Thursday, November 22, 2012

On Song - by Simon Sweetman/Penguin. About $51.00

On Song: Stories Behind New Zealand's Pop Classics

Tonite we talk with Simon about his new book.  On Song - a lively journey through New Zealand's diverse pop landscape. Simon's a prolific music, almost manic consumer and writer on Muisc in Aotearoa and beyond.  For this book he's interviewed the writers and performers of beloved Kiwi classics, presenting 'in conversation' text that illuminates the fascinating stories behind the pop songs we all know and love, all complemented with a plethora of artists' personal imagery and archival photography. A stunning portrait of modern New Zealand through music.

Simon Sweetman is a freelance music writer. He is the popular music critic for the Dominion Post and writer of 'Blog on the Tracks', daily music musings for His work has also appeared in the New Zealand Listener, North & South, Rip It Up, Sunday Star-Times, Herald on Sunday, Salient and The Package. He has provided comment for Radio New Zealand National, RadioLIVE, Newstalk ZB, Radio Active and TVNZ's 'Good Morning'. He lives in Wellington with his wife Katy and their son Oscar. They share the house with far too many records and their cats Sylvie and Baxter. On Song is his first book.

Blog on the Tracks: Simon's Blog on the NZ Hearald Site

Off the Tracks - Simon's other Blog

Friday, November 16, 2012

Piano Forte: Stories and Soundscapes from Colonial New Zealand - By Kristine Moffat - Otago University Press $45

Kirstine Moffat is convenes English and is the senior lecturer at the University of Waikato, with reasearch on nineteenth and early twentieth-century feminist writings.  In particular she's interested in the motif of music and what it conveys about feminity, which led to this book.

Piano Forte looks at the time when the piano was at the centre of private, social and cultural life for many New Zealanders. Comprised of many voices, being based on memoirs, diaries, letters, concert programmes, company records and other accounts, her stories begin in 1827, with the arrival the first piano, through to the 1930's - when the increasing popularity of the phonograph, the radio and the talkies diverted us away.

I love these alternative little histories, viewing things from another perspective.  If you'veseen Jane Campion's The Piano then you can imagine how strange this instrument must have felt arrivinging as it did in it's crate onto the sands and being dragged off into the damp, overgrown bush to a shanty hut, where it was expected to warm the rooms with the sense and sensibilities of 'home'. 

For Maori it was not only an new sound but a crazy new look.  Instruments with mechanisms and machinery.  You can also imagine their surprise to find that pulleys, levers and such could make sound that to the Maori ears was very radical.  For a culture that was raised on nose flutes and taiha this is a massive departure and perhaps their first brush with the automaton and the impending industrial revolution of England.

The Piano was also the istrument of the church, and the pub and the town hall and the home. The protocols, the music the time and the place.  This is what I really love above this book, the research that finds the connections and shows us, once again that technology and our response to it shapes up, as we shape it. 

My only niggle really is about the amauerish design of the book jacket, which seems to be an issue for nearly all university Press productions.  I can not believe that budget determines style and presentation.  So if a second edition ever emerges, lets work on that.  But as an alt history this selection of historical sketches, paintings and photographs of the piano in many contexts provide a great visual essay, a great read over the coming summer months.  Not too academic but not to ght as to disregard respect of the reader.  Well done.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

On a Saturday Night - Community halls of small-town New Zealand - Michele Frey and Sara Newman/Photographs John Maillard and John O'Malley - Canterbury University Press $45.00

Yeah, it's great being out with the jokers
When the jokers are sparking and bright,
And its great giving cheek to the sheilas
Down the hall on a Saturday night ...
- Peter Cape, 1958

Well, it started with Chris Bourke's book on Music before Rock'n'Roll, this nogstalgia for old-time Kiwi culture.  When I grew up we shunned those dances, full of old men, brown ale, chiffon and mothballs.  But truth be told, that's the place our grandparents and parents met, where theygot married and we went to scouts, our first disco (the Blue light ones) or acted in our first Shakespere or Agatha Christie play.  halls have hosted school classrooms, general elections, stag parties, birthday parties, film screenings, Rabbiters' Balls, flag euchre evenings, farewells and welcome-home parties for servicemen from both world wars, memorial events for those who did not return, farm auctions, clearing sales, weddings, Christmas parties, Civil Defence teams, mayoral celebrations, church services The Community Hall is vital and intricate to our culture, particularly in the country where many towns have been razed to the ground, leaving, if you're lucky, a pub, a church and maybe the community hall.

Whakapara Memorial Hall
Many of these structures were post WW1 projects designed in Wellington but adapted for the conditions, and based on the community collection plate.  The actual architecture is now so varied, due to fires, re-builds, depression year renovations etc, that you'd only rcognised the intention, and less the original design.  But somethings remain. The stark concrete foundations.  Those little pink 'lozenges' in the Men's urinals, the over use of sky blue paint in the kitchen, pine cupboard doors, and the taped down indoor netball or basketball courts indicating the multi-use aspects of the great halls.  If you are lucky you'll see a roll of honor for everything from Pasendale to the annual indoor bowls tournament.
Clearly 'On a Saturday Night' is a colourful, slightly teary-eyed celebration of the strength and spirit of small towns from Whakapara to Mossburn.  Community halls have been the focal point of these towns for as long as the towns have been on the map. 

Pohangina Hall
Michele Frey and Sara Newman visited these halls with photographers John Maillard (North Island) and John O'Malley (South Island) to talk to the locals and try to capture the essence of what each hall has meant - and means - to its community. This is the heart of the book and what makes this different from, say, a Robyn Morrison photo book.  And it's these stories and pictures that give an aspect of New Zealand's unique culture that seems to be passing into history but fortunately is still alive.

About the Authors
Michele Frey is a Strategic Planner (Natural Environment and Recreation) for Opus International Consultants Ltd in Napier. She has always had a strong affinity with the notion of community, and seized eagerly upon the idea of producing a book on small-town halls, with the opportunity it offered to gain insights into the dynamics of small New Zealand communities. Along the way she developed some lifelong friendships. This is Michele's third book for Canterbury University Press.

Sara Newman grew up in a small town and knew all about the importance of community halls. She has had articles published in magazines in New Zealand and abroad, including Takahe and New Zealand Memories. While a member of the South Island Writers' Group she won the Ngaio Marsh Trophy for fiction in 2009. Her work is included in several anthologies and her family history Living Between the Lines has been read on National Radio. She loved visiting the halls and meeting the people involved with them.

one of the committee at the Pohangina Hall
North Island Halls Featured
Whakapara Memorial Hall
Ormond Hall
Horopito Hall
Wharehine Hall
Waerenga-o-kuri Hall
King George’s Hall
Hoteo North Hall
Ruakituri Hall
Clive Community Hall
Fencourt Hall
Ardkeen Hall
Waipawa Hall
Manawahe Hall
Tutira Hall
Pohangina Hall
Waioeka Hall
Douglas Hall
Colyton Hall

South Island Halls Featured
Puramahoi Hall
Rotomanu Hall
Lincoln Community Centre
Murchison Hall
Spotswood Hall
Tai Tapu Hall
Upper Matakitaki Hall
Glenroy Hall
The Gaiety
Totara Flat Hall
Hororata Hall
Sherwood Downs Community Hall
Moonlight Hall
Prebbleton Public Hall
Peel Forest Hall
Runanga Hall
Springston Hall
Luggate War Memorial Hall
Five Rivers Hall
Mossburn Hall
The Hurunui Halls:
Hawarden - The Peaks
Masons Flat - Waikari

Down the Hall on a Saturday Night - By Peter Cape

New Zealand songwriter Peter Cape’s 1958 song ‘Down the hall on a Saturday night’ perfectly captured the atmosphere of a dance at a local country hall. The song mentions how the blokes rushed outside between dances to swig beer from a keg. The last two verses are:

I had a schottische with the tart from the butchers
Got stuck for a waltz with the constable’s wife
Had a beer from the keg on the cream-truck
And the cop had one too, you can bet your life.

Yeah, it’s great being out with the jokers
When the jokers are sparking and bright,
And it’s great giving cheek to the sheilas
Down the hall on a Saturday night.

Here's the full version:

Down the Hall on a Saturday Night - Peter Cape 1958

I got a new pair of grey strides,
I got a real Kiwi haircut,
A bit off the top, an' short back and sides.
Soon as I've tied up me guri,
Soon as I've swept out the yard,
Soon as I've hosed down me gumboots,
I'll be living it high and hitting it hard.
I'm gonna climb onto me tractor,
Gonna belt 'er out of the gate,
'Cause there's a hop on down at the hall,and
She starts sharp somewhere 'bout 1/2 past 8.

Look at the shielas cutting the supper
Look at the kids sliding over the floor
An' look at the great big bunch of jokers
Hanging 'round the door.

We've got the teacher to bash the pianna,
And Joe from the store on the drums.
We're as slick as the Orange* in Auckland
For whooping things up and making them hum.

I had a schottische with the tart from the butchers
Got stuck for a waltz with the constable's wife
Had a beer from the keg on the cream-truck
And the cop had one too, you can bet your life

Yeah, it's great being out with the jokers
When the jokers are sparking and bright,

And it's great giving cheek to the shielas
Down the hall on Saturday night

Stag Spooner - Wild Man from the Bush (Craig Potton Press) $49.99

An illustrated diary kept by a deer hunter during 1939 and 1940 lies at the heart of an exciting new biography published later this month by Craig Potton Publishing .  Neville ‘Stag’ Spooner grew up in the Wairarapa during the Great Depression. His father was an enthusiastic carver, musician and hunter who taught his whole family to shoot and also encouraged their artistic abilities.

Stag started keeping records of his daily life as a child and continued the practice during his military service in World War II, until his early death in Fiordland aged just 28. It was the illustrated diary that he kept while working as a deer culler for the Department of Internal Affairs, first in the Tararuas and then on the West Coast of the South Island, that is being reproduced for the first time as part of this new book.

Neville 'Stag" Spooner

“It’s the kind of exciting discovery of a Kiwi classic that everyone dreams about,” says Wellington based biographer Chris Maclean. “When I was first shown a copy of the original diary I was fascinated, it seemed a really significant find to me. I started out writing an explanatory essay to accompany the publication of the diary. But as I spoke with more of the family, my understanding of Stag’s creative output increased and so did the scope of the project.”

Stag Spooner: Wild man from the bush – The story of a New Zealand hunter – artist by Chris Maclean will be launched in Masterton on Saturday 28 August.

An exhibition based on Stag’s life and artworks was shown at Aratoi Wairarapa Museum of Art and History during August and September -

About the author

Chris Maclean is a Wellington historian, writer, photographer and publisher, with a keen interest in the outdoors. He has written a number of acclaimed and award-winning books, including Tararua , Waikanae, Kapiti, Wellington – Telling Tales, and a biography of John Pascoe. Chris is the great-grandson of George Whitcombe, founder of Whitcombe & Tombs.

'Stag' Spooner's diary a blend of art and history

From Wairapapa News 25/07/2012

With his shaggy dark hair and beard, and a discernible twinkle in his eye, there is something very contemporary- looking about the young man in the photo.

You could easily picture him strolling along Cuba St with all the other quirky 'Generation Y-ers'. But this photo was taken in 1939 and it shows Neville 'Stag' Spooner: passionate hunter, government deer culler, artist and diarist who grew up in Carterton, and later served in North Africa in World War II.

His remarkable story is told in a book, Stag Spooner: Wild Man from the Bush, and an accompanying exhibition being launched at Aratoi this weekend.

Neville (who earned his nickname of 'Stag' by his prowess for hunting) wrote that he was 'an artist by 7' and was well in the habit of recording his adventures by the time he was a teenager. For the Spooner family (five boys and one girl), these adventures typically involved hunting or fishing. Stag shot his first Tararua deer in 1935, aged 18, and by 1937 he had become a highly proficient hunter.

So the job of deer culler must have been a logical and attractive option, and this is the period in his life that he records in his 80-page visual diary (dated 1939-40), which he titled Those Wild Men from the Bush.

The diary shows the daily tasks involved in the life of a culler, employed to stem the decimating effects of a wildly proliferating deer population in the hinterlands. This was certainly a busy season, seeing Stag top the Westland cullers' tally, killing 525 deer in six months, including 41 in a day. He shows the various tasks involved, from hacking through the bush to make trails, tracking and shooting deer, skinning them and cutting off the tails to take back as proof. He also shows camp life at the end of a hard day, trips into town to see sweethearts, and the haircuts to make this 'Wild Man of the Bush' halfway presentable.

Aratoi director Marcus Boroughs describes the diary, passed down through the Spooner family since Stag's untimely death, as having a local focus but a national significance. 'It's like a real life Boys Own Annual . . . a fabulous blending of art and history. For a young man of that era to be out in the Tararuas not only hunting and shooting but also recording his experiences in artwork is really extraordinary.'

Ironically, the renowned sharp shooter served in a non- combat role in a Field Ambulance Unit for the duration of the war. Here, he continued writing and drawing but this time mainly in the form of decorated envelopes sent home to his family. These show his developing confidence and skill as an artist, often blending military scenes with Tararua hunting imagery, and also his keen sense of humour. They caught the attention of his colleagues and led to a side business selling selected envelopes.
Stag, along with his brothers Tory and Bryan, survived the war but he died tragically on a solo hunting expedition near Lake Te Anau, aged 28. The exhibition, which also includes a large range of trophy deer heads, carvings by Stag and other objects, begs the question as to what this talented young man would have accomplished.

Stag Spooner - Those Wild Men from the Bush, July 27 to September 30; Face Value - Portraits from the Collection, until November 4; Stephen Duncan, until July 28; Foyer Exhibits - Selected works from The Rutherford Collection & Kajsa Bckstrm.

- Wairarapa News 25/07/2012

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Information is beautiful - New Edition - by David McCandeless (Harper Collins, $44.99)

"Lies, lies and damn statistics".  Indeed.  Take a pause.  This book offers up both a learning tool and a cerebal pair of spectacles in which to re-visualise data.  In our lives we are bombarded by facts, fgures and data that means nothing and everything to us.  But of course, no matter what that data is, it's acuracy or its origin that data tells a story.  So if a picture tells a story of over a 1000 words in a simple line or with a splash of coulor then imagine that a whole data set could produce!  And for any one that believes that data is all boring - also, think again.   McCandless' book (originally published a few years ago and updated for the internet age) presents data in very simple ways.  In a sense the images he uses to present the data tell the story.  They are so well done that the invitation to interpret is very narrow but the equal invite to discuss is very large.  Take, for example the statistics about refugees and imigrants.  the format appears too simple - like something used for a magazine such as Time.  But the data shows the integrity and invites deeper analysis.  There are many examples in here, which McCandless doesn't actually create himself, but instead may compile, reproduce or reimage.  I'd love to know what tools he uses.

Also have a flip through the Amazon preview:

McCandless also has a website, as they all do to support and celebrate the good use and presentation of quality data - see

And on the site you can find a number of upcoming projects such as
The LOTR Project by Emil Johanssen. Statistics on the population of Middle Earth. Number of women. Average life span. Age distribution. Population demographics. Sooth! I thought was geeky…
    Data can be fun  
  Also he has TED talks, worth checking out -

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Mad on Radium: New Zealand in the Atomic Age - by Rebecca Priestley AUP $44.95

Rebecca Priestley has a history of science PhD from Canterbury University and this book is based on her thesis. Priestley is one of New Zealand’s most significant science writers. She is the co-author of Atoms, Dinosaurs and DNA with Veronika Meduna, which won the 2009 LIANZA Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction; editor of The Awa Book of New Zealand Science, which won the 2009 Royal Society Science Book of the Year prize; and science columnist for the New Zealand Listener. Rebecca Priestley is a History Research Trust awardee.

Mad on Radium: New Zealand in the Atomic Age

Mad on Radium:
New Zealand in the Atomic Age
‘New Zealand is known around the world for our nuclear-free stance – banning US ship visits, prohibiting uranium mining, selling ourselves to the world on our clean, green, nuclear-free image. But have we always been nuclear sceptics?’

In this engaging and accessible history, prize-winning author Rebecca Priestley reveals the alternative history of ‘nuclear New Zealand’ – a country where there was much enthusiasm for nuclear science and technology, from the first users of x-rays and radium in medicine; the young New Zealand physicists seconded to work on the Manhattan Project; support for the British bomb tests in the Pacific; plans for a heavy water plant at Wairakei; prospecting for uranium on the West Coast of the South Island; plans for a nuclear power station on the Kaipara Harbour; and thousands of scientists and medical professionals working with nuclear technology. 
Priestley then considers the transition to ‘nuclear-free New Zealand’ policy in the 1980s. The change was dramatic: in the late 1970s, less than a decade before becoming so proudly nuclear-free, New Zealand was considering nuclear power to meet growing electricity demand in the North Island and the government was supporting a uranium prospecting programme on the West Coast of the South Island. But following the nuclear-free policy, anything with nuclear associations came under suspicion: taxi drivers referred to a science institute using a particle accelerator as ‘the bomb factory’ and Jools Topp of the Topp Twins refused radiation therapy for cancer, telling the doctors ‘I’m a lifelong member of Greenpeace, why would I let you irradiate me?’
By uncovering the long and rich history of New Zealanders’ engagement with the nuclear world and the roots of our nuclear-free identity, by leading us into popular culture, politics, medicine and science, Priestley reveals much about our culture’s evolving attitudes to science and technology and the world beyond New Zealand’s shores.   Check out a couple of 'Nuclear' movies from the 1950's"