I spent the last few weeks in Auckland. There was an international academic conference about radio, and I was the opening keynote speaker, which was a real honour. You can download the text of my speech here as a PDF if you’re interested, complete with the images that I used as slides.
It was great being back in New Zealand for lots of different reasons. My sister and her family had recently moved back there after some years in London. I got to catch up with other members of the family and some friends (though not nearly as many as I would have liked). I managed to reacquaint myself with the New Zealand music scene to a certain extent, and picked up some great records. I spent a good deal of time in the sun, and swam in the sea at every available opportunity.
I also managed to find a whole lot of the recorded material I was hunting for while I was there, which was rather exciting.
The home of veteran film soundman Mike Westgate was the first stop on my quest for the radio and music recordings I made in the late 90s. Mike had been in touch to let me know that he had a few DAT tapes that he had remastered and restored where possible, although there had been one or two bits of tape that couldn’t be salvaged.
Mike had a few episodes of Off The Record on DAT – the kiwi jazz show hosted by drummer Tony Hopkins. Happily, he had a couple of real gems – including a session with the late bassist Andy Brown (New Zealand’s ‘jazz jester’ as Tony calls him), and a collection of outtakes that were recorded for an album side project that was never released. Absolute gold dust.
After spending the morning with Mike and identifying the audio, I made my way less than a kilometre around the corner to the Titirangi home of New Zealand radio and music industry legend Bryan Staff.
I was put onto Bryan by my friend Jeremy Parkinson, who I worked with at Radio Pacific, and now seems to almost run Radio Live singlehandedly.
Bryan had rescued some boxes of reel to reel tapes from Radio Pacific in its dying days, including one box with the first 20 episodes of the 26-part documentary series I made called ‘The Story of Jazz’ – the show that nearly killed me.
I was interested in getting involved in programme-making, and I’d started to take an interest in jazz music, so I suggested to station manager Derek Lowe (Zane’s dad – New Zealand is small) that I make a short series called ‘A brief history of jazz’. He upped the stakes, and I ended up making an incredibly ambitious series, while desperately trying to stay one chapter ahead in the book – researching jazz, writing scripts, tracking down key recordings and producing programmes.
I had eight shows in the can when the first programme went to air, and by the time episode 26 was being played, we were mixing down the second half as the first half was being broadcast.
I have no idea how good the show is. I suspect the answer is ‘not very’ – but it was a landmark programme for me, and includes the iconic radio voice of Chris Parkinson (Jeremy’s uncle – New Zealand is very small).
But it was at AUT, where the radio conference was taking place, that I really hit the jackpot. Head of Radio, Matt Mollgaard, showed me into a storeroom where old boxes of stuff had been put to be eventually sorted or discarded when they finally move into their new building.
I went digging, and eventually managed to uncover around 120 DAT tapes of radio shows and jazz sessions that I’d recorded and then stuck in a cupboard back in the late 90s.
The collection is far from complete, and I’m still on the lookout for the original sessions I recorded for a series called Kiwi Jazz Tracks at York St Studio B. I do have a few of those, but there were 25 separate full-day sessions in which we recorded half a dozen different songs by a whole lot of different New Zealand artists.
But all the same – what I have is so fantastic to have. I’m getting the tapes and the old DAT player shipped over here to start going through them, get them onto a format that isn’t slowly shedding ferrous oxide, and put some of this stuff up online in full quality as an accessible archive.
I also uncovered five boxes of CDs from my old label Tap Records. Joe Gilfillan (off the radio and telly) kindly loaned me his car to get that stuff back to Mum & Dad’s and I’ve been in touch with a few of the artists so they can get their hands on that old stock. Apparently they still get asked for those albums, and they’re not exactly in wide circulation these days.
I ripped full quality versions of all those albums so I can start to see about getting some of that stuff up online too.
Perhaps most excitingly, all this has sparked some interesting conversations with some key people about an online New Zealand music archive – perhaps along the lines of the excellent NZ On Screen. I had a great meeting about this with Russell Brown and Jason Kemp in Auckland, and I’ve been speaking with a few other people about it as well.