40 years on
I record a Voice of Gallipoli with my old mate. In a miraculous moment, history rhymes and past and present look each other in the eye.
Tūranga, the main branch of Christchurch Library, became the first presenter to officially license a presentation of Voices of Gallipoli. It’s going to be a wonderful event. What a gorgeous space.
I hope it will be the first of several presentations around the world that will be confirmed in the coming weeks. I’m speaking with people in London, New York, Australia, all the main centres in NZ, and a bunch of smaller cities and towns off the beaten track.
One of the readers at Tūranga will be my old mate Michael Keir-Morrissey.
I love Michael. I’ve known him for more than 20 years. We first met with the serendipity that heralds the entry of so many special people into my life. My mate took me on a trip up north during the university holidays to meet his dads.
One of his dads was Michael.
Since then, Michael has become one of my ‘art + life’ heroes. That means if I manage to mimic his holistic achievements across both spheres, I’ll consider myself to have played a good innings.
He’s a man of the world, who’s lived here, there and everywhere. He’s been involved in some of the more interesting moments of New Zealand stage and screen. He appears in landmark films like Came a Hot Friday and landmark plays like the adaptation of Ian Cross’ novel The God Boy, and I could go on and on.
If you’re a New Zealander of a certain age, you’ll recognise Michael’s voice from all things Telecom (the monopoly phone company of the era). He voiced their ads (I’ll link to a cracker at the end), and every time you rang someone who didn’t pick up, it was Michael’s voice that said:
«Name» can’t come to the phone right now. Please leave a message after the beep.
How beautifully strange is that? But that’s just the art stuff. It’s Michael’s curiosity and approach to the world that seals his place in my pantheon. A scholar who returns to university later in life to learn more stuff, an explorer who’s never afraid to up sticks and live somewhere new, and a most remarkable gardener.
Anyway, you get the picture. I like the guy. Every now and then he helps me out by lending his voice to my projects. He was the first person I asked to record a Voice of Gallipoli.
Ever since I made My Eyes Are Up Here I’ve become conscious of making things in ways that are accessible for both audiences AND collaborators.
Covid forced Aminder Virdee and me to co-write on Zoom, and it was so successful that I felt wretched about all those times I’d obliged her to commute across London with great physical effort just so we could meet in person at some cafe or creative writing space. I just assumed that was the way things had to be done.
Now I know better. So, I want to create recordings of the Voices to make them available on Spotify or somewhere like that so people who can’t get to the events can access them. To do it, I’m learning to record pro-grade audio over Zoom calls. That means I can ask awesome people from all over the world to record them from the comfort of home. No fuss, no faff. No booking studios or engineers or asking the speakers to commute.
I gave Michael the Voice of Dan Curham to read.
Dan’s testimony is one of the longer ones, so I gave it to Michael because I knew he could handle it. But other than that, the decision to pair Michael and Dan was completely unconscious.
Dan was a machine gunner. He did things that no one will ever do again. He saw things that no one will ever see again. He was one of the few to survive to tell the tale. Michael laid down a sight read in 26 minutes, which means there were virtually no stumbles or re-dos. In fact, the only one I can remember was my fault. I’d left out an important comma. At the end, I left a few seconds of dead air for editing purposes. I was about to thank him when Michael let out a soft sob. He said
Almost apologetic. He was hollowed out. Stunned. I thought he wasn’t happy with his take. Actors get like that. They feel like they didn’t do it justice, like they let the words down. I was about to reassure him when he said… well, I’ll just transcribe it from the audio.
I played in Once on Chunuk Bair, I played…what the hell was his name now? Scruffy, Scruffy.
He was the machine gunner…
It took a few moments to confirm that we’d participated in a small miracle.
Maurice Shadbolt recorded the Voices of Gallipoli interviews as research for his play Once On Chunuk Bair.
Michael was in the premier season of that play. In 1982.
Michael played a character called Scruffy.
It turns out Scruffy’s character was based on the life and experiences of… Dan Curham.
40 years later, in 2022, by a miraculous stroke of ?, Michael Keir-Morrissey is asked to lend his voice the verbatim testimony of the same Dan Curham.
You can see how it made us feel.
Check out one of the classic Telecom commercials that Michael voiced.
Pre-CGI, this predates, and possible predicts the modern era in which cute animals become the fundamental unit of culture. So much to love.
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I've been doing some reading, and while I won't re-edit the post, cos it's such a lovely story, and the feelings described are exactly what we felt... I've since learned something new that demiracles it a tad.
Short story: the version of the play that Michael acted in, the premiere, was written before Shadbolt did the interview with Dan Curham, or any of the other veterans. His authorship of the play was what encouraged the director-general of Television New Zealand Allan Martin to offer him the role of finding and interviewing some of the few remaining survivors of the Gallipoli campaign. He did this with Chris Pugsley - the world's foremost authority on NZ's efforts in that campaign - and potentially the whole thing full stop.
Shadbolt writes "Martin's offer was difficult to refuse. For one thing, I was then revising Once on Chunuk Bair for publication and future productions. Interviews with veterans might give me more material to work with, especially in terms of stage business."
I'm writing this within hours of finding out, so I don't know the full implications. I don't know whether the text of the play that I've read was the one Michael performed (the premiere) or whether it was slightly or heavily revised following these interviews. Time may tell.
What I do know is that Michael played a character who was a machine gunner (the only one) in Once On Chunuk Bair by Maurice Shadbolt in 1982. Then in 2022 Michael lent his voice to Dan Curham, a machine gunner (the only one) who's verbatim testimony was recorded by Shadbolt soon after.
There's a lot going on here, and it's all quite delightful and magical. I'm also aware that part of this project is trying to peer through the mists of time and memory to get as close as possible to the horse's mouth. So here endeth my correction or addendum or what have you.