One year in the late eighties, The Pog Band was playing at Alexandra's annual Blossom Festival in Central Otago. The festival co-ordinator for the regional council was Clark Flannigan and he had booked us to play in various events and places throughout the weekend. Like most events in the South, there was heavy input (both in product and sponsorship) from Speights Brewery. Speights was becoming something of an icon throughout Otago but nothing compared to that of the campaign that was about to follow. Brewery reps were never far away from the action and Clark had been entertaining a few of them that weekend. Clark liked the earthy nature of the band and said he had something for us which we might find to our liking. He slipped us a pre-release tape of the Southern Man song which one of the reps had been touting for Speight's upcoming advertising campiagn. The song was written and recorded by Murray Grindley (formerly of the Underdogs and an Aucklander to boot!) and had a gritty, bluesy sound to it. The Pog Band took it and reworked it with a Southern country-rock feel which we felt was more appropriate to both the band and the theme. We based our arrangement around a cool little double-stop riff that our fiddler Kathryn West came up with. It became a much loved staple in our repertoire even before it hit the television screens.
The song and accompanying campaign was different from normal ads of the time, much like the Coke ads of the decade before, in that a) it was a complete song and b) didn't mention the brand or the product specifically. It championed the understated, quiet and matter-of-fact machismo of the Southern rural bloke to whom outdoor hardship and feats of strength and endurance were de rigueur - gauche in female company or urban environment, solitary, slow to react and with an understated, pithy humour. Even Speight's couldn't have predicted the success of this branding exercise - which has now extended well beyond the beer it was designed to promote and has become a local identity. Clothing, posters, drinking paraphenalia: there is even a statue of the Southern Man (on a horse) at Dunedin International Airport. Then, of course, there is the song's inextricable link with Otago rugby. That's where the Pog Band came in.
Around this time, before rugby had become professional and before the Super 12 (now 14) franchaise existed, the NPC (National Provincial Championship) was the second most important event in New Zealand rugby (the All Blacks test matches being the ultimate) but as the televising of these games became more slick and timely and were still free-to-air, attendance at matches was flagging. Games at Carisbrook (Dunedin) were no exception. There was a strong tradition of University of Otago students and other hardy members of the public attending matches on The Terraces, a sloping, standing-only area opposite the main stands, and was renowned in later years for boisterous and bawdy behaviour. There ensued an attempt from the Otago Rugby Union to inject some entertainment from the sideline to keep the masses occupied and stop things cutting up too rough in the inevitable swill of beer and testosterone pre-match and during the half-time hiatus. The Pog Band was booked as a readily indentifiable and popular local act to play for the relatively important Otago/Auckland match. So was the 'Varsity Sextet. The Sextet is an age-old Otago Uni tradition but, suffice it to say, six guys in yellow clown suits with painted faces singing close-harmony didn't quite cut it on the occasion. In short, they were pelted with beer-cans (some full) and fruit (- who takes fruit to a rugby match?). We were next on and we were collectively shitting enough bricks to build a small house.
A crude stage (just a platform) had been set up on the touch line and we had set up on it our own sound gear (so we could hear) and our own mixing desk so we could mix our sound to our relative satisfaction and send a single line 100 meters back to the the main desk for distribution around the ground. It worked well enough but the lack of control was frighteneing - as was the lack of insulation to beercans and kiwifruit that now covered our gear. We launched into a few old favourites and were immediately cheered by the response. Cheering! They knew who we were and liked us. Any beercans thrown now were more sort of celebratory. Toward the end of our brief set, I stepped up and sang Southern Man. The crowd went nuts! They sang along! They cheered! We played chorus after chorus until we got the signal to clear the stage and the match started. Otago beat Auckland that day and the song was forever cemented into the Otago NPC.
It would be fair to say we were lucky. The whole thing was badly organised by the ORFU and niaive in its expected outcomes. From there they lifted their organisational and logistical game and the following year they flew in local entertainer Denis Henderson in a helicopter. He strode across the field in full Southern Man persona (drizabone coat and akubra hat) and he sang Southern Man to the origanal recorded backing. He's had that gig ever since (although they've dispensed with the helicopter).
It wasn't until 1998 (Otago's Sesqui-centenial) that the Pog Band recorded the song (also included on the Southern Bred video). The Speights Southern Man advertising campaign continues unabated, although the song is largely retired. These days the NPC and Carisbrook itself struggle for attendance at games so the Southern Man song is fairly much assigned to history and the odd student party.
Some of the boys,