Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Lange legacy: a stream of borrowed one-liners, but not much else

(First published in The Dominion Post, January 13.)

Is it time for a reassessment of the David Lange legacy?

I ask that question for a couple of reasons. The first was a speech that Sir Gerald Hensley gave late last year.

Hensley was head of the Prime Minister’s Department under Lange and thus uniquely positioned to observe him. The picture he painted of Lange’s behaviour during the showdown with the United States over nuclear warships was not flattering.

Before I go any further, I should mention that I was delirious with pleasure when Lange’s Labour government was elected in 1984.

Sir Robert Muldoon had cast a malevolent shadow over New Zealand since 1975. He was a bully who succeeded politically by polarising New Zealanders along them-and-us lines, never more so than at the time of the 1981 Springbok rugby tour.

In Lange he faced, for the first time, an opponent he couldn’t handle. Lange seemed impervious to Muldoon’s method of attack, responding with sparkling eloquence and insouciant wit.

As prime minister, Lange appeared to champion New Zealand’s right to repudiate nuclear weapons. Many New Zealanders experienced a surge of nationalistic pride at the way he stood up to pressure from Washington to accept visits from American warships.

Peak pride came with Lange’s performance in the celebrated Oxford Union debate of 1985, when he argued that nuclear weapons were morally indefensible. He famously told his opponent, the American televangelist Jerry Falwell, that he could smell the uranium on Falwell’s breath.

Lange was in his element. He was a performer who loved to charm people with his humour and verbal dexterity. I was in Britain at the time and recall feeling quietly pleased that New Zealand and its charismatic prime minister were being noticed and admired internationally for taking an independent line.

But as Hensley has revealed, Lange was talking out both sides of his mouth – saying one thing to New Zealanders and another to our allies.

In public, he was pledging to honour Labour’s commitment to ban nuclear weapons and nuclear propulsion. But behind the scenes, he was assuring America and our other Anzus treaty partner, Australia, that he would make the problem go away.

As Hensley tells it, the Americans were genuinely disposed to seek an amicable and mutually honourable solution, but in the end became so exasperated with Lange’s duplicity that they spat the dummy. He even kept his own Cabinet in the dark.

When a crisis arose over a proposed visit by the ageing destroyer USS Buchanan, carefully selected by the Americans to avoid the suspicion that it might be nuclear-armed, Lange disappeared to a remote Pacific atoll and was out of touch for eight days.

When, later, the visit was barred to satisfy anti-nuke activists in the Labour Party, the Americans justifiably felt deceived. Richard Prebble, a member of Lange's Cabinet, later described it as a shambles.

Hensley gives the impression Lange was counting on verbal equivocation to muddle through, but ended up painting himself into a corner. Far from being a courageous champion of the anti-nuclear cause, he was a dissembler who tried to play a double game – and when it failed, tried to make himself invisible.

Small wonder that Lange subsequently decided politics was too much like hard work and quit, leaving Geoffrey Palmer with the hopeless job of trying to prevent the faction-ridden fourth Labour government from unravelling. 

So Lange was a charming political dilettante. But I said at the start of this column that there were two reasons to reassess his legacy. Here’s the other: plagiarism.

Whatever his failings (and in his later life Lange showed a bitter, disputatious streak), we at least admired his wit.

Wasn’t it he, after all, who once joked that New Zealand was “a dagger pointed at the heart of Antarctica”. Yes, he did – but I recently discovered that the line was originally used by US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in 1970, in reference to Chile.

All right then. But how about Lange’s memorable line that National leader Jim Bolger had “gone around the country stirring up apathy”?

Whoops. That was borrowed from British Conservative Party stalwart Willie Whitelaw, who used the line in reference to Labour leader Harold Wilson.    

As far as I can ascertain, the line about Falwell’s uranium-enriched breath was Lange’s own. So was the one about Muldoon’s knighthood in 1984: “After a long year we’ve got a very short knight”. But you have to wonder about the provenance of some of Lange’s other witticisms.

More to the point, Hensley's recollections about the Anzus crisis suggest that being prime minister requires more than an endless supply of one-liners.

Footnote: Since this column was published, I've been reminded that the famous "uranium on your breath" comment was directed not at Falwell personally, but at a young member of his debating team. More significantly, Gerald Hensley has revealed that it was indeed not Lange's line originally. Hensley had spotted it in an Australian cartoon (he thinks it was in The Bulletin) and pointed it out to Lange, thinking it would amuse him.  

Monday, January 16, 2017

Safe, efficient, reliable ... and boring

(First published in the Manawatu Standard and Nelson Mail, January 11.)

I walked past a big 1970s-era Chrysler Valiant in town the other day – an orange one (still the original paint job, I’d guess) with a tan vinyl roof.

I’ve driven such cars. They handled like a wheelbarrow half-filled with water. But I’ll tell you what: they had character. They had personality. When you drove a Chrysler Valiant, you knew you were driving a Chrysler Valiant.

I contrast this with the occasions when I hire a modern rental car. I couldn’t tell you what I’m driving without looking at the logo in the centre of the steering wheel.

They all feel and look the same. They’re safe, well-equipped, economical, reliable … and boring.

I thought of that Chrysler Valiant a couple of days later when I was reading the motoring section of my paper. It included a story about the new Holden Commodore due to be released next year – the first Commodore not to be built in Australia.

Holden had released advanced publicity shots of the new model from different angles. To me it looked virtually indistinguishable from the equivalent model Mazda, Hyundai or Kia.

Say what you like about the Chrysler Valiant, but it was unmistakeably a Chrysler Valiant. There was no way you’d mistake it for its competitors, the Ford Falcon and the Holden Kingswood (each of which, in turn, looked completely different from the other).

And before you say anything, yes, I know your chance of getting killed was far greater if you crashed in a 1975 Valiant or Holden Kingswood than if you have a prang in a modern Honda or Subaru.

In that respect, I concede we’ve made enormous advances. But did safety improvements have to come at the expense of the styling quirks that gave the cars of earlier eras their individuality?

Allow me to illustrate my point. On Facebook recently, my friend Phil O'Brien, co-host of Radio New Zealand's popular Matinee Idle, posted a 1957 magazine advertisement for a car identical to the first one he owned – an eggshell-blue Austin A50 Cambridge.

Phil invited other people to contribute reminiscences about their own first cars. There were 113 responses, many of them very witty.

They covered a weird and wonderful assortment of makes and models that people of a certain age would remember well, from the everyday (Austin A30s, Vanguards, Vauxhall Veloxes, Triumph Heralds, Holden Specials, Morris Minors and Ford Prefects) to the slightly more exotic and racy (a Renault 750, a Jowett Javelin and an Auto Union – precursor of the Audi). 

There were some that few people with any self-esteem would admit to having owned (namely, a 1970s Morris Marina and a Skoda Octavia wagon from the 1960s). But the point was that for a couple of days, people indulged in an entertaining nostalgia-fest about old cars.

Now ask yourself: can you imagine anyone getting similarly excited in 50 years’ time about peas-in-a-pod Ford, Mazdas and Toyotas? I can’t.

Good cars, all of them, but dull. With globalisation, the “world car” that motor companies started talking about in the 1970s became a reality. Lookalike models roll off assembly lines on every continent.

Old cars were quirky. That’s why people gather wherever classic or vintage cars are on display. Small wonder that Nelson publishers Potton and Burton recently brought out We Had One of Those!, a wallow in automotive nostalgia written by Stephen Barnett.

Would any relentlessly profit-driven car multinational today allow its engineers and designers to create something as eccentric as the lowlight Morris Minor, the Morgan three-wheeler or the Hillman Imp? It just wouldn’t happen.

And here’s another thing about modern car design. In some ways it has regressed, in both practical and aesthetic terms.

Design orthodoxy demands a rising waistline and a passenger compartment that tapers sharply towards the rear. As a result, window space is greatly reduced for back-seat passengers and the rear view is so restricted that drivers become almost wholly dependent on the reversing camera to see what’s going on behind them. And they call this progress?

Few cars demonstrate the regression better than the royal family’s vehicle of choice, the Range Rover.

Like its humble older sibling the Land Rover, the Range Rover was revolutionary when it was launched in 1970. It was the world’s first luxury four-wheel-drive and a masterpiece of design.

It had clean, simple lines. The driver sat high, surrounded by acres of glass. Reliability may have occasionally been an issue, but visibility certainly wasn’t.

Now look at one of its descendants, the Range Rover Evoque. It looks as if something very large has sat on it. It has a squashed look, with a rear window that resembles one of those narrow slits that soldiers shove their rifles through.

The big-selling Toyota Corolla, too, has morphed into something that resembles a particularly nasty insect. It’s not even quirky-ugly in the way that, say, the 1970s Leyland P76 was.

Now there was a car that was so ugly it was strangely desirable. They don’t make ’em like that anymore, and more’s the pity. 

Of killer cats and yapping dogs

(First published in The Dominion Post, January 6.)

My wife found it lying in the garden by the compost bin. It was hard to see, its mottled breast feathers providing perfect camouflage in the undergrowth.

It was a Californian quail, one of two that we’d become accustomed to seeing around the place. Sadly, nature hadn’t disguised it well enough to save it from one of the neighbourhood cats.

It could only have been a cat that killed it. As far as I’m aware, healthy quail are not in the habit of spontaneously lying down and dying.

Besides, the cats around our place have previous form. Two summers ago, our garden became home to another pair of quail.  They were welcome visitors and we did our best to make them feel at home.

Mr and Mrs Quail produced seven chicks.  We were proud of our quail family and felt like proxy parents. But then the inevitable happened.

I found the bodies of two quail chicks lying on the lawn. Of the rest of the family, there was no sign.

After several days, the adult birds reappeared by themselves. We assumed that cats had got all the chicks.

They would have killed out of instinct, not necessity.  The cats we see are well-fed and don’t need juvenile quail to supplement their diet.

Prior to this I’d harboured no ill-feeling toward cats. We don’t own one, but our section is treated as common ground by all the neighbours’ cats and we constantly see them around.

One took to lurking under the concealing foliage of a weeping Japanese maple, from where it would ambush any bird that came within striking distance. A pile of feathers on the lawn would tell the story.

I could tolerate that. One blackbird less, when our garden is overpopulated with them anyway, didn’t bother me. But the quail chicks were a different story.

At that point I began to have some sympathy for Gareth Morgan’s campaign for controls on domestic cats. But he’s got it only half right, because cats can be a pest for other reasons besides their blood lust.

We often encounter cat excrement in the garden. It’s not only foul-smelling, but potentially dangerous because it can transmit the parasitic disease toxoplasmosis.

My resent-o-meter was cranked up a further couple of notches recently when a cat started making itself comfortable at night on an outside settee. It left evidence of its sleepovers in the form of ineradicable stains on the cushions.

All this has left me feeling slightly jaundiced toward cats when previously I had no feelings about them one way or another. But what do you do? Cats are unique among domestic pets in that they defy normal means of control.

Unlike dogs, they are impervious to human commands. Paradoxically, we require dogs to be chained or otherwise confined, while cats enjoy licence to roam at will. Why the double standard?

One solution would be for cats to be kept in cages or hutches, like rabbits, but you can imagine the outcry that would provoke. Cats are one of those red-button issues – like 1080 and fluoridation – that reduce otherwise rational people to a state of borderline hysteria.

In any case I have to admit that, even with my hostile feelings toward the cats that kill our quail and soil our cushions, the dogs in our neighbourhood irritate me even more. And this from a dog lover.

Our neighbours’ dogs don’t have to come on to our property to drive me mad, and they never run loose. They just yap. And yap. And yap.

Some noises you can put up with. A lawnmower or chainsaw somewhere in the neighbourhood is acceptable because it’s serving a purpose, and you know it’s going to stop when the job’s finished.

No, the noises that set people’s teeth on edge are those that are avoidable, like boy-racers, Harley-Davidsons and yapping dogs.

These noises are a public nuisance and an invasion of privacy. But the yapping dogs in my neighbourhood pose a conundrum almost as vexing as that of how to control cats.

The conundrum is this. I like my neighbours and have a good relationship with them. They are exemplary in every respect but one.

The thing I’ve never worked out is how to tell them, without jeopardising neighbourhood harmony, that their dogs drive me mad.

I did once try shouting at the owner of one spectacularly noisy dog whose barking was disturbing the Sunday afternoon tranquillity. It was pitifully ineffective. The owner couldn’t hear me because of the noise his dog was making. 

Footnote: If part of this column seems familiar, it's because a couple of paragraphs originally appeared in a column written for the Nelson Mail and Manawatu Standard.

Friday, December 30, 2016

One of those years when the world changed

(First published in the Manawatu Standard and Nelson Mail, Dec 28.)

There have been a few momentous years in my lifetime. I don’t mean for me personally, although obviously there have been those too.

I’m referring to years when you got a sense that history had suddenly lurched in a different direction; that a new era was starting which would be significantly different from the previous one.

There was 1968. What a turbulent year that was.

America seemed a dangerously unstable place where anything could happen. All the post-war confidence of the Eisenhower and Kennedy presidencies seemed to have evaporated.

There were the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr and Robert Kennedy. It was also the year when public discontent over the Vietnam War (dubbed the living room war because it was played out nightly on the television news) seemed to crystallise. Military setbacks – the Tet Offensive and the siege of Khe Sanh – were a profound shock to a country that was accustomed to winning.

In Chicago, the protest movement flexed its muscles at the infamous Democratic Party Convention in Chicago. To TV viewers watching the vicious police response, it must have seemed the American Dream was disintegrating before their eyes.

But the unrest wasn’t confined to America. Capitalism and authority was under attack throughout the Western world.

In France, student and trade union street protests brought the country to the brink of revolution. Neo-Marxist protest leaders – Daniel Cohn-Bendit (aka Danny the Red) in France and Rudi Dutschke in Germany – became household names worldwide.

The European unrest of 1968 gave birth to urban terrorist groups such as Germany’s Red Army Faction and Italy’s Red Brigades. America’s Symbionese Liberation Army – famous for kidnapping newspaper heiress Patti Hearst – would later emerge from that same ferment of protest and disorder.

The world had to come to grips with the new phenomenon of urban terrorism, fomented by alienated middle-class misfits striking out with extraordinary ferocity against the capitalist society that had nurtured them.

It was profoundly destabilising and continued to unsettle the world throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s. In fact you could argue that it was instrumental in shaping the terrorism-attuned world we live in now.

Fast-forward now to 1989, an epochal year in a very different way. That was the year the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet empire began to unravel.

At the time – in fact even now – it scarcely seemed credible that the Soviet Union, which since World War Two had competed with the US for global domination, should collapse with barely a whimper, along with its repressive satellite states. But when challenged by people power, the Soviet bloc, economically exhausted after decades of trying to out-muscle its ideological enemy, had no fight left.

The American political scientist and economist Francis Fukuyama famously wrote that the defeat of Soviet communism represented “the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution”. In future, he theorised, capitalism and liberal democracy would prevail unchallenged.

Already that bold prophecy seems to have been, er, a bit premature. America, so ideologically triumphant in 1989, is now weakened by self-doubt. The ascendant power is China – a capitalist country all right, but hardly a liberal democracy.

Russia, meanwhile, is again a force to be reckoned with – just not a communist one. Nonetheless, 1989 was unquestionably a watershed year.

So we come to 2016, and I’m wondering whether it too will turn out to be a year that changed the course of history.

In a June referendum, 52 per cent of Britons voted in favour of leaving the European Union. This was a stunning rejection of a long-established political consensus. Few people saw it coming.

Voting took place against a backdrop of unprecedented immigration levels as Europe absorbed millions of displaced people fleeing insecurity and instability in the Middle East and Africa.

Many commentators simplistically interpreted the referendum result as a racist backlash against immigration and free passage across borders, but the overriding factor was that British people had grown increasingly resentful of control by a remote and unaccountable elite in Brussels. They wanted their country back.

But Brexit was merely the appetiser before an even more cataclysmic political event: the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States.

This was such a momentous setback for the liberal agenda that the full consequences will take time to absorb. Some of those consequences will almost certainly be ugly, but many people will welcome what they regard as a long-overdue rebalancing in Western politics and culture.

The liberal Left, which has effectively controlled the political agenda in the West for decades, even when nominally conservative parties (such as National here, the Liberals in Australia and the Conservatives in Britain) were in power, is suddenly on the back foot. Political correctness is in retreat.

Some on the Left are hurt and demoralised. Others are buzzing like angry wasps. But they’d better get used to it. The balance of power in world politics has shifted profoundly and the dominant narrative has changed. We’re finishing 2016 a radically different world than when we started. 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

A good report spoiled

I wonder how much credibility can be attached to the 2016 News Media Ownership Report published by the Auckland University of Technology’s Centre for Journalism, Media and Democracy (JMAD). It contains a lot of useful information and generally gives the impression of being fair and non-partisan – that is, until you get to the section on blogs. Here it states:

“Some of the most well-known blogs in New Zealand include Martyn Bradbury’s The Daily Blog, Russell Brown’s Hard News, David Farrar’s Kiwiblog, The Standard and The Dim-Post. In 2016, PublicAddress.net, which is a community of New Zealand blogs including Brown’s Hard News, won the Canon Media best blog award. Other nominees for the award were Rosabel Tan’s The Pantograph Punch (culture and arts) and Lizzie Marvelly’s Villainesse which is aimed at young women.”

That’s it. Notice anything missing? Like, for example, Whale Oil?

Last time I checked, Cameron Slater’s right-wing blog was the most widely read in New Zealand. It's certainly the best-known, especially since Nicky Hager's Dirty Politics. But it seems the report’s author, Merja Myllylahti, was worried she might be contaminated by even mentioning it. 

To recycle an old metaphor, writing about New Zealand blogs without mentioning Slater is like driving up the Desert Road and pretending not to see Mt Ruapehu. It’s a shame that an otherwise worthwhile resource should be so ideologically compromised – but it’s consistent with JMAD’s (and AUT’s) pervasive left-wing world view.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

All this cultural appropriation must stop

(First published in The Dominion Post, December 23.)

A couple of weeks ago, I took part in a flagrant act of cultural appropriation. So did several thousand other people.

We watched a Christmas parade. Santa Claus was in it, complete with mock reindeer.
Most of the floats were decorated with Christmas symbols: fake snow, tinsel, stuff like that. A brass band played traditional English carols. 

How did we get away with it? It could only be because the simple provincial folk in the town where I live are ignorant of, or wilfully indifferent to, sensitivities surrounding cultural ownership.

Santa Claus is a figure derived from northern European folklore. What right do we in the remote Southwest Pacific have to place him at the centre of our Christmas celebrations?

Sleighs? Ditto. Christmas trees and holly too.

These are the cultural property of people from distant lands. Those ridiculous fake antlers that shop assistants are made to wear – did we spare a thought for the people of Lapland, for whom reindeer are a taonga? No, we didn’t.

And carols! How dare we sing about Good King Wenceslas or the Holly and the Ivy? What inflated sense of entitlement makes us think we can endlessly plagiarise Silent Night (Austrian) or O Holy Night (French)?

I shamefully admit that I experienced no pangs of conscience as I watched Masterton’s Christmas Parade. Neither, it seemed, did those around me. What a bunch of Philistines.

It was only a couple of days later, listening to an item on Morning Report, that I was forced to confront my cultural arrogance.

It seems someone with an  exquisitely honed sense of appropriateness took offence at the inclusion, in Christchurch’s Christmas Parade, of a float with a Native North American theme. According to Morning Report, the woman complainant thought it was culturally insensitive.

The parade organiser seemed puzzled but unrepentant. She said the float, or similar ones, had featured in the parade for 20 years without a complaint. No disrespect was meant to native Americans. Well, she would say that, wouldn’t she?

She added that more than 100,000 people watched the parade and only one objected. Pffft! That just proves they’re all Philistines down Christchurch way too.

That Morning Report item was a wake-up moment for me. I suddenly realised how shamelessly we exploit other cultures.

Big business tries to get away with it all the time. Only three months ago the Disney organisation, stricken by a concerted attack on social media, withdrew a range of merchandise intended to promote its animated film Moana.

The movie, one of whose central characters is the Polynesian demi-god Maui, has been praised for celebrating Polynesian feats of navigation. The producers say they went to great lengths to ensure Pasifika people were happy with the film.

Again I say, pffft! Not far enough, obviously. People objected to the sale of kids’ costumes that reproduced Maui’s tattoos. “Cultural appropriation at its most offensive worst,” said one tweet.

A chastened Disney organisation quickly capitulated. Quite right, too.

But we mustn’t stop there. Cultural appropriation must be vigorously rooted out in all its forms.

All those New Zealand reggae bands, for a start. There’s cultural appropriation right there, big time. Maori object when the haka or the tiki is ripped off, but doesn’t the same principle apply when Maori bands appropriate the music of Jamaica?

And on that subject, who ever said it was culturally acceptable for white musicians to play the blues? Innumerable middle-class Brits (stand up, Eric Clapton) have grown filthy rich ripping off black men’s music. Jazz? The same.

Basketball singlets and baseball caps? Get 'em off. American.

St Patrick’s Day, which New Zealanders use as an excuse to get drunk and pretend to be Irish, is a cultural outrage. Guy Fawkes? English. Halloween? Celtic. They should be abandoned, all of them.

In fact Christmas itself, unless you’re a genuine Christian celebrating Christ’s birth, is a gigantic act of cultural, or at least religious, appropriation.

To those who feebly point out that virtually everything we do – the books we read, the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the songs we sing, the language we use – is borrowed from somewhere else, I say: no excuse! It’s all cultural theft and it’s got to stop. The Christchurch complainant has bravely shown us the way forward.

I just hope she’s not planning to serve turkey on Christmas Day. As a North American bird, the turkey has no place on New Zealand dining tables.

Neither should she open a bottle of New Zealand bubbly, an idea stolen from the French. After all, if we’re going to avoid cultural appropriation, we must be consistent.  

Friday, December 23, 2016

A night of inspired weirdness at Ahiaruhe

Sometimes the most rewarding concerts are ones where you go along not quite knowing what to expect. I remember a fabulous night at the Wellington Bluegrass Society’s unprepossessing Petone venue back in the early 90s when we were entertained by a slick Seattle-based, female-dominated alt-country outfit called Ranch Romance. I hadn’t heard of them before and I haven’t heard of them since, but what a performance.

It happened again with Lil’ Band of Gold, a bunch of mellow New Orleans music veterans who played the San Francisco Bath House several years ago. And possibly the greatest concert I ever had the good fortune to attend: Brian Wilson and a cast of thousands (or so it seemed) performing Smile in Wellington. I fretted beforehand that Wilson – my musical hero since 1964, but notoriously erratic – would let me down. I needn’t have worried. When I came out of the theatre I thought seriously about booking a flight to Christchurch to hear it all again the next night.

Conversely, the shows you attend with high expectations sometimes turn out to be a disappointment. Example: Steely Dan at Church Road a few years ago. Nothing will change my view that Donald Fagen and Walter Becker are two of the cleverest musicians of the rock era, but live in concert? It was just like hearing their records, but with actual people on stage (and Walter Becker saying “fuck” a lot, which became tedious). Even more of a letdown was Emmylou Harris, who so lacked any stage presence when I saw her in Wellington that the audience hardly noticed when she came on. Mind you, she’s still up there in the galaxy of great country singers.

But I digress. At the latest house concert hosted by Simon Burt and Pip Steel at their rural Wairarapa home last night, the entertainment was provided by the Bend. Never heard of them? Neither had I. But you might recognise some of the individual names. Fane Flaws (guitar), Peter Dasent (keyboards) and Tony Backhouse (bass) have a remarkable collective pedigree that stretches back to Blerta, Spats and the Crocodiles. They’ve been playing together off and on for nearly four decades. On this occasion they were joined by a young (well, younger) drummer named Andrew Gladstone.

Why “the Bend”? Well for a start, it’s an ironic play on the name of a slightly more famous outfit from Canada. The Bend do irony very well. But as Flaws explained, the name was also inspired by a young lady who sidled up to Dasent years ago after a performance somewhere down south and inquired, in classically pinched, nasal Kiwi vowels, “Aren’t you with the bend?”.   

This little anecdote set the tone for a wonderfully entertaining night that was rich in sly, subversive humour but impossible to categorise musically. Think Talking Heads mashed up with Lou Reed and Frank Zappa (or so I was assured by someone more familiar with Zappa than I am) and an occasional hint of the Beatles, and you’re somewhere in the ballpark. At least that was my take on the Bend’s songs, but I admit to not being familiar with the musical territory these guys range over.

The first half of the night was – well, not exactly conventional (the Bend don’t do conventional), but at least there was something recognisable in the repertoire. It was energetic, raw, punkish (but always disciplined) rock and roll. After the interval, however, they spiralled into a different realm altogether – slightly deranged, with elements of cabaret (think 1930s Berlin, but with Fender guitars and a type of humour that you wouldn't encounter anywhere but New Zealand) and a madcap quality that had me thinking Spike Jones.

But here’s the thing: it was astonishingly inventive and (like Spike Jones) musically literate. Dasent (who played on the recent Last Waltz 40th Anniversary Tour, in which New Zealand performers paid tribute to the Band) looks too much like a librarian or mathematician to be in a rock band, but he’s a musician of enormous virtuosity. He’s quietly witty, too, subtly sneaking snatches from the theme tunes for Dr Finlay’s Casebook and The Avengers into a song about watching TV. (At least I think that’s what it was about.)

Backhouse, besides being an impeccably fluent bass player, has one of New Zealand rock music’s most distinctive voices. It has an almost operatic quality. And then there’s the charismatic Flaws, the band’s front man, who played and sang with manic energy. In fact you had to admire the whole band’s energy levels, considering this was their ninth gig in 10 days.

Behind it all, Gladstone, whom I’d guess is a generation behind the rest of the band, fitted seamlessly into all the inspired weirdness – a tragedy in one so young.

A terrific night all round, and a hard act for Simon and Pip to follow.