Thursday, March 22, 2012

Beaten Generation

Hostage to the beat - front cover. Published by Tandem Press
By Robyn Pett, Pavement magazine, Aug/Sept 1995 issue. 

History never repeats, but it may come back to haunt you. In his follow-up to When the Rock Got Rolling, his tribute to Wellington's rock scene in the 60s, author Roger Watkins pays homage to the movers and shakers in the Auckland music scene during the 50s and 60s, an era as wild as it was weird.

A history lecturer at Welllngton's Victoria University and a musician during Auckland's rock 'n' roll years, Watkins new book, Hostage to the Beat: The Auckland Scene 1955-1970, is an alphabetically ordered retrospective that begins with The Acton and ends with The Zodiacs There are also dozens of other imaginatively named outlets like Feet Beats, Velvet Bubble, The Fair Sect, Hi-Revving Tongues, The Steam Packets and, best yet, The Four Fours.

The writing and attention to detail make it clear that Watkins is passionate about the music of his day. He's also pissed off it's been universally forgotten.

"Fundamentally, I'm really cheesed off that that period of our social history has become invisible," he chides. "I mean, so many contemporary musicians have no idea who Larry's Rebels or The Underdogs were. Or even who Johnny Devlin was. He was New Zealand's first rock and roll rebel, he was New Zealand's Elvis. And no one even knows about him. It's a real shame.”

Peter Posa and friend. Porbably something to do with his album called White Rabbit

It's Watkins' opinion that musicians today have nothing on their 60s counterparts. For a start, they have no political or social motivations to spur them on. In Auckland in the 60s shock value counted enormously. It was an age of unspeakable matricide and the incomprehensible notion that teenagers had sex.

Thanks to limitations in technology, it was also a time when talent counted as much as image, maybe even more. "The technology and the equipment didn't exist in those days," explains Watkins.

"Technology these days allows people that might not necessarily have the natural, raw talent as musicians, to create music.” Gaining precious airplay on radio and television is another burden contemporary bands have to contend with. But before the advent of music videos and Casey Kasem's Top 40, things were different.

If you were in a band the DJ was your friend, Somebody who had your best interests at heart. Somebody like Paul Holmes, perhaps, who fronted a rock show called Gruntmachine.

"Radio was a completely different beat," raps Watkins. "A lot of those jocks in the 60s saw the bands live, compered their shows, knew the bands personally. Nowadays radio is all programmed by computer, there isn't even anyone there. So it's much harder to get airplay. I think the bands now have it much harder. The 60s were a much more personable time. It was a people's time."

The Brew, left to right - Doug Jerebine. Bob Gillet, Tom Ferguson, Yuk Harrison, Trixie Willoughby

It was, argues Watkins, the definitive era in rock and roll throughout the world. "The 60s was a renaissance. Everything changed in the 60s. In New Zealand there was a staggering amount of recording done and there were a phenomenal number of bands.

“The music still stacks up today. It was loads better than anything that was coming in from elsewhere. The funny thing is that New Zealand music from that period is now in demand by collectors in Scandinavia and Germany. They recognise the vitality that was lacking In the British and American recordings But no one in New Zealand even knows this stuff exists.''

Republished here for archival purposes only - non-commercial use.


Andrew Schmidt said...

It's customary for writers to have a bit of spout about their recently released work and for music "journalists" to write that up, and good on Roger for doing it, but the sad fact is Hostage To The Beat is deeply flawed. Auckland musicians from the era were quick in saying so. And as for running down an era (which Watkins has done no research on) to raise up another, that's a real old fashioned Kiwi thing, that we've hopefully grown out of. Robyn's heart is clearly in the right place, but there seems to be no fact checking of Watkins assertions (he was never a history lecturer at Victoria University) or a critique of his research methods (a lot was done by mail and used only one source). The 1960s groups embraced the technology at hand via recording facilities and effects boxes and increasing quality of equipment and had little control over their work in the studio. Then there's the new medium of television and increasingly responsive radio stations. Creative control in the studio was also limited for groups. Producers or record labels decided what to record and how it would sound. Luckliy there were some good sound engineers around. As a historian who has researched and written on all the era from the 1960s to 2000s, I can tell you that there was very little difference between the era in intent and method. It was a continuum that built on itself. The difference was in what was recorded. The good news is that Roger's right in asserting we did that bit pretty damn well.

Peter McLennan said...

Hi Andrew, thanks for the comment. Agree with you re Roger running down an era to raise up another, was thinking that when I was reading it while digitising and tweaking the text.You mention some good sound engineers round then -I'd love to read the story of Whahanui Wynyard, his name pops up a lot. I love the album he did in OZ with a band of expat kiwis named Rocco

Andrew Schmidt said...

Likewise. Auckland recording engineers (producers) such as Wahanui, John Hawkins, Steve Kennedy, Doug Rogers and Glyn Tucker Jnr and there are others are an integral part of the recording and live mixing end of the music story, whose stories are largely absent at the moment from the record. Peter Dawkins alone would make a brilliant book.

Wynyard produced a stunning series of singles for Allied International (Pye Records' NZ imprint) in Auckland for The Blue Stars, The Smoke and Music Convention amongst others then departed for Sydney in the early 1970s (I think). He was trained as a NZBC recording engineer.