The Witchdoctor Q&A: Grant Gillanders, expert in NZ pop music history

Grant Gillanders deserves a medal for his services to New Zealand music. The archivist/label owner submits to the great Witchdoctor Q&A.

 

Grant Gillanders

Gary Steel – How did you get to be the guru/expert of NZ pop music history? Can you explain a little about how you got into it and evolved to what you’re doing now?

Grant Gillanders – From as young as five and while the other kids were collecting comics and playing cowboys I was collecting and listening to records, and have always been drawn to the local scene. What I do now is just an extension of that.

 

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Gary – How many albums have you put out now (both through Frenzy and other labels)?

Grant – Ninety-five, so hopefully 100 by year’s end.

Gary – How do you choose a project to work on? Do you have to feel emotionally connected to it and love the music?

Grant – I have a list of 10 titles at any given time that are in various stages of completion. I delve deep into all of my projects, a bit like an actor getting into character, and tend to live and breath that project. Once the CD has been released I play it once and in most cases I don’t play it for a year or so.

Gary – Is the ’60s the be-all and end-all of pop and rock? Is there something special about that era that attracts you to it?

Grant – From the mid-‘60s onwards and included in my pocket money was a copy of the Record Mirror, a UK music magazine. It was the only weekly overseas magazine to review every record released that week. This meant that from an early age I was aware that the music that we were hearing on the radio and seeing on TV was a mere drop in a bucket. I wanted to hear more so I went looking – 50 odd years later I am still looking.

Gary – What’s the best/favourite project you’ve been involved with?

Grant – I was hoping that you wouldn’t ask that because to be honest I can’t.

Gary – Name a few ‘legacy’ musos and/or industry figures you’ve really enjoyed meeting along the way.

Grant – Ray Columbus, Eldred Stebbing, Larry’s Rebels, Tommy Adderley.

Gary – When you’re putting together a compilation, how do you figure out how to choose what? Is it purely instinctual, or is it more mathematical?

Grant – Themed and instinctual. I prefer to compile an artist collection chronologically, but that sometimes doesn’t work if their first record was crap so sometimes you have to mix it up a bit. Late last year I released a Larry’s Rebels Complete Singles Collection. It is chronological and is the only way to listen to it as it covers from 1965 to 1970. You can hear the band mature and the style of music gradually evolve from track to track in front of your ears. For various artists compilations, I very rarely have to change the order that I usually jot down on a piece of paper. Sometimes certain tracks don’t sound good together for various reasons so a bit of massaging is occasionally required. But rule #1 is to load up the best-known tracks at the front.

Gary – Why start your own label? Is it making you rich?

Grant – Locally, no one else was doing much and in my opinion the ones that were weren’t doing it to a high standard. Some were but most weren’t. It isn’t really a job and started out as a hobby by volunteering to EMI to help release some of their back catalogue. I now do small runs on my Frenzy label and always try to break even on all titles. Some take longer than others. I no longer out-source any of the components that go together to make up a CD, which is the only viable way that you can do it and as a consequence I am the last man standing regarding New Zealand back catalogue releases. I enjoy the whole process.

Gary – Is it true you grew up in Whangaparoa? Are there any Auckland area music groups or artists that you know of that have come from outlying areas?

Grant – I grew up in Whangaparaoa and went to school in Orewa, in the days when it was a 90-minute journey to Auckland. I don’t recall anyone from that general area going on to have a musical journey.

Gary – What’s special about Kiwi pop? Is it really differentiated from that which came from the UK or US?

Grant – Most of the early ‘50s-‘60s-‘70s Kiwi tracks have a distinct sound, partly because we were always six months’ behind most overseas trends, plus a shortage of recording facilities and instruments meant that a lot of improvisation took place, and as Kiwis, we’re good at that.

Gary – Favourite concert? Favourite album generally?

Grant – My favourite album, and has been since its release in 1967 is The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Hearts Club Band. My favourite concert was the Paul McCartney 2017 Auckland concert. I came away thinking about all the money I would save on shows from then on out as that was the show to end all shows (for me).

Santa Claus looking through binoculars. Isolate on white background. Christmas concept.

Gary – What projects are you looking forward to working on in the future?

Grant – Every now and then I like to throw a curveball into the public domain. So at the moment, I am working on a CD of pre-rock and roll Kiwi female singers from 1949-1956. We had a wealth of world-class talent at the time and most of the artists have vanished into the mists of time as if they never existed but their voices still remain. There will be little interest and virtually no demand but it will be interesting and hopefully, it will lead to a better awareness of our musical history.

  • Frenzy label releases are available at proper record shops and online.

 

 

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