Kiwis Doin’ Dylan – Part I
Mainly Just Folk – the early to middle 1960s
New Zealand was not immune to the Western World’s folk movements of the early 1960s. A vibrant and widespread folk community developed in New Zealand, with British traditional folk influences being the dominant strain. Nonetheless the scene was set for influences from North America as well.
In 1963 numbers of covers of Bob Dylan songs were being imported from abroad and also started to be manufactured in New Zealand late that year.
Joan Baez and more so Peter, Paul and Mary were the dominant means of Dylan’s introduction to NZ but with mainly UK record manufacture rather than USA until NZ production became prominent. (The world of music and books was divided into US and UK sources – and NZ being part of the British Commonwealth meant the UK was the main source for books and records in the early days.) New Zealand had started to develop a surprisingly strong record industry for a country of about 2.5 million people (and 60 million sheep though they didn’t play any role in the music).
(Eventually all of Dylan’s LPs were also manufactured in NZ up until “Down in the Groove” as well as 34 singles, and 5 NZ unique EPs.)
But the emphasis of this article is covers of Dylan’s songs covered by New Zealand musicians. To be sure this is just a small tip of the Dylan influence iceberg. Only a very small percentage of live music is ever recorded (prior to the internet in any case). In particular at three day folk festivals in NZ only the final concert was likely to ever be taped. Workshops, blackboard concerts and jamming sessions would have had many many Dylan songs over the years, as would folk clubs and pubs with live music.
1963 - The First NZ Dylan cover
In September 1963 the first known commercial recording by NZ musicians was released – by The Folkestone Three. This was their third picture sleeve recording, and the first with a Dylan cover. It is no surprize that the song covered was “Blowin’ In The Wind” – this being the Dylan song most recorded over the years by New Zealand artists.
The Folkestone Three performed in New Zealand for a couple of years and then went to England, performing as entertainers on the voyage over. They performed under the name Harbourlites while in the UK. (In those days the UK was still considered to be the home country for many New Zealanders. Within the next few years musicians would more likely go to closer metropolitan areas like Melbourne or Sydney Australia to become better known.)
The Folkestone Three NZ Dylan cover was on Kiwi Records – SA-33. The particular record shown was played fifteen times on air by one of the New Zealand Broadcasting Service stations. This particular copy was played on air for the first time on 7 October 1963 just a week or so after its NZ release.
This first commercial recording was by Johnny Mercer (guitar/vocals), John Ross (vocals) and Gil Hoskins (guitar/vocals). There were later changes to the group – which is another common factor in folk and other music groups.
This year was mainly Joan Baez and Peter, Paul and Mary covers of Dylan songs – both as imports from the UK and also now manufactured in New Zealand. The Dylan cover tracks were on singles, EPs and LPs. There was also a thriving sheet music industry and numbers of Dylan's songs were in circulation via sheet music. There are no known NZ musicians releasing commercial recordings in this year though his songs would certainly have been sung.
This year became the peak Dylan cover year of the 1960s. One interesting album was by Dion & Cecile Murphy on Fidelity FR116 - Knockout Folk Songs 7" EP. This four track record included "The Times They Are A-Changin’". To paraphrase the promotional words on the back of the album:
To those who associate Dion Murphy with the boxing ring, this album, where he trades boxing-gloves for a microphone, may come as something of a surprise. As a champion boxer he is widely known throughout New Zealand and Australia for his fighting ability and sportsmanship in the square ring.
This disc will be no surprise to those who have thrilled to the singing performance of Dion and his charming wife Cecile who have been singing together professionally for many years ... in their debut album, they include four of the most popular folk songs of today, and are ably assisted by guitarist Robin Hope and bass player Merv Thompson.
I'm sure Bob would have appreciated this Knockout of an album.
The following is a list of other NZ musicians releasing a commercial recording of a Dylan cover during 1965.
- The Convairs
“Tomorrow is a Long Time“
“Walkin' Down the Line”
"Don't Think Twice, It's All Right"
the first two tracks were on a single HMV HR 252 The Convairs were a three man group - originally formed in 1961 with Mike Dolan, Johnny Bond and Phil Seth. By 1965 and the Dylan tracks, the trio were Mike Dolan, Ray Brooks and Phil Seth. Their single was later released in the UK and later also on two NZ CD compilations: 2005 CD "The Kiwi Folk Scene 1965 - 1971" and “Little Boxes” “The Very Best of the Convairs” with the two Dylan tracks and a previously unreleased live track of “Don’t Think Twice, It's All Right” The top of the two Convairs scans is from the self-titled LP "The Convairs" HMV MCLP6236. The LP was actually released in 1966, but contained the two tracks from the 1965 single. The album identifies Ray Brooks as Ray Brookes.
The Convairs were perhaps the highest profile New Zealand folk trio of the 1960s along with The Yeomen.
- Rod MacKinnon
“Walkin' Down The Line”
single HMV HR 247 and on 2005 CD "The Kiwi Folk Scene 1965 - 1971" Also same track on single HMV HR 250
- Rod MacKinnon
“A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”
on LP “Folk Concert Down Under” HMV MCLP 6205
- Rod MacKinnon
single HMV HR 265 and later released on also on 2005 CD compilation "The Kiwi Folk Scene 1965 - 1971" (This track was actually released in 1966.)
In 1965 Rod's ambition was to become a professional folksinger and he was very active in the folk community. His more current view is "I've sung and played guitar most of my life, starting when I was around thirteen or so in Ngakawau, a small coal-mining settlement on the West Coast of the South Island. These days I live in Auckland. I consider myself a veteran musician. I still sing and play a bit, gig when the opportunity presents itself, write songs, stories and musicals and do a bit of art from time to time. I support myself teaching and occasionally play with a trio or four-piece band."
- Lou & Simon (Lou Clauson & Simon Mehana)
“Blowin’ in the Wind”
this track appeared on the LP “Lou & Simon in Concert” (a live pub recording) Red Rooster RLP3. Chris Bourke (noted NZ music writer and historian) has written about Lou and Simon: "In the 1960s this musical comedy duo was extremely popular and hardworking, performed often on television and recorded prolifically. They toured throughout New Zealand - and also performed in Australia, the United States and Asia. ... Lou and Simon worked together for 12 years, before going their separate ways in 1969. ... They released 15 singles, five EPs and seven albums, the latter mostly recorded at live shows."
- The Breakaways
“She Belongs to Me”
appears on the LP “Let's Take a Sea Cruise with The Breakaways” MCLP 6221 EMI HMV and on a later CD compilation containing their two LPs. The Breakaways were based in Wellington between 1964 and 1966 and were originally known as Bari and the Breakaways. They also lived in other NZ cities. Andrew Schmidt has a comprehensive history of the Breakaways on a NZ music website.
- Bernie Brown
“Don't Think Twice It's All Right”
on LP “Folk But Happy” HMV MC LP 6219
Although Bernie Brown performed for many years, this was his sole LP. The notes on the album say "Bernie Brown is a most unusual folk-singer, simply because he does not have any of the characteristics of the contemporary singer of folk songs. Firstly, Bernie is a mature man and a father of five children. Secondly, and most strikingly, he does not care for the current odes of doom and destruction that we often hear about these days" (remember this was written in 1965) As the notes go on to say about the album title - "unmistakably apt: FOLK . . . BUT HAPPY"
- The Rayders
“Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”
“It’s All Over Now Baby Blue”
the first of these two Dylan tracks is on the LP “Platter-Rack Raid with the Rayders” ZLP 1023 - the only LP issued by this group. And in 1966 they had a single with “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” on Zodiac Z45 1245. A short history of this group has been written by Andrew Schmidt and is available on a NZ music website.
- The Missing Links
“On the Road Again”
New Zealander Andy Anderson was lead singer of the Aussie group "The Missing Links" (he was aka Andy James and was born as Neville Anderson). Their first and only LP was "The Missing Links" Australian Philips PD199. This LP was later reissued on the 1984 LP (Raven RVLP-19). And later still appears on a CD compilation. "The Missing Links were an Australian garage rock, R&B, and protopunk group from Sydney who were active from 1964 to 1966. The group was known for wearing their hair long and smashing their equipment on-stage." The second and better-known version of this group had New Zealander Andy Anderson as lead singer. The Missing Links have influenced many later Australian punk and hard rock groups. The LP scan is from the 1984 re-issue and is a reproduction of their original album cover. Comprehensive information on Andy Anderson is provided by Andrew Schmidt on a NZ music website.
- Garth Young and his Trio
“Blowing’ In The Wind”
on LP “Music for Dancers Who Prefer to Stand Still” Viking VP 152 - instrumental - [some things are hard to explain - why a instrumental of this song in 1965?] Garth Young's professional music career began in 1953 in and around Wellington, New Zealand. He was heavily involved in arranging and recording backings for many artists and groups on several record labels. His own piano records became huge sellers and he was one of the most prolific arrangers and performers of music on NZ television.
Yes a variety of musical styles
But it was Mainly a Folk Scene in the 1960s.