Annie Crummer inherited her fine voice from her dad. Now it's his turn to release an album, compiled from an old shoebox of remembered island songs, writes Scott Kara.

As a teenager Will Crummer used to climb high up into the coconut trees of his village in Rarotonga and sing at the top of his voice. He'd serenade anyone within earshot, singing everything from traditional songs to his renditions of tunes he'd heard crooners like Pat Boone and Nat King Cole sing on the radio (or the wireless as he called it in those days).

"I liked to sing songs with feeling," he says over a cup of tea at a Grey Lynn cafe with his daughter, singer Annie - who's also got a good set of pipes - sitting alongside him.

"I was only about 14 or 15 in those days, and there were only 30 houses in our village, because it's only 20 miles around the island ... I miss my island. It's a beautiful place."

In the late 60s Crummer moved to New Zealand to find work and later that decade he put his singing career on hold to bring up his family. But 40 years on he has finally got around to getting his music out to people again with new album Shoebox Lovesongs - The Rarotongan Music of Will Crummer. It's a delightful set of romantic songs, party tunes, and traditional Cook Island favourites.

"A lot of people have bought our album already - and I don't even know them," he smiles, sounding chuffed. "They don't even understand our language but I think they like the music, the ukulele, and the pate [Cook Island drum]."

He's a sweet, friendly man. He tells stories about everything from making a living in the "pound and shilling days" to parties at the Reefcomber nightclub in Ponsonby Rd ("They didn't dance a waltz, they danced island style"); there are also outbreaks of song, including a lovely version of Ray Charles' I Can't Stop Loving You; and don't bother asking how old he is because "I can't remember".

What is special and stirring about Crummer's songs is his voice. "Luxurious" is the way Annie describes it in a 50-minute film about his life and the making of Shoebox Lovesongs which accompanies the album.

But to find out where he got that voice, let's take a journey back to Rarotonga to see where Will Crummer came from.

His mother died when he was "6 or 7" and while young Will adored her, he wasn't old enough to appreciate the power and beauty of her voice.

"I kept getting told as I grew up that she had a big voice, a sweet voice, and the people of her age group also kept telling me that I reminded them of my mother."

"It's in those cells," adds Annie, "and I was lucky enough to get some of the leftovers. You do not get to hear a voice like this nowadays - Dad is the real deal."

She says his voice is as pure as ever, and what makes it unique is the fusion of his Cook Island music heritage and the influence of American singers such as Nat King Cole, Pat Boone, and, one of Crummer's all-time favourites, Roy Orbison.

"I think it's a combination of Dad's island flow in his blood, but also having his musical cells fed via the wireless with songs by all those smooth crooners. Dad was lucky enough to borrow from those true tones and combine it with his island words. So Dad doesn't sing like a typical island singer because of this downloading he got."

While the coconut trees were his favourite place to sing, he became more serious about music in his late teens.

He formed a vocal group and every night they would "meet under a big tree and out came the ukulele and guitar".

"We'd start singing and getting into it. There was no television back in those days, and there were only a couple of radios."

In the early 60s he moved to New Zealand where one of his brothers had organised a job for him as a concrete finisher.

But before he left Rarotonga he wrote down the lyrics to more than 100 songs and put them in a shoebox to take with him.

"I knew if I didn't do that I would forget them," he says simply. "But once I read the opening line the tune comes back - just like that."

As well as earning a crust in Auckland he also became a popular singer on the Polynesian music scene at venues like the Orange Ballroom and the Reefcomber. It was at the Reefcomber - behind an old green roller door in a building on the corner of Ponsonby and K Rd - where Annie won $1000 in a talent contest.

She was 9 or 10 - "I hit the clubs real young in those days," she laughs - and her dad took her along where she sang Dolly Parton's I Will Always Love You.

"We went straight home and paid the power bill. Eh Dad?" With which they both hoot with laughter.

"That was a really, really good Cook Island nightclub. They had good bands in those days. It was good fun," he remembers fondly.

In Auckland in 1962 he recorded and released an EP, Rarotonga, and an album, Romantic Rarotonga, some songs of which were from his shoebox. In 1963 another EP Cook Islands Magic and album Love Songs of Polynesia came out.

He also performed around the Pacific, including Tahiti and Hawaii, before his commitment to family life and raising his kids meant he toned down his musical lifestyle.

It wasn't until a few years ago that the songs in his shoebox got a long-awaited airing.

His son, David - also a musician, who has his own recording studio in Rockhampton, Australia - asked his dad to come over for a visit, help him do some concreting work at his home, and play some songs.

This was the first seed of what would become Shoebox Lovesongs, which was recorded at Neil Finn's Roundhead Studios late last year with producers producers Arthur Baysting and Nick Bollinger.

On the film there are times when Baysting and Bollinger think they have a good song list together for the album and then Crummer comes along with yet another track he wants to throw into the mix.

"And I still have many more in the box. Most of them are romantic and happy songs. Many were written before I was born, but they've all got a nice tune."

One cracking party tune in particular is What's the Matter You Last Night. Composed in the 1970s, or thereabouts says Crummer, it's about a couple who fell in love but the husband starts acting up and his wife says, "Hey, what's the matter you last night? Did you see another woman last night?" he cackles with laughter.

"When we play that song everyone wants to get up and dance. It's got a great beat, eh boy?"

LOWDOWN

Who:
Will Crummer, Rarotongan singer and father of Annie

Album: Shoebox Lovesongs - The Rarotongan Music of Will Crummer, out now

Playing: Classic, Queen St, April 19, 7pmMusical talent runs in the family for Annie Crummer, with her dad Will (above), who's just released his album.

-TimeOut