Lydia Jenkin looks at a project bringing ancient Kiwi albums into the digital age

What is the opposite of cultural cringe? Pride? Enthusiasm? Curiosity?

When walking into the Tyler Street Garage earlier this week, those are the feelings that bubbled up as the extensive wall full of album artwork was surveyed, a vibrant display of 200 images that range across 50 years of New Zealand music history.

Walking along, you could hear people exclaim "Ah ha! That was my favourite", or "I remember my Dad just about wore the grooves out on that LP", or "I loved seeing this band at the Gluepot."

And what is truly excellent about this display (it goes from Bill Sevesi to Shane, Fourmyula to Supergroove) is they're not just artwork - over the past two years, Music NZ board chair Chris Caddick, along with various players from record labels, music services, and boffins, has been tackling the mammoth task of getting these discs out of the vaults, and available online in digital format for the first time.

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"It all started about two years ago when a friend pointed out to me that a particular album wasn't on iTunes and I went 'Of course it is, don't be stupid'. And then I went on there, and it wasn't available, and I thought 'Jeepers! I wonder if other New Zealand albums are not there'", Caddick explains.

He decided that he would make a list of all the albums that weren't available, and contact the record labels and artists, and try and get them online, doing what he could to help join all the dots.

"What has convinced them I think, is for me to say, 'This is our cultural heritage, this is our music, we know these guys, they're wandering around'. All the artists want people to be able to find their work, and digital platforms are the one place you can make everything available, in a practical and economic way."

The project has been named after a Shona Laing album, Tied To The Tracks, which was recorded in England in 1981, but never released in New Zealand. It was fairly well impossible to find until Caddick asked Warner Music if they could call in a favour, and go digging around in some storage in Middlesex to see if they could find the original recordings. Miraculously they did, artwork and all, which is just one of the many happy stories to come out of the project.

TimeOut asked Caddick to choose five other albums from the 200 plus, that have come to light again in various ways, and tell us their stories.
Dedikation: The Dedikation (1969)

They had a hit called Wait For Me Maryanne back in 1969, which got to number two, but I think the album was probably deleted by 1970, never came out on cassette or CD, and now you cannot find that LP for love or money. Fortunately the one place I could find it, was with Colin Linwood, and he let me borrow it for an afternoon, and get it into Kog Studio.

And then of course the record company didn't know how to put me in touch with the band because there was nothing released for a long time, so I asked John Dix who wrote Stranded in Paradise, and he said "Oh yeah, one of the guys is on the Wellington City Council". So I rang up the Wellington City Council, and there he was - Ray Ahipene Mercer. Unfortunately a couple of the guys from the band have passed away now, but he was overjoyed to hear the album would be available again.

He talked to me for about an hour, and he could remember everything about recording the album too, because it was right at that vital time, round about the age of 19, and it was just so exciting to go into the studio. He could remember it like it was yesterday, which was fantastic.

DLT: The True School (1996)

I was talking to blogger Peter McLennan, and we were talking about DLT - Darryl Thompson - and amazingly his albums weren't available online. I know Darryl, so I phoned him up, and said, "Why aren't your albums available?" And he said, "Oh, I get asked for them five times a week, but I don't know what to do about it". It turned out to be very straight forward though - I took the CD out of my own CD collection, drove it to Sony Music, and said, "How about putting this up?" And they did. It was really simple. And Darryl was over the moon.

He was signed to RCA originally, and they were bought by Sony, and so there probably aren't any staff there any more that know Darryl, and he doesn't know anyone there, so these things just fall into a bit of a no-man's land. It's no ones fault, it's just one of those things. But it's great to be able to have it out again, because The True School really was a landmark, Kiwi hip-hop classic.

In-Be-Tweens: Night Time In The City (recorded 1976, though never released)

Stebbings have been a fantastic part of this. From me giving Vaughan Stebbings a bit of a wind up, and going "Come on mate, you must have a lot of catalogue that you don't have up there", well honestly, they have gone berserk! They're putting everything in their vaults up, and they have gone to the extreme of going right back to day one of Stebbings, in the late 1940s. They've transferred every 78 recorded there on their label, and put out 12 compilations of 78s online. And now he's moved into the 1960s and he's already done six compilations of singles, so there's a staggering treasure trove of our cultural heritage coming out of that place.

They even discovered this album Night Time In The City, which was recorded there and never ever released. Second album by the In-Be-Tweens. Nobody can remember why they didn't put it out, so now they have!

Dudley Benson: The Awakening (2008)

A friend of mine told me what a great album this was, and said, "Oh you'll love this Chris, it's really out there." And I thought, great, I'll get it. Do you think I could find it? No. So I thought, right, I'll just bloody ring up this Dudley guy and ask him. So completely out of the blue I rang him, and we had a great long chat. And I said, "Look mate, I'm quite keen to get the album, but you're making it awfully difficult. Why don't you put it online?" And he initially didn't really like the idea of it, so I just talked through it with him, and said "You've made a really critically acclaimed album here, I can afford to buy it, but I can't get hold of it easily, and there may well be other people like me". I also pointed out that because he owns it, he could put it on sale on iTunes, and make it available all over the world, in one hit. Everyone will be able to hear it, and who knows who might come across it, and want to put it in a film, or something. In the end, he agreed - within a couple of weeks he'd put it all up. All I did was have a phone conversation, and he was perfectly charming, and I didn't brow beat him or anything - of course it's entirely his prerogative, I just made a case.

Schtung: Schtung (1977)

I found the vinyl copy of this album in the offices of Recorded Music NZ, that was sitting in a stack, covered in dust, probably never been played. My guess was that it was submitted as an entry into the NZ Music Awards way back when. It's a really obscure album that came out in 1977, that I'd never heard before, but after discovering it, I tracked down the band members and I found out how two of the guys from the band moved to Hong Kong and formed an advertising agency called Schtung, which is huge, and makes music for adverts globally. Another one of them founded Oceania, Paul Jeffery, and another one formed a label called Unsung Records in the 80s, and the other guy is a multi-instrumentalist who teaches music and fixes instruments and dabbles in 1000 things. So they turned out to be this fascinating band, with a seriously underrated album. I think it's quite a little New Zealand classic. They weren't very successful because they decided to form a prog rock band right when New Zealand was divided between disco bunnies trying to be John Travolta, and everyone else wanting to be Sid Vicious going around being all tough, so having this prog-rock album was just really bad timing. Had it come out a few years earlier it would've been regarded as an absolute gem.

Who: Chris Caddick, chairman of Recorded Music NZ
What: Tied To The Tracks, a digital re-issue project for long-lost New Zealand albums
Where and when: Now available through iTunes, Spotify, GooglePlay, Amplifier.
See: promusic.co.nz for a list of all albums that have been digitised so far.

- TimeOut