Home' The Wellingtonian : June 2nd 2011 Contents 12 THE WELLINGTONIAN, JUNE 2, 2011
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Brendan's slice of heaven
Brendan Smythe: ''The Ministry of Transport was basically a transit camp for everyone.''
talks to New Zealand on
Air music manager
Brendan Smythe about
missing out on seeing
The Beatles, working in
the public service and
his affection for Shihad.
Were you always interested in
Ever since The Beatles. The
first record I bought was The Bea-
tles. I was born in 1950 and was
13 when The Beatles came here. I
was a teenager and just discover-
Did you see them play in
I was boarding at Wellington
College -- it was a boarding school
then -- and we were not allowed
out. So we climbed the top of Mt
Vic to watch their motorcade come
in from the airport. Meanwhile,
our housemaster, who we thought
was quite square, went to see
them perform. That was one of the
greatest injustices of the world.
You never studied music.
What did you do at university?
I started a law degree at Vic-
toria. That did not work out hap-
pily at all, so I ended up studying
philosophy. Our philosophy lec-
turer said there would never be
situations vacant'' ads for
philosophers, but it still served me
well. I was able to get a job
straight out of university.
Wasn't your first job with
the Ministry of Transport?
When I finished university the
public service was employing just
about every graduate going. They
didn't care if you had a philosophy
degree. A degree of any sort was
fine. So I started out with the
Ministry of Transport.
What was that like?
It wasn't that inspiring. It was
basically a transit camp for every-
one; they all wanted to go into
social work or become policy
When did you become
involved professionally with
the music industry?
When I was at Transport, a job
came up for an advisory officer at
the Queen Elizabeth Arts Council
(now Creative New Zealand). I
applied for it and got it.
Wasn't the council mostly
involved in funding and pro-
moting the fine arts?
There was a small group work-
ing on music and I was running
that section. I got to know a lot of
people through the job, so when I
came across to New Zealand On
Air it was an easy transition.
What was your first job with
New Zealand On Air?
New Zealand On Air was just
being set up in 1989 and I came on
board as the radio manager. It
was all about getting more New
Zealand music played on commer-
cial radio stations.
How much New Zealand
music were commercial
stations playing back then?
Back in the 90s a survey was
done to find out how much New
Zealand music was played on air.
It was just under 2 per cent. Now
it's about 20 per cent.
You were involved with
establishing New Zealand
A group of us had formed the
Kiwi Music Action Group and
music week was one of our ideas.
Everyone involved was very ner-
vous about that week, because we
were not sure if it was a naff idea
or a cool idea. But a programmer
from one of the big commercial
stations said he had been really
humbled by it.
Now it has morphed into
New Zealand Music Month.
A week just was not long
enough. And now so many organ-
isations have become involved,
from Hallensteins and their music
month T-shirts to local libraries
What was it like to be made
a Member of the Order of New
Zealand for services to music?
The investiture was at Govern-
ment House and was an amazing
experience. I was in the company
of people who had done great
things, from brain surgeons to
those who had contributed to their
local community. It was very
What up-and-coming band
should we look out for?
Family Cactus. They're from
Wellington, play alt-folk-rock and
deserve our support, because they
are really good.
Shihad is one of your
favourite bands. Why?
Shihad and New Zealand On
Air have grown up together. We
were involved with their first
video and we've been involved
ever since. I love those boys and
see them as friends. I love that we
have been behind them since the
beginning. I'm looking forward to
Jon Toogood's new record.
You love music. Were you
ever in a band?
No, not really. I've been in a
music video, Bliss, by The Dudes.
It was shot at the Cricketers'
Arms. I'm the hippy with bushy
hair at the front of the video. I
didn't actually know it was being
filmed at the time. I had just gone
along to see The Dudes, who were
the hot new band in town.
Describe Wellington's music
There's a really cool scene
happening here, much of it
centred round Mighty Mighty bar.
There's an alt-country-folk thing
going on at the moment. Before
that, it was dub -- Fat Freddy's
and The Black Seeds, which are
both still very much alive and
going strong. Wellington is a very
integrated [music] scene. People
turn up in each other's bands all
Other than music, what
keeps you in Wellington?
I went to Lyall Bay School and
Vic Uni. My life is Wellington. I
live in Wellywood, literally, in
Strathmore. I go to Miramar New
World and I'll see some Hobbits. I
wouldn't live anywhere else. else.
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