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In 1999, New Zealand music's poster boy, Neil Finn, wrote a song for New Zealand rugby's poster boys, the All Blacks. Can You Hear Us? was one of those sporting rallying calls, a Finn anthem which, with its sing-along chorus and a video meant to provoke the warm fuzzies with its allusions to World Cup glory, went to No 1 on its release.
However, in a case of one familiar tune giving way to another, the All Blacks' semifinal loss to France in London on October 31 prompted a quick slide into obscurity for Finn's single.
New Zealand musicologist Grant Gillanders hopes his latest project doesn't follow the same trajectory.
Rucks, Tries & Choruses: the history of NZ rugby ... in song, compiled by Gillanders, has been released by major label EMI in time for the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
The two-disc collection, which has no official links to the tournament, is book-ended by All Black great George Nepia's 1936 recording of Beneath the Maori Moon and John Rowles' Game Of Our Lives, recorded this year. That's fitting, Gillanders says, pointing out Rowles' father, Eddie Hohapata Rowles, a Maori All Black in 1935 and 1938, played against Nepia several times.
Nepia wasn't the only All Black who had a commercially released record. He is joined by 1956 All Blacks captain Pat Vincent, an accomplished jazz singer who recorded two singles and an EP for the Peak label in 1959-60.
Likewise, Waka Nathan and Mac Herewini also appear, under the guise of Nathan's Quin Tikis, their version of Hoki Mai following the 1977 British and Irish Lions' version of There's A Goldmine In the Sky, recorded while the team was touring New Zealand.
More well-known songs also feature, including My Old Man's An All Black (1960), by The Howard Morrison Quartet, and Right, Left And Centre's 1986 single Don't Go, written in protest against the planned All Blacks tour to South Africa. (Although that tour was cancelled by the New Zealand Rugby Union, a Cavaliers team toured the republic in 1986.)
Gillanders' selection also covers humorous terrain, with Reon Murtha adding a rugby commentary to a women's hat sale in a department store on 1962 effort The Bargain Sale, while Doug Catley's 1964 recording of Big Bad Don is a play on Jimmie Dean's 1961 hit Big Bad John.
The first disc, comprising 24 songs, offers a chronologically arranged historical overview of rugby-related music dating back 75 years; the second disc features just nine tracks, all of which were released post-2000, including five songs recorded specifically for the 2011 tournament campaign.
"Up until three or four weeks ago, it was only meant to be released as a single CD and was intended to be just a history of New Zealand rugby songs," Gillanders explains.
"But word got around that EMI was doing this CD which isn't part of the official Rugby World Cup merchandise. People who had recorded songs for the event started approaching me - 'did you know I've got this song?' - and we ended up with nine songs recorded recently that had no home.
"One song that was meant to be on there was Neil Finn's Can You Hear Us? Because it was an EMI track, we pencilled it in, but at the last minute Neil said he didn't want it on.
"I'd forgotten about that song and it was only a chance meeting with Sean Fitzpatrick a couple of months back that reminded me. He said, 'oh, I'm on that song; if you listen closely, you can hear me in the background'. Well, I listened really hard but couldn't hear Sean."
Rucks, Tries & Choruses is part of a larger project for Gillanders. Titled Kiwiana Goes Pop, it should be released in about six weeks, he says.
"For that, I've got clusters of songs on subjects: farm songs, pub songs, Kiwis abroad, television themes.
"One of the chapters was 'Rucks, Tries & Choruses'. When I started doing it, I filled up an A4-sized piece of paper with rugby songs. I put them all aside a couple of years ago and it was only this time last year when I thought, 'actually, with the world cup coming, I could drag them out'.
"I started working on it over the Christmas break last year and kept adding to my list. People would add their own suggestions. It was one of those things: as soon as you start scratching the surface, other little odd ones would turn up," Gillanders says.
"Some of them had to be turned down because they just weren't up to a certain standard. There were a couple that were only available on 78s and I couldn't find really good copies of them - at least ones that wouldn't cost too much to have cleaned up.
"It is 95% chronological. I like the way it speaks for itself. I let the songs tell their own story."
Gillanders, an Auckland-based music archivist who also recently collaborated with EMI in releasing WAIATA: Maori Showbands, Balladeers & Pop Stars, enjoys the detective work involved in tracking down artists and others.
"Where possible, I tried to contact the families themselves."
That detective work sometimes works in others' favour, too. Nepia's Beneath the Maori Moon was originally licensed to Decca (1936), but Gillanders discovered the label had no record of the song being licensed to it; hence ownership has reverted to the Nepia family, who will receive any future royalties from sales of the song.
"I think that is very special. They can now licence it for any film or documentary or other CDs."
Making a song and dance... an insight into some rugby-related songs.
• GEORGE NEPIA (All Black 1924-1930):
Beneath The Maori Moon (1936) George Nepia was selected as a fullback for the All Blacks tour of the United Kingdom in 1924. Nepia was one of the stars of the tour and played in all 32 games, scoring 77 points for the team tagged "The Invincibles".
Nepia wasn't eligible for the following year's tour of South Africa because of its apartheid policy. He returned to the All Blacks for tours of Australia in 1929 and played his last test against the British Isles in New Zealand in 1930.
In 1935 Nepia went to England to play rugby league.
It was during this period that Nepia recorded his cousin Walter Smith's composition, Beneath the Maori Moon at London's Decca Studios.
Nepia returned to New Zealand in 1937 and continued playing league.
He eventually played league for the New Zealand Maori and New Zealand rugby league teams.
In 1947 the New Zealand Rugby Union offered an amnesty for league players to return to rugby union. Nepia played a first-class match in 1950 against a Poverty Bay side captained by his eldest son (also named George). This made Nepia, at age 45, the oldest New Zealander to play in a first-class game, and it was also the only time a father has played against his son in a first-class game.
• DOUG CATLEY & THE FERNLEAFS: Big Bad Don (1964)
While working at his father's engineering factory as a process worker, young Doug Catley would often make up songs in his head to counter the boredom.
One of his imaginary songs was based on the exploits of everyone's hero, the great D.B. Clarke, a parody based on Jimmy Dean's 1961 hit, Big Bad John. After a few drinks at the Karori Cricket Club's Christmas do, Catley sang the song and, much to his surprise, was approached by a HMV representative who happened to be there that night who simply told him, "we have to record this".
A few days later, Doug found himself in HMV's Victoria St studio having the basics of recording techniques explained to him before recording the song. Big Bad Don became a big seller and as Doug reflects, "yeah, it was constantly on the radio and because it was on the charts I was considered a bit of a pop star. It impressed the girls, you could see them whispering and giggling to each other for about a month or so until it slipped off the charts and radio stopped playing it and I reverted back to plain old Doug Catley that no-one wanted to know".
• THE HOWARD MORRISON QUARTET: My Old Man's An All Black (1960)
Harry M. Miller, the manager of the Howard Morrison Quartet, on the way to a concert in Wellington with the group in the back of his Jaguar, suggested on the long journey that it would be a good idea to do a parody about the upcoming 1960 All Black tour to South Africa.
Having already parodied Lonnie Donegan's version of The Battle of New Orleans as The Battle of Waikato, the guys quickly took apart Lonnie's latest No 1 hit record, My Old Man's A Dustman, and with Gerry Merito to the fore, transformed and polished the song on the journey. With a busy touring schedule lined up, the earliest opportunity to record the song was at a concert at the Pukekohe Town Hall.
As Sir Howard recalled, "We recorded it at the end of the show; we used a tape recorder at the side of the stage with a little plastic microphone attached to the main stage microphone - pretty primitive.
"The audience were asked to stay behind and participate, which they did. I told them that this record was going to be huge and that this was their chance to help create history.
"Harry joked that the doors would be locked until a perfect take was recorded".
Miller was happy with the second take while the quartet were embarrassed that they even had to attempt a second one. The record is reputed to have sold 60,000 copies, which led Sir Howard to comment later that it was the worst recorded song in New Zealand's history and the most successful.
• THE 1977 BRITISH & IRISH LIONS; WAKA NATHAN'S QUIN TIKIS: There's A Goldmine In The Sky/Hoki Mai (1976)
During the 1977 British & Irish Lions tour of New Zealand, EMI recorded a sing-a-long album with the team at the Waitangi Hotel. Featured tracks included Rose Of Tralee, Flower of Scotland, Summer Holiday and their version of There's A Goldmine In the Sky.
In 1982 Waka Nathan, in celebration of the upcoming New Zealand Maori team's tour of Wales, assembled some of his ex-All Black and NZ Maori mates and recorded a souvenir songbook. As There's A Goldmine In The Sky and Hoki Mai are the same song, a verse and a chorus from the Lions is segued into Waka Nathan's Quin Tikis' version, where Nathan is joined by such luminaries of the game as Mac Herewini, Albie Pryor, Ces Williams and Jim Maniapoto.
• RIGHT LEFT AND CENTRE: Don't Go (1986)
Don't Go was the brainchild of Frank Stark, an Auckland musician. Stark enlisted his friends, musician Don McGlashan and writer/musician/activist Geoff Chapple, to help write a song to galvanise opposition to the planned 1985 All Blacks tour of South Africa.
The resulting record, produced by McGlashan and Stark, released under the name of Right, Left and Centre was fronted by singers Chris Knox, Rick Bryant and McGlashan.
Musicians included guitarists Chuck Morgan, Ivan Zagni and Mark Bell; while the back-up singers featured Annie Crummer and Kim Willoughby and a large chorus of friends, anti-tour veterans and artists, including painter John Reynolds, Dame Cath Tizard and Hamish Keith.
The song achieved what it set out to do, hitting No 2 on the charts and helping to focus opposition to the tour, which was eventually stopped by a team of lawyers, fronted by Philip Recordon and Patrick Finnigan, who successfully brought a case against the NZ Rugby Union.
- Text from liner notes to Rucks, Tries & Choruses, compiled by Grant Gillanders.