Highway: Highway (Ode)

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Highway: New Day
Highway: Highway (Ode)

A decade or so ago there was a major excavation undertaken of New Zealand pop and rock of the Sixties, thanks to enthusiasts like John Baker and Andrew Schmidt, and Chris Caddick at EMI who actioned a series of terrific compilations. Some of the work of these people spilled over into the early Seventies.

Thierry Pannetier at EMI was responsible for the three decade-bridging double discs of psychedelic music A Day in My Mind's Mind.

Nick Bollinger made a fine case for the Fourmyula (1968-71) in his compelling liner notes for the four-CD collection The Complete Fourmyula (again Pannetier and EMI were behind it) and we might hope that with the publication of Chris Bourke's essential Blue Smoke, we could see more material from the Thirties, Forties and Fifties being rereleased.

Some often-ignored artists from Seventies seem to be getting their time again right now. Recently there have been reissues of the Awake album by Ticket, Human Instinct re-formed, and guitarists Billy TK, Doug Jerebine and others are being acknowledged.  

The quiet man behind much of this reissue activity has been Grant Gillanders, taxi-driver by day and music enthusiast at every other minute. He has an extensive collection of New Zealand music and information, a contact book second to none and a seemingly bottomless well of energy and quiet enthusiasm.

He does it for the love of it and I don't think I've ever seen a photo of him published in a music magazine. He should be in the next honours list for services to New Zealand popular music and culture.

It is no surprise then to see Gillander's name in the small print of this, the reissue of Highway's sole album from '71 (with their What You're Doing To Me/The Time is the Time single added at the end).

Highway didn't exist for long -- about a year in the line-up which recorded this album in a couple of nights with producer Alan Galbraith at EMI studios in Wellington -- but they deserve to be more than a footnote.

Although the album is patchy (Bollinger's liner notes admit singer Bruce Sontgen was no poet) they were one of a number of bands -- Killing Floor, Boulder, Lutha, Taylor, Link etc -- who took rock towards the outer limits and well away from the mainstream pop audience.

The music of these bands was often blues-based rock but -- and this seems peculiarly prevalent when you listen back to it -- there were also strong elements of country-rock. Highway's single What You're Doing To Me for example was pure country foot-tap (maybe this was the way onto mainstream radio?) and Daisy on the album had a whiff of paspalum about it too.

The album actually opens with its weakest cut, the seven and a half minute meander of Listen to the Band (nope, no poetry in "get out on the floor, you can get some more . . . you can get it on") which lifts a snatch from Honky Tonk Women -- but better lies elsewhere.

Certainly they adopt the head-down boogie position for A Whole Lot of Everything And Nothing, but you can't help be impressed by Sontgen's leather-lung delivery here (and in other places) as well as by the tightly interlocked rhythm section of bassist George Limbidis and drummer Jim Lawrie, and the twin guitars of George Barris and Phil Pritchard (who salvage Listen to the Band, incidentally).

I Only Wanted to Rock and Roll wouldn't disgrace a Bad Company album, and Highway were big on riffery . . . but the real oil lies in those guitarists: The Ride is eight minutes which allows them plenty of space around the midpoint where it appears to fade into nothing, a drum part picks up the tempo and the real searing guitar passages start; Smashing at half the length is very trippy. It is the standout and shows what they were capable of.

In his book on 100 Essential New Zealand Albums, Bollinger raises the names of Clapton and Allman about Barris and Pritchard. While that might seem like drawing a long bow the evidence is certainly here. Their studio sessions meant they had to curtail their extrapolating energies and were constrained within the requirements of an album. You'd loved to have been there when they stretched out live. The studio jam on Smashing is . . . smashing.

So while we temper comments about lyrics about "got to get it on with a funky woman" and so on because they were endemic in the era, this reissue shows New Zealand rock bands were capable of cutting it.

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