21 Mar 2023

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Graham McGregor - Album Review: The Real Karanghape Road

12 Dec 2022 // A review by Roger Bowie

At last, I get to write about someone who is older than me. And more notorious! Graham McGregor has been around for a thousand years and has lived his life in front of an open mic unless he’s up to no good. Which was every other time.

And now at the ripe old age of 82, here is Graham releasing an album of songs he has begged, borrowed and stolen, supported by an eclectic bunch of Auckland luminaries such as Gary Trotman on bass, who also has a credit for the first song, Other People’s Money which is Graham’s modus operandi (just kidding).

Jesse Fuller was a one-man band legend 60 years ago, and Graham honours him with a lengthy kazoo introduction before getting Crazy Bout A Woman.  But although the song has been borrowed, there’s a clear notion in this collection that it’s also an autobiographical confession. And if Graham’s not borrowing the whole song, he’s taking the tune and localising the lyrics to bring it all on home, as in Onehunga, based on Kansas City Blues by Jim Jackson, because the notion is the same, the story is true, it just didn’t happen over there.

And in the same spirit of revival, Luke Jordan was a relatively little-known blues singer from the 1920’s but his one big contribution was  Cocaine Blues and Graham was around in the 80’s so this story is also true, except it wasn’t for horses in the 80’s. Horses were humans in the 80’s. Noses got torn. 

Papa Charlie Jackson was another early bluesman, among the first to be recorded in the 1920s, and Don’t You Leave Me Here gets the same McGregor treatment, sounding less like a lonesome blues and more like a campfire hoedown. Because Graham’s got friends, Sam Loveridge on fiddle and Nick Brightwell on slide bring the country out of the blues, and warmth to the pavement where the busker traditionally resides. 

You start to get the picture, but not all of it, because Graham has also penned his own songs back in the day, and here comes the title song, The Real Karangahape Road.  Another kazoo moan hides the real message here. Back in the day, K Road was really Karanga-happy, and that’s the way it should be. Happy for all of life’s exiles, back in the day, living on the edge, a Karangahape haven, a fine line between ecstasy and arrest.

A dive back into tradition, this time snatching from another folk/blues east coast pioneer Eric Von Schmidt, Dylan contemporary, ain’t nobody’s business if Graham borrows Champagne Don’t Hurt Me and drops it into the Pacific Ocean somewhere between Vivian St and Hokitika. Not at all.

More songs from the Greenwich Village scene, Separation Blues, by Patrick Sky, who himself has just passed at the age of 80. The grizzled old bugger called Graham has outlasted Patrick, who would have thought? Woody Guthrie, another little-known folk singer, had his own version of Cocaine Blues, a traditional version also made famous by Johnny Cash at Folsom prison. Now Graham has a version, also little known, also true. 

And so once upon a time there was this hard case folky guy who was always out and about on the Road, and managed to survive to become a Grizzled Old Bugger who has forgotten about the effects of aging and still wants a crack at the ladies. Another original, but I wouldn’t put it past him. 

But all good things come to an end, unless you forget, or refuse to lie down to the inevitability of the dying of the light, and rage, rage and rage some more, not to go gently into that good night, and that would be Graham McGregor refusing to get on that Lonesome Train called Cannonball.

Recorded live at Depot Sound, Devonport with sound engineer, Neil Baldock and mastered by Chris Chetland, at Kog Studio, The Real Karangahape Road was released a few weeks ago and is available also on vinyl and Graham McGregor is in fine voice at a ripe old age and in fine company, and if you want to revisit your youth, or get a sense of what it means to grow old disc-gracefully, have a listen.

Rating: ( 4 / 5 )

About Graham McGregor

Auckland based Open Mic legend, Graham McGregor has been gracing many a joint over the decades with his raunchy acoustic numbers; exposing audiences to some obscure and well-travelled classic folk and blues renditions along with his own cheeky originals. His album The Real Karangahape Rd is out on the 23rd of November 2022.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Graham McGregor


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