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Category Archives: Gigs

Seattle: Kurt’s cardie and a chance meeting

This morning I headed for the train with Seattle wrapped in a low early morning cloud that swallowed the tops of the tallest skyscrapers. I’ve spent three days here, doing the tourist thing until I’ve pretty much had enough of that. Ticking off boxes –  Wednesday was the Pike Market and Aquarium, both crammed with cameras and kids. On Thursday I visited the Art Museum and the EMP museum where I gazed at Kurt Cobain’s old op-shop cardigan and the mangled remains of one of Jimi Hendrix’s ill-fated Stratocasters. Yesterday it was the Museum of Flight with its JFK-era Air Force One, the Blackbird bomber and a bit of the moon in a glass case. Seattle takes pride in its aerospace industry – the Boeing factory has been an economic mainstay here for decades and the 747, which was the first plane able to cross the Pacific in a single leap and thus ushered in the era of global air travel, was designed and built here.

But as a teenager of the grunge years, Seattle means music to me and so last night I went looking for the rock and roll soul of this fabled town. I was torn between the Felice Brothers at Tractor and Dale Watson at the Sunset Tavern – accordion-shaking folk revivalists vs Telecaster-slinging country traditionalist. Forced to choose I went for the Felice bros but while the support act was playing I thought I’d wander down the street to see if Dale had started yet and if I could poke my nose in to check it out. I couldn’t believe it when just three doors down the street this poster caught the corner of my eye:

Delaney poster

Delaney Davidson, a friend from Lyttleton was right there and had just started playing! What were the chances? So in I went and watched the first half of Delaney’s set before heading back to see the Felice brothers. Both shows were top-notch and complemented each other perfectly, I was lucky to see them  concurrently just a few bars apart.

Anyway once the Felice brothers were done I headed back across to have a chat with Delaney and as a result I’ve now headed down to this little town Silverton outside of Portland and have just filmed his show there tonight. Delaney’s just finishing his set outside as I write. Lowlight of the day was the “hamburger” I was served on the train. Highlight was driving along an American country highway for the first time on a stunning Oregon day, watching grain fields and old barns go by out the window.
Delaney Seattle 1

Heavy metal dreaming in Adelaide

Last time I was in Adelaide I was 17 and had been working on a sheep and grain farm north of here, driving tractors through the long hot Australian summer.

I came down to Adelaide to see Metallica play. I remember getting there early so I could make the front row; feel the rush of air from the speakers when Lars hit the kick drum and see Kirk Hammett shredding up the neck just metres away. Quite a moment for a 17 year-old country boy out in the big world for the first time.
The next day I caught a bus for the long overland trip to Sydney and as I gazed out at the country rolling by I decided that when I returned to Adelaide it would be as part of world-dominating hardcore industrial metal band, in which I would be the guitar god rock star.

metal god

My next job was at another farm near Mudgee and one of the first things I did on a trip to town was walk down the main street, past the farm supply shops and tractor saleyards to the music store, where I proudly bought myself a $300 Ibanez electric guitar, in black.

And now here I am, back in Adelaide for the first time after a decade and a half away , returning not as a tattooed, seven-string ESP-wielding metal god, but as a f***** folk singer.

Funny how things works out.

Overland Sydney to Melbourne

Anzac bridge glides our taxi high over Sydney Harbour, gifting us a glorious sunrise view of the world’s most striking cityscape – the Opera House and famous bridge painted onto an early morning haze the colour of a galah’s breast and the city’s towering business edifices catching the suns first rays with the reverence of sun-temples on a strange planet.

The previous night Hana and I had played the Newsagency to a small and surprisingly raucous crowd. I had picked up an illness on the way over which all but floored me this night but we still made the 7:30 am departure of our train to Melbourne – 11 hours gently clattering and  bending through verdant beef and grain country – scatterings of Herefords grazing beneath gum trees, water tanks and homesteads, country towns dominated by looming, crumbling hotels; kangaroos standing on their hind legs to watch us pass. On board we ate scones and cream and watched the land unfold around us.

Finally we made Melbourne – finding Southern Cross station filled with black-and-white garbed Collingwood RFC supporters en route to the night’s big game against the Adelaide Crows. We took the northern line to the suburbs, leaving them behind for the quiet streets of a place called Reservoir.

On Saturday night we went out to sample the city’s famous music scene. Our friend Marlon Williams has just moved here to live and we were lucky enough to catch him playing a warm-up show for Melbourne band Sweet Jean‘s album release. Marlon, who along with Delaney Davidson recently picked up NZ’s best country song and album at Gore, was as brilliant as ever, interspersing Hank Williams, Elvis Presley and Bonny Prince Billy covers with his own compositions and knocking each one out of the park with his incredible voice and musicality. I was particularly taken by Marlon’s own song about Minnie Dean, the Winton baby farmer, which struck me as an extremely well crafted piece of New Zealand country folk-noir. I get the feeling Marlon is gonna destroy Melbourne, and after that the world and he deserves every bit of success he gets. It makes me proud as a New Zealand folk musician to see a South Islander of Marlon’s calibre over here doing his thing.

marlon williams

On Sunday we’d been invited to this little show called Muscycle – a free benefit gig aimed at promoting cycling as a renewable energy source. The whole show was electrically powered by cycling participants and the headline act was Brian Ritchie, formerly of the Violent Femmes, who now lives in Tasmania. Brian is part of a group in which he plays a Japanese flute called the shakuhachi.

Tonight for us: The Old Bar in Melbourne, singing in the round with Donna Dean!

Heres a video of Hana and I playing “Shenandoah” at the Newsagency in Sydney…

Nick Knox at Queens

I had the pleasure last night of hearing the incredible Nick Knox perform at Queens. A couple of local filmmakers are making a documentary on Nick, so the performance was filmed. It’s been a few years since I saw Nick play. I was astonished at what I was hearing – Nick’s music is thrilling, strange and utterly unique. Imagine Rammstein’s tour bus, with a troupe of Tibetan throat singers on board, crashing into the middle of a Bach recital and you can begin to imagine the sound. Nick was performing as part of Queens Got Talent night, organized by the indomitable Tahu. It’s great to see Queens turning into a real creative hub…I’ve seen Hector build Chicks in Port Chalmers into a national treasure of a music venue and now he’s gone one step further by creating a really vibrant little alcove in Dunedin’s creative scene. Good beer and coffee too!

nick knox

Gore Gold Guitars – Country music awards

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Gore on Thursday sparkled under the blue Big Top  laid on by Southland’s crisp autumn. Not that I saw much of the day – I spent much of it indoors at the Croydon Lodge helping Graeme Downs present a songwriting seminar and later at the cinema in town where the country music awards show was being prepared. But what a thrilling experience it all was! Working with a songwriter and performer of Graeme’s stature was a real privilege and I kind of felt unsure whether i was actually qualified to teach or was more suited to just sitting and absorbing the wisdom on offer. I certainly learned  a lot anyway and hopefully some of the assembled gained something from my relatively meagre experience.

Gore was all abuzz with its great southern country music showcase – every shop front had a battered old guitar and a cowboy hat on display in the front window. But the real action was down at the town’s beautiful cinema, where sound checks for the night’s big show were underway. I was buzzing to be down there amongst many of my Kiwi musical heroes and friends – people like Adam, Jess and Flora from the Eastern; Donna Dean, Delaney Davidson and Marlon Williams; and then of course the top-class band they put on for the night – John Dodd, Craig Reeves, Doug Wright, John Meddings, Red Mckelvie and Marcel Rodeka. Legends from left to right – it was such a privilege to be rubbing shoulders with people like this.

The show delivered on all its promise and then some – I was utterly floored by Jess Shanks’ exquisite “Wait out the Winter,” probably the night’s highlight for me. But picking between Marlon and Delaney’s stately magnificence, Donna Dean’s utterly authentic “When it’s time to leave” and the Eastern’s old-time rawk – a pretty tough tough call.

After the winners were announced we all ended up at a pub called the Thomas Greene where a string band was belting out Americana standards over the din of drinkers. Adam said it – this is what the Gold Guitars are all about. Of course it wasn’t long before he was borrowing a  guitar and taking charge of the band, belting out standards and originals with the gusto and passion that are his hallmarks.

I love Gore. I love it’s great big porridge factory and its oyster soup and its ribbed jerseys and its country music festival. And I’ll be back next year, you can count on it!

fleming-co-mill-gore-creamota-fletcher-trust-archive-9204p-94

The ghosts of dead miners

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A thick fog besieges Naseby, oozing through the pine trees and pressing itself up against old mining cottages and the town’s two pubs. The blue smell of woodsmoke hangs in the air and all is quiet on this damp autumn morning in the Maniototo.  Inside the Royal hotel the publican is stoking up the embers of last night’s fire, piling in hunks of radiata until the fire is blazing. In the corner of the room an accordionist warms up his instrument while the ghosts of old miners, curlers, shepherds and tramps stir in the recesses of the bar.

This was the scene I soaked up on Saturday morning, the first day of the Maniototo’s Bards, Ballads and Bulldust festival. I was playing in a  group with three quarters of The Chaps – Marcus Turner, John Dodd and Hyram Ballard; some of Dunedin’s best musicians. It was real thrill for me to be playing with these guys – I certainly felt pressure to lift my game and I only felt I was starting to get it right by the time we played our fourth set at the Ranfurly pub on Sunday afternoon. Our four gigs were spread across the Maniototo basin – at the Waipiata pub, Dansey’s Pass hotel and the Royal in Naseby. At each venue small but appreciative audiences heard us play a two hour set of songs – originals and covers, many which reflected the gold-mining theme of the weekend.

Picture Credit:Alexander Turnbull lIbrary

Picture Credit:Alexander Turnbull lIbrary

A highlight for me was the Dansey’s Pass show, where we enjoyed the acoustics of this beautiful old pub and played in front of a vast open fire. After the show I wandered down through the old gold diggings, past discarded sluice guns and the skeletons of old miners’ buildings to the river. The Kyeburn was in flood, raging through its gulch in the Central landscape and surging across mighty schist boulders worn round and smooth by the rushing of the centuries. A common theme of the poems and songs we heard over the weekend was a real passion for this part of New Zealand – legends like John Grenell, Ross McMillan and Brian Turner all expressed their strong feelings for this place. Standing on the banks of the Kyeburn on Sunday morning I  understood it. There is a powerful sense of living history in this area; river, stone and steel left as if the figures of the past had only just moved on for richer fields.
The group we put together for the event was fairly hastily thrown together – we’d had a couple of practises in Dunedin but I sort of felt I was still learning the songs on the job. I wished I’d  practised more at home before the weekend!

One of the thrills of a thing like this is hearing and learning the songs other people bring to the mix.

Some of the songs that the others tabled included:

Davy Lowston

One of the very few Pakeha traditional songs known to exist, this very old song tells the tale of a group of sealers who were stranded for four years on the Open Bay Islands off the Westland coast in 1810. The remains of their hut can still be found on these islands.

Farmer is the Man

An old industrial song of the American plains, given a modern reading here by Otis Gibbs. The version we played at the Maniototo had  a slow country rock feel that owed something to Neil Young or Steve Earle.

Tuapeka Gold

A New Zealand folk original by Phil Garland, the godfather of New Zealand folk.

I threw in three of mine as well as Bruce Springsteen’s “Youngstown,” which I really enjoyed playing with these guys.

Here’s a video of  Bruce and band performing Youngstown in London’s Hyde Park, in which my personal guitar hero Nils Lofgren summons the ghosts of Ohio’s steel workers from their graves with a devastating, spine-chilling solo. Enjoy.

Bill