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NZ Music Month

By NZ On Screen team
1st May 2014

 NZ Music Month

NZ Music Month

 NZ On Screen team

By NZ On Screen team


Music television in NZ

This NZ Music Month collection showcases NZ music television, spun from a playlist of classic docos and beloved music shows. From Split Enz to Shazam! to the NZSO, Heavenly Pop Hits to Hip Hop New Zealand, whether you count the beat or roll like this, there’s something here for all ears (and eyes). Chris Bourke gets Ready to Roll with a pop history primer.


Kiwi music docos and TV shows

 Split Enz - Spellbound

This Sam Neill-narrated film plots the career of Split Enz, one of New Zealand’s most successful rock bands: from formation at Auckland University in 1971 to demise in 1984. The Finns et al talk freely about good times and bad — from the costumes to paper darts, leaky boats, art rock and pop hits.

 The Power of Music (Te Kaha o Te Waiata)

Rather than opting for a nightclub, Auckland reggae band Herbs chose troubled East Coast town Ruatoria as the venue for a 1987 album release. Lee Tamahori's doco captures an emotional experience for band and locals as they meet at Mangahanea marae: unity, sensitivity and smiles abound.

 Heavenly Pop Hits - The Flying Nun Story

This doco tells the story of the influential Flying Nun music label for its 21st birthday. The label became associated with the 'Dunedin Sound': a catch-all term for a sprawl of DIY, post-punk, warped, jangly guitar-pop. Features interviews with key players, the spats and the dark-but-breezy glory. 


C’mon brought the hits of the day into NZ living rooms for three years in a black and white 60s frenzy of special effects, pop art sets, go-go girls and choreographed musicians, while host Pete Sinclair kept the pace cracking with breathless hipster charm. These are the only two extant episodes.

 Nambassa Festival

The three day Nambassa Festival, held on a Waihi farm in 1979, is the subject of this TV doco. Attended by 60,000 people, it represented a high tide mark in NZ for the Woodstock vision of a music festival as counter-culture celebration of all things hippy. Performers include a frenzied Split Enz.

 Fat Freddy's Drop - Based on a True Story

This doco follows Wellington’s "seven headed soul monster” — Fat Freddy’s Drop — as they rumble their dub-rich sound like a Houghton Bay roller through Europe. There’s Italian kai moana, a Cliff Curtis jam; Radio 1 DJ Zane Lowe lauds the 'fullas' and Mu explains whanau to German music journos.

 Radio with Pictures

For a generation of music fans rock show RWP was their video-driven link to local and international music — and essential viewing before the Sunday night horrors. Riding the rise of MTV and a burgeoning 80s NZ music scene, its presenters included Dr Rock, Phil O'Brien, Karyn Hay and Dick Driver. 

 Homegrown Profiles

Homegrown Profiles was a 2005 spin-off from music channel C4's local music show Homegrown. It featured hour-long episodes on the Finn Brothers, Dave Dobbyn, Bic Runga, Anika Moa, Shihad and Che Fu and was framed around in-depth interviews with the subjects conducted by series producer Jane Yee. 


Entertainment legend Maui Dalvanius — ‘Poi E’ — Prime rides an emotional roller coaster as he looks back on his career in this doco made in the final stages of his battle with lung cancer: the boy from Patea (who dreamed of becoming a circus ringmaster), who went on to become a taonga of NZ music.

 Bill Sevesi's Dream

Ukulele-player Gemma Gracewood takes us on a Kiwi-focused history of the instrument, and meets ukulele followers ranging from "godfather of Polynesian music" Bill Sevesi to Jennifer Ward-Lealand.

 That's Country

Punk rock was breaking and musical styles changing, but in NZ country music was appointment viewing at 7pm on Saturday. That's Country ran from 1976 to 1983. Hosted by Ray Columbus, it featured both local and international talent and was the first NZ-made entertainment show sold to the US.

 Newsview - Shona Laing profile

This NZBC profile finds singer Shona Laing as a 17-year-old in the seventh form (now year 13) at Hutt Valley High, distracted from study by an impending music career. Laing had shot to national prominence on the Studio One talent show, had a hit with her single '1905' and supported US singer Lobo.

 Eyewitness - Punk

TVNZ journalist (and future Communicado founder) Neil Roberts turns youth culture ethnomusicologist to explore NZ's fledgling punk scene. Much of the focus is on Auckland but Doomed lead singer (and future TV presenter/producer) Johnny Abort (aka Dick Driver) flies the flag for the south.

 Let's Go

In the heady days of Beatlemania, Let's Go was the successor to In The Groove (NZ's first TV pop music show in 1962). It was devised and produced in Wellington by Kevan Moore — with DJ Peter Sinclair in his first big presenting role. The duo later re-teamed for the hugely successful C'mon.

 Shihad - Beautiful Machine

Director Sam Peacocke's feature documentary debut covers 23 years of highs and lows for one of NZ's most enduring rock bands — the dramas, tragedy, adoring local audiences, album sales of 250,000, attempts to crack America and that name change. The doco was released in May 2012.

 Kaleidoscope - Decade of the Enz

In 1983 Kaleidoscope marked 10 years of Split Enz by following the band on their 'Enz of an Era' tour: filming a gig at Auckland's His Majesty's Theatre and their Sweetwaters’ performance. Includes frank interviews and priceless Dylan Taite-filmed tomfoolery from the band's early days in England.

 Ten Guitars

Ten Guitars gives warm-spirited context to the song that has been the soundtrack to countless back-lawn crate parties and freezing works chains (watch the credits). Engelbert Humperdinck is interviewed, and “dance, dance, dance ...” fans include the Finn bros, Pio Terei, Mika and Dalvanius.

 Blerta Revisited

If a single word could sum up the free-wheeling flavour of alternative music and comedy in Aotearoa during the 1970s, that word would surely be ... Blerta. Blerta Revisited is a swag of skits, films, and interludes, featuring Bruno, Murphy, Bollinger, Sanderson, and many more merry pranksters.

 Hip Hop New Zealand

In Sima Urale’s doco, the four elements of hip hop — breakdancing, graffiti, DJ-ing and rap — are examined through interviews with key NZ players (King Kapisi, Che Fu, Upper Hutt Posse); a local emphasis on politics over bling is a recurring theme. "E tu stand proud, kia kaha say it loud".

 When the Cat's Away

This concert film documents When the Cat's Away on their first pub tour. The group would go on to score hit records and bigger shows (playing to 80,000 the following summer) but this was the moment the Cats arrived. Directed by Alan Thurston, it won best doco at the 1988 Film and Television Awards.

 Grunt Machine

The Grunt Machine began life in May 1975 as a 5.30pm pop culture show. Presented by Andy Anderson, it mixed music and reporter-based items. It later morphed into a hipper late Friday night rock show. The 1976 slot featured Paul Holmes (in his first presenting role) and a Split Enz special. 

 Ready to Roll - NZ Record Awards 1978

In 1978 the NZ music industry’s annual awards were presented in a low-key Ready to Roll special at Avalon Studios. Stu (“Nice One”) Dennison is the host; and there are performances from John Rowles, newcomer Sharon O’Neill, the Roger Fox Big Band, Hello Sailor, Toni Williams and Golden Harvest.

 The Secret Life of John Rowles

This is how John Rowles. The doco explores the crooner’s colourful career, from Kawerau to stardom in London at 21 and headlining Vegas, to nearly losing it all (and those roofing ads), and ultimately status as NZ entertainment legend. Interviewees include Cliff Richard, Tom Jones, and Neil Finn.

 Pop Co

This was the 1974 end of year special for this Christchurch-based music show, with acts performing in and around the Garden City, where lurex and glam rock meet the Avon. The cast includes Steve Gilpin, Rob Guest, Space Waltz, Annie Whittle, Rockinghorse, Mark Williams, Beaver, and ... Drut.

 The Country Touch

This widely popular country music show from the 60s, screened on Saturday nights, and was introduced by the legendary Tex Morton. Filmed on an Auckland hay barn set, it featured everything from folk, fiddles and banjos, to bluegrass. Has Auckland ever been this close to the Appalachians?

 Lew Pryme - Welcome to my World

Lew Pryme's life took in everything from rock and roll to rugby before it was cut short by AIDS in 1990. This moving doco follows Pryme's path from Waitara in the 60s to becoming one of the biggest hip-swinging pop stars of the 60s. He was later the first executive director of Auckland Rugby Union.


Aimed at a younger audience than 80s sibling Radio with Pictures, Shazam! played in a late afternoon, weekday time slot, and featured artist interviews and live concerts, and a Battle of the Bands and music video competition. Presenters were Phillip Schofield, Phillipa Dann and Michelle Bracey.

 Finn for a Day

This doco follows a 2001 Neil Finn tour of his bottom-of-the-world homeland. Finn challenged his perfectionist instincts by playing with a changing local line-up at each gig: ranging from veterans to teenage guitarist-singer Jon (four years away from the Australian Top 20 with band Evermore).

 Sweet As

This doco follows two groups to ill-fated music festival Sweetwaters: six teens (including actor Kate Elliott, then 17), and a bunch of 30-somethings (veterans of the 80s Sweetwaters). The youngsters rave in the dance tent and the vets argue there was more drinking and nudity back in the day. 

 Don't Let it Get You

“The big ALL FUN show for the whole family to enjoy!” was the tagline for this musical comedy feature film. Sir Howard stars as himself in the tiki-flavoured tale, that moves from Sydney to a Rotorua music festival. It features a young Kiri Te Kanawa, Lew Pryme and Aussie star Norman Rowe.

 Through the Eyes of Love

Kiwis are often accused of not being very good at expressing their feelings. This doco offers evidence to the contrary, using classic love songs as proof. A roll call of NZ’s best-known musicians talk about aroha, and provide a fascinating survey of 30 years of Kiwi pop music along the way.

 The Living Room

Arts series The Living Room ripped open the venetian blinds and shone the light on Aotearoa’s homegrown creative culture. Amongst the calvacade of local talent (who often presented their own stories) were The Black Seeds, Ladi6, Scribe, Kora, and an early screen outing from Flight of the Conchords.

 In Bed with the Orchestra

This documentary provides a behind-the-scenes portrait of an orchestral musician's life, following the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra for 13 days on a nationwide tour. Included is footage of rehearsals, travel, and concerts, as well as glimpses of internal politics and how the musicians relax. 

 Nesian Mystik - For the People

This doco charts the journey of Auckland hip hop band Nesian Mystik, from their beginnings as an inner-city school band at Western Springs to gold albums and acclaim. In New Zealand, London and Tonga the film explores the multi-cultural roots of the band members and inspiration for lyrics.

 Mike Nock

"Jazz is an attitude ... how you look at yourself, how you look at the world." Ngaruawahia-raised jazz pianist Mike Nock left NZ at 18 for a long career in Sydney, London and New York. The film captures memories of childhood, touring and inspiration, as well as performances by Nock and his cohorts.

 Sir Howard Morrison - Time of My Life

‘Ol’ Brown Eyes’ celebrates 40 years in showbiz with this 1995 TV variety concert, performing with his mates (Ray Columbus, Bunny Walters). Sir Howard acknowledges his upbringing and Māoritanga. The show ends with the Morrison whānau performing, followed by ‘How Great Thou Art’ solo.

 Survey: The Unbelievable Glory of the Human Voice

This inspired Tony Williams doco showcases the myriad ways the human voice can make music, from choirs, opera, and balladeers to protest singers. It begins with Orpheus on the water, and ends with a 2000 image two-decade mash-up that must be a contender for NZ TV’s most eye-opening montage.

 Icon in B Minor

This doco is the tale of two creative souls from different centuries with the same belief in spiritual transformation through their art. Renowned pianist Michael Houstoun is followed on a musical odyssey to Germany, preparing for his performance of Franz Liszt's monumental work, Sonata in B Minor.

 Farr from Heaven

“I love the idea of bringing sexiness into the classical arena ...” Farr From Heaven follows composer Gareth Farr’s creative process: from arrangement failures to world premieres, and shows the versatility of Farr's work, from classical composer to performer, (including as transvestite Lilith). 

 The Gravy - Series Three, Episode One (Little Bushmen vs Auckland Philharmonia)

This episode of the Sticky Pictures arts show covers a 13 July 2008 concert that combined the musical talents of the Little Bushman with composer John Psathas and the Auckland Philharmonia. Trinity Roots alumnus Warren Maxwell is the behind-the-scenes guide to the Philharmonia harmonica mash-up. 

 Nathan Haines Family Album

In another record of a cross-genre fusion event — this time symphony meets sax — Grant Lahood documents London-based jazz musician Nathan Haines’ return home to perform with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and musically reunite with his bassist father, Kevin, and guitarist brother, Joel.

 This is Your Life - Rob Guest

Paul Holmes presents the big red book to Rob Guest in this This Is Your Life episode. Made at the height of the late-Guest's distinguished career in Australasian musical theatre, it features excerpts from Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables, and appearances by colleagues, friends and family.

 Aotearoa Hip Hop Summit

The Aotearoa Hip Hop Summit held in Auckland 2001, was the biggest hip hop event ever staged in NZ. Featuring international acts (from US, Germany, Australia), the local reps included Che Fu, Te Kupu, King Kapisi, P Money and DJ Sir-Vere. Presenters are Hayden Hare and Trent Helmbright.

 30 Arthur Street

This doco chronicles the history of Wellington musical institution 30 Arthur Street (20+ albums and nine feature film scores were recorded there); and its destruction to make way for a bypass. Toby Laing (Fat Freddy’s Drop), drummer Anthony Donaldson, and ex-Mutton Bird David Long feature.

 Wise Women and Song

Singer Jackie Clarke attends the NZ Smokefree Composing Women’s Festival at the Wellington Town Hall to see if she can get the inspiration to write a song for the first time. Guidance comes from Moana Maniapoto, Jan Preston, Shona Laing, Janet Roddick, Hinewehi Mohi and Jan Hellriegel.

Life before YouTube

Life before YouTube

Chris Bourke — 2011 NZ Book of the Year Award-winner — charts the relationship between music and TV in NZ. Read more >

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Is there a classic Kiwi music documentary or televsion show that you’d like to see on NZ On Screen? Email us.