*Record scratch*May 7th, 2012
Ruru Karitiana's Blue Smoke, 1941.
As it's New Zealand Music Month, I've been given the opportunity to, erm, wax lyrical about something that's dear to my heart.
'Vinyl is back!' stories have been a mainstay of newspapers and blogs for a few years now. Truth is, it never went away. The National Library has quite a large stash of it and we're always collecting more.
More and more local bands are releasing music in warm, luscious analogue format. Vinyl we’ve picked up recently runs the gamut from pop to death metal:
Street Chant - Means LP
The Naked & Famous - Passive Me, Aggressive You LP
Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Unknown Mortal Orchestra LP
Cool Rainbows - Whale Rocket
Electric Mayhem / Numbskull split LP
Beastwars - Beastwars LP
That’s what’s new, but the Library has a long memory, which is why I can prove to you that vinyl never went away. We start in the post-war heyday...
Smoke Gets In Your Eyes
Vinyl came to life in New Zealand in February 1949. Pixie Williams' recording of Ruru Karaitiana's classic Blue Smoke was the first record wholly created in New Zealand - written, recorded, produced and manufactured. NZHistory.net has the full story, and you can hear an except of this trailblazer (mp3, 1.4MB).
Straight in at number 1
The first record catalogued in the vinyl collection (it proudly bears the catalogue number Phono 0001) is Night and Day by Mantis. Mantis were a Fijian funk band who came to Wellington and cut an album called Turn Onto Music, released on Vertigo in 1973.
'Night and Day' was the first single off the album, with the flip side a cover of Booker T Jones' classic Time is Tight. If you have one of these, or any Mantis record, sitting around at home, treat them well as they're worth a fair bit of cash.
Short Haired Rock 'n' Roll
Mantis didn’t manage to spark a wave of locally-produced music. But in the late 70s, punk rock did. Brian Staff, a late night alternative radio DJ at Auckland's 1ZM (1251 on your AM dial!), took it upon himself to compile an album of local bands and released the seminal compilation AK79 on his newly founded Ripper Records label. We've got it and it’s worth reading this fuller account of its genesis.
The Auckland punk scene was also responsible for releasing the first 12" single in New Zealand. The Suburban Reptiles released Megaton/Desert Patrol in January 1978 on the prog rocker’s favourite Vertigo label – a very subversive move.
Unfortunately, the Library doesn't have it, nor the follow up single Saturday Night Stay At Home, but we do have a shot of them taken on their infamous tour to Wellington in August 1977. The full story of the Reptiles’ rise and fall is documented by their manager Simon Grigg.
Suburban Reptiles. Dominion post. Ref: EP/1977/3399/20-F. Alexander Turnbull Library.
Our buddies at NZ on Screen provide the soundtrack:
The aforementioned Mr Grigg was also pivotal in the making of another landmark record. He managed The Screaming Meemees, from Auckland’s North Shore, who were signed to his label Propeller and who made history not once, but twice. Their debut single See Me Go, released in both 7" and 12" formats, became the first New Zealand single to enter the charts at number one.
Later, their Stars in My Eyes 12" single, released in December 1982, contained the first extended remix released by a New Zealand artist.
The Lord Is My Shepherd
Of course we can't roughly gloss over the history of New Zealand recordings without mention of Roger Shepherd's Flying Nun Records.
The Library doesn't have the first record released on Flying Nun, The Pin Group's 1981 'Ambivalence' 7", but the Hocken Library in Dunedin does.
We make up for that by holding many of the records that helped define the ‘Dunedin Sound’, like The Clean’s 1981 debut 7” Tally Ho. Even better, we have the 1982 classic Dunedin Double EP, a double 12" single in gatefold sleeve, with a side each from The Chills, Sneaky Feelings, The Stones and The Verlaines.
We’ve also digitised a bunch of Flying Nun posters, superb examples of their time:
Verlaines. 12" single, Doomsday. Ref: Eph-D-PHONO-1986-07. Alexander Turnbull Library.
Listen, Do You Want To Know A Secret?
You may not know this, but you’re welcome to come in and listen to our jazzy, punky, jangly records, and any others you can find in the catalogue – at least the ones that we have more than one copy of. When our refurbished National Library building reopens in early August, you’ll be able to come listen in the brand new Reading Room.
So if you’re in the neighbourhood, pop in and drop a needle on the record.