I just spent the last hour or so trawling through the Facebook page, "New Zealand music scene, bands and nightclubs 1960s and 70s". So many familiar names, bands, posters, equipment, podcasts … a fascinating potpourri of the times. AudioCulture has asked for some images and a profile on my involvement during those years. Ten to 20 years in a page or two?

Somewhere among the items on that page I posted a list of the various artists I had photographed over the years and needed it to help illustrate this article. It’s somewhere there, but yet to be found.

The debut album by The Avengers, Electric Recording (1968). Photo: Sal Criscillo

On the page I recognise some of the pics, and can only wonder how it is possible that one page can have so many crappy images. And what’s worse, some of mine are among them. A tawdry collection of miscellaneous clippings and gnarled photos from long forgotten albums, images under or over-exposed, unfocused, badly lit or badly composed, groups of long haired louts in tight jeans or flares, holding instruments awkwardly and looking completely self-conscious about the whole image thing.

This is all part of the pop culture. All of these images have a story to tell as part of the convoluted jigsaw that is the NZ music scene. The memory lingers on but the images are fading. Is that a pic of mine or is it something I remember seeing elsewhere? A poster, on screen, or in a magazine?

Fortunately I’m spared in that I don’t have to listen the combined music cacophony that’s represented here, from rock and roll to country and everything else in between. It’s hard enough finding the images let alone having to listen to the music. It wasn't my music then, and it isn't now. I was saved only by the blues and the jazz greats who eventually enveloped me. The highlights here being that I was able to photograph some of the jazz greats at the time, the Duke Ellington and Count Basie orchestras, Oscar Peterson Trio and other maestros of the genre visiting New Zealand. To have these giants focused in my long lenses were special moments!

For me it’s more of a look back on an era, the amazing mix of people: marketers, promoters, and musicians. Inverted and extroverted personalities, makeshift photo situations and deadlines and mainly endeavoring to further understand and advance my photography skills. This was the beginning of my photo career.

Of course I absorbed and lived the classic music of the time, danced along to the many beats, and as with all music, cemented many special moments for life – all part of everyone’s maturing curve.

In retrospect however, in the role of a photographer, I was invariably on the outside looking in; ever respectful of the real musicians and their abilities, but always somewhat bemused by the complex contrary life of the local pop star.

Working now through my files of well-thumbed job envelopes, noting the scribbled dates and names of the various groups, some of the shoots I remember with much detail while others draw complete blanks. I’m guardedly uncertain about what condition the original negatives might still be in and whether they’re still now salvageable in this digital age.

Album cover outtake 1969 - Photo by Sal Criscillo

They come out of the box in no particular order: HMV-Fourmyula studio sessions; The Rumour – studio and location sessions; PR coverage of a C'mon show; Avengers; Pork; Lee Grant; Ray Harris; Justin DuFresne; Des Britten and Bruce Ward; Pressing LPs; Shona Laing; BB King; Muddy Waters; Ahman Dahman; Keith Richardson; Acker Bilk; Stevie Allan; 40W Bananas; Craig Scott; AJ Wyness; Hot Rock cover; Suzanne; Hogsnort Rupert; Dudley Moore; Groove Mag – tie-dyed garments; David Curtis; Allison Durbin; Yolande Gibson; Peter, Paul & Mary; Aardvark; Steve Gilpin; Val Murphy; Jim McNaught and Dave Fraser; Kal-Q-Lated Risk; Shirley Bassey; Jack Thompson; Lutha; Abe Phillips; Maria Dallas; Graham Feasey; Garth Young; The Who; Small Faces and Paul Jones; Barry Peace; Tom Thumb; Spyce of Lyfe; Brendan Dugan; Barry Margan; Bill French; Val Doonican; Neketini Brass; Peter Dawkins; Mrs Devi; The Quincy Conserve; Creation; Jose Feliciano; Jean Pierre Jumez; Roy Orbison; Johnny Devlin; and approximately another dozen unlabelled envelopes of unidentified musicians.

A rare colour shot of The Quincy Conserve c.1969: Denys Mason, Malcolm Hayman, Raice McLeod, Rufus Rehu, Dave Orams and Johnny McCormick - Photo by Sal Criscillo. Ken Cooper collection

If I dare to stop for a moment and think about what else was delivered to the various agencies, promoters, individuals and record companies that I now have no record of,

I can only register some frustration and embarrassment at not having taken more care of my archives. Many of the assignments were shot on colour transparency film, the original transparencies supplied to clients or printing company concerned and unfortunately never seen again. With each studio or agency/ client move and clean out, won or lost accounts etc., much of this original material invariably and tragically finished up at the local tips. Nowadays I can only add these to the classic “anglers” stories, about the big ones that got away! But we move on.

During the 1960s I was a fledgling photographer working in an advertising agency learning the necessary art of commercial photography. Freelance photography was a happy and welcome tangent to the daily schedule of agency deadlines and the controlled studio and location assignments.

As time allowed, the privileged access to local concerts and passing pop stars was an amazing insight in to the entertainment world, as it existed at the time. Moving among the musicians and entourages, front and back stage, getting them back to my studio, or heading off on location shoots ... whether for press, posters, LP covers or magazine articles, this was living the freewheeling life that I was reading about in the overseas fashion and pop mags. I was loving it all, and as importantly, honing my photographic skills in the process along the way.

Leaving the advertising agency in the late 60s and going completely freelance, I partnered with an established overseas photographer and set up a new studio. The focus then became one of building a successful one (Studio 57) and moving into major moneyed food, fashion and corporate assignments. So of necessity there was a loosening of my ties with the pop industry, although there were a number of assignments I continued with during the early 70s.

Mr Lee Grant – Lee Grant, 1967. Cover design by Peter Burge, photography by Sal Criscillo.

In retrospect, and as I noted elsewhere, it was an amazing time through the 60 and 70s. The Beatles, Carnaby Street, the English invasion ... a pale shadow perhaps, of what was happening then in the UK and USA, but a loose parallel, and one as important to the local musicians and the public in this end of the world.

Reading through some of the stories on AudioCulture soon illustrates the passion, dreams and careers of many of our headliners and many of the classic performances that have become legendary events and the many who became icons of the industry.

Special moments? Too many special moments to relate here ... but here’s a simple sampling:

Travelling with the Miss New Zealand contingent and Howard Morrison;
Dress-up cops-and-robbers fun time with The Avengers;
Climbing Acker Bilk into an Air New Zealand plane engine cowling for his LP cover;
Beauties like Allison Durbin and Yolande Gibson in the studio;
On stage with BB King and Muddy Waters.

Loads of happy memories and fading images now on fading negatives … but not forgotten.