Sea Shanties

As an island nation it's no suprise that New Zealanders have carried on the sea shanty traditions of our first European arrivals and written plenty of songs about the ocean and seafaring. While we're all familiar with songs like 'Six Months In A Leaky Boat', 'Easy Come Easy Go (The Interislander Song)' and the cringe-inducing 'Sailing Away' there are many other songs about the sea worthy of intention.

In 1997 husband and wife duo Brian and Maryrose Crook, who perform as The Renderers, released an album Dream of the Sea. Being an angry young man at the time I didn't really get The Renderers mix of alternative guitar squall (yes) and country (no), but now this is one of my favourite NZ albums. A few years ago I rented a cliff top house right by the sea and there is no record better suited for watching an approaching storm, the title track in particular. Anything by this band is worthwhile and you should also check out Ghost of our Vegas Lives, an album released as a Maryrose Crook solo project which includes the the songs 'Under the Sea' and 'Sea of Total Darkness'.   Brian and Maryrose Crook interview (stream)

The Renderers live in Port Chalmers on the Otago Harbour, which was for a time also the home of David Mitchell and Denise Roughan of the 3Ds. The 3Ds second EP was Swarthy Songs for Swabs and I have alcohol blurred memories of attending a launch gig where they played on a mocked-up pirate ship. The duo also released a number of singles under their own names and as Ghost Club. In 1991 they released a single which featured the B-side 'Grey Funnel Line', a folk song about the Royal British Navy. It's an amazing version of the song combining a pretty straight take on the vocals from Roughan with Mitchell's trademark hunched-in-front-of-the-amp guitar storm. You might be able to track the song down on the Xpressway Records compilation Making Losers Happy.

Sea shanties have also been tackled by Robert Scott of  The Clean and The Bats. In 2004 he released an album of folk songs, Songs of Otago's Past. When I heard Scott was recording this album I was keen to hear how he would take the old songs and add his own musical style. In the end I felt the album was a little disappointing as it was actually pretty traditional. To my ears the best in this collection is a song from 1900, 'Whaler's Rhymes', where Scott is accompanied by Alan Starrett on a contemporary wheezing ships harmonium.

If you take a listen to the podcast you'll also hear a song from H.M.S. Fortune, the second EP from Wellington band The Raskolnikovs, who could be described as a mix of Eastern European folk music and Nick Cave's Murder Ballads; 'Sea Shanty' a song from Werecat Lullabies, the debut album from the great Christchurch indie folk duo Ragamuffin Children, winners of a Counting The Beat Alternatui last year; new, but very traditional fare from The Maritime Crew, the resident musical act at the National Maritime Museum; and a rendition of the first NZ sea shanty, 'I've Traded With The Maoris'.You'll find the video for 'Six Months in a Leaky Boat' on the video page and more on sea shanties here.

Download the Counting The Beat - Sea Shanties podcast


Postie Plus

It's always a bit of buzz when you get a parcel in the mail. For one thing, no-one ever sends a bill in a parcel. And there's likely to be some goodies inside. I especially enjoy getting parcels containing CDs. Here are some of the recent arrivals in my letterbox.

Gearloose is the performance name of Christchurch solo artist Stephen King. Live Gearloose is a one-man, acoustic guitar outfit, but King is a multi-instrumentalist and on his self titled, debut album he fills out the sound a little more with some rockier numbers and a couple of more odd tunes. The result is pop that's a little left of centre and not too sweet. The album is out now on King's own record label, Humble Kingdom, for only $10 or through most of the on-line digital music outlets. There's a live video on the video page.

The Dukes released their album Lil' Sunshine in 2005. It was great fun, a country and blues influenced rocker which reminded me a bit of Creedence Clearwater Revival. In 2007 the band won the MTV Kickstart compettion winning cash and recording time to help with recording. A new album has yet to emerge but a single 'Time Is A Train' is out and it is just as full of swagger as their old material. I'm looking forward to the full release later this year. You can hear a live performance on National Radio (stream) or download an interview from BigPod.

The Desotos are an Auckland four piece outfit of veteran musicians who play out and about as a covers band with a set peppered with songs by the likes of Neil Young, Tom Petty and John Fogerty. The influence of those artists and of American roots and country rock generally can be heard in the set of original songs that make up The Desotos accomplished debut album Cross Your Heart. This should appeal to fans of another local country rock influenced band The Calico Brothers.

Also claiming Neil Young as an influence is Jane Siene, a singer/songwriter who splits her time between Auckland and the Bay of Plenty. I've only just received in the post the album LoveDeathSexRoad that she recorded in 2006 with Eddie Raynor producing. There's not a lot of info around on Jane and she has been absent from the live scene for a while, ever since supporting Tim Finn on a nationwide tour. I don't think much of the album title but the music is great. Don't be fooled by the female solo singer/songwriter thing - she delivers power and passion. There's a video of one of her acoustic numbers on the video page. Both Jane Siene and The Desotos are being released on Ode Records.

Another CD in the parcel from Ode Records was a self ttiled album from Tahu, a Wellington trio combining taonga puoro (Maori traditional instruments) and classical guitar. This has the potential to get a bit new-agey but tahu have been receiving critical acclaim, playing to "serious" music folks and getting airplay on National Radio Concert. There is a video of tahu performing live on the video page.

I'm looking forward to getting my next parcel, my only complaint is that is takes NZ Post so long to deliver to Waiheke.

Download the Counting The Beat - Postie Plus podcast


Computer Games

Considering that half the music we listen to nowadays is made on a PC, and that the internet has become the primary means of getting hold of music for many, it's surprising that there aren't that many songs about computers or the web.

Of course, you'll probably be familiar with 'Computer Games', the 1979 international hit from new-wave outfit Mi-Sex, a band whose songs have proven to have surprising longevity, unlike the computers of the era. Alongside 'Computer Games' the band's songs 'People', 'Blue Day', and 'Space Race' still receive quite a bit of air-play today and are still readily available on budget priced CD. The video for the song is on the video page. In 2006 the song was reworked by North Shore Pony Club into a stonking dance floor number that again made waves overseas, with the video going on high rotate on MTV Europe.

Look up teenage fourpiece Moron Says What?!?! on Wikipedia and you won't find an entry. Which is ironic really because that's the title of their best known song. Energetic, bratty and verging on the annoying their songs are chaotic new wave crowd pleasers. Although they're not on Wikipedia you will of course you will find them on myspace where you can check out a remix of the song and there is a radio interview with the band here.

Wellington band The Sing Songs are a well named band - the name gives a very good indication of what the music is like - sweet indie pop. With all of the band sharing vocal, instrumental and song-writing duties they will be a band to watch. As well as the accomplished execution the songs are lyrically enagaging, catching the attention with oddball topics like pamphlet delivery on 'Pamphlet Baby' and web design on 'HTML'. Both songs can be downloaded for free from the excellent Einstein Music Journal.

On the podcast you'll also hear 'Computers Make Me Hot' from Dr Green & The Greasy Saucepan, a band who cite Apple computers as an influence.

Download the Counting The Beat - Computer Games podcast


Sorry, What's Your Name Again?

It must be hard to come with a band name. Anything half decent has probably already been used. So, it's no suprise that there are some pretty unusual bands names out there. More by accident than design this episode features bands with strange names. For more unusually named kiwi bands check out the list put together by Paul at Pure NZ Alt Radio.

A few years back, well ten years actually, I picked up a crazy album called Low Tech Bent by an outfit called Spazmatron. The "band" was actually one guy from Whangarei, Brendon White, although his brother Darren played the drums on the album. In fact those drums dominate the album - they're right up front with Brendon's sequencing and electronic sounds sitting behind. That album is long out of print but a few years later Spazmatron released a bunch of songs that saw the duo add vocals to the drums and synth sounds and play around with a bunch of musical genres. Those songs are available on Amplifier with the standout probably being the jokey country track 'Good Ole Boy'. There's an outstanding animated video for that song on the video page.

Friendly Barnacle is the moniker of Phoenix Foundation bass player Warner Emery's band. Like bandmates Samuel Flynn Scott and Luke Buda he has put out his own album The Tides. While, perhaps understandably, it's not as strong as the efforts of his band-mates who write most of the songs and front the band this album will be welcomed by any Phoenix Foundation fan, or, for that matter, fans of mid 8os Flying Nun pop or those just digging the Wellington indie scene.

I recently picked up a great little release by Auckland band Superturtle. The band started off as the solo project of Darren McShane who has previously played with Chainsaw Masochist and Figure 60. For the album Superturtle To The Rescue McShane has pulled in a number of other musicians to help hom on a track by track basis. I actually bought this solely because of the packaging. The CD album comes as a "bonus" with a 7"single of 'All Our Friends' b/w 'Never Came Back' presented in a gatefold sleeve with retro liner notes. And all for only $12.50. Luckily when I got it home the music was pretty good too - clever guitar led pop augmented with horns, organ and more. This deserves a wider audience than it will proabably get. Videos for both sides of the 7 inch are on the video page.

I few episodes back I ran a special on songs about UFOs that featured a song called UFO by a defunct Gisborne band TK421. A former member of the band, Res, contacted me to let me know what he had been up to since. It turns out that TK421 have been hanging out in Gizzie listening to a lot of The Ramones by the sound of it. They have now morphed into The Rocket Jocks and have released an EP called Next Stop; Moon! I was pleased that they have retained the science fiction interests of their former band - not only with the EP title but also the tracks 'Invasion of The Giant Ants' and 'Judy Jetson, I Love You So'.

Download the Counting The Beat - What's Your Name podcast