Sunday, May 30, 2004
As I stood in the crowd at the Auckland National Anthem show I thought: “I bet this would be a lot of fun to watch on TV.”
On the balcony above us, Dominic Bowden’s teleprompter was waiting for him from half an hour before the broadcast. On stage, a roadie made us all uncomfortable by wearing a NZ Idol t-shirt. Looking at the size of the audience – which it would be a stretch to refer to as ‘the crowd’ – I wondered aloud if the event had been adequately publicised.
The Checks kicked things off at 7pm and, as advertised, singer Ed Knowles danced like he was possessed by Mick Jagger. I thought: the Checks are so hot right now. They played a couple of songs of swaggering, Strokes-ish, Stones-ish rock as the camera swooped back and forth over our heads. The band preened and posed for the camera and the audience did the same – just in case. Hi Mum!
In an obvious example of wishful thinking, the ‘Wellington’ gig was out at Lower Hutt’s Avalon studios. Jackie Clarke from When the Cat’s Been Spayed was the local anchor. I wondered if National Anthem was doubling as an artists’ work for the dole scheme. I wondered if Jackie had travelled to the gig by hovercraft.
Clarke’s presence in the Hutt Valley offended some in our group. “Jackie Clarke does not represent me!” local boy Matt Nippert repeated insistently. Perhaps to soothe Matt’s pain, down in Christchurch Simon Barnett was flannelled up like a grunge icon.
On stage in Auckland, we watched the other cities on a screen flanked by ten TV2 logos. The only way we could escape the branding was to go for a walk. Up at TVNZ headquarters on the corner of Victoria and Hobson the sets in the window were tuned to Sky Sport and BBC World.
We returned at about 9pm. There was a brief audio snippet of Roy Colbert from Records Records in Dunedin talking about the local scene and a jarring video clip of the Topp Twins. Hamish and Holly from Critic were staying with me. Parochial ol’ Hamish was excited to see Dunedin on television, and proud that more people turned out in the Union Hall than made it down to the St James in Auckland.
Furthering rumours that the next general election will be decided by a text message poll, the anchors invited viewers to send in their thoughts from a Telecom phone. One teen shared the dream of his delusional mother: “Mum wants me 2 b a NZ musician so I can get rich.” A more romantic soul proposed to his true love: “I know u r watching. Wil u marry me?”
Around 11.00pm National Anthem cut to crowd vox pops. “Tonnes of people have turned up,” said a girl in Lower Hutt, lying.
I have some sincere praise for the event: it was a brilliant showcase for local music; the depth of the roster was stunning; cultural cringe didn’t get a look in. Even so, National Anthem was an apt name – everyone can sing the first verse of ‘God Defend New Zealand’, but things start to get a little sketchy after that. “This is history in the making,” the anchors told us repeatedly. Never had history been so poorly attended.
In case anyone at home forgot how pumping the actual gigs weren’t, Upper Hutt Posse performed a call-and-response version of ‘E Tu’ to complete silence from the studio audience.
Conversation turned to a badly subbed anime we’d watched earlier in the day. A demon was chowing down on some people parts, exclaiming, “Eating human is non-stop action!” New Zealanders love to sink their teeth into a good non-stop telethon. National Anthem gave us a chance to see an idealised version of the country – ebony and ivory, together in perfect a cappella harmony.
The whole exercise was a fundraiser for Play It Strange, which sounds like a fund for troubled Catholic priests but apparently isn’t. Three hours in, they’d raised $38,000. I understand part of the money will go to the ‘Ukulele Orchestra Scheme’, which beats learning the recorder, I guess. By 3pm Sunday they’d raised around $90,000 and when Dave Dobbyn took the stage for the finale in Auckland the total was just shy of $150,000.
Around midnight, back at home, we saw a repeat of the Checks’ performance. I thought: “I bet this would be a lot of fun to watch live.”