Posts tagged ‘music’


A letter from composer Terry Gray, 1991

18.07.2018

What a coincidence to come across a letter from composer, arranger, conductor and former TVNZ bandleader Terry Gray, dated May 25, 1991, after I blogged about him on (nearly) the seventh anniversary of his passing. Here it is for others who may be interested in a little slice of Kiwi life. It looks like ITC Garamond Book Narrow here, though the resolution doesn’t make it very clear.

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In memoriam, Terry Gray, British-born New Zealand composer, 1940–2011

09.07.2018

I sincerely hope I’m wrong when I say that the passing of Kiwi composer, arranger and conductor Terry Gray went unnoticed in our news media.
   I only found out last month that Terry died in 2011. As a kid of the 1970s and a teenager of the 1980s, Terry’s music was a big part of my life. Before we got to New Zealand, he had already composed the Chesdale cheese jingle, which Kiwis above a certain age know. He was the bandleader on Top Dance, what New Zealanders used to watch before the localized version of Strictly. Terry’s music appeared on variety shows and live events (e.g. Telequest, Miss New Zealand) through the decade. Country GP, The Fire-Raiser, Peppermint Twist, and Daphne and Chloë were also among Terry’s works. In the late 1980s, Terry released an album, Solitaire, which was one of the first LPs I bought with my own money as a teen. By the turn of the decade, Terry hosted live big band evenings at the Plaza Hotel in Wellington, sponsored by the AM Network—until the AM Network could no longer fund the fun, regular events and the radio network itself, eventually, vanished. Terry’s Mum used to attend in those days, and I must have gone to at least half a dozen. I also picked up a Top Dance cassette at one of the evenings.
   I still have a nice letter from Terry somewhere, thanking me for my support, in the days when he lived in the Hutt. I learned that he eventually moved down south, to Dunedin, and died of leukemia on July 8, 2011.
   On (nearly) the seventh anniversary of his passing, I want to pay tribute to Terry. Here he is in action in Top Dance, hosted by Lindsay Yeo, in 1982.

   RIP Terry Gray, 1940–2011.

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The maternity ward of the early 1980s was a very different place

24.06.2018


Virginia McMillan/Creative Commons

Now the PM and her partner, Clarke Gayford, have shown off their daughter to the world (video at the end of this post), it reminded me of my own experiences in the maternity ward many years ago.
   I’m not a parent at the time of writing: I’m talking about the 1980s when I visited Wellington Women’s Hospital (as it then was), to wait for my Mum, a postnatal midwife, to finish work.
   The 1980s don’t seem that long ago to me, and all these memories are still very clear, but when you relay the story, you realize decades have passed.
   Mum shifted to WWH in 1980, when it first opened, and I still recall having a preview tour of the building before it opened. New carpets, new fixtures. Hand-held buzzers hooked up to the wall where you could call for a nurse—how modern! The 1980s had well and truly arrived, and how lucky of those patients, because this place was like a hotel. We really did think it was that flash in 1980.
   And it was a nice place to visit. I finished school at St Mark’s at 2.45 p.m. and the bus would usually get to the hospital by around 3 p.m. There was a long walk to the building at the back, taking an internal route, and walking through a basement tunnel with painted stripes—it felt like a science-fiction movie. I’d get to Ward 15 and I was expected to wait in the TV room.
   The TV room was next to the ‘day room’, which really meant the smoking room, where new Mums could pop in and have a fag. Every now and then, you’d get a naughty new mother who’d take an ashtray into the TV room, where I’d be waiting, but we are talking the early 1980s, and the term secondhand smoke had not entered the vernacular.
   Of course, we youngsters weren’t allowed to change the channel if adults were watching. Unfortunately, in the days of two state-run channels, most new mothers would watch Prisoner, and I don’t mean The Prisoner, with Patrick McGoohan. I meant the Australian soap opera Prisoner, set in a women’s prison, and known to British readers as Prisoner: Cell Block H. I could never comprehend why anyone would watch the sheer misery of the storylines about a women’s prison, but I suppose in the early 1980s, these ladies were thinking: ‘No matter how tough things are for me, at least I’m not in Wentworth.’ I would wait patiently for 3.30 p.m. to tick by, and Lynne Hamilton singing ‘On the Inside’ (itself a depressing, haunting theme tune) and the Grundy logo were signs that relief was coming. However, to this day, I still know this blasted song, and can play it by ear on a piano. Without checking online:

On the inside the roses grow,
They don’t mind the stony ground.
But the roses there are prisoners, too,
When morning comes around.

   Only once do I remember a Mum offering me control of the TV during the Prisoner hour to watch whatever channel I wanted, and of course, that meant the children’s programming, eventually an after-school show imaginatively titled After School, hosted by a cheerful Te Reo-speaking man called Olly Ohlson.
   Mum would be another 15 to 30 minutes, so my time in front of the telly was fairly limited. We’d walk home to Newtown in those days, and my memory of that journey home was that it was often sunny. Of course, that couldn’t have been the case, as I have equally strong memories of below-zero temperatures on the radio in the morning in 1981, and very grey weather watching Springbok tour marches (including fights between protesters and police officers) outside my window growing up. Those may or may not be the subject of another blog entry, as I’m not traditionally one to post childhood reminiscences on this blog.

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‘Planet Key’ is good old-fashioned Kiwi satire

23.08.2014

Fed up with the Electoral Commission barring Darren Watson from expressing his valid view with his satirical song ‘Planet Key’, I made a spoken-word version of it for my Tumblr a week ago, with copyright clearance over the lyrics. I wrote:

Since the Electoral Commission has imposed a ban on Darren Watson’s ‘Planet Key’—in fact, it can never be broadcast, and apparently, to heck with the Bill of Rights Act 1990—I felt it only right to help him express his great work, in the best tradition of William Shatner covering ‘Rocketman’. This has not been endorsed by Mr Watson (whom I do not know), and recorded with crap gear.

   I’ve read the Electoral Act 1993 and the Broadcasting Act 1989, but I still think they’re trumped by the Bill of Rights Act 1990.
   Legal arguments aside, I agree with Darren, that his expression of his political view is no different from Tom Scott drawing a cartoon.
   He has a right to freedom of thought and a right to express it.
   The Electoral Commission’s position seems to centre around his receiving payment for the song to cover his and his animator’s costs—which puts it in the class of an election advertisement.
   Again, I’m not sure how this is different from the Tom Scott example.
   Tom is paid for his work, albeit by the media who license it. Darren doesn’t have the backing of media syndication, so he’s asking for money via sales of the song on Itunes. We pay for the newspaper that features Tom’s work, so we can pay Itunes to download Darren’s. Tom doesn’t get the full amount that we pay the newspaper. Darren doesn’t get the full amount that we pay Itunes. How are they different?
   Is the Commission saying that only people who are featured in foreign-owned media are permitted to have a say? This is the 21st century, and there are vehicles beyond mainstream media. That’s the reality.
   The good news is that other Kiwis have been uploading Darren’s song, with the Electoral Commission saying, ‘if the content appeared elsewhere online, it would not require a promoter statement if it was posted as the expression of a personal political view and no payment was involved,’ according to Radio New Zealand. Darren might not be making money like Tom Scott does, but his view is still getting out there.
   On that note, I’m sure you’d much rather hear the original than mine. If you ever see Darren’s gigs out there, please support him through those.

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Monica Z now out on DVD and Blu-ray

18.01.2014

Monica Z, the bio-pic about the late Swedish jazz singer starring Edda Magnason, is now out on Blu-ray and DVD, as of earlier this week.
   I learned about the movie not through my Swedish contacts—they were messaging me only when the film was in the cinemas—but when Edda appeared at Allsång på Skansen in 2013 singing ‘Gröna små äpplen’ with a Monica Zetterlund hairstyle and 1960s dress. It didn’t take long to do a bit of surfing after discovering this:

   Purists (like me) will say she’s not quite as good as Monica but of the covers, this is still really good. I listened to the soundtrack ad nauseam on Myspace (really) but if I return to Scandinavia in 2014, I might pick up the DVD in person.
   Just to make this post more complete, and for all lovers of Swedish jazz, here’s my favourite Monica number, as performed by Edda. I had only seen this on the full Allsång telecast prior. (You need to have a break in the midst of a political campaign.)

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I wanted to grow up and be the Dean Martin version of Matt Helm

15.07.2011

As a child growing up in Wellington, there were a few TV series that shaped my beliefs about being grown-up in the occident. The first I’ve written about before: The Persuaders, which is in part where this blog gets its name. I’ve probably mentioned Return of the Saint elsewhere, not to mention the plethora of TV detectives and cops. It’s the old-fashioned idea that good beats evil, and that one man can make a difference.
   But there was also one movie that appealed to me. Tonight I watched, for the first time since the 1970s, The Wrecking Crew. This was the final Matt Helm spy pic starring Dean Martin, and it’s amazing what sticks in your memory from age five, when this was aired on television. Considering my memory goes back to c. nine months, I realize remembering stuff at five is not that remarkable, but I surprised myself at what visuals I recalled, nearly perfectly.
   It may have also shaped my idea that when you rescue the girl, you have to sing like Dean Martin. If anyone wants to lay blame somewhere for my impromptu crooning at parties (or, more embarrassingly, at restaurants), this is where it all started. This is also why I sing ‘Everybody Rock Your Body’ to the tune of ‘Everybody Loves Somebody’.
   As a child, I had no idea there was a series of Matt Helm films. So, as a teenager, I began renting them or recording them off telly. When I saw Murderers’ Row air on TV1 in 1982, I set the video recorder to tape it, but could see nothing from it that I remembered from the first time I watched a “Dean Martin spy flick”—I could not remember the title of what I had seen in 1977. At five, I actually didn’t care.
   Then there was The Silencers, actually the first movie, rented at the Kilbirnie Video Centre around 1990. Hmm, still not the one I saw.
   I then rented The Ambushers, the only other one they had there—still not it.
   So, by process of elimination, I knew it had to be the last one, The Wrecking Crew—or I could not trust my memory. Finally, thanks to DVD, over three decades on, I was able to relive what I saw as a five-year-old—and it was this one after all.
   This gives you an idea of what piqued my interest as a child.

The Wrecking Crew
1. That the bad guys had a Mercedes W111.

The Wrecking Crew
2. Elke Sommer. Probably not due to the fact that I was a perve at age five, but that she was the model flogging Lux soap on telly at the same time. (If I was a perve, then I would have noticed Elke’s very low-cut dress in her first scene. Then again, I remember the dancers from The Monte Carlo Show, but I was eight by then.)

The Wrecking Crew
3. Dino punching some guy in a Merc and running off.

The Wrecking Crew
4. This set, meant to be the interior of a train.

The Wrecking Crew
5. Villain Nigel Green’s trap door on his getaway train.

The Wrecking Crew
6. Dino making sure Sharon Tate didn’t fall through.

The Wrecking Crew
7. Dino making sure Nigel’s stuntman did fall through.

   I presume I knew who Dean Martin was probably because of my mother, who explained it—this was back in the day when parents made sure that what you watched was OK before they went off and prepared dinner. I can’t remember what was on the other channel, but I must have enjoyed this sufficiently to have stayed with it—and there were no remote controls for Philips K9 sets.
   Might have to watch it again tonight. It was genuinely ridiculous, but certainly better than The Silencers (whose theme you still occasionally hear on Groove 107·7 FM here in Wellington) or The Ambushers. Watch out for the second-unit actors on location and the fact that Dino and Sharon Tate stayed firmly in Hollywood; the fake grass on top of padding which moves when Dino pushes down on it; the director’s expectation that we could believe Dino’s character could build a helicopter from bits in a few minutes; and the really bad ride Mac (the boss) has in his Lincoln Continental.
   I’d still pick Murderers’ Row as the best one of the lot, thanks to Ann-Margret being very groovy, Dino’s Ford Thunderbird with rear lights that doubled as a dot-matrix display, the Lalo Schifrin score, and Karl Malden being evil.

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My John Barry top 10: ready when you are, J. B.

01.02.2011

What are my top 10 John Barry picks? The man had done such a variety of compositions that it’s hard to pick them out without qualifying a top 10 with genres. But for me, these stick in my mind as being the most significant, often because they are tied to important moments in my life.

Somewhere in TimeTheme from Somewhere in Time
This moved me so much that I played it at my Mum’s funeral. I wrote lyrics to it before the Michael Crawford version emerged. Barry said he received more mail about his work on Somewhere in Time than anything else. It’s not hard to see why. It was tied to the passing of his parents and the theme remains the most haunting and emotional tune he wrote in his career.

The PersuadersTheme from The Persuaders
You can’t divorce the feeling of running around the Riviera from the hipness of Barry’s theme—I used to bomb along the Moyenne Corniche with the theme going, reliving Danny and Brett’s adventures.

Annie Ross‘A Lot of Living to Do’
Not a Barry composition, but he produced an album for Annie Ross at Ember. It’s the arrangement and Johnny Spence’s orchestra’s performance that lifted this song for me, and it never fails to get me in a good mood.

OHMSSOn Her Majesty’s Secret Service
While many 007 aficionados point to Goldfinger, for me, it was the lush orchestral arrangements in OHMSS that stand out to make it John Barry’s finest James Bond score. The theme is more Bondian than anything else he did, in my opinion, and lent the film more richness than its lead actor, a young George Lazenby, was then able to convey. ‘We Have All the Time in the World’ nearly deserves its own entry, especially the string-heavy instrumental version played after the death of Tracy in the film, but much of the incidental music just has vistas of Swiss mountains somehow built in. You can’t help but see those images in your head when tracks such as ‘Journey to Blofeld’s Hideaway’ and ‘Attack on Piz Gloria’ are played.

ChaplinChaplin
The 1990s were the last active decade for Barry, if you don’t count Playing by Heart and Enigma at the turn of the century, and with Chaplin, his last collaboration with director Richard Attenborough, a mature Barry is able to reflect on the passing of time as well as that of Charlie’s life. The score is moving, more so in my opinion than his Oscar-winning Out of Africa or Dances with Wolves (the latter, I thought, was overrated) as it takes the action from London slums to Charlie receiving an Academy Award in 1972.

Theme from Eleanor and Franklin
This was a TV-movie about the First Family, but its theme still has a sense of occasion and “American-ness” to it. I always thought if I ever chose to get married, it would be a lovely theme to use. Unlike many of Barry’s grand themes, Eleanor and Franklin doesn’t have a sense of sorrow or melancholy to it, yet it gives any occasion a feeling of dignity.

Born FreeBorn Free
Deserves inclusion here, not because it was one of Barry’s greatest works (he wrote it as a Disney pastiche), but because there’s no way you can be my age and not know it. It’s a song from childhood; my late mother was called Elsa (sharing her name with the lioness); and it’s incredibly singable. Like a pastiche of a Disney song.

From Russia with LoveFrom Russia with Love
Another non-Barry theme song, but tied to Barry because of his long involvement in the James Bond films. He arranged and conducted the theme for the movie, and the Matt Monro vocal version remains one of my favourite Bond songs.

MoonrakerMoonraker
Bond purists hated Moonraker because it was the furthest Eon Productions took things from the novels of Ian Fleming, but it was blessed with a lush orchestral score from Barry. The Bonds, by this time, didn’t need to have a cutting-edge sound, and Barry himself, maturing as a musician, took a classical route toward the end of the 1970s. The theme was sung by Shirley Bassey and, in my opinion, remains one of the better ones; and Barry proved that you didn’t need heavy drumbeats, rapid rhythms, or Bee Gees-style synthesizers (cf. The Spy Who Loved Me) to make a Bond score work in 1979. The theme was rumoured to have originally been destined for Frank Sinatra to perform, but, according to Barry, ‘it just didn’t work out.’ Sadly, the masters for a lot of the work done by the French orchestra have gone, which meant when the soundtrack was reissued in 2003, it was no different to the abbreviated one that came out in 1979. Because of the low opinion many Bondophiles have of the movie, it’s unlikely to be re-recorded any time soon—though with Barry’s passing, it may finally be rediscovered as the gem that it is.

Moviola‘Moviola’, or ‘Flight over New York’ from Across the Sea of Time
A strange entry. It was understood that ‘Moviola’, which appeared in the album of the same name, was in fact Barry’s unused theme for Barbra Streisand’s The Prince of Tides. Why let it go to waste? Perhaps such a great composition deserved a cinematic airing, and Barry incorporated it into his score for the IMAX film Across the Sea of Time. I never saw the film, but it is a classic, sweeping Barry composition that us fans love, though it would be an exception in being a number that was not written for the film it appeared in. (There were elements of Zulu in Cry, the Beloved Country, but Barry defended this by saying it was based on an actual Zulu song.)

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The music of goodbye: farewell John Barry

31.01.2011

It was with great sadness that I wrote an obit about my favourite composer, John Barry, today, and published it on the Lucire website.
   While Barry didn’t have to do with fashion per se, his music was often fitting themes to each era. Who can write a complete history of 1960s’ music without some of its anthems: Barry’s Goldfinger and Born Free themes must rank highly (the Academy thought so with the latter; ironic considering Born Free’s producer did not), and the haunting ‘We Have All the Time in the World’? Barry fans like me will point to even his 1970s’ output as brilliant, regardless of the merit of the film: Murphy’s War, King Kong and The Deep work as stand-alone works as far as I am concerned. This blog itself is named for a TV series for which Barry wrote the theme, The Persuaders. Somewhere in Time remains as haunting now as it did then; Barry’s contribution to Out of Africa made the film seem larger than it really was. John Barry had style—and style is the currency my magazines deal in.
   It’s easy to point to Barry’s major works, as the obits have done, but as I type, I can think of The Glass Menagerie, Across the Sea of Time, Masquerade and Swept from the Sea as excellent scores, too.
   Barry once said that he was very visual. It’s an odd comment from a composer, but what he probably meant was that he could find music to complement scenes that he saw. For someone who wanted to be a film composer since childhood, and taking every opportunity to get there, his is a career that many of us would rightfully envy. He loved what he did, was acclaimed for it, and managed to live his daily life in reasonable privacy.
   I understood the visual comment but it was hammered home best when, driving around Oriental Bay, I saw one of the ferries go out. At the same time, Barry’s Raise the Titanic theme came on my tape deck (this was a while ago).
   Now, a Wellington–Picton ferry is not the Titanic, but I was amazed at how well the theme complemented the sight of a ship in the harbour. It was then I realized just how hard it would be for a musician to convey images, and just what Barry meant. I defy anyone listening to the Raise the Titanic theme (presuming you can find it—mine was not conducted by Barry) to not get nautical images in your head when it’s played and your eyes are shut. That’s how good Barry was.
   I always knew at some point I would write John Barry’s obit. I didn’t expect it so soon, but then, I imagine, no one did. He’s the only celeb whose obit-writing caused me to tear up; when composer David Arnold Tweeted that he felt that ‘Mary’s Theme’ from Mary, Queen of Scots was fitting, I teared up a little more.
   For me, John Barry’s music is the music of my teenage years and my 20s. So much of what I did, I did to a Barry soundtrack. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’s CD accompanied me into my first trip to Switzerland—like the experience with the ferry, it went with the snowy landscapes. As I bombed around Monaco and the South of France, it was The Persuaders’ theme (which I even referred to when I wrote a story about the experience). It was a further bond with my good friend, Richard Searle—when he got me out of some legal issues many years ago, a Barry biography was my gift to him; when I met Donna Loveday, the curator, Barry came up again—she even used one of his compositions at her wedding.
   It’s like a little bit of myself died today—that’s the feeling I get from the news. I never met John Barry nor did I meet anyone who knew him. The closest I got was Richard telling me he had been to a Barry concert, of which I was very jealous.
   But I am a fan, and will remain so till my days end. He was the only musician whose career I can say I followed for a majority of my lifetime. So this is how it feels to lose a celebrity whose work you truly admired.

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Bingo! Merry Christmas!

24.12.2010

Here’s a Christmas treat, an hour in to Christmas Day in New Zealand. Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas, filmed in 1977 33 days before the crooner’s passing, featured a duet between Bingo and David Bowie.
   Taped on September 11, 1977, the special aired after Crosby’s death, on November 30. The set is supposedly the interior of the castle of Bingo’s relative, Sir Percival Crosby. It’s a nice performance from two of the 20th century’s musical icons.

   And speaking of David Bowie, the Daily Mail has part one of a new Life on Mars story, written by a ‘Tom Graham’. I know there is Matthew Graham, so this must have been a typo. Graham did, after all, pen an earlierLife on Mars story for the Mail in 2007.
   Merry Christmas!

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Starting Upstairs, Downstairs this weekend

23.12.2010

I know I did this on November 23 on my Tumblr, but I have to share this joke with the Ashes to Ashes fans out there.
   Will the opening of Upstairs, Downstairs on Boxing Day on BBC1 (at 9 p.m.) begin with the Alexander Faris theme tune (see also below), or will Keeley Hawes narrate, ‘My name is Alex Drake. I’ve been shot and that bullet has taken me back to 1936’?


Above: Alexander Faris conducts his theme for Upstairs, Downstairs. I defy those of you over a certain age to not have the words ‘What are we going to do with Uncle Arthur?’ running through your head.

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