Champion of Dunedin Sound remembered
Roy Colbert tried to stay out of the spotlight, but he became entrenched in New Zealand’s music scene. The writer, record-store owner and raconteur found himself at the centre of a cultural revolution where he became a key conspirator. But on Thursday, the Dunedin music icon died after a long illness.
Known by many as The Godfather of the ‘‘Dunedin Sound’’ in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Colbert had a key role in connecting artists like The Verlaines and The Chills with audiences.
He and his partner set up Records Records, their own music store in the centre of Dunedin on Stuart St. It was only going to be a temporary venture, but Colbert kept the store from 1971 until he sold it in 2005 because of poor health. Records Records closed in 2010.
Although he started selling secondhand records, Colbert went on to feature new emerging local artists – many of them friends. Records Records was the Dunedin distributor of Flying Nun Records, an independent label that represented artists such as David Kilgour, Chris Knox and The Clean.
Flying Nun founder Roger Shepherd said Colbert was instrumental in forming ‘‘the Dunedin Sound’’.
‘‘Before there was the internet, the music community in Dunedin was basically centred on Roy’s record shop,’’ he said. And from the bins of Colbert‘s second-hand rock albums, Shepherd said the Dunedin Sound took shape. Likeminded music fans came in, they talked and put up posters advertising positions for bass guitarists. Over the counter, going blind, was Colbert telling stories or writing letters, Shepherd recalled. In Shepherd‘s eyes, Colbert was ‘‘the classic record shop guy’’.
‘‘He’d get to know all the people from the bands, because they came through his shop.
‘‘He was there for the bands, the young guys and girls that were starting out and really enthusiastic about the music,’’ he said. One of those young artists, The Chills frontman Martin Phillipps, remembered Colbert as a passionate advocate for the community in Dunedin. Phillipps recalled first meeting Colbert about 41 years ago, when he wandered into Records Records. ‘‘I went in there for the first time and never looked back,’’ he said. Phillipps was 13. He said they talked ‘‘at length’’. ‘‘I probably talked to him too much. I was constantly asking about other artists and bands and records, and ‘if I like this record what do I listen to next?’ He was really patient, except for really stupid questions. Even then, he probably wouldn’t get angry, he’d just say something cutting, but you wouldn’t realise it until half-an-hour later.’’
Colbert formed close relationships with local Dunedin bands, including The Chills and Shayne Carter of Straitjacket Fits. His name features in the album covers of many local releases, despite Colbert not being much of a musician. His inspiration for musicians, and
"Before there was the internet, the music community in Dunedin was basically centred on Roy's record shop."
willingness to help out, gave him an iconic status in the industry.
Phillipps remembered his unshakable support for the local acts, even when times got tough.
‘‘I know he was really pleased to see me back on my feet again and making good music. He was certainly one of those people who didn’t turn away in my dark years. He was there with concern and belief that I could get through that,’’ Phillipps recalled.
At the height of the ‘‘Dunedin Sound’’, Colbert modestly downplayed his, and Records Records’, significance, saying: ‘‘I think the shop was probably important, but that doesn’t reflect on me ... I just sat there in a chair. I got far more recognition than I deserved for that.’’
Rarely seeking the limelight himself, he did appear in the Look Blue Go Purple’s 1985 music video for Circumspect Penelope, albeit in an ape mask.
A journalist by trade, Colbert interviewed some of the biggest names in music. He met the likes of David Bowie and Led Zeppelin.
In his regular Otago Daily Times column – that Colbert kept up until his final month – he recalled walking into the Wains Hotel, past a dishevelled publicist and teary-eyed reporter, into what was supposed to be a press conference with Lou Reed. Except only local broadcaster Jim Mora was there, and Reed was giving him an earful. Despite being called ‘‘less intelligent than human excrement’’, Colbert said he stayed for an hour to listen to Metal Machine Music with Reed.
‘‘I occasionally asked a question, which he usually ignored... Worst music interview ever? No, not at all, quite possibly the best,’’ he wrote.
Born and bred in Dunedin, Colbert was also a talented sportsman, playing table-tennis for Otago in the 1960s.
Flying Nun founder Roger Shepherd