Chris Priestley – Tales From Godzone (Songs of NZ’s Distant Past)

Chris Priestley and his Unsung Heroes Troupe uncover songs and stories from New Zealand’s distant past.

If all Christ Priestley had done was co-found Real Groovy Records and Java Jive,  that would be plenty to write home about.

But Chris, the folk singer has been documenting New Zealand’s history through song. His Unsung Heroes and Rogue collections precede Tales From Godzone, but this may be his best, most entertaining, most educational and most gripping and most personal work yet.

Yes, today’s headlines are atrocious (and ridiculous) but one listen to songs like The Brunner Mine and Davy Low’ston and you quickly realize that the good old days weren’t that good either.

Chris Priestley

The 17 folk songs contained here trace the stories of criminals, thieves, heroes  and daredevils and everyday people trying to get on with their lives.

The Brunner Mine is the 1800’s version of Bernie Griffen’s 29 Diamonds, only in 1896, it was 65 who died in the mine.

Archie Baxter recounts the story of New Zealand’s WW1 conscientious objector while La Souris Blanche tells of Nancy Wake “The White Mouse” a Wellington gal who outfoxed the Nazis.

Chris PriestleyAnd there is humour…after all who can forget Opo The Dolphin, the “crazy dolphin’ who entertained bathers back in the 1950s in Opononi Bay.

Some of the stories resonate much further afield than New Zealand. Davy Low’ton tells the story of seal hunters stranded  for four years at Open Bay Island in 1810. Over the years, folks such as Martin Carthy and June Tabor have “appropriated” the song and the story, moving the location to the Northern hemisphere.

Which only goes to show how universal and important these songs and stories are.

Chris PriestleyChris finishes this collection on a personal note with Lilly and Maude, who were his Grandmother and Great Grandmother. The accompanying booklet is beautifully laid out with photos and newsclips from the day.

Special mention should go to guitarist Nigel Gavin who provides his glistening guitar playing to the record along with folks such as Brendan Power, Cameron Bennett and Peter Elliott who narrates from time to time in true folk tradition.

A wonderful history lesson.

Marty Duda

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