I was born in 1927 and my first introduction to a folk instrument was in 1937 when my parents bought me a banjo-mandolin which I played in the WINOLA ORCHESTRA in the Oratia valley, west of Auckland which had a large Dalmatian enclave. This was a children's orchestra organised by the local Waitemat County roadman - Andrija Erceg. We used to play Dalmatian folk songs and popular tunes of the day - "red River Valley", "Can I Sleep in Your Barn Tonight Mister", etc. We played at country dances, picnics and so on. In my late teens, I became a fan of big band swing and dixieland music and was one of the first members of Auckland Swing Club. A group of us lads in the Oratia valley bought musical instruments and formed ourselves into a band, the Oratia Swing Kings. I played trombone in the band. We tried to emulate the big band sound but there was more enthusiasm than skill in our playing. In 1952, my wife and I married and joined Unity Artists a somewhat leftwing organisation dedicated to bringing art and culture to the people.
We joined the choral group - Unity Singers (also known later as Fernfire Singers) and we went out and sang folk songs at PTAs, Labour Party meetings, Peace Council meetings, Hiroshima Day marches , etc.It was after one Hiroshima Day March that Tom Newnham approached us and said "Why don't you make a recording of some of our anti-bomb songs?" So we did this and in 1962 produced the first recording in which I was involved. This was a 7" EP called IT'S UP TO THE PEOPLE with 4 anti-bomb songs. This was the period when American folk groups like the Weavers, the Kingston Trio, etc were active and popular and they, the Weavers with Pete Seeger especially, were a big influence on my life.
In that same period of the 50s and 60s, Pat and I were also active in the University of Auckland Archaeological Society. We went to many digs and these were always enlivened with evening campfire singalongs. So when a farewell present was needed for a lecturer leaving Auckland in 1967, it was suggested that the Fernfire Singers together with Sue Bulmer and Gary Law make a recording of some of the more popular campfire songs. This was done and the 12" LP with a lovely cover by the now famous Robyn White and the title SWEAT IN THE SUN MATE was produced in a run of about 150 copies. This record has some New Zealand classics (some of which had not been recorded before) like "The Wakamarina", "Day the Pub Burned Down", "Down on my Luck", "Gumdigger", "Dulcie", "Digger's Farewell" and "Shanties by the Way" (.Note: We sing the proper tune for Day the Pub Burned Down as we learned it from the composer Bob Edwards. Those dreary monotone performances are quite wrong.)
In the 1960s and 70s, the New Zealand Folklore Society was active and I was chairman of the Auckland branch for a number of years. We went out on a number of field trips gathering some useful information. One of the most notable was a marvellous song "Captain Mathieson"learned from an informant Mrs. Russell of Whangarei. Regrettably the Folklore Society faded away and I don't know where its files are now. Neil Colquhoun was a member of the Folklore Society and in 1972 produced his fabulous double LP SONGS OF A YOUNG COUNTRY on which I sing one song "McKenzie and his Dog".
1982 was the Centennary year of Oratia School and I recorded 2 of my songs as a fund raiser for the school. The record came out as a 7" SP called SEASONS IN THE VALLEY which is also the title of one of the songs. The other song was "Apple Pickers' Ball". "Seasons in the Valley" is now the Oratia School song, known and loved by just about everybody in the valley.
1986 sawe Roger Giles organising the first sea shanty LP simply called SEA SHANTIES. I lead in 3 songs on this record - "The Orpheus" and "Auckland to the Bluff" - while the third is "Captain Mathieson" referred to above.
In 1987, Ode Record Company produced my first LP and tape SEASONS IN THE VALLEY featuring 12 of my compositions. The musical arrangements were done by the brilliant Robbie Lavenwho also played umpteen different instruments on the record. Other personnel on the recording were my wife Pat, John McGowan, John Walton, Gareth Lee, Gavin Asher, Olwyn Green and John Surman.
Likewise in 1993, I once again persuaded Robbie Laven to arrange the music for my next CD and tape SONGS OF NEW ZEALAND which was also produced by Ode Records This recording has 6 of my songs and the other 8 are taken from the New Zealand tradition. Once again I had wonderful assistance as session musicians and singers from the likes of John Walton, B arbara Bycroft, Hans Laven, Bill Woodward, Martha Louise, Jim Cardow, Riki McDonnell (New Zealand's champion euphonium player!), Mathew Norwell, Kerrin Worsfold, Alan Young and the Tamburica Orchestra of the Dalmatian Cultural Society.
In 1994, I got a bunch fellows from Auckland's folk scene together with the objective of singing sea songs and shanties at the National Maritime Museum of New Zealand at Hobson Wharf, Auckland.Our first performance there was in July 1994 and, almost without exception, we have put on a free concert there on the first Sunday of each month at 1.30pm. (This is a public service - we don't get paid.) We have expanded our repertoire and activities since that first performance and have been hired to perform at all sorts of functions. We call ourselves THE MARITIME CREW because of our museum association and in any case, it's not a bad name! The highlight of our existence as a group is undoubtedly the month long concert tour we did of Poland in 2001. In the 28 days in Poland we gave 22 public performances - always to gtreat acclaim. As I am the leader/organiser of the group, the lads refer to me as the CAPTAIN.
THE MARITIME CREW has produced 3 CDs to date. The first one HURRAH FOR OUR CAPTAIN was produced by Ode Records in 1996 and I sing 2 of my songs on it. The 2nd one LIVE was recorded at Auckland Folk Festival 2000 and produced by ourselves. I only sing one of my songs on this CD. The 3rd CD UNDER THE SOUTHERN CROSS was launched in March 2003. Produced by Ode Records again, it features 4 of my songs.
THE MARITIME CREW has proen to be a success story and I am rather proud of our achievements. We were stunned however in May 2003 with the death of 2 of our members - Frank Winter of a brain haemorrhage and Peter Collier of a heart attack. Frank had been with the group since its inception while Peter joined us in 1996. Peter left us in 2002 in order to play in a couple of Celtic bands but he rejoined us in the summer of 2003 when we were busy with America's Cup activities. They were 2 great guys and their loss has affected us deeply. We will, however, do what they would have wished - CARRY ON SINGING.
The Titirangi Folk Music Club was formed in 1964 and I was the first elected President - a position that I held for the next 21 years. Prof. John Asher (Gavin's father) made it a point of honour to attend every AGM and nominate me for the position of President
I have written some 30 or more songs (I must get around to counting them some day) most of which I am rather proud. Of late, I have been writing mainly songs with a maritime theme but a number of my earlier songs have socio/political themes and some have been used in radio documentaries. Triangle TV has run (several times) a film about me that was made by Darcy Lange..
A little footnote: John Walton was singing with Pat and I in the Unity artist days and when that organisation folded, he continued to sing with Pat and I for the next 30 years or so. As he is a member of The Maritime Crew, I am still singing with him. R