Book Review: The Empire City: Songs of Wellington

cv_the_empire_cityAvailable in bookshops nationwide.

The Empire City: Songs of Wellington acts as a perfect representation of the New Zealand capital, from past to present. A collection of songs by Andrew Laking, paintings by Bob Kerr, and various historical photographs of the city, this book spans the city of Wellington from Willam Wakefield’s arrival in 1839 through to the end of the 20th Century.

Simply, it is a book of song lyrics, with paintings and pictures, and a few historical notes. Each song is preceded by information about the subject. ‘This is the Time’ tells of the first three decades of the 20th century and the effect of the First World War on Wellington, ‘Red Stands for The Cuba’ gives life to the well-known Cuba Street and where the name originates from. The Empire City stands as a historical notebook for Wellington, wrought through history and song.

It opens up with a painting reminiscent of ‘Wanderer above the Sea of Fog’ by Caspar David Friedrich, composed just a decade before Wakefield’s arrival in Wellington. This starting point places the book in a historical context and begins by evoking the early 19th Century. The book then moves forward from there, covering major historical points in Wellington’s past. Each section, through a combination of song, pictures and words, evokes a specific point in the past, rendering it visible to the reader through a beautiful combination of art.

Once the accompanying CD is played, and one follows its songs through the book, a new world is opened up. The paintings and photographs tell the history just as much as the words, they move forward in time along with the music. The paintings of Bob Kerr that surround the first song, ‘The Colonist’, picture Willam Wakefield moving through the landscape before the city sprung up. The instrumental introduction helps this movement along with its subdued guitars and folksy atmosphere. Similarly, the photographs that span ‘At the Wharves’, ‘This is the Time’, and ‘Mayor George Troup’, perfectly recall Wellingtons physical past. Alongside this, the music evokes the feeling of the time. At some points jazz themes move into the songs, at others a more folk style takes over. Even the 60’s and 70’s come through in songs like ‘After the War’ and ‘Wide Open Street’.

The music, alongside the paintings and photography, helps to evoke the historical time referenced in the songs. The words themselves also begin to feel more lyrical. The written song words turn poetic, the rhythm clear and inviting, and they move you through the book to the pace of the songs. Even the instrumental bookends to the songs give plenty of time to read the historical notes and gaze at the art on the page.

The three different elements, the words, the pictures, and the music, all combine perfectly with each other to create a single, multifaceted experience. They feel like a perfect representation of the history of Wellington, working together to evoke the art that fills the city.

Reviewed by Matthias Metzler

The Empire City: Songs of Wellington
by Andrew Laking
Published by Victoria University Press
ISBN 9780864739902

Book review: Terry Teo and the Gunrunners, by Stephen Ballantyne and Bob Kerr

Available in bookshops nationwide.cv_terry_teo_and_the_gunrunners

My husband came in and saw this lying on the kitchen table: “Is that your copy of Terry Teo? Sweet!” He remembered it from his childhood; it was first released in 1982 and became something of a cult favourite. At that time it was also a TV series (staring Billy T James, amongst others) and spawned two sequels. Now, it has been remastered and re-released in preparation for the new, much darker, television series.

Terry Teo is a 12-year old boy who loves his skateboard. Entirely by accident, he stumbles upon three gunrunners. He manages to escape – but not before they see him. What follows is a complicated series of occasionally slapstick and chaotic events that would make Tintin* proud, involving Terry; his two siblings, Polly and Ted; a gang of motorcyclists; the evil businessman, Ray Vegas, and his two bumbling sidekicks.

It’s all jolly good nostalgic fun, with a distinctly kiwi flavour to the illustrations – including the charmingly-named small town Kaupati (say it aloud) with its tiny police station and A&P show. This is truly like travelling back into a time before cellphones, before the internet, into a world where kids get to have the adventures – because the adults are too oblivious or silly to solve the problems themselves. With its fast pace and humour, this graphic novel can now be enjoyed by a new generation, and may especially be embraced by the more reluctant reader.

At the end of the book there are three bonus chapters, explaining the Kiwiana/cult following of the original tale and plans for the new TV series. Whilst this book can be enjoyed by fairly young readers – probably 10 plus – the TV show looks to be darker and intended for a more teenage market. It has Terry aged 17, and focuses somewhat on gang culture. Perhaps not for the younger viewer.

*Tintin even gets a cameo!

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Terry Teo and the Gunrunners
by Stephen Ballantyne, illustrated by Bob Kerr
Published by Earths End Publishing
ISBN 9780473330675

Book Review: Best Mates, written by Philippa Werry, illustrated by Bob Kerr

Philippa Werry is a children’s writer and author of Anzac Day: The New Zealand Story, which is a finalist in the 2014 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. Bob Kerr is a painter and illustrator living and working in Wellington.

Best Mates is a story of comradeship and endurance in the face of adversity.cv_best_mates

Three young boys, Harry, Jo and the narrator are best mates. They all lived on the same street and all went to the same school, playing and growing up together. They joined the New Zealand Army at the same time to fight for their country. They were being sent to Gallipoli. They saw it as a “big adventure.”

They sail by ship from New Zealand to the other side of the world. They then sail in the early morning out of Lemnos Harbour and then on to Anzac Cove in Gallipoli, where they are met with gunfire as soon as they landed on the beaches, with many being wounded or dead. They dug trenches to defend the peninsula from the Turks but conditions were very primitive and as a result, Joe got sick. He was then removed by stretcher to a hospital ship. Harry is then hit by enemy fire and ends up being wounded, but died a short time later of his injuries. He is buried by his comrades on the hill overlooking the sea.

Many years later the three friends are reunited, when the two surviving men fly from New Zealand to lay poppies on Harry’s grave in Gallipoli.

It is fantastic to see the numbers of young people attending parades increasing. It is heartening to know that the story of ANZAC has been preserved for the younger generation, to read and learn.

Bob Kerr the illustrator has done a wonderful job. The illustrations are simply drawn, but show the ugliness of war; the carnage, the reality, the grief and comradeship.

To all young people who read this book, think about what war really means, how families are broken forever by their young men never returning home.

Age range 5 – 12 years.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Best Mates
Written by Philippa Werry, illustrated by Bob Kerr
Published by New Holland
ISBN 9781869664114