Sunday, January 28, 2018

Album Review: Various - Heed The Call! Whakarongo, Nga Tamariki (2017)

Growing up in New Zealand as a young child in the 1970s, my memories of local music are pretty limited, but it always felt as though the decade could be split into two clear and very distinctive halves.

In the first half of the decade I can recall television shows such as Happen Inn and New Faces, and it seemed to me that most of the music being produced here was either very saccharine, or mostly derivative of what was happening on the pop charts internationally. In fact, many of the more high profile homegrown artists - Bunny Walters, Craig Scott, Ray Woolf, Suzanne, et al - were covering or copying exactly what was happening overseas, and it was simply being repackaged for the local market by the major record companies. There were exceptions to this “rule”, naturally.
By the second half of the decade, the local pub-rock circuit had started to offer us a number of bands with fiercely original material; the likes of Dragon, Hello Sailor, Th’ Dudes, and Mi-Sex. Right at the end of the decade, the arrival of punk and new wave - see Suburban Reptiles, Spelling Mistakes, the Scavengers, plus others - ensured the game was changing for the better.

My point being … there never seemed to be a lot else beyond those categories. There was nothing in the middle. It was either the covers and crooners of the earliest vintage, or the edgy rockers of later years. And of course, there was the island that was early Split Enz. I can’t ever recall - beyond a couple of Mark Williams hits - there being much in the way of locally-produced disco, soul, or funk. Sure, that stuff was all over the charts in the mid-to-late 1970s, mostly within the “singles” realm, but not a lot of it came from these shores.

At least that was my perception, and if we didn’t see locally-produced disco and funk music charting on any regular basis, that doesn’t necessarily mean it wasn’t being made. It just wasn’t being produced by the majors or distributed in any vast quantity. And if it wasn’t on the charts, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t being played in one or two of the more progressive nightclubs of the era. Not that I’d know, really … I was just as likely eating peanut butter sandwiches out of a plastic Partridge Family lunchbox at the time.

Which is where Heed the Call! (Whakarongo, Nga Tamariki) comes in. A brand new compilation album (released in December 2017) that showcases “17 Prime Soul, Funk and Disco Cuts” specifically from the Aotearoa of my childhood and early teenage years. Not that we called it Aotearoa back then either. It was still plain old New Zealand, mostly white, colonial, and largely rural …

It’s a terrific collection, lovingly compiled by the history-savvy Alan Perrott and John Baker, with my version being the CD (sadly, not vinyl), one that I had to order after the limited initial production run sold out in a matter of days. I don’t think anybody could have realistically anticipated the level of demand for this album. I certainly hadn’t.

One of the album’s highlights arrives right at the very start, with ‘Voodoo Lady’, a Dalvanius and The Fascinations tune that has so much fluoro disco bling oozing from it, you’ll probably need to wear a pair of dark glasses just to listen to it. Preferably a Bootsy-esque gold-framed pair.

Following on from that scene-setter, we’re introduced to Collision, with a James Brown-defying funktastic ‘You Can Dance’. Truth is though, we’re already familiar with these guys; Dalvanius having used the core of this band on the opener, under the Fascinations moniker.

After the opening double whammy, the listening experience becomes a knee-buckling trip deep into the heart of what was quite clearly a vibrant, yet mostly underground scene. A journey that doesn’t really let up until we reach the breathy closing moments of the album finale, ‘Total Man’, by er, The Totals. Which is quite possibly that band’s only release.

Other highlights include a couple of Mark Williams’ tunes, ‘Disco Lady’ and ‘House For Sale’, something relatively rare from the bold and brassy 1860 Band, ‘That's The Kind Of Love I've Got For You’, plus Herb McQuay’s ‘Night People’.

Of the more commercially established artists to feature, Prince Tui Teka provides the title track, Tina Cross offers ‘You Can Do It’, and Golden Harvest is on hand with that always familiar Kiwi yacht-rock classic ‘I Need Your Love’, which is one of the few chart-bothering tracks included. Larry Morris shows up, after a spell in the clink, with ‘Who Do We Think We're Fooling’, while Ticket, a band I’ve always more readily associated with the rock genre, feature with ‘Mr Music’.

At the other end of the spectrum, there’s work here from a few artists that I know very little about; the likes of the Johnny Rocco Band, (the) Inbetweens, Sonia & Skee, and the aforementioned Totals. Where the bloody hell have I been? I knew of the wholesome and religious Pink Family, who offer ‘Don't Give Your Life Away’, but I’d never actually heard their music.

Speaking of family, blood links might well be a theme; aside from the Pinks, there’s the Yandall Sisters (Adele, Mary, and Pauline) with ‘Sweet Inspiration’, and brotherly connections within Golden Harvest (the Kaukaus) and Collision (the Morgans). And of course, whanau was at the heart of, and often involved with, just about everything Dalvanius Prime and Prince Tui Teka ever did …

Heed The Call! is a fascinating compilation, and for the most part, a great listen. It’s been a long time coming, but it’s well worth the wait. Sure there’s some material that hasn’t aged all that well, and there’s a few sizable slabs of cheddar to be consumed, plus there’s a few covers or non-originals, but it’s a disco album, pulling the bulk of its content from the decade that taste forgot … so there’s your context right there.

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