Lydia Jenkin is an entertainment feature writer for the New Zealand Herald.

Museum collects NZ music memorabilia for exhibition

Midge Marsden hands over his Jansen Beatmaster to the Auckland Museum's Jane Groufsky.
Midge Marsden hands over his Jansen Beatmaster to the Auckland Museum's Jane Groufsky.

On Monday morning, bluesman Midge Marsden bid farewell to his Jansen Beatmaster guitar, and handed it over to Auckland Museum.

It's on loan for the just-announced exhibition entitled Volume: Making Music In Aotearoa, which will open on October 28.

In collaboration with the NZ Music Hall of Fame, and members of the local music community, the museum has spent months working towards this landmark homegrown exhibition, which will take visitors on a musical journey from the 1950s to today.

Photo of Midge Marsden's Jansen Beatmaster being packaged up to loan to Auckland Museum for their Volume Exhibition.
Photo of Midge Marsden's Jansen Beatmaster being packaged up to loan to Auckland Museum for their Volume Exhibition.

Part of that work has involved talking to local artists and finding out about objects - whether they're instruments, clothing, memorabilia, or handwritten lyrics - that tell a story about making music in New Zealand.

That's why they wanted Marsden's Beatmaster. Not only because it was New Zealand-made, but because it represents a great yarn.

Marsden's first band the Blue Diamonds backed a touring talent quest in 1963. The semi-finals featured special guest Dinah Lee, who'd just become a star with Do The Blue Beat.

Marsden, 17, had to take a day off his insurance job to rehearse with Lee, so he called in sick. The local newspaper took photos of Dinah and band and ran a story despite Marsden's pleas not to appear. The next morning, there he was in the paper - he was fired.

It was upsetting at the time, but it did encourage him to make a go of music as a career. And about a year later, a big package turned up addressed to Marsden: it was brand new Jansen Beatmaster guitar, from Dinah.

"Dinah took a bit of a shine to me I guess, she knew more about the world than I did, we were just these little kids from Taranaki, and that was our first kind of taste of the big time. But so she sent me this guitar, a Jansen Beatmaster, and she'd written inside, on the case lining: 'To dear Midge, with all my love, From Dinah xxx'.

A wriiten note from Dinah Lee to Midge Marsden in his Jansen Beatmaster guitar case.
A wriiten note from Dinah Lee to Midge Marsden in his Jansen Beatmaster guitar case.

"I never really saw her again after that, there was no texting back then. But of course I could never forget her."

Unfortunately the guitar was stolen not long after, and Marsden didn't see it again until a few years ago.

"Gordon Spittle, who wrote Counting The Beat, rang me up and said, 'I've got something that might interest you'," Marsden laughs. "The guitar was luckily still with the case, and still had the message written inside. So he very kindly gave it back to me."

By that point the distinctive Jansen Beatmaster had been missing for over 40 years. It was played by one of the Headless Chickens for three or four years. The rest of its journey is a mystery.

Auckland Museum for their Volume exhibition.
Auckland Museum for their Volume exhibition.

Marsden's guitar is one of 200 or so objects which will feature in Volume. Gear-heads will be fascinated by pieces like the first synthesiser built in New Zealand - by Paul Crowther for Eddie Rayner - or an MPC sampler owned by Mu of Fat Freddy's Drop, or the mixer that Phil Bell (aka DJ Sirvere) has had since he first began DJing.

Among the instruments will be 10 special guitars.

Visitors will also be able to interact with displays including a recording studio and DJ-ing, browse records in a 1980s record store, learn the opening riff of an iconic Kiwi song in a pub setting, or step back in time to the set of 1960s pop show C'mon.

"We're hoping people will get to have a good look at these objects that represent incredible moments in New Zealand history, alongside these fun immersive spaces," explains senior exhibition developer Victoria Travers.

"So people could come through and look at the objects and read the stories and get a big thrill out of it, but equally they can come and experience all the hands-on things, and get a real sense of what it's like to be a musician in New Zealand."

- TimeOut

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