Hard News by Russell Brown

43

Music: All this and some choice Mongolian jazz-rock

I'm still not tired of the continuing flow of interesting Bowie things filling social media, and this is one of the best. Bowie played the annual Bridge School Benefit Concert in 1996. The clip below really comes to life with the lovely accompanying text posted by the organiser Pegi Young with the higher-quality Facebook version of the video:

My first impression of David Bowie as he walked through the front door of our home for the annual BBQ fiesta that traditionally kicks off the Bridge School Benefit Concert weekend was how slight he was. His music and his persona were so large that I was struck by the contrast. As I approached him and his band to welcome them to our home and to thank them for coming to play for our kids, the next thing that stays in my memory is what an absolute gentleman he was. He was an enormously talented yet humble man who was content to just hang out with the kids and other guests who were attending that night’s party. 

I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet him, to welcome him into my home and to have him grace the stage over that weekend in 1996 to offer his unique and innovative talent for our organization. 

He was an original in every senses of the word. On behalf of all of us who have been associated with Bridge School, I offer our sincere and heartfelt sympathies and wishes for peace to his many close and dear loved ones. 

Love and light.

Pegi

There's a YouTube playlist with the audio of 16 songs from Bowie and his band's two performances at the benefit.

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I'm away visiting family this weekend, but if you're in Auckland this Saturday, you might want to swing by the new Real Groovy Records store at 369 Queen Street for their opening fete.

From 11am, the courtyard in front of the shop will host performances from Thomas Oliver, Rackets, LarzRanda, Lydia Cole, Paquin and local DJs. There'll be food, drink and face-painting for the kids.

Further details and set times will be posted on the Facebook event page.

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Here's another nice thing. The people behind The Unofficial Flying Nun Music Vault came into possession of a bunch of vintage New Zealand music videos on VHS, did a really nice job of digitising them and are now sharing them via the Lost New Zealand Music Videos Facebook page.

Those there already include the Freudian Slips' 'Deviance' from 1985, Suburban Reptiles, Scavengers, Let's Planet, The Front Lawn and a great live clip of Toy Love doing 'Sheep' – which comes from a 1980 concert with the Swingers filmed at Rock Theatre, Wellington.

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Ahead of Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings' show at The Civic on Thursday next week, Marty Duda has kindly granted me the use of his interview with Rawlings, about being on the road with Gillian, what he's been doing in the studio (including tidying up Old Crow Medicine Show live recordings) and more. You can listen to it here in two parts:

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Tunes!

You know how I said at the top I've been enjoying all the Bowie ephemera being shared? Well, there's one thing I haven't been digging: all the shithouse remixes of 'Let's Dance' knocked out by no-name DJs last week. It's just a bad idea, guys.

But Peter McLennan did point me to this studio acapella of the song, which adds (or leaves in) little snatches of percussion, keyboard stabs and guitar to underpin the lead vocal and harmonies. It's cool. As Peter says, it would be interesting to hear someone play it out at a bar or club:

This also does not suck: Leftside Wobble has made a pared-back version of a rework he did a while ago of 'Sound and Vision', in tribute to Bowie and "created with love and respect for the source material". It's quite beautiful. Free download:

My new favourite Australians Cup & String have an EP of their housey-garage sound coming soon and they've posted some tracks on Soundcloud. I'm possibly too old to like this sort of bass music, but like it I do:

Perhaps because I've been looking at the Splore lineup, I've been thinking a bit this week about the British dancehall and its vitality. And I think this is an example. East London rapper Frank Gamble, in collaboration with Kojey Radical. He's apparently a bit of a mystery man:

My friend Keegan put me onto that – and also this. It is the Bayan Mongol Variety Group, from 1980, and I might have to find out a bit more about these geezers. From this Soundcloud account of all kinds of Mongolian music, from traditional to reggae.

And finally, another one from the A Label Called Success house of hits. A bit heavier on the kick drum than last week's, but pretty cool:

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The Hard News Friday Music Post is kindly sponsored by:

The Audio Consultant

49

Radio being made

It wasn't television, it was radio being made. And that is a virtue. The debut episode of Checkpoint with John Campbell went out yesterday and while there are still a few moving parts to be bedded in, it seems clear this is going to work.

I watched it sitting at my computer, ducking away occasionally to look at other things and see what my social media friends thought, while staying engaged with the audio. So it passes the ADD test nicely.

Many other people seemed to be doing the same and there was a notably positive response on social media to seeing "real people" on screen. In contrast to television news, which is controlled and inviolable, seeing reporters and a newsreader who hadn't been corporate dress-coded made the programme seem accessible and engaging. There's so much of the theatre of television that can be dispensed with at no real loss to anyone.

There are, on the other hand, some different skills to be learned. Katrina Batten, a fine newsreader, struggled a little with her autocue (it gets easier, believe me) and there was the odd bit of awkward body language. But, you know, it's day one.

One thing is clear: the lapel mics don't cut it. Speaking on radio is about being (or at least sounding) close to the mic and the voices without the pictures weren't quite up to scratch for radio. I don't think bringing in proper microphones would really detract from the programme. Indeed, it might contribute to that sense of radio being made.

Similarly, I don't mind seeing Katrina get up and leave after her bulletin (although could someone please install a hook for her to hang her cans on?). If you've sat in the control room for a programme like this, you'll know how in-motion it is. That's something the show should be happy to convey.

The video links went off quite well (I thought the medical cannabis interview was particularly effective, sync issues notwithstanding) and the switches to simple audio were smooth enough. The one part that felt odd was the Nadene Lomu interview, which felt like a chunk of Campbell Live dropped into Checkpoint. The human-interest orientation of 7pm TV current affairs and the imperatives of a 5pm daily news roundup on radio are quite different things.

Apart from that, the host was excellent. He dialled it back a bit for radio, but it was good to see him walk around a bit at the end. I think there's no reason he can't venture out into the control room again, if that's where the action is. Again, they can do things TV wouldn't.

If you tried to watch it on Freeview Channel 50 and couldn't find the channel, you'll need to do a quick retune of your set – easy enough, but perhaps off-putting for RNZ's older listeners. But the potential for RNZ to expand on Freeview – where as a full Freeview partner it has rights to the Freeview Plus real estate for catch-up programming – is considerable.

This really is the toe in the water for a more comprehensive move to illustrated radio. And, as Lizzie Marvelly observed on Twitter, the wairua was good. It felt right. Bravo.

24

Friday Music: Bowie, Original Hipster

There is, of course, already a discussion thread here devoted to David Bowie and his passing – and I had intended to lead with something different for the regular Friday Music post. But then I noticed this post on Dangerous Minds. It basically explains that David Bowie is cooler than you will ever be because he recorded the first Velvet Underground cover – before the first Velvet Underground album was even released.

In 1966, Bowie's manager Ken Pitt returned from New York with an acetate of the album that would be released as The Velvet Underground and Nico. Pitt didn't much fancy the record, so he gave it to the young singer, who liked it very much and had The Riot Squad, the band for whom he was briefly lead singer, play it. It was never officially recorded, but there was a rehearsal tape which was released on an album of Riot Squad oddities in 2012:

Bowie didn't stop there. He also lifted lyrics from 'Venus in Furs' for the Riot Squad song 'Toy Soldier'. It is, to be honest, a pretty bad song, albeit hardly one where you'd expect to hear the words "Taste the whip and bleed for me".

But there's more!

In a piece Bowie wrote for New York magazine on being a New Yorker, republished this week by Vulture, Bowie gives his account of discovering the Velvet Underground. And he says the first Velvet Underground cover was in fact performed by his other band at the time, Buzz (aka The Buzz), when he insisted it be done as an encore at the band's final gig.

"It was the first time a Velvet song had been covered by anyone, anywhere in the world," he writes. "Lucky me."

I think it's worth quoting at length Bowie's account of hearing the Velvet Underground for the first time:

The second, a test pressing with the signature warhol scrawled on it, was shattering. Everything I both felt and didn’t know about rock music was opened to me on one unreleased disc. It was The Velvet Underground and Nico.

The first track glided by innocuously enough and didn’t register. However, from that point on, with the opening, throbbing, sarcastic bass and guitar of “I’m Waiting For the Man,” the linchpin, the keystone of my ambition was driven home. This music was so savagely indifferent to my feelings. It didn’t care if I liked it or not. It could give a fuck. It was completely preoccupied with a world unseen by my suburban eyes.

Actually, though only 19, I had seen rather a lot but had accepted it quite enthusiastically as all a bit of a laugh. Apparently, the laughing was now over. I was hearing a degree of cool that I had no idea was humanly sustainable. Ravishing. One after another, tracks squirmed and slid their tentacles around my mind. Evil and sexual, the violin of “Venus in Furs,” like some pre-Christian pagan-revival music. The distant, icy, “Fuck me if you want, I really don’t give a damn” voice of Nico’s “Femme Fatale.” What an extraordinary one-two knockout punch this affair was. By the time “European Son” was done, I was so excited I couldn’t move. It was late in the evening and I couldn’t think of anyone to call, so I played it again and again and again.

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There is a little more to this. While the Velvets were totally out of step with the West Coast love vibe stateside, a kind of secret musical history unfolded in London. The Yardbirds got hold of a copy of the album – perhaps because JimmyPage had played guitar on Nico's debut single in 1965 – and added 'Waiting for the Man' to their live set:

The song was also performed by Mick Farren's MC5-like London band of freaks The Deviants. Which brings us to another connection. After being kicked out of Hawkwind, the late, great Lemmy went on to form a band with Deviants guitarist Larry Wallis. That band was called Motorhead.

And that, boys and girls, is the end of today's lesson in how everything is connected.

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Audioculture has a second installment of the punk-era pictures of Sara Leigh Lewis.

There's also a whole new trove of Auckland punk and thereafter photographs, from the private collection of an unnamed donor, who has stipulated that they're copyright-free. They include this remarkable pic of Doug Hood onstage with Chris Knox in The Enemy in 1978:

And this pic of Kath Webster from Look Blue Go Purple, wearing the frock that became the EP cover ...

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Me and my crew are excited and set to dance at Sunday's Shipshape with John Morales. If you like disco, funk and soul, you might want to get along. And you might want to bend an ear towards Nick Collings' interesting interview with Morales for Radio Hauraki's In It for the Kicks show before the DJ's first New Zealand show last year:

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Tunes!

100% for the dancefloor this week.

I've mentioned the Australian UK-garage DJ duo Cup & String before (notably for their great bootleg remix of 'Say My Name' by Destiny's Child). Three months ago, they posted an amazing remix of The Streets' 'Has It Come to This', promising to take it down if anyone objected. Never mind that, said a hundred people in the comments, can we please god have a download of this? And you know what? They've done it. Click through and get in and get yours while it's still there:

Connor Nestor and his buddies at A Label called Success have been trickling out nu disco niceness for a few months now, but have chosen only to put it out on the streaming services. Being elderly, I asked Connor this week whether there was any way of buying an old-fashioned download. There isn't (although it appears there will be in future) but Connor was kind enough to switch on the download for this, their latest release. It features Jordan Arts of High Hoops and Leisure on vocals and it's sweeeeeeet:

George Darroch put me onto this rework of a techno classic. Free download:

This swooning deep house remix of Tula's cover of 'Wicked Game' is also a free download, but requires an irritating Spotify follow (I just clicked the "I'm already following" link and that worked fine):

And finally, London-based Aucklanders Chaos in the CBD on the remix. Free download.  Pretty gorgeous, no? 

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The Hard News Friday Music Post is kindly sponsored by:

The Audio Consultant

85

Footpaths, not manifest destiny

Simon Wilson is most of the way through his fascinating Metro magazine feature on the Auckland National Party and its designs on Auckland local government by the time he identifies the thing that unites the party's "braided river": the belief that it is National's birthright to run things, Auckland included.

It's easy to understand why party members and supporters would think so. As Wilson points out, its command of most Auckland electorates underpins the party's dominance of national politics. He writes:

When National looks at those numbers, it asks itself, "If we're so popular, why the hell can't we win the council?"

It particularly asks itself why it can't win the Shore. In the council election of 2013, the independent rightist candidate John Palino won the mayoral vote in all five of the ward seats north of the bridge. Yet the centre-right holds only one seat in those fivewards.

The city's wealthiest ward, Waitemata, "is represented by the unreconstructed old lefty Mike Lee and a board full of Labour and Green types. Why hasn't Waitemata turfed them out and voted blue?"

In part it's because the Auckland centre-right is so divided and thus not very effective. Even in this year's local body elections, it will be standing against itself, with C&R declining to make way for the more urbanist Auckland Future. The common answer to this problem seems to be that the elected Council needs managing, via the equivalent of a whipped caucus. Which, as I've noted before, isn't necessarily something Auckland wants – and very probably is not what it needs.

But this belief does seem to have been a key element of the centre-right's own conversation. It must be at the heart of Theresa Gattung's bizarre column in the Herald three weeks ago. She wrote:

What decision making power does the mayor actually have? Even the council website doesn't claim that it's actually that much! Decisions of council are by majority vote with the chair (usually the mayor) having the casting vote. The Auckland Council Standing Orders of the Governing Body May 2015 reads like something out of last century.

It's true that good leadership is about more than positional power. Good leaders inspire people, walk the talk and take people with them. But not relying only on positional power is not the same as not having it. True leadership involves being able to make decisions after getting the best input possible.

The Super City would have struggled to get up without regionally based representation. But what was a good idea then is crippling the city now. And there is no independent review mechanism.

Gattung seems genuinely horrified that the mayor can't make major decisions without the support of a majority of elected councillors. She doesn't seem to grasp the distinction between executive management (and its "walking the talk" cliches) and democratic leadership. She actually believes that local representation on a local council is "crippling the city".

I wonder if this in turn is at heart of the right's conviction that Len Brown has been a hopeless mayor. They don't understand the environment and thus don't value his coalition-building skills (and, importantly, those of his deputy Penny Hulse).

Elsewhere in Wilson's Metro story, he records aspirant councillor Bill Ralston's crack that "If Len Brown can get his own way, how hard can it be?" To which the answer must be: quite a lot harder than you think, Bill.

But that's not the startling part. Wilson writes:

Ralston is not a details person. Even he says that. I asked him about the big Franklin Rd redevelopment project, which is about to start. Which of the three proposals did he like best? He said he didn't know much about them. He lives on Franklin Rd.

This is astonishing. For god's sake I know about this and it's not even in my ward. And the cycle lobby Ralston describes as "ferocious" certainly does too. Local politics is local – this is about people's footpaths, not what you believe to be the natural order of things.

The details are also important because Auckland councillors are currently making decisions for the next few decades. They are setting the shape of a new city. And they matter because an understanding of the detail is civil society's stake in the new city. It's how TransportBlog has achieved its authority.

And it's also absolutely crucial because it's the only way that the elected council can keep in check the city's wilful executive branch. That will only be done through a command of the detail – and not with all your airy-fairy ideas about management.

Ironically, the business community – the people who actually have to do business in the city – understands that much better than the putative business right does. So while Victoria Crone is still reaching around for a stance on the City Rail Link, on the 27th of this month John Key will tell the Auckland Chamber of Commerce that his government has fallen into line with the council's CRL timeline and will contribute its share of the funding from 2018, not 2020.

The announcement will probably be larded with yet more road spending, but it it's pretty clear the businesses the Chamber represents were getting antsy about the fluffing around. It's a big, big win for the allegedly ineffective Mayor Brown.

So this is the challenge for the Auckland centre-right: to not sit around reflecting on its own manifest destiny, or staging a face-off between its own factions, but to actually make a contribution to Auckland at what is a pivotal time for the city. It would be nice to see a sign they're getting that.