Shona Laing (2/2)

In the late 1960s and early 1970s there was something called the Loxene Golden Disc Award for the best song in New Zealand.  Loxene were a shampoo company, and first place was determined by public vote.  In 1972 here were the nominees:

  1. Can’t Get Sunday Out of My Mind – Chapta
  2. Carolina – Creation
  3. Dalhi Mohammed – Timberjack
  4. Dance All Around the World – Blerta
  5. Every Day is Sunday – Rangi Parker
  6. Good Morning Mr. Rock’n’Roll – Headband
  7. Holy Morning – Rumour
  8. Lazy River – Kal-Q-lated Risk
  9. Life on Mars? – Steve Allen
  10. Roundhouse – Quincy Conserve
  11. Sunshine Through a Prism – Suzanne
  12. Take the Money and Run – Bunny Walters

I draw your attention to number 5 on this list.


Out of hundreds of entries this song was selected as one of the twelve best songs in New Zealand in 1972.  The music was written by a New Zealander, and the lyrics – bizarrely – by a New Yorker.  The New Zealander and the American never met.

On 16 April 1973 an interview with Shona Laing appeared in The Listener: Shona Laing – sick of the same old songs, by Robert Keyzer.  By this time Shona had been discovered on the New Faces show, and her song 1905 had gone to number four on the national chart.

Despite the publicity, Shona’s life remains unaffected.  She wears jeans and a T-shirt whenever possible – “It bugged me to be put into a long dress, but I accepted it.  I hate having all the make-up shoved on my face, but I suppose that’s necessary for television.  She’s the youngest of five brothers and sisters, and is a prefect in the seventh form at Hutt High School.  She has spent all her 17 years in or around Eastbourne, in a comfortable 70-year-old house set in a half-acre of bush.

I suppose this is an example of being put in a long dress and having make-up shoved on your face.  At the end the applause is deafening.  It’s the sound of gratitude; of a mainstream New Zealand audience seeing someone mainstream and actually good.

Shona’s first break as an entertainer was being accepted for Studio One last year.  “I did a tape with some teachers at school.  It was accepted and then I auditioned.  Producer Christopher Bourn remembers not knowing what to think when confronted with a straggly-haired,  barefooted, jeaned and T-shirted Shona come straight off the beach, sitting down and singing “You Are The One”.  “The first thing I said,” says Chris, “was where did you get that song?  When she said very quietly that she’d written it herself I just flipped.”

She’s unsure of her future, though a social science course at university is a possibility.  Teaching is her second choice and she has also considered studying music at university.  Shona is largely self-taught.  The only other musical adept in the family was her grandmother who played piano and sang at silent film screenings in the Wellington district.  Shona has been playing guitar since she was seven or eight years old, and experimenting naturally since then.  “I wrote my first song in standard four, which was the most ridiculous thing you ever heard in your life,” she says, “but I suppose the others started coming about the third form.  I got sick of playing the same old songs so I made up my own.  Then I was trying to be really “gun” – writing protest songs.  I write about things I feel.  In the fifth form I wrote ten songs about bomb tests.  And people like ‘1905’.”


“That song is about Henry Fonda.  He was born in that year, and it started being about him because I was rapt with him.  Was, underlined,  I thought he was a terrific actor and it seemed he could be a nice guy.  My imagination ran wild.  But it could be about anybody.  A lot of kids around my age do get rapt in people too old for them.  I’m a classic case I suppose.”

She is a dreamer.  She dreams of going to California, of swimming with the herrings in the clear coast waters up north… of toasting marshmallows… or of leapfrog on the beach.  “I’d like to take off sometimes, which I can’t do.  I’ve got an absolute adoration for jets.  I went through a stage where every song I wrote had something about jets in it….  Last year when we had to put our expected profession on a form at school I jokingly put to be the first female commercial jet pilot.”

“Daydreaming is incredible….  My stereo doorbells are a classic example.  My dream room is really big and has bear skins on the floor – or maybe synthetic rugs.  There’s a raised floor in one corner, and whopping great stereo speakers on both sides that I’d have up so loud that if anyone came to the door I wouldn’t hear them.  So I’d wire up the doorbell to the speakers so that I could hear it.”

“Writing songs is like a dream too.  I can never remember how I do it.  I suppose the music and some words come together.  A couple of times I’ve written a poem and put it to music but it hasn’t worked out properly.  I just write for guitar.”

She mentions that her voice range is not large, and that it used to be better before she started smoking.  “Sometimes I can sing really high, sometimes really low.  At the school where we have a choir I end up singing bass, or tenor anyway.”  Two of her songs are being used in the end-of-year musical history of New Zealand being staged at school.  One is about rugby, censored because of two “naughty words – one at the end of a line has been changed to a word that doesn’t rhyme.  The song is about a Lions match I went to when we lost; the only match I’ve been to and the most disappointing  one I’ve heard of.”

I like to reread that last quote and imagine how much trouble Hutt High School would get into now if one of their female students announced in the national press that she sings bass in the school choir because she smokes so much.  Which actually leads me nicely to my favourite advertisement from The Listener in 1973:


There was a lot of very bad music being made in New Zealand in the early 1970s.  This is perhaps not very surprising.  The most surprising thing I have found listening to these old Studio One and Loxene Golden Disc albums is how much AWESOME music was being made.  It strikes me that there are dozens of stories behind an album cover like this (Shona Laing appears in the top left corner):


Indeed, one of these long-haired turkeys (was everyone ashamed of their ears in the 1970s?) was going to have a mercifully brief number one in 1973 and then go on to “greater” things in 1974.

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I wrote a book called Kaitiaki o te Pō

13 thoughts on “Shona Laing (2/2)”

  1. “I used to sneak off to see them in Wellington when I was still at school at a venue which I’ve forgotten the name of (Richard may know – it was down Aotea Quay way).”
    It was called The Down Town (or was it Down Town, without the The? Remember that this was before The The The Guy was on the scene – I’m sure it wasn’t The The The Down Town) and was upstairs. I only ever stuck my head in there once when The Quincy Conserve was playing – I was very young then, younger than Comeinyourpants.

  2. I am currently obsessing about Quincy Conserve. Ride the Rain was written by Bruno Lawrence who was in that band for awhile. I have only heard about three of Conserve’s songs so far (plus the one being used by TV2 at the moment), and every single one has been impressive. How on earth is it possible that they are unknown, and John Rowles is regarded with affection? There is a little bit about Ride the Rain in a radio documentary about Bruno and Blerta. Google Radio New Zealand Blerta and you will find the show.

  3. Quincy Conserve were streets ahead of all the other ‘Pop’ bands of the 60’s.
    I used to sneak off to see them in Wellington when I was still at school at a venue which I’ve forgotten the name of (Richard may know – it was down Aotea Quay way). ‘Ride the Rain was one of their better songs. New Zealand has had, and still has, some wonderful talent. Often the good stuff is not as well known as the dross unfortunately.

  4. Our little dog is six years old, and he’s smart as any damn kid.
    But when you mention the V.E.T. he damn near flips his lid.
    Words like S.H.O.T. shot or W.O.R.M. worm,
    These are words which make him S.Q.U.I.R.M. squirm.
    His Q.U.A.R.A.N.T.I.N.E starts today,
    Because he bit the V.E.T. and then he ran away.
    He caused me and my wife to have a big fight, and then, both of them bit me.
    And that’s why I am gonnae get a D.I.V.O.R.C.E.

    She shouted “get him Rover,” and he jumped over, and bit my L.E.G.
    She sank her teeth in my B.U.M. and called me an effin’ C.
    Well I’m telling you, that was my cue, to get O.F.F.-ski
    And I’m going down to the town tonight to get a new B.I.R.D.

    Oh yes his Q.U.A.R.A.N.T.I.N.E starts today.
    Both my wife and my wee scabby dug will soon be hauled away.
    That’s why I spell out all these words, so as my dog can’t hear.
    Oh I must admit that dog is acting Q.U.E.R. queer.

    Oh, I must admit that dog is acting Q.U.E.R. queer.

  5. Interesting. Dix in Stranded in Paradise says that Bunny got busted for a drug thing and that finished him on the cabaret circuit. He’s got a good voice. Kal-Q-Lated Risk… man that’s a lame band name.

  6. I backed Bunny Walters a few times in the 1980s – when he had become a bit of a ‘has been’. For quite a few NZ 1970s stars there was a ‘What do I do afterwards?’. Many finished up playing in Workingmen’s Clubs and RSAs. When I backed Bunny, he was touring with an outfit called Country Promotions (based in Levin) which toured a stable of ‘has beens’. I remember playing at the Fowler Centre (in the function space, not on the main stage) and several of these singers were trying to outdo each other, both with their ballad singing and with telling really dirty jokes on stage.
    I guess this showbiz stuff is all a Kal-Q-lated Risk!

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