Cyril Lintern’s spoons are a flashing highlight on the Wairarapa entertainment scene. Julia Mahony meets an 84-year-old who can ring out a humdinger with a pair of scoopers.

Near the end of telling his life story, Cyril Lintern delivers a pearler.

He was once employed as a water diviner, used by Wairarapa farmers to find water, its depth and the direction of the stream’s current. Back then, the wire rods Cyril used in his career were almost as popular as his spoons playing is now.

This remarkable, sprightly man can whip out his spoons and throw them around in perfect rhythm to whatever CD is playing on his stereo. Down on his thighs, up on his shoulders, the cutlery thudding against his hands with both a striking force and tinkling beauty.

Seventy years of playing the spoons has kept him fit, Cyril says. He’ll often perform for the length of three songs in a row, exiting the stage with a mere few puffs. Like an athlete, he’s suffered injuries. A burst vein in one finger went unnoticed by an entranced Cyril during a performance, until a nearby guitar player called out to please stop spraying his white shirt with blood.

“If you don’t hold your head the right way, a spin from thigh to shoulder can take a piece out of your chin,” Cyril says.

As a boy, bruises on his legs came close to landing his family in trouble. School teachers were concerned the marks meant physical abuse.

“So I put my wind-up gramophone on a trolley, wheeled it down to the school and played the spoons for them all. Next thing, I was the school’s regular entertainer.”

He credits the spoons with helping to pull him back from the brink of death. Aged 15, Cyril was bedridden in hospital for six months following surgery, with a grim prognosis. Just prior, a man had shown him how to hold spoons for playing.

“I managed to whisper in hospital, ‘could someone please bring me a couple of spoons’,” Cyril says. “Then I taught myself how to play them – it helped pass the time. The doctors said later the concentration was very good therapy.” Cyril describes the peak of his spoon-playing career as achieving a “silver ring” around his body, so fast were his instruments on the move. He reckons he can still get there, too.

“It’s the spin, around to the left and round to the right. You’ve got to get the roll on, and still keep time to the music.’’

Finding just the right type of heavy spoon is a mission for Cyril. They have to be tough – “nobody makes decent spoons anymore” – so second- hand shops are on his radar. When found, he sends them to Palmerston North for chroming. The scoopers are tuned by bending the handles – and there’s a definite “upper” and “lower” spoon for playing in a pair. Resounding double and triple rolls require soft fabric finger guards, to protect skin and bones.

“Eventually, the spoons dent and snap in half and I have to find new ones,” Cyril, a regular performer at the Masterton Savage Club and events around Wairarapa, says.

A former tap dancer, he’s been of a mind to add a pair of tap shoes to his performance. Never a one-trick pony, he also plays the banjo, piano accordion and ukulele – but can’t read music.

“It’s like Chinese to me. I play by ear”.

The retired car painter, who was born in Petone and the youngest of 13 children, says he fell into water divining soon after moving to Wairarapa and buying a rural property 40 years ago.

He designed a set of rods from fence wire, and found he was successful in detecting water underground. Word soon got around, and he was offered divining work by farmers keen to find a precious drop.

Cyril’s nimble fingers will keep spinning the spoons for as long as he’s able.

“The breathing, the energy, it keeps me going and out of mischief.”

Story by Julia Mahony.
Photography by Jannelle Preston-Searle.