Mike Chunn

by Nick Smith / 08 April, 2006
Musician, promoter.

He's better known as the cheerleader of local music than the bass player with Split Enz and Citizen Band. Mike Chunn was behind the push to get more Kiwi sounds on air, at the helm of the Australasian Performing Rights Association and involved in national school projects, such as the Smokefree Rockquest and Play It Strange, the charitable trust that runs the secondary school song-writing competition. Now he's unveiling Band of Strangers, a music competition that allows school kids to get up on stage and play alongside their heroes, such as the Exponents and Steriogram, at the Auckland Town Hall.

It sounds like The School of Rock, but with Jordan Luck in the Jack Black role? It is The School of Rock, except it's in front of 1800 people, all staring at you.

You'll be able to advise the kids about stage fright. You mean the agoraphobia? I will. I remember once having a really bad panic attack 20 minutes before a school lunchtime concert. I was like a cornered rat, but I walked on stage and it disappeared. I met another agoraphobic, a drummer, who used to have panic attacks before going on, but the minute you walk on, it goes. So I will say, "You can be sweating, vomiting, get diarrhoea ... as soon as you're on, your subconscious says, 'Enough of that bullshit, there's a job to do.'"

How did Band of Strangers come about? You've got your Smokefree Rockquest that is for bands that perform, write songs ... and you're judged on your performance on the day. But what if you're a beautiful performer on drums, [but] the band isn't very good? I think there should be somewhere for the individual performers to hop up and have the moment of their lives.

Who's on board? Yulia, Deceptikonz, Steriogram and the Exponents [among others] are at the show. If I was at Sacred Heart College and a sixth former - it's for sixth and seventh form, only - I would be filling out the form, applying to play bass for "Walkie Talkie Man", that Steriogram song. So I send in my CV and I get through the audition and ... Imagine being on stage at the Auckland Town Hall with a full house. What will happen is that Tyson [Kennedy, Steriogram lead singer] will be out the front, but the rest of the band are all school kids. So, he will call me out and say, we're going to do "Walkie Talkie Man", and on bass, from Sacred Heart College, is Mike Whatever and on drums we have Margaret So-and-So from Rangitoto. So I'm going to walk out there, shitting my pants, in front of 1800 people, and Mum will be fainting, my mates will screaming down the front and I will get to meet Tyson, maybe touch his garment.

As long as it's only his garment. Absolutely, absolutely. We're also going to have the Auckland Philharmonia string quartet - that will be doubled to an eight-piece, with four school kids joining them on Yulia's song, on Savage's "Moonshine" and on "Victoria" by the Exponents. So, there'll be violins, violas, cellos: it will be fizzing.

Why is it important that kids learn to play music at school? Every country's music tradition is based on the songs that they write. You don't say, "I really love going to Argentina because they've got really great Bach string quartets." You don't give a damn. You want to go there and listen to Argentinean music. We want to see more people writing and performing New Zealand songs. And I don't see that as having anything to do with the classroom. Imagine if you went to the New Zealand Rugby Union and said, "Why don't we have in the curriculum the science of rugby, just like they have music theory?" But who gives a shit about the science of rugby? They want people to play the game and bring to it their own style and pizazz. For me, music should be out of the classroom, something every single kid in the school should be able to partake in.

But there's no money in music. When I started [at the Australasian Performing Rights Association, musicians were earning from royalties] about $4 million. Then it went to $10 million, and now I think it's $14 million.

Why is that? The little things that seemed little at the time have had a huge impact - like the Nature's Best CDs that sold about 120,000 copies. That has meant that people in the street are saying, "We've had great music, we love our music." There's this real sense of pride that I never discerned in the 70s or 80s. I remember playing at one of the pubs with Citizen Band and we weren't allowed to eat in the main restaurant; we had to eat with the staff because we were scum and lowlifes and trash and slept in all day and had sex.

You lucky buggers. What song was "Nature's Best" when you were growing up? When I was at school, most of the hits were cover versions. But there was one written by Roger Skinner - "Let's Think of Something"- and Larry's Rebels had a No 1 with it. It won the Silver Scroll, and that was the song of the summer of '67. I remember thinking, "Shit, we can do it." The whole country loved that song.

When is Band of Strangers? The big night is May 21, and entries close on May 5. Any student residing between Albany and Papakura can download the entry form from www.playitstrange.co.nz - it's all there.

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