Blue Smoke Remembered: first NZ pop song

New Zealand's first pop record went triple platinum but the award for selling 50 000 copies of the song "Blue Smoke" was presented to the singer Pixie Williams only on Wednesday night, over 60 years after the event.

"Blue Smoke, written by Ruru Karatiana, and sung by Pixie Williams was the first record to be written, performed, recorded and pressed in New Zealand. It is the icon song of the New Zealand music industry, compere and singer Frankie Stevens said at the launch function for the re-mastered CD of Pixie's songs, "and Pixie Williams is a living taonga of the New Zealand music industry."

Ruru wrote the song in 1940 as he was travelling on a troop ship to Africa with the Maori Battalion as part of the 2nd NZEF force to Egypt. It speaks of love and loneliness and those left behind. It was wildly popular among the forces and later civilians in the 1940s although it was not recorded until 1948.

On behalf of the Recording Industry Association of NZ music historian Chris Bourke who wrote  "Blue Smoke - The Lost Dawn of New Zealand Popular Music" presented Pixie with her triple platinum certificate for "Blue Smoke" and also a platinum certificate for "Let's talk it Over",  her follow up record which sold 20,000 copies.

At the launch ceremony at the Roxy Cinema, Frankie Stevens, recalled that the songs written and performed by the Ruru Karatiana Quintet were an important step towards the Maori show bands which were so popular in the 1950s and 1960s, and which led to the success of such names as the Maori Volcanics, Dalvanius and Prince Tui Teka among others.

"One of the first of these groups was called the Brown Bombers," he said to mild titters. They started in the Hutt Valley and went on to success in Australia. The name was probably a nod to Joe Louis, the world heavyweight boxing champion in the 1940s, who was known as the brown bomber for his knockout punch.

All of the 13 songs recorded by Pixie Williams have been re-mastered and a CD has been released, after years of painstaking research and methodical engineering work, a project led by Pixie's daughter, Amelia, and a dedicated band of loyalists, all determined to preserve the memory and the history.

Pixie herself was there, now largely silent and confined to a wheelchair, but clearly deeply touched by the many tributes paid to her in speech and waiata.

My own connection with 'Blue Smoke' is through relatives.  One of my uncles requested it be played at his funeral. It was a song he associated with his early adult years in the 1940s. We found a recording and it brought back memories for many who attended.

My aunt, who died earlier this year, also asked for the song at her funeral and it was duly played, again evoking many stories of 'I remember when...' from the mourners.

The CD is available from www.bluesmokerecords.com.   Some of the profits from the sale of the CD go to NZ Red Cross.  Wednesday night was also Pixie's birthday. She was 83. 

New Zealand's first pop record went triple platinum but the award for selling 50 000 copies of the song "Blue Smoke" was presented to the singer Pixie Williams only on Wednesday night, over 60 years after the event.

 "Blue Smoke, written by Ruru Karatiana, and sung by Pixie Williams was the first record to be written, performed, recorded and pressed in New Zealand. It is the icon song of the New Zealand music industry, compere and singer Frankie Stevens said at the launch function for the re-mastered CD of Pixie's songs, "and Pixie Williams is a living taonga of the New Zealand music industry."

 Ruru wrote the song in 1940 as he was travelling on a troop ship to Africa with the Maori Battalion as part of the 2nd NZEF force to Egypt. It speaks of love and loneliness and those left behind. It was wildly popular among the forces and later civilians in the 1940s although it was not recorded until 1948.

 On behalf of the Recording Industry Association of NZ music historian Chris Bourke who wrote  "Blue Smoke - The Lost Dawn of New Zealand Popular Music" presented Pixie with her triple platinum certificate for "Blue Smoke" and also a platinum certificate for "Let's talk it Over",  her follow up record which sold 20,000 copies.

At the launch ceremony at the Roxy Cinema, Frankie Stevens, recalled that the songs written and performed by the Ruru Karatiana Quintet were an important step towards the Maori show bands which were so popular in the 1950s and 1960s, and which led to the success of such names as the Maori Volcanics, Dalvanius and Prince Tui Teka among others.

"One of the first of these groups was called the Brown Bombers," he said to mild titters. They started in the Hutt Valley and went on to success in Australia. The name was probably a nod to Joe Louis, the world heavyweight boxing champion in the 1940s, who was known as the brown bomber for his knockout punch.

All of the 13 songs recorded by Pixie Williams have been re-mastered and a CD has been released, after years of painstaking research and methodical engineering work, a project led by Pixie's daughter, Amelia, and a dedicated band of loyalists, all determined to preserve the memory and the history.

Pixie herself was there, now largely silent and confined to a wheelchair, but clearly deeply touched by the many tributes paid to her in speech and waiata.

My own connection with 'Blue Smoke' is through relatives.  One of my uncles requested it be played at his funeral. It was a song he associated with his early adult years in the 1940s. We found a recording and it brought back memories for many who attended.

My aunt, who died earlier this year, also asked for the song at her funeral and it was duly played, again evoking many stories of 'I remember when...' from the mourners.

The CD is available from www.bluesmokerecords.com.   Some of the profits from the sale of the CD go to NZ Red Cross.  Wednesday night was also Pixie's birthday. She was 83.