45 SOUTH IN CONCERT by NEIL McKELVIE (Southland Musicians Club)

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Pretty Wicked Head and the Desperate Men: All New Zealand Heroes
45 SOUTH IN CONCERT by NEIL McKELVIE (Southland Musicians Club)

There are a number of big and ambitious books about New Zealand popular music (like Chris Bourke's Blue Smoke and John Dix's Stranded in Paradise) and then there are others which are smaller and more focused in their subject matter, like Roger Watkins' When Rock Got Rolling: The Wellington Scene 1958-70.

But this book about music in Southland up to 2005 is a bit of both: it is focused into its regionalism, but it is a big and ambitious book.

At 200+ pages and opening with brief essays about the scene, the Southland Musicians Club, venues, music clubs and teachers, and the honour roll of artists acknowledged it is a useful historical document. And includes historic photos like that of the Musicians Union Band in 1895 (below).

musiciansBut that only takes some 30 pages, the rest of the book -- and this is where it is quite remarkable -- is an alphabetical listing of bands and artists which most often includes the line-up, a brief synopsis of their career and a photo where available. And given equal space are covers bands which lasted a few gigs through to those which made their name of the national and international scene (like popular pianist Jack Thompson from Gore, and opera singer Deborah Wai Kapohe).

Some of the entries are brief. Of the four-piece Dial M Revue in the Eighties we are only told at one of the gigs guitarist/singer Jimmy Ropiha's rendition of a song (unnamed) received tremendous applause.

"He quipped over the microphone that the last time he was clapped was in the army." Huh?

But then there is story about drummer Greg Singh of the band Gin Singh which seemed to last two years in the Nineties. While in London he got chatting to a guy on the Underground and together they went to a late-night blues club where his new found friend was treated like royalty. Singh was puzzled until the fellow strapped on a guitar and got on stage. It was Jeff Beck. Later in the night Singh was invited to jam with the band whom he also hadn't recognised. It was a version Beck's old band, the Yardbirds.

Turning these pages you stumble on numerous enjoyable anecdotes . . . and band names.

Page 166 has Spik 301 (punk, they took their name from the product code of a toilet brush), Stacey Set (rock and pop covers), Starkers (rock originals), The Startrekers (from '68) and State of Mind (who won the final of the battle of the Bands in the late Sixties and wore jackets designed on the Beatles' ones from Sgt Peppers). One of them ended up in a later line-up of Dragon.

So here are country singer Maureen Thompson who got her break at 14, appeared Tamworth in Australia five times, played in Nashille, has recorded five albums and was still singing after 50 years. She's on the same page as the Three Amigos (about whom nothing seems to be known other than their names), the Three Bs (banjo, bagpipes and bass since you ask) and Three's Company.

Some went on to other careers, some found fame (Murray Burns of Watchdog joined Mi-Sex where he wrote their hit Computer Games) and some just kept on doing it, playing in bars and clubs and at fairs.

musicians_1The photos tell their own story.

Changing times require a new set of clothes (guess the decade if not the year for the Echophonics, right), so on any given page there are accordion players of the Forties in bowties alongside Mods, Beatle-era bands in suits next to the droopy moustaches and dressed down Seventies.

This extraordinary labour of love by McKelvie is more than just a countdown of bands and artists, it tells us of the musical and social history of the region which has spawned an astonishing number of bands -- from the Forties' Denza Dance Band with the pastoral painting on the bass drum through to wonderfully named Pretty Wicked Head and the Desperate Men (1983-93, their album New Age Savage recently remastered along with bonus tracks and a DVD filmed in Vancouver *).

History is seldom as much fun and it is all in the details.

And here there are plenty of details. 

45 South in Concert is available via Trevor Daley Musicworks, 30 Tay St., Invercargill. Or sales.music@paradise.net.nz The price is $20 each (+ $6 postage within New Zealand) or two copies $30 (+ postage)

* $30 from the same outlet (+ postage) 

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mckelvie@xtra.co.nz - Aug 23, 2011

Hey, thanks for the heads up, the book was a can of worms to sort out, a very interesting one with lots of flavour.
Credit goes to three individuals noted in the back whose immense and skilled help ensured this document came alive.
Highly recommend you get a copy and enjoy folks. Neil McKelvie

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