Blog on the Tracks

Writer/reviewer Simon Sweetman covers music for The Dominion Post and North And South. He cares far too much about music, and the list of bands he loves is far longer than the list of groups he has shown no love.

Create a Kiwi Supergroup

06:14am 30 Jan 2015

SIMON SWEETMAN

You'll sometimes head along to a gig - local acts - and get the treat of a seeing an ad hoc "supergroup", Conan Mockasin played a secret gig back many moons ago in a tiny venue, Liam Finn was in his band.

Neil Finn's live band is always hand-picked and features many great players, Lawrence Arabia and Liam Finn (and Conan) work together often - and SJD has put together some great line-ups (for both the stage and on record). He has a new album due in just over a month and there are some great names involved...

Currently Don McGlashan and Dave Dobbyn are doing the Winery Tour with their double act, on stage together the whole time playing songs from their respective catalogues.

And of course you'll have your own stories of seeing The Legionnaires and Blerta and The Great Unwashed and then beyond that various mix'n'match members of "Dunedin Sound" bands, or back a decade and a half ago when there was the "Welly Dub" explosion (pity there wasn't an actual explosion...never mind...)Shayne

Anyway, here's the Friday challenge - build your own fantasy Kiwi "Supergroup".

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Blog on the Tracks: My Story

12:14pm 29 Jan 2015

SIMON SWEETMAN

I grew up fairly well obsessed with music, listening to the records my parents owned and buying tapes when I was at intermediate and high school; eventually, moving on to CDs. 

I think to begin with, I was most interested in the emotional connection people have with music; how I can still associate certain albums with specific family occasions - and how in the school holidays I'd get woken up by my mum turning up a record really loudly while she did the housework (of course, during the term, I was at school each day, so I was blissfully unaware that this happened).

Anyway, I retained an interest in music, which I thought was completely normal - and I guess, now, with hindsight, I can see that I was probably a little more obsessed than some of my friends. (I can remember playing Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin when I was 13, when friends were over - and telling them to be quiet if they talked over guitar solos, and would get up to rewind parts of songs to play over, telling my friends to listen carefully! - what a jerk!)

But yeah, everything was fairly normal. And then I finished school and moved to Wellington for University to do a B.A. I didn't really know exactly what I wanted to do - but I was always interested in writing, so I figured I'd be a journalist. So my plan was to finish my degree, and then apply to journalism school. In my second year at Vic I decided I would get some writing experience. And I headed to Salient. And I wasn't really sure that I could write features or interviews - or anything really. But I figured I'd be able to sell myself as a music reviewer. It turned out the editor that year had gone to my high school, and he let me review a couple of albums. I then reviewed some films too - it seemed to be going okay...

The next year, I carried this on - and figured I'd try and get some work elsewhere, so wrote to NZ Musician mag - a freebie that focuses entirely on local stuff - and as I was writing my intro letter to try and sell myself - I figured that I better try and have an edge. So I told the editor that I had been reviewing for Salient, and told some lies, and said I was the main reviewer - which was not even close to true, I think I'd done four or five reviews max, at this stage - and so I also wrote that I had "specialist jazz and blues knowledge". Of course I didn't, but I was - and still am - a fan of those genres. It worked. The editor wrote back, sending me a couple of CDs and telling me that he was "taking me on my word as a jazz and blues specialist!" For the first time, I had a deadline and a word limit - I had to write these two jazz albums up for NZ Musician - and I had to do it in 150 words each. It was so hard. I spent hours trimming my reviews down from 500 words to 300 to 200 to 180, 160, 157, 153...

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Your first musical instrument

02:22am 28 Jan 2015

SIMON SWEETMAN

My first musical instrument - not counting a toy drum-kit (which I can only just remember) - was a recorder. I had to have my own recorder - made a special case for it. We drove over to Napier one Friday night. It was a big deal. Got a recorder. And a special case for it. You see, we were being forced to learn the recorder at school - and the horrible music teacher had a bucket of communal recorders (I've told you that part of the story before, see) and I didn't want to share spit with others back then - not in that way. So I was one of a handful of students that turned up with their own recorder.

I doubt my parents ever felt like they recouped the investment. I didn't make it much beyond Three Blind Mice. B-A-G and all that. Actually that was all. I recently found the play-along beginner-recorder book that was bought for me with the instrument and its special case. It had one of those flexi-disc records you tore from the page. That's long gone - but I still have the book. Drums

My first (proper) drum kit wasn't a lot better. I mean, I was grateful for it - I loved it. But it was a pretty huckery thing. Second-hand kit, I was 12 years old, had been "learning" for just a few months. I was into it. Although my meat-head uncle decided to have a go on it later that Christmas morning and tore the floor-tom skin right away. That was gutting at the time, but obviously it was replaced, an easy fix. Didn't feel like it would be on the day though.

It had a stencilled "Keep It Country" logo with a hat and guitar drawn in on the bass drum. I loathed that. Took the front head off straight away. Now I'd kill for that bass drum - and that logo. The floor tom was brand new, sparkly, shiny red - it didn't match the rest of the kit. I still have the floor tom. It's in good-enough condition.

The kit had one cymbal, with rivets. It sounded like a garbage tin lid. Again, I'd love that now - but back then it wasn't what I had been hoping for.

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Art-Prank: The cover-album folly

06:57am 27 Jan 2015

SIMON SWEETMAN

One of my strange near-obsessions is finding out about track-by-track cover-albums; if I find out that a band - even a pack of nobodies - has recorded their version of a classic (or interesting) album originally recorded by someone else then I want to hear it.

I may not like it - as was the case with a truly horrific version of Dylan's Blood On The Tracks recorded as live-album by a band called Mary Lee's Corvette. But I still want to hear it. With A Little Help From My Fwends

I'm fascinated by the motivations to take someone else's full piece of work - the album, rather than just a single, a particular song - and recast it. 

There are song-by-song recreations that aim to come close to the original and there are full-album covers that are trying to ignore the musical language of the first recording; trying to tell a new story.

Then there's the album covered as folly. An art-prank, something like Camper Van Beethoven's version of Fleetwood Mac's Tusk album - I'm sure the Camper guys love the songs, but they didn't make this album for Fleetwood Mac fans. At least, not intentionally.

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Andrew Fagan and The People

10:12am 26 Jan 2015

SIMON SWEETMAN

I'm excited about Andrew Fagan's current tour - it started before Christmas, then a few days off and now back into it. Wellington will see the final show in fact.

I'm very lucky to be part of the bill - I'll be playing some classic Kiwi tunes, some of my favourite records, before the show and during the between-sets interval.Andrew Fagan

It's an honour.

Fagan was the first rock'n'roll frontman I knew about in New Zealand music. I remember watching him - watching The Mockers - on the New Year's Eve TV specials when I was a kid, also on the RTR Countdown-type shows (occasionally), and of course the hits were all over the radio.

I thought he was terrific - great songwriter, great singer, but this presence...a frontman, the man selling the sound, stealing the show, owning the stage.

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