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Malcolm Black's Songs For The Family

Story Published Tuesday 11 May 2021
The Black Family L-R: Awhina holding Cilla, Malcolm, Ruby, Julia holding Martha

Exactly two years on from the passing of music industry luminary Malcolm Black, his family today releases his posthumous album Songs For The Family, recorded a mere two months before his untimely death at age 58 from cancer.



Malcolm joined the APRA board as the New Zealand elected writer director in 2016 and immediately began an important contribution to the organisation he had been a member of since 1983. It is with great joy that we remember him through his music today and every day to come.

“Our family are very excited to finally be able to share Malcolm’s musings on life, love and death. It has been a labour of love over the last 2 years due to the sensitivity of the project and significantly delayed by COVID, with the album being produced off shore. It has been challenging at times trying to make decisions he would have made, but I’m sure he would be very proud of the finished works”,
says his wife, Julia.

Husband, father, musician, lawyer, record executive and co-writer of one of New Zealand’s most loved tunes with the Netherworld Dancing Toys, the anthemic ‘For Today’, Black recorded the eight tracks on Songs For The Family over six days in a stately Dunedin home in 2019. Produced by Black and renowned über-producer Nigel Stone, the release also features Black’s wife Julia, Steve Larkins on keyboards, Sue Chilten on backing vocals and Dunedin-based players Jeff Dickie on electric guitars, John Hodge on drums and Robin Murphy on bass.

Songs For The Family was a fast-moving project, from inception to completion. Impending death forced Black to a place of spontaneous peak-creativity and the songs poured out of him, transcendent in their heart-felt honesty, as all was laid bare.

Black had been diagnosed with terminal cancer 18 months earlier and once he had completed Songs For The Family, and a few weeks before his death, he talked to writer Grant Smithies about writing the songs as a process to understanding and coming to terms with death – to leave early, without fear. "I'm not afraid of dying really, in the slightest. I've had a good life and death comes to us all – eventually."

Says Julia, “Malcolm was so gracious and dignified about his impending death and he was determined to normalise it for his children. Demystify it for others. He didn’t fear death. He had hope. Hope without fear. His songs are a beautiful reminder for us all. A gift.”

In the end and most importantly, Black was able to journey onwards to a more philosophical and calm acceptance of what was to come. His ideal of “hope without fear” comes back to this record, of his hope to demystify dying and to leave one final offering before he shuffled off this mortal coil.

Given the circumstances around this recording, Black sounds in remarkable form, his voice strong and clear as he sings ruminations on life, love, faith, family and inevitably, their moving on without him. On opening track ‘Simple True’ he ponders “Is this ego, or is this truth”, while in ‘Good Year’ he sings “Nothing is forever, embrace change, enjoy the ride.”

The self-explanatory ‘Forgive Me’ has him stating “I never asked to die. I left you, will you ever forgive me?”, while on the song he wrote for his wife to sing in return ‘We Are One’, he has Julia promising “I’ll make you proud and keep our family safe and sound…and I’ll see you in my dreams”.

While there is no denying the raw intimacy of the songs and whom they were penned for, this is still a collection of songs from the heart and for the heart, which will resonate with those that have lost someone beloved. Songs For The Family is not just a gift left behind for his loved ones and any others who may be interested, it is also testament to the legacy Black leaves behind.

And in keeping with Black’s altruistic nature, all proceeds from the sale of Songs For The Family will go to the University of Otago’s Centre for Translational Cancer Research, which aims to improve the survival and quality of life of cancer patients, led by leading stomach cancer researcher and close friend of Malcolm’s, Professor Parry Guilford.

Explains Julia “Malcolm wanted all proceeds to go to Otago University’s Centre for Translational Cancer Research as a gesture of thanks for the incredible work they do that he was able to benefit from.”

In his final interview Black stated “Dying well is really important to me”, and for those that knew him and his noble approach to all that he took on-board throughout his life, it was no surprise that he did. He did it very well indeed.

Malcolm James Prentice Black

10 February 1961 – 10 May 2019

Malcolm Black on recording the album: “October 2017 I was in Dunedin and felt a bit sick. Incurable cancer with a prognosis of 9 months. After a busy life I simplified things; family and friends, meditation and music. It turns out that being forced to contemplate my death led to a better way of living, which I’ll continue to do until I can’t, and then will see what happens next. Faith, Hope and Love.

These songs popped out and I decided to record them with my friend Nigel and a collection of musicians I had revered as a teenage musician growing up in Dunedin. We recorded over 6 days in a studio Nigel and Tex set up in a beautiful Dunedin home. It was the most effortless and joyful music making experience, which is a testament to the players and to the talented Nigel Stone.”

TRACKLIST SONGS FOR THE FAMILY with short notes from Malcolm

Simple True’ – “It’s been a while”

Cilla’ – “Such a sweetheart, she’s my big girl now”

Martha’ – “There was a little girl, with a little curl…and a spirit brighter than the sun”

Julia’ – “The love of my life”

Good Year’ – “Strange but true”

Forgive Me’ – “I’m so sorry”

We Are One’ – “Reasons to be cheerful”

‘It’s A Long Road To Freedom’