'Rip It Up', redux

Today the seminal New Zealand music magazine Rip It Up has been added to the Papers Past website. Local music stalwart Simon Grigg explains why Rip It Up is so important.

Read Rip It Up on PapersPast

It’s hard to imagine a bleaker musical landscape than New Zealand’s in early 1977.

Sure, there were a tiny handful of good local records and the odd band of note, Hello Sailor being one. But the local music industry and the live scene in New Zealand was in such a bad place that the decision had been made to cancel that year’s RATA New Zealand music awards.

The thriving NZ industry of the late 1960s and early 1970s had been devastated by the government’s punitive 40% sales tax on records. Key indie labels Zodiac and Impact had largely shut up shop and even the once magical pop-machine that was HMV/EMI had wound back their local signings. Coupled with the departure of the Pye/Allied company, which pressed and distributed so many of our records, and the April 1976 demise of Hot Licks magazine, things were looking very dire.

Into this situation, in mid-1977, came a brave (some might say fiscally foolhardy) duo: Murray Cammick and Alastair Dougal, and their new monthly giveaway music mag, one they named after Little Richard’s staunch 1950s rock ‘n’ roll screamer, ‘Rip It Up’.

The cover of the very first issue of Rip It Up, June 1977. The words 'Free Rock Paper' and 'Commodores Split Enz News' appear on the cover in red lettering.The cover of the very first issue of Rip It Up, June 1977.

Both had a journalistic background, Murray as a designer and photographer for Auckland student magazine Craccum and Alastair as a writer, but neither had run a magazine as a business before. Sometimes, however, enthusiasm and vision does trump Accounting 101. And so it was with Rip It Up which, fortuitously for all concerned, arrived at the same time as punk and its wave of adventurous and exciting new music in New Zealand.

Rip It Up founder/editor Murray Cammick at the magazine’s office in 1986. Photo: Chris BourkeRip It Up founder/editor Murray Cammick at the magazine’s office in 1986. Photo: Chris Bourke

The early days of Rip it Up, with Alastair as the first editor, were hand to mouth. Actually, Rip It Up was always hand to mouth, as Murray – who had become editor by 1980, after Alastair left – balanced banks with printers, wage bills and often slow-to-pay advertisers and poverty-stricken indies (of whom I was an early one).

However, survive they did, and with them also survived and flourished a new local musical industry, both through vinyl/cassette recordings and live gigs, created and supported in large part by Murray’s unquestioning and relentless support for local bands and labels. It’s been said more than once that the 1980s were a new golden age for New Zealand music and that, in large part, was thanks to Rip It Up magazine and Murray Cammick. Indeed, it could reasonably be argued that the music industry we have in New Zealand in the 21st Century owes its very existence to the work and support Murray gave us back then. It all grew from that.

Snippet of the first ‘NZ News’ column. Rip It Up, June 1977, page 14, reads: Hello Sailor are currently recording their first album at Stebbings Studios in Auckland. They have, to date, completed one third of the album, which is entirely original materiel, with producer Rob Aitken. Meanwhile, a single 'Latin Lover' and 'Gutter Black' should be released on the Key label in about a month.Snippet of the first ‘NZ News’ column. Rip It Up, June 1977, page 14.

I flatted with Murray between 1980 and 1983 in Ponsonby and I think we were a good pair, both running enterprises that bank managers would probably wisely tell us to walk away from, but somehow both muddling through (at least until both came a little unstuck, me first). I think I may have got some sort of preferential treatment with at least three Rip It Up covers in the 1981-1982 period, although I prefer to think of this good fortune as an astute editor simply recognising very fine music.

Along the way, Murray created more magazines (Xtra, Shake and Cha Cha), then two terrific record labels (Southside, Wildside) with acres of talent that has lasted the ages and pocketed several Independent Music NZ Classic Record gongs. But this all comes back originally to that young inspired man with fantastic eyes and ears – okay, we can overlook the Bob Seger records he’d play in the flat – who simply “Got It”. Murray Cammick’s Rip It Up changed everything forever and made us who we are. Murray continued with his magazine for over twenty years, editing again for an extended spell until 1998 when new owners also sold it (Murray had given over ownership four years earlier).

Shows Cammick seated at a desk and speaking on the phone. After a one year hiatus, Murray Cammick resumes the Rip It Up editorship in 1988. Photo: Chris BourkeAfter a one year hiatus, Murray Cammick resumes the Rip It Up editorship in 1988. Photo: Chris Bourke

Thus, when, after a string of different owners and some mixed fortunes, Rip It Up was shuttered and again put up for sale in 2015, I felt I needed buy the magazine to safeguard its legacy – and make it available again. In the interim, I’d also created the New Zealand music history website AudioCulture which was by ethos an extension of what Murray and Alastair had forged – and when I handed over the reins in 2016, I did so to Rip It Up’s third editor, Chris Bourke. In 2017, I also acquired the rights to the Rip It Up brand name.

Some of the many Rip It Up covers featuring New Zealand artists. Shows four covers.Some of the many Rip It Up covers featuring New Zealand artists.

By then, I had also been talking with Michael Brown, the then-new Music Curator at the Alexander Turnbull Library about the possibility of putting the complete Rip It Up online as part of the National Library’s Papers Past site. It would, if it went up, be the first almost-contemporary section of that magnificent resource.

The prospect was extremely exciting, Michael agreed, and with the assistance of the very supportive staff and management at the library, not least the Digitisation Team, we found a way to do it. Initially there were both legal hurdles and physical ones, not least finding a complete set of the era we looked at first, 1977 to 1985. That last problem was solved by Chris Bourke, who had such a set and was willing to gift them to the project.

Contents page on Papers Past for issue 100, Nov. 1985.Contents page on Papers Past for issue 100, Nov. 1985.

The scanning, layout and other preparations took the best part of a year and has been something that the Digitisation Team have done at arm’s length to me, relying just on my and Chris’ signoff. There have been a couple of trade-offs looking at the bigger picture, but we are there and today, May 15th 2019, Rip It Up magazine’s first eight years go live. The 102 issues from these years are now searchable, downloadable and free, and we hope – in fact this is the whole point – they provide New Zealanders, most especially young New Zealanders, with an appreciation of where we have come from and how.

And also an appreciation of the work of that young man, Murray Cammick, who got us here, a man who devoted 21 years of his life to the magazine, motivated only by a love of music, New Zealand music and magazine publishing. Rewarded only by huge respect and an inkling that his efforts had made a difference.

Read more about the heyday of Rip It Up in Murray Cammick’s article on AudioCulture.

By Simon Grigg

Simon Grigg has been contributing to the New Zealand music scene since the 1970s, including as founder of independent music labels Propeller and Huh!, and the AudioCulture history website. His own website is at: http://simongrigg.info/.

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Mark Dansey May 16th at 1:00PM

Congratulations to all that have been involved in this project. This will be a valuable resource and a window into our culture for generations to come.