Music journalism legend Murray Cammick – Murray the Cam! – served as both publisher and editor of Rip It Up, but few events in his long career were as strange as the time he attended the launch of a Herbs album in Ruatoria, right in the middle of the Rasta uprising….
I was publisher of RipItUp when Herbs launched their album Sensitive To A Smile on Queens Birthday Weekend in 1987 in Ruatoria. I hated attending unusual album launches so how Herbs manager Hugh Lynn talked me into driving to Ruatoria is beyond my comprehension.
I guess I loved what he was doing with Herbs, trying to make them bigger than Jesus with a radio industry still committed to homogenous Top 40 tunes and a pub touring circuit with a bias towards white rock bands, often with an alternative Flying Nun bent.
Hugh was a big spender in RipItUp on his David Bowie and ZZ Top concerts and I was often suggesting he downsize his Herbs advertising spend in the magazine. He’d book a double-page spread when one page would do, but his reply was always, “No, this is important!”
We know New Zealand is the land of the long white cloud but this belief clouds our awareness of the North Island being quite wide as well as long. If you are driving to beyond Gisborne to Ruatoria you should be thinking land of the wide white cloud. It’s like driving to Wellington. The powhiri (of course I wrote “welcome” in 1987) was scheduled for 2pm, and Aucklanders were still winding their way through the Bay of Plenty at that hour. It was rescheduled – I suspect more than once – but some Herbs were still looking for Ruatoria when we were welcomed shortly before dusk at the Mangahanea marae.
To edit a magazine, you have to know what you don’t know. For example: nobody is dead unless you know they are dead. I know my knowledge of my own culture is quite limited and specific to the popular music field and I know my knowledge of any other person’s culture is near to nil. I went to Ruatoria with limited awareness of Maori culture and no knowledge of the conflict in the region between Rastas, the farmers and the Maori elders. I was merely a music writer and a cultural tourist.
I knew that Hugh, as the Herbs manager, wanted to reconnect with his roots and he wanted the band to connect with their roots. Herbs had evolved over time from a largely Pacific Island membership to having mainly Maori players. Hugh referred to himself as a “born-again-Maori” – an acknowledgement of how he was ignorant of his own roots, due in part to a loving parent who thought the less he knew of his Maori heritage, the better.
In the same manner that musicians have played for the people of Christchurch after the quakes, Hugh wanted to give a gift of music to Ruatoria, and to show respect for their preservation of the Maori culture and language and to learn from the Mangahanea marae experience. He also wanted the media present to learn from the experience and to give Herbs good coverage for their new album.
Hugh had a film crew making a small documentary and a Herbs video. The documentary had a slight “by the time we get to Woodstock” feel, dusty roads etc., and maybe Herbs brought a peace and love, bring the people together vibe that locals found slightly offensive, in the sense that Aucklanders who know little of their own Maori culture and less of the events on the East Cape, should see themselves as long-weekend peacemakers.
On “The Program” for the weekend (see picture), the section listed as “Variety Of Activities” may have involved discussion between Rastas and Maori elders. I have no idea. I do know the marae did allow Rastas to be invited to attend the Herbs concert on the Saturday night, but bad weather prevented their attending.
The peacemaker “help” from the Auckland entourage was not entirely welcome. At one of the morning meetings, sitting in the sunshine, an elder spoke in fluent Maori and the essence was translated to: “If you want to help … help in the kitchen!”
A film crew stood on or too close to the ruins of a church, burnt down by Rastas. The crew were reprimanded but such incidents did not detract from the fact that the weekend involved an immense warmth of hospitality from the Mangahanea marae, and the locals braved the bad weather in big numbers to enjoy a beautiful, high-production value concert by Herbs – with the opening acts being local kapahaka groups – at the Uepohatu Hall. There was a dose of reality on the night when the small children requested that Herbs play their TV jingle for KFC. They obliged.
Other journalists in attendance included Paul Ellis (Auckland Star) and Chris Bourke (RipItUp). Although I was publisher of RipItUp at the time, when Colin Hogg asked me to write about the weekend for the New Zealand Herald, I happily agreed. I was keen to give as wide coverage as possible to Herbs and the story of the weekend on that far distant coast.
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