A lonesome swagman, an environmentally-conscious fisherman, an Italian-speaking Maori soldier, and a housewife with a penchant for spiders are just a few of the colourful characters appearing in a newly-released musical history of Wairarapa.
Featherston musician Chris Miller has released an album titled Yestermusic of Featherston County: Bush, Bog, Brine and Bugle, a compilation of folk songs dating back to Featherston's 19th century pioneers.
The CD, released in July, features Celtic folk, blues, ragtime, Maori and traditional Italian melodies, arranged by Miller and recorded from friends' kitchen tables.
A range of Featherston musicians lend their talents to the album which includes everything from shanties, a haunting bagpipe tunes, a waiata accompanied by ukulele and poi, and a version of The Last Post on the harmonica.
The liner notes to Yestermusic of Featherston County come with a small biography of each composer but Miller would not reveal where and how he sourced the original songs.
"It's a bit of a mystery," he said. "It's up to the listener to decide if the songs really existed back then. History's a bit like that. We're never really sure what's real."
To make the CD, Miller received a Creative Communities Grant from South Wairarapa District Council.
Usually a composer of electronica, Yestermusic of Featherston County is his first foray into folk music.
"Folk wasn't a genre I knew much about.
"It's quite simple. Very much 'by the people, for the people.'
"A lot of the songs have the same chords. A musician will take the old tune, and interpret it in their song."
His next task was researching the history behind each song -- borrowing books from Featherston Library, drinking tea with the town historians, and spending hours at the Wairarapa Archive.
"It was amazing. I've only been in Featherston five years, and I had no idea there was so much to it."
Each song chronicles events in Featherston's history such as the Featherston Military Training Camp, the flooding of Lake Wairarapa, the "Skandie" lumberjacks, and the devastation of the 1918 flu epidemic.
Several interesting characters make an appearance: a scruffy "swagger" drowned in the Tauherenikau River, an Italian bride who "goes into a frenzy" after a spider bite and kills her husband in a "bloody massacre", and a World War II soldier, Anaru Wharekauri, who translated an Italian folk song into te reo.
"It's cool. The original song was about the Italian partisans fighting the Germans, and the te reo version represents the Land Wars, and the Maori fighting the British invaders."
Another favourite is Take Away the Wee Fish, a shanty lamenting the poisoning and pillaging of the sea, by a sailor named "Old Man Rip".
"He's saying if you pollute the sea, there'll be no fish left - which is quite prophetic."
A varied team of musicians worked on the CD including Campbell Kneale on vocals, Saali Marks on ukulele, Patrick Bleakley on bass, Kate Marshall fiddle and Paris Mason on nga poi.
"Everyone in Featherston seems to play something - we've got a guy on the CD who lives a couple of doors down, who plays the pipes.
"There are talented people close by."
Yestermusic of Featherston County is available at Featherston Library, Mr Feather's Den, and Cahoots in Greytown. All proceeds go towards community programmes.