This NZ Music Month collection showcases NZ music television, spun from a playlist of classic documentaries and beloved music shows. From Split Enz 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). Plus music writer Chris Bourke gets Ready to Roll with this pop history primer.
Sam Neill narrates this documentary plotting the career of one of Aotearoa's most successful bands: from formation by Mike Chunn, Phil Judd and Tim Finn at Auckland University in 1971 to their demise in 1984, when Neil Finn walked away. The major players talk freely about good times and bad — art rock, the wayward genius of Judd (including a rare interview), Noel Crombie’s spoon playing and costume design, hard times in England and the punk backlash, the big pop hits after Neil joined, Tim’s solo album, an obsession with paper darts, and the pre-gig ritual of One For One.
Auckland reggae band Herbs could have released their new album in the comfortable confines of an Auckland nightclub. Instead, they chose to travel to Ruatoria — a troubled and divided East Coast town where turmoil surrounding a Rastafarian sect had resulted in assaults, kidnappings and firebombed churches. Lee Tamahori and John Day's documentary captures an emotional experience for band and locals as they meet at Mangahanea marae in an attempt to shift the focus from disunity to harmony. This footage also yielded the memorable Sensitive to a Smile music video.
This documentary tells the story of the legendary Flying Nun music label up to 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. The Guardian: "[it's] as if being on the other side of the world meant the music was played upside down". Features interviews with key players, the spats and the dark-but-breezy glory. The label's influence on the US indie scene is noted and Pavement's Stephen Malkmus covers The Verlaines' 'Death and the Maiden'.
C’mon brought the hits of the day into New Zealand living rooms for three years in a tightly scripted, black and white 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. Most of the stars of the day appeared at one time or another but sadly only two episodes have survived. As the 60s finished C’mon fell victim to the fragmenting of the music world and the arrival of darker music that the show could no longer turn into family friendly viewing.
The three day Nambassa Festival, held on a Waihi farm in 1979, is the subject of this documentary. Attended by 60,000 people, it represented a high tide mark in Aotearoa for the Woodstock vision of a music festival as a counterculture celebration of music, crafts, alternative lifestyles and all things hippy. Performers include a frenzied Split Enz, The Plague (wearing paint), Limbs dancers, a yodelling John Hore-Grenell and prog rockers Schtung. The only downers are overzealous policing, and weather which discourages too much communing with nature after the first day.
This documentary follows the "seven headed soul monster direct from the shores of Wellington" — Fat Freddys Drop — as they rumble their dub-rich sound through Europe like a Houghton Bay roller. Touring to showcase album Based on a True Story, it features rehearsals and performances, eating Italian kai moana, playing concrete ping pong in Berlin, and (in the fifth clip) a jam with Cliff Curtis. Radio 1 DJ Zane Lowe lauds the 'fullas' and Mu explains whanau to German journos. True Story sold 120,000+ copies and dominated the 2005 New Zealand Music Awards.
For a generation of music fans rock show Radio with Pictures was their link to local and international music — and essential viewing before TV2's Sunday night horror movies. Following on from the Grunt Machine in 1976, its presenters included Dr Rock (Barry Jenkin), Phil O'Brien, Karyn Hay and Dick Driver. RWP's run coincided with the rise of MTV and the music video, and a burgeoning 80s New Zealand music scene. Videos were a staple but artist interviews also featured and the show staged a number of televised concerts featuring leading local artists.
Homegrown Profiles was a spin-off from music channel C4's local music series Homegrown. Screened in 2005, the interview-based show featured episodes devoted to the Finn Brothers, Dave Dobbyn, Bic Runga, Anika Moa, Shihad and Che Fu. The hour-long programmes were based around an extended interview with each artist, intercut with music videos and other performance material— all held together with a well-scripted narration by researcher/ interviewer/ director Jane Yee. Yee writes about making the show here.
Entertainment legend Maui Dalvanius 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 South Taranaki who dreamed of becoming a circus ringmaster became a taonga of the NZ music industry, with success in Sydney with The Fascinations and his groundbreaking kapa haka /disco te reo hit ‘Poi E’. He recalls his struggle to come to terms with making Māori music as he makes one last hikoi to the East Coast where he wrote ‘Poi-E’ with the late Ngoi Pēwhairangi.
This Artsville TV documentary plucks its way through a Kiwi-focused history of the ukulele, from Waikiki to Wellington, using the dream of “godfather of Polynesian music” Bill Sevesi as its starting point: namely “that the children would be playing the ukulele all over the country.” Presenter Gemma Gracewood (of the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra) reveals the instrument’s Pacific adoption and burgeoning popularity, and meets acolytes of ‘the uke’: from Herman Pi’ikea Clark to Jennifer Ward-Lealand, to Sevesi strumming with onetime pupil Sione Aleki.
Punk rock was breaking and musical styles changing, but in New Zealand country music was appointment viewing at 7pm on Saturday. That's Country ran from 1980 to 1984. Hosted by one-time pop singer Ray Columbus, the show featured both local and international talent including Suzanne Prentice, Patsy Riggir, Emmylou Harris and George Hamilton IV. That's Country helped launch the Topp Twins' career and was the first New Zealand-made entertainment show sold to the US.
This NZBC profile finds singer/songwriter 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 with her performances on the Studio One talent show, had a hit with her Henry Fonda-inspired single '1905' and supported American singer Lobo. She is already a guarded interviewee while her school mates are unsure what to make of her success. Lobo is effusive in his praise and there are performances of '1905' and Roberta Flack's 'Killing Me Softly'.
Although The Tumbleweeds toured beyond Otago only occasionally, they provided many New Zealanders with their first exposure to country music. Almost 40 years into the band's career, Stephen Latty (Opera in the Outback) got some of their songs and memories down for this half-hour film. The band describe influences, costumes, and their own mid-tour double wedding. Country music expert Garth Gibson praises the "quite famous harmony sound" of sisters Myra and Nola Hewitt. Then The Tumbleweeds hit the road for Gore's Gold Guitar Awards, to perform 'Maple on the Hill'.
TVNZ journalist (and future Communicado founder) Neil Roberts does an ethnomusicologist turn in this edition of "established media tries to explain what the young people are doing". His subject is NZ's fledgling punk scene which is already on its way to extinction. 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. The Stimulators, Suburban Reptiles and Scavengers play live and punk fans pogo and talk about violence directed at them (from "beeries").
In the heady days of Beatlemania, Let's Go was the first viable successor to In The Groove (NZ's first TV pop music show in 1962). It was devised and produced by Kevan Moore — with DJ Peter Sinclair in his first big presenting role. Recorded in Wellington at the NZBC's Waring Taylor Street studio (with its notorious sloping floor a challenge for the big cameras), it featured a resident band — first The Librettos and then the Pleasers. Let's Go only lasted two years, but in 1967 Moore and Sinclair teamed up again for the hugely successful C'mon.
This theatrically released documentary charts 23 years of highs and lows for one of NZ's most enduring rock bands — complete with personal dramas, early tragedy, adoring local audiences, album sales of 250,000, attempts to crack the United States, and that agonising name change. Seeking an audience beyond the faithful, award-winning director Sam Peacocke expanded the story's scope to feature the band's family and friends as much as the music. NZ Herald entertainment writer Scott Kara called the result "a cracker", and "a must-see for fans of the band".
In 1983, Split Enz, NZ's most successful rock group to date, celebrated 10 years together. TVNZ's flagship arts show Kaleidoscope marked the occasion by following the band on their 'Enz of an Era' tour as they reunited with former members (including Mike Chunn) for a concert at Auckland's His Majesty's Theatre (where they first made a major impact) and played the Sweetwaters Festival. Members talk frankly to reporter Ian Fraser about a decade of highs and lows, and there's priceless Dylan Taite-filmed tomfoolery from the band's early days in England.
This full-length documentary 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). It was released as the B-side of singer Engelbert Humperdinck's Please Release Me, and became an unlikely hit in Aotearoa with fans who have done the "dance, dance, dance ...": including Dalvanius (who discusses its "pop-schlock" charms), Bunny Walters, The Topp Twins, and a special group of ten guitarists. The documentary also explores why "the national anthem of Patea" is so appealing to Māori.
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. The 'Bruno Lawrence Electric Revelation and Travelling Apparition' included foundation members of the NZ screen industry (Lawrence, Geoff Murphy, Alun Bollinger) plus other merry pranksters. Drawing on the Blerta TV series and beyond, Blerta Revisited (aka Blerta - The Return Trip) is an anarchic collection of comedy skits, musical interludes and films culled from the Blerta archives. Costa Botes writes about Blerta here.
"E tu stand proud, kia kaha say it loud", Dean Hapeta's lyrics typify the socio-political messages in NZ's early rap music. The four elements of hip hop: breakdancing, graffiti, DJ-ing and rap are examined through interviews with key players in the hip hop scene (including King Kapisi, Che Fu, Upper Hutt Posse). A recurring theme in the Sima Urale-directed documentary is that local hip hop artists are less interested in the "girls, booze and bling" school of hip hop, and more interested in using their art to make a political statement.
This concert film documents When the Cat's Away on their first tour. Director Alan Thurston captures the high energy performance and pure joie de vivre of the five women vocalists, it shows why the group became a Kiwi favourite. A set focusing on New Zealand songs, international hits of the period and soul classics proved irresistible on the pub circuit. The group would go on to score hit records and bigger shows (playing to 80,000 the following summer) but this was the moment they arrived. The film won best documentary at the 1988 Film and Television Awards.
The Grunt Machine began life in May 1975 as a pop culture show for 12-20 year olds playing four days a week at 5.30pm. Presented by Andy Anderson, it featured music and reporter based items. Pulled in August, it returned in September as a much hipper late Friday night rock show fronted by David Jones. The 1976 season started with Paul Holmes (in his first presenting role) and featured a Split Enz special for its first show. Fellow DJ John Hood took over later in the year (lying on cushions to do his links). The final Grunt Machine aired in December 1976.
The NZ Music Awards ceremony now fills Auckland’s Vector Arena and is a major social and music industry event. In 1978 the awards were broadcast in this 16 September Ready to Roll special, cobbling together finalists at Avalon Studios. Stu (Nice One) Dennison is the host (in brown overalls); and there are performances from John Rowles, newcomer Sharon O’Neill, the Rodger Fox Big Band, Hello Sailor, Toni Williams and Golden Harvest (who feature teeth-picking lead guitar in best Hendrix style). Just two awards are covered here: for single and album of the year.
The meteoric career of one of NZ’s greatest entertainers is examined in this documentary. John Rowles went from a Kawerau childhood to stardom in London at 21; but, after headlining in Hawaii and Las Vegas, he saw it all slip away. Those roofing ads and near bankruptcy followed, but Rowles has retained his self belief and that voice. A stellar cast of interviewees analyse his strengths and weaknesses, including Sir Cliff Richard, Tom Jones, Neil Finn and late promoter Phil Warren. Amongst the star cameos, John’s sister Cheryl Moana explains the downside of his best-known local hit.
Pop Co slotted in after Movin’ and before Norman as part of a long tradition of Christchurch music shows beginning with Let’s Go in the early 60s. It featured a studio band, the Maggie Burke Dancers and vocalists including Bunny Walters, Annie Whittle, Tom Sharplin and Rob Guest who performed the hits of the day. There were appearances from local acts including Ticket and Chapta, and overseas performers like Lindisfarne and Gary Glitter (who was overcome with vertigo and had to be rescued from a high diving board at QE2 pool after miming one of his hits).
The Country Touch was a widely popular country and western music show from the 60s, that screened on Saturday nights. Produced by Bryan Easte for NZBC the show was filmed on an Auckland hay barn set and featured musical numbers, from folk, fiddles, and banjos to bluegrass, introduced by the legendary Tex Morton. Regulars included The Hamilton County Bluegrass Band, Brian Hirst’s Country Touch Singers (with a team of 20 square dancers), and Kay and Shane. Has Auckland ever been this close to the Appalachians?
Lew Pryme's life was a wild ride that took in everything from rock and roll to rugby before it was cut short by AIDS in 1990 (he was 51). This moving documentary interviews an ailing Pryme reflecting on his journey and (still secret) sexuality; it follows him from Waitara to becoming one of the most popular hip-swinging music stars of the 60s. He went on to manage singers Mark Williams, Rob Guest and Tina Cross; and in the early 80s he became the first executive director of Auckland Rugby Union, introducing cheerleaders and 'pizazz' to Eden Park.
Shazam! rode the 1980s music video boom created by the advent of MTV and the renaissance in NZ music. Aimed at a younger audience than Radio with Pictures, it played in a late afternoon, weekday time slot, and featured artist interviews and live concerts as well as sponsoring a Battle of the Bands and a music video competition. Presenters were Phillip Schofield (later a presenter with the BBC and ITV), Phillipa Dann (who moved to London with husband and future head of MTV Europe Brent Hansen) and, finally, Michelle Bracey (who became a documentary director).
This documentary 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: mostly unknown fans offered a chance to “glisten like a pearl”. The performers ranged from veterans to teen guitarist-singer Jon Hume (four years away from the Australian Top 20 with band Evermore). In Dunedin the performance survives drinking rituals and uninvited stage guests; in another moment, a shy 14-year-old piano prodigy segues from Mozart into Split Enz classic 'I Got You'.
This documentary follows the experiences of two groups at the 1999 Sweetwaters music festival: six teenagers (including actor Kate Elliott, then 17), and a group of 30-somethings (many of them veterans of the 80s Sweetwaters). This excerpt catches up with them near the event's conclusion. Although some hangovers are being nursed, mostly spirits remain undimmed. English singer Elvis Costello drops the on-stage bomb that the artists haven't been paid, Chris Knox notes the "money fiasco" his own way; and the festivalgoers rate their weekend.
“The big ALL FUN show for the whole family to enjoy!” was the tagline for this musical comedy classic. Sir Howard Morrison (as himself) and Rotorua are the stars in the tiki-flavoured tale. Moving from Sydney to a Rotorua music festival the plot centres on a romance between a young drummer (Gary Wallace) and his girl Judy (Carmen Duncan) and the hurdles they face to stay true. But this is only an excuse for a melange of madcap, pep-filled musical fun. Made by John O’Shea’s Pacific Films, it features Kiri Te Kanawa, Lew Pryme and Aussie star Norman Rowe.
Kiwis are often accused of not being very good at expressing their feelings. This documentary (made for TV One's Work of Art programme) offers striking evidence to the contrary, using some of our favourite love songs as proof. A roll call of New Zealand's best-known musicians and songwriters talk here candidly about love, and play some of the songs inspired by their experiences. The result is a film that shines a light on love Kiwi-style, and provides a fascinating survey of New Zealand pop music from the last 30 years along the way.
A magazine show with an edge, The Living Room did for arts television production what Radio With Pictures did for New Zealand music — it ripped open the venetian blinds, rearranged the plastic-covered cushions, and shone the light on Aotearoa’s homegrown creative culture. Often letting the subjects film and present their own stories, it was produced for three series by Wellington’s Sticky Pictures, who would go on to make another arts showcase, The Gravy. Amidst the calvacade of Kiwi talent, Flight of the Conchords and musician Ladi6 made early screen appearances.
This Steve La Hood-directed documentary provides a candid, 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 concert performances. There's a glimpse of some internal politics, and insight into how the musicians relax. Holding the baton is conductor Nicholas Braithwaite; guest pianist on tour is Peter Donohoe. Rachmaninov's 3rd Piano Concerto and Paul McCartney's Liverpool Oratorio feature prominently.
This documentary 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 international acclaim. Filmed in New Zealand, London and Tonga the documentary explores the multi-cultural roots of the band members and the inspiration for their lyrics. Director Makerita Urale uses the Nesian Mystik story as a lens to reflect the wider picture of Māori, Pacific Island and Pakeha society in New Zealand.
"Jazz is an attitude ... how you look at yourself, how you look at the world." So argues the subject of this rich and moody Work of Art documentary: jazz pianist Mike Nock. The Ngaruawahia-raised muso first went on the road in his teens, and by 18 had left New Zealand for a long career in Sydney, London and New York City. Director Geoffrey Cawthorn and his film crew travel with Nock in small-town New Zealand and big city NY, capturing memories of childhood, touring and inspiration. Also included: some beautifully-lit performances by Nock and his cohorts.
Ol’ Brown Eyes celebrates 40 years in showbiz with this variety concert, alongside some of his mates including Ray Columbus and Bunny Walters. The show is mostly live entertainment, punctuated by a few nostalgic field stories where Sir Howard acknowledges his upbringing and Māoritanga. The show ends with the Morrison whānau performing, followed by the hymn that gave Sir Howard a number one hit in 1982: ‘How Great Thou Art’. This TV special was dedicated to Sir Howard’s mother Kahu, who was an outstanding singer in her own right.
Opening with an image of Orpheus floating on the water, this inspired doco climaxes with a contender for NZ's most eyeopening montage yet. Loaded with examples of the infinite ways the human voice can make music, the film sees host Julian Waring introducing choirs, opera, balladeers and protest singers. Along the way Michael Heath recreates a performance by Florence Foster Jenkins, a worryingly close cousin of Asian-New Zealand songbird Wing. The mash-up finale uses 2000 photographs to summarise two decades of music, in a scene that must have blown minds in the suburbs.
Icon in B Minor: a musical odyssey is the tale of two creative souls from different centuries with the same belief in spiritual transformation through their art. World-renowned New Zealand concert pianist Michael Houstoun is filmed on his pilgrimage to Germany, where composer Franz Liszt spent his last years. Houstoun is preparing for his performance of Liszt's monumental work, Sonata in B Minor. Produced and directed by Tainui Stephens, Icon in B Minor screened as part of the Work of Art series.
"I love the idea of bringing sexiness into the classical arena ..." Made for TVNZ's Artsville series, documentary Farr From Heaven follows Gareth Farr composing and rehearsing a variety of musical pieces, from stage plays to a piece for percussion and orchestra. Written and directed by Roz Mason and narrated by Farr, the documentary shows the versatility of his work as a classical composer and performer (including as transvestite Lilith Lacroix). The full range of his creative process is captured, from composing and arrangement failures, to successful world premieres.
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 frontman for Little Bushman and is a behind-the-scenes guide as they prepare their trademark psychedelic blues for Psathas (Olympics 2004 opening ceremony score composer) to wrangle for orchestral collaboration. Philharmonia met harmonica in one-off gig at Auckland Town Hall. The doco was directed by Mark Albiston.
London-based jazz saxophonist Nathan Haines returns home to perform with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, where he's to be accompanied by his bassist father, Kevin, and guitarist brother, Joel in a musical family reunion. They've followed different paths since the mid-80s when Nathan was 14 and they used to play as a trio (seen here in archive footage). The NZSO concert features standards and new songs from the brothers. This doco backgrounds those songs, and follows the tricky business of melding jazz group and orchestra in rehearsal and concert.
Paul Holmes presents this episode of the show which honours and embarrasses famous people: this time the star is singer Rob Guest. The episode was made in 1998, at the height of Guest's career in Australasian musical theatre. It features excerpts from Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables, and appearances by musical colleagues, friends and family. Guest is good-humoured throughout; he gives a gracious speech and performs an impromptu song after the closing credits. Rob Guest passed away after suffering a stroke in October 2008.
The Aotearoa Hip Hop Summit held in Auckland 2001, was the biggest hip hop event ever staged in New Zealand. This documentary showcases the hottest names in the four elements of NZ hip hop: break dancers, graf artists, MCs and DJs. Featuring international acts from Germany and Australia, with Ken Swift representing old skool break dancing from New York and Tha Liks from Los Angeles. Local acts include Che Fu, Te Kupu, King Kapisi, P Money and DJ Sir-Vere. Presenters are Hayden Hare and Trent Helmbright.
30 Arthur Street was a Wellington musical institution. For more than 18 years the building was used as rehearsal space and studio, in which time 20 plus albums and nine feature film scores were partly or wholly recorded there. Directed by Plan 9 composer David Donaldson, this impressionistic doco chronicles some of the building's musical history, plus its destruction to make way for a bypass. Amongst the musicians featured are Toby Laing from Fat Freddys Drop, drummer Anthony Donaldson, and ex-Mutton Bird David Long.
Singer Jackie Clarke attends the NZ Smokefree Composing Women’s Festival to find out what goes on there, and find the guidance and inspiration to write a song for the first time. Made for TV ONE’s Work of Art slot, the documentary mixes interviews with performance footage covering a wide range of musical styles, from classical to rock. Singer/songwriters featuring include Moana Maniapoto, Shona Laing, Hinewehi Mohi, Mahinarangi Tocker and Jan Hellriegel, plus sometime film composers Janet Roddick and Jan Preston.