Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Five Easy Questions with Chris Bourke - NZ Book Council

Chris Bourke (left signing his book at the launch) is a writer, journalist, and radio producer. He is the author of the multi-award-winning book Blue Smoke: The Lost Dawn of New Zealand Popular Music 1918-1964, which was the 2011 NZ Post Book Awards Book of the Year, winner of the General Non-Fiction category and the People's Choice Award. Chris Bourke will speak at the Book Council's next True Stories Told Live fundraiser.

1. What led you to focus on music evolution in the period 1918-64?
1918 because by the end of the First World War, the world had changed: it was smaller, our connections with the old world were faster, technology was evolving quickly - which meant people heard new types of music via the radio or on 78s - and new dance styles and rhythms changed our social habits. 1964 because that's when the Beatles visited New Zealand and they changed popular music so emphatically. Brass sections and velvet bow-tied or gowned singers were old hat, hair and guitars with amplifiers were in.
2. Blue Smoke is richly illustrated. Did it take you long to gather the visual material for the book?
The whole time I was researching and writing the book, I was keeping an eye out for images. But it was only when the manuscript was delivered that I had time to drive around the country, re-visit my interviewees and scan their photo albums on their kitchen tables. I also visited the Sound Archives in Christchurch who had a great stash of broadcasting/music photos that I was familiar with from my time at the Listener, and order pictures from public collections such as the Alexander Turnbull Library and Auckland Public Library. That took about three intense months - at the same time editing queries and proofs were coming back for checking.
3. Were you surprised at times by what you discovered about NZ popular music history?
I had a feeling that all our styles and sub-cultures of popular music were connected, and it was wonderful the way that this emerged naturally from all the research, like a photo developing in the dark room. Two things that surprised me were how quickly we caught up with overseas trends - even before air travel, the latest discs and sheet music arrived in just a matter of weeks, or new songs instantly via shortwave radio. Another surprise was how dominant Maori performers were, right from the beginning of the century to the arrival of rock'n'roll - in all genres.
4. Do you write or play music yourself?
I play the piano for my own amusement, which is different from the amusement it gives others, on the rare occasion anyone else gets to hear it.
5. What’s on your bedside table?
No Fretful Sleeper: A Life of Bill Pearson, by Paul Millar (AUP); Mune: an Autobiography, by Ian Mune (Craig Potton); The Chitlin' Circuit and the Road to Rock'n'Roll, by Preston Lauterbach (Norton); Da Capo Best Music Writing 2010, ed Ann Powers (Da Capo); and The Missing, by Tim Gautreaux (Knopf).

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