culturebox: Arts, entertainment, and more



I am a New Zealand-based writer, journalist, editor and radio producer who identifies with Elvis CostelloŐs idea of turning oneŐs obsessions into a career. It almost seems an accident that I ended up studying music history at university: it was in classical music, but my idea of a classic at the time was Rubber Soul. It still is, and while they taught me to love Mozart, Bach, Debussy and Aaron Copland, you are more likely to hear Allen Toussaint, Randy Newman or Charlie Rich radiating the 88s on my turntable or being deconstructed on my  piano.


I have been staff writer and arts & books editor at the New Zealand Listener, editor of two of the countryŐs two music magazines, Rip It Up and Real Groove, and contributor to the others: Music in New Zealand and NZ Musician. I have also made many music documentaries for Radio New Zealand, including series on the piano in pop (DonŐt Shoot the Piano Player), the roots of (Outlaws and Fugitives), a personal tour of black American music and culture (A Change is Gonna Come), and retrospectives on Harold Arlen, Split Enz, Bernard Herrmann and Louis Gottschalk.


 When Neil Finn pulled the plug on Split Enz in 1984, I interviewed him for the Listener and that lead to me writing many articles about the Enz, the Finns, and Crowded House. In 1986 I attended the first Crowded House gig in Auckland, in the packed living room of a private house, interviewing them all afterwards in a bedroom. Twenty years later I was also at many of their ŇlastÓ gigs: in London, Toronto and in front of 200,000 people at the Sydney Opera House. (The band re-formed in 2007, after the tragic death of the original drummer, Paul Hester).


In 1997 Pan Macmillan Australia published my biography of Crowded House, Something So Strong. I have a small stash available of the few remaining copies.


Other interviewing highlights have been a two-day session with the BeatlesŐ legendary Ňpress agentÓ Derek Taylor, a bizarre afternoon with Billy Idol, a private serenade from Joni Mitchell (actually I was there as the Rip It Up editor/chauffeur while RIU writer Peter Thomson and Joni raved for hours), several interviews with Robbie Robertson, New Zealand singer, musician and entrepreneur Dalvanius Prime, mouth organ virtuoso Larry Adler, Tony Bennett, and Dusty Springfield. I have also written on-the-road accounts of touring with New ZealandŐs Elvis (Johnny Devlin), Dave Dobbyn, and the Warratahs. (Some of the interviews with non-New Zealanders can be found at )


For the past 15 years though I was mostly commissioning stories and interviews, six of them as producer of Radio New ZealandŐs Saturday Morning programme, hosted by John Campbell and, since 2002, by Kim Hill. As New ZealandŐs equivalent of NPRŐs Fresh Air, this proved to be the perfect mix of books and music, so perhaps it was inevitable that when the time came for change, it would involve writing another book about music.


A fellowship at New ZealandŐs National Library in 2006 made it possible to research my current project, a history of early popular music in New Zealand, ie 1918-63, the days before rockŐnŐroll. It has the working title of Blue Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, inspired by the first all-New Zealand pop hit, ÔBlue SmokeŐ, released in 1949. Watch for it sometime in 2009.


On this site you will find a blog of current distractions and observations, stories and interviews from the past, some pictures, a section devoted to Split Enz and Crowded House, album and book reviews, and a collection of the Backbeat column that ran for 10 years in Rip It Up and Real Groove. And links to other websites if you get distracted from Distractions.