Hard News by Russell Brown


Friday Music: Aretha and the power of song

The times in which the great Aretha Franklin has passed, like the times in which she emerged, require us to consider not only her remarkable contribution to popular music, but what she meant even beyond that.

I'm indebted, then, to Chris Bourke, who this morning shared this Facebook story of a moment in 2005, from the writer and musician Warren Zanes:

Aretha waived her fee to headline the Sam Cooke tribute I produced some years ago. That didn't mean it was cheap. Traveling light wasn't her thing. As she told me later, she did it for Sam. Solomon Burke was on the same show. He said he'd waive his fee also . . . if I could create a moment onstage during which he and Aretha would sing together. Likely he knew as well as I did that such a decision was not mine to make. It was Aretha's. And she hadn't even gotten back to me about which songs she'd be doing. I told her manager about Solomon's wish. No response. When the day of the event came, Aretha closed the show with a pure and beautiful performance. After that, Solomon was going to lead the many performers gathered in an encore of "A Change Is Gonna Come." We'd created a moving throne for Solomon that enabled us to get him on the stage pretty quickly. As he was being wheeled out, Aretha watched from a chair at the side of the stage. To our surprise, she didn't go back to her dressing room. Solomon went into the song. "I was born by the river . . ." It was gorgeous stuff. I watched Aretha watching Solomon. Then, a few lines in, I saw that Aretha had held onto her mic. And for whatever reason, it was still on. This still doesn't make sense. But there it was. With Solomon a verse in, Aretha still hidden at the side of the stage where the audience couldn't see her, she lifted the mic up and started singing with Solomon. For a few seconds, no one, including Solomon, knew where this voice was coming from. I just watched her, stunned. When it

finally registered with Solomon, Aretha stood up, straightened her gown, and walked onto that stage. There were tears running down Solomon Burke's face. It may be the deepest musical moment I've ever witnessed. Solomon called me into his dressing room after the show, holding me to his chest and not letting go, thanking me. But I told him I couldn't take any credit. It was all Aretha. The next night, we did a gospel show, with Aretha opening. She wore a long robe with a golden cross on the back. Her contract said she'd do two songs. She walked onto the stage, kicked her shoes into the audience, and didn't leave until she'd done six of her favorites, like she was talking to God. Rest in Peace, Miss Franklin.

I think it's important to read those words before watching the video of that moment, just to appreciate everything bundled up in this performance of Sam Cooke's keening, epochal liberation song. I had tears rolling down my cheeks watching it.

I think, in this time when small minds and small talents clamour to tell us we must be apart, hearing someone whose gifts were so transcendent telling us better is powerful and valuable.

And then there's the dance. I'm playing some records at a birthday party this weekend – and I've never been happier to be able to say "I've got that on vinyl":


Maybe I'm just all infused with the power of song today. Because that was there too, yesterday evening at the launch of Avantdale Bowling Club's debut album, among friends and family, overlooking K Road.

This really is quite a record: its torrent of thoughts and feelings, the technical virtuosity of Tom Scott's delivery, the way the band's contribution deepens it all. It struck me last night how key JY Jong-Yun Lee's saxophone playing is on the album. It's both a foil to Tom's voice and a voice in its own right. It's actually the first thing you hear on the album, and also opens this excellent new mini-documentary about Tom by Jordan Arts:

There was, of course, another star last night: the person 'Quincey's March' is about. Jacinda's not the only one juggling a baby:

Here's the video:

It was also notable, and in keeping with Tom's longtime attention to the creative community around him, that the album launch was also the launch of a small exhibition of related art (by Jacob Yikes) and photography (by Luca Macioce and Tak Soropa). You can pop up the stairs to CorpStudio (86 Pitt Street, above Leo O'Malley menswear) to see those works and buy limited-edition ABV merchandise from midday to 10pm today and tomorrow, and midday to 5pm Sunday. There will also be guest DJ sets.

And you can now buy the album on Bandcamp. (You can also, of course, listen to the album on your streaming service, but it's buying from Bandcamp that really pays an artists's rent.)


Amid what seems to be a rush of great local albums, another singular vision. Dudley Benson's album Zealandia has been eight years in the making and it's an immensely detailed expression of layered thoughts about cultural nationalism, where classical violins hold hands with pop drum machines.

As attached as I am to its themes, I feel like I haven't got down deep enough in it to write more than that by way of review yet – especially when a couple of our best close listeners have done that already. Zealandia has been reviewed twice on RNZ in the past week. First, by Nick Bollinger, who reaches for Lilburn to define what he's hearing:

Put simply, records this rich don’t come along very often. As far as ideas go, Dudley Benson has acknowledged that, as a pakeha, he’s taking a risk exploring issues of colonisation or the Maori spiritual themes that crop up through the record, yet to my ears, none of these discussions could be more timely.

Many years ago, the great New Zealand composer Douglas Lilburn said that a musician "must develop an awareness of the place he lives in, not attempting a mere imitation of nature in sounds, but seeking its inner values, the manifestations of beauty and purposes it shows us … and perhaps using it as something against which he can test the validity of his own work."

And then, by William Dart:

Initially one stands back in some sort of awe at the immensity and utter detailing. On my first listen-through, I was imagining a musical equivalent to those extravagant Bavarian castles of King Ludwig, temples of and to the most delicious excess conceivable. Dudley Benson, drawing on everything from the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra and the NZ Youth Choir to a host of musicians playing harpsichord, harp, celeste, koto, slide guitar and bagpipes, creates the equivalent of a musical Neuschwandstein Castle, with just the right balance of rococo finery and sonic tukutuku.

The theme of the album is an ambitious one, Zealandia being the great sunken continent on which we’re poised. The title song is kept until last, a great nine-minute outpouring that sums up the historical and environmental concerns of the preceding eleven tracks.

William, too, concludes by settling on Lilburn and the way his influence has been combined with other voices to bring about "a new, vibrant musica tangata". This is music of our time.

You can buy Zealandia on Bandcamp.


It's only two weeks till The Other's Way festival on K Road, and if you don't have a ticket you might want to get one soon, as it's selling quite quickly. There are a bunch of things to like about this year's festival: 

 • An All Ages stage in association with girls Rock Camp Aotearoa. The stage will start late afternoon for all ages ticket holders and then becomes part of the festival after 7.30pm with access still available to under 18s.

• A record 45 acts across 13 K Road venues, plus an after-party with DJ JNett at Neck of the Woods.

• A festival beer by Hallertau! (The indifferent quality of some venues' beverage offerings has been a bit of an issue in the past, so this matters.)

In the lineup, there's fresh (The Beths off the back of their bloody brilliant debut album) and fermented (Bailter Space, Headless Chickens). I know quite a few people excited about those last two, but some of us are also amped about the return of Collision.

The Tokoroa-born funk band, who broke up at the end of the 1970s after a tough time trying to make their way in Australia, was vaulted back into the conversation for the Heed the Call compilation. I had a chat with Collision's trumpet player Mike Booth this week and he happily acknowledged that the huge interest around that compilation is the reason they're back playing together.

Not all the 1970s members will be there on the night – two can't travel and one is no longer with us – but they've found some younger players and Hirra Morgan's daughters will be there on vocals. Will they play Dalvanius's 'Voodoo Lady'? Mike says they want to, but they're working out who can sing that vocal. I have an idea about that ...

Meanwhile, this, from a 1978 live-to-air on a Sydney radio station, just turned up on Soundcloud:

Now, you want a piece of that, don't you?


 Two departures.

The coroner's report on the death of Peter Gutteridge has been published and it's almost unbearably sad reading. If only he'd made it to Dunedin; if only they'd watched him better at the hospital in Auckland; if only it had been different. Sometimes talent is fragile, and a life in music can be hard. (Music-makers, always be aware that that the New Zealand Music Foundation's wellbeing service is there when things seem to be turning to shit. There's someone who'll listen.)

But I think it's appropriate to note  something that's not in the report. Peter did play a gig, his last gig, during that trip to New York. Here's the story:

On September 1st of 2014, Peter Gutteridge played his first ever concert in the United States. He wound up playing by chance. The organizers of the show bumped into him at a Clean reunion, Peter was traveling with a plastic bag full of a few pedals and said that he was hoping to play a concert while in town. It matched up perfectly and he was added to this show at Palisades in Brooklyn. 30 or so minutes before the show started Peter was pacing around back stage when he struck up a conversation with me about a casio keyboard I was trying to fix. We chatted for a while and then he told me that he really needed a drummer and bassist. My friend Erin and I where already playing the show and were open to the idea. We went over a few riffs in the bathroom of the venue before hitting the stage and just got going with it. The set lasted close to 2 hours but it seemed like 15 minutes to me.

And here's one of the songs he played, with Erin Birgy from Mega Bog on drums and Zach Burba from iji on bass:

Penny Reel, who wrote as deeply and affectionately about reggae music as any journalist ever has, passed away this week in London.

I was fortunate enough to meet Penny (aka Pete Simons) when I was writing for Sounds in London in the 1980s. I'd been handed Put On Your Best Dress, a compilation of of the rock steady productions of Mrs Sonia Pottinger at Duke Reid's studio, to review – and directed to Pete, who kindly explained to me what this music was about. It was, he sad, the music everyone got up for at the dances, the music the old people loved. He really set me on the road. And Put On Your Best Dress is still one of my favourite albums ...

 I was far from the only young music journalist to benefit from Pete's kindness over the years. His NME colleague David Swift wrote about him in this comment on a Friday Music post a few months ago, recalling ...

 ... a lovely Jewish Rastafariian (!!) and hardcore Spurs fan. He led me into the depths of the Dalston, East London, ''front line'' in 1986 for a scary Brigadier Jerry gig. The Brigadier was fresh from JA and awesome, but boy, the riled-up youthman crowd was intimidating. I was the only pakeha, well me and Penny were, but I was ''safe, yeah mon'' with him at my side. He was an honorary Rastaman around London. He was mates with Tapper Zukie, and so I just worshipped his good taste.


A couple of notable new videos: a trailer for the forthcoming Connan Mockasin album Jassbusters (an explanation of sorts as to what's going on can be found here):

And a hypnotic new single from SoccerPractise:


And one last thing: if you're downtown in Auckland after work, get yourself along to Marbecks in Queens Arcade, where Emily Fairlight (from Wellington, via the tree-shaded roads of Americana) is playing songs from her album Mother of Gloom at 5.30pm.

She also plays a formal album release show tomorrow night at Anthology Lounge.



 That Aretha song again, this time in a great edit by the Swedish DJ-producer Disco Tech. You can buy it here on Bandcamp.

A 2017 set by New Jersey DJ legend Kerri Chandler. No, it's not new – but what is new is that the man has put 43 tracks (all of them previously unavailable digitally) up for free download. Whoop!

And finally, quite a few DJs have been trying their hand at remixes and edit of Chaka Khan's 'Like Sugar' since it came out. I like this house-styled one by ole mates Rock 'n' Rolla Soundsystem. And it's a free download!



Friday Music: Summer's coming

Signs that summer is on the way are not limited to the recent unnervingly early Spring weather: we're into festival reveal season and there are some things to discuss.

Auckland's New Year's Eve party Wondergarden takes a big step up with its first international artists: Dām Funk, a Nightmares on Wax DJ set, and UK clubbers Kllo, along with Cut Off Your Hands, Australians Fortunes and Tina Turntables, with more to come.

Those first two play the night before at Rhythm and Alps, which in turn shares the likes of LTJ Bukem with Northern Bass, which is headlined by Action Bronson and Shapeshifter.

The chart radio-oriented Bay Dreams has now become two festivals, with a second round in Nelson added to the Mount Maunganui show. Home Brew play both those shows and also turn up later in January at Soundsplash in Raglan.

Splore has made its first lineup announcement, which is almost entirely acts that were here this year or last year (or both, in Courtesy's case) – I'm told there's a big headliner being announced soon.

But there's a show at Tapapakanga Regional Park before that: Donald Glover's mysterious Pharos festival on November 23, 24 and 25. Tickets are only available via the Pharos app – and the Friday and Saturday are already sold out, with just 400 tickets left for Sunday.

Laneway promoter Mark Kneebone confirmed to me that his show will be back for a third year in Albert Park, with the first announcement due mid-next month. He notes that it's the 10th anniversary of Laneway in New Zealand "so it's a bit of a birthday celebration for us". 

And I can reveal that there will be an Auckland City Limits at Western Springs next year – but not next summer. The promoters are instead looking at a date in late November 2019. I think this make sense for them – it gets them in front of the summer rather than being stuck at the end when everyone's spent their money. I'd like to see this festival find its place and this might be it.

What there is at Western Springs this summer is a Fat Freddy's Drop mini-festival on January 19, featuring Norman Jay MBE, Ladi6, Troy Kingi, Silva MC and Logg Cabin alongside Wellington's finest, with more to come. It's part of a summer national tour which includes another big show in Hagley Park. (UK friends note: the Freddies play two nights with Ladi6 in support at the Brixton Academy in November.)


Closer to now, there's quite a lot on. Arch Hill goes wild with tours by Jonathan Bree and Princess Chelsea in November, both of them coming off European dates and both taking in special shows at the Hollywood in Avondale.

The Beths, featured in Rolling Stone this week, tour next month in support of their utterly winning debut album Future Me Hates Me (out now on the streaming services and here on Bandcamp later today when the Americans wake up).

Tiny Ruins has a short tour in November.

And ... Sticky Filth are back!

And finally, if you've like some nice vibes to end your working week, whanau, friends and fans of the late, great Duncan Campbell are all welcomed to the Thirsty Dog Tavern on K Road later today for some righteous music and good company in his memory. There is, fittingly, a DJ lineup:

5 - 6pm: The Jazz Hour with Blind Mango Chutney
6 - 7: Stinky Jim
7 - 7.30: Slowdeck
7.30 - 8: Russ B
8 - 9: Dubhead
9 - 10: Danny Lemon
10 - 11: Benny Staples
11 - 12: Miss Dom & Mark E.


Big week for local music videos. This one for Avantdale Bowling Club's 'Years Gone By' was supposed to go up last Friday, but Tom Scott had an art attack, decided it needed changing at the last moment and sent to back to director Arty Papageorgiou for a recut (while emphasising that Arty had done exactly what he was asked to do in the first place). Thing is, he was right; the darker imagery and the tragicomic ending now do better reflect the song and it the man who wrote it.

The venue is the St James and that's Tom dad Peter on the bass:

Note further that a Tom Scott-curated exhibition launches the Avantdale Bowling Club album from next Friday to next Sunday.

Also, more magic from Princess Chelsea:

And from Tiny Ruins, whose new song 'How Much' is a tantalising taster for her forthcoming third album (love that outro!):


I've long felt that one way to get people along to niche films is to make an event of the whole evening. And that's what's happening around two special screenings of The Man from Mo' Wax. It's the story of James Lavelle, the founder of the Mo' Wax label whose sensibility brought us DJ Shadow, DJ Krush, Air, Innerzone Orchestra, Rob D, Money Mark, Tommy Guerrero and Blackalicious.

Each of the screenings, at the Roxy cinema in Wellington on Saturday September 8 and at the Hollywood in Avondale on Septemer 15, will become a club night after the film shows,  with DJs B.Lo, Marek, Cian and Vee in Wellington and a serious lineup of Manuel Bundy, Stinky Jim, Dylan C and Cian in Auckland.

Strictly limited $25 tickets are here for the Roxy and here for the Hollywood.


Amid the recent (and totally warranted) fanfare around Flying Nun's master tape donation to the Turnbull, it's worth noting that there's archive action elsewhere.

The former members of Alms for Children and This Sporting Life – two basically identical bands from early 80s Auckland – have teamed up with Rob Mayes at Failsafe Records to restore and remaster their original recordings and various live tapes and re-release them on CD, and it's a really nice little project.

The CD cover is an adaptation of the original Alms for Children 7" single on Harry Ratbag's REM Records and comes wrapped in a nice hand-printed cardboard outer.

Inside, there's a good-natured account of the bands' story, which is also an account of the Auckland indie music scene of the time: from everyone starting a band, to no one being able to play a gig without boot-boy violence, to just playing gigs with their mates in Children's Hour and Nocturnal Projections until things "ground to a final halt" and they went their separate ways in 1984. Some of them even got respectable jobs!

They also played tour support for The Fall's famous visit, and, it turns out, had more in common with The Gordons than I recall. 

It's music of its post-punk time, and none the worse for that. AFC's 'Danny Boy' was the hit (it charted!), but my favourite of the songs here remains this one, from the Show Me to the Bellrope EP on Flying Nun:

There's no pretension here – it's just a nicely-produced document of what they did and who they were; a claiming of ownership. More people should do this. You can buy the record in digital or CD form here at Bandcamp (but note that the CD is $4 cheaper direct from the Failsafe website).


While we're remembering, RIP Mike Fomison, a longtime name in the Wellington music community and buddy of The Spines' Jon McCleary, who recalls him in this tale featuring a fight between Mike and his brother Tony, a ruinous drinking session and Sam Hunt; and this one involving a chimney fire. Mike also recorded work by Madeleine Lane.



Auckland's DiCE crew is back, this time with an edit of Odyssey (free download):

From the forthcoming Left Ear label collection, Antipodean Anomalies, a trawl through forgotten catalogues in Australia and New Zealand, this early electronic waiata:

A super-funky Brand New Heavies edit (free download):

Kelis's 'Milkshake' as relentless house banger (free download):

And a half hour of niceness from High Hoops, with a track listing and interview here (free download):


PS: While they're not officially a sponsor of this post, I would like to draw your attention to the Southbound Records banner ad at the top of this page. That thing in the picture is a Spin Clean record washer. I have one, they're affordable and I basically couldn't do without mine. Just sayin'.


Dilemmas: the drug-driving ad that isn't

Public service advisories about drinking and driving – and road safety in general – have been with us for many years. For a long time, they had a common theme: to scare some sense into the public with, if necessary, the most horrifying imagery.

But it turns out that, because they're human and it's been a long day, people mentally switch off from horrifying imagery. So in recent years, we've seen the rise of the advisory you might actually want to watch. The NZTA "ghost chips" ad in 2011, part of the long-running "Legend" campaign, underlined the value of such an approach by effectively becoming part of the culture.

It also emphasised anticipation, agency and "what if?". The more recent "Legends" (guy goes to car, but after the good life he stands to lose flashes through his mind, thinks the better of it) did the same, a bit less successfully. NZTA's new ad, "Dilemmas", officially billed as a continuation of the Legends campaign, does the same thing, but places the agency and the "what if?" with the potential driver's mates.

The story is is that the two guys get set off by an offhand comment about what if their mate, currently tottering away from the party and towards his car, "karks it on the road". The immediate thought is that there'd be no one to get them through Mad Mick's farm to their favourite surfing spot. And then things get surreal.

The truth is that these two guys aren't drunk. Or, rather, they're not just drunk: they're wasted. These aren't the waking dreams of merely drunk people, they're the visions and thoughts of people who've been enjoying the bong (or something else, it doesn't really matter). The ad doesn't need to point out that being drunk and high is a particularly risky state for driving. It says that even when you're absolutely flying you can still think it through and stop your mate doing something really stupid, for everyone's sake.

In that sense, I think it's actually the best drug-driving advisory NZTA has produced, in large part because it's not identifying as a drug-driving ad. We've had a few: Taika Waititi's "Blazed" (gorgeous to look at and wonderfully acted, but a bit too subtle), the hidden-camera series capturing "a real-life drug driving experience" that was rendered completely unreal by the hammy acting of the drivers, the "Shopkeepers" ad, which was pretty much a string of stoner cliches your parents might come up with, the somewhat oblique "High crashes" print campaign – and "Thoughts" the one with the two idiots who crash into a traffic island, which is probably the best of them.

Or rather, it was, until "Dilemmas". I'm not even sure this was what NZTA and its longtime gency Clemenger BBDO were shooting for – officially, it's just another ad targeted at young men in the regions who drive drunk because there's no Uber – but they've hit the mark regardless.


On joining the international troll circuit

Speaking shortly after the event at the Powerstation in Auckland was cancelled on Friday, Caolan Robertson, the self-styled agent for Canadian race grifter Lauren Southern declared that "powerful forces" were behind the venue's decision to dump the booking for Southern and her associate Stefan Molyneux. The reality was more prosaic.

I don't credit Powerstation co-owner Peter Campbell's claim that when the Canadian pair's promoter Axiomatic Events came to him seeking a booking the evening before (the timing does suggest that the company had had trouble getting a booking anywhere in the city) he had no idea who they were. (Peter has been known to say random things to journalists when under pressure.) Nor Southern's own claim that the cancellation was the work of a "scary and violent minority".

What happened was that from the minute the venue was revealed to ticketholders at 1pm on Friday, the people who use the Powerstation, both artists and fans, revolted. Music venues serve a community and the Powerstation's community swiftly made its unhappiness apparent, on social media, by email and, quite probably, by telephone.

That's reflected in the account of Campbell's co-owner in the venue, fashion designer Gabrielle Mullins.

Powerstation co-owner Gabrielle Mullins told the NZ Herald yesterday that after receiving complaints from the community, they decided to cancel.

Ms Mullins said she was "not comfortable at all" to have the speakers at the venue.

"Certainly freedom of speech is fine but there are also humanitarian issues.

"They can say whatever they want but personally I don't want it in my venue."

Update: I'm told Gabrielle attended the anti-fascist rally herself on Friday evening.

At heart, it's a similar problem to that faced by the Canadians' original venue, the Bruce Mason Centre, but in the Powerstation's case, the reputational risk was even greater. Hosting this show would potentially be very bad for business. Not because the "far left" would exact punishment, but because the usually-not-terribly-political community the Powerstation relies on for business would feel betrayed.

And yet, what the Powerstation owners did was potentially a breach of the Human Rights Act. You can say "You can't play here because your band sucks" – venues do that all the time – but saying "You can't play here because your Nazi band sucks," is discrimination on grounds of political opinion, which is a breach of the Act. Of course, on the face of it, that's what every other venue in Auckland had already done.

I don't expect it to end up in court on those grounds. But while the Canadians, deprived of a paying audience, went on an interview jag, Robertson, not so much an angry manchild as an angry child, was threatening retribution:

"We're going to go after the venue, we're going to go after the media, we're going to go after all the people who've decided to slander it," he told Newshub.

He said this about two hours after an email from the promoters to ticketholders lamented the way venues were "bullied", and continued:

"It's basically the whole media in this country who have written hit pieces constantly saying that Lauren's racist and a white supremacist."

In truth, most news organisations have avoided bluntly describing the Candians as racists, and some prominent columnists (most notably John Roughan in the Herald) seemed keen to minimise the awfulness of their ideas. That became a more challenging rhetorical job after Simon Copland's shocking live-tweeting of their Sydney event, in which he transcribed Molyneux regaling his audience with vile and explicitly racist pseudohistories of indigenous Australians.

That followed the "free speech" protest in Aotea Square, which emerged as more of a fan rally for the British racist and serial criminal Tommy Robinson. Certainly, it was still possible to defend the Canadians' speech as vile but nonetheless worthy of protection. But it was hardly viable to crack on like they were just some oddball intellectuals with interesting ideas. As if to make the point, a group protesting against the cancellation back in Aotea Square on Saturday was literally displaying swastikas.

And now we're left with the mess. There was some strong criticism of TVNZ's Sunday programme for giving the Canadians a "platform" last night. But it's a fact that it was the resistance to their speaking visit that made it a news story – that was the point of the resistance – and I thought reporter Tania Page and producer Paul Deady did a pretty good job.

Their description of Elliot Ikilei, who was presented as a supporter of the Canadians' message, should, however, have been better. He was described as a "youth worker" – but the context of his youth work bears noting.

Before he went to Statistics NZ to train census field teams last year, he was the community liaison manager at Villa Education Trust's South Auckland Middle School, and last year he stood for the Conservative Party in Manurewa (he is now deputy leader of the New Conservative Party). In the past week on his Facebook page, he has celebrated being "honoured" by Whaleoil, championed Donald Trump, shared a Dinesh D'Souza video slating multiculturalism and ceaselessly backed the two Canadians. I'd have been interested in asking him how he squares touting his Tongan-Niuean-Māori whakapapa to his electorate with championing Western culture and vilifying multiculturalism. (The answer possibly lies in his background with the Pentecostal Horizon Church.)

But, he exists and he is not alone. There will remain a market in New Zealand for ideas like those of Molyneux and Southern. And it will be messy, because the international troll circuit is in the nature of a shitshow.

In June, the Canadians' Aussie promoter Dave Pellowe was the subject of a threatening visit from notorious neo-Nazi Neil Erikson and some biker muscle, who believed Pellowe had sabotaged a rival's attempt to tour Milo Yiannopoulos in Australia. (A week later, Erikson and some other neo-Nazis were in court facing assault and other charges subsequent to Yiannopoulos's gig in Melbourne last year. He has also been convicted of stalking a rabbi.)

It's just who these people are and what their world is like. Caolan Robertson, for example, is a close and keen associate of Tommy Robinson, who has a long criminal record, including convictions for fraud  and for violently assaulting an off-duty policeman who tried to stop him assaulting his girlfriend. There's a lot of crime and violence in this world.

So the bear has been poked now. Supporters of Southern and Molyneux on local social media have been both profoundly butthurt and notably emboldened by recent events. Then there are the troll/bot accounts with single-figure followings who have appeared suddenly to harange "leftists". That's a little unnerving. Some of these people are fond of depicting cultures other than theirs as a pestilence, but really, it's their own ideas that most resemble an infestation. And sadly, they're probably not going away.


A cannabis moment in the Parliament

One of the issues on Jacinda Ardern's first-day-back desk today is medicinal cannabis – and specifically, the issue of how to respond to pressure to compromise and incorporate key elements of National MP Shane Reti's private members bill into its own proposed law.

Both bills are flawed, but Reti's goes further than the government's in some key respects. The Greens' Chloe Swarbrick – who, part by fate and part through aptitude, has done more in her first year than some MPs manage in a Parliamentary career – has been meeting with both Reti and the office of Health minister David Clark in search of an outcome. And the Prime Minister has been watching.

I've looked at that in my story for the Herald today – and at how on earth Reti, a quiet, relatively conservative backbencher, has taken a caucus that merrily governed on never, ever changing the Misuse of Drugs Act into endorsing a proposal for perhaps the most consequential change to the law since it was passed in 1975.

The answer, I think, lies in a line from Reti's maiden speech: "It's cool to be a geek." Within days of the government bill being published, he got interested in the detail in a way that no Labour MP has, and he used the Parliamentary recess to pursue that detail. Is he right about everything? No. But he's trying. Labour, implicitly positioned as the party that might finally do reform, has been complacent in government. And I think Health minister David Clark – who took responsibility for the medicinal cannabis issue over his Green associate Julie Anne Genter – has to shoulder most of the blame there.

As I make clear in the story, I think it's a certainty that some of Reti's caucus colleagues saw backing his bill as simply a chance to get one over on the government. By the same token, the worst parts of his bill are essentially the price of getting it signed off by a National caucus. But it's also a wake-up call for Labour. And I think it might be a moment.

On Tuesday, the day I spoke to Reti, Simon Bridges declared that he would honour a vote for legalisation in the forthcoming cannabis referendum. Labour, absurdly, has manoeuvred itself into a position where it can't yet say the same – but hours after Bridges made his statement, David Clark declared that he personally favoured "more liberal drug laws because I think in the world when prohibition has been tried, it hasn't worked." These are not positions we're used to hearing from National Party leaders or Ministers of Health.

This is an unprecedented Parliamentary term for these issues. By the time the medicinal cannabis bill, in whatever shape, gets Royal Assent, we will be (or should be) into the process for the referendum on legalising  cannabis for adult use. And despite what various people have been keen to tell me on Twitter, that process will not be a simple or straightforward one for the government.

In a story out this week in Matters of Substance, I've looked at the road to the referendum question, with input from Helen Clark, Graeme Edgeler, Andrew Geddis, Khylee Quince and drug policy experts in the US and Britain, including the designers of the successful ballot initiatives in two US states. I strongly encourage you to have a read. This is, remember, the first national referendum on cannabis law reform. It would be good if we didn't screw it up.


I didn't have room in the Herald story for all of the Shane Reti interview, including some interesting parts that weren't necessarily suited to a mainstream audience story. I figure it's useful to include those parts here.

On why National didn't embrace the statutory defence in the government bill for terminally ill patients to possess and use cannabis.

Several things. First of all, the terminal exception has problems. We're permissioning an illegal act – no one disagrees about that. It's an illegal act but once that act has been committed, you're okay. That's really awkward. We had the Police say it was going to be awkward for them as well. Are you inducing a crime? That was going to be a challenging area anyway.

Secondly, the time to roll that out as a temporary scheme that was expected to last two to five years. We could have a scheme up and running almost as soon as that temporary scheme could be up and running. So let's to a fully-fledged scheme right and properly and then wouldn't need the temporary scheme and the problems we've got with that.

On the odious fit-and-proper-person elements of Reti's bill, which ban anyone with even the most minor historical drug conviction (and anyone who was even sought help for a drug problem) from working in a new medicinal cannabis industry:

The answer to that is yes, it's another area of flexibility we have. We needed to draw a line in the sand. The officials were telling us [prospective directors of medicinal cannabis companies] would fundamentally only need to meet what the Hemp Act 2006 says, which is not to have have previous convictions under the Misuse of Drugs Act or under the Crimes Act. And that was it.

So on a spectrum of fit and proper people, you'd have nothing, do-as-you-please all the way to the Australians, who I think are too restrictive. They've very, very tough. What officials were also telling us was that because we didn't do anything in the Hemp Act or the Psychoactive Substances Act, we probably won't here either. That's not a good enough reason.

I think, and still, think there need to be some criteria for staff. Not as much as the Australians, but something. And that something could be retrospective, some leeway on that, and current and prospective. For example, if you are an active patched gang member currently under drug addiction therapy, I would suggest that you are probably not wise and probably not suitable for the cannabis industry. But some flexibility on previous convictions, which may be prohibitive as I've written it, I have flexibility on that. That is something we can tak about.

On his meetings with American public health officials and politicians:

My Boston colleagues were able to get really challenging and hard appointments with high-level people. Kay Doyle, the Health Commissioner for Massachusetts was very helpful. Let's also remember that a large number of medicinal cannabis schemes come up from referenda – they're public-driven initiatives. So she was given a time-frame and within 18 months, she had to deploy. That's why I'm saying for the time it took to set up the temporary exceptions [in the Zealand government bill], we could potentially have a full-fledged scheme underneath that.

So Kay and the [Director of Government Affairs at the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission] David Lakeman, they were very, very helpful.

In New Hampshire, I spoke with Senator Jeff Woodburn. New Hampshire's fascinating, in as much as there are other things that no one's talking about that come in around medicinal cannabis. Senator Woodburn said to me, 'Shane, we as a state have the second-highest incidence of heroin addiction and overdose – after we introduced a medicinal cannabis scheme, that has been significantly reduced'.

It was a question I asked of the New York people too, because I'm interested in other benefits that might come from it. The thing I was really interested in was, do you have any evidence on the impact of medicinal cannabis schemes on P? And all of them said no, which I can understand– it's a different class of drug. I know there are clinics and specialists in San Francisco who do believe that medicinal cannabis can be a go-to drug to wean people off P.

And some people will say, Shane, that argument is that you improve heroin addiction, but all you do swap one addiction for a lesser addiction. Yes, absolutely correct. That's exactly what we do with methadone – we swap one very addictive and damaging drug for one less addictive and less damaging. And then we look for the next step after that.


Andrew Freedman, who was the previous director of marijuana coordination for the Colorado scheme, he was a really hard appointment to get, but my Boston team were able to secure that. He advises other states and jurisdictions on how they deploy medicinal cannabis. So speaking with him was absolutely fascinating.

I was able to explain what my thinking was and get their advice on it. And that then took me to New York, where I met with Dr Howard Zucker, who's the Commissioner of Health for New York state, and he brought together his whole medicinal cannabis team around the table. And again, they had excellent advice.

Because New York's one of about 15 states who prevent the smoking of loose-leaf. They actually do allow vaping, but they were similar to where I was heading. And so to get their advice, to find out what they did and the unexpected hurdles they encountered, that was really interesting.

Furthermore, all of the international experts have said 'however we can help'. In fact I've just got a question back to Commissioner Doyle in Massachusetts this afternoon, all of them have said 'we're happy to be available to you, however we can help, however we can transfer our learning, we'd love to do that.