An introduction to 10 New Zealand musicians who produce music for older children.
Fatcat & Fishface
Fatcat & Fishface hail themselves as “the outlaws of New Zealand children’s music”. Their style is cheeky and irreverent, and they were the last musicians to win Best New Zealand Children’s Album (in 2002), before the award was cancelled for the following 10 years. The award was reinstated in 2012, along with the APRA-sponsored Children’s Song of the Year, and a music video award (hosted for many years by children’s TV show What Now and recently taken on by New Zealand On Air). With the renewed interest and support has come a renaissance in the New Zealand children’s music scene. Fatcat & Fishface don’t perform live, but market themselves via a series of animated music videos. They have released seven albums to date, the best known being The Bestest and Horriblest Songs for Children, a compilation of the most popular songs from their first five albums, and Birdbrain, based on New Zealand birds, and supported by the Department of Conservation. ‘The Wreck of the Diddley’, an argument between a gentlemanly sea captain and his parrot, was also released as a book by Potton & Burton.
Levity Beet is the nice guy of New Zealand children’s music. He is also a fine songwriter, and innovative inventor of instruments such as the Honkytromblastic (tuned plumbing meets flute meets kazoo) and Fizzunkafone. When he performed at Auckland Museum he turned a school chair into a harp (under the seat), and a flute (blowing down one of the steel chair legs). Levity lives in Takaka and draws a lot of inspiration from the natural world. He has won New Zealand Children’s Song of the Year award three times with ‘There’s One In The Bush’, ‘Little Blue’ (as in penguin), and ‘Sometimes I Make Mistakes’. He is on the road for two months a year visiting schools, kindergartens, libraries and events round the country. He combines touring and performing with teaching ukulele, guitar, band mentoring, audio production, and songwriting. His five albums are available online. ‘There’s One in the Bush’ is a particularly catchy dinosaur song; it won the Children’s Song of the Year in 2015.
The Nukes are a ukulele trio specialising in original songs with a “folk, bluegrass, reggae and postpunk” flavour. Dave “Fingers of Fire” Parker, David “Snapper” Thiele and Benjamin “Country Boy” Collier have an impressive musical background. Parker’s group The Parker Project recorded the 1991 hit ‘Tears On My Pillow’; Collier is the former drummer for Goldenhorse; and Thiele’s bio describes him as a former Sydney taxi driver, performance artist, used-dcar salesman and house re-piler. The Nukes tour rampantly, performing nationwide at cafes, schools, and at music festivals such as Womad and Splore. And with the rise in popularity of the ukulele as a featured instrument, they are regulars at ukulele festivals in New Zealand and across the Tasman. The Nukes have released three albums. Here’s the title track to their first album, Each To Their Own, filmed in one continuous shot at Kelston School for the Deaf, Auckland.
Captain Festus McBoyle
Rich Manic was once a glam rock star (‘Teenshag Super Star’, ‘Manic Pop Junkies’, ‘Five Go Mad’ and ‘Runninghouse’). He kept the tattoos, and now stars as “rotten pirate” Captain Festus McBoyle, one of the hardest-working children’s musicians in the country. His piratical vaudeville show, with accompanying motley crew, regularly trawls New Zealand, spreading mischief and mayhem to every dimly lit corner and crevice. From sandpits to festivals to performances with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, Festus brings his questionable hygiene practises, flamboyant costumes and cheeky humour, along with his wife Miss Lucy Drawers, and guitar-playing ship’s rat Mr Cheese. Two albums to date (A Pirate’s Life and Ships and Giggles) and one of the most entertaining live gigs from this ex-rock’n’roll animal.
Open the do-ar for Anika Moa. Anika is not only on stage or touring festivals and vineyards with the big guns of New Zealand music, she is now in your home with her own chat show, All Talk, on Māori Television. Miss Personality Plus turned her attention to the world of children’s music in recent years, releasing two albums (Songs for Bubbas and Songs for Bubbas 2), both of which won Best New Zealand Children’s Album with a highly entertaining mixture of cheekiness, chutzpah, the odd waiata Māori, and songs about taniwha and witches. ‘Chop Chop’, about a ninja rat, is the hit from Songs for Bubbas 2.
Claudia Gunn describes her music as “melodic indie folk”. Her songs ‘Lullaby Time’ and ‘Home Sweet Home’ were winners of the APRA Children’s Song of the Year, and feature on her album Little Wild Lullabies. This collection of original songs with a gentle, lyrical flavour was a nominee for Best Children's Album in 2017. Claudia’s musical tastes are wide ranging. She collaborates on projects that include electronica (she is a vocalist for electro soul act Substax), theatre and a capella. She also writes folk tunes, gospel anthems, pop themes and “imaginary soundtracks for musicals”. In her other life, she works as a production manager for the Commission for Financial Capability. ‘Everywhere Stars’ is the first track from Little Wild Lullabies.
Raymond McGrath is the man behind the “monster” books, songs and videos. His day job as a high-flying animation director for children’s television and advertising (plus illustrator, designer and writer) is echoed in his after-hours passion. Raymond spends his down time creating award-winning music videos such as ‘Monstomping’ and ‘It’s Not a Monster, It’s Me’, based around a cartoon version of himself interacting with monsters that look scary from the outside, but are invested with human feelings and frailties. Raymond is practically a one-man industry (he also illustrated and designed his monster books for Penguin), and is seriously good at his craft. I stood over his shoulder at a recent festival, and watched his genuine love of interacting with children as he sketched and drew on request in a small tent with a pencil and paper. Whether the monster lurks within or without, check out his song and video, ‘It’s Not a Monster, It’s Me’.
With a lyrical, whimsical style, Mr Roberelli’s sound recalls the English folk tradition. Originally an acoustic trio, they now perform as a duo with Rob Wigley as principal songwriter and singer, and Paul Depledge on guitar and vocals. Laced with humorous characters, musings and a general wonder at the world, Mr Roberelli has released seven albums at last count with The Same Sun and Moon hot off the press. This follows on from Skinkypants, Like A Million Eyeballs, Laughter On The Breeze, Double Yolkers, Does The Bus Stop Here? and their debut album House On Wheels. Mr Roberelli supports Scottish charity The Jo Walters Trust, and a portion of CD sales goes towards “helping people enrich their lives and the lives of others, through sport, outward bound, educational and environmental projects, both at home [UK] and abroad”. Mr Roberelli won the 2011 Children’s Song of the Year with ‘Beans About Beans’, and came close the previous year with ‘A Goat Called Ken’. Rob is an Auckland primary school teacher and says that he draws much inspiration from the conversations of his own children as well as from the classroom.
Gerry Paul is a hard man to find digitally these days, though he promises a new website. Born in Dublin, he moved to Wellington when he was six, picked up a guitar at eight and as an adult moved between the two cultures, enjoying years of endless summers. In 2014 he pulled the New Zealand and Celtic strands together with a concert featuring top Māori and Irish performers, including his Irish trio Keeva. Gerry’s best known children’s song ‘Hank the Wrestling Shark’ comes from the album Tales From the Sea & An Elephant Tree, and tells the tale of a pint-sized boy who takes on “the strongest, most fearsome creature of the ocean deep, and defeats him”. It won the Grand Prize at the 2010 John Lennon Songwriting Contest, and was translated into a vibrant picture book.
About the author
Robin Nathan creates children’s music under the project name fleaBITE. Grant Smithies describes fleaBITE’s style as “Sharp, funny, adult-friendly kids' songs with a rich seam of surrealism”. Winner of Best New Zealand Children’s Album with both Circus of Fleas (2013) and The Jungle Is Jumping (2015), fleaBITE’s music encompasses a wide variety of musical genres, and features guest musicians not usually associated with the world of music for children. Wild man of improvised jazz Jeff Henderson drops in for a blast of saxophone, Australian multi-instrumentalist Adam Page collaborates on Circus of Fleas, and The Jungle Is Jumping is infested with guitar from The Phoenix Foundation’s Conrad Wedde and Chris O’Connor (drums). Here is the ridiculous and popular ‘Don’t Sit Under the Poo Tree’.
To round out the picture, check out Kiwi Kids’ Music, the hub of local talent.