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Clive Cockburn


Clive Cockburn's compositions have been heard on stage, film, and television, plus the commercial breaks between. The Wellington-raised musician began devoting himself to soundtrack work in the early 80s, and his CV now runs to more than 60 television programmes, and 200 plus TV commercials. 

Cockburn brings to his soundtracks the experience of having played rock, opera and jazz. Trained as a classical pianist, in the 60s he played organ and lead guitar in Wellington rock band The Avengers (not to be confused with the Ray Woolf band of the same name). The quartet's chart successes peaked with number two hit 'Love, Hate, Revenge'; they were also the first Kiwi rock band to release a live album. Cockburn reminisced about the Avengers era in 'The Swinging Sixties episode of series Give it a Whirl

In the 70s Cockburn was co-writer of New Zealand's first pop opera (Jenifer). One of his earliest screen compositions was providing the soundtrack for an episode of 1976 anthology series Winners and Losers (A Great Day).

"Music with drama has always been my first love," says Cockburn, "so writing music for film was a natural progression after writing for theatre."

In 1979 he wrote the music for TV pantomime Pere. Created by Peter Coates, the musical was centred on a Māori boy whose family had lost its spirit. Cockburn wrote the music to Coates' lyrics. The experience encouraged him to spend a year in Los Angeles, studying composing and arranging at the Grove School of Music. 

On his return Cockburn became the arranger for jazz long-stayers the Rodger Fox Big Band, then began to devote himself seriously to writing for the screen. Since then he has supplied music for a host of television documentaries and reality-based shows, including Country Calendar; Frontier of Dreams; Our People, Our Century; Location, Location, Location; and eight episodes of Wild South. He has won NZ TV Awards for his soundtracks to TV docos Ruapehu Tragedy and Destination Disaster - The Sinking of the Mikhail of Lermontov. Cockburn's work also includes providing music for TV channel identifications, and opening themes for many long-running programmes, including Crimewatch, Holiday, and a TV One news theme that was used for 12 years straight. 

Drama compositions include 80s series Pioneer Women and The Seekers, plus three feature films to date: 1990 ghost story The Returning, co-composing Fijian drama The Land Has Eyes, and The Maori Merchant of Venice. For the latter film, director Don Selwyn's Māori-language adaptation of the Shakespeare play, Cockburn worked with songwriter Hirini Melbourne. 

After working on documentary Return Journey with Kiri Te Kanawa, the opera singer asked that Cockburn compose music for the 1990 opening of Auckland's Aotea Centre. 

Music is a collaborative medium by its nature, and Cockburn has occasionally shared compositional duties with others, including his son Henry Coburn and soundtrack veteran Dave Parsons. When it came to ambitious historical documentary series Frontier of Dreams, Cockburn pooled his skills with his son Henry, whose experience encompasses music, engineering and sound effects. The finished score for the 13-part-series blends traditional Māori sounds, electronics, and orchestra.

In 2003 Cockburn was musical director on live performance show Big Night In, which showcased everyone from Bunny Walters to rockers Zed. Cockburn also runs his own programme teaching arrangement and composition.

Sources include
Clive Cockburn
John Dix, Stranded in Paradise (Auckland: Penguin Books, 2005)