Grooving With Moog: New Zealand’s Music Press
By Chris Bourke (Rip It Up, July 1987)
Two things were different about going to a movie in the 1960s. First, you were obliged to stand up for ‘God Save the Queen.’ And at half-time, there were advertisements for Playdate, only 2/- at the Nibble Nook bar.
Owned by Kerridge Odeon, Playdate developed out of their house organ Cinema in 1960. Very similar to Shake! in format and content, its coverage extended to music and other youth topics. Playdate is New Zealand’s most successful young person’s magazine ever. The magazine lasted 12 years, and in its heyday had a circulation of 75,000 copies, with a readership of four or five times that number.
Although Playdate was the idea of Cinema’s editor Sid Bevan, he left shortly after the magazine started, and for most of its life Des Dubbelt (right) was the editor. “I felt that to go anywhere, the magazine had to shed the feel of a handout, it had to have a consumer feel,” he says. Dubbelt describes his employer Sir Robert Kerridge as “a true impresario, not an accountant” – so the magazine was not limited to KO films, but also covered Amalgamated’s releases and television stories, with genuine criticism, not just publicity. “Kerridge saw you’ve got to go with the flow. If you’re in show business, it doesn’t make sense to ignore your competition.”
The magazine was aimed equally at males and females, though the healthy advertising (some issues nearly reached 200 pages!) was mainly cosmetics and clothes (Slimryte Rolls! Bri-Nylon!) for the young Slenderella. “We followed our own interests a lot,” says Dubbelt. “We thought if it interested us, it would interest our readers. There were no readers’ surveys. We were enthusiasts.”
With Dubbelt at Playdate was Tom McWilliams as assistant editor (later executive chief sub-editor at the Listener), and young reporter Sally (who later worked for the Beatles at Apple in London).
Reflecting the explosion of the decade, music became a major part of the magazine. “It was a natural progression,” says Dubbelt. “The pop films started happening. Cliff Richard and so on, bolstered by personal visits. When the Beatles arrived, it was like the millennium.” Dubbelt remembers taking Gene Pitney to Kerridge’s Pakatoa Island resort for a story, and accompanying Tom Jones to a nightclub after his Town Hall concert – and Tommy Adderley singing ‘It’s Not Unusual’ as Jones entered.
The burgeoning local music scene was covered, particularly the summer package tours. “Mr Lee Grant was mobbed in a way comparable with any visiting big name.” Shows such as C’mon made New Zealanders pop stars. “Any TV show wouldn’t have done it,” says Dubbelt. “Kevan Moore was a brilliant producer – those shows were excellent.”
As any magazine should, Playdate’s layout reflects the design of the era. The change from hot metal to offset printing meant some radical layouts were possible: white type on black, photos bled to the edge. “We were dealing with a visual market: movies, fashion, rock, and this technology meant we could look different from the things the Woman’s Weekly were doing. The readers saw this – they didn’t want something that reminded them of their mother’s magazine.”
The innovations of Playdate meant the magazine attracted work from the “young, adventurous” photographers of the day, such as Max Thomson, Rodney Charteris, and Roger Donaldson. “We couldn’t have afforded them, but they liked the type of layouts we used, and to see their work well presented.” While they were using Mondrian grid layouts and plenty of white space, Dubbelt and McWilliams looked with envy at overseas magazines – the San Francisco Oracle even had psychedelic inks!
But the times eventually caught up with Playdate. By the early 1970s music and movies had got more permissive, and the magazine could reflect that in its illustrations – to a point. “It was just the way things were going. Take Woodstock. It was a pretty raunchy film, with a permissive attitude towards drugs and lifestyle. Tom and I felt we couldn’t cover the way the rock scene was going.
“That was about the time Rolling Stone came on the scene. They seemed to have no ‘no-nos,’ with star writers such as Hunter Thompson who seemed to be doing all the drugs, too. The youth market had diversified into heavy rock, with the accompanying drug scene, and teenybopper pop. We couldn’t and didn’t want to go into those areas.”
Playdate’s circulation was still healthy when the magazine was sold to the Auckland Star in 1972, but six months later the new owners decided to close the magazine down. Ironically, on the day Rip It Up interviewed Des Dubbelt, the Star’s parent company New Zealand Newspapers announced the closure of their 1980s teen magazine, Dolly.
Efforts to trace Kellaway (left) didn’t succeed, but in 1968 an interview with him appeared in another short-lived New Zealand music magazine Third Stream (a curious mix of mainly classical music, plus folk and pop; it lasted four issues). Its headline read, “EDITOR RELUCTANTLY GIVES UP GROOVE.” Kellaway’s reasons were pure 1960s: his own pop career was getting off the ground … and he’d been drafted.
While Dene did his 14 weeks of national service at Waiouru, the magazine appears to have gone into recess. What happened to his pop career (NZBC didn’t buy his first single, ‘I’m Going Nowhere,’ reported Groove) is also a mystery.
When Groove reappeared in August 1968, it continued its hip coverage of the overseas and local pop and rock scenes. Although the Monkees were on the first cover, Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd were also cover stories in the magazine’s first year – using illustrations drawn by readers.
For their 10 cents each fortnight, each Groove reader got a 16-page tabloid with plenty of pix and pinups, reviews and news, of pop stars and movies. Except for the paper’s news from Sydney – where Dalvanius was their correspondent – most of its overseas coverage was taken from press releases, or syndicated from other music mags. But what’s remarkable is the paper’s coverage of local music. As the nostalgists keep reminding us, then we had pop stars: Simple Image (“will they keep ‘Spinning Spinning Spinning’ till 1968’s Loxene Golden Disc?”), the Avengers, the Fourmyula, the Underdogs, Hi-Revving Tongues, Ray Columbus, John Rowles, and especially Mr Lee Grant (who wore suede boots laced at the side to an interview!).
Radio DJs were also stars, and one of Groove’s bandwagons was pirate station Radio Hauraki, with their “good guys.” When the bill legalising private radio was passed in 1968, Kellaway wrote: “Groove is very pleased about the new bill and will be giving full support to any new stations that start up. In the long run it is going to be a good thing, and with the heavy competition it will bring the standard of our local productions will improve and more local talent will local talent will be uncovered and given a good fighting chance.”
But interviewed on the way to Waiouru, Kellaway talked of giving up Groove, as his contract with Apollo Records required him to be free to travel around the world. He was going to cut singles with his band the Vibrons while on weekend leave.
“I ran Groove alone, and did most of the writing myself. I did all the record reviews too, so it was a bit hectic,” he said. “I was doing Groove for the love of the work. I wasn’t drawing a wage off it; I had another part-time job on which I was living. Because I had been trying to sing for so long, I realised just how difficult it is, and how important, for the groups to get recognition in this country. I was plugging that side, trying to help the New Zealand scene. It wasn’t really a paying proposition. It could be, but I had gone as far as I could as a one-man band; it was a 24-hour-a-day job. I had about two days a week to myself.”
In August 1969, Kellaway moved on to concentrate on his recording career. The paper’s blues columnist Barry Francis Jones took over as editor, but that’s where RIU’s collection of Groove ends.
One year after the imported Rolling Stone magazine contributed to Playdate’s demise, New Zealand had its own edition of the San Francisco mag. Published by Alister Taylor of Little Red Schoolbook fame, the NZ RS lasted six issues in 1973.
But in February 1974 an all New Zealand owned rock magazine arrived. It had the delightfully 1970s name Hot Licks.
Hot Licks was started by Aucklanders Kerry Thomas, of Direction Records, and Radio Hauraki co-founder David Gapes. They asked graphic designer Roger Jarrett to edit the paper. “They thought of the idea of a free music mag, thinking it would be in their interest to promote music,” says Jarrett (right). “They said, ‘go for it’ – the first couple of issues I virtually wrote myself, then I found other writers. It was a different industry then for music. As far as marketing went, it wasn’t nearly as sophisticated.”
The magazine featured the best of 1970s music, from Bowie and Lou Reed to Little Feat and Joni Mitchell. “It was an enthusiast’s not a journalist’s magazine: a lot of the critical writing was blatantly biased towards favourite acts. But occasionally you got people who could actually write, such as Tim Blanx, who went off to England with Roxy Music. He was into the pre-punk music of the mid-70s, like Roxy, the Velvets and the New York Dolls, whereas I liked the more country influenced American music, and dance music.”
Split Enz were the first local cover story, followed by Mark Williams and Waves. But local music was difficult to cover, says Jarrett, “because we never had any journalists employed, so the only person who could go out and do interviews was me, and there wasn’t the time. There’s far more consciousness about a New Zealand identity now.”
Because of Jarrett’s background, the graphics were a crucial part of Hot Licks. As photographs didn’t reproduce well on newsprint, covers were done by illustrators such as Frank Womble, Dick Frizzell and Colin Wilson, and the page layout was extremely complex. Although the magazine quickly had a weighty masthead of contributing writers, Jarrett found himself doing everything else: subbing, proofing, paste-up, “the whole shebang. It was very time-consuming, and visitors would come in constantly. Very soon people thought I was an authority.”
Advertising was slow in the early months. “For a start, the record companies had to have their arms twisted to advertise.” They thought [the record store] Taste and Radio Hauraki were calling the shots. “There was a lot of politics involved,” says Jarrett. “Far too much. The whole record industry’s like that. But after six issues, they realised it wasn’t going to go away.”
Hot Licks lasted 27 issues, “quite an achievement, with no budget,” says Jarrett. But towards the end the magazine charged 40 cents an issue. That was a mistake, really, but not the reason it folded. It was still all down to me to do everything, and I was exhausted by the whole process. Plus I had family commitments.”
The circulation reached 8000, distributed through record stores around the country, though in Auckland, through Direction shops only. “It was a bit of a political football, between the purchase of records in the stores, and the amount of publicity in the mag, and advertising. Also, Direction became a distributor of overseas labels like Virgin, Casablanca, ECM – that got right up the noses of the record companies. It became too political – that’s where I lost interest.”
With the management of Direction and Hauraki having changed, there also wasn’t the commitment from above, the returns being difficult to evaluate.
“The only thing about Hot Licks that I believe is of value is that it’s an accurate reflection of its age, and what people thought about at the time,” says Jarrett. “I hate nostalgia. I’m not nostalgic about the magazine at all. It was good self-expression, and I really enjoyed it, but I really like being now, being current.”
© Chris Bourke 1987
Russell Brown writes a detailed tribute to Des Dubbelt and Playdate here. Quotes and information from the above article have appeared elsewhere without attribution (once by a senior academic who should have known better). Feel free to use it, with acknowledgement of the original source.