In his long career in New Zealand music, entertainment and other cultural pursuits, Arthur Baysting wore more hats than his childhood hero Tex Morton. He died today after a long illness.
After emerging in 1968 as a journalist, Baysting was a pioneering pop critic, poet, editor, reviewer, stand-up comedian, cabaret MC, script writer for film and TV, documentary maker, songwriter, music campaigner, and activist in issues ranging from copyright to children's rights.
Behind the scenes he was an advocate, facilitator and motivator, encouraging others to fulfil their artistic potential.
In all his work, across many media, Baysting's commitment to New Zealand was apparent. As a scriptwriter, songwriter or standup, he was a New Zealand everyman.
He championed the craft of songwriting and the instrument he promoted was the most democratic: the ukulele.
Born in Blenheim on 17 April 1947, Baysting grew up in the Nelson area in the 1950s and 60s.
In 1970, at a students' arts festival, Baysting met Jean Clarkson, who was studying printmaking at Elam in Auckland. They married the following year, and settled in Auckland. "Since 1971 Jean and I have worked together as a team," he said, and that remained true to the end.
Among his many contributions, Baysting co-wrote the script of Sleeping Dogs, and appeared in character as Neville Purvis, the Naenae bodgie and graduate of Mt Crawford Finishing School, who held court as Red Mole's MC at Carmen's Balcony cabaret in Wellington. He performed at Nambassa and went on tour with Rough Justice and The Crocodiles.
Television came calling, and the six-part series The Neville Purvis Family Show was unlike any other New Zealand comedy series before or since. Baysting would later regret it, not for the show’s most famous moment (when he said the F-word), but because Neville and Avalon were an uneasy mix. There were many watered down sketches and compromises.
During 1979 he appeared at a broadcasting conference - dressed as Neville - and said that New Zealand should export music acts rather than dead cows.
Freelancing for the Gibson Group production company, Baysting wrote scripts for the Public Eye series, and the TV dramas Undercover and The Returning. He worked for the anti-smoking lobby group ASH, and for a couple of years was Helen Clark’s electorate press secretary, until she became a cabinet minister in 1987. For two years, from 1992, he was president of the New Zealand Writers’s Guild.
In 1987 Baysting initiated the Kiwi Music Convention, and 300 musicians and members of the radio, music and retail industries gathered to discuss how the dismal interest in New Zealand music could be improved. “Over the next two days,” Baysting wrote in the resulting book, “delegates talked, listened and argued. Tempers sometimes got frayed but recommendations were made. Since then, some of them have been fulfilled.”
Baysting's dedication to songwriting lead to co-credits on songs recorded by the Crocodiles, the Pelicans, Bill Lake, the Windy City Strugglers, Beaver, Margaret Urlich and many others. In 1973 he co-wrote the first solo single of Marc Hunter of Dragon.
Others he has written with include Midge Marsden, Che Fu, Dragon, Glen Moffatt, Jenny Morris, King Kapisi, Marina Bloom and Suzy Cato. A lasting musical friendship was formed when he met Opetaia and Julie Foa'i of Te Vaka at a songwriting evening in the 1980s.
One song in particular marked the shift to the next phase of Baysting's career: songwriter and champion of New Zealand music. 'Tears' by The Crocodiles - co-written with Fane Flaws, formerly with Blerta - reached No.17 in 1980.
In 1992, Baysting was voted onto the APRA board representing local composers, a position he held for 18 years. Being the only New Zealand member on an Australian corporate board was difficult. At the first board meeting he was met with sheep jokes, but he soon began advocating strongly on behalf of New Zealand songwriters.
Baysting's time at APRA coincided with that of Mike Chunn (Citizen Band, Split Enz, Play It Strange) as general manager, and together they put many initiatives in place that changed the status of local music. The Apra Silver Scroll Awards became a major event, and the songs were the focus of attention.
The duo worked at improving airplay for New Zealand music, and diversity in the industry, and instituted new awards such as those for Maori, country, and children's music.
Arthur Baysting was instrumental in the Green Ribbon Trust which lobbied for more local content on television, for a 20% quota for NZ music on commercial radio, for a Music Commission and for a non-commercial national radio network for young people. The first three goals were achieved; the youth radio network has yet to eventuate.
Baysting and Chunn were closely involved in launching the Ukulele Festival, and getting the instrument into schools.
Baysting's career had some unexpected good fortune writing songs for Australia's under fives: the Play School crowd. In 2000, when ex Crocodile Peter Dasent became music director of ABC's Play School, he enlisted Baysting's help as a lyricist.
They began writing little songs which Justine Clarke, Play School's biggest star, began to include in the show. The trio is now a small industry, with platinum, gold and silver selling records, ARIA awards, and widespread recognition.
Their biggest hit 'Watermelon' - with over 2.5 million views on YouTube - is a tribute to fresh fruit. Many of the songs have become standards in Australian homes and classrooms.
On 21 November 2019, APRA NZ announced a new annual award for those who have championed children through the creative arts, education, or advocacy: The Baysting Prize.
Arthur Baysting died on 3 December 2019, writing songs and making plans to the end.
This is a summary of a story by Chris Bourke for AudioCulture. Used with permission.