Songwriting as a NZ sport

Imagine if we lived in a country where 160,000 kids learned songwriting each week and a few hundred of them even got paid and made a living at it? Sounds far fetched? Apparently around 160,000 New Zealanders play rugby every weekend.

I’m guessing most of them are happily terrible but at least they are having fun and rugby is a part of the national culture. Our rugby is rated highly on the world stage. I’d be absolutely delighted if we paid the same attention to songwriting.

I doubt that there will be hundreds of thousands of songwriters any time soon but a bloke can dream. And we need to do more than dream – we just need to get writing. We need to be a nation of creators and makers and those songwriting skills can be used as a creative engine to spark a lot of other activity.

In the same sound bite it was mentioned that around 400 players get paid to play at the various levels. Songwriters getting paid? Not Many if Any. But we should change that.

One of my friends was given the advice to “just play like a bastard“. That was not rugby by the way but “write like a bastard” also works for me. Anyone can kick a ball and everyone can write a song. I’m sure that Jules would have some thing to say about songwriting. ( the Do you speak English.. line.

“The next generation of songwriters has received encouraging news. From 2017 songwriting will be included as a Level 3 NCEA subject. Not to be confused with the existing Level 3 Composition – songwriting will be entirely different.“>Play It Strange CEO, Mike Chunn, has been part of the campaign to bring in the new NCEA qualification”


Listen to the podcast above. What I most liked about the idea of songwriting as a subject at school was that comparison to rugby and why not.

When we say “songwriting” what is meant by that is that each week the kids write a song or two and record them with some kind of music (or not) – it is not some academic poetry fest – not that there is anything wrong with that. What do you think? Some poetry is just great.

A quick look at NZ history shows the changing view of NZ songs and songwriters. I’d expect the 2016 version of the list has a few changes.

“In 2001, to celebrate 75 years of its existence, the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) invited its members and an academy to vote for what they believed to be New Zealand’s top songs of all time. The clear winner was ‘Nature’, written by Wayne Mason in 1969. His band, the Fourmyula, took this acoustic song to number one on the New Zealand charts in January 1970.

Ironically, the Fourmyula never once played the song live. One reason given by Mason was that local audiences at the time were unprepared for local bands to perform original material. ‘Playing our own music would never have filled dance halls … we never played our own songs on stage: it was all Tamla Motown, Arthur Brown and “Everlasting love”.’

The top 19* songs as voted by APRA and the academy in 2001″ *actually 30 in the list but I got distracted.


‘Nature’, Wayne Mason (Fourmyula, 1969)
‘Don’t dream it’s over’, Neil Finn (Crowded House, 1987)
‘Loyal’, Dave Dobbyn (1988)
‘Counting the beat’, Phil Judd/Mark Hough/Wayne Stevens (The Swingers, 1981)
‘Six months in a leaky boat’, Tim Finn (Split Enz, 1982)
‘Sway’, Bic Runga (1997)
‘Slice of heaven’, Dave Dobbyn (Dave Dobbyn with Herbs, 1986)
‘Victoria’, Jordan Luck (Dance Exponents, 1982)
‘She speeds’, Shayne Carter (Straitjacket Fits, 1987)
‘April sun in Cuba’, Paul Hewson/Marc Hunter (Dragon, 1978)
‘I got you’, Neil Finn (Split Enz, 1980)
‘Whaling’, Dave Dobbyn (DD Smash, 1984)
‘Not given lightly’, Chris Knox (1990)
‘Pink frost’, Martin Phillips (The Chills, 1984)
‘Jesus I was evil’, Darcy Clay (1997)
‘Weather with you’, Tim Finn/Neil Finn (Crowded House, 1991)
‘Blue smoke’, Ruru Karaitiana (Pixie Williams and the Ruru Karaitiana Quartet, 1949)
‘Dance all around the world’, Corben Simpson/Geoff Murphy (Blerta, 1972)
‘Lydia’, Julia Deans (Fur Patrol, 2000)
‘Blue lady’, Graham Brazier (Hello Sailor, 1977)

In other news Christmas is coming up in a few days so in honour of that I have included a brilliant image of the NZ Christmas tree by Sarah Sisson. Follow the link above to buy a copy.

I’m listening to some Christmas songs by Leonard Cohen (ok its “You Want it Darker“) but close enough for me. I would be listening to the new Lorde album but it is not out yet. If you haven’t already heard it try Aaradhna for some NZ music.

Enjoy your Christmas and for New Years – don’t make a resolution – write a freaking song and enrol your kids in songwriting if your local high school is fabulous enough to be taking part.

Get writing and best wishes for Christmas and the New year. Here is a verse from Leonard to get you started.

Steer Your Way
“Steer your way past the ruins of the Altar and the Mall
Steer your way through the fables of Creation and The Fall
Steer your way past the Palaces that rise above the rot
Year by year, month by month, day by day
Thought by thought…”

And just because I can here is another verse from a classical Australian song – be inspired. Write something – maybe even a song.

“Hilary had Everest in his veins
Armstrong did moon, was not the same
Heroes explore to give us hope
River pushed back the envelope”