Otago Daily Times
‘Father of NZ folk music’
PHIL GARLAND may have been a bornandbred, trueblue Cantabrian, but as the selfstyled ‘‘father of New Zealand folk music’’ his huge influence was felt nationwide, especially in Central Otago, for which he developed quite an affinity.
Mr Garland, who died in Hamilton last month aged 75, was one of the coorganisers and originators of the Bards, Ballads and Bulldust festival, held each Easter in Naseby since 2006.
His musical and storytelling expertise was well known, and much appreciated, in this part of the country.
In an interview with the Otago Daily Times in 2009, he told Shane Gilchrist the Naseby festival ‘‘started off as a weekend in the Ancient Briton Hotel with myself, Dusty Spittle and Ross McMillan. We just did a onenight thing. We’ve held it every year since and grown it.
‘‘I think this is the only festival in the country that touches on New Zealand folklore as such. All the other folk festivals bring in overseas artists, Celtic performers and what have you, but noone really puts the emphasis on New Zealand music.’’
One of Mr Garland’s longtime musical friends was Cardrona-based folk singer and songwriter Martin Curtis, who sang a Garland original, Wind in the Tussock, at last month’s funeral in Christchurch.
Mr Curtis said he was honoured to sing it because he had read, on a cassette cover, that his friend had written it while staying in Cardrona, and the colleagues had sung it together during a couple of New Zealand concert tours in the 1980s.
‘‘Phil was very much a Cantabrian, but always said that Central Otago was his spiritual home,’’ he said.
‘‘He once described it to me as the area where all the songs and stories he’d collected about life in the high country was still just part of everyday life — he was definitely a bit of a romantic as regards our rural lifestyle.
‘‘ He was a very good friend of Naseby poet Ross MacMillan [a.k.a. ‘Blue Jeans’] and put several of Ross’ beautiful, wistful poems about station life to music.
‘‘The annual Bulldust to Ballads festival is a legacy of Phil’s that we hope will continue.’’
Mr Curtis also recalled how, when he settled in New Zealand in 1975, he heard the name Phil Garland on his first visit to a folk club here, finally meeting him about four years later.
‘‘I sang my songs Gin & Raspberry and The Old Hearth Wall at one Wellington folk festival and Phil approached me and showed great interest in them. Far from being considered a rival, Phil booked me to sing at the Christchurch Folk Club, which he had founded. As a result we became great mates and for several years after that I would stay with Phil in Christchurch whenever I was up there.’’
This friendship led to a couple of nationwide tours together in the late 1980s, organised by Keith Gosney in Hastings.
‘‘The idea was that we would travel to art galleries and halls in small centres as well as folk clubs in the cities, bringing together an evening of songs and stories about our own country to people who rarely had the chance to hear this type of music,’’ Mr Curtis said.
‘‘The tours were a great success and the repertoire expanded as we travelled. We started out as a concert with two solo acts, taking it in turns each night to be first or second.
‘‘However, by the third night we had worked out a couple of songs we could finish with together, and by the end of our first 27gig tour we had a considerable repertoire of songs as a duo. Right up until recently on the rare occasions we would meet up, we would drag a couple of them out and perform them together,’’ he said.
Mr Curtin described Mr Garland as a ‘‘total professional in all respects, both musically and as regards the travelling’’.
‘‘He was also very easy to get along with socially and at the end of the evening we certainly shared the odd glass of bourbon, Phil’s favoured tipple at the time!
‘‘While touring with him, I also learned to appreciate the quality of Phil’s guitar playing on his beloved 12string, something which was not always fully appreciated by some other musicians on the folk music scene.
‘‘It was never flashy or intricate but was very clean and rhythmic and somehow always had a sound that was uniquely ‘Phil’. Whenever National
Radio play an unannounced song of Phil’s, the guitar intro tells you immediately that it’s a Phil Garland recording that is coming up.
‘‘All in all, Phil’s legacy to
New Zealand is huge, not just in the songs and music he has either collected or written himself, but also in his extensive knowledge of our colonial history that he was able to pass on to others.
‘‘It was a privilege to have known and worked with Phil and he will be greatly missed in the folk music world, both here and in Australia where he lived for several years,’’ Mr Curtis added.
New Zealand music was the essence of Mr Garland. Described on his website www.philgarland.co.nz as ‘‘The Singing Kiwi’’, he was the ultimate advocate of homegrown folk music.
His family, in a statement, described him as a respected folklorist and a musical balladeer, whose mission for over 30 years was to ‘‘gather and preserve for posterity the songs and stories of New Zealand’’.
To that end, in a 50year recording career, he released 19 albums of music, much of it original work, published six books of stories and poetry and won the New Zealand
Music Awards Folk Album of the Year award three times.
He was also awarded the Queen’s Service Medal for services to folk music in the 2014 Queen’s Birthday Honours.
Mr Garland’s musical career began in the early 1960s with a rock’n’roll band The Saints, having been inspired by seeing Bill Haley’s movie Rock Around the Clock.
But he then switched his focus to folk music and after a trip to the UK, returned to New Zealand where he founded the Christchurch Folk Centre and also the Christchurch Folk Music Club, of which he became a life member.
In 1984 his album Springtime in the Mountains won the inaugural Folk Album of the Year award at the New Zealand Music Awards. He then shifted to Australia in 1987, where his career flourished.
Based in Alice Springs and then Perth, he recorded two further albums, How Are You Mate? (1990) and Waiting For News (1993), with his band, Bush Telegraph, and was honoured for his contributions to the Western Australia music scene.
Returning to New Zealand in 1996, he released a compilation CD, Under the Southern Cross, and also published his first book, The Singing Kiwi, which contained more than 120 songs and tunes.
His album A Sense Of Place, a collection of original songs celebrating New Zealand’s culture and heritage, was released in 1998 and gained widespread acclaim.
There would be several more albums to come, including Southern Odyssey, which won best folk album in 2007, the same year the Christchurch Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame honoured him with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
In 2009 he published his major historical work, Faces in the Firelight, a book which recorded New Zealand’s history through folklore and song.
As he told the ODT, the book featured ‘‘every bit of folklore I’ve collected over the last 40 years’’. But, he confessed, the problem was knowing ‘‘when to stop’’.
Mr Garland was survived by his brother Mike and sisterinlaw Margaret Garland, of Dunedin, sister Joan, daughters Niamh, Emma, Fiona, Felicity and Sally, and six grandchildren. His partner Jan died last December.