Have you ever seen the devil?

In my recently published article about the historian James Cowan, I discuss the interest that a number of New Zealand journalists such as Cowan took in local vernacular music during the early decades of the twentieth-century.

These journalists included proprietor of the Auckland Star, Sir Henry Brett (1843-1927); newspaper editor John Liddell Kelly (1850-1925); children’s writer Mona Tracy (1892-1959); and Pat Lawlor (1893-1979), doyen of the Wellington literary scene. Another such individual, not mentioned in the article, was journalist, novelist and poet Iris Wilkinson (1906-1939), better known by her penname Robin Hyde.1 Through their work we have gained Continue reading

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Musical honours 2

In the most recent Queen’s Birthday honours, it was pleasing to see the New Zealand music writer Dr. Philip Norman receive a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (CNZM). Dr. Norman is, of course, more than just a musicologist and writer. As the official citation notes: Continue reading

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Get a spade

Very few English-language songs have survived from the heyday of the New Zealand gumfields in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries . So it was exciting last year to discover a long-forgotten gum-digging song using the text-searchable newspaper database, Papers Past.

This discovery came about while researching New Zealand historian James Cowan’s interest in sea shanties. In April 2014, I delivered a short presentation at the National Library of New Zealand (posted on this website as ‘Lifting the tardy anchor’), before carrying out more research to convert the talk into a full-fledged essay. One aspect I wanted to investigate Continue reading

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The bard of Greymouth

The following article was originally printed in the Trade Union History Project Newsletter, no.41 (2006). The textual style and references have been reformatted for this blog, plus I have corrected a couple of grammatical errors and added some pictures.

‘The Mixer’: Harry Kirk—The bard of Greymouth

Harry Kirk (1872-1933) is one of New Zealand’s most important trade-union poets. He may be best known in connection with the anti-conscription song ‘The bloke that puts the acid on’, reprinted in Dick Scott’s 151 days (1952) and the anthology Shanties by the way (1967).1 This is just one of many poems, parodies and songs which Kirk wrote—under the penname ‘The Mixer’ Continue reading

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NZ music theses of 2014

The completion of university theses on New Zealand music subjects continues to tick over from year to year. As locating such works can be difficult—even in the internet age—this blog post summarises the results of my own recent catalogue searches.

According to my calculations (here, here, and see below), there were at least fifteen masterate and doctoral theses on New Zealand music produced in local universities during 2012 and 2013. The year 2014 has seen the rate drop somewhat to just three. Continue reading

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A brief word on “the book”

As outlined in a previous post (‘The old, weird New Zealand’), artist Mat Tait and myself have been working for several years on a graphic novel-style anthology of New Zealand legends and tall tales. In late-2013 we found a local publisher who expressed great enthusiasm about the idea, the highly-regarded independent, Craig Potton Publishing. The publisher there, Robbie Burton, has just written a blog post about the forthcoming book: The Heading Dog Who Split in Half: Legends and Tall Tales from New Zealand. Thanks Robbie!

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NZ music books of 2014

[Update 23 March 2015: added Sol3 Mio: our story to the list.]

Another year has passed, so it’s time to briefly look over what New Zealand music books have been published in the last twelve months. According to my reckoning, seven such books were issued in 2014, matching the previous year’s crop and covering a similar range of topics. Continue reading

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Lilburn Lecture 2 audio

If you missed the second Lilburn Lecture delivered by William Dart on 2 November 2014 at the Adam Concert Room, Victoria University, Radio New Zealand has just posted the audio online here.

William Dart is well-known locally as a music reviewer and broadcaster, with his editorship of the now-defunct magazine Music in New Zealand (1988-2002) comprising another major contribution to New Zealand music studies. In the first Lilburn Lecture (2013), Philip Norman explored the various issues facing art music composers in New Zealand. In this year’s lecture, Signatures and footprints, Dart took stock of a broader swathe of New Zealand music culture. Continue reading

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Journeys worth taking

[Update 10 March 2015: Steele Roberts is currently updating their website and many of the links provided below no longer work. These will be repaired in due course.]

Last year saw the publication of Bohemian journey: A musical heritage in colonial New Zealand, the outcome of over twenty years research into Puhoi’s Bohemian music-dance tradition by associate professor of music at the University of Canterbury, Roger Buckton.

Bohemian journey is a significant study in several respects, as I observed in my recent review for Crescendo (the bulletin of the New Zealand branch of IAML: International Association of Music Libraries, Archives and Documentation Centres).1 It represents the first scholarly monograph on this intriguing musical tradition, which in New Zealand dates back to the early 1860s. In the book Buckton also critically engages with issues around the nature of New Zealand settler “folk music”, Continue reading

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The intriguing Mr. Hubert Carter

One of the most exciting New Zealand music discoveries I have been involved with came about quite by accident. Looking through my aunt’s music stool in Australia several years ago, I came across a 1923 manuscript score of the Māori love song ‘Pōkarekare’: this turned out to be the earliest-known musical transcription of this world famous song.

Shortly beforehand, coincidentally, my PhD supervisor Allan Thomas had published an article about the early history of ‘Pōkarekare’ in the Journal of Folklore Research.1 Although the discovery of my aunt’s score came too late for it to be mentioned in Allan’s article, the score itself was recently lent to the Alexander Turnbull Library for digital copying. The images are now available for public viewing Continue reading

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