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Why are we inducting so few artists into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame?

The NZ Music Hall of Fame currently inducts two local artists a year, but is it really enough? Hussein Moses talks to Peter Grattan who’s petitioning for a total overhaul of the system to give New Zealand musicians the recognition he feels they deserve.

Salmonella Dub made headlines recently when they turned down an offer to be inducted into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame after clashing with award organisers. The band were approached about receiving this year’s Legacy Award at the New Zealand Music Awards in November, but after being told that they could choose an artist to perform at the ceremony, organisers said that their selection – Wellington post-punk act Beat Rhythm Fashion – would be too obscure for TV audiences.

Andrew Penman, frontman for Salmonella Dub, issued a statement about the dispute, saying that they were a young band and not yet deserving of the award anyway. “We feel it would be more fitting to be invited into the NZ music industry’s award ceremony in 2043 when we celebrate our 50th birthday.”

The group would’ve been one of two artists to get inducted into the ranks of the Hall of Fame this year. Since it formed back in 2007 by Recorded Music NZ and APRA, 20 local artists have made the Hall of Fame, including last year’s winners Moana Maniapoto and Bic Runga.

But is inducting two artists a year really enough? Peter Grattan doesn’t think so. He’s petitioning for a total overhaul of the system that would see 20 Kiwi artists inducted each year, a far cry from how things are done now.

Grattan is known for producing Radio With Pictures in the 1970s and Shazam! in the ‘80s, and has also worked for the BBC and as the head of entertainment for TVNZ. He’s also played with Peter Posa, an artist he very much wants to see get some recognition from the industry. Alongside the bump in numbers, he’s also proposed that a primetime TV award show be created to induct all the nominees each year – think something along the lines of how the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame works – as well as our very own museum for New Zealand music to help people discover and rediscover the best we have on offer.

Peter Grattan and Peter Posa in 2012 (photo: supplied)

You first envisioned a New Zealand Music Hall of Fame in 1990 and tried again in 2002. What was the reaction to your idea at the time?

The Nelson City Council weren’t interested. We were going to do it down there with the idea of turning Nelson into the City of Song. They said ‘no, we’ve got the [World of] Wearable Arts, why would we want the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame?’ Of course, a year later they lost the Wearable Arts to Wellington. They could’ve had a Hall of Fame museum down there.

The Hall of Fame was eventually set up in 2007, but you argue that inducting two artists a year isn’t nearly enough. You’re proposing that we boost that number to 20 Kiwi artists a year over the next 10 years to make up for lost time. Can you explain some of your thinking there?

They only induct two people a year, which is kind of pointless because in 100 years time, everybody up until 1990 might be in, but it’s going to be 2120 or something. You’ve got to get these people inducted in their lifetime. They deserve to be honoured in their lifetime. They need to be honoured while they can still get on the stage and perform a song.

There’s this thing about how New Zealand Music Month is May. Well, every month should be New Zealand Music Month. Maybe what they should do at the beginning of every month is induct somebody, then come May they have a TV show and they induct all of those people from the previous 12 months. So 12 people go in and then it starts again.

Why do you think something like this hasn’t happened yet?

I just put it down to apathy and complacency. I think as Kiwis, everything is so cruisy that no one really bothers. A lot of the people that love New Zealand music love it anyway, whether those people are in the Hall of Fame or not. But we’re getting a lot new New Zealanders now too, who really need to know our heritage and history of music; and the best way is to have something like a Hall of Fame where they can go and rediscover people.

Who are some of the artists at the top of your list that you think need to be inducted right now?

Split Enz aren’t in it. There’s no logic to it. If you go right back to the first record ever pressed in New Zealand – it was called ‘Blue Smoke’ by Ruru Karaitiana and Pixie Williams – they should be in because they’re pioneers. Tex Morton was a pioneer of country music.

Then you get people like Peter Posa and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, John Rowles, Sharon O’Neill, Mi-Sex, Larry’s Rebels – there are so many. The organisers seem to look at some of these people and think they’re not hip or cool enough to go in. It’s great seeing Moana Maniapoto in there. She’s very deserving but earlier than her there were people like Dinah Lee and Annie Crummer.

Peter Grattan and Peter Posa in 1970 (photo: supplied)

The idea for the primetime TV award show sounds similar to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in a way. How does it tie in with the formation of a music museum?

Te Whare Waiata O Aotearoa – basically a New Zealand music House of Song. It could be in Christchurch or Whangarei or Dunedin; somewhere where people could go and see the displays and the Split Enz uniforms and the guitars of Dave Dobbyn’s like they do in Cleveland with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Salmonella Dub recently turned down the Hall of Fame after a clash with organisers over who would perform at the award ceremony. What did you think of that situation?

I have to admit, I’ve been away from New Zealand since 1992 so I’m a little ignorant of some of the great bands that have come up over the last 25 years. I guess if back in 2007 they had been inducting people at 10 a year, and there’d been a TV show, it would be a solid thing. But there’s really only 20 people in it. If there’s 120, it has a different perception. If they’re being inducted alongside people like Split Enz and Sharon O’Neill and Billy T James and Prince Tui Teka and some of the other great acts, they would probably feel more happy about being in there.

What’s been happening is [the TV industry] has been doing these singing shows, which are basically copies of American Idol and all that. They’re hugely expensive and they’ve spent millions of dollars producing these shows. Then those singers don’t go anywhere; they win the show, but there’s no opportunity for them to compete overseas and play overseas.

To me, it’s wasted money. It’d be better to do a massive TV special for Salmonella Dub and then use that to break them around the world. I would like TVNZ to sit down and help Recorded Music NZ and APRA and say ‘let’s find sponsors and let’s do this properly for New Zealand musicians’.

What do you plan to do with the petition?

Well, I started a Facebook page about six years ago and there’s about 3000 people on it. I probably should’ve started the petition six years ago and we might have 50,000 or 60,000 names now. But I started it this week and I think it’s starting to gather momentum. That great thing that was at Auckland Museum [Volume: Making Music in Aotearoa], was incredible. I think they got a few hundred thousand visitors. If all of those people had signed the petition, we’d be well on the way to getting it happening.

You can find the petition for “A credible NZ Music Hall of Fame” here.


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