Hard News by Russell Brown

18

Music: Places to Play

Deep down, we all knew it had to happen some time, but this week's news that The Golden Dawn is to close in March, seven years after it first opened its doors as a three-month pop-up, still seems calamitous. That bar has been a haven from whatever bland hell happens to be creeping along the Ponsonby strip.

It's been a delight to have been part of a few nights and days at Golden Dawn, with the Orcon IRL talk events and as a courtyard DJ. Happily, there will be at least one more IRL there and with any luck Sandy Mill and I will be playing funky tunes till late once or twice more before the doors close.

It is also, of course, a live music venue. And it will be closing around the same time as another venue – the King's Arms. They're quite different places: the KA is a classic, rectangular rock box, and since noise issues drove all live music inside, artists at the Dawn have squeezed themselves onto a low, tiny stage at the apex of a triangle. As a room, it's nuts.

But Golden Dawn is a great venue despite its unlikely configuration, thanks to the good taste, enterprise and simple decency of its manager, Matthew Crawley. He has booked adventurous, interesting schedules and treated his artists well.

I haven't asked Matthew, but I assume he will seek to take the recipe to a new bar, perhaps taking his excellent long-serving staff with him. But where? The King's Arms will serve out its time under threat of another noise control complaint. The owners of Golden Dawn got away with that thriving, noisy courtyard by literally buying the villa next door. The Edinburgh Castle hotel on the corner of Newton and Symonds, a well-kept secret of a venue with a brilliant courtyard, got stung with a noise control notice of its own a few weeks ago – and that was for a band playing inside.

Urbanisation is a good thing, but there's more to urban life than apartments with nice kitchens. We need places to play. And we might need our local authorities to acnowledge that and take an interest.

–––

It's been fully three years since Anthony Tonnon released Successor, an album that seemed to finally crystallise what he's all about. Because he's a working musician, he has played many gigs, both here and abroad, in that time, and in the past year, has introduced a new batch of songs to his sets, including a compelling ballad called (I think) 'Leave Love Out of This'. But we've been waiting a while for something to take home.

Well, it's here, nearly. Tono's first new recording, 'Two Free Hands', is the title track of an EP due out at the end of the month. Go ahead, unravel the lines ...

You can hear that on your favoured streaming service, or buy it (and preorder the EP) on his new website or on Bandcamp. The track listing is intriguing: two songs ('The Estuary' and a remix of 'Two Free Hands') are collaborations with Wellington electronic producer Jet Jaguar and there's version of 'Railway Lines' that's apparently like the keyboard-driven one he plays in his solo sets. A note on the website says, in part:

The new music has partially developed out of touring overseas as a solo performer, and looking for ways to expand the sound with strange and wonderful technology, like my home-built matrix mixer made in a workshop run by the Music Electronics Library, or my new Synthstrom Deluge. In this new music, I've been trying hard to play with electronic elements the way I feel an instrumentalist should - in way that is fragile, different every time, and takes repetitive practice and concentration to keep together. I've never made music that is easy to dance to, and learning to use a drum machine hasn't helped. However I think can bring a electronic music into an intimate environment and play it in a way that is not so different to the unamplified shows I once did at Freida's or Inch bar.

It's really interesting to see a singer-songwriter taking to the Deluge, a performance and composing tool you'd expect to see in the hands of beat producers.

Also, there'll be a short tour for the EP, including two nights at Freida Margolis. Check the website for details.

You know who else has been quite a while between albums? Arthur Ahbez, who I think we can safely assume will not be messing a with a Deluge. And just to make the point, the vinyl version of his second album, Volume II, (pre-order here) will ship three weeks before the digital version. Here's a preview track:

And finally, the equally laggardly Great North are back with a taster from their forthcoming album, the resonant 'The Late Bus Home', which you can buy here on Bandcamp or catch on the streams. They're currently touring and drinking beer in Germany.

–––

Summer's coming!

And the festival bills are being revealed.

Splore's first announcement includes Dizzee Rascal and the reggae star Chronixx, plus a return engagement with the amazing Danish DJ Courtesy, who this time is bringing her fellow Apeiron Crew member Mama Snake.

Again, one-day Christchurch festival Electric Avenue, is taking up Splore artists for the South Island: Dizzee, Chronixx and Black Milk – plus Primal Scream. Does that mean Primal Scream for Splore too? I guess we'll find out.

Wondergarden announced a couple of weeks ago with a brilliant New Year's Eve lineup including UMO, Nadia Reid, SWIDT, and Leisure.

Laneway is also looking strong, with Slowdive, Mac Demarco, The War on Drugs, Bonobo, Aldous Harding and more.

Womad has most of its announcements to come, but the reveal so far includes Anoushka Shankar and Kamasi Washington – which was one of my highlights at the last Auckland City Limits.

Tuki, the festival formerly known as Rippon, takes place on February 10 on the shores of Lake Wanaka, with UMO, Phoenix Foundation, Aaradhna, Marlon Williams and more.

Auckland City Limits? Yes, I gather the late-summer festival is definitely coming back to Western Springs in 2018, after taking a break this year. And if what I hear about the headliners is true, I will be very excited about it.

PS: The Herald has a story rounding up all the non-festival artists coming this summer. Most of them I'm not so interested in, but suffice to say that there will be plenty of demand for your entertainment dollar.

–––

One of the things we discovered after launching Audioculture as a home for New Zealand music's cultural heritage was that while people will read a definitive article of of virtually any length, the real treasure were often the photographs, especially those that had never been seen before.

Well ...

A little while ago, on Facebook, I was tagged into a picture from the 1980s, taken at the Windsor Castle, that included me in the crowd. And I heard that the photographer, Brian Murphy had many more where that came from. So I hit him up, for the good of the nation. And at a party on election night, he walked up to me and handed me a flash drive. And what was on it was stone-cold amazing: more than 700 pictures from mid-and-late-80s Auckland, including pics of bands rarely or never captured on film.

This remarkable trove will be going to Audioculture, where it will be well-used, but I figured I'd preview a handful here. Like this lovely shot of Fetus Productions at the Windsor:

Terry Moore with The Chills:

And this one of Rupert E. Taylor with the Headless Chickens:

And Michael Lawry (with a guitar!) from the same band:

Headless Chickens' Grant Fell looking handsome offstage:

Stridulators! (I checked with Steve Roach and he's unaware of any other photographs of them playing live, so the three that Brian has provided are very special indeed.)

And this sweet image of Chris Knox:

This is just a taste of what's there. Everyone owes Brian a beer.

–––

19

Music: God Save the Clean

If you've found our political season wearying, spare a thought for the journalists. And, in particular, for John Campbell. He has hosted the Silver Scroll Awards for the last couple of years, but this time the demands of post-election news mean he's had to withdraw and his place at tonight's awards in Dunedin will be taken by his RNZ colleague Jesse Mulligan.

This cruelly deprives John of the chance to wax lyrical about this year's Hall of Fame honorees The Clean. We were chatting about this online yesterday – and John not only leapt at the half-hint that he could craft a statement on this important cultural matter, but suggested that I could invite anyone else who felt so moved to knock out a tribute.

And so it came to pass. Here's John and a few other folk who are keen on The Clean. And yes, it did turn out to be all chaps of a certain age ...

John Campbell

Dear The Clean,

I’m sorry I couldn’t be in Dunedin. Not that you give a shit, but I do. And I blame Winston Peters and the electorate and a really thoughtless election date, five days before the Silver Scrolls.

But I wanted to tell you why I love your music so much. And not just your music – you.

In part, it was that David buttoned his shirt to the top.  I love that look.

In part, it’s because I don’t ever recall meeting a fan of yours that I didn’t like. And Richard Langston, whom I miss now that I live in Auckland and he lives in Wellington, is a wonderful man. And if he loves you, and he does, then that’s recommendation enough for me.

In part, it’s because I was 17 in 1981, when 'Tally Ho' came out. And it went into the Top 20, without a single radio station (other than the student stations, which I didn’t even know about) playing it. And that was miraculous and just. It was such a great song, with Martin’s keys, and Bob’s bass line, which has always reminded me of a fat guy running for a bus.

But there was something else, and I wasn’t aware enough to notice it yet, but years later when I read the brilliant Alexis Petridis writing about another of my favourite bands, Orange Juice, I realised he was talking about almost all the music from that period that I loved (and still love). It was “the dizzy ebullience”, the genuine pop quality of being “utterly undeniable”, “and the band's endearingly ramshackle musicianship.”

Yes. 1981 was so fucking grim and awful. And 'Tally Ho' wasn’t. And when I heard Boodle, Boodle, Boodle, and that moment on 'Point That Thing Somewhere Else', about fifteen seconds in, when the snare drum starts, and David is going at speed and Bob is keeping up, and they’re running, running, as if through traffic, and Hamish is urging them on, I would lift the needle off when the vocal started and move it back to the beginning of the song, over and over, and imagine what it was like to be in a band and play like that. That fast.

In part, it’s because I could see them live.

I’d found punk, through my friend William’s older brother. And we would go to EMI in Cuba Mall when the imports came in, vinyl emissaries from a distant world: Joy Division, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Teardrop Explodes, The Cure, The Jam, The Clash, Siouxsie and the Banshees. I recite their names now with the wistful reverie of an old man looking at a class photo. Where did they go? What became of them? But the fact is, I never met any of them, or saw any of them on the street.  None of them were even in my country.

But The Clean were. I knew people who knew them. Imagine that! And I could see them live, and seeing them live has always been a giddying treat, those concerts at which you forget yourself and get lost and feel something that I can’t describe with a better word than gratitude.

In part, it’s because they write landscapes. Go to Unknown Country, which is such a splendid album and contains 'Twist Top', a song that still sounds like it was written yesterday, and 'Happy Lil Fella', a song that’s barely two minutes long but feels inexplicably cinematic, and listen to 'Wipe Me I’m Lucky'. I swear to God, if you’ve never been to Central Otago, and you’re wondering what it’s like, the first 68 seconds gets the hurtling infinity, the echoing emptiness, the slight regret of solitude, so exactly right that tour buses should play it on State Highway 85, just past the Ida Valley turn-off, charging inland, as the road heads towards St Bathans and Cambrians, then chickens out and swings away. 

(Later, Bob/Robert would evoke this emptiness so uncannily on his solo album, Creeping Unknown, that it seems criminal he hasn’t made a fortune writing movie soundtracks.)

They’re some of the reasons I love The Clean. Just some of them.

I wish I was in Dunedin to see them be inducted into the Hall of Fame at the Silver Scrolls.

I know they’re not much given to flannel, and may even be slightly shy about it all. But after almost four decades of writing music that I still play with wonder, I hope they walk up to the stage with their grins on and their heads held high, loving it. I’ll be listening and clapping. As I have been for 36 years. 

Grant Robertson

1991: the Flying Nun 10th anniversary party at Sammys in Dunedin.  So many moments –Shayne and Peter playing 'Randolph's Going Home', and getting to hear 'Tally Ho' live for the first time.  My friend Jane Morgan grabbing me on the dance floor " I never thought we would hear this live" before shoving me into the mosh.  For a younger generation of fans it felt complete to see and hear the band that started it all.  I have seen them many times since – most recently and poignantly with Peter Gutteridge

It was searing, beautiful and unique.  It was The Clean.

Richard Langston

I love the energy of The Clean, the sheer joyous momentum of the racket they make: seeing them live is still a moment of high anticipation: Hamish settling in over the drums, Robert about to make that bass hum, and David ready to attack, take on the room, set a jet engine of noise loose with that guitar. The sound of them never fails to lift me, take me out of myself, make me feel part of something greater.

They inspired a record label and wiped out the cultural cringe. When I heard the 45 ‘Getting Older’ in London in 1983 I thought it better than anything I was hearing - like all the best Clean songs, it just went to the centre of me and stayed there. It was also confirmation that I should go home and start writing about the music still coming of out Dunedin – the seed of six issues of a fanzine called Garage

And who couldn’t admire a band who’ve always done things their own way, who’ve paid no heed to convention or the music industry. They had belief. They were cool. They were more radical than any overtly political band: they said, don’t sell out, follow your nose, resist, kick against the pricks.

After nearly 40 years of making music, they’re still fresh. I never tire of them. It’s nothing to do with nostalgia. I hear the opening guitar chords to ‘Anything Could Happen’ and I still believe in the possibilities.

Grant McDougall

 Without question, the most electric atmosphere I' ve ever experienced at a gig was within a jam-to-the-gunnels Sammy's, Dunedin, on May 4, 1989. 

For The Clean were about to play their first-ever re-union gig and by then their legend and influence had boomed since their early '80s demise.

They came on, the immortal opening riff to 'Tally Ho' started and pandemonium erupted.

I have seen them many times since, too. They are a fantastic band. Their recording are fun and exciting and as people, they are bloody good sorts.

Rob Hosking

The first band I remember that sounded Kiwi. It was partly the Kilgour drawl, but it was something more than that. A mix of the laidback but watchful. 

It was early '82, I'd just left home, was very much the country boy in the great big freaky city, walking down Wellington's Fairlie Tce and Devon St on the way to Wellington polytech, and I heard 'Anything Could Happen' come jangling out the windows of one of the student flats.

Stood there, transfixed, and listened to it play through. It was a moment.  Kept an ear out and heard it a few nights later on Radio Active, caught the band name. Bought Boodle Boodle at Colin Morris's record shop when the bursary came through.

Jeremy Bioletti

Somewhere around the very early eighties I saw the Clean play at the Station Hotel in Anzac Ave. To say they were distinct is an understatement. They weren't punk, they were pop. The mix was like a four track. The overall sound was like an elegant chainsaw. I had seen nothing like them at the time and I have seen nothing like them since.

David Cohen

I think on a good night they not only sound like the best band in New Zealand — which they are — but the only band in New Zealand.

–––

Oh, my turn.

It's hard to know what else to say. I've nominated 'Point That Thing Somewhere Else' as my favourite Flying Nun song and written about how it was, and still is, the music in my head. I picked it for my RNZ Mixtape. I've tried to explain the importance of Boodle Boodle Boodle as a point in cultural history. I've written about how The Clean were the first band I reviewed for Rip It Up, never knowing that filing that review would change my life, and about the brilliant times we had around the recording of Vehicle in London. I republished David's account of how 'Tally Ho!' was written (blame the Androidss). I'll always be grateful to the band for playing a fundraiser for my autistic kids and doing a roaring, raging version of 'Point That Thing' that seemed to last fully 20 minutes.

I guess it's just to say that The Clean are elemental. I know there have been other people in the band – and the role of the late Peter Gutteridge warrants particular note – but since they started recording it's been David, Hamish and Bob, three corners of a triangle. I admire the way that they can reconvene when they choose and that chemistry is there ready for them, and the songs are waiting to be explored one more time. It's indivisible. In the sense that I think music took the mantle of cultural identity from the more respectable parts of the New Zealand canon during my lifetime, it's my McCahon.

–––

The Silver Scrolls will be streamed live from Dunedin by RNZ (and broadcast on the actual radio). You can also see them here on Facebook, on Face TV (Sky channel 83) and on Freeview (channel 50).

And before that, the first Scrolls in the southern city will be marked with a chat between Richard Langston and Bryan Crump about the music of Dunedin, from 6.30pm until the awards begin at 8pm.

RNZ deserves great credit for its commitment to the event, which also extends to Anatomy of a Scroll, an RNZ Music feature in which each of the women in the final five talk about how their songs got made.

And finally, this week, Nadia Reid appeared on Later with Jools Holland and played her finalist song, 'Richard'. It was a spine-tingling performance and the best thing on the show. I am Team Nadia.

–––

Although, let's be fair, LCD Soundsystem were pretty fine too ...

–––

Long before he was weaving ironic magic for The Spinoff, Hayden Donnell was half of a duo called Great North, with his wife Rachel. It's been fully three years since they made a new record, long enough for them to look even more like responsible citizens:

But there's a new album, The Golden Age, out on October 20. And the first song, 'The Late Bus Home', is a stately song of loss, for a departed friend.

It's on the streaming services and you can also buy it here on Bandcamp, where you can read the lyrics too.

–––

Tunes!

I don't know anything about Mystik beyond that he's based in Mdelbourne – and I assume he's a New Zealander – but this is a nice slab of dub techno:

I heard this Crazy P remix on a rather good !K7 compilation of nu disco and funky house music released on Bandcamp this week and it really stood out for me. Classic elements moulded into something slinky af:

Thanks to Paddy Buckley for the heads-up on this John Morales remix (I have no idea how I missed it). Free download!

–––

136

Media Take: The selling of the campaign

A little over a week ago, I was sitting in makeup getting prepped for the last pre-election episode of Media Take. As is often the case, ZM was on the radio. And during a commercial break, two campaign ads came on.

The first was a version of National's "Let's Tax This", produced for radio. It was as wilfully misleading as every other iteration of the campaign, but also pungent and, in a commercial radio fashion, funny. The second was yet another cut of Labour's "Let's Do This", with the same Jacinda VO as the TV ad. A month before, the TVC had been a marvel – purposeful, full of momentum and climaxing in the jam-packed campaign launch where Labour's new leader hit her lines perfectly. Sliced up yet again, it sounded a bit like blather.

I think in political marketing terms, this is the story of the campaign. National went out with Keep NZ Moving Forward, a really terrible TVC that was not only deeply unimaginative (it was the 2014 ad, with runners, instead of rowers) but, with its eugenicist vibe, actually quite creepy. Labour's "Let's Do This" knocked it out of the park.

But in due course, National re-emerged from the bunker with "Let's Tax This", an extremely effective negative campaign that also happened to be, again, wilfully misleading. Steven Price writes here about helping with late, unsuccessful complaints to the Broadcasting Standards Authority and the Advertising Standards Authority. He believes both authorities got it very wrong. I think had either considered complaints about commercial communications structured this way, the threshold might well have been met. It comes down to how you see political speech at the peak of an election campaign.

The ad did mislead, and I suspect communications around it may have been even more misleading. At 3.30am on Sunday, the Uber driver who took me home from a party told me it was good that Labour hadn't won, because they were going to put up his income tax – to 40%, he'd heard. When I suggested that wasn't actually true, he was incredulous. If if wasn't true, why didn't Labour just go on TV and say so?

They did, of course. But giving an earnest, inevitably nuanced explanation about about tax was still talking about tax, and surrendering the narrative when they wanted to talk about poverty, need, health and economic transformation. It was a vulnerability Labour itself had created by abandoning the safe harbour of "no major changes until the next election".

Perhaps there was no really good way of responding, and Labour was locked into a frame about economic management that it couldnt work a way out of. But it took too long to produce this video of Michael Cullen talking about Labour's record in government and there was a sense that the creative vitality with which Labour began its campaign had not sustained.

This isn't to say that Labour has "lost" the election – who forms a goverment is yet to be determined – but I think it sheds some light on how it faltered after soaring in the polls.

Political advertising was also different this time for a reason that's barely been talked about. Back in March, Parliament decided to abandon the long, expensive and often boring "election broadcasts" on TV, for which parties have received state funding for many years. The funding went into a general advertising budget for each party.

In place of a few big videos, there were many smaller videos. This terrible "Had Enough" rant from New Zealand First, the possibly-too-ironic little videos from TOP and – as it dawned on the Māori Party that the party it would like to coalesce with, Labour, was also its only meaningful opponent,   one called "Born out of Betrayal" (which was on the currently MIA Māori Party Facebook page).

The shift to a broader, more fine-grained advertising environment had another effect: a loss of transparency. Because the Facebook I see is not the Facebook you see, it became very difficult to see which party was saying what to who. We may literally never get an accurate picture of what the campaign advertising actually was.

Anyway, we discuss this and more on Media Take tonight at 10pm on Māori Television, with Sir Bob Harvey, Ben Thomas, Deborah Mahuta-Coyle, Jennifer Lees-Marchment, Vaughn Davis and Melanie Tuala. It's a pretty useful show, I reckon.

–––

This week's episode can be viewed here on-demand.

As can the bonus korero.

And you can catch the whole thing bundled up with some other stuff we've made in the hour-long version of Media Take at midday on Sunday.

13

Friday Music: With Pictures

Kia ora koutou. It's been a big few weeks, I'm tired and there's work to be done yet – so I thought I'd just whack in a few quality music-related videos for you all to enjoy. See the (very simple) instructions at the end if you'd like to add your own.

First up, a somewhat sobering advance clip (spoiler: things got better!) via Pitchfork from the forthcoming Chills documentary, currently being called just The Chills Film. This is at once a personal story and one about the culture. There's a new Kickstarter to help fund the film's completion, with background to the project and some pretty cool rewards.

Also fresh out this week: the amazing new clip for 'Oh Yeah' from the Disasteradio album Sweatshop. Luke has made marvels before, but with the assistance here of Simon Ward he's taken it up several notches. I don't think I've seen better mocap dancing than this:

Another one-man band, Blair Parkes, also has a new clip, from his Saturations album, which I'm playing quite a bit to take me away from whatever I'm stressing over. I like the way this works as kind of a tonal analogue to the music itself.

I watched the 2014 Kate Bush documentary Running Up That Hill: The Kate Bush Story the other night – again, just to get out of my own head for a bit. It's a clips-and-commentators affair leading up to her return to performance that year, but the cast of commentators is bracing: everyone from Tori Amos to Neil Gaiman to John Lydon and Tricky sharing their love for her work. Not all of which I enjoy, but the best of which is unlike anything else.

The beautiful, contemplative 'Terrorise Me' from the live stream of Neil Finn's Out of Silence record three weeks ago. Apart from it being a wonderful album, I'm enjoying the tiny sense of ownership I have in it after watching its creation. It's a really nice way to relate to music. More artists should do this.

I also watched Ben Lewis's The Beatles, Hippies and Hell's Angels recently. It's the mad story of Apple Corp told by people who were there and I found it fascinating. It's not on YouTube, but the trailer is, and offers a little taste.

As reggae music broke into the mainstream, there were quite a number of documentaries and reports about, which we generally see cut up into later works. But it's quite nice, and sometimes revealing, to see the originals too. This 1977 film features an array of reggae stars of the time, including Scratch, Toots, Jo Higgs and, of course, Bob.

Related: the trailer for Musically Mad, the 2010 documentary about UK sound systems scrubbed up and officially launched online for Notting Hill Carnival 2017. You can watch the full documentary here.

And finally – because no shit I literally watched this the other night – this 25-minute video of a horde of happy gurners at an illegal rave in London in 1989. The way it's shot – lots of panning and focus-pulling, not many edits – means the viewer wanders from one group of ravers to the next, tarrying just long enough to maybe get inside their heads a little. Where, you find yourself asking, are they now?

–––

This is one everyone can play at home. If you want to post a video in the comments, just paste in the URL from YouTube or Vimeo (not the embed code, and try and remember not to have the playlist box checked) and it will automagically embed for everyone to enjoy. New clips, old favourites, long, short. Have fun.

154

The Day After Tomorrow

The Westpac McDermott Miller consumer confidence index dipped marginally this week, but, said the bank's chief economist, "households remain in good spirits". In truth, our good spirits rely on us not looking too far ahead.

New Zealanders' perception of their current financial position is up by almost exactly the same amount over this time last year that their mood about their future fortune is down.

On the evidence of the survey, we're not rushing to address these concerns about the day after tomorrow. Although household debt is at an all-time high, we're not paying it down. We're keener on spending money to make ourselves feel better right now than even on long-term consumer goods like furniture or appliances. On average, if we came by a $10,000 windfall, we'd spend it in bars and restaurants.

Bank economists are not poets, but I wonder if the survey results have a metaphorical weight. On the same day that the consumer confidence results were released, the New Zealand Herald published Kirsty Johnston's shocking revelation that malnutrition is putting twice as many New Zealand children in hospital as it was 10 years ago. One researcher quoted by Kirsty said she had heard of people taking sleeping pills on a Friday in an attempt to sleep through the weekend and avoid needing to buy food.

Although food prices have risen and food takes up a high proportion of poor families' incomes, the background factor is probably housing costs. Three weeks ago, Kirsty (again) revealed data showing that damp, overcrowded homes are killing 20 New Zealand children a year and sending 30,000 to hospital with preventable housing-related diseases, including the "third-world" disease bronchiectasis, which causes permanent lung damage. The story quotes the Royal Australasian College of Physicians as saying: "Inequities in health outcomes will persist unless such stark social inequities are urgently addressed."

Hunger in the here and now is a moral indictment, but it's also a generational calamity. Hunger impairs health and learning, it has enduring social and economic consequences. I was furious and astonished earlier this month when Bill English responded to a Checkpoint story that found two thirds of kids at a South Auckland school were turning up without lunch by venturing that "our plan" would eventually lift people out of poverty.

You can't just respond to immediate need by saying things will be sweet later. It's like responding to a ruptured fuel pipeline with an assurance that in the future everyone will be driving electric cars.

On the same day as the consumer confidence survey and Kirsty's story, Health minister Jonathan Coleman declared that unacceptable waits for cancer surgery for patients under the Southern District Health Board were not the fault of the government. The SDHB is also struggling to provide mental health services – but it's not alone there. In the last two years the number of people seen by a GP for a diagnosed mental health illness has risen 22% and the system is simply not coping.

These stories and others are not appearing simply because there's an election campaign on. They're just the shit hitting the fan.

I've been working on a story of my own in the past couple of weeks – about the sudden crisis around "synthetic cannabis", which has claimed as many as 20 mostly young lives in recent months. I was glad to finish it – it was making me angry. The sudden crisis isn't really sudden: it's been developing for at least three years.

The current government got synthetics out of the headlines three years ago (during the last election campaign) with the retail ban, and then essentially lost interest. The two formal surveys that told us the problem had not in fact gone away were de-funded this year – and nothing has been budgeted for the early-warning system touted as a solution.

I interviewed a young, Māori woman from West Auckland , clean three months after using for three years, and what she told me really shook me. But these are easy people to ignore.

The implications of this drift in "my" policy area continuing are alarming. As I've noted previously, the next Parliamentary term contains a once-in-two-generations opportunity in the compulsory review of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1974.

My faith in anyone in the present goverment to get this right is roughly zero. National's belated campaign promise to put money into related health and rehab services came packaged with its pledge to ramp up beneficiary drug-testing, a policy for which it could not only not cite real evidence, but which the evidence contradicts. Like the synthetics ban three years ago, it's less policy than political marketing.

This isn't to say I'm over the moon with Labour's drug policy. Beyond welcome and appropriate sentiments about drug use being a health and a not a criminal issue, it doesn't really have one. But I'd trust a Labour-Green government to get a positive result out of the review infinitely more than I'd trust a National one, even with Kevin Hague out of the picture.

There is, of course, another policy area where Labour has welcome and appropriate sentiments but not a detailed policy – and that's the big rebalancing of the tax system, whose essential status quo has persisted despite being bluntly described by National's tax working group as "not viable" back in 2009.

Everyone knows deep down that we need to do something about the privileging of capital income and property in particular, and to broaden the tax base. The sooner the better, in fact. Which was probably what was on Jacinda Ardern's mind when she made her "captain's call" to drop Andrew Little's conservative promise to convene a working group, but delay any major reform for three more years, until the next general election.

In some ways, this made little difference. Convening the working group, letting it do its job and then getting legislation through would take most of three years anyway. Labour would still have to face the electorate with its policy.

But it had a profound effect on the campaign. National replaced its dire ad with the teal joggers – with its unnverving eugenicist undertones – with "Let's Tax This", a campaign in which any tax that could happen, would happen.

Changes which Labour had confirmed and costed – the $25 "tourist tax", for example – were presented alongside imaginary taxes, all of them at equal volume, with no context as to quantum or who they might actually impact. Labour not promising National's April 2018 tax cut became, against all logic, a "$1000 tax increase for the average New Zealander". A tax on the user of water resources that wouldn't even be paid by five out of six farmers was presented as pervasive and gargantuan.

It was brutally effective and flagrantly dishonest. I worry about the implications of the lesson here: that anything you say about changing the tax system will be weaponised and used against you.

Bill English came into the campaign with the burden of the Todd Barclay affair, a miserable business over which even his stoutest supporters would privately admit he had repeatedly lied. He then inherited the campaign's Big Lie: the alleged "$11.7 billion hole".

Even his back-up lie on that – that a Labour-led government had already promised everything and would have to run three years of "zero budgets" – was, well, a lie. The truth is that the unhappy PREFU made things very tight, but, as Dr Oliver Hartwich of the New Zealand Institute pointed out, $4.1 billion is not zero. The PREFU makes things tight for National too, of course – and it's probably the great failing of the coverage of this campaign that we've never actually found out out how tight. Labour and the Greens remain the only two parties with independent costings.

We're left with the paradox that English has on one level surrendered a huge amount of personal integrity – he told another barefaced lie in last night's debate, about the non-existent "constitutional convention" that would give him the first right to try and form a government – he has also run a very good campaign, in which he has actually earned people's trust. As Ben Uffindel noted on Twitter, English became Prime Minister in a way he hadn't been before in the course of the campaign. His party should be very, very grateful to him.

For her part, Ardern seized her destiny with that remarkable day-one press conference. She showed on that day and those that followed that she understood the principles of political leadership, and people responded to that. She has discovered in herself a rare ability to relate to people. She's been witty, authentic, a feminist.

But the big win in National's rejigged campaign has been to force her to talk about tax all the time, an area where she has constantly had to deny the wildest claims, doesn't have every fact, is always defending. Every hour she does that is one where she's not talking about poverty and need – an area where she has remained cogent and compelling, right up to her interview with John Campbell this week and last night's debate. I chanced on her maiden speech in Parliament recently: it's notably and impressively congruent with her platform now. She talks about and believes the same things.

But as the campaign's gone on, I've wondered whether even she's getting sick of the sound of her own voice. She's lost some of the sharpness of her early weeks as leader and resorts more often to blather. The death of her grandmother in the final week of the campaign can't have helped.

I've left the largest of the looming deficits facing New Zealand until last: climate change and the environment. It's another area where National has often refused to acknowledge the problem – English's claim that his party has led the way on the quality of our waterways and everyone else is a come-lately is bizarrely untrue.

But it's also one where National has resisted even acknowledging solutions.  Early in the campaign it was dragged into a light rail promise, but its transport policy has increasingly consisted of not only ignoring but actively trying to bury evidence. The East-West motorway, which Infrastructure New Zealand says is shaping up to be the most expensive road per kilometre in human history is being shepherded through with an economic analysis which says the benefits stack up if you just don't count the costs. There's a pattern to this: Transport minister Simon Bridges asked NZTA to delete the business case for the proposed Auckland-Whangarei motorway so no one could read it. The business case on a third (freight) rail main for Auckland had to be dragged out of Bridges office via the Ombudsman, and when it was finally released, it proved not only to be compelling, it destroyed the case for the East-West motorway, on NZTA's own modelling.

And still, the party that has lately promised to spend $10.5 billion on hazily-funded, poorly justified new Roads of National Significance can't find less than 1% of that sum to continue the Urban Cycleways programme.

The roads are, of course, the baby of Steven Joyce. As Joyce's predecessor as Finance minister, English had an aura of stewardship – Joyce just reeks of arrogance. He's a Muldoonist in the worst way. I think English genuinely believes that his "social investment" strategy is a visionary intervention rather than an accounting system (or worse, another National Standards – a policy that satifies ideological cravings but wastes sector resources to no effective purpose). I'm not sure Joyce even cares.

I'm not clear on how any of it addresses the reality of declining productivity and flat real wages in New Zealand, and in the short term at least both National and Labour are relying on the tax system and Working for Families as a kind of grand ATM (or, as Ben Thomas put it, "a cool dad who gives us money") to deliver personal gains that aren't coming in real incomes. That can't go on indefinitely.

One of the shames of this campaign is that the new party that could have made evidence-based policy an item, The Opportunities Party, has been kneecapped by the egos of Gareth Morgan and his frequently ridiculous communications advisor Sean Plunket. They've driven away the voters who might have delivered them and their ideas to Parliament. (If you're planning on voting TOP because you like their drug policy, consider the consequences of your wasted vote.)

Nearly everyone else has, in one way or another, had a good campaign. Ardern has galvanised her party and its its supporters and should stay on as leader whether or not she's Prime Minister. Green Party leader James Shaw has recovered from the disastrous political gamble that lost him his co-leader and been consistently impressive. He'll be back, whether in government or not. The same, sadly, can't be said for Māori Party co-leader Marama Fox, who has again demonstrated what an extraordinary politician she is.

It's been a wild, volatile campaign, one in which ordinary people have been engaged and journalists have largely done a very good job – take a particular bow Guyon Espiner and a collective curtsy everyone at The Spinoff. And I'm not alone in just wanting the bloody thing to be over.

In another giant lurch yesterday, the Colmar Brunton poll showed a dramatic reversal in fortune for the two big parties. One which, were it translated to to votes in the election, would produce a hung Parliament.

The stakes on which side of that line things go are very  high indeed.