Book Review: The Dunedin Sound: Some Disenchanted Evening, by Ian Chapman

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_dunedin_soundEven though I was  born and raised in Dunedin I have to say the phrase “The Dunedin Sound” is completely new to me. Not being from the generation that encapsulates that label is perhaps a contributing factor, but I have come to realize that it is a fascinating subject and The Dunedin Sound by Ian Chapman has been a learning curve for me in music coming from my own hometown, during what is largely considered to be the greatest era of music.

The Dunedin Sound delves into 17 bands that were and are closely associated with the sound, providing background and explanations about the bands along with corresponding pictures that speak volumes. Amongst those we find written contributions from people that in some way or another have a connection to The Dunedin Sound. Their experiences vary greatly, as of course does how they personally view the music attached to The Dunedin Sound, but that is what gives the book a deeper meaning (rather than just biographies of some old bands that a few people want to reminisce about). It was reading about what attracted these people in the first place to the music, that makes me want to explore the treasure created in my backyard, hidden to my generation as the result of decades passing. Ian Chapman chose his contributors extremely effectively; they range from critics to fans to musicians, to music writers and more. All have a different take but all are united on the front that a vast majority of ‘80s bands from Dunedin had something special.

Throughout the book the snapshots and newspaper clippings, as well as posters (many of them hand-drawn) and the odd scribbled note here and there really made it feel like you had opened a time capsule from those days – a very well-presented and preserved one. One writer in the book talks about how ‘those days are gone now and, as is inevitable, a mythology is created and sold.’ The writer then makes the point that The Dunedin Sound is part of that, ‘but in it, relics are left to tell their own stories’, which is exactly what they do.

The only exposure I had personally had to the music written about was listening to ‘Pink Frost’ by The Chills, and it has only been since reading this book that I clicked that The Chills were a Dunedin band. But I have now discovered The Verlaines, Sneaky Feelings, more fully The Chills and I know there is much more yet to explore. Ian Chapman and his many contributors have provided those like myself with the insight of what the Dunedin music scene was made up of in the ‘80s and has already proven to be an excellent guide in my initial introduction to The Dunedin Sound. He has also given many others the opportunity to revisit times passed, giving extra information about bands that they might have known and seen perform, and in that way provided a tribute to the bands of The Dunedin Sound but also to their loyal followers.

I would highly recommend this book thanks to this dual appeal, and Chapman achieves this without making his aims obvious: The Dunedin Sound is blunt in it’s truthfulness. In my opinion, those who are familiar with the books subject matter will appreciate that, and for the others who aren’t, it will prove to be a reliable source of knowledge about the esteemed Dunedin Sound.

Reviewed by Sarah Hayward

The Dunedin Sound: Some Disenchanted Evening
by Ian Chapman
Published by David Bateman Ltd
ISBN 9781869538958

Author Peter May reveals the inspiration for Coffin Road

Bestselling crime writer Peter May reveals why he chose the real-life Coffin Road as the inspiration for his latest book

Peter May

Peter May pendant le salon Polars du Sud à Toulouse en 2013.

Coffin Road, the title of my new book, has a certain ring to it. But much as it might sound like a good title for a crime novel, in fact it is the name of a real road in the Outer Hebrides.

The Isle of Lewis is largely flat with peat bog covering most of its interior, but as you make your way down to the Isle of Harris, a rockier landscape begins to emerge. Millennia of geological upheavals on earth formed these islands. They are the result of shifting continents clashing and cracking the earth’s crust. Erupting volcanoes spewed lava and left a trail of molten granite which forced its way through the gneiss in sheets and veins. Ice-age glaciers carved mountains and valleys out of this rock and shaped the Harris that we see today.

It is a landscape so primitive and barren that it passed for Jupiter in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Peter May_the real coffin road

The real coffin road, Isle of Harris

Which brings us to the coffin road itself. When bedrock lies only inches beneath the skin of soil that covers the east coast of the island, digging a grave and burying the dead is impossible. So in centuries gone by, men from villages on the east side of Harris had to carry their dead over the hills to reach deeper, sandy soil on the west of the island where they could lay their loved ones to rest.

And so the coffin road of reality is not so much a “road” as a rough track hewn out of necessity. It traces a four kilometre route that climbs from Loch Airigh on the east side of the island, high up over the hills, past lochans and across rough, rocky countryside, before descending through salt marsh to the stunningly beautiful Luskentyre beach on the west coast, where the deep machair soil could accommodate the bodies of those who had passed.

It was a journey that could not have been easy for those men, carrying the dead weight of countless bodies over rocky ground in all weathers. But the long hard trek that it must have been was a necessity, a practicality, a fact of life – or death – for those folk who carved out their existence on the island. It was also a ritual, and perhaps a time when, at one with the elements, and carrying the weight of a corpse, it gave time to consider one’s own mortality.
Peter May_luskentyre beach
For one man in my book, the coffin road holds many secrets – about life, and death.
When he staggers ashore on Luskentyre beach (above), apparently the survivor of a boating accident, he remembers nothing about who he is, how he got there or what has happened. But he is filled with a deep-rooted sense of dread, and a primeval drive to fill in the blanks and restore meaning to his existence.

A map, with the coffin road traced in marker pen, is the only clue he has. A route he knows he must follow to find the truth. He has no idea where it will lead him, but following in the footsteps of the dead is his only way forward.

Coffin Road (Hachette NZ) is available now. Peter May is visiting New Zealand in February and will be speaking at an event in Dunedin on Thursday 25 February. Tickets at http://www.unibooks.co.nz/

cv_coffin_road