Nick Bollinger discovers a lost classic from Fijian funksters Mantis, and new compilations of local rock and soul from the '60s and early '70s.
Too Much Monkey Business / Alright in the City - Various
1960s New Zealand is often portrayed as a grey and silent place, where life shut down at six o’clock. But evidence to the contrary can be found in the first of these two new surveys of vintage Kiwi pop, where Wellington band The Librettos whip up an R&B storm on the great original ‘I’m A Dog’, and The Bitter End deliver a frantic ‘Too Much Monkey Business’ (even if they don’t get Chuck Berry’s lyrics quite right.)
The second set surveys a slightly later period: the early ‘70s mania for horn-led R&B. The Quincy Conserve’s title track sets the tone, but there’s variety within the genre, from the Hendrixoid riffs of Jesse Harper and Ticket to the undiluted funk of Collision.
Songs played: I’m A Dog, Too Much Monkey Business, Water Pipe, If I Had The Time, Too Much Monkey Business, Alright In The City, All In My Head
Turn onto Music by Mantis
Contender for local reissue of the year is this lost classic, recorded in Wellington’s HMV studios in 1973 by visiting Fijian band Mantis. Actually, when they first landed they didn’t have a name; they had simply been the resident band in a Suva nightclub, The Golden Dragon, where they were popularly referred to as The Dragon Swingers. But on their arrival in Wellington they came to the attention of promoter and producer Ed Morris, who seized on their potential, introducing them to the A&R department of the local Polygram label where they were rechristened Mantis.
It’s raw and absent of studio polish, but it shows you what an exciting live band they were. Even the photo of the group on the back is great, with beards, beads, afros and an abundance of polyester. And though the music – along with the look – is clearly influenced by the American R&B of the day, their funk has a faint island flavour – more calypso than reggae - that is part of its uniqueness and charm.
Songs played: Firewalker, Back At The Village, Shake That Fat, Day and Night