KIWI MUSIC ARCHIVIST Grant Gillanders is on fire. What was just a trickle back when he was curating NZ music compilations for EMI is now a veritable waterfall since he started his own company for the purpose of rampant historical Kiwiana, Frenzy Music. [Please excuse the above allusions to fire and water, by the way].
It’s a canny move releasing this beat-era compilation so close to the recent album of NZ cover versions of Beatles songs, and the Auckland Town Hall shows to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the fab four’s first and only visit to these shores.
What Did You Do In The Beat Era… Daddy!!! (hereafter referred to simply as Daddy) features 37 tracks (!) of mostly groups, and one or two solo singers, and as its subtitle indicates (The Kiwi Beat Music Scene 1963-1966), it’s specific to a mere four years when rock and roll was reborn via the British Invasion.
That the Beatles’ influence predominates is unsurprising, but it’s worth noting that the careful listener will also be able to spot the influence on some tracks of contemporaneous Merseyside aggregations, along with a bit of surf guitar and a dash of rhythm and blues that sounds beamed in straight from Stateside.
It must be noted, however, that the overall quality and originality of these songs and performances doesn’t match those on other recent Gillanders compilations like A Day In My Mind’s Mind Vol. 4. Perhaps that’s not surprising: the psychedelic era (anthologised by the above release) encouraged experimentation within the wide ambit of the genre, while the preceding beat era was much more homogenised, and aping successful songs was still the accepted modus operandi. It was also delightfully naïve, and while the overall standard of these tracks are probably no better or worse than those of aspiring beat bands anywhere else in the Western world at the same time, they’re still of more than merely historical value.
In other words, they mostly burst with an energy that must have brought with it an amazing whiff of freedom to band members trapped in sleepy little New Zealand in the early to mid ‘60s.
Standouts include Dinah Lee’s version of Jackie Wilson’s ‘Reet Petite’, which reinforce her as one of the gutsiest and most characterful of NZ vocalists of the era; Terry Dean & The Nitebeats’ ‘I’ll Keep Walkin’ with its forceful vocals and unusually strident instrumental style; the two Max Merritt & the Meteors tracks for Max’s effortlessly great singing; likewise the Tommy Adderley track, because the guy could really sing. As you guessed, back then it was singing, not instrumental prowess, that made the big difference.
There are hits and well-known songs alongside total obscurities, which make it worth spending time burrowing into its offerings. I did groan when it started with ‘She’s A Mod’, simply because we’ve heard this bona fide classic enough, surely. Heck, at least bury it away deep in the song lineup.
I would also liked to have the concept explained a little, either in the booklet or on an accompanying website link. While the artwork is an entertaining facsimile of the mod ‘60s, and each artist has a short bio in the liners, a little more general context would have been useful. But my two biggest gripes are these: 1) As usual with Gillanders projects, there are too many avoidable typographical and grammatical errors, including the lack of a question mark on the title itself, and 2) Nowhere is it explained what the sound sources are (original masters? cleaned up scratchy 7-inch singles?), or the date or recording details of individual songs. Surely anyone interested enough to spend hours listening to this worthy release would be interested enough to have this information at their fingertips. Happily, the sound quality is acceptable.
Having got that off my chest, it’s necessary to reiterate that quite a few of these tracks are pretty bog standard; but that they’re bog standard in a quite entertaining, vital way. After all, even the copyist bands must have been burning with the knowledge that they were right on the cusp of an exciting new era. Either way, for scholars of the history of NZ music, or those curious about this particular time in our music, Daddy! is indispensible. GARY STEEL
Sound = 3
Music = 3.5