New Zealand music… every month of the year

NZ Music Month comes but once a year, but here at the Alexander Turnbull Library, preserving New Zealand’s musical history is a mission for all seasons.

Every month, recordings and scores are added to the New Zealand and Pacific published collection, while unpublished material of national significance – such as the personal collections of notable musicians or composers – is gratefully received into the Archive of New Zealand Music. The Ephemera Collection continues to gather new music posters and programmes, while music-related items also accrue to the Photographic Archive and other Turnbull collections.

Significant new music acquisitions are listed annually in the journals Turnbull Library Record and Crescendo. But for NZ Music Month 2018, we wanted to take you on an online journey through a few selected highlights of the last year or so. (Please note that not all of this material is available yet for listening or viewing at the Library.)

Leading off with Lorde

Where better to start, in the 125th anniversary year of women’s suffrage in New Zealand, than with Lorde, our most internationally successful singer and songwriter of recent times? The 2013 LP Pure Heroine brought Lorde (a.k.a. Ella Yelich-O’Connor) to world attention. Now a multi-Grammy Award winner, she is among a select handful of New Zealanders to regularly feature in global Spotify charts.

Although most of Lorde’s main recordings were already held by the Library, over the last year we sought out some of the scarcer items in her growing international catalogue. Recent additions to our Lorde collection include the extremely rare Record Store Day Secret 7” Team (2014), the 10” vinyl edition of The Love Club EP (2013), and a promo CD from Finland of Magnets (2015), a collaboration with UK duo Disclosure.

Lorde Recordings, album covers

Also with a Lorde connection is another new arrival: a donation of unpublished materials relating to Goodnight Nurse, a popular local band of the 2000s. Joel Little, frontman for Goodnight Nurse, went on to international success as Lorde’s main collaborator on Pure Heroine. The Paul Taite Collection (ATL-Group-00272) include demos, practice and live tapes, digital photographs and videos gathered by Taite, the band’s original bass player and now leader of US-based Meteor Fright. Once this collection becomes available in our reading rooms, it will provide a unique resource for researching recent currents in New Zealand popular music.

Part of the Paul Taite Collection prior to processing. Ref: ATL-Group-00272Part of the Paul Taite Collection prior to processing. Ref: ATL-Group-00272

The Archive of New Zealand Music

The Paul Taite Collection is one of over 50 accessions into the Archive of New Zealand Music (ANZM) made during the 2016-2017 financial year. The Archive was established in 1974 to preserve unpublished material relating to New Zealand music and musicians. It covers a wide spectrum of musical activities, from classical performance, folk music and jazz, through to Māori music, education and the music industry.

Sticking for the moment with New Zealand popular music, though, leads us to one of the larger new acquisitions for the Archive. Brendan Smyth has had a major influence through his role as NZ On Air music manager for 27 years. Smyth helped the state funding agency implement a raft of measures to support and raise the profile of local musicians. Upon retirement in 2016, Smyth offered his large collection of musical ephemera and other material to the Library.

The Brendan Smyth Collection (ATL-Group-00227) will provide a treasure trove for those interested in the rich visual culture of the contemporary industry, with its posters, fliers, badges, invitations, backstage lanyards, business cards, promo packs, and unusual small items of memorabilia: Greg Johnson-branded chopsticks, anybody? Or a David Dallas ‘Big Time’ piggy bank? Also included are Smyth’s photographs and autograph albums, personal working papers, and some unpublished recordings, such as of a rare “unplugged” live set by hard rock band Shihad.

Images of the Brendan Smyth Collection prior to processing. Ref: ATL-Group-00227Images of the Brendan Smyth Collection prior to processing. Ref: ATL-Group-00227

Composers’ scores and papers were an important early focus for the ANZM, which was set up at the behest of composer Douglas Lilburn. Contemporary composition remains a core collecting area and the last 18 months have seen significant accruals to the existing collections of composers Lyell Cresswell, John Rimmer, and Gillian Whitehead, as well as a recent first donation by pioneering sonic artist John Cousins.

Ken Wilson, National Orchestra clarinettist (Sep 1950). Evening Post Collection. Ref: 114/194/14-GKen Wilson, National Orchestra clarinettist (Sep 1950). Evening Post Collection. Ref: 114/194/14-G

Notable too is a significant accrual to the collection of leading clarinettist Ken Wilson (1924-2012), also a sophisticated, witty composer: a posthumous CD of his work, Music for Woodwinds , has just spent several weeks in the Classical charts. The expanded Ken Wilson Collection (MS-Group-0126) documents a career stretching back to army bands of World War II and with many international strands. There are also numerous manuscript scores of Wilson’s works waiting to be discovered, as well as unreleased recordings. Here is a 1961 live performance of Mozart’s Serenade in Bb (K361) by the Auckland Wind Group, of which Wilson was a member.

Listen to Mozart’s Serenade in Bb (K361) by the Auckland Wind Group

Stream the audio (35:56):

During the 1990s, the ANZM began to acquire master recordings on a variety of tape formats and this collecting has stepped up a gear recently. Master recordings are the original, highest-fidelity versions of a music release, with an audio quality several generations better than the final mass-produced release. They may also include outtakes and other unreleased material.

Master tapes on 7” open reels in the Viking Sevenseas Collection. Ref: MS-Group-1244Master tapes on 7” open reels in the Viking Sevenseas Collection. Ref: MS-Group-1244

One of the largest groups of donated masters is in the Viking Sevenseas Collection (MS-Group-1244), which has seen substantial accruals over the last two years. Established in 1957, Viking was New Zealand’s largest independent record label by the 1960s, their roster including pop artists such as Dinah Lee and Peter Posa, brass bands, country singers and Māori cultural groups, along with a sizable catalogue of Polynesian music. The collection also includes tapes from the Salem and Red Rooster labels. (For more about this collection, check out this 2017 interview with Viking founder Murdoch Riley on Radio NZ.)

The Ode Record Company Collection (ATL-Group-00145) contains more recently-donated master tapes. Founded in 1968 by Terence O’Neill-Joyce, Ode covered some similar territory to Viking but also specialised in jazz, classical and other genres. Among the artists currently represented on masters in the Ode Collection are 1970s funk albums from the 1860 Band and Quincy Conserve, jazz from the Rodger Fox Big Band and the Murray McNabb Trio, plus some Alan Broadbent outtakes, and acoustic roots music by Rudy Sunde and Gentle Annie.

The full list of ANZM collections acquired since July 2016 is too long to list here; and some still await description and rehousing work. But some sense of the Archive’s breadth can be gained from browsing finding aids for new collections relating to:

  • Graeme Allwright, New Zealand folk singer based in France (ATL-Group-00159)
  • Ina Bosworth, violinist who performed in France during World War I (ATL-Group-00224)
  • Ron Burt, pioneer teacher of classical guitar in New Zealand (ATL-Group-00140)
  • Live recordings of rock group Daggy and the Dickheads (ATL-Group-00130)
  • Ephemera and papers from Melody Farm Music Museum (ATL-Group-00198)
  • Sausage Records, including the master of the legendary Four Stars post-punk compilation (ATL-Group-00209)
  • Correspondence about Māori music between singer Phyllis Williams and composer Alfred Hill (ATL-Group-00263)

And just before leaving the ANZM, here is something new and exciting (although also quite old and venerable): two scrapbooks kept by the late Winifred Natzke Coburn, wife of world-famous bass singer Oscar Natzke (1912-1951), packed with clippings, ephemera, photographs formal and informal, and other material relating to his career in New Zealand and overseas.

Scrapbooks about the career of Oscar Natzke created by Winifred Coburn.Scrapbooks about the career of Oscar Natzke created by Winifred Coburn.

Music publications in the New Zealand and Pacific collection

Music also forms part of the Turnbull’s vast New Zealand and Pacific collection (NZ&P), which seeks to develop a comprehensive collection of New Zealand publications, along with selected material published overseas that relates to New Zealand and our close Pacific neighbours. It includes many thousands of music recordings and scores.

Newly acquired recordings for the NZ&P collection stored in acid-free housings.Newly acquired recordings for the NZ&P collection stored in acid-free housings.

To get a sense of the scale of collecting, here are some facts and figures. During the 2016-2017 financial year, a grand total of 2,734 music recordings were acquired for the NZ&P collection, including both new releases and retrospective additions. Digital releases comprised 451 of these, with the remainder on physical formats. The number of scores tends to be more complicated to calculate, but we know that 524 recent scores were acquired through Legal Deposit in the same time period. Many gaps in our older sheet music holdings were also filled.

Resuscitation Rock (1957). Ref: Phono q7467Resuscitation Rock (1957). Ref: Phono q7467

Where to begin? Perhaps with what may be New Zealand’s first local rock ‘n’ roll song released on disc – “may be”, as there is some debate about which recording this is. One contender is John Cooper’s Pie Cart Rock ‘n’ Roll (1957), although it could well have been beaten to the pip by Resuscitation Rock, penned by Lower Hutt teenager Sandy Tansley and friends after witnessing a lifeguard demonstration at Day’s Bay! The latter is a far rarer item and last year we were fortunate enough to finally acquire a copy of the original Parlophone 78rpm.

Sandy Tansley (ca.1957). Evening Post Collection. Ref: EP/1957/0592-FSandy Tansley (ca.1957). Evening Post Collection. Ref: EP/1957/0592-F

Unusual finds included a number of piano rolls from the 1920s. Piano rolls are long scrolls of paper that are fed through player-pianos such as pianolas, which translate patterns of small perforations into a piano instrumental. Song lyrics are sometimes printed on the rolls, to be viewed through an opening in the pianola and sung along with – rather like a mechanical version of karaoke. In the early twentieth century, when ownership of pianos and player pianos was very widespread in New Zealand, most rolls were imported.

Left: Piano rolls in the NZ&P collection with conservation housings; Right: Singalong words for ‘Haere rā/Now is the Hour’ on Māori Waltz Medley Mastertouch roll, ref: Phono Roll 1Left: Piano rolls in the NZ&P collection with conservation housings; Right: Singalong words for ‘Haere rā/Now is the Hour’ on Māori Waltz Medley Mastertouch roll, ref: Phono Roll 1

However, the examples we have recently acquired were mostly produced by the Auckland-based Reliance Piano Roll company during the 1920s. They include several local pieces, such as ‘Waiata poi’ and ‘Invercargill March’. As noted on this webpage about the Reliance company, given that these rolls were created via a live performance, they could possibly count as New Zealand’s earliest locally composed, performed, and produced music recordings. Roll over Blue Smoke!

The Library is always seeking to fill gaps in its collection of historic New Zealand sheet music. Recent acquisitions of note include two versions of the hitherto-unknown The New Zealand Maid’s Lament (ca.1848-1851), written by the famous Pākehā-Māori Barnet Burns and published in England, and a copy of Maoriland Love Song (1912), with words by poet Dora Wilcox (also Vice-President of the New Zealand Women Writers’ Society, 1932-1954). The cover of the latter features a portrait of Evaline Jane Skerrett, a Ngāi Tahu singer who was popular in early twentieth-century England under the stage name Princess Iwa.

Left: The New Zealand Maid’s Lament (ca.1848-1851), ref: Music Box MUR New 1840; Right: Maoriland Love Song (1912), ref: Music Box ALE Mao 1912.Left: The New Zealand Maid’s Lament (ca.1848-1851), ref: Music Box MUR New 1840; Right: Maoriland Love Song (1912), ref: Music Box ALE Mao 1912.

Both these songs have been digitised and are available online. Keep an eye out, too, for our new Heritage Sheet Music interface which will feature these and hundreds of other pieces. Thanks to a large recent acquisition, dozens of new items will be added to this online collection over the coming months – each including a downloadable PDF, so that new generations can learn and perform them.

A preview of the new Heritage Sheet Music collection on the Primo catalogue.A preview of the new Heritage Sheet Music collection on the Primo catalogue.

Stop Press: and just in! Two boxes containing almost 180 new recordings from the Audio Foundation, comprising many rare and limited-edition vinyl and lathe-cut discs, CDs and CD-Rs, and cassettes by a wide range of New Zealand experimental and underground artists.

New acquisitions from the Audio Foundation.New acquisitions from the Audio Foundation.

Music posters

Musical culture is documented not only through sound recordings and scores. A wealth of relevant material can be found elsewhere in the Turnbull, from the Oral History and Sound collection to the Photographic Archive and Rare Books collection. The Printed Ephemera Collection is particularly valuable in documenting the everyday activities and visual expressions of musical life, including concert programmes, fliers, posters, badges and more. From among the thousands of new items received every year in Ephemera, two fantastic new music poster collections can be highlighted.

Auckland in the late-70s early-80s was a hotbed of punk music, encompassing groups with unforgettable names such as Toy Love, the Scavengers, Proud Scum, the Spelling Mistakes and the Terrorways. As well as their often confrontational music, band members and supporters were responsible for a DIY culture of poster production. A fine collection of 100 examples came to the Library in 2017, originally peeled from walls and lampposts by an avid scenester back in the day. A few examples are shown below, but the full list can also be browsed online.

Auckland punk posters (1978-1982) collection. Ref: Eph-C-MUSIC-BakerAuckland punk posters (1978-1982) collection. Ref: Eph-C-MUSIC-Baker

More gig posters came courtesy of the famed Mussel Inn, located near Takaka in Golden Bay. Covering concerts from the years 2004 to 2016, these 510 posters provide rich evidence of the huge range of local, national and international artists hosted at this remote venue. Again, space prevents more than a few to be shown here, with the full collection described on our Tiaki database.

Music posters from the Mussel Inn Collection. Ref.: Eph-MUSIC-Mussel-InnMusic posters from the Mussel Inn Collection. Ref: Eph-MUSIC-Mussel-Inn


The archiving of New Zealand music heritage involves many different teams at the Alexander Turnbull Library and National Library.

This blog is dedicated to: members of the Curatorial Services and Acquisitions teams who help develop the collections; the conservators, digital archivists and imaging specialists who preserve it; the cataloguers, and arrangement and description librarians who make it discoverable; the reference librarians who help researchers access it, whether here at the Library or online; and the administrative and logistical staff who make it all possible. And of course, all the donors, vendors and record labels who help build the collections, and the musicians and composers who make New Zealand music.

For more information about what music we collect, see our Music Collecting plan for 2016-2018; while this webpage gives a comprehensive overview of the National Library’s music collections and services.

By Michael Brown

Michael Brown is Music Curator at the Alexander Turnbull Library.

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