Good-bye Maoriland: The Songs and Sounds of New Zealand's Great War

Good-bye Maoriland: The Songs and Sounds of New Zealand's Great War

by Chris Bourke


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Be it ‘Tipperary’ or ‘Pokarekare’, the morning reveille or the bugle’s last post, concert parties at the front or patriotic songs at home, music was central to New Zealand’s experience of the First World War. In Good-Bye Maoriland, the acclaimed author of Blue Smoke introduces us the songs and sounds of World War I in order to take us deep inside the human experience of war.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781869408718
Publisher: Auckland University Press
Publication date: 03/01/2018
Edition description: None
Pages: 308
Product dimensions: 8.00(w) x 10.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Chris Bourke is a writer, journalist, editor and radio producer. He has been arts and books editor at the NZ Listener, editor of Rip It Up and Real Groove, and producer of Radio New Zealand’s Saturday Morning with Kim Hill. He wrote the best-selling, definitive biography of Crowded House, Something So Strong and Blue Smoke: The Lost Dawn of New Zealand Popular Music, 1918-1964.

Read an Excerpt



On a balmy Sunday afternoon in late summer 1914, six months before the First World War, an audience gathered in Linwood Park, Christchurch. The entertainment was the Linwood Band, a brass ensemble of 22 local players. A march was the opening piece, and the reviewer for the Christchurch Sun was disdainful: the band's performance was rough, its phrasing was non-existent and each set of instruments seemed to play in different pitches. 'No two of them were in tune.' A solo from the euphonium player sounded as if it was being played by a baritone; the soprano player cautiously felt his way through a cadenza. Only the cornet player showed competence. A selection from Verdi's Macbeth was tragic, but not in the way the composer intended – 'this was tragic enough to make one's blood curdle'. The reviewer – whose pseudonym was 'Maestro' – offered some advice: 'Try and get someone to help you tune the band up. Have scale practices. That is the only way to effectually cure the bad faults mentioned above, and then select easier pieces for programme work.'

While Maestro was scathing, his review of an inconsequential concert by a lamentable band shows that musical life in New Zealand was vibrant during the antebellum period. All genres of music were available to the young society, whose population stood at 1.1 million as the war began. Most weeks in the main centres – and almost as frequently in the provinces – audiences could enjoy classical concerts and recitals, opera, vaudeville, civic functions, tours by international artists, pit orchestras at silent films, as well as amateur performances or recordings in the comfort of their living rooms. In Christchurch alone, there was enough brass band activity that the Sun provided Maestro the space to write a weekly column. Similarly, the Auckland Star ran lengthy reviews of the weekly recitals by the city's official organist, J. Maughan Barnett.

Previews of vaudeville shows were also a regular feature of the newspapers in all the main centres. These shows usually featured visiting performers on the international circuit, brought here by entertainment impresarios such as Benjamin Fuller and J. C. Williamson. Singers of international renown made nationwide tours of New Zealand, among them John McCormack and Nellie Melba. A tour by a classical ensemble such as the young Cherniavsky Trio was eagerly covered by the press, especially the energetic, confrontational arts and music magazine, the Triad. Founded in Dunedin in 1893 the monthly managed to cover musical events throughout New Zealand – even after its head office moved to Sydney in 1913. The Triad was launched just as New Zealand was about to experience a 'golden age of visiting opera companies and international music stars'.

Larger towns boasted orchestral and operatic societies, choirs, brass bands, pipe bands and dance bands. Specialist retailers such as the Begg's chain were on most main streets, selling instruments and sheet music, and acted as the heart of the music community. In gatherings public and private, music was vital. From the brass band at a civic reception to the ad hoc ensembles playing in living rooms, performance and melody helped bond the society.

Music-making at home revolved around the piano, and the proliferation of the instrument grew quickly in the years prior to the First World War. The peak came in 1916, when 40 per cent of households contained a piano. While this is less prevalent than the US (where, in 1925, a survey of 36 cities found a piano in 51 per cent of homes), it was much more expensive to acquire a piano in New Zealand. Whereas the US had a booming manufacturing industry, in New Zealand all but a few pianos were imported, lifting their cost. 'Singing around the piano' was far more popular than recitals, suggests historian Michael Brown: what appealed was the intimacy and emotions shared while performing in a living room. Marriage rates were rising, also – by 40 per cent between 1895 and 1904 – and with New Zealanders becoming more domestic and settled, so too did the sales of pianos increase.

Lawrence Blyth, a private with the New Zealand Rifle Brigade, described himself as unsophisticated when he enlisted at eighteen. Growing up in Canterbury, social life centred on the family. 'It was all very modest, round the family piano where we played and sung all the old songs. We went to church and Sunday school. No, we led a fairly quiet life, and then to be picked up and dumped into a war and to experience all those things, it certainly is a dramatic change in one's life.'

Grace Brake grew up on a King Country farm, one of six daughters whose father bought a piano so they could socialise at home. Young men came on Sundays for sing-songs and dances in the living room. Before the war, the selections were usually 'sentimental favourites' such as 'Please Give Me a Penny, Sir' (a nineteenth-century song turned into a Red Cross fundraiser during the war), 'Don't Go Down the Mine, Father', 'Mother Machree', 'Kathleen Mavourneen', 'Because', 'Land of Hope and Glory' and 'She is Far From the Land'.

The pre-war period saw the worldwide music industry going through one of its periodic revolutions. In Britain and New Zealand, sales of sheet music, gramophones and pianos boomed; songs in the new 'ragtime' style championed by Irving Berlin were infiltrating the polite ballads favoured by performers such as John McCormack and Caruso, which evolved from lieder rather than folk sources. 'Every respectable household ... wanted a piano in the parlour', said Lyn Macdonald, and there were also uprights in schools, church halls, pubs and clubs.

As well as making their own music, New Zealanders increasingly enjoyed listening to recordings of the world's greatest talents. Record stores were widespread, with chains such as Begg's, the Talkeries shops, the Dresden Piano Company and the Anglo-American Music Stores selling cylinders and discs, and the wind-up machines on which to play them. The Talkeries chain was founded in 1901, with stores in many main centres including Wellington, Masterton, New Plymouth and Dargaville. While the availability of recorded music would lead to a decline in domestic music-making, selling musical instruments was the core business for Begg's, and a sideline for the Talkeries chain.

The Anglo-American Music Stores had branches in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Their approach to sales was aggressive: they advertised widely and regularly marked down their product range. In 1914 they advertised that 1000 watches, necklaces, chains, medals and gramophone records would be given away free at the Wellington store. The company exploited the ragtime fad, being quick to import discs of the latest hit songs, and offering a range of sheet music starting at 6d per song. In 1914 the Wellington branch advertised several new songs by Irving Berlin, who dominated the sheet-music market. For 1/6 pianists could buy Berlin's 'When the Midnight Choo Choo Leaves for Alabam', 'Stop! Stop! Stop!' and 'Come Over and Love Me Some More', as well as a saucy summer hit for the Australian swimming star Annette Kellerman: 'Come Take a Dip in the Deep With Me'.

Ragtime had been enjoyed in New Zealand since January 1900 when Dix's Gaiety Company included Clarinda – a short ragtime opera – in its variety show at Auckland's Town Hall. The style became an increasingly regular feature in variety shows, and New Zealand adopted the music of Irving Berlin with gusto. In 1911, two years after his greatest success, 'Alexander's Ragtime Band', Berlin almost eclipsed it with 'Everybody's Doing It', a song so popular its title became a catch-phrase, used in headlines, advertisements and everyday speech. When the Vatican initiated a crusade against the tango ballroom dance – declaring it 'subversive of purity' – the Auckland Star's headline was: 'Vatican Vetoes Tango: But Everybody's Doing It'. The song was on sale in New Zealand soon after Berlin wrote it, and quickly heard throughout the country. In June 1913 the Wellington Gas Company Orchestra performed it as a two-step at a dance to benefit the Missions to Seamen.

The dance era had arrived and, wrote Auckland music historian Dave McWilliams, it needed 'tuneful music'. New dances included the Gaby glide, hesitations and the tango. Besides 'Alexander's Ragtime Band', other recent hits in New Zealand included 'Oh, You Beautiful Doll' and 'Yiddle on Your Fiddle'. In July the Wellington branch of Begg's music store was advertising ragtime records for 3/6, with titles including 'Everybody's Doing It', 'Gaby Glide', 'The Wriggly Rag' and the 'Turkey Trot', as well as vocal numbers by Nellie Melba, Clara Butt, Peter Dawson, John McCormack and others.

'The world and his wife had gone dancing mad, turkey trotting, bunny hugging, balling the jack', wrote Tin Pan Alley historian Ian Whitcomb. In Wellington in 1913, students from Victoria University College burst into a capping ceremony in the Town Hall 'dressed as Maoris' and began to dance the 'Turkey Trot' and perform a haka, accompanied by ragtime on the piano. The ceremony was forced to reconvene in the smaller concert chamber so the chancellor, Sir Robert Stout, could address the public behind closed doors. Immediately after his speech, the students noisily rushed in. Stout scolded them, and 'threatened to adjourn the meeting if they were not quiet. More hubbub ensued, and the meeting was adjourned.'

Local songwriting was flourishing, too. Professional musicians such as Alfred Hill, Alex Lithgow or G. B. Laidlaw saw their pieces published by Begg's or overseas firms. Many amateur songwriters published themselves and recruited a local printer to produce limited editions. Composers such as Hill, George de Clive-Lowe and Archie Don were dedicated creators of original musicals and light operas. Musical theatre was also thriving, especially in the main centres. Dunedin enjoyed seasons of Aladdin, East Lynne and A Country Girl in 1914, while in Auckland a Gilbert and Sullivan revival was taking place. Every few nights at His Majesty's Theatre, a different comic opera was performed, in a season that introduced the 'brilliant young Australian soprano' Gladys Moncrieff making her debut to New Zealand audiences.

Also, several national tours were undertaken by classical performers of international acclaim including the singers Antonia Dolores and Paul Dufault, the violinist Mischa Elman, and Australian family quartet the Kennedys. In the very week the war began, the Cherniavsky Trio was in the midst of a season at Auckland's His Majesty's.

Choral concerts were a staple of the musical diet: in May 1914, the Auckland Choral Society gave a grand production of The Creation at the Town Hall, and Wellington's annual Liedertafel was conducted by the city's éminence grise of music, Robert Parker. The popularity of Liedertafel – male part singing – was long standing, groups being founded in Christchurch in 1890 and in Wellington the following year. But the Germanic origins of the genre's name were not unnoticed.

By the time the war began, most theatres in the major towns were devoted to cinema, but each of the four main centres still supported at least one venue to vaudeville. Among the visiting troupes were the Smart Set Entertainers, from England. Hugely popular during its eight-week season at the Auckland Town Hall in 1913, the Smart Set's show included an item called Kia Ora: The New Zealand Revue. Written by Edward Elliott – who was also a ventriloquist and comedian – the show featured the Smart Set demonstrating the latest overseas novelty dances such as the Turkey Trot, and others with a local spin: the Queen Street Trot and the Wanganui Wobble.

By 1914 there were two main styles of variety show touring in Australasia: 'American-style' vaudeville, in which all the acts on the bill were unrelated, and a production that was 'half vaudeville acts and half a revue with songs and dances'. Vaudeville needed musicians who were versatile in many genres, and – with new acts and material appearing each week – quick learners. Reviewers could be scathing if they felt the acts were merely adequate. The Wellington-based Free Lance complained of American performers who travelled 'on one turn'. The week the war was announced, His Majesty's in Wellington offered 'no stars of blinding magnitude' but rearranged its programme so that its visitors – banjoists, dancers, Highland flings – seemed refreshed. Among them were Russian dancers the Jakowlew Trio – 'who have been receiving extra applause' – and Daisy Jerome, a 'comedienne' from Fuller's in Australia who had shared stages with Sarah Bernhardt and Harry Lauder.

Bert Royle, the New Zealand representative for the J. C. Williamson theatre company, responded quickly to the outbreak of war. Within days, he had written the words of 'Britons All' to a melody by Wellington musician Frank Crowther. Royle also spontaneously produced a fundraising variety show, cajoling other theatre companies and entertainers to join forces at the Wellington Grand Opera House to support the Patriotic Fund. 'They combined with enthusiasm at his call, and stirred up popular patriotism to such a height ... that £361 was gathered.' Acts from Williamson's, Fuller-Brennan and the Niblo Comedy Company contributed, as well as the Smart Set. Ernest Park performed 'Britons All' to introduce patriotic speeches by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence. Fred Niblo auctioned a Union Jack, cajoling bids up to £50 before it was bought by a director of the Evening Post.

For those depressed by the war – even though it was just two months old – a curative dose of vaudeville was required, wrote the theatre columnist of the Free Lance. 'Footlight' recommended the productions of the Fuller-Brennan company, whose October 1914 show was headlined by Arthur Troutt and his mermaid, the 'human fish'. Audiences – though mystified by 'their submarine proclivities' – clamoured for the act after an evening of curiosities: the accordion-playing Boudini brothers, the high-kicking Casselli Sisters ('liable to bring down any German Zeppelin'), a celebrity impersonator called the Great Westin, and comedians doing stand-up routines and stunts on roller-skates.

The Fuller-Brennan circuit brought many performers over from Australia, with Frank Crowther leading an orchestra of local musicians. Among their attractions in August 1914 was a bill featuring the Chipola Twins ('shapely young damsels' dancing the Grizzly Bear), the Four Goldinis, and a farce, The German Invasion.

Short films had begun to invade the programmes of variety shows in the decade just prior to the war, and this too was healthy for music: as feature films became commonplace, an industry of musicians playing for silent movies was created. Their repertoire ranged from comic sound effects to straight classical pieces, chosen to suit the action on the screen. According to music historian L. C. M. Saunders, the popularity of these pit orchestras led to the decline of many local symphony orchestras – and the delay of a national symphony until 1948.

Organ recitals were a core part of municipal life: purpose-built pipe organs were essential furniture in Edwardian town halls, and this fashion peaked as the war began. Enthusiasm for public organ concerts 'waned as orchestral and recorded music advanced', and the official city organists – Maughan Barnett in Auckland, Bernard Page in Wellington, J. C. Bradshaw in Christchurch and Victor Galway in Dunedin – would lose their mana and the role would eventually be discontinued.

When Wellington concert organisers and cinema owners tried to introduce recorded music in their programmes, local musicians made noises about going on strike. A cartoon in the Free Lance shows a conductor wielding his baton at music-machines such as an HMV gramophone, a music box, a penny slot machine and a monkey cranking an organ. The conductor is realistic about the competition, saying: 'Music, unlike mother's milk, can be supplied from other sources.'

Around the country, children dedicatedly took part in the annual Competitions in music, dance and elocution. The performance festivals began in Dunedin in 1901, and in the following decade were taken up in the other main centres and regions. For the young winners the Competitions provided fleeting local fame in return for months of stress and anxiety, though a few performers – such as conductor Warwick Braithwaite – found the ordeal a stepping stone to international careers.


Excerpted from "Good-Bye Maoriland"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Chris Bourke.
Excerpted by permission of Auckland University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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