17 Dec 2017

Hirra Morgan: a house full of music

From Te Ahi Kaa, 6:06 pm on 17 December 2017

Tokora funk band Collision's track ‘You Can Dance’ features on the recently released album Heed the Call. Justine Murray talks with former member Hirra Morgan, who went on to play with Renee Geyer and Glen Shorrock of the Little River Band.

From back left to right: Mike Booth, Charlie Hikuroa and Phil Witcher. 
From front left to right:
Hirra Morgan, Cole Henry and Ali Morgan.

From back left to right: Mike Booth, Charlie Hikuroa and Phil Witcher. From front left to right: Hirra Morgan, Cole Henry and Ali Morgan. Photo: Murray Cammick / Audioculture.co.nz

When Hirra Morgan auditioned for Glen Shorrock of Little River Band fame he was sent 14 albums, told to learn the songs and not told which one they would choose for his phone audition.

He remembered being asked if he had what it takes, and without hesitation he said yes. He got the gig and performed a short stint with Glen Shorrock and Friends back in 1983.

Hirra played with Renee Geyer’s band and lived in Australia for 36 years before returning home to Putaruru. But music is never far from his mind and this week he was back in Australia recording songs with John Paki for an upcoming album.

Hirra grew up in a musical whanau - his grandfather owned a harp, guitars, drums and even violins were commonplace in the home. 

“I come from a family of 18 older siblings, where they played instruments of every sort, piano, piano accordion, guitar, sax trumpet anything they could get their hands on really, it comes from the big band in the 40s, and into the Patty Paige era because I had ten sisters who all sang… we just got caught up in that, that was our learning field.”

His brother Ali and their cousins Charley Hikuroa and Colin Henry would jam together and were influenced by Sly Stone. They played at intermediate school and momentum grew throughout their high school years.

Their first band was Shriek Machine named after their Van which was ‘pimped’ up with psychedelic signage. They entered Battle of the Bands and won the Waikato heat, they placed third at the finals in Auckland.

Dalvanius Prime encouraged Collision to tour Australia in the mid seventies.

Dalvanius Prime encouraged Collision to tour Australia in the mid seventies. Photo: Murray Cammick / Audioculture.co.nz

In 1972 the band members and their families made the move from South Waikato to an eight bedroom home in Wellington after being offered a residency at Ali Baba’s, a popular nightspot amid the flourishing nightclub scene.

Shriek Machine would break up as band and reform a year later with a new keyboard player and a new name, Collision.

As a predominantly touring band, the hit the Lion Pub circuit where some audiences preferred the hard rock of AC/DC rather than the funk style of Collision. There were a few bust-ups and brawls along the way.

“We actually got belted up and we belted up a few people to, broken arms, broken cheekbones, we come across that type of audience… not so much in New Zealand, but in Australia where they’re just not used to funk type music with this drive and brass and everything”.

After a weary schedule Hirra left Collision and worked with Renee Geyer and Glen Shorrock of The Little River Band.

These days music remains a constant in his life, his daughter has inherited her father's musical talents and he is set to record new music and members of Waikato band Sweet Echo. His brother Ali and cousins Charley Hikuroa and Colin Henry who were part of Collision remain keen musicians today.

Heed the Call

John Baker and Alan Perrott have compiled a compilation album of artists of the Disco, Funk and Soul genre from 1973 - 1983.

John Baker and Alan Perrott have compiled a compilation album of artists of the Disco, Funk and Soul genre from 1973 - 1983. Photo: John Baker

Journalist Alan Perrott and John Baker released the compilation album Heed the Call on 1 December this year.

It has received good reviews but Alan says the interest is largely overseas. 

He says a few songs on the album are rare finds because the bands in that decade (1973 – 1983) were performing concerts rather than recording in the studio.

“It’s kind of an era it’s been overlooked, almost ignored. There was the whole anti-disco movement and the historic Kiwi cringe”.

The album features Māori and Pacifica artists who played alongside their families. 

“…their parents had played, their grandparents had played it was like breathing.  Prince Tui Teka learned to play guitar by the time he could walk, they say he could play six instruments by the time he was 10, it was just a fact of life, and you wind up playing next to the people you are closest to.”