Hard News by Russell Brown


Friday Music: Good News

Many years ago, a man came to the place I had been cast, and he saved me.

That sounds more exciting than "In 1983 Murray Cammick travelled to Timaru, where I was working in the branch office of the Christchurch Star, and hired me," but the effect is basically the same.

As it did for many other people, my contact with Rip It Up, then New Zealand's free monthly music magazine, changed my life. I was deputy editor for only three years, but it ruined me for the straight life. You can read my memories of the experience here.

Back then, 30,000 copies of Rip It Up were distributed nationwide and picked for free off piles on the floors of record shops every month. It seemed that everyone read it and and working there felt like being part of the culture.

But like many others who've been through the place, I've fretted about Rip It Up's heritage sometimes. It was owned by Satellite Media from 2001 to 2013 and had a particularly notable spell as a paid title under the editorship of Leonie Hayden. But Satellite sold the mag to music industry figure Grant Hislop, Leonie (now the editor of Mana magazine) was let go and  things went downhill. Back in the day, Murray was prepared to wear it if a bad review prompted a record company to pull an ad – under Hislop, Rip It Up was basically selling good reviews. Last year, Leonie wrote a Spinoff column hoping it would just die.

Last month, it was put up for sale in an odd listing on Trade Me, in which it was characterised as a "gold mine".  Hislop apparently sold it to a new owner, Leanne Frisbee of Passion PR, in November, but her plans to relaunch it had been scuttled and he was helping with the sale. Or something. It just seemed weird.

But after the ad appeared, Simon Grigg began negotiating with Hislop. He was able to strike a price for the purchase of Rip It Up's written and visual archives, artwork and published magazines. The right to publish the magazine remains for sale and Hislop believes there is still value there, but I think most people would believe that Simon got the treasure. It's the social history.

Simon is, of course, currently the creative director of the music legacy site Audioculture and his ownership of the archives will clearly be a boon there. But it clears the way for other things to happen with this taonga too.  This really is good news.


The arrival of New Zealand Music Month has brought the usual rumblings about, well, New Zealand music. Hussein Moses has written a balanced and thorough story on the local audience's drift away from local music for The Wireless. Grant Smithies discovers that many of the people who make New Zealand music are making it elsewhere this month.

And Music Month manager Simon Woods runs down the month's activities on the official website. But let me be blunt: that website needs to die – it would be better to have a placeholder and sort out a listings page with someone like Eventfinda or one of the newspaper websites. The Facebook page, on the other hand, is quite lively and well worth a look to get an idea of what the month actually consists of.

But the deep read is this blog post published yesterday by Ben Howe, who is a partner in Flying Nun, Flying Out and Arch Hill Records, among other things. It's pretty dense, but it's about the money. Ben's estimate is that around 90% of the annual $74 million in recorded music revenue goes overseas and he outlines the reasons why that is so. It's inevitable in some respects and unsatisfactory in others – but it's amenable to change, which is what Ben is proposing as he seeks election to RMNZ's governing board.

This is his most interesting suggestion:

2. Allow One Music licensees to nominate where/to whom their fee payments go.

One Music is a good initiative where RMNZ and APRA have banded together so that venue music licensees (shops, café’s, etc) only need to get one music license rather than two from the two different music providers (APRA, RMNZ). In 2015 Recorded Music reports this is worth $3.8million.

The main problem with this kind of license has always been measuring what actual music a licensee (shops, cafés etc) plays and then paying that money through to the correct recipient. At the moment payment is calculated using radio airplay statistics, though everyone is aware that isn’t probably what those shops, cafés etc actually play and this heavily favours big international artists with a lot of radio airplay.

As a whole, the industry acknowledges this system is not very satisfactory, but has been unable to come up with a cost effective alternative.

My idea to solve this issue is to allow licensees to nominate the music style that best describes the music they play, and then use existing genre based airplay charts to actually remunerate the artists/labels/publishers. Included among the styles/genres licensees could nominate “New Zealand Music” and if they nominated that then payment would be measured against NZ artist airplay.

I strongly believe that many small businesses/retailers and so on would like to know their music license fee was going to local artists, and local artists would also get behind the scheme encouraging licensees to select the “NZ Music” playlist. It is an idea I have already floated with both RMNZ and APRA and so far, aside from the work involved in implementing it, it has met with a positive response as a possible solution. Hopefully this system would mean more money in the pockets of New Zealand artists and labels, rather than the current unsatisfactory system.

Best of luck Ben. If you can sort this there's a gong in it next time Labour's in government. Sure, it might be a while, but I'll have a word with Prime Minister Ardern.


One of the New Zealand musicians who's somewhere else for Music Month is Marlon Williams. Here he is playing last week on the BBC's Later with Jools Holland:

Nailed it


On a rather different note, The End of Now is a $10 rave at the King's Arms tonight. It's one of a series of parties put on by Suren Unka and Bob Frisbee, tracking towards a festival next summer. They're promising to transform the old KA and the lineup includes this guy: Alphabethead.


The new James Blake album, The Colour in Anything, drops about lunchtime today. Sounds like this:



A new cut from local groove supergroup Leisure dropped last night and already has 30,000 plays on Soundcloud. It's their best yet (and it's actually available for purchase on iTunes, grandpa):

And now, a lazy handful of classic reworks ... 

The mighty Situation take on 'Gypsy Woman' (old-fashioned free download from Soundcloud):

A cool ghetto funk remix of the Zapp track (mildly annoying Hypeddit download palaver):

A dope take on 'Back to Life' (click through for a download link):

A silly but very enjoyable Run DMC rave-up (click through for a download link):

And oh sweet baby Jesus, John Morales has spread joy upon the land. As he notes, he's mixed Teddy Pendergrass's 'The More I Get the More I Want' a few times over the years, but he's calling this 'The Ultimate", so you'd best get your mouse clicking on that download button:

If you're not dancing in your kitchen tonight, I'll want to know why. Righto.


The Hard News Friday Music Post is kindly sponsored by:

The Audio Consultant


UNGASS 2016: No one believes in your consensus any more

Last night's Media Take features my report from the UN General Assembly Special Session on the world drug problem: UNGASS 2016. It raises the question of whether the ultimate victory of this UNGASS lies in its failure.

The "outcome document" adopted by UNGASS was deficient; grievously so. A handful of hardline countries had held out a month earlier to enforce a "consensus" that failed to condemn the death penalty for drug offences, or even include the dread words "harm reduction". Even as the consensus document was adopted in the meeting's frst hour, one signatory nation after another rose to emphasise the document had been accepted only "as a start". It was the opposite of an end to the matter.

The feeling of brokenness was futher emphasised by what appeared to be a  political move at the event itself to frustrate the many NGOs present – who were supposed to have played a full and useful role this time. I got caught up in that as a journalist. By the last day of the meeting, my week-long media pass did not gain me entry to even listen to the speeches. (Tip: learn where the back stairs are.)

The victory is that reforming countries will now no longer feel bound to the idea of consensus. They will take their own paths to drug law reform, and many have already begun to do so – with the more or less explicit support of multiple UN agencies. New Zealand's associate Health minister Peter Dunne will properly come under pressure to demonstrate the "boldness" he called for in his speech to the assembly.

Dunne's speech went down well with reformers, but for me the most remarkable address was that by another New Zealander: Tuari Potiki, director of Maori development at the University of Otago, chair of the New Zealand Drug Foundation and a beneficiary of the judicial compassion that directed him to treatment for his hard drug addiction and not prison, when he was 27. In a week when a good deal of bullshit was spoken, Tuari's speech was perfectly direct.

I think you'll see a good deal happen in the next five years. Unfortunately, as Sanho Tree notes in my report, people live in the hardline countries, and those people will continue to have their human rights impaired. We shouldn't give up on them either.

You can watch Media Take here on demand.

And you can see the whole of Tuari Potiki's speech here:


A weekend in a mad, lovely place

The plan had been for a quiet weekend. Watch a little sport, make a little chicken stock, see off the jet lag. I held to that right up until about 9pm on Friday, when I thought I should go and see Street Chant at the King's Arms, because I figured they might need some more fiftysomething dudes stroking their beards and stuff.

Duly enlivened by the rock 'n roll, I decided afterwards I'd stroll down Karangahape Road, perhaps even get myself in to the show by reggae legend Johnny Osbourne at Neck of the Woods. There were 20-odd kids queueing at the door when I passed (did any of them know who he was?), so I kept strolling, taking a few photos with my new iPhone along the way.

I found myself back in the same mad, lovely place the next night, to see Anthonie Tonnon play his first show with his Successors band in nearly a year – and the last before he flies out to tour Europe with Nadia Reid. It was actually the first time I've been in The Wine Cellar's new performance room, which is like the old one only better. Tono played some new songs, including a monster ballad (called, I think, 'Leave Love Out of This') earmarked for his next album. It was really pretty fabulous. Meanwhile, Carter Morley and Yeats played nearby at the Audio Foundation and some freaky shit was going down next door at Whammy.

Suddenly, it was Sunday – the day Auckland Transport's Open Streets concept was coming to K Road. You know, I wrote a very long story about the place just recently, and I concluded they'd never close the strip to cars, however desirable that might be. I was wrong – and it was awesome. It was the magic that happens when you let people occupy the street.

Open Streets is designed as a moveable feast – it might come to your suburb next – but there was something special and particular about it being on on K Road. The community there lives on the street in more than one way and it flowered in the autumn sunlight yesterday.

Yesterday showed it could be done. The buses ran alternative routes, cars went another way and the world didn't end. So let's do it again. Let's have this all summer. Let's have a music festival! Who's with me?


Friday Music: Digging in New York

"Did you have lots of fun in New York?" people have asked. Well, kinda. I had a fun weekend in Brooklyn on arrival, but the week that followed, covering the United Nations, and getting together a TV story without a producer, was pretty full-on. So I didn't do any touristy things or even visit an art gallery.

But there was one thing I'd promised myself I'd do: go to record shops and buy vinyl records. So I thought I'd tell you about that in this week's post.

The first place I went to was a 20-minute walk from where I was staying in Brooklyn. The African Record Center has been trading for nearly 50 years in Flatbush. "Not 15, 50," Roger Francis told me with a smile when I asked.

He took me through a bunch of records on the turntable in the store, the first of which was this raging slab of Nigerian acid rock from 1972:

Knowing what I know now about the store, I've love to go back and have another turn. I was after African disco (and I did find some) but the better part (in both senses) of its stock is things they've had for years, some of them from the store's record label, Makossa International. That Ofo single cost me $US10. It's for sale for as much as £180 on Discogs. Roger had a box of them.

I also bought an original 1972 7" of Manu Dibango's classic 'Soul Makossa'. Oh, and some disco:

Next stop was Deadly Dragon Sound on the Lower East Side near Chinatown, which (thanks for the tip Pete Darlington!) was closing the next day because it the landlord declined to renew the lease. I dug through records for a while and, found a couple I wanted and could afford (truth: vintage reggae sevens go for serious money) before I asked co-owner Jeremy Freeman about a Sidney, George and Jackie 7" I'd like to own, 'Nine Pound Steel'.

He didn't have it. But he thought a bit, looked at his catalogue on the computer and observed that they had a Pioneers record – same group, it's complicated – in storage and he could get someone to fetch it for me if I could wait five minutes. I was happy to go for a walk around the neighbourhood.

The A-side of the record is their heavied-up version of Desmond Dekker's 'Sabotage' (spelled, curiously, 'Sabatarge'), but on the flip is this:

Jeremy sold it to me for $15, which turned out to be a 50% discount on its stock price.

It was a lovely, tiny shop which seemed to be full of friends and family. I took this pic outside:

There's also this nice 2009 mini-documentary about the store:

I gather they'll open again when they find a new space.

The next day was Record Store Day and I had a list of Brooklyn shops I wanted to go to: primarily Academy Records and Captured Tracks. It didn't turn out that way. Because I arrived in Greenpoint a little early for opening time (ie: before noon) I went for a walk down Manhattan Avenue and on my way back came across a shop with stacks of records out the front.

The shop was The Thing, and it's a junk shop with a lot of records down the back. Like, tens of thousands of records. This video gives you the picture:

The only concession to order is that the more recent arrivals have their own section. The records are jammed in (it's quite hard work getting them back in place) and many of them are in a bit of a state. But everything is $2 and it's a 100% crate-digging experience. By the time I stumbled out an hour and half later, my hands were filthy and actually bleeding.

My 10 records ended up costing me only $10 – mostly freaky old disco platters, but also this:

I can't even find this version on YouTube. 

Next stop was one place I did have on my list. Record Grouch was a much more orderly place than The Thing (not to mention cleaner), but still kind of hard to move around. They had an admirable range of strange indie records, but I was after second-hand bargains to DJ with – and they had those too. I left with a 12" of 'Heart of Glass and a Brian Wilson 7" on green vinyl fror my buddy Andy, among other things.

By that time New Zealander Mac Hodge was texting me to hook up for an intriguing-sounding opportunity. An artists' collective in a house near the Newkirk Plaza subway station had built up a big pile of records over the years – and we'd been invited to go for a free dig.

There turned out to be a lot of 90s hip hop (Jay-Z promos ahoy!), but I left that for people who'd value it more. The big find from a pretty weird collection (I gather it had mostly been accumulated by DJ-producers who wanted to sample the records), was this:

Yup, that's the original gatefold with the 3D cover panel. And the vinyl is well playable.

There was time for one more visit, to Black Gold, also in Brooklyn. They sell coffee and curiousities, but mostly records. I bought a few good things there, but I'm damned if I can recall right now which ones. Turns out I missed one of their $1 Dig sales by a week. Oh well ...

I didn't get into a record store again until the following Friday, when I was due to leave. But I had taken note of Hugh Lucero's recommendation of Good Records NYC – and I'm really glad I did. The owners were sitting in the sun outside when I arrived, but they opened up for me. And man, what a nicely-curated selection of soul, funk, jazz and disco those guys have.

I bought a few things, including the original 12" of LNR's 'Work It to the Bone' (which I have coveted for a long time), part of a remarkable stack of   mid-80s house records which I gather came in as a single lot. But the thing I didn't expect to see was Laura Lee's feisty feminist (and very sex-positive) soul album Women's Love Rights:


I didnt get to half the places I had noted down, but it was still a brilliant few days' digging. I had a similar experience a couple of years ago into London, but – for my purposes, anyway – this was next-level. You can sit there at your computer and order up anything via Discogs, but actually being there and getting your hands dirty is much more fun, and in most cases, way cheaper. I spent more time than money, believe me.

I don't know when I'll get back to New York – it's an expensive place to get to and an expensive place to stay – but, man, I hope it's not too long.

PS: Thanks so much to Gareth and Mac for showing me Brooklyn.


I was in a store on 5th Avenue in New York. They had the radio playing. And something jumped out of the burble and banter of the hosts. They're saying ... Prince is dead?

I went back out the door, got out my phone and checked Twitter. Almost unbelievably, it was true. I wasn't able to do what I'd normally do and start talking about it, so I just had to carry the knowledge through a busy day in a foreign city.

Now, more than a week on, most of what can be said, has been said. But I do want to mention one nice thing that happened later, when I had time to sit down in my tiny hotel room and take stock.

It turns out that way back in 1986, a guy called James Lewis clipped out my Rip It Up review of Prince's show at Wembley Arena on the Parade tour. He slipped it inside his copy of the Parade album. And last week, 30 years on, he fished it out, scanned it and tagged me on Twitter.

I still remember how I felt after that show. It was my first year in London and I felt I'd really seen something. When my bus passed through Trafalgar Square on the long journey back from Wembley, I realised an off-licence was open for another five minutes, jumped off and bought a bottle of cheap bubbly. I got back to Brixton and babbled to the friend I was crashing with at the time. I may have seemed a little mad.

Inevitably, I'd forgotten quite a bit of what was in the review – most notably the cameo by Ronnie Wood (yay!) and Sting (not yay) on a version of  'Miss You'. My attempts at critical balance seem a bit redundant now. But the main part, the end, where I wrote "the best thing I've ever seen" ... I'm pretty sure that's still true.


We lost someone else last week: someone closer to home. The great Bill Sevesi died, aged 92. He crafted a style of music that was was inspired by Hawaiian pop, with its characteristic steel guitar, but which now seems to speak richly of its era in New Zealand history. And he was, by all accounts, a lovely man. That certainly seemed the case last year when he was inducted into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame and talked about the importance of music.

There is some lovely writing about Bill. Graham Reid wrote about his "timeless ... magic" music on Public Address in 2004, and observed this about the man:

Whenever I mentioned Bill's name in print while I was at the Herald he never failed to ring and say thank you. Those messages, usually just left on the answer phone, were genuine and never unwelcome. He wanted nothing more than that, just to say thanks. That is rare, and Bill is a rare musician and an even more rare individual.

Graham also interviewed Bill in 2011 and theorised that while he claimed to speak three languages, he actually spoke four – the fourth being "the musical history of Auckland".

And, of course, there's Chris Bourke's definitive entry on Audioculture.

Here's Bill, front left, in the early 1960s.


Couple more things. Duncan Greive at The Spinoff has done a fascinating interview with Emily Littler of Street Chant. They play the King's Arms tonight (ie: Friday).

Anthonie Tonnon plays his first full band show with The Successors in nearly a year at the Wine Cellar tomorrow night, before heading off to tour Europe with Nadia Reid.

And although it's not wholly a music event, Open Streets on Karangahape Road on Sunday will feature a stage curated by the good people at Neck of the Woods. I've written a substantial magazine feature on the place and I seriously doubted that K Road would ever be closed to traffic, so the more people who get along on Sunday, the better the chances it will happen again. Can you imagine a music festival literally on the street on K Road? Yeah, that's what I'm talking about.


The Hard News Friday Music Post is kindly sponsored by:

The Audio Consultant


How the years flew by ...

Four or five years ago, there was a reliable social media set-piece associated with newspaper stories about couples struggling to buy in the Auckland housing market. A typical example was this 2012 story about buyers getting innovative to try and get the attention of vendors.

These twerps needed to lower their sights, said some people (who generally didn't live in Auckland). Well, no, said other people (who generally did live in Auckland), there's something worrying going on with house prices. These spoilt professionals needed to pick a cheaper suburb, said the doubters. But that just forces up prices and and displaces aspiring homeowners on lower incomes, said the worriers.

David Farrar at Kiwiblog had a different response to the story linked above in a post headed Herald omits key facts:

On a minor note, they are economically illiterate. There are some sounds reasons to have a capital gains tax. But reducing house prices is not one of them. A tax on housing will increase house prices, not decrease them.

But is it a coincidence that this random couple said that the solution is capital gains tax – the key tax proposal by the Labour Party?

Either the reporter was unaware that Kate has been the Womens vice president of the Labour Party for the last six years, or they decided not to tell the public this.

Kate was also a candidate for Labour in 2008 and 2011. The failure to disclose this in the article is appalling. Even worse it is their lead story online with the headline “Buyers begging for home”.

I presume – well, actually, I'd hope – that Farrar knows very well a capital gains tax isn't "a tax on housing". But his principal concern at the time wasn't the substance of the story, but in deflecting criticism of his party's studied inaction on the developing housing crunch. (Whaleoil wrote much the same post about the same couple, only nastier.)

The median house price in Auckland at the time the story was published in November 2012 was $530,000. In April 2016, the media house price in Auckland is nearly $1 million. And John Key, the Prime Minister and leader of the National Party, is proposing – sort of – a tax on housing.

Relatively wealthier buyers have been, predictably, displacing the relatively less wealthy in the interim. But it's actually worse than that. Duncan Garner justifiably rages about what's happening in Auckland's southern working-class suburbs:

If you want to know what's wrong with Auckland's housing market, then Otara is a poster-child for failure.

Auckland's 'working poor' - the hard working, taxpaying, minimum wage cleaners and factory workers - can no longer afford to live in the working class suburbs set-up to house them.

It's a bloody disgrace and it's wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong. We need to rally against this.

Houses are now selling for $600,000. This one in Otara is for sale right now and it's attracting attention from investors only. One investor has shown interest from Portugal!

Garner's column follows the publication of a University of Auckland study indicating that 80% of freestanding houses in Otara are now owned by investors, rather than the people who occupy them. (The figure for Papatoetoe West is 63%, a staggering 38-point increase since 2010.)

There's something stomach-churning about this. When we were a young family of renters in Grey Lynn in the 1990s, the funny old Tongan bloke next door got what was – then – a good price for his house on the Richmond Road ridge. He bought two adjacent houses in South Auckland  so his family could live together, with a bit of money left over, and he was happy about that.

That way exists no more. The Pasifika who once called Grey Lynn home are mostly long gone and the chance to benefit from the inner suburbs' gentrification was a generational one-off.

We do need property investors, large and small, because we need landlords prepared to rent property. But with the lamentable protections for tenants under New Zealand law, the near-wholesale transition of the city's most vulnerable populations to a lifetime of renting is deeply troubling.

We have relied more than we care to confess on capital gain on property in New Zealand. It was an important underlying factor in the relatively bountiful years of the last Labour government. Capital gain has sustained farming more than most people realise. But the current government has consistently opted for a minimal response to what has now clearly become an irreversible wealth transfer, a situation where investors benefit from leaving their residential properties empty in a city that desperately needs available dwellings.

The Prime Minister and his Finance minister are now basically sending up trial balloons on the problem. Perhaps we wouldn't be quite where we are if they and their  internet helpers had been more focused on the substantive issue than the politics these past five years.