Kiwi Records – ‘the music and voices of New Zealand’
What could be a more apt record label for New Zealand music than Kiwi Records? This offshoot of publisher A.H. & A.W. Reed began producing records in 1957 to support the company's Maori language, physical education and folk-dancing school texts. Now known as Kiwi Pacific Records International Ltd, the firm is no longer connected with Reed, but it still offers a catalogue of New Zealand and Pacific music.
Maori and Pacific discs
The first disc from Kiwi Records’s was Maori action songs – 1 (1957) by the Putiki Maori Club. Popular artists of the 1960s included the Amorangi Boys of Rotorua, Inia Te Wiata, and Harry Dansey and the Te Rangatahi Maori Group. Maori records remained important, and from the 1970s they were complemented by the music of the Pacific on Kiwi’s Hibiscus label.
Folk songs and ballads
Kiwi’s recordings of ballads and folk songs captured the past that the publisher's books celebrated. Neil Colquhoun’s group, the Song Spinners, put out Songs of the whalers, Songs of the gold-diggers and Songs of the gumdiggers. In 1972 Colquhoun produced the landmark collection Songs of a young country.
Other typically Kiwi Records artists were balladeer Peter Cape, songwriter Ken Avery, song collector Les Cleveland, the Kokatahi Band of Westland and the Hamilton County Bluegrass Band.
The Hamilton County Bluegrass Band
Reed Publishing (NZ) Ltd
Light, novelty records were as New Zealand as the label’s logo. ‘Ash Burton and the Night Caps’ (Alex Veysey) gave the world Tea at Te Kuiti. The publisher’s success with Barry Crump’s books inspired Bush singalong by Les Cleveland and Tony Nolan and others. Tracks included ‘The good keen men and ‘The good keen girls’. Donald J. Squire went one step further with the Ashley Clinton Sheep’s Choir,which was sheep sounds cut and spliced to produce ruminant singing.
Kiwi Records only dabbled in pop music, with Tony and the Initials and Simon Morris’s band Tamburlaine being its more successful artists.
Children's choirs and records
Kiwi Records went on the road, recording school choirs under its Schools Make Music series. It then sold the 10-inch discs back to the schools to use to raise money. Popular broadcasters Bas Tubert, Peter Read and Merv Smith read famous children's stories. Kenneth Melvin read Maori tales such as Maui and the legend of Hinemoa and Tutanekai.
Julie Nelson’s ‘Sticky Beak the kiwi’ (1962) was a big hit. Poverty Bay school teacher Neil Roberts wrote the song; he recommended Nelson, and locals supplied a backing band for New Zealand’s most popular Christmas tune of the 1960s.
Tweats and twains
Under the Kiwi label more than just songs and music were recorded. In the 1960s people experimenting with new home hi-fi gear bought almost anything – recordings of bird songs, steam trains and even the sound of ice in Antarctica.
Musicolour products such as The sounds of Antarctica (1965) were early examples of multimedia publishing – a record package with colour books.
Reed Publishing (NZ) Ltd)
Hearing the sounds of a steam train emerging from Tony Vercoe’s office (head of Kiwi Records), publisher Clif Reed asked ‘What on earth’s that? How do you expect to sell that?’ But sell it they did to train buffs, who snapped up LPs such as Steam militant! Steam locomotives in the South Island or A power of steam: steam locomotives in the Central North Island.
Radio New Zealand National’s bird calls are familiar to many, but in the 1960s the idea of recording New Zealand birds was unusual. Vercoe recalled mixing Ken and Jean Bigwood’s bird songs at the EMI studio. ‘They thought I was mad’. As loud squawks, chirps and cheeps flooded the building, staff appeared from everywhere to see what was going on, and then started imitating the calls.'
Ken and Jean Bigwood record bird calls for A treasury of New Zealand bird song.