6 Jul 2024

The Mixtape - Legendary music critic Colin Hogg

From The Mixtape, 4:00 am on 6 July 2024
Colin Hogg

Colin Hogg Photo:

Colin Hogg can't live without music - lately a bit of Bill Evans and Claude Debussy - but doesn't like being told what to listen to.

The veteran music journalist and writer selects five of his favourite tracks for the RNZ Mixtape.

Born in Dunedin and raised in Invercargill, Colin Hogg has been in the journalism game since the age of 17, when he joined The Southland Times as a cadet reporter.

At 21, he moved to Auckland then, after a few years in London, became a music reviewer for The Auckland Star - the "radical left paper of Auckland" - in the 1970s.

At the time, radio stations weren't "remotely interested" in local music, Hogg says, and people were only starting to take it really seriously.

Promoting local bands felt like it was an "outsider thing".

"It felt like you were part of a revolution, in a way. You were fighting for something … People like Karyn Hay were compatriots in the battle."

Out four or five nights a week watching gigs, Hogg became a bit too well known as a "music writer person" and it became very difficult to slip into a gig anonymously and take notes.

"I'd chosen a lonely job. I didn't mind that, but I was alone. I had to stay alone. You couldn't get too close with anyone."

Although Hogg's reviews always had a positive note, he wasn't afraid to give "quite rough reviews", which at the time was a risky move.

"It used to be death threats and things but people were very enthusiastic about their music so it was all fun."

Now, reviews of local music are "all gutless", Hogg says.

"There's a lot of love and affection and everything for New Zealand music now… it sort of disturbs me a little bit.

"I don't hear much danger, in a way. There's nothing to fight for or against because it's sort of loved-up but it's not paid up."

Colin Hogg played:

'Lonesome Town' by Ricky Nelson

"I'm Celtic. I'm quite a gloomy guy so I love sad songs. Pre-Beatles, Ricky Nelson was the best of the quite dweeby, American, slicked-back hair, pop singer types. He had the best band. He had a great guitar player.

"There was this particular song that really touched me. It's so sad, it's beyond belief. I've always loved this song."

Years later - at the invitation of a music promoter friend - Hogg was very briefly "on the road" with Bob Dylan and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

At Wellington's Athletic Park, he stood on the field and watched Dylan's sound check. Ricky Nelson had recently died in a plane crash and Dylan sang "Lonesome Town".

Later, Hogg was in a lift with Dylan and a couple of the backup singers, but he was under strict instructions from Dylan's minder Phil - president of the Auckland Hells Angels - not to speak to the singer.

"Phil took me aside and said, 'Look, I really like you, Colin, but if you talk to Bob, I'm gonna have to throw you out the window.'

"I wasn't allowed to talk to Dylan, or Phil was going to pull my head off. So that was very frustrating."

'Mama Keep Your Mouth Shut' by Bo Diddley

"People think punk was invented in the late Seventies. You listen to this - it wasn't."

'Mr Moon' by The Headless Chickens

"The Headless Chickens are a fantastic band, and I love them.

"The very idea of the sweet and sour, the male and the female voice… and they were for everyone. They were extraordinary.

"There's one particular song of theirs that just touches everything. And every time I hear it, I think I'm back in the Eighties. I can almost taste the cocaine."

'Greenstone' by Emma Paki

"I spent quite a bit of time with Emma. She was a special one.

"She's what I call one of the comets. They sort of fly across the sky and are gone. She had a beautiful voice, beautiful songs, quite extraordinary.

"She had prominent backers and everyone believed in her except herself. I think she struggled with attention too.

"It's an interesting thing - fame. It sort of fascinates me, the damage it can do to people, especially in a small country. I think she had trouble. She struggled with it.

"This one's an absolute knockout. It's one of those ones that's forgotten. Now I think if people hear it they'll probably want to hear it again."

'Big Black Bus' by Hello Sailor

"I was very good friends with Dave McArtney, who was in Hello Sailor, and also Graham Brazier … I miss them both.

"About 10, 12 years ago, they made what was the last album, which is called Surrey Crescent Moon.

"It's a terrific record. It really has got lots of punch. There's a song on this album called 'Big Black Bus', of Dave's. It's quite prescient about death. It's got this weird feeling about it, getting on the 'big black bus'. It's a great song with sort of a reggae vibe to it."

'Flying' by The Beatles

"I mentioned to someone that I was going on the show and they said, 'You should choose five Beatles songs.' And I said, 'Get off the grass!'

"I noticed your ... suggestion of a funeral song... Something without words is always good, because you're listening to this song that someone [chose] and suddenly it's got something too personal and it throws you.

"This track is ... from the Magical Mystery Tour album, it's an instrumental and it's very short and it doesn't really develop, but it's got this amazing groove and it feels like you could be floating off into the next place, and we played it at [my friend] Gordon's funeral and it was perfect.

"I may play it at mine - but I'd like to be surprised!"