Various Artists: How is the Air Up There? (Frenzy/RPM)

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No More Now by the Smoke
Various Artists: How is the Air Up There? (Frenzy/RPM)

Given how assiduously Grant Gillanders has been compiling New Zealand pop and rock from the Sixties – at least a dozen, probably closer to two, CDs – you'd think the well would be running dry.

But this superbly packaged three CD set subtitled “80 Mod, Soul, R'N'B & Freakbeat Nuggets From Down Under” manages to include a couple of dozen tracks which haven't been on CD for decades and six unreleased songs.

Yes, there are some familiar and available songs here – the La De Da's title track, Don't Stand in My Way, On Top of the World and Whatcha Gonna Do; Larry's Rebels' Painter Man and I Feel Good; Chants R'n'B's I'm Your Witchdoctor; the Bluestars' Social End Product and others – but a glance at the label credits is the clue: Gillanders' Frenzy label has done this in collaboration with Britain's RPM (distributed by Cherry Red) and this music will doubtless come as blast of fresh air from the period 1964-'69 for an international audience.

You can imagine reviewers for Uncut and Mojo magazines will delight in this.

grantPackaged in a sturdy cardboard box with the discs in picture sleeves and an excellent 36-page booklet of period photos, reproductions of singles' labels and brief band biographies, this is a collection which does the New Zealand music and artists proud.

UK writers will rejoice in Social End Products' line “I don't stand for The Queen” as emblematic of the rebel youth of a colony breaking away.

And they will hear raw r'n'b-based music which was the equal of the Pretty Things, Downliners Sect and their own aggressive favourites, as well as picking up on that garageband reference in the word “Nuggets” of the subtitle.

They may well also be surprised by the power of the many original songs here.

But that's the appeal for overseas listeners.

For those on the homefront this is a terrific collection shot through with dangerously disheveled rock/r'n'b from the likes of Peter Nelson and the Castaways (Down in the Mine), Tom Thumb (I Need You, Got Love), the menacing Pleazers (Hurtin' All Over, Is It Over Baby?, Security), the Smoke (No More Now with its raga-rock guitar solo, the dark Never Trust Another Woman) and so many more.

Among the rarities are the Bitter End's Single Man (their sole single), the Spectres' Anything You Like (good story behind the title) and others.

There is gritty or elevating pop here too: the Clevedonaires' excellent He's Ready; the Crescendos' Now She's Mine; the soulful Action's I Can't Make a Friend and dancefloor-directed Day by Day; the Smoke's Control Your Love; the Gremlins' Listen to Me; the Four Fours' stomping She's Gonna Get Me; the Principals' I'll Be Around; Tommy Adderley with Mr Jinx; the previously unreleased Bus Ride by Terry Dean and the Nitebeats . . .

Here also are two tracks by the New Sounds fronted by the distinctive voice of Ray Woolf (and later fronting Concrete Lamb's Motown cover of Turn to Stone); Italian-born Gene Pierson (born Giancarlo Salvestrin) with the poppy Love Love Love; horn-driven songs (Quincy Conserve, Peter Nelson and the Castaways, Pierson's cover of Neil Diamond's You Got To Me); our own Elvis of the Fifties Johnny Devlin from '67 with Hurtin'; and New Zealand's Action covering an unreleased song in this country by the UK's band of the same name (with the accidentally ironic title Somethin' Fresh).

The geographical reach here is inclusive too: all the main centres are represented plus Grim out of Palmerston North, Tauranga's Four Fours, Taranaki's Breakaways, Whanganui (the Crescendos), Troubled Minds (previously the Deep Set) out of Napier . . . and the Identity with Just Out of Reach were also ironically named, given Gillanders couldn't find out where they from.

Some incendiary guitar playing throughout these 80 tracks also. And plenty of fuzz-box after '65.

Sure there are covers here – from the Who, Kinks, Pretty Things, Yardbirds, Rufus Thomas and Southern soul artists, and other rock'n'role models – but in every instance the locals bring something of their own (sheer force and energy mostly) which sets them apart, if not a few notches above, the originals.

The fast and upbeat version of Hey Joe here by Sebastian's Floral Army however might be down to taste.

This is encompassing collection – Mr Lee Grant stepping away from his big balladeer style for the wild As Long As I Have You – which opens with the title track and closes with the terrific Creep by Jay Epae.

Thorough . . . and thoroughly enjoyable.


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