Ron Mark loves his country music. PHOTOS/GIANINA SCHWANECKE
Minister of country music
Kiwi classics make the cut
Defence Minister, Ron Mark, is one step closer to completing his new year’s goal as he prepares to release his country music album.
It’s been a project two years in the making thanks to his busy parliamentary schedule and personal life.
Mark first started playing music as a teenager when his foster parents offered to pay for him to take piano lessons but instead he fell in love with the guitar.
Making the move from keys to strings meant having to pay his own way though.
“My foster dad told me, ‘If you want a guitar, you’d better get a job’.”
He was grateful to his foster parents for being supportive of his interests, though he was dissuaded from singing in public for a time.
“[My foster dad] heard me practising out back and when I came in, he asked if that was me singing or if a cow had gone down,” Mark said with a laugh.
His love of music continued when he joined the Regular Force Cadet band in the army.
Organising the Clareville Country Music Festival with his partner, Chris, helped him grow into the music scene in Wairarapa.
Musicians such as Stefan Brown and Wayne Heath helped him become more confident in his abilities.
“I love my country music,” Mark said.
“They kept building up my confidence, but I always had in the back of my mind that I wanted to cut an album.”
He decided to make an album, just for friends and family, though if there was serious interest, he said he’d be keen to donate profits to organisations which help kids in foster homes.
“I’ve met some amazing kids. It’s surprising the number of them who are musicians.”
He said many, like him, found a sort of peace in making music.
Still, it took a lot of help making the album.
“I walked out of the studio after the first session. It’s getting used to the sound of your own voice.
“Like most people, I don’t like the sound of my own voice.”
Mark said he was grateful for those who had encouraged him to continue.
That includes Heath, an experienced country artist who’s rubbed elbows with the likes of Johnny Cash and Willy Nelson and put out several albums of his own.
“It’s not as easy as it looks,” Heath said.
“When that mic is sitting right there in front of you it takes a hell of a lot of nerve.”
He said Mark had an “exceptional” voice.
Heath was also impressed that Mark had managed to find time outside his busy professional and personal life to record the album.
“He was always on the phone,” Heath said with a laugh, sliding forward a handwritten regularly used sign which reads, ‘Ron – Wayne is waiting … ’.
Music is not only a source of joy and entertainment in Mark’s experience, but also a chance to bridge different cultures and experiences.
“It’s the thing they say about food bringing people together – music does that too,” he said.
During a state luncheon with a delegation from Indonesia, including the President and Defence Minister, it emerged that the Indonesian Ambassador, Tantowi Yahya, was a country artiste who has sold six million albums.
“Out of the blue someone said for us to sing something and we broke into ‘Green, Green Grass of Home’.
“This is a state lunch and there we are singing.”
Mark said his own album was a mixture of newer songs and classic Kiwi country, as well as a few popular country songs from the US.
Some of the 21 recorded tracks – which will eventually be whittled down to just 17 – include covers of George Ezra’s Budapest, Charley Pride’s You’re So Good When You’re Bad and Billy Templeton’s Pretty Good and Drinking Beer.
“Some are fun, some are contemporary, some are older,” he said.
The closing bookend song, a cover of Eddie Low’s Songs of Home had a special meaning for Mark.
“It takes me back to when I was serving in the military and the six years I was out of New Zealand. As a soldier I’m very conscious of what people go through.
“I hope people will resonate with it.”