Hard News by Russell Brown


After Len

Even though he had apparently been privately dropping hints to the contrary, Len Brown's announcement yesterday that he will not seek another term as Mayor of Auckland was not unexpected. It probably came as a relief to most of his supporters.

In his authoritative profile of Brown for Metro in November 2013, Simon Wilson summed up the mayor's political capital thus:

Spend any time with him and you discover he has an insightful and coherent view of the world he works in. He’s a much more highly skilled political operator than you might expect, he’s extremely determined, and when it comes to marrying pragmatic gains and a long-term vision, he may be without peer in the country. Yes, he can seem a bit gormless. But you know what? He doesn’t care.

In the past three years, he has comprehensively outsmarted council enemies to the left and right and won a once-hostile government to his key policy platform, the transport plan. Now, he’s about to be re-elected mayor with no viable opposition. In Auckland City, you have to go back six elections to find the last time that happened.

A year later, the same journalist wrote an editorial about Brown headed Dead Man Walking.

Brown had lost both his personal mojo and the key currency of his first term: the respect and cooperation of the majority of his councillors, who proceeded to get on without him. I doubt there are very many who turned on the mayor solely because he had that extra-marital affair. But the poor decisions revealed in the review of that affair were the thread that unravelled his mayoralty.

Something strange happened. Brown became the magnet for every grievance about the council on which he has one vote and diminishing power. Some of the blaming – Wilson notes Paul Henry's declaration that Brown was to blame for the police not clearing the harbour bridge quickly enough after a traffc accident – was simply farcical, but it often stuck. Left, right, footpaths or finances, everyone blamed Len, for everything.

It didn't help that the Herald's "Super City reporter", Bernard Orsman, has pursued what seems like a personal vendetta against Brown. (Orsman writes this morning that Brown "began with a strong mandate, put the structures in place for the Super City, and then got consumed by his own hubris.") But there were always buyers for what Orsman was peddling – hell, there were plenty who professed to take seriously the Herald on Sunday's preposterous and deceptive "secret rooms" story last year. 

But history will ultimately be kind to Brown. In his first term, under a structure developed by Rodney Hide and lambasted in a Herald editorial as "anathema to democracy" (interestingly, the editorial also predicted that Hide's corporatised design for Auckland Council would lead to "spiralling" rates), he got the city moving in the right direction on crucial long-term projects. Auckland is a better place than it was five years ago.

And yes, there are the rates. We paid ours and we're not wild about it, believe me. We're in the middle-class zone hit hardest by the rebalancing of rates across the region (about 20% of ratepayers are actually paying less). But part of our rates rise is also the temporary transport levy the council was obliged to impose after central government refused to approve alternative ways of raising revenue.

It may be – as Brown's critics insist – that the council's rising wage bill is to blame for some of the city's spending. But a majority of the council itself rejected stunt amendments from Cameron Brewer to freeze staff costs, not only Len Brown, and staff costs as a percentage of of operating expenditure are not unusual.

The council and its agencies added about 200 full-time equivalent staff in the past year – but Auckland's population rose by 45,000 in that time. The biggest increases by far – 116 at Auckland Transport and 58 at Watercare services – were at CCOs who needed to meet additional service delivery needs. (Yes, those are the CCOs devised by Rodney Hide.) There are still 230 fewer FTE jobs than under the old separate councils.

This operational expediture adds nothing to the council's debt (indeed, the council made an $80 million operating surplus), which is used to fund long-term capital expediture. As Bernard Hickey noted recently, the council's debt burden is not out of hand, especially given the growth forecast in population and infrastructure demand.

So, basically, these are easy bombs to throw from outside, but it's a bit more difficult when you're actually charged with balancing the books. We're going to hear a lot of this stuff in the year ahead to the election and we can only hope these claims are properly scrutinised.

Whether the next mayor is Phil Goff, the local authority geek favourite Penny Hulse (who has been doing much of the heavy lifting this term) or some candiate yet to emerge, they will not have any easy options available. And they'll need to get whatever iniatives they do have past the councillors we all elect.


Saturday Music: Lovely Day

Hi folks. Just catching up with the music post after a busy of writing, talking and flying in planes. It's a lovely day in most parts of the motu. I'm going to barbecue. Summer really is coming ...

And I'm happy about that because, against all reasonable expectation, Echo Festival has scheduled most of the acts I really want to see – and Flaming Lips and Jamie Xx are quite possibly the acts I want to see most in the world right now – on one of its two days at Vector Arena. Monday January 11 also features Courtney Barnett and The Chills.

It's as haphazard as ever: the full lineup for each day still isn't on the festival website and even the sales page on Ticketmaster doesn't include Jamie Xx in the line up (he's on the digital poster, so I'm assuming he is actually playing). But the $119 one-day price looks like quite the bargain to me.

The new Auckland City Limits festival has also made its main lineup announcement, with The National (called it!) and Kendrick Lamar at the top of the bill. I'm not quite so amped for that, but it is in my neighbourhood, so ...

And a couple of days after playing at Laneway 2016 in Auckland, Thundercat has a side show in Wellington.


After the high-concept video for 'Lifeguard', LarzRanda has gone for straightforward Auckland city scenes for his new video for 'Fortress':


You may have heard that 95bFM is bringing back the Bombathon. The early-90s pledge drive has been revived in the context of 21st century crowdfunding:

From Monday November 16 to Sunday November 22, bFM’s Bombathon will be a non-stop carnival of broadcasting mayhem, including the live Breakfast Bus each weekday, specialist show outside broadcasts, gold archive moments replayed, live-to-air bands live streamed, special guests and alumni, a Friday night video telethon and on Saturday a special party at Real Groovy Records to release a limited edition 45RPM 12” LP of Darcy Clay’s Jesus I Was Evil with some original band members and special guest vocalists performing cover tributes.

All on-air and off-air activity will be to drive contributions to our Givealittle page in an effort to help fund our growth into digital, better equipment for our volunteers, plus other sexy equipment in need of replacement such as a UPS, Axia node, a lick or two of paint, an FM Exciter and maybe even a second toilet.

Should be a lot of fun. The video is here. 



The new Waves EP from pianist Aaron Ottignon and Rodi Kirk (aka DJ Scratch 22) seems to fit the coming-summer bill pretty nicely. Here's the title track:

You can hear the rest of the EP (and buy it) here on Baboom.

RocknRolla Soundsystem do their thing with a track from disco-era multi-instrumentalist, singer and producer Leroy Burgess. Click through for a free download:

And, finally, because the sun is shining, Leftside Wobble's extended edit of Augustus Pablo's immortal 'King Tubby Meets the Rockers Uptown'. Click through for a free download ...


The Hard News Friday Music Post is kindly sponsored by:

The Audio Consultant


The good guys

Last Monday, I stepped out of a gig to take a call from ABC Radio Adelaide's drive show, where I'd been asked to comment on the sibling rivalry between New Zealand and Australia, in light of the news that the two nations would contest the Rugby World Cup final.

Having been introduced with some obvious but good-natured jokes about "fush and chups" and jandals, I ventured that our current national conceit was that we might not always win, but we were the good guys. So we had the extravagantly sportsmanlike conduct of our national cricket team " ... and you guys have sledging, underarm bowling and detention centres."

I should note that I wasn't necessarily saying this is true, but what we would like to believe is true. Nonetheless, it was clear in the vox pops aired while I was on the line that Australians have quite a favourable view of New Zealanders. Our move on marriage equality came up several times. People on the street seemed to see us as liberal and practical. The grass here is, of course, rather less green than it looks from the other side of the fence, but it was a nice thing to hear.

We were having this conversation in the context of a sporting contest because sport, particularly at the national level, is a grand circus of virtues. Look at the values and characteristics we load on to the All Blacks. We want them – that is, we want ourselves, as expressed by them –  to be strong and humble, indefatigible yet carefree in their creativity. That we load on different things than we used to – no one ever wanted Pinetree Meads to be carefree and creative – is an indication of our evolving aspirations.

And above all, we want these guys who exercise controlled violence on our behalf to be decent about it. So this remarkable act of kindness after the match was pretty much perfect.

It's not just Sonny Bill. Nehe Milner-Skudder calmly intercedes too, patting the worked-up security guard on the shoulder to say they've got this, thanks. Liam Messam walks up and pops his All Black beanie on Charlie Lines' head. Steve Hansen ambles over, hands in pockets, to stand with him, so close he's touching, satisfies himself that things are under control and ambles on.

But it's mostly Sonny Bill. His action in walking young Charlie back over to his mum and then bestowing him with the World Cup winner's medal he's only just received himself was one of almost excessive generosity.

The act wasn't out of character for Williams at this tournament. He had already offered up his match tickets to any Syrian refugee who might want them, and stopped to comfort a dejected Jesse Kriel after the semi-final win over the Springboks. But it's a world away from the image that shadowed him for years after he switched to rugby (and then, perplexingly, switched back to the NRL for a season). He was the self-interested, unreliable glory-boy.

There will be a range of reasons for this, not least that he was a decent guy in the first place. His conversion to Islam seems to have brought him peace, and he clearly responded to the sense of family he found at the Chiefs. But the All Black environment has brought out the best in him. And not only him. There is a long list of All Blacks who have let themselves down in the past decade or two, often after consuming alcohol, but this team does not seem like that.

Credit for that surely goes above all to Hansen, who is as phlegmatic as his predecessor, yet comfortable saying he loves his players. We saw a number of coaching personalities modelled on screen in this tournament – Heyneke Meyer's man on the verge of a nervous breakdown, the alternately affable and tense Michael Cheika, the Latin passion of Argentina's Daniel Hourcade – but Hansen's manner seems perfectly Kiwi.

It's not as if the vexing elements of our national obsession with rugby have gone away. I think even the greatest fan will be happy to see the end of the media overkill. It will be a relief not to have the Herald's team churning out six different kinds of clickbait a day. People who don't care much for the game have understandably felt hectored into being proud of it. The game's association with alcohol consumption – and the violence that shadows that – contines to be a problem outside the national team.  

But ... before Rugby World Cup 2015 started, I wrote a post called A better thing to believe in, which concluded thus:

In the end, the All Black coach and captain and their charges represent a better version of New Zealand modernity than our corporate and political overlords do. They are an extraordinary team not only because they win nearly all the time, but because of the way they play the game. That way is an easier thing to feel comfortable with, to be represented by. It’s a better thing to believe in.

Remarkably, the All Blacks, their coach and manager and their extraordinary captain have not only ended the tournament as victors, they have validated those other ideas too.

It's not compulsory to revere or feel represented by the All Blacks and they're not more important than artists, writers, scientists and mothers. But if perhaps we were to bring some of their ability to reconcile what could be conflicting values – individual flair versus loyalty to the team, strength versus softness, commitment to systems versus creativity – to other elements of our national life, it would not be a bad thing. I'd vote for that.


Friday Music: The Dreamer Awakes

For a man who admits to more than a bit of melancholy, Chills founder Martin Philipps has been giving some lovely upbeat interviews around the release of the band's new Silver Bullets album. As well he might, because Silver Bullets, the Chills' first full-length album in 20 years, is a triumph for Phillipps' vision.

If the production is a litte uneven in places, the essence of this record, with its sparkling, earnest, urgent, slightly-overthought guitar pop songs, is pure Martin. It's as if he's woken from a long dream, and it's good to have him back.

Here's a nice video of Martin playing one of the album tracks, 'I Can't Help You', solo in London last month:

The album, recorded in Dunedin and released on British-based Fire Records, is available as a Bandcamp download and Flying Out has the LP and CD versions.


Next Friday, November 6, is the night of Courtney Barnett's show at the St James. But it's also the night of the fundraiser for Auckland Action Against Poverty at the King's Arms. And the lineup for that is really quite brilliant.

Street Chant, LarzRanda, Tourettes, Rackets, Cool Runnings and SoccerPractise. That's Auckland's indie finest, right there. And for a good cause!


Christchurch's Salad Boys have been touring the US off the back of their new Metalmania album and are in Auckland this weekend. They play Golden Dawn on Saturday night with Civil Union and the Cuda Sisters, but there's also an instore at 3pm on Saturday at Southbound Records on Upper Symonds Street.

The lovely folk at Southbound are doing double loyalty points after the gig – and putting on a few drinks.

Metalmania itself is not, as the title might suggest, a heavy metal album – and in fact it largely consists of re-recordings of songs from their self-titled debut album, which I raved about in this blog in 2013. It wears its influences – from The Bats to Vehicle-era Clean (they've actually performed as David Kilgour's backing band) – unselfconsciously. As Pitchfork's reviewer said, "When Metalmania is good, it's nearly transcendent, as much as a pop album can be."

Here is the amusing video for 'Dream Date':



There's actually quite a lot on in town this weekend. Hopetoun Brown (Supergroove alumni Nick Atkinson and Tim Stewart, nicely profiled here in the Herald) play the Mt Eden Village centre tonight and Average Rap Band play Galatos.

Mel Parsons and Julia Deans play the Crystal Palace on Saturday.

Further out, McClaren Valley festival has renamed itself Echo Festival and, as expected, confirmed that its new Auckland venue is Vector Arena on January 11 and 12 (two stages indoor and one outside). The most exciting name in the new lineup announcement is Jamie Xx. I feel a dull certainty that Jamie and Flaming Lips – the two acts in the world I most want to see in concert right now – will be scheduled on different nights. 


I got a little video from the Labour Day gig at Lucha I mentioned in last week's post. This is Chris Heazlewood doing some howling with his band Cash Guitar. I like where he's at.

Also, Rebekah Davies, aka Faint Spells, brought Matthew Heine on stage for a bit:

Rebekah confirmed this week that she's on the support bill for Mercury Rev's Australian shows in December, which is pretty cool.


I was unexpectedly given a ticket to last Saturday's Fat Freddy's Drop show launching their Bays album at the Auckland Town Hall – and I'm very glad indeed that I was, because it was one of the best shows I've been to in a long time. The band's tilt towards dub techno is compelling, the PA was amazing and I'm not sure I've seen a more up-for-it crowd.

The live stream of the show was archived for a day afterwards, so I hooked it up to the stereo for another listen. My sub might not have been quite as impressive as the PA system the night before, but it still sounded really good.

Here's 'Razor', which was monumental on the night. Imagine it like the bass was a giant.

The only bum the note the whole evening was, as ever, the Town Hall's anxious security overkill. Is there any other concert venue in the country that routinely forces adults to empty their pockets? What are they even looking for? And if they're going to insist on having a management discussion about every e-cigarette, it's only going to get more tedious.

On a happier note, Fat Freddy's launched Bays with food (paua wontons!), drink and tunes outside at Ponsonby's Lot 3 on the Friday. The weather came to the party and it was really very nice. This young fellow knew his funky records too.

You can get an idea of the flavour from the 10 Best Twisted Funk Jams for a Kiwi Summer that saxophonist Chopper Reed put together for Dummy magazine.


New on Audioculture: the photographs of EJ Mathers. Part One covers hip hop and electronica and includes this pic of Manuel Bundy, playing in Sydney in 2001:



Lontalius collaborated with CutMyLips on a new tune for release through Ryan Hemsworth's SecretSongs project. It's a free download and it's really lovely:

Of an altogether different tone, nice to see The Conjurors' voodoo rocker 'When She Falls' vault to the top of the 95bFM Top 10 this week:

The Phoenix Foundation are doing their best to make "songs about margarine" a genre by posting 'Trans-Fatty Acid' (aka that song in their current live set that confuses the audience) as a free download:

New RocknRolla Sundsystem rework for download – this time, Jerry Jones' solid reggae version of Roberta Flack's 'Compared to What':

This week's kitchen-dacing special: The Golden Pony have dropped a remix of 'Drop It Like It's Hot' and it's the usual rubbery-basline goodness. The free download link takes you to yet another Soundcloud-wannbe, Toneden, which seems pretty good.

Dancing download bonus – Karim Chehab's chewy, slightly manic take on Sly And the Family Stone's 'Stand':


The Hard News Friday Music Post is kindly sponsored by:

The Audio Consultant


A Stand for Quaxing

I have a very short morning commute. Door-to-door from bedroom to office, it's about 1.2 metres, so I'm not faced with any daily transport quandaries. What I do try and do is replace what might have been car journeys during the day with cycle journeys. And often as not, those journeys are connected to my role as Chief Household Shopper.

The golden triangle of Grey Lynn foodism – Farro Fresh, Fruit World and Countdown – happens to be a pretty much ideal ride from Point Chevalier: not too much traffic during the day, just onerous enough to count as exercise.

I'll either navigate the puzzling localised gravitational anomaly to the top of Meola Road or, for a little extra distance, go up Chinaman's Hill and through Grey Lynn Park. The golden triangle is also a pretty sweet ride back from the CBD (the twin rights-of-way connecting Hakanoa, Sackville and Westmoreland Streets are quite satisfying).

So there I was yesterday, doing my quaxing, when I was confronted by this sight at Grey Lynn Countdown:

Now, you might marvel at the grandiosity of calling the dishrack-sized object in the picture a "facility", let alone a "station" – and you would be entitled to do so.

But what you won't know unless this is your supermarket is that there's an robust railing behind the camera which is of an ideal height for locking bikes to. And people do.

But this new sign appears to be a passive-aggressive way of ordering them not to. "Please use this facility," it says.


As anyone familiar with the bicycle will probably know, the "facility" is neither a good place to "park" or "secure" a bicycle. It is too low and the space too wide for a road bike tyre, meaning that your bike will likely fall over and its wheel be bent. It also makes it difficult to lock the frame, meaning that anyone of a thieving disposition could be away with your bike sans front wheel quicker than you could say "quick-release hub".

Now, I do get that cycles chained to the railing might get in the way of the unloading of the boxes of chardonnay, carnoli rice and gluten-free biscuits that sustain Grey Lynn, although I've never actually seen that happen. But it's not like there isn't room for a functioning bike stand. Leaving aside the vast carpark, the supermarket forecourt itself is large and empty.

I believe that Countdown's resources would be better employed installing a proper bike stand than posting whiny, unreasonable signs telling people to use the current one. Such stands are sold by New Zealand companies here and here (thanks to the always-reliable Su Yin Khoo for the links).

The pickings are mixed elsewhere in the food zone. Farro Fresh made the effort to put in a couple of hoops when it opened – but unfortunately placed them right next to its trolley stand, where they have been frequently mistaken for trolley stands by people in a rush to return to their sleek luxury SUVs.

But the management has been willing to engage on this. They haven't done the thing that would most help – moving the bike stand a few metres further away – but they built another trolley stand. Recently, they also switched to swish, black mini-trolleys, of which the stands hold more, and added this polite message.

Well, I think the shop did it. If it was a freelance artisan work by a local resident – well played.

Nearby at Fruit World, there is no bike stand. But there is a corral full of corroding trolleys that no one ever uses and a rather generous area marked off around it. You work with what you got, quaxers.

Up the hill at Harvest Wholefoods, they have, like LL Cool J, been here for years. As have their well-intended koru-themed bike stands. Unfortunately, the stands are coming loose from the footpath and the hippie design requires a degree of needle-threading to achieve proper security. Although this local resident has managed it quite well:

Which brings us to Westmere Butchery, purveyor of the most deliciously life-shortening bacon and sausages in the inner West. There's oodles of space and bugger-all to lock a bike to.

But they were receptive when I told them I'd get them the information about requesting a publicly-funded stand, and I didn't get around to it. So that's on me. 

But I'm going to do that today. I gather the man who can facilitate this thing is Brian Horspool, Regional Walking and Cycling Advisor with Auckland Transport. Brian, I'm calling you today. Update: I called Brian and Brian called me back.

I'm interested to know how the options are where you live. A reasonable number of people do cycle around Grey Lynn and you'd think it would be better there. Feel free to acomment – and to upload your own pictures. (To add an image to your comment, click the ("Choose file" button below the comment window, select your pic and save. You can add another two files to your comment by using the Edit button to go back in and select them, one at a time.)

Anyway, while I was tweeting the Countdown pic yesterday, my old friend Darren Davis tweeted from the Netherlands ...