Hard News by Russell Brown


This is bad – very bad

According to a statement issued today by the Chief Coroner and the police, seven deaths in the past month in Auckland have been linked to the use of "synthetic cannabis". A follow-up report in the Herald has more bad news: a St John's spokesman reports that the service is seeing 20 people a day with "some life-threatening effects following synthetic cannabis."

The St John's spokesman added, chillingly:

"We don't know what this drug actually is; it's just been labelled synthetic cannabis."

This is really important. The only obvious common factor here is that people are getting acutely sick and dying after using vegetable matter with something sprayed on it. We don't know if there's a new drug in circulation, a bad batch of a known drug, whether the acute presentations all relate to the same drug or even whether the drug behind this is actually even a synthetic cannabinoid/cannibomimetic as those are conventionally understood.

Indeed, I'm told there is speculation among health officials that one of the drugs involved may be the synthetic opioid fentanyl.

If so, it's very, very bad news. Fentanyl has been responsible for a wave of thousands of overdose deaths in North America. It's now being cooked up by Mexican drug gangs, because it's cheaper and safer to produce than heroin – and 50 times as potent.

The horrifying numbers announced today demand a very focused and urgent health response. And a key part of that is the sharing of any and all knowledge about the contents of anything seized as "synthetic cannabis". The police statement refers to the "possibility that some products can also be laced with other unknown chemicals."

That's not really good enough – and it's especially not good enough if we are dealing with fentanyl. New Zealand public health officials have been a bit ho-hum about the distribution of the opioid antidote naloxone, reasoning that we don't really have much of an opioid overdose problem here. We might do now, and that means a new level of response. Users need to be warned about what they're using – and, if it is fentanyl, given ready access to naloxone.

If it's not fentanyl but some other deadly substance – which could equally be the case, because we simply do not know since these products were consigned entirely to the black market by the amendment to the Psychoactive Substances Act – we still need to know.

What we don't need is the police distributing shock video footage of sick, vulnerable people suffering the effects of whatever this is to media. That helps no one. What would help is treating this is an acute public health emergency and sharing the assays of all the seized drugs, immediately.


Friday Music: Remembering Roi

In the days before email, when even toll calls were prohibitively priced, we would write each other letters. Rambling affairs, typed single-space (yes, some of us had typewriters – we weren't cave people) and full of news, gossip and extravagant ironic abuse. I wish I'd kept my letters from Roi Colbert.

Roi died yesterday. His health had been bad for a while, but it's still very sad and there will be many of us mulling our memories of the man today. I hadn't seen Roi since the last time I made it to Dunedin, and that's a while ago. The first time I met him was the first time I went to Dunedin. In some sense, he was Dunedin – or at least a feature of it. Today, it's like The Octagon's gone.

As Amanda Mills explains in her excellent Audioculture article (which properly calls him by the name his parents gave him – "Roi" was his own coinage), his shop, Records Records, was central to Dunedin's musical explosion in the early 1980s. Kids would come in to pick over the second-hand bins , check the bass-player-wanted ads on the noticeboard, or just to see Roi. He'd sit there on his stool occasionally making good-natured comment on what you'd brought to the counter. He was Flying Nun's first distributor in the city too.

But it wasn't just his shop. Roy and his wife Christine were extraordinarily generous with their home. When Fiona and I decided to join Murray Cammick on the train to Dunedin to see The Clean's "last" gig in 1982, we arrived with nowhere to stay. We stayed, of course, with Roi and Christine. They were generous and kind, even after I rather rudely beat the high score on his pinball machine (I honestly still don't even know how this happened).

On later visits to the city, Shayne Carter and I would get righteously blazed and walk up the hill to Roi's place for epic games of table tennis. As Amanda notes, Roi's place was also where you could watch music videos. He'd been in early on the home video revolution, and never let his choice of  Betamax get him down.

Other people knew Roi much better and longer than me, but I related to him as a journalist – originally a sportswriter – who loved music. In his later years, he wrote a column for the ODT, whose entries included this achingly funny account of a conversation with Shayne Carter about what the words to 'She Speeds' actually are.

Last year, he wrote a column which began with an appreciation of my story on the meth-contamination boondoggle (lauding me as "yet another towering investigative journalist reared on the demanding cliff-climb of music writing") before branching out with some thoughts on stamp collecting, art, used cars and Donald Trump. The paper paywalled it, so he sent it to me to make sure I saw it.

As recently as March, he had this excellent feature on Nadia Reid in North & South. Nadia thanked him on Facebook this morning:

I believe he argued with nurses and doctors to let him out of hospital to attend the show. He sat in the front row and I so loved having him there with his lovely wife Christine. A month back, at a Flying Nun event in Dunedin, we were talking, he must have sensed some doubt in my voice, and he said to me:

"You've made two records Nadia, that is the hard work done, they will last forever, now you just sit back and enjoy the ride."

What an incredible golden soul.

Roi, who was helping young musicians believe in themselves a decade before Nadia was born, was doing it until the end.

In that same month this year, Dunedin's Octagon Club was transformed for two nights into a recreation of of Records Records, which closed in 2005, the year that Roi had his kidney transplant. The blog Urban Dream Brokerage ran some great photographs of the event, including this one, of Roi sat in the audience with Shayne Carter, the wild, talented kid he did more for than anyone. It's just a beautiful image.


So, thank you Roi. Thank you from all of us.


Fittingly enough, there are some Flying Nun reissues out this week.

There's an expanded 2LP version of Bressa Creeting Cake's self-titled debut, available for the first time on vinyl. I have very fond memories of the original launch party for this record, which was staged at Alexandra Park racecourse, on a day when the Bressa Creeting Cake Mobile Pace was won.

And there's also a 2LP reissue of Garageland's debut Last Exit to Garageland, which also incorporates their first record, the five-track Come Back Special EP. Chunky guitar-pop ahoy!


This is also reissue day for Micronism's landmark Inside A Quiet Mind on Loop Recordings, which has been richly remastered by Chris Chetland. There are links here to the various places you can buy and listen to it – including high-quality downloads on Bandcamp. The Bandcamp page also has a rapidly-shrinking stock of the 200-copies-only 2LP version, although Southbound, Flying In and others have some copies too.

I could explain further, but I think it's best to just direct you to Grant Smithies' brilliant Star Times story on how a brown kid from Tokoroa 20 years ago made the record that basically defined New Zealand techno music – and then just stopped.


The KLF are back! Next month, they have a book and an event called Liverpool: Welcome to the Dark Ages, for which there is a trailer:


I talked to 95bFM's Sam Smith this week about rumours of Soundcloud's impending demise. The company has sacked hundreds of staff but insists it has the cash to carry on – for now.

Others aren't so sure – and one Reddit user claims to have downloaded the whole 900 terabytes of music sitting on Soundcloud's servers. Sadly, I see Soundcloud has forbidden The Internet Archive to do the same thing.

It's a brutal world out there in music streaming. Soundcloud has a staggering 175 million users a month, but it hasn't found a way to make money as a legitimate streaming service – and it faces one big competitor with an apparently limitless ability to lose money (Spotify) and another which simply doesn't need to make money (Apple).

What's happened here is that when Soundcloud began a decade ago, streaming was simply a way to preview a record as, perhaps, a path to a sale. These days, the stream is the sale, and the owners want to be paid. It's an environment that doesn't sit well with the kind of content – remixes, mixtapes and edits – that were the great thing about Soundcloud in the first place.

If Soundcloud does fail and isn't rescued with a sale to a larger company, there will be others there to fill the breach. But on this blog and a thousand others, a whole lot of embeds will break and stay broken.


Light will doubtless be shed on the changing music industry by guests from Billboard, Bandcamp and 4AD at September's 2017 Going Global Music Summit at Roundhead Studios in Auckland. This looks really interesting.



Miloux has posted a bubbly rework of her new single 'Paris' and it's sweet as. I don't know if there are any release plans, but the original is on Bandcamp.

This track is a 54-minute mix of 1960s tracks by the Haitian group Les Shleu Shleu and it's beautiful, swinging stuff.

Auckland's Dub Terminator got together with the Ragga twins and this happened ...

Aussie-born Miamai-based DJ Thomas Jack has a new EP out today (it's on the streaming services) which reminds me why I used to post his tracks all the time. Smooth, sweeping techno ...

An upbeat, danceable edit of Cedric Im Brooks' classic track 'Africa'. (Free download with Artists Union palaver):

And finally, some remixed Mississippi blues. Straight-up free download.


The Friday Music Post is sponsored by:


Representing New Zealand music


100 Men and a million stories

Paul Oremland was born gay in a New Zealand where homosexual conduct was a criminal offence, to deeply religious parents who regarded it as a mortal sin. Not long after a disastrous attempt to pray away the gay by studying to become a preacher ("I began hallucinating") he fled it all by flying to London in 1979.

He soon found himself working in a gay cinema club, where his duties included editing out the cumshots in the 16mm films when the inspector was due to visit – and splicing them back after the inspector left. Before long he was the boss – which meant being the one to deliver the monthly protection money to the local mobsters.

The kid who'd escaped into outsider literature as a teen was suddenly in Soho, living it. And he began to meet hundreds, and eventually thousands, of "really interesting people" – by having sex with them.

Such is the narrative of 100 Men, Oremland's thoughtful, absorbing – and frequently funny – new documentary, which premieres in this year's International Film Festival.

Not long after he returned to New Zealand for good in 2010, Oremland began making a list of his sexual partners, just to remember them. The list developed into a chronology and eventually into 100 Men, a film that tracks social change over his lifetime – and takes stock not only of what has been gained, but what's been lost.

It's also a film that sets the director's own life and work in context – some of its stories were told first in the short films that are excerpted in it. Oremland admits he had to be persuaded by Film Commission CEO Dave Gibson that it was essential that he appear in his own film.

He's a gentle, surpassingly pleasant man of 60 ("My Grindr age is 55") and acknowledges that some people might be surprised by the sexual intensity of his past.

"I'm probably typical of a number of gay men. Not all gay men, but of a particular generation. It didn't seem unusual because most of the people around me were doing exactly the same."

Some of the exes on his list couldn't be tracked down and others were still closeted – or dead. And one well-known name isn't there because, well, he just wasn't hot enough.

"I met Freddie Mercury at an orgy and had sex with him," says Oremland. "It's not that interesting. I was more interested in some other guys there who were more sexy. Someone said, oh, do you know who's down there? That's Freddie Mercury. Did you know you just had sex with Freddie Mercury? He was a star by then, but I was more excited by that world of mobsters and rent boys. It was all so glamorous."

Those who do appear on camera do much of the work in exploring the film's themes.

Former Capital Gay journalist Chris Woods laments the "emotional retardation" imposed on young gay men by having to explore relationships in secret and speaks movingly of watching a police van chasing "for sport" an elderly man who had ventured to Hampstead Heath for clandestine sex.

'Gary the Optician' notes that "the old bar system" that prevailed when homosexuality was legal but less-accepted in Britain meant that men of different classes were often shoulder-to-shoulder: "There was much more a mixture of society. It'd be more likely that a guy who had an ordinary council job would meet somebody who was into opera."

It was the solidarity of the ghetto – and it dissipated with social acceptance.

"I do mourn that loss," says Oremland. "I worry about not having that as protection – because it was a form of protection, and it was also a community. It's really interesting, even when I grew up in New Zealand, which was a long time ago, there were more gay venues when I was teenager than there are now.

"In London I spent much of my time in Islington and Highbury. There were three bars in the area – most weekends I would go there and it was very much a community. I would see friends, gossip … Grindr doesn't replace that."

Of course, he adds, "one would not want to go back to the fear. I was queer-bashed three times. People I know who couldn't cope with being gay committed suicide. And the idea of marriage and everything is just amazing. But if you're going to just sink back into the background you've lost something."

Oremland experienced the rights struggle in Britain, where he made the first gay TV shows for Channel 4 (Conservative MPs responded by demanding the new channel be taken off air). He returned years later to a different New Zealand. But one where for many men their sexuality is still something to be hidden.

"I can go online at any time of the day and there'll be a swathe of Tongan or Samoan guys who go to church on Sunday, are completely straight and getting married – but want to come around and have sex. And that's huge."

Marriage itself is a mixed blessing. Many gay men are used to close, long-term relationships that are not monogamous. Oremland doesn't see that being surrendered in the age of marriage equality.

And yet, the film deepened his relationship with his own long-term partner, John, who is seen, but not interviewed. In the way of these things, Oremland's late father never accepted his son's sexuality – but became close friends with John.

He's looking forward already to his next project: a feature called Miracle, in which "God is forced to intervene when a gay vicar wants to marry his longtime boyfriend in the church. It becomes a big story and all hell breaks loose."



A version of this story appeared in the New Zealand Herald's Weekend magazine on July 15 and it is used here with permission.

100 Men screens at the NZ International Film festival on July 23 and August 1 in Auckland,  August 9 and 10 in WellingtonAugust 16 and 17 in Christchurch and August 19 and 21 in Dunedin.


On benefit fraud

Responses to Metiria Turei's confession of historic benefit fraud have fallen along the lines you would expect. The usual suspects on the right have leapt on it, others have expressed sympathy and the range of opinions on the political wisdom of speaking up so many years later is wide.

My response was yeah, me too.

It was 1991 and we'd arrived back from London with a new baby and not much else. The country was in the midst of a recession and, much as I wanted to earn money, there weren't any jobs.

So we made our own. I joined some friends to work on the revival of a street mag called Planet, and we worked really hard on it. But the problem was that we were all officially some shade of unemployed and were supposed to be available for other jobs should they materialise. Around the time of the second issue I worked on, we applied for funding under the Community Taskforce scheme.

It paid the same as the dole, but it meant we could do it without being hassled. It also meant that I could safely seek out even more work to try and improve the family's position – unlike the benefit, the taskforce income didn't abate if I earned anything else.

This had been a problem. I'd started to get some writing jobs for The Listener, which was great – it meant we could clear unpaid bills and buy the odd thing we needed. But when I dutifully declared the income, the consequences were terrible. Our benefit was sharply cut the following month, we struggled to buy food, and I recall thinking well, I'm not doing that again.

There was no way of spreading the income over a longer period, so if I happened to get paid twice in one month, we'd tip over to the higher abatement rate (from memory, it was triggered at $100 per week) and, between witholding tax and benefit abatement, I would lose nearly all of the income from the second job. We'd go forward only to be hauled back again. I recall hearing some windbag whingeing abut tax thresholds and thinking, mate, I'm paying an effective marginal marginal tax rate of 93%.

So for months, maybe even a year, I didn't declare, or under-declared, my sporadic income. Sometimes, I just declared the after-tax part of the payment. It seemed fairer.

But I was looking forward to going legit – which, unfortunately, took ages. And then, when the scheme was finally supposed to start, someone at Employment New Zealand hadn't ticked all the boxes, meaning we were delayed a further month. This was a real problem. I'd done several jobs in the past month, safe in the knowledge that I'd be free to earn by the time I was paid. And now, I wasn't. I didn't declare the income.

In issue 7 of Planet, in 1992, I interviewed Joan McQuay, a former DPB mum who had become district manager of Income Support. It was significant that someone had gone from a benefit to such a senior role and I liked her. We talked about what I described in the story as "the outmoded declarations system, which simply doesn't fit into the 90s work environment of freelancing and casual work". When I pointed the implications of the system – that 93% marginal tax rate – she was actually taken aback and agreed with me that it seemed onerous.

While we were waiting for the damn scheme to start, a friend who worked at Income Support (this was pre-Winz) tipped us off to a forthcoming amnesty. Great. We'd just make one mighty confession and it would all be sorted. I knew people who did just that. But – I am not making this up – the day before the amnesty was due to be announced we discovered that I was being investigated.

This, I hasten to add, had nothing to do with Joan McQuay. In retrospect, writing in a national magazine just wasn't a very good way of keeping things on the downlow. It simply happened to be what I could do. So I had to go back through all my records and argue down their assessment of the overpayment, from more than $8000 to $5500.

We'd have to pay it back. But the same friend inside the building told us that there was no minimum repayment rate. They could propose one, but we could reject it, offer a lower rate and they'd have to take it. So we did: $5 a week, for years.

By 1996, mindful of there being another baby on board, I'd departed Planet and taken up the offer of a job as a full-time IT journalist, where I was paying more tax than we'd ever received in benefits. I kept the repayment at $5 a week, on principle. My debt to society was only fairly recently cleared.

I don't have any sweeping moral proclaimation to make about fiddling the system. In principle, I don't like it. But I do know, and have always tried to recall, how hard keeping a family fed and housed on a benefit was after the 1991 cuts. And I know that faced with the same choices, I'd probably do the same thing again.


There has been a struggle, and we are coming out the other side

"My kids hated me. My son used to tell me every day how much he hated me and how ashamed he was of me on the meth. But I didn't care. Nothing mattered but my next puff on the pipe."

The opening lines of the Māori Television documentary Ngārara: Overcoming Addiction are raw and hard. And behind them lies a harrowing story. The story of a little girl who was sexually abused night after night, who could tell no one, who grew into a life of violence, prison and drug dealing.

It's a story that Tricia Walsh, at the age of 51, has grown to own and control.

"Through talking about my life I've been able to make sense of the narrative, of the journey that I went on," she says. "I've been able to make peace with my past now. It's not haunting me. I accept it. It doesn’t control me now."

Alcohol and drug rehabilitation often rely on people confronting their histories and the reasons for their addictions. Graduates of services like the two featured in Ngārara – Auckland's Higher Ground and the Rotorua-based Te Utuhina Manaakitanga – become adept at telling their stories. But Tricia Walsh never went to rehab.

The turning point for her was a challenge from her own son, Johnny – part ultimatum, part affirmation of her ability to transcend the life she'd had. And her cure was study: three years earning a Bachelor's degree in Social Work at Te Wananga o Aotearoa.

"It's based on kaupapa Māori theory. Practising those models and frameworks actually taught me to accept that being Māori isn't about Once Were Warriors. You can practice aroha, you can practice manaakitanga – you can practice those things from a place of love."

Walsh now puts that theory into practice working for Turanga Health in Gisborne, where her work centres on going into the homes of gang-affiliated whanau. Some of those she meets are the woman she once was.

"I was angry all of my life. But I didn't know what I was angry at and it was that anger that stopped me being able to have relationships with people. But when I looked at my life, and I looked at my mother's life, who, bless her, is not around the see the transformation her daughter's undergone, I realised that my mum had the same experiences as me. She was a mum a 13, I was a mum at 15. That taught me about cycles, and intergenerational trauma.

"I made peace, because I thought all my life that my mother didn't love me, that there was something about me that she couldn't love me. But she didn't know how to. It wasn't that I was a bad, unloveable person. It was that my mum was never taught love either.

"When I look at a whanau member and see the same thing I've been through, then I know that chances are this has been their experience as a child. As a child, they've lost something and they're grieving. And that grief has just carried on into their lives."

Walsh says the work with a family will often start with them them sewing whakapapa quilts, "then you bring in the health checks, the anger management, the positive parenting. So the focus is not on the problems, it's on something positive.

"The police, they have their role to play. But the community has the answers. We just need to be given the opportunity to come up with those answers. I don't believe the traditional practice of rehab is necessarily the only way for our whanau. We have marae, we have people with lived experiences who have been there, who have come out the other side. They can give a koha of honesty and integrity to our whanau that other people may not be able to give us. Just like my son gave me that opportunity to believe in myself. You can do it."

 Where did that strength come from in him?

"He's always been that boy that picked the beaten mum up off the floor. In an abusive household, you have that one that saves everybody – but I think he also received a lot more mum time, a lot more affection.

"I think our tipuna picked him to be the one to deliver the message that needed to be delivered. Te ao Māori says that our tipuna are there all the time with us. And he became the voice at that time for what I needed to hear."

The remarkable frankness with which the subjects in Ngārara speak – not least in an emotional scene during a marae visit – is a testament to the commitment of its director, Eugene Carnachan, says Jane Reeves, whose small company Tellyvise produced the documentary.

"It was really key," she says. "Eugene's unique. The whole basis of this programme and being able to make it was trust and Eugene has an amazing ability to make connections with people. Not in a surface way, but a lasting connection that he takes very seriously. And the strength of that trust and connection comes through in the interviews."

"Eugene's an amazing man," Walsh agrees. "He took me, this perfect stranger and my moko, into his house. He's Māori and he's had a rough life, so there's that connection. They say that people like me are game-changers, but I think people like him are game-changers too. Because without him, our stories, our pain, our celebrations would go unnoticed."

Reeves, echoing the words of Chasing the Scream author Johan Hari, believes a common thread through all the stories in Ngārara is "a sense of connection – coming out of the isolation of addiction and going into a programme where it was all about connection and belonging. I guess we wanted to offer case studies of Māori solutions to a big problem, showing that the Māori worldview can be curative – rather than framing Māori as statistical basket cases."

Walsh, who recently received a moko kauae to symbolise her journey, has a shorter summary.

"There has been a struggle, and we are coming out the other side. It's not all prison."


Ngārara - Overcoming Addiction, screens on Māori Television at 8.30pm tonight.

A version of this story originally appeared in the New Zealand Herald's Weekend magazine and appears here with permission.