RECOMMENDED REISSUE: Corben Simpson; Get Up With the Sun

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Corben Simpson: I Beg Your Pardon
RECOMMENDED REISSUE: Corben Simpson; Get Up With the Sun

Although not a classic New Zealand album -- one which starts with a weird one minute kazoo solo perhaps precludes itself from consideration immediately -- this '73 release on the Harvest label by singer-songwriter Corben Simpson is frequently too good, or at least "interesting", to ignore.

In another time that kazoo solo might have been replaced by putorino to better effect as a clarion call, but Simpson was nothing if not eccentric.

Best known for the hit Dance All Around the World written with children's writer Margaret Mahy and filmmaker Geoff Murphy, Simpson was part of Bruno Lawrence's Electric Revelation and Travelling Apparition (Blerta) and famously performed naked at the Ngaruawahia Festival.

In his book 100 Essential New Zealand Albums, writer Nick Bollinger recounts how Simpson insisted on taking a bed into the recording studio reasoning because he'd written the songs in bed he should also record them there.

All this might have you thinking this album could be as out there as early Captain Beefheart or some fellow traveller like Wild Man Fischer.

But Simpson was a singer-songwriter with a powerful and emotive voice, so much of this album is closer to James Taylor or Shawn Phillips.

So here on the delightful Le Poisson with barest of acoustic guitar accompaniment his voice has a disembodied, airy quality. On Running to the Sea he frees himself from the song as he imaginatively scats and stretches notes on a piece which might otherwise have been a very straight Crosby, Stills and Nash-style thing. It's as if inspiration just grabbed him and he went with it.

Kimberley (Song for Baby) is a pure sonic treat where the name of his daughter is barely referenced in favour of wordless singing over acoustic guitar. One of those lullabies that wakes kids up rather than lulls them to sleep.

There are little odd pieces (Harps is a two-minute jaw-harp workout which sounds like weird electronica; What? is just 42 seconds of briefly echoed vocals over acoustic guitar). He also covers Mr Bojangles (nicely) and Child of Mine (more raw but equally good).

And Cuba Mall is a jazzy instrumental with sax, piano and drums which sounds beamed in from another album entirely (sorry, don't know who the players are). And lest you think it is all mellow-hippie stuff there's the furious two minutes of No Trespassing where he rails against private ownership of land. It's pretty bad and he slips into an American accent.

But it is as impassioned as his more delicate pieces so in that regard kinda fits.

This album is scattershot but that was in the nature of Simpson. Whether it is "essential" is a matter for debate but it is certainly one to hear, and speaks to us from a different time.

You can buy it from iTunes. 

This album is one of scores, now hundreds of otherwise unavailable New Zealand albums which have been digitised and are now available through Spotify and/or iTunes under the Tied to the Track initiative of (see here and here). 

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Kevin Byrt - Nov 10, 2014

Shawn Phillips! Now there's a name you don't hear everyday.
'Armed with the thought of being god, I respectfully decline'.

I once saw Corben being offered $1,000 to sing 'Come Dance Around The World' at Mountain Rock.
He asked if there would be free beer and was politely reminded that a grand for 4 minutes probably made him the highest paid musician in the country at that point!

Gary Steel - Nov 10, 2014

The original album lists the musicians on 'Cuba Mall' as: Dick Andrews (saxophone), Simpson (bass guitar, acoustic guitar), Bruno Lawrence (drums), Chris Seresin (piano). So, these iTunes releases of NZ albums don't have any of the original liner notes? That's pretty disappointing. I wouldn't disagree that Simpson was erratic, but wonder if his tendency towards a few covers (when he clearly had plenty of his own songs) was more about the times... in the early '70s, it was a hard road for even a songwriter to get an album out of all-original material. Even John Hanlon was told he had to perform a cover on television... which he rebuked of course. To me, Get Up With The Sun is a flawed masterpiece, or maybe half a masterpiece would be the apt description. There's nothing else like it. In terms of comparisons though, I see him as part Van Morrison and part Roy Harper, with many of the inbuilt eccentricities of those artists and an amazing voice. Anyone interested in knowing more of Simpson's story might read the feature I did for Metro in 1996, archived here: GRAHAM REPLIES: Certainly flawed and "half" seems fair. I could see no liner notes on this and a number of other NZ albums recently digitised. Perhaps prohibitively expensive? Thanks for the link. Fascinating if sad story.

Jos - Nov 10, 2014

Loved that write up from Metro Mr Steel, great insight into the man. He has a face book page it seems

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