Hard News by Russell Brown


Team Little: pretty good

New Labour leader Andrew Little has announced his first caucus lineup and, with one or two questions, it would seem to be pointing the party in the right direction. A clearout of a few of the usual suspects is offset by the appointment of Annette King as deputy leader, but if any of the old guard warranted keeping on for the time being, it was King. She was composed and confident as acting leader and, crucially, has no designs on the top job herself.

Grant Robertson's receipt of the Finance portfolio (and third place in the rankings) seems to be a way of both harnessing Robertson's manifest political skill and of providing some continuity with the policy base developed by David Parker. Robertson has a learning curve ahead of him, but Labour doesn't have a lot of other talent in the area and the alternative -- rehabilitating David Cunliffe -- was clearly unacceptable.

Parker himself had clearly already got the memo, but his demotion to fifteenth place in the rankings seems nonetheless fairly brutal. On the other hand, his responsibilities (shadow Attorney General, Treaty negotiations, trade and export growth) are substantial.

Although Phil Twyford's senior placement, with responsibility for housing, transport, and (as an associate to Phil Goff) Auckland issues, the rankings themselves do not seem closely tied to conventional notions about portfolio seniority. They acknowledge two things: political talent (Robertson, Hipkins) and the plain fact of where Labour's support survived in this year's diificult election result.

Cunliffe comes in only a place above Parker, but -- perhaps ironically -- his bouquet of responsibilities  (regional development, tertiary education, R&D, science & innovation, associate economic development) constitutes the kind of shadow Steven Joyce role he might have had much sooner if his colleagues had felt better able to trust him. On the other hand, Su'a William Sio is ranked eleventh with a relatively light policy load, including "interfaith dialogue". 

I was unimpressed with the means of Little's victory last week, and I still think it's something he's going to battle with, but he was the candidate who faced the fewest impediments to enacting the clearout-and-refresh the Parliamentary party needed, and he has largely done that. Trevor Mallard, Clayton Cosgrove, Damine O'Connor and Clare Curran have been left to wander the wilderness of the unranked and there are four women and three Maori or Pasifika MPs in the top 10. I'm particularly pleased to see Carmel Sepuloni accorded such seniority.

I'm interested to see that some of those least happy with Little's election -- the likes of former MP (and strong Robertson supporter) Darien Fenton -- have been quick to express approval. I can see why, too. This is a pretty good first move by the new leader.



There are always candles at the memorial to Jan Palach and Jan Zajic, who immolated themselves in protest at the forcible ending of the Prague Spring in 1968, but there were more there than usual last Thursday when I walked to see it.

A little further up, at the end of Wenceslas Square, a smaller crop of candles marked another memorial, on the spot where Palach fell burning.

Overlooking that point, hoisted on the Czech National Museum, there was a giant, genial portrait of Vaclav Havel, the Lou Reed-loving poet who became the president after leading Czechoslovakia's Velvet Revolution in 1989, thus ending 41 years of Communist subjugation and clearing the way for a modern Parliamentary democracy.

On Thursday it was 25 years and three days since the the Velvet Revolution was sparked by a police attack on protesting students. Back over my right shoulder was Melantrich, where the newspaper The Free Word granted Havel and his colleagues first space in its pages and then a place on its balcony, to address the crowds milling in the square. I thought about doing such a thing as a journalist.

Back over my left shoulder was the hotel where Sir Nicholas Winton, a financial flash harry turned saviour, organised his plot to smuggle hundreds of Jewish children away from the Nazis in 1938 and badgered the British Home Office into terms for their resettlement. By chance, I'd seen the BBC Hard Talk interview with Sir Nicholas, now 105 years old, on the Monday.

Our guide, Marketa, didn't say so, but I got the sense that her guided walk towards our lunch venue, of which you will read in a specialist publication, was more political than usual on account of the anniversary (which had been highly political itself). She told a joke about the Cezch Parliament that I can't do justice to.

She'd been amongst the crowds in the square 25 years ago. She must have been quite young then, and I couldn't quite tell where her own memories stopped and the clarity of the iconic tales of of the revolution -- Marta Kubisova singing the national anthem from the balcony, the appearnce of Dubcek -- began. But it didn't really matter.

Twice, I went to thank Marketa for her account, and twice I pretty much choked up. I was quite undone by it all.

Wenceslas Square isn't really a square and its atmosphere is not entirely civic. It's a broad, somewhat cluttered avenue that shows only fitful reverence to its history. The Melantrich building is now home to a Marks & Spencer and some nice hotel apartments. The monument to Saint Wenceslas, whose feast day is celebrated as the day of Czech statehood, is way too close to a McDonald's. On the way back past from lunch, I heard Lorde's 'Team' blaring from a boutique.

But I suppose you can be a little more casual with some of your built history when you have as much of it as Prague does. Parts of it date back to the original 10th century state of Bohemia. Buildings are even going back in time as their more recent 19th century facades are scraped away. While crowds of tourists gather at the town hall in the city's main square to watch its magnificent mechnical scold of a clock crank out an hourly morality play, the back story is in the other side of the building -- the part that isn't there. It was destroyed by the Nazis as they shipped out in 1945.

Marketa indicated to us where buildings that had lost their character under the Communists had been restored and recoloured in recent years: "They belonged to everyone, so no one took responsibility for them." She has an economics degree from Cambridge.

"What strikes me," I said to her, "is that you are confronted by your history every day in the form of these buildings."

She nodded, but perhaps that didn't seem such a remarkable idea to her. Prague has been at the centre of a Czech state for more than a thousand years. It has been home to a university for more than 650 years. We stopped for a beer at a 170 year-old bar whose beer garden is bordered by the Church of Our Lady of the Snows, which was originally a carmelite monastery begun in 1347 but never finished (again, the story in is in what's not there).

Back at the hotel, I thought of it in the context of Maori, who had no momumental architecture, but still associate everyday places with the historic events that unfolded in them. And who, like the Czechs, have had their sovereignty rudely interrupted and been in danger of surrendering their language.

Empires have come and gone through Prague's thousand years, and the twin insults of the Nazis and the Russian Communists in a single half-century seemed especially acute to me, as literal living memories. But they walk amongst it all, every day. That's what you do in an old town.


Music: Watching on Twitter from afar

TV3's decision to broadcast the Vodafone Music Awards live to air was a great call. Not that I was able to actually watch it, but being able to read tweets both from Vector Arena and the living rooms of home certainly brought it alive the other morning in a hotel room in Prague. Twitter is an event medium, and y'all are some clever buggers.

The event itself seemed impressive. The only disappointment for me was that an award couldn't be found for Ladi6. With no disrespect whatsoever to Lorde and David Dallas, Ladi's Detroit-recorded album Automatic is such a strong and graceful record; a career statement. I never tire of hearing it and it would be nice to see it recognised.

It inspired a couple of good remixes too -- mostly notably this one:

I'm also hoping that someone took some good photographs of Ladi on the night. Styled by Sammy Salsa, wearing a World couture gown and Michael John jewellery: she looked sensational.


One great little discovery in London: my hosts Glenn and Jen's default "radio" station is Seattle's KEXP FM. It's cool, eclectic and, as Jen pointed out, pretty much never drops a dud tune. I'll be listening to this plenty from now on.


The recent untimely death of Soane Filitonga touched a lot of people; not just here but, I can attest, as far afield as London. The music the big man played in the club was emblematic of a special time in Auckland. Moreover, as Damian Christie pointed out on Facebook, Soane was someone everyone liked. DJ can be a bitchy trade, but no one had a bad word for him.

Nice work, then, to Loop Recordings for re-upping this 2011 remix of Fat Freddy's Drop's 'Shiverman' and making it a free download. It's house music perfection:

I love it when rappers loosen up and embrace the disco, and that's what Onehunga's Spycc has done here with the smooth assistance of High Hoops:

Rap goes another place with Raiza Biza guesting on this slow-burner by RosaDub on TheAudience. So nice. Click through for the free download:

She's So Rad have made one of their effortless shifts between genres -- off the dancefloor and back-to-mine with huge big slab of shoegaze that signs of witth most gorious 1970s lead break. It's like Brian May had a jam with My Bloody Valentine. You can buy it here on Bandcamp at a price of your choosing:

Yumi Zouma's 'Alena' gets a moody bass treatment from Ewan Strauss:

The nice guys from Rocknrolla Soundsystem have posted another edit for download: this time it's a low ride through George Benson's lounged-up version of Donny Hathaway's 'The Ghetto':

Leftside Wobble has reworked 'Take Ten', the would-be follow-up to 'Take Five' by Paul Desmond, the man who wrote that tune for the Dave Brubeck Quartet. It was never a hit, but damn, it's groovy:

And finally, some pure disco to download: Junior Byron 'Inch By Inch' (Joey Negro Moody Edit):


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News from home ...

I'll be brief (it's 5am where I am and have to catch a plane) but the Labour's leadership result and the means by which it was achieved both seem disastrous for the party and for the prospects of the centre-left.

Little didn't win the support of the party or the caucus, he loses his electorate more badly every time he contests it, and he's vowing to dump all the intellectual capital built up by David Parker. I can't see any good thing about this.

Am I missing something?


Music: To renew, you first need history

Before I came to stay in Peckham, I had heard tell of its burgeoning gentrification, but to wander the streets of this South London borough and see it in action is something else.

The terraces of the street where I'm staying are progressively popping their tops as the owners do their loft conversions. Abandoned shops in nearby roads are being refitted to to sell cakes, artisan giftware, gelato, clothes and sleek city bicyles. And yet, even as the hipsters move in, the clamouring artery of Peckham Rye, Rye Lane, remains crowded with the stores of another generation, selling hot peppers, thawing chicken pieces, patties and the flash, shiny suits in which West Indian men still dress to impress. 

And there are record shops. Yam Records, down a narrow arcade. Rye Wax, through a courtyard and down into a basement, at the back of a spacious cafe. Puzzle Organico, a brilliant-smelling health food store with music down the back. And soon there will be Hop, Burns & Black, the new shop my hosts Jen Ferguson and Glenn Williams are opening to sell craft beer, hot sauces and vinyl records.

They all sell vinyl records; new, short-run house and techno records in some places, but much more so the London sounds of the past few decades, on sale second-hand for a quid or three. As I shuttled around yesterday, I had to keep saying to myself, "excess baggage", because there is simply so much that takes my fancy. Old house twelves that maybe reached New Zealand by the handful, and reggae sevens, the town's musical lifeblood, that never got there at all.

And then, a short ride away on the number 12 bus, there was Camberwell's Rat Records, which churns through old record collections at what seems to be a remarkable rate: its freshly-arrived bin ran to a hundred or more platters. And then I noticed, up on the wall, this:

"Do you see this often?" I asked the man behind the counter, as I paid for a couple of twelves and a mint-condition Studio One double album (five quid!).

"Not a lot," he said.

I said I'd rather like it, but it seemed a bit scratched. Let's put it on and see how it sounds, he said. It actually sounded a little scuffed, but not bad.

"It's a reggae 7" from the 1970s," he observed. "That's how it's going to sound."

I thought of my budget.

"How much change did I just give you?" the man said. "Twelve quid? Just give me that back."

I did, and I'm so pleased. Sidney, George and Jackie are better known as The Pioneers, the group that made the ska classic 'Long Shot Kick the Bucket', but in the 1970s, they cut a handful of sides under their alternative name that are, frankly, wonderful. The A-side of this one is their cover of the Temptations' 'Papa Was a Rolling Stone' and the flip is the brilliant collie-weed anthem 'Feeling High'.

I played it that evening at Lucky Sevens, the Thursday open-decks night at The Gowlett, the pub around the corner, along with a fistful of other old sevens Jen let me raid from a recent stash she'd scored in Bethnall Green on a tip from our mutual friend Mike Hodgson.

Gee, it was fun. People danced and sang along, and then, madly, a couple of the locals and I discovered that there was a whole skip full of vinyl on the street around the other side of the pub. Some good classical records, some terrible MOR, a Bob Seger album and a very clean copy of Neil Diamond's Hot August Night.

Jen loaded up with as much as she could carry -- good for the shop, she explained, but also a right laugh. She staggered home with us (under the load of the beer we'd supped as much as the vinyl she was carrying, to be fair) and we had a duty-free Lagavullin and played a few of our finds. I Facetimed the family back home in Auckland and had to explain why Phil bloody Collins was playing in the background. But gee, isn't Bob Seger's 'Against the Wind' a bloody good song?

I'll have to try and restrain myself and not buy much more vinyl. It's heavy. But it makes me think of the times my friend Duncan Campbell would and visit us in London and turn up each day, excited, with old reggae records he'd have to lug back home to Auckland. In a way, it's the same thing that makes the new gentrification work. To have renewal, to have a secondary market in space, place and culture -- you need the history first.

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