MERV THOMAS, AT AUDIOCULTURE (2020): Brass bands to Bird Dog, via rock'n'roll

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MERV THOMAS, AT AUDIOCULTURE (2020): Brass bands to Bird Dog, via rock'n'roll
No other musician could claim to have backed the young rock’n’roller Johnny Devlin, and built the tape recorder on which they originally recorded his debut single Lawdy Miss Clawdy in 1958, to have played Dixieland jazz at Mt Eden’s Crystal Palace ballroom during its heyday in the late 1950s into the 60s – and also to have appeared on the Verlaines’ Flying Nun album Bird-Dog in the late 80s.

But Merv Thomas can say that.

And so much more about his crowded life …

Merv Thomas grew up in Timaru and, from age 10, in Whanganui where his cornet-playing father (“a brilliant player”) led the local brass band and trained young players. As with his father – who died just before Merv turned 21 – the young Thomas picked up tunes by ear from the radio and records “even though I never actually deliberately listened to them,” he told Chris Bourke in a 2007 interview.

hero_thumb_Jive_Centre_1957_2“Somehow they just went in there [his memory] and it always fascinated me, so I was always keen to play any request that people came up with. To see if I could see how it went. Even though I had never played it.” 

He began playing in a brass band: “Dad took us to band practice every week and that was it. But then evolution came about by an act of God.” 

But he soon drifted away from banding towards local dance bands. He played trombone for popular foxtrots and waltzes, often alongside Māori musicians from Rātana Pā.

Dixieland jazz came into his orbit courtesy of a fellow he met while working as an apprentice electrician. He went to his house because he wanted to meet the man’s striking, blonde daughter.

In short order he started buying 78rpm recordings of jazz artists on the Tanza and Stebbing labels. “I don’t know why I enjoyed it, it was different . . . "

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To read the rest of this article go to Audioculture here.

Audioculture is the self-described Noisy Library of New Zealand Music and is an ever-expanding archive of stories, scenes, artists, clips and music. Elsewhere is proud to have some small association with it. Check it out here.

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