companionship? The blind-daters, young and old, gay and straight, all seem to be looking for the later while gauging it by the former. They seem beholden to ideas of love born 1,000 years ago that make wonderful entertainment but often lead to poor choices.

KonradvonAltstetten1

I’m no expert. But watching First Dates (while listening to podcasts about attraction and the history of love) has made me suspect that I have employed medieval ideas of love while holding tight to the original Old English idea of love as lust/desire, loving the thrill and excitement of a successful hunt.

Duke-Aquitaine

Once, in my 20s and working in television, a well-known TV presenter asked me if I was in love. We were alone in a rose garden, shooting a segment for Valentine’s Day. It was a sharp question. I had been in a relationship for 6 months but that thought had never occurred to me. I realised the answer was no. She then told me that her friends talked about “boing” (that moment of wow), and how it is not really love. It’s taken me decades to understand what that meant, to realise that entertainment may reflect life but it should not lead it.

Troubadours_berlin

Finally I can recognise, and find, true love.

Ovid

So, what is love?

It is for you to decide.

Enamorados

 

CZ1wJAYUYAQ_wYw

3 Days in Auckland (part 1)

In the air

I first visited Auckland nearly 30 years ago. It was a different city, I was a different person. A fresh-faced 20-year old on the road (in a plane) with the band I had played bass with since I was 16. I wasn’t a great bass player, we weren’t a great band, but we had something; energy, attitude, good tunes and a freshly-pressed EP to promote and sell.

Like a lot of people who had grown up in Christchurch, I was pretty dubious about Auckland, the brash, domineering big brother in the national media and consciousness. The largest city in the North Island, it was a natural rival for the biggest city in the South Island.

map

But that wasn’t on my mind so much when I flew in with my four bandmates, it was the gigs and interviews we had lined-up. The boxes of records we hoped to sell, and the crucial uncertainty of whether or not Radio With Pictures would play our video before we left town.

30 years in a long time in the life of any city. It’s the life of a human generation (although desperate marketeers and journalists have been shortening that natural span in the last few decades). Pressed-vinyl EPs are no longer the best way to get music to punters and music videos are available at the swipe of a device (as opposed to being confined to a single showing in a dedicated TV show once or twice a week. Miss the show or fail to programme your VCR correctly and you would have to imagine it from the descriptions of your friends).

RWP

Our first gig was a daytime performance on a stage set up in the grassy quad at Auckland University. We banged and strummed away. The students ate their lunch. Maybe we drank beer. Afterwards we did an interview on BFM, the student radio station, promoting the EP and the pub gigs we were doing with The Letter 5 (was it? was it?! Or the Battling Strings?)

Then it was off to walk into the record shops dotted along Queen Street, trying to sell our wares at $6.99, sale or return. I think we got rid of a pitiful 1 or 2 in a couple of shops.

Queen Street was long, wide and steep to me. Chch is a flat city. I headed off up to explore the famous/infamous K’ Road at the top of Queen Street by myself, fuelled by one or two beers (and the Valium one of the singers had scored from a friendly doctor to calm our nerves).

well

Why am I reminiscing about my first visit to Auckland? Because I am flying there now. At the moment we are passing over Kapiti Island, having taken off from Wellington into 120km winds. The take-off was as bumpy as it was sitting on the tarmac, buffeted and battered , waiting to taxi. But I’m a pretty solid traveller, I never feel queasy. Plus I was distracted by being allowed to write this while we were taking off…a first for me as I have been used to the ‘switch off all electronic devices’ rule that has only just been relaxed.

kapit

It’s 3 years since I was last in Auckland. That time I spent little time in the city, heading straight to the ferry and 2 nights on Waiheke, my island home in the Hauraki Gulf I left 8 years ago. I spent that visit swimming at Palm Beach, my favourite bit of paradise. I had hoped to squeak in a visit this time, but I am only in Auckland for a little over 48 hours so it looks a bit tight. Plus I have been alerted by a friend to the fact that Waiheke is experiencing an outbreak of sea lice due to the exceptional, record-breaking summer. I ache to re-visit paradise and swim in the eternity of summers past. But sea lice?! Hmm.

The volcanic rump of Mt. Ruapehu has disappeared from my window and the plane has started to descend. I’m being offered sweets (hooray for the traditions of Air New Zealand which also gave me a snack and a drink without asking for payment).

ruapehu

What will these (nearly) 3 days in Auckland hold? Memories and observations by the bucket load, I imagine. I lived there for 13 years. Flew into the watery isthmus countless times. As I am travelling alone my only plan is to write and reflect. Walk the old paths. Seek the old favourite eats. I may try and meet friends, I may not. I would be nice but time is short. We are all older with commitments of time and responsibility of all sorts.

The excuse for this trip (taken on a whim and Airpoints) is an old TV colleague’s 50th. I’ve never been to a 50th. It makes me feel old. A bit excited. Curious. Nervous. I hope I don’t bottle out. I’m terrible for that sort of thing.

There will be people there from all those years I worked in telly, including a few who I trained with at the NZ Broadcasting School in Chch 22 years ago. A small reunion of sorts. How did we get this old? What is everyone doing now? Why did we create a dormant group on Facebook?

Questions never end. Nor should they.

How have 30 years passed since I first flew into Auckland?

We are landing. Auckland is here.

U-12

 

 

 

 

 

4 Days in Christchurch (part 5)

A Run, Sunday Grey

Sunday morning emerged cool, grey. Quiet. The ceaseless sounds of re-build were taking a rest. Up early, as I always am after a drink or two, I headed out for a run. When I was here a year ago I ran around Hagley Park. This time I was at the southern boundary of the Four Aves (Moorhouse, Bealy, Fitzgerald, Deans) that form a square box around the CBD, so I decided to head south along Colombo Street, to Sydenham. It was eerily silent, a misty rain falling. As I ran over the overbridge that seemed so high when I lived in this flat city I looked to the gap where the railway station used to be. Its absence was disconcerting. It’s no exaggeration to say my stomach lurched.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

At first, Sydenham seemed like a gem. The old artisanal village on the southside of Christchurch was covered in wonderful street art. But as I passed empty shop after empty shop I realised that the Colombo, the box mall further down Colombo Street, has sucked all the life out of the area. IMG_9857

IMG_9860

Even the relocated Honey Pot café, one of my old favs from the CBD, had gone bust. I ran towards Beckenham, swimming in memories from my childhood and youth (fairs at the school my mother attended as a child in the 1930s; the band practice room I shot a video for a ‘90s grunge band; the pet shop where I got Alf and Sid, my pet mice; the Hot Bread Shop I had my first job, earning $$ for my music gear and cameras; the snooker hall where I played on full-size tables with comical ineptitude; the church I watched my girlfriend dance covered in oil with $$ stuck to her by parishioners, and so on and so on). All gone.

IMG_9853

IMG_9868

By the time I reached Sydenham Park I felt so good I wanted to run all the way to the hills but as soon as that thought hit the calf of the leg where I had my Achilles’ operation two years ago suddenly constricted in pain and I was forced to start walking: 10 minutes into a gentle run. Grrr. Two years to being 100%? Seems it’s going to be more than that. I stretched and tried not to limp all the way back into the CBD.

IMG_9870

IMG_9874

After showering (and stretching, and stretching some more), I checked out of my hotel, took my bag to the lockers at the bus station and returned to wandering the CBD, taking photos and writing down my thoughts. Which can get you enquiring looks when you’re travelling by yourself. People can regard you with suspicion, or that’s the way it sometimes seems from the way they look at lone males. Maybe the locals are sick of disaster tourists taking snaps of the corpse. Fair enough. More than once I would stop and point my camera at some piece of rebuild or tumbled pile only to find other wandering tourists suddenly stop and photograph the same thing, as if by obligation. I began to feel I should be leaving a tip for the locals.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Not fancying the overwhelmingly fried food at the pop-up mall I headed across the Square to the other anchor of normality, New Regent Street. Like last night, it was full of people hanging out and walking by. I overheard some locals complain about the fabulous piece of giant art at the end of the street “How many millions has that cost us?” stopping myself from saying it looks even better when lit up at night. I cruised the overflowing cafes trying to decide where I would have my lunch/breakfast, saw two wizards having coffee (that felt reassuring), then stumped for the only café with no one in it: often a bad sign.

IMG_9788

How many millions?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Selfie with the Wizard of Chch (& apprentice)

‘Shop Eight’ looked pretty. Stylish, recycled, handcrafted furniture. The menu: sparse. Just half a dozen items for lunch. Handpicked, biodynamic. Served cold. Hmm. I went in. The waitress looked tired, spoke too quietly, saying both my choices (the chicken, and asparagus & egg) were off the menu. Undeterred, I chose the wild pork and rabbit terrine. I sat on the street watching the trams slide by, eerily within reach, listening to the jazz guitarist across the way noodle out gorgeous tunes, and the old ladies at the overflowing muffin shop next door remark “Look, you could imagine you’re in a different country!” while wondering what a terrine was.

IMG_9887

When the waitress brought me my lunch she forcefully pointed to a corner of the plate and said “that’s the chutney!” My $18 open sandwich was fantastic. Tasty, filling, a joy to eat.

 

Sun Comes Out, Head Inside

In the afternoon I did something I have never done in NZ: I rented a holiday car. I have rented heaps for work or when overseas, but there has always been a car available when I had family or friends to visit in Christchurch. I could have caught a bus to visit my friends in New Brighton, but I had an urge to tiki around bits I hadn’t seen in a while. And at $58 for a 24hr cheapie it was a perfect way to experience the pot-holed, dug up, resurfaced, re-dug up and resurfaced (and repeat) again and again, ever-changing roads of Christchurch.

 

IMG_9894

Heading East

I could write heaps about New Brighton, the sea-side suburb on the east of Christchurch. The ‘70s heyday as one of only two place in NZ where you could shop on a Saturday. The excitement and bustle, the treat of going there. The big long beach at the edge of the Pacific. Getting smashed by the surf. Nothing between the horizon and Chile. The whale park. The pier(s). The Shoreline Cabaret where a crooning Val Lamond (who I had only seen on the telly) sang to my father on his 50th. The decline and neglect (post and pre-quake).

 

0001 B&W 85

Dad’s 50th Shoreline Cabaret 1975

I saw out the day in a garden shed in the company of two good, old friends listening to music, drinking snake-bites mixed from a chilly bin. We have known each other since school, shared a lifetime of experiences. Become parents. Had many holidays at Jonathan’s family bach perched on rocks on a rugged West Coast beach. Made a lot of music and art amongst us. It was reading Blair’s music blog that inspired me to start my blog. He writes a music memoir and posts his art at blairparkes.wordpress.com We were in bands in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Jonathan made the giant kaleidoscope that stands at the top of New Regent Street (and many other pieces around the city). He organises Greening the Rubble, volunteers installing public spaces on rubble that won’t be rebuilt for some time (they have a Facebook page if you’re interested). We played in a disco covers band in the ‘80s that never made it out of the practice room, even though we had a great name, ‘The Hot’.

 

AFD

Nightshift studio, Beckenham 1985

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Kaleidoscope, New Regent Street

We talked and talked. Laughed and laughed. There’s nothing like old friends. Time collapses. The past becomes present and the world seems less harsh. I wish we lived closer.

Rage Against the Light

I’m thinking of going to see the Buzzcocks. I love their songs. Perfect tunes that sound as fresh as they did in the 1970s. I want to sing along with these legends of the punk/pop pantheon. But it’s a work night. And I’m getting old. No longer able to shake off a late night.

Buzzcocks_2301

I used to see everything that came to town. Loved it. Loved the music, the lights, the noise, the people. Two years ago I went see Garbage. It was my first proper concert in many years. I didn’t known they were in town. Saw an ad on telly offering cheap tickets. Went along. Loved it to bits. I was never a fan but the sound was great, the band full of energy and the joy of performance.

garb11

Good Garbage Wellington

Buoyed along by the experience I went to see Neil Young and Crazy Horse a month later. I love his music. He is a major player in the rock pantheon. But the whole thing paled next to Garbage, the rock tiddlers. Neil was good but the band felt tired. Fair enough. They are getting on. Shuffling around like shadows of the past.

neilyounglivewell2013

Neil Young & Crazy Horse Wellington

That’s why when an old friend/bandmate asked if wanted to go see The Fall recently I had to yes… but no. Back in the day Mark E. Smith could trot out compellingly crap/good performances. Now he is known to wander around the stage like a grumpy pensioner who can’t find the toilet.

The_Fall-10

Angry young man

The first proper concert I saw was Glen Campbell when I was eight. My mother took me to see him at the Christchurch Town Hall.

Bill & Boyd 1976

Bill & Boyd

Which is wonderfully young for your first proper concert. Yay for Mum. I loved it. We sat upstairs in the front row with my cousin Linda. Bill and Boyd opened the show. I knew them from telly. They were funny. Long hair and droopy moustaches. They sang ‘Put Another Log On the Fire’, which we sang at school. Women’s libbers and male chauvinist pigs. Hee hee. It was 1975.

 

9064625But Glen was the star. Top of his game. Hit after hit with jokes and stories. He played along to a comical silent film of him as a cowboy. Did a great imitation of Vegas dinner-show Elvis.

eb50be92db5f160dc5a6055e44319659

The Rhinestone Cowboy

I couldn’t help singing along and was stopped many times by my mother. No photos allowed. No recordings of any kind. How things have changed.

I saw him again in 1991 as an adult at the same venue. This time sitting downstairs with rock band friends, Blair and John. It was good but I remember little. No doubt we pre-loaded in rock ‘n roll fashion. Maybe Glen had, too. He had a dark booze and cocaine period.

glen_campbell_ill_be_me_poster

Last week I watched I’ll Be Me, the documentary about Glen Campbell’s final tour and descent into Alzheimer’s. I felt ambivalent about watching it. It’s a pig of a way to go. It took my father. I recognized the same coping methods my father used to deflect the condition. Jokes. Side-steps. Anger. Distress. But what raised the doco above horrorshow was watching the tour. The danger the band felt (which included three of his children) not knowing if Glen could keep it together through the song, through the set. He did. It was astounding. A full-blown Alzheimer’s causality coming alive with lights, music and applause.

glen-campbell-1

Yes, he was reading the lyrics from an auto-cue, but so did Brian Wilson when I saw him 10 years ago. And Glen could shred up wonderful guitar solos when required. Didn’t need anyone to guide him through every move.

Brian_Wilson_2009

Tonight Elton John is playing here in Wellington. We’re told it’s our last time to see him. Only $99. I will be a great show. He’s a consummate performer, but doesn’t pique my interest. ilxe9exYesterday I watched a video posted on Facebook of Fleetwood Mac playing in Dunedin two nights ago. They are more to my ‘see-the-gods-of-yore!’ liking. Christine McVie is with them for the first time in years.

fleetwood_mac_on_stage_photo_by_craig_baxter_564c2aae50

Fleetwood Dunners

In a couple of weeks AC/DC are here at the stadium. The Aussie pub band that done good. But so many of the members have shuffled from the stage (booze/speed/Alzheimer’s) there’s only AC (or DC?) left.

 

ACDC_facebook

Fun for the whole family

The say all political careers end in failure. It seems to be the same with music. Hits disappear, crowds vanish. Those with commercial success are bitter the critics don’t rate them. Those with acclaim resent the lack of money. So old bands/acts are now coming to your town. It’s how they make money with record sales dead.

Last month I picked up a bass for the first time in over a decade (back when I had randomly jammed with Voom).

hqdefault

Buzz from Voom!

I was at my friend Mark’s 50th and we were jamming in celebration. A friend has a great band set-up, can play solid drums and snarly blues guitar. We played Sympathy for the Devil for ages and it sounded pretty darn good. Better than the Stones. Of now, not yore. It was energetic, sharp, on the edge of danger. It made me think for the first time in years that I would love to play bass again.

I haven’t played live since the late ‘90s. At the King’s Arms in Auckland. It was awful. A lounge bar on a Sunday afternoon. Two guys with guitars and a drum machine as The Letter 5. No stage to lift you above the indifferent clinking of glass.

mL8nQVgUEWncVUqZSq5BN0Q

But last month I was astonished by how good it felt playing bass with a punchy rock drummers and guitarists (there was four of us). Maybe it was the snakebites in the sun, or the cookie to top it off, but I felt like I was in my early twenties again.

Playing Shirley Boys'& Marion High School Dance 21 June 1986 (photo by Damian Zelas)

Teenage bass

Somehow I can’t imagine Pete Shelley reading his lyrics from an auto-cue. But if he needs to, that’s what comes with age, I guess. Like a big belly and thinning hair.

 You tried it just the once, found it alright for kicks

But now you found out, that it’s a habit that sticks

buzzcocks2016

set1

The second time I saw Glen Campbell

Re-collection

I started collecting music in 1979 when I paid $1.99 for ‘Lucky Number’ by Lene Lovich. I had seen her on Ready to Roll and the quirky energy of her ‘New Wave’ sound (and look) appealed to my 12 year old mind. At the time, the song wasn’t played on the radio so buying a personal copy was the only way to hear the hooks and melody stuck in my head. Within a year I was spending a lot of my free time in record stores meticulously flicking through LPs, agonizing over whether I should spend $7.99 on a whole album of songs when I only ever wanted to listen to the single over and over again.

1118387

What’s not to love about Lene Lovich?

Over the next 10 years I amassed a collection of several hundred records, spending several thousand dollars constructing a personal narrative of music history. Of course, there was no need to buy everything as likeminded friends could tape their albums for you, but if you truly loved something, you wanted it on vinyl.

IMG_0552

Doing radio on the telly c.1986

Once at university I became a student radio DJ getting access to their massive collection of the best music, enthusiastically sharing my taste many times a week, most happily on the weekend all-nighters where from 11pm to 7am there were no programmed playlists just 8 hours of me (and a friend or girlfriend, and a sly bottle of nasty) broadcasting the music I loved to the world (at least, to the greater Christchurch area).

Like a lot of people I no longer have a turntable so my vinyl collection, now worth much more than I ever spent, sits in dusty crates under my house. When CDs came out there was a media blitz telling everyone to discard their records as CDs were perfect and lasted forever. It was a good sales pitch. My CD collection now sits beside the records, un-played, with little resale value.

Record_Collection_by_tsutar

Like most people my phone has swallowed my music collection. All my CDs are digitized and the vinyl replaced by digital copies. I have 6,358 songs constantly in my pocket, more than I would ever want to listen to. At a guess, 90% have never been played (in this format, at least). Which says something about the nature of collecting; it is as much about the act as the result. Maybe that is why I have resisted the move towards streaming services like Spotify which by their nature seem to deny the joy of collecting.records

A few weeks ago I stepped into a record store for the first time in decades. The place was full of people actively searching through vinyl as I once did. The vinyl revival is real. Sales are growing faster than any digital format and specific vinyl charts have returned because 1. They just sound better 2. Collecting is about searching for, and acquiring, something you can hold (even something as ephemeral as thoughts are nothing until collected and turned into a form someone else can grasp, like a book).

Last week I experienced a cute moment of near symmetry when I bought a digital copy of ‘Lucky Number’ for $1.79 so I could play it to my daughter. While the price is satisfyingly similar to my first outlay, the equivalence feels hollow as the digital copy lacks the urgent energy of the 45 (it is heavily compressed for tiny speakers, devoid of the original piezoelectric spark of crystal in groove). But, most of all, it cannot sit in a box like a piece of treasure from the past, slowly acquiring value, waiting to be re-discovered and admired.

charlie-brown

Profits of the Future

I’ve just finished reading the most wonderful book. It is gripping, funny and thought provoking with a command of narrative and metaphor that has me shaking my head in wonder. It’s a popular history book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari, and while this is not a review, I urge any thinking person to read it (Sapiens, as in Homo sapiens, means ‘wise’ human).

41XuUQnrRKL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Harari says fiction makes us human

leisure

1970’s view of the future

Like all history it addresses the present (we can only understand today by looking at the past). However, in the final chapter it looks ahead making the point that visions of the future are often hopelessly rooted in the past, blind to imagination. He makes this point by saying that in 1948 the future was full of an apocalyptic nuclear WWIII, while visions from the 1960s were all about rockets and colonising space.

slow-boat-records

Slow Boat Records

All this was made clear to me the other day when I revisited my past in the most peculiar way. I was in a record shop flicking through LPs, something I had not done in decades. As I was doing it I couldn’t help reflect on how much time I spent in my teens scouring album racks, searching for music I might want to buy. I did it several times a week. What was it all for? With no record player all those albums I bought now sit un-played in crates under the house and all the ones I hunger to hear have been replaced by digital copies I can scroll through on my phone.

slowboat08

Vinyl Heaven

As I watched the surprising amount of people, young and old, looking through the music I got several messages from the stranger I was waiting to meet. He was delayed, so I started to look for specific albums, ones that I owned, and I was shocked to find that all were worth a lot more than I had imagined. Not just the rare or obscure ones, but the mass-produced commercial ones that I would get from my mother for Christmas were at least three times the original price.

Blondie

$10 when I got it for Xmas 1981 …$30 now!

Yes, there has been inflation, so a $10 LP from 1980 may well be worth $30 in 2015… except that is not how it was meant to play out. From the mid ‘80s on we were told by a chorus of media experts and retailers that LPs were worthless relics which needed to be replaced with everlasting CDs. People dumped LPs en masse. A lover of old things, I would often pick them up for a buck or two at charity stores, adding to my neglected, unplayable collection.

So what’s happening? I got a bit of an insight when the person I was meeting turned up, sweating heavily in the mild late summer 22 degrees of Wellington having recently left the -20 degrees of snowbound Toronto.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Playing a lunchtime school gig Sept ’84

Matt had made contact with me the week before after reading my post from last year, It Was 30 Years Ago, where I reminisced about my final September at school in 1984.

I wasn’t quite sure how to take his interest, but he seemed genuine and I was happy to scour my photo collection for pictures he might use for the book he is writing.

8671430

Midnight Espresso. Nice muffins. Perfect atmosphere

Initially, I assumed he was a New Zealander living in Canada, who else would bother to write a book about the early years of obscure NZ record label Flying Nun? But as we crossed the road to Midnight Espresso I found out he was a historian with an interest in DIY pop culture. He had come across the label while living in London after doing his doctorate, falling in love with the music (and the story). Then, once he began working in publishing, he tried to find a book that charted the history of Flying Nun, finding nothing. Eventually, after talking to NZers at the Frankfurt Book Fair, he decided he had to do it himself.

CCI0115_00001

Before Garageband, it helped to know someone who could build a mixer from scratch

The historian (and writer) in me was fascinated by this tale. So much so that it was a while before I stopped ‘interviewing’ him and he pulled out his phone and started asking me questions.

CCI0115_00000

The Flying Nun Xmas Party ’86. There was bath tub full of beer

It was a strange experience. Being bought food and a drink. Talking about the past. That’s the thing, some things are so familiar you take them for granted and have little idea how they appear to others. Yeah, stuff happened. I played in bands in the FN scene. We weren’t famous, successful or noted. So what?

I had been aware that the EP the schoolboy band I played in (which included a girl, and I once found filed under Women’s Music) has fetched ridiculous prices on the internet ($500 in one auction) but I assumed that was an aberration, fuelled by vinyl geeks completing a collection, rather than out of enthusiasm for the obscure 30 year old music of All Fall Down.

Fullscreen capture 01-Mar-15 14518 PM

A quick Google finds the EP retailing for $225 today

But Matt’s eyes lit up when he talked about it, how everyone knew about all the big FN bands and how good the music was, how the vinyl was worth big $$ around the world, but AFD was a mysterious lacuna. With only 200 pressed it was hard to get a copy of the EP so the only way to hear the music was to pay way too much money, or watch two videos on YouTube (which he loved).

AFD Supporting Great Unwashed, Clyde Quay Tavern (The Pulse) 14 Dec 1984 (photo Clifton Fuller)

Supporting The Great Unwashed in Wellington 1984. All well under-age

The past and the future collapsed for me in that moment.

When I was collecting vinyl in the ‘80s, so much was unavailable. I read Rip It Up, NME et al cover to cover, reading more words than ever listening to the songs. There were only a couple of music video shows a week showing a handful of new stuff. And student radio only broadcast for a few hours a day, a few months a year. Scarcity drove deep interest and if you wanted to hear something obscure or beyond the ken of the corporate masters that ran commercial radio and the pressing plants, you had to read about it, then import it from overseas, hoping like hell you liked it (or found it in a second-hand bin somewhere).

Of course, this is not a dewy-eyed harking back for a past age. I love the 21st Century and the availability of music fuelled by the internet, YouTube, iTunes, Wikipedia, ebay/TradeMe etc. I love that I can edit some photos to a beautiful song by the forgotten band I once played in, purely as a tribute to a lost friend and band mate, and people I do not know can watch it anywhere in the world and find something worthwhile.

Yes, it was heartbreaking in 1987 to put so much time, effort and money into an EP and struggle to get retailers to take it for $6.99 (sale or return). And yes, it is kind of galling to see people paying hundreds of dollars for it now.

But it is also satisfying.

Great Unwashed + AFD 1984It was even more satisfying to see the look on Matt’s face when I gave him a copy of the EP he has only read about, to see him pull out the vinyl to check out the grooves like an enthusiast (like I used to), to have him ask about the engraved matrix which he and his friends have speculated about.

Ironically in this time of constant media and ever-present past, he’s having a tough time finding pictures from back then. People just didn’t take photos at gigs. It was either frowned on or illegal (oh, how times have changed. A friend recently posted a whole song on Facebook of Peter Hook playing a Joy Division song in Auckland… they used to call that bootlegging).

afd-auckland-newspaper

A clipping from Auckland gig

And the newspaper archives are little use. Apparently the papers don’t think ‘entertainment’ stories were worth keeping so they got dumped at some point or other.

No one knows what the future holds.

But, as a historian, what I do know is that which we unthinkingly discard always accumulates value, and prophets of the future tend to be more concerned with their own profits than anything else.

I can’t wait to see the book Matt’s putting together. To see scant pictures of the past turned into history and story.

It makes this ‘wise’ hominid smile.

AFD (Esther, me Blair) playing the 21st party Feb 1986 Photo taken by Jonathan Hall

Rockin’ on & on in 1986