Anyone that’s on the Auckland Open Mic circuit will know of local legend Graham McGregor. This 81 year old spritely gentleman has been gracing many a joint over the decades with his raunchy acoustic numbers; exposing audiences to some obscure and well-travelled classic folk and blues renditions along with his own cheeky originals.
Graham is an avid arts lover and has many a story about the changing nightlife and music scenes he has been a part of.
We got Graham to give us a detailed run down of his music life, the key players he’s met along the way and the creation of his 2nd album The Real Karangahape Rd, out on the 23rd of November 2022.
CH. 1 - The Early Days.
I first started singing in a church choir at about 8 years old where I learnt a sense of pitch and harmony. From that time I always wanted to be out front leading and I still usually work that way. (I first sang at an open mic in a bar in 1960) In my teenage years I followed the hit parade and “Cotton eye Joe”, who introduced me to Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins and Chuck Berry. Well before their records were available in NZ (A place where a very narrow range was available.) By making friends with the owner of a record shop I was able to get imported records which were almost impossible to obtain in 1950’s NZ. Records by: Lead Belly, John Lee Hooker, Lightning Hopkins, Josh White, Pete Seeger and a fabulous blues sampler. Which included many fabulous songs which were the basis of rock and roll. I loved Jug band music and it is still a major influence of mine to this day.
In 1962 I moved to Sydney. I found a much wider scene and learnt from the people I met at the British ex services club. I traded my classical guitar for a pre-war Martin D-18. I played for hours every night and learnt a repertoire of songs from Jack Elliot. Jack taught me a lot of English musicians with his versions from American folk songbooks. I learnt how to play a lot of songs that were unknown in NZ. I had a unique repertoire and was in demand because of it. I always tend to play songs that are not mainstream.
In Wellington I helped organise the Folk Festival and coordinated the main concert on three different occasions. The high point being when English folklore master A.L. Lloyd was a guest. Max Whinnie, Frank Fyte, Joan Prior, Jim Delahunty and Peter Cape were major influences on me. In 1965 I left Sydney and came back to NZ. Arriving in Auckland with my old friend Paul Gray and his daughter Samantha. He went to Brokenhurst mansions in Newmarket and I stayed with then art dealer: Barry Lethem.
The Auckland music scene in the 60’s centred around the Wynyard Tavern on Symonds St. The Sunday music program was run by Mark Young, poet and art critic. There I met John Sutherland, Beth Read, Glen Crosse, Bill Taylor, Pitt Ramsay, Giles Baskett, Dave Calder and Len Cohen. I also played at Babel Restaurant, run by Odo Strewe and at functions run by Barry Lett’s art galleries. John Sutherland took me on the ferry to Devonport where the new folk club had just been formed. There I met Pat Bowley, A notable Scottish singer who was very helpful. The major music scene in Auckland was run by Phil Warren and his Fullers entertainment group. Fullers got me a spot on the “Town and around show” which was on just before the news. I went in on a Friday, was issued a copy of the Herald newspaper and would write a song based on the day’s events. The only song I can recall from this period was about an American presidential visit. I also got a spot on a variety show. The last time I was on tv was in 1968. By this time I was getting less and less gigs and they would usually be ones nobody else would do. Several times I played just before the strippers and it wasn’t the prized set. At a folk festival in Waihi the Hamilton county bluegrass band walked in and started playing with me. I found it quite unnerving but it was a good experience.
As The Beatles and English rock became popular and Bob Dylan went electric, acoustic folk music became a small part of the scene. I went from being in high demand to being unwanted and was reduced to playing Folk clubs or private parties. When Poetry Live started in the Globe Hotel, David Mitchell invited me to sing and I performed every week until he gave up on running the event. David Tossman filmed my performance, but unfortunately the sound isn’t synced very well.
CH. 2: The 80s – 90s
In the 1980’s I became involved with politics and ended up being on the field in Hamilton during the Springbok tour. I was elected into the Mt. Eden Borough council and served from 1983-1989. At which stage it was amalgamated with Auckland city council. I did not play much music during this time and only did funerals and parties. In the 1990’s I started going back to Devonport folk club and in 1993 I had the opportunity to record an album with Brent Morrissey. We recorded a side each and I only played my Gibson guitar as I wanted a sound that I could reproduce every time I performed live. We ordered 100 copies but Stebbings only produced 99. They sold out very quickly. We had about 80 people on our lawn for the release concert and the sound could be heard clearly at the local supermarket.
I became more involved in the “folk scene” again and became president of the Titirangi folk club and later the Auckland Bluegrass club. I started going to the Rafter music club at the Unitarian church on Ponsonby rd. I helped with running the club until I was the only one left and decided to run it by myself! Fortunately there is now a good group of people to run it: Jennifer Howarth, Alistair and Linda Robinson. After the launch of “The Meeting” in 1993 I started going back to the Bunker and the other Auckland folk clubs. It was then that I started singing and playing with other people. At the Auckland bluegrass club I met Peter Parnham who led the music when we performed in the clubs. I was also very lucky to meet Linda Hefford who was a Violin virtuoso and fine backing singer. My next group included Jenny Christianson who arranged interesting songs for the keyboard and also has a strong voice. Ian Bartlett (From Find the ferret) recorded three of these concerts for us. Other collaborators included Gloria O’Connell, Madeline Beasley, Suzanne Timms (Who played the celtic harp and sang beautifully). At the Bluegrass club I was backed by many fine musicians: Brian Christianson (Banjo), Alan Young, Neil Finlay (Guitars) and Linda Whitacombe (Fiddle) Pete Parnham and Gary Trotman (Double Bass). I still perform in folk clubs with Jim Lawless and Jennifer Howarth when they are available.
CH. 3 – 2000s
In the early 2000’s I went back to performing at open mics in bars. I started in Onehunga at a session run by Andrew Rudolph. It felt strange at first to adapt to a bar crowd, but I soon got used to the ambiance. There I met James Fromont, a fine guitarist. We began playing together and we eventually started performing as the Queen Street Cockies. Crossroads in Ponsonby run by Stout was a good bar with good sound. It was often frequented by players from the Aggie Greys house band. 121 Open mic run by Callum Stembridge was a great session. Callum was very popular and went to New York to broaden his horizons and find new challenges. Grand Central open mic has been run by Eddie Geiger for many years. I have been going there almost every Monday night for the last 15 years. I often get to perform for extended periods and it is almost always a marvellous experience. Shooters on New North Rd had a musicians club for 3 or 4 years and I enjoyed playing there. It was great while it lasted. Cosh Bar on Ponsonby Rd. had an open mic for a couple of years. Natasha Kinsey got me to play there and invited me to open for her at various gigs. She is a world class performer who opened for Te Vaka while on tour throughout Asia. Other important influences were Miho Wada and her jazz influenced band. Jenine Abarbanel of the Pipi Pickers and Hot Diggety Bluegrass Band.
In recent times the best and most enjoyable gig has been Ema Barton’s open mic at The Portland Public House. The staff and patrons have been exceptional. Always a great night. The Kingslander and Win Win are important music bars that I frequent. Nick Brightwell was the first international student to take and graduate from the university of Wisconsin’s fingerstyle guitar course. After he eventually came back to NZ I met him through Jim Lawless and we started playing together. We played around Auckland and at The Sound Lounge in Keri Keri. Nick played the Kainui Rd Vineyard and I supported him. Nick went down to Gore and won the instrumental section of the Golden Guitar Awards. For the next two years I made the journey down there with him. It was an interesting experience. While in the South Island we went to see Steve Barkman, who had just recently made me two beautiful 12 string guitars, one entirely made out of NZ wood and one made from a 100 year old Mahogany bed.
CH. 4 - Karangahape Road
I befriended Gordon Zettwitz who had a music store and repair business on Karangahape Rd. On Christmas eve we went for a beer at a long demolished pub near Gundry St on K Rd. I was wearing shorts with bare feet. When I went to the urinal, two large men who had been arguing and almost coming to blows ended up on either side of me. I couldn’t get out before I was urinated on. I have no idea if it was intentional but I just retreated as fast as I could. It was not the Naval & Family Bar. The Rising Sun Hotel had a very diverse clientele and was for a period very popular with the gay community. The Pink Pussy Cat was a long running strip club. All the dancers were introduced as exotic. A friend who taught at Avondale College spoke to an old pupil who was working as a dancer. When asked about dancing she said “Hell no! I just get paid to strip so I just remove my clothes as fast as I can and then get off the stage. In the 80’s The Staircase was a gay nightclub, a group of lesbians always went there because they felt safe and could get the best drugs. Then the management turned them away and it became a male only establishment. For most people payday was Thursday so prices on Tuesday and Wednesday were reduced to try and boost earnings.
Ch. 5 - The Album
This album came together with generous assistance from Holding Space Aotearoa. I would especially like to thank Dr Grant Hewison, Ema and Windon Barton for their encouragement. Without which this project would not have happened. These are among the many people who have helped and encouraged this project: Rose Lythe, Oliver, Francis and Amanda McGregor, Brent Morrissey, Jennifer Howarth, Jim Lawless, Linda andAlistair Robinson. Carolyn Sutherland, Alice McLeod, Barbara Parker and all the others at the Rafters. Fatu Fecci, Andy Lelei, Cynthia Marsters, Dagmar Dick, Marcus Hipa, and my artist friends Sam & Jane Rogers, Alexa Winnen, Isla May, Andrew Chang and the Thames Acoustic Music Club. The Lotus Realm, Steve Terry.The Auckland open mic community who provides such great support: Nick Brightwell, Sam Loveridge, Jono Annandale, Claire Kendall, Ed Geiger, James Fromont, Latu & Sandy. Richard Beckmannfly, Andrew Rudolph, Darren McShane, Edwin Judd, Natasha Kinsey, Tony Bullen, Warren George, Noel Redmond and the Sound Lounge in Keri Keri. Steve Barkman Luthier. Pete Parnham, Gary Trotman, Mark Laurent, Brenda Lydiard, Lloyd Wheeler and Pat Bowley.
The Real Karangahape Rd single is OUT NOW on streaming platforms and the album is available on November the 23rd along with the Album Launch Concert at The Thirsty Dog from 7.30pm with support acts Nick Brightwell, Ema I’u and Sam Loveridge. There will be a limited number of CDs and Vinyl on pre-sale.
ALBUM RELEASE SHOW DETAILS - HERE
ALBUM HYPER LINK - HERE
Blog edited by Ema Barton and Jono Annandale.