Home' The Wellingtonian : August 4th 2011 Contents 12 THE WELLINGTONIAN, AUGUST 4, 2011
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Musical chairs with Chris Bourke
Chris Bourke: ''If I could play anything it would be New Orleans-style music.''
talks to Chris Bourke,
author of Blue Smoke:
The Lost Dawn of New
Zealand Popular Music
about music, history
What inspired you to write
It's named after the Pixie Wil-
liams song, which was the first
New Zealand song to be recorded.
That was in the 1940s and my
mum used to talk about Welling-
ton in the 40s a bit. She would
drop hints, though, rather than go
I also interviewed Ray Harris at
one point. He talked about the 40s
music scene and how hard it was
to get anything recorded. It was
fascinating and stayed with me.
What did you learn about
Wellington in the 1940s and
It seemed so lovely. There were
dance halls in every suburb and
the musicians would make stuff
up as they went along.
TANZA, the only New Zealand
record company at the time, had
to build machinery from scratch
and the people there had to teach
themselves how to make records.
They had lots of failures in the
months before releasing Blue
Smoke. It was a very exciting
What else sounded exciting?
My mother used to tell me
about the Majestic Hall, which
was under the Majestic picture
theatre, where the Majestic build-
ing is now. There was a cabaret
there and the best musicians
would play there. They would be
paid the best rates.
Where did your passion for
music come from?
In the holidays I would visit
cousins who lived in Utuku, near
Taihape. They had a great taste in
music -- the Beatles, The Band
and Rolling Stones. I grew up in
Lower Hutt, but would visit them
twice a year. They were really into
music and would talk about it
passionately. That passion rubbed
off on me.
So you studied music at Vic-
I was going to take history at
university, but someone suggested
I do a music course. I started
taking more and more music
courses, and ended up majoring
Your first book was Some-
thing So Strong, about
Crowded House. How did that
Near the end of being the editor
of [music magazine] Rip It Up,I
was keen on doing a book on Neil
Finn. Crowded House had just
done Don't Dream It's Over.I
wasn't until about eight years
later, when I was approached by
The Listener, who wanted me to
demystify the whole Crowded
House thing, that a book
I'm really proud of that book.
It's really about how hard it is to
make in the music business.
There is some good drama in that
book. No bad behaviour, but they
were very intense people and were
You worked as a producer
for Radio New Zealand. What
was that like?
After 16 years in Auckland, I
came back to Wellington and
worked for John Campbell when
he did the Saturday Morning
show, and then for Kim Hill for a
while when she took over.
It was a wonderful job. It was
like being a magazine editor, but
instead of everything coming out
in print, it goes live to the audi-
ence -- a real adrenalin rush.
As part of that job you trav-
elled to Antarctica. What was
I did a four-hour programme
with Kim Hill from Scott Base.
There are some very smart people
there. You would meet someone
who didn't just know about
penguins, but they knew every-
thing there was to know about
There was even a guy who
measured the South Pole.
Is Antarctica really as white
and expansive as people say it
is?It is. It's very big and flat, and
Mt Erebus looms over it.
Antarctica was covered in ice,
rather than snow. It's wasn't
really snowy at all.
What is one of your other
favourite travel experiences?
I spent five months in the
United States seeing a lot of
musicians, getting to know places
like Memphis, New Orleans and
New York. If I could play anything
it would be New Orleans-style
music. They have a great jazz fes-
tival with all kinds of music --
southern, country, gospel and
Have you had any inter-
views that have gone particu-
I interviewed Blossom Dearie,
the jazz singer, when she came
out for a festival. She said to me
I'm not going to talk about any-
thing biographical''. I thought:
Where do I go from here''. Need-
less to say that interview never
saw the light of day.
What other New Zealand
music do you like?
I like really rootsy-sounding
bands, but really like Liam Finn.
He's going places fast.
But the big one has to be
Andrew Keoghan, the brother of
Phil Keoghan from the Amazing
Race. Andrew has done the most
amazing record, Arctic Tales Div-
ide. It's very much art pop, a bit
like Rufus Wainwright.
Do you play a musical
I just dabble a bit with the
piano. I took lessons when I was
young, but gave it away when I
was at high school. I regret that
now. I did get back into it when I
was 18 or so. The main piano
teacher then was Bob Barcham,
who taught what was called mod-
ern style'' or pop and Bill Hoffe-
meister, who taught modern pop
and was a multi-instrumentalist.
I wished I had had the confi-
dence to approach then, but you
need to be really accomplished to
even get a look in.
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