Tag Archives: New Zealand

Rocks In The Attic #803: Sister Sledge – ‘We Are Family’ (1979)

RITA#803I’ve been looking for a nice clean copy of Sister Sledge’s debut album, We Are Family, ever since I’ve been collecting records. I finally found a reasonably priced ($9.95 USD) copy courtesy of my favourite Discogs seller, Vinylizking.

This album might just be the single greatest achievement of the partnership between Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards. The pair have produced many albums by other artists, and of course have produced themselves in Chic, but this particular album is arguably the strongest of the bunch. He’s The Greatest Dancer, Lost In Music, Thinking Of You, and the title track are four of the greatest songs from the soul and funk genre, and the fact that all four are on the same studio album is just mind-blowing. This record might as well be called Sister Sledge’s Greatest Hits. Even Nile Rodgers agrees, saying in his 2011 autobiography that ‘pound for pound, I think We Are Family is our best album hands down.’

Sister Sledge Portrait

CIRCA 1977: (Clockwise from bottom left) Kathy Sledge, Joni Sledge, Kim Sledge and Debbie Sledge of the vocal group “Sister Sledge” pose for a portrait in circa 1977. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

The hefty package I received in the mail last week – nine LPs in total; a mixture of soul, funk and soundtracks – is probably going to be my last decent-sized haul from Discogs. Up to now, the country where I live has been relatively relaxed about charging GST taxes at the border. Anything under $400NZD has been exempt from charges. This has been great as a record collector, as I’m not sure if you’ve noticed but New Zealand is at the edge of the world.

Our national carrier, NZ Post, has even provided a service called YouShop where they have provided mailing addresses in the USA, the UK and China, where you can send parcels from online stores in those countries, and they will collect them and mail back to NZ at a competitive shipping rate. The service only started in 2012, but I’ve used it over a hundred times. It’s fantastic whenever overseas stores either don’t offer international shipping, or charge an arm and a leg for it (presumably to deter the hassle of dealing with overseas buyers).

From December, under pressure from New Zealand retailers, the Government has announced that all shipments from overseas will be eligible for a 15% GST charge. These are the same New Zealand retailers who will, for example, import paperback novels with a UK RRP of £7.99 GBP and charge $35 NZD for it. Despite a (current) exchange rate of $2.02 NZD to £1 GBP, this means they’re effectively charging more than double for the price of goods. Granted the UK RRP will include some element of shipping and overheads – it’s not a cost price – but even though shipping to New Zealand will be significantly more than shipping around the UK, there’s still something very wrong with the price we’re faced with.

As a result, to keep going with the book example, the small percentage of New Zealanders who do read, have been ordering them from overseas – either from Amazon or Book Depository. I purchased a book for my wife from Book Depository – it arrived with free shipping for $15 NZD. If I had purchased it from a New Zealand retailer, it would have cost $26 NZD.

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As a result of this economic quirk, nearly all of the bookshop chains in New Zealand have closed down in the last decade. Only a few remain, and for those stores, the sale of books only makes up a small percentage of their revenue. A number of well-run independent bookstores remain (Unity Books on Auckland’s High Street is a particular favourite), but they’re still charging those same ridiculous prices and so you have to wonder how they stay afloat. However, the pricing structure is down to the distributors, I think, rather than the stores themselves.

As a country, we need to make sure that the same thing doesn’t happen to our independent record shops. I shop at Auckland’s record stores as regularly as I can. Real Groovy, Southbound, Marbecks and Flying Out all get a decent proportion of my disposable income. But sometimes these stores don’t always stock the titles I want. Whether it’s limited releases from small boutique soundtrack labels (Waxwork, Mondo, Enjoy The Ride, Real Gone), or simply hard-to-find titles on Discogs, I’ve enjoyed the freedom to purchase these without any restrictions…until now.

NZ Post have said that they will automatically apply the GST charge on all parcels they ship into New Zealand via YouShop. So I’ll simply stop using the service. There are already loopholes around the restrictions though, which hopefully mean I’ll still be able to purchase directly from overseas vendors without incurring extra charges (the GST component will only be applied by vendors who supply $60,000 NZD in goods to New Zealand residents per annum). Many of the small, boutique record labels I purchase from will supply nowhere near that value of goods to our shores, and so I hope that they don’t get bullied by our government to comply.

On paper, I support the new charge if it were to assist the ability of New Zealand retailers to compete with the international marketplace. But I only see this legislation as justification for the ridiculous increased prices distributors pass on to our captive market.

I don’t know what this has all got to do with Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, but I think they’d be similarly angry that my government is making it harder for me to buy their records.

Hit: We Are Family

Hidden Gem: You’re A Friend To Me

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Rocks In The Attic #764: Ladyhawke – ‘Ladyhawke’ (2008)

RITA#7642008 was a big year for me. I up-rooted sticks and flew to the other side of the world. When I got to that mysterious land of milk and honey (and pineapple lumps), a young singer-songwriter released her debut album just six months later.

Ladyhawke, or Pip Brown to give her real name, had a history of playing in art-rock bands both in her native New Zealand and across the ditch in Australia. She then released her self-titled debut, Ladyhawke, in September 2008, and it’s a pearler.

At the time I seem to remember it borrowed a fair bit from the Killers’ Hot Fuss, another record from the 2000s that I love to bits – similar art-rock moodiness, some lovely synth-work, and lots of singalong choruses. It has a foot firmly placed in the 1980s, with the other foot almost taking a futuristic leap into the 21st century. In the decade that has since passed following the record’s release, it seems to have improved with age. It feels like a forerunner of the synth-wave revival of the last five years; an album ahead of its time in some respects.

RITA#764aHit single My Delirium is a belter of a song, with a tricky pre-chorus that repeats on itself before launching into the chorus. It’s one of those songwriting quirks that might make you launch into the chorus early if you were singing it at karaoke after a few beers. It even caught Ladyhawke out when she reportedly fluffed the song, performing it at Halloween in Auckland following the single’s release. It’s such a good song that when my good friend Bucko visited New Zealand and went on a coach tour around the country, she was upset that My Delirium was chosen as the team song of the coach she wasn’t on. Her coach leader settled on a different, lesser song. For shame.

Unfortunately the album has been out of print on LP until very recently. This reissue is pressed on pristine white vinyl, has a great watercolour gatefold and comes with a beautiful colour booklet with lyrics and a couple of pages of concept art and photographs charting the original design. Until now I’ve only known the album digitally. It’s wonderful to rediscover it all again through my turntable.

I love this record. I have trouble separating it from my mindset in 2008 – a new life, in a new country with untold opportunities ahead. I’m pretty sure it should conjure up images of neon and cityscapes, but for me it’s the sound of sunshine, L&P, beaches, open roads and freedom. It screams NEW ZEALAND. Thank-you so much, Pip Brown.

Hit: My Delirium

Hidden Gem: Magic

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Rocks In The Attic #723: Billy T. James – ‘Billy T. Live At ‘Pips’’ (1985)

RITA#723Billy T. James is one of the original national treasures of New Zealand, a club comedian from the cabaret circuit who became a household name for his long-running TV sketch comedy.

This live LP from 1985 finds him in fine form. Recorded at ‘Pips’ in Whangarei and backed by a live band, his act shows how much of an all-round entertainer he is. Opening with a performance of Lionel Ritchie’s Running With The Night, the audience seem reserved at first before he starts to win them over with his stand-up.

Being half-Maori and half-Scottish (“I’m half Maori and half Scots. Half of me wants to go to the pub and get pissed, and the other half doesn’t want to pay for it”) most of his material revolves around being from a racial minority, and all other minorities – Chinese, Japanese, gays (“poofs”), immigrants – are fair game. Different times, and all that.

I first laughed out loud at a routine in which he did an note-perfect impression of Bunny Wailer singing She’s A Lady for a TV commercial, with the lyrics changed to:

Well she’s all you’d ever want / She’s the kind they’d like to flaunt and take to dinner / She’s got style, she’s got grace / She’s got herpes on her face…

In 1988, Billy T. suffered a heart attack and underwent a quadruple bypass, followed by one of the first heart transplants in New Zealand. While the operation was initially a success – leading to a return to the stage in 1990 – his health deteriorated and died from heart failure in 1991.

Since arriving in New Zealand over ten years ago, I’ve found much of the art and culture here is a watered-down version of what I knew from the UK (and in some cases, the USA). Billy T. is a different prospect though – he’s naturally funny, and the equal of the great British comedians of the 1970s and 1980s.

Hit: Running With The Night

Hidden Gem: The Band

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Rocks In The Attic #703: Split Enz – ‘True Colours’ (1980)

RITA#703Every country has their local heroes, the ones who are winners back home but never even compete overseas. A third of the WTF With Marc Maron podcast is frequented by American comedians nobody has heard of outside the United States. There are bands in London that don’t translate well outside the capital, let alone across its country’s borders.

It’s the Wakanda Curse. Some artists just struggle to get noticed through the cultural cloaking device that prevents other countries from taking them seriously. Black Panther could have been kicking arse for decades, but nobody noticed. His solo material just wasn’t up to snuff.

New Zealand has its fair share of parochial examples. There are comedians, such as the 7 Days crew, who don’t dare gig internationally. Better to roll out the same tired jokes on TV, week in, week out, than be faced with the fact that, compared to international comics, they’re just not very good. They must really shit themselves when the International Comedy Festival hits the country. But hang on, half of the ‘international’ comedians that come over here are just as unwanted in their native countries, like a really shit student-exchange programme where your homestay parents don’t understand any of your cultural references.

And New Zealand music? The most successful band on a global stage seems to be Crowded House, and even they seem to have been appropriated by the Australians. First pavlova, then our middle-of-the-road rock bands!

The problem is that most Kiwis don’t ever leave our shores, so they don’t know any different. They probably think Dave Dobbyn is a mainstay of British and American singles charts. The Nature’s Best collection is a great retrospective of New Zealand anthems, but nobody’s singing these songs past our passport control point.

And shame on you if you do succeed internationally. Lorde? Aldous Harding? How dare you play overseas festivals! How dare you play Later With Jools Holland. This isn’t good old fashioned Kiwi music. It doesn’t sound anything like that one song by Dragon, or Hello Sailor’s horrific cod-reggae song.

Split Enz are a great band though, and deserve way more worldwide recognition than they got. This, their fifth studio album, is widely regarded as their first commercial success. File next to the Police, Blondie and Talking Heads.

Hit: I Got You

Hidden Gem: The Choral Sea

Rocks In The Attic #545: Tony Hancock – ‘The Blood Donor / The Radio Ham’ (1961)

RITA#545.jpgIt’s blood donation season in New Zealand at the moment, but again I’m not allowed to donate. Having lived in the UK between 1980 and 1996, I’m considered Moo Positive, at risk of contracting Mad Cow Disease.

And Tony Hancock thought he had a problem. At least he could donate, not that he really wanted to…

Hit: The Blood Donor

Hidden Gem: The Radio Ham

Rocks In The Attic #479: Jack Roberts – ‘Piano At Waitangi’ (1974)

RITA#479There must have been a bit of artistic drought in the mid-70s in provincial New Zealand. It’s the only way I can understand how an aging pianist at a resort hotel in the Bay Of Islands could have landed a record deal, with Pye Records no less.

It sounds like something out of a film. Mild-mannered Jack Roberts, sat there playing piano schmaltz to honeymooning couples on a wet Tuesday night in June, looks up to see a record company executive waiting to shake his hand. He’s there on a holiday with his estranged wife, making one last bid at saving their marriage. Mr. Bigwig introduces himself, and in an attempt to show-off to his wife, he asks the night’s entertainment what he thinks about making a record.

RITA#479aOr something like that.

Good on Jack though.

The thing I like the best about this record is the cover photos of the Waitangi Resort Hotel and its environs. Alongside the obligatory photos of Jack next to the piano, there are seven photos of a young couple enjoying the hotel and its facilities. It’s the same couple in each photo, which makes it feel like they’re the hotel’s only residents. Only a distant barman in one of the shots gives the impression that they’re not completely alone in this Overlook Hotel nightmare. I wonder who they are. Maybe it’s the guy from Pye records and his wife?

Hit: Alfie

Hidden Gem: Lara’s Theme

Rocks In The Attic #443: Johnny Cash – ‘At San Quentin’ (1969)

RITA#443Good old Granada Television. When I was growing up, ITV and its regional satellite broadcaters like Granada TV, were always viewed as the poor cousin of the BBC. The Beeb was high-brow where ITV was very much low-brow; all adverts and poor-quality viewing.

Since living in New Zealand for the last seven years, I’ve really changed my opinion of ITV and especially Granada. You think you’ve seen bad television? Come and watch New Zealand programming for an evening or two. I always say that this country only gets its culture from the dairy industry; they definitely don’t get it from the television networks.

No ITV, no Seven Up. No Granada, no Sex Pistols performing Anarchy In The UK on Tony Wilson’s So It Goes.

Cash’s San Quentin concert was filmed by Granada too. So, no Granada, no infamous image of Johnny Cash flipping the bird to the camera.

RITA#443aI’d give my right arm to sit for an evening and watch the ITV news, followed by the local news presented by Gordon Burns. Then, while I’m thinking of Gordon Burns, maybe an episode of The Krypton Factor, followed by Coronation Street, and then who knows what.

It’s funny the things you miss.

Hit: I Walk The Line

Hidden Gem: Wanted Man