Tuesday, December 13, 2011

On the road again, again

So John and Rachel from the Broken Heartbreakers are coming back for the summer, and I thought it might be nice if we did a little tour together.  Basically I reckon they've probably written some pretty sweet new songs after kicking around in the overseas for eighteen months or so, and I'd quite like to learn them.  The best way to learn songs is to get in a van and drive around the country singing them every night for a little while, stopping along the way to sit next to picturesque lakes and take photos of glaciers, so that is essentially what I have organised. Along the way we will play in some awesome places with some awesome people, including our old friends Matt Langley, John White and Rosy Tin Teacddy, and newer friends Delaney Davidson and of course the amazing Luckless, of which more later.  Here are the dates, and I'll even copy and paste the press release for your info, underneath a couple of pictures from the tour I just finished with Luckless.  You should never read press releases unless you're a journalist because they're full of lies and only real journalists can tell the difference, so it's probably best if you just look at the pictures.

Here are Ivy and Will outside the place we played in Okarito. Okarito is a tiny town on the South Island 
West Coastwith signifacantly more birds than people, so you get the idea.  It was amazing.

Here is Will in his Beastwars t-shirt next to the Franz Josef Glacier. Epic.

All shows The Broken Heartbreakers Trio and Bond Street Bridge
Thurs 5 Jan Nelson Playhouse
Fri 6 Jan Wairau Valley Dharma Bums Club
Sat 7 Jan Chch Brewery
Sun 8 Jan Oamaru Grainstore Gallery 10th birthday with Delaney Davidson and John White
Wed 11 Jan Dunedin Chick's Hotel with Matt Langley and John White
Thurs 12 Jan Greymouth Frank's
Friday 13 Jan Wellington Meow with Rosy Tin Teacaddy
Sat 14 Jan Paekak St Peter's Hall with  Rosy Tin Teacaddy
Sat 21 Jan Auckland Wine Cellar with Luckless
Sat 4 Feb Auckland Museum

Press Release: The Broken Heartbreakers and Bond Street Bridge on the road Summer 2012

The Broken Heartbreakers and Bond Street Bridge are delighted to announce dates for their forthcoming New Zealand tour in January 2012, bringing folk-pop harmonies and jangling guitars to some of their favourite venues around New Zealand.
The BHBs are returning briefly to these shores for a summer tour after over a year performing  in and around Europe, (including Germany, Spain, The UK and France) and after an extended stay in The Irish republic. The BHB duo of Rachel Bailey and John Guy Howell will be rejoined on this tour by friend and multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire, Sam Prebble.
Prebble will also be performing solo on this tour under his Bond Street Bridge moniker, playing material from his sophomore album Spring Summer Awesome Winter, released in mid-2011 to glowing reviews.  The last time Sam played with the Heartbreakers was in mid 2010 on a winter tour to mark the release of the band's album Wintersun, and since then he has been touring extensively in Europe and New Zealand. The trio are looking forward to reuniting on this tour and sharing stories and new songs.
“It’s great to be hooking up with Sam again after a year and a half performing as a duo. The trio format retains the intimacy of the two piece, whilst adding a sonic dimension and colour that really brings the songs to life.” says Howell.
The Broken Heartbreakers released a debut EP Everyone’s waiting for their darlin’ in 2006  followed by two critically acclaimed albums, their self-titled debut (2007) and Wintersun (2010). The band will be performing songs from these recordings, and will be introducing new material that has been written during their European adventure.
The Heartbreakers music mixes the bleak with the beautiful, tales of love and loss, drawing on deep roots of country, folk and classic pop melody, but with a defiant and subversive twist and just a touch of modern electricity.  Bond Street Bridge brings a touch of the cinematic, creating soundscapes out of live violin and guitar loops to frame his wry, observational lyrics. Both acts have toured extensively around New Zealand and abroad, playing community halls, art galleries, living rooms, dive bars and town halls, charming audiences with their rich harmonies and warm instrumentation.
Bailey: “John and I have just been through three winters in a row, well, two winters and an Irish summer that is...We’re really excited about getting back home this summer, reconnecting with people and places that seemed, at one stage, a very long way away. We’ve been humbled and inspired in equal measure, but we’re still standing. Our live show will be a celebration of that fact.”
After the tour, the Heartbreakers will be leaving the country again, heading to Melbourne for more shows and recording, so be sure to take this chance to catch the magic at a venue near you.
What a load of twaddle!  But come to the shows, by all means.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Rolling Deep at the NZ Green Party Election Campaign Launch 2011

Last time we had an election in this country the good guys lost. I was in Queenstown that night playing a show and there was nothing I could do about it from there, so I drank some whiskey and I got in a fistfight with Dylan Storey, even though he's on the same side as me. I lost that as well, and the next day I jumped off a bridge.

My considered response to the 2008 election result.

I was a getting a bit worried about this election, because it looks like there's a good chance that the bad guys will win again and I'll have to get into another fistfight with Dylan, and I think he's still a little sore at me from last time because I definitely started it. So I took steps to mitigate this risk and arranged matters so that I would be playing a show in Westport on election night, in the middle of a tour, a safe distance away from wherever Dylan was going to be. Now, however, things have changed a little. History is repeating itself to the extent that once more I will playing a show on election night with Dylan, this time in Auckland, so basically I hope the good guys win this one for the sake of public order.

It was that or move to Canada.

Here's why I won't be in Westport on election night any more: A little while ago we recorded this song that Reb wrote called 'Set Sail.' Through some chain of events somehow it's ended up on the Green Party campaign ads for this election we're about to have, and when the Green Party had their campaign launch in Wellington the other day, they got Reb and Dylan and me to come and play that song and some other songs to them.

Usually whenever Reb and Dylan and me go somewhere to play a show it turns into a bit of a massive mission for various reasons. We tend to arrive at the airport late and with too much gear, and me and Dylan wander away and get a coffee while Reb negotiates with the airline staff. Then there are arguments at the gate about cabin baggage (too big), and at the other end about rental cars (too small) and on the way to the venue about the the venue itself (too elusive). Then we realise that somebody, often me, has left his wallet or bag or keys somewhere inconvienient, and we have to go back to get them or else endure my incessant whining.

This time it wasn't like that at all - granted, we did have to get up at some unholy hour in the morning before the sun was up, which meant I was surly and uncooperative - but after that everything went, from a logistical point of view, swimmingly.  We made the plane just fine, and a Green Party person collected us at the airport in Wellington and whisked us around the city, picking up helpful people and bits of gear from various pre-arranged waypoints as we went. This is organisation, thought I. Then he took us to a cafe for breakfast with some of the campaign team, and I guess I must have been trying to impress the Green Party people, because I ordered muesli with seasonal fruit. I immediately felt grumpy and jealous when just about everybody else got the mixed grill and I remembered oh yeah that's right, this is the 2011 Green Party and they kicked out the hippies: nobody is impressed by your muesli.

I continued to be struck by the absence of hippies when we got to the venue (on time). Everybody was super-organised and really quite onto it, bustling about, setting things up, making things happen and so forth, and they all looked so very smooth and composed, like they knew what was going on - not only what was going on right there and then on the day, but also more generally in their lives, their careers, the world. I got this familiar feeling which goes something like: Christ, how did all you people get so able to do things? Why can't I be like that? Did I miss a memo?

This is a feeling I get approximately ten times a day on average, or whenever I see somebody who has a skill of some kind, and I'm pretty used to it. So I picked up a couple of cables and wandered around for a while pretending I knew what I was supposed to be doing, and soon the onto it people had the stage set up and it was time to soundcheck. Around then it became relevant that this song we had just been flown down to Wellington to perform was not one we had ever played live before. Also, I remembered that when we recorded it, which was a few months ago, I had been feeling passive-agressive and had insisted on playing the banjo. So, I realised, I had never actually played the song properly in front of other humans on any of the instruments I had with me. Uh-oh, I thought. I am going to fuck this up and break the Green Party campaign launch, and the bad guys will win again. Rats.

I've never been to a campaign launch before, and I've certainly never played at one, so I didn't know what to expect. It was in kind of a hall type thing, and there were a whole bunch of folding chairs set up in rows, and lots of people milling about as we played some kind of walking-in music.  Then I saw my high-school music teacher in the audience and suddenly the whole thing felt familiar, like I was back playing in school assembly.  She came up to the stage during a short break: 'Good to see you,' she said. 'Turn up your violin,' she added.

There were a lot of speeches of course, and Robyn Malcolm did some good jokes about John Key and how he's a bit useless, and lots of people clapped. Somebody who I went to high school with, who I think was maybe even a couple of years younger than me and is now pretty likely to be an MP after the election on current polling, gave an amazing speech and everybody clapped even more. She's a Rhodes scholar and will probably be the president of the Republic of New Zealand one day, and here's me standing in the audience going: I wonder how everybody knows how to do all of these things, and also: I wonder if I'm going to fuck up that song I'm supposed to know how to play. Very school assembly.

It pretty quickly turned out though that thing about playing at a campaign launch is that of course nobody was really there to see three scruffy musicians from Auckland, and as long as we didn't play anything absurdly cacophonic or by the Feelers they weren't going to hate us - we were basically there as symbolic background decoration, like the native plants in pots they brought in and dotted around the stage. That meant that we were actually in a pretty good position since most of the songs we play are in A minor or C and we know it, so even if we forget the specific chords to a given song (say, the one we came all the way here especially to perform) we're not going to stray too far into the sorts of challenging atonalisms that might antagonise this kind of crowd. And there's no way we'd play anything by the Feelers any time ever. The short version is that I didn't fuck up the song, or any of the other songs, and the Green Party people were happy because everything they wanted to launch got launched.

So happy were they, as it happened, that they asked us to play at another event they're having - on election night. Since they were prepared to sort out the necessary flights to extricate me from the tour I'll be on then, and return me to the West Coast the next day for the rest of the shows, it would have been churlish to say no, and now it's locked in: Reb Fountain and the Bandits, St Kevin's Arcade, Election Night 2011.  Which means that once more, despite my admittedly lackluster efforts to avoid the situation, I will be in a position to get into a fistfight with Dylan Storey on election night if the bad guys win.  So: I hope the right people vote, and I hope the vote for the right people, because nobody wants to see that again.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Owls Are Not What They Seem

Sometime last year I was walking home from somewhere in the rain, late at night or early in the morning.  This young guy staggered out of somewhere, some club or something, weaving on the sidewalk, blinking in the fresher air, and he vomited, efficiently, in a drain. He sat down hard on the kerb and pulled out his phone, and lounged there, rocking a little, paging through facebook and humming to himself while he flicked a silver cigarette lighter open, strike, shut. Cabs hissed through the puddles and the bass from the club pounded through the wall. The dude was clearly out past his bedtime.

All the way home, I couldn't figure out whether it was an awesome thing or a deeply horrible thing that this guy was essentially lying in the gutter, looking at the internet. I had this half-assed idea that the time a person spends sitting on a curb in the rain next to a drain full of vomit flicking a lighter and wondering whether it's time to head back inside to dance or call it and go home like a sensible grownup is a deeply personal and private time, a time for important introspection and personal growth. It is a time when a person gets to decide wether they will be ruled by reason or passion, I thought, a decision that will help them to explain to themselves and to others what they are really all, you know, about

Looking at the internet sullies that time and cheapens it, I thought, it distracts a person from the here and the now. I became sullen on my walk, despairing of the human condition, nostalgic for the time before every idiot had the internet in his pocket. Then I thought that maybe I was just jealous because all I've got is this crappy old Nokia that you pretty much have to wind up with a key and no internet on it at all, and it sure would be pretty nice to be able to look at pictures of cats in sinks whenever you wanted. And what the hell is wrong with being distracted from the here and now anyway, when here is a spew-smelling gutter outside some skanky club on K rd and now is 5:45 in the morning and one of your eyes feels bigger than the other?

I think when I had had a refreshing sleep I decided that it probably didn't have to be either awesome or horrible, just a thing that didn't matter much. By then I had made up a song, and I spent most of the day obsessively recording it with lots of layers of vocals and some choice analogue synthesizers I was borrowing at the time. I got some static off the radio and it sounded like the taxis, so I put that in as well, and I found a cigarette ligher with just the right click and put that it too, and the track came together pretty fast.

I put it on my album and then I realised that sitting on the curb outside a club having a bit of an existential crisis is all very well as the subject of a song - but what was going on inside that club? I can't even remember what club it was, but there are plenty along K rd that I've never been into and I hope I never do. What goes on at the other ends of these flights of grimy stairs is anybody's guess really.  At the time I assumed this guy had been drinking heavily and dancing, possibly getting excited and bumping into people by accident, talking too loud and so on, but I am fairly narrow-minded and I could be quite wrong. Maybe it wasn't that sort of club at all, I realised. Maybe it was the sort of club where three ceramic owls get into a fight with a pair of bug-eyed rabbits and a parasaurolophus, a shiny porcelain monkey with a broken paw spins around in aimless circles, and everybody gets eaten?  I don't think we can rule that out neccessarily with the infrormation we have. That's why I made a video for the track where those things happen, more or less.  And here it is:

If you quite like the song, you can download it for free from here. Again: Thanks bandcamp!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Before the Talkies

I am exaggerating only a little when I say that the average age of the audience was north of seventy.  The man from the Organ Society announced proudly that there were over three hundred people in attendance, and he was looking absolutely spiffing in a smart jacket with a spotlight on him, standing in front of red velvet curtains like a vaudeville conjurer. I did some mental arithmetic, which I am poor at, and decided that as an audience we must have a combined age of 21,000 years, or 2.1x104 in scientific notation. You may do as you please with that figure; I report it here as bare fact. 

We were here to see a silent movie, and it would be accompanied by that colossal curiosity squirreled away in the old Hollywood Cinema out in Avondale there: New Zealand’s only working Theatre Organ, by the fabled Wurlitzer Corporation. I didn’t know what I should be expecting, but we were given an introductory lecture, so I know more now. Introductory lectures are the mark of great entertainment in my book.  I love the feeling of sitting there out of my depth, grasping a few fleeting facts delivered by an enthusiast in some obscure field.  It's a brief glimpse into the inner life of a person with a consuming passion; a member in good standing of some organisation dedicated to the preservation of this or the promotion of that, where this and that are sufficiently far off the public radar as to require introductory remarks for benefit of the uninitiated. A couple of anecdotes to remember later on, jumbled up with salient points out of order and the dates all wrong - when somebody starts in on an introductory lecture I know I'm in the right place.

The organ was installed in the late twenties at the newly-completed Regent Theatre on Queen Street, said the man from the Organ Society. Ask your dad, he'll tell you it was a magnificent building, the Regent: a picture palace in the old style with marble polar bears and a man selling ice-creams from a tray during the intermission at three for a groat. They shipped that Wurlitzer in at some vast expense from New York City, but it wasn't set up and working in time for the opening season apparently so they had to get an orchestra in.  I feel for that orchestra. Sixteen sweating hacks, sawing away, doing their best to keep up with Charlie Chaplain's hopping antics and Buster Keaton's prat-falling capers, sweetening the romances and adding drama to the newsreels, night after night in the flickering light and all the time knowing that as soon as the engineers from the Wurlitzer Corporation got their newfangled organ ready, they were all of them out on the street.

The Theatre Organ: Like an iceberg, most of it lurks out of sight. 
Other that that, it is not at all like an iceberg.

Because this organ, said the man from the Organ Society, this organ could do the work of sixteen men.  A 'unit orchestra,' said the Wurlitzer Corporation, capable of reproducing the majestic swelling of the violins, the silvery horns, the tootling flutes, thunderous kettle-drums and muttering contrabasses. And not through nasty digital sampling, by God, not back then in the 1920s and not now.  This organ has twenty-foot pipes for those sturm und drang bass lines, rank on rank of them in sweeping hyperbolic curves, all the way down to tiny piccolos the size of a pencil. There are bells of course, and whistles - so many whistles! Mighty fans in the basement force air at the pressure of dozens of atmospheres through a cat's cradle of pipes and feedlines, through the stops and into whichever combination of the one thousand and twenty-four pipes the action calls for. This organ drives a real piano (Graham, bring up the spotlight on the piano would you please, said the man from the Organ Society) for that barrelhouse honky-tonk sound, and there are rooms - rooms! - full of drums, xylophones, an ironmongery of hardware, all struck by cunning little hammers quivering against springs, waiting to be released by magnets triggered by electrical pulses shooting along the wires in accordance with Maxwell's famous equations, and controlled from the console up there on the pedestal by one toe tapping, eye twinkling, white-haired, bow-tied magician: New Zealand's only practising Theatre Organist.

Remote-conrolled piano: The golden age of entertainment.

He prances, the Theatre Organist, he dances, he fairly flies around the console.  Three manuals, a bank of pedals, more stops than the London Underground, an orchestra in a box - he is master of them all.  But he harbours a great sadness, all alone in the dark.
'I hope you're sitting next to somebody you like,' He says on the microphone, spun round on his organ bench before the main feature and kicking his feet like Kermit. 'I wish I was.'  The lonlieness of the Theatre Organist. In my head I become his protégé, sitting next to him on the bench, turning pages for him, fetching a cup of tea in the interval - a sneaky slug of gin for the late showing? Oh, why not - leaning over to pull out a difficult stop or jumping in to play a high glissando when the stage-coach flies over the cliff: New Zealand's only apprentice Theatre Organist.

But that will have to wait. For now I am in the audience, several standard deviations below the average age, an outlier on the bell curve.  If you want to feel like the youngest person in the room, this is the place to be.  They showed a colourised promotional film from the Auckland Transport Board, shot in 1952. 'Oooh, there's the Farmers!' 'There's John Court!' 'Remember, there were two, weren't there? John Court and George Court? Weren't there? High teas?' 'Young people these days!' They said that, they really did. I didn't catch whatever it was young people these days are supposed to be doing, and I'd like to know actually; I seem to spend most weekends at silent movies or curiosity shops. They played 'God save the Queen' before the feature, and the audience rose in a great clattering of walking sticks and creaking of knees, muttered through the first verse. I took off my hat, I put my hat back on, I felt subversive. 'We used to see if we could kiss right through the national anthem!' said an old dear behind me, she really did.

There was an intermission before the feature, of course, and the crush at the concession stand was a thing to behold. Old people can't queue, it's well known - their needs are immediate and pressing, their senses are dim, they are teenagers with Super Gold Cards. Umbrellas were used in anger, and I heard language that would have made the Queen blanch. They were, in short, loving it.  Back in their seats, munching on ice cream, they settled in for an hour and ten minutes of vintage Buster Keaton: 1923's Our Hospitality, featuring antics on trains, horses dressed as ladies, Keaton's amazing aquiline nose, actual cliff-hanging, gentlemen dressed as ladies, and - spoiler warning! - love conquering all.

'I'm glad you're down there,' said the Theatre Organist. 'I wouldn't want to do this on my own.'  And nor should he - the Theatre Organ is not for bedroom strummers or solo dilettantes. The Theatre Organ is part of the picture – on the screen the engine hilariously decouples from the train, the conductor blows his horn, and the Theatre Organ delivers a brassy squeal, right on the beat. An adversary is having trouble with his pistol, Keaton solicitously fires it off for him, the Theatre Organ provides the crash of cymbals. As the villains lay their nefarious plans, the twenty-foot bass pipes rumble threateningly; during the helter-skelter horseback chase through the forest, the Theater Organist winks and plays - what else? - the William Tell overture, double time. And when love conquers all, the music swells, 21,000 years of movie audience wipe their eyes, and they break into rapturous applause as the concealed hydraulics  swing into operation and New Zealand's only practising Theatre Organist slowly sinks out of sight.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Noises Off

A person asked me the other day how my new album was coming along and I said 'It's all finished, thanks, we released it back in June, although you may not have noticed because some guy called Avalanche City put out a record at about the same time and-' and she says no, not that album, the new new album. So I'm like come on, how many albums is a guy supposed to make? Christ! Et cetera. I thought I had at least until the end of the year before people would start asking me that, but OK, whatever, I'd better get to work.

So I plugged in my microphone and lit a fire under the boiler that powers the crusty old computer I use to record my music, and I blew the dust off an old cello that's sitting there in the corner of the room, tuned up a mandolin, and made a cup of tea. And I was about to lay down something sweet and a little bit awesome when this bone-curdling shrieking started up from just behind the wall in the neighbour's place and the cat leaped up, bit my leg, and hurtled into the laundry to hide in the hot water cupboard. A bad sign?
I don't believe in omens, but this was a pain in the ass. This was the sort of shrieking, grinding sound you get when you're pulling walls apart, ripping out old nails, clearing space and letting light in, settling down to some sort of serious remodeling.  From my experience living in flats with landlords who will move the walls around at the slightest whiff of an extra buck, squeezing a bedroom out of a corridor at two hundred a week or throwing up a modish island in the kitchen to attract young professionals with hard-plumbed espresso machines, I could tell that the next step would be a hellish cacophony of banging and the wailing of power tools.

Looks quiet at 6:30am - too quiet, thinks the landlord.

What followed was a hellish cacophony of banging and the wailing of power tools. Plaster dust dribbled from the ceiling and lights flickered and dimmed as current was siphoned off to the diabolical machinery behind the walls. Much thumping went on, slamming of doors, stamping of feet.  So many feet! Either these workmen had a horse in there or they were performing some sort of peasant dance, the kind with the stomping and the calling out of guttural obscenities. Plumbing began to vibrate, the water was turned off, and the cat climbed to the very highest shelf of the airing cupboard.  Clearly, there would be no recording today.

'Doom,' said the hammers; 'gloom,' said the power drills. The spanners against the copper pipes clanged on about thwarted ambition and the dry tap whispered a sermon on the futility of effort. 'Forget about it,' said the skill saw. 'Shouldn't you be at work anyway? This album is not happening; it's time you got a regular job, and if you really need a creative outlet, you could think about lurking around the railway yards painting rude words on trains.' Grim? Yes indeed, and not very subtle either. They weren’t all so unfeeling, though. 'Next time somebody asks about your next album,' said the heavy footfalls (somewhat more pragmatically), 'tell them you're working on it. Why not just read a book instead? They won't know.'  Good point, I suppose they wouldn't. 'Besides,' said the slamming of the doors, archly, 'shouldn't you write some more songs first?' Bastards. How did they know?

Obviously it was time to go outside, before I started answering back. Personifying everyday construction noises as robust critics may not be a sign of mental illness, but arguing with them definitely is, and it's important to be able to tell the difference if you want to get ahead in life. I'm not super-concerned about getting ahead in life, but I do like to avoid confrontation whenever possible, so I went for a walk around the block and wrote a song in my head. I'll record it another time, I think, and meanwhile the new album's coming along very nicely thank you.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press

In the latest edition of North and South magazine, Simon Sweetman said of Spring Summer Awesome Winter that it is "hypnotic, exciting, enticing. Beautifully crafted, intriguing and wise, this is one of my favourite albums of the year." Graham Reid was pretty into it also, and so were Gary Steel, Wallace Chapman, and Amanda Mills. Meanwhile, a chap in the Waikato Times didn't like the album at all, and called it "bland."

What to make of this? It's hard to say. Perhaps people who live in Hamilton are just more discerning.

I wouldn't know. Every time I go to Hamilton I have a car accident, so I have taken to going the long way round to avoid the place. As a consequence, I don't have much recent data on which I might base an opinion. Here is my hunch, though: Proabably not.

But! That's only a hunch - we just don't know. All we can glean from the data we have is that at least one Hamiltonian is not getting a christmas card from Bond Street Bridge this year, bless him.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Not the Seahorse Emporium

It was a shell shop. Here on the high street, just down the road from the mall, the place sold seashells. There's a nursery rhyme about someone who sells seashells; she does it at the beach. When I was a kid, and very much in the habit of collecting and hoarding shells, even then I thought that this poor woman was probably wasting her time down there on the sea-shore.  Seashells are pretty, sure, and of course everybody wants them, but the point is they're free. You can pick them straight up off the beach, and looking for them is most of the fun. Well, ‘fun’ is too strong a word - looking for shells is really just busywork. There’s not a lot else to do at the beach, and finding more and better specimens than your sisters is a way to give the whole hot sandy beach-going exercise a point. Once they're home, dried off, no longer shiny, competing for attention with brightly-coloured plastic and toys that actually do things, shells gather dust and lose their appeal.

If I thought about it - and I did, being somewhat given to pointless introspection, even at a young age - I assumed that the seashell lady was probably operating out of some kind of barrow, wheeling her shells through streets broad and narrow like Molly Mallone. Even if she wasn't shifting many units, competing as she was with an entire beachful of freely-available samples, I reassured myself with the thought that at least her overheads must be low. And, I reasoned, she probably had a comfortable side-line in ice creams or hotdogs on sticks. The notion that peddling seashells could be sufficiently lucrative to sustain any more than an itinerant seaside stall never crossed my young mind, yet here we were. Standing on the pavement, me a grown-up now but with a no less impressionistic grasp of retail economics, faced with the fanciful notion that a person could pay high-street rent on the back of a trade in manky old crustaceans.

I’ve walked down this road fairly frequently, and it is maybe a testament to my general obliviousness that I’d never noticed this particular shop before. I mean, it didn’t really stand out; the signage was nothing flash. Faded paint on cracked boards blended into a block of similar low-turnover mall victims, tired but trying. The neighbours were a hair salon named for some hilarious wordplay, a record store with a window display featuring an album released four years ago, and a bridal boutique that just had to be a front for something more sinister. It rubbed up against them without catching the eye particularly, although once you registered the contents of the window cabinets you would definitely look again. There were some impressive individual specimens – oversized conches, a delicately swirling nautilus, the sort of things that would really show your sisters who was boss, from a shell-finding point of view – but pride of place was reserved for the creative output of an artisan clearly possessed of an obsessive attention to detail, a singular imagination, and considerable time to combine the two. Dragons, horses, little dioramas, herds of elephants, flocks of geese, mermaids of course and dolphins of all sizes jostled for space in the window, each lovingly rendered in tiny seashells. I mentally raised my hat to whomever it was that had allowed their need for self-expression to take them to such a bizarre place, and to whatever quirk of the laws of supply and demand had provided that person with retail frontage on the high street. The patina of dust on several of the pieces suggested that this craftsperson was not in step with the tastes of the general public, which made the whole thing more mysterious, as well as totally awesome. Why had I never noticed this treasure house before? Particularly given that even out here on the pavement, the air smelled like those shrimp-flavoured ‘grain snacks’ that I seem to be unable to stop myself buying at the Korean supermarket. 

"Oh right, here we are." Ms. Millicent Crow sounded as though this was where we'd been planning to end up all along.
"Is this where we'd been planning to end up all along?"  I never know where we're going when we go for our walks. “I didn’t even know this place existed.”
"Yeah, I told you.  I want to get a seahorse."
"Oh right, the seahorse. I thought that was just a sort of aspirational goal, like how I want to get a 1970s telecaster. It never crossed my mind that you were planning on actioning it. I didn't think such a thing was possible."
"Well, here we are, actioning it. Watch me."

So we went in, and if you can imagine what a shop that sells seashells might look like, that's how the place looked.  Long and thin, low ceiling, shelves, dust. And shells. A lot of shells. When you find them on the beach, seashells come in all the colours of the rainbow, streaks and swirls of purples and reds, subtle yellows and faint tinges of blue. You really have to see them close up, clean, and in good light to appreciate that, though.  En masse, in poor light, on dirty shelves, shells are basically cream, the colour people have been painting the villas around here since the mid-nineties.  The colour charts call it 'Dutch White,' or 'Belgian Vanilla,' but its more honest name is 'English Tooth,' a sort of nicotine-stained shade of ivory, if the ivory had been soaked in a month of weak morning teas. The light was dim, and the bone-coloured shells sat on long shelves and racks like skulls in a catacomb. And there was the smell, of course. It’s hard to describe the smell, but think about how even a very clean and sun-bleached seashell smells a little when you get up close.  Salty, a bit fishy. Dry, sandy, sunny, dead. Multiply that faint smell by the thousands of shells on the shelves here, and you get some idea of the atmosphere in the shop. Not unpleasant so much as pervasive, not going away. You could touch the air, and it made me want to wash.

There was nobody else browsing in the shop, and the counter, half-way along the wall on one side, was empty. The low light and general cobwebbedness gave me the impression that customers were an infrequent intrusion here, and it was pretty obvious that this was the kind of place where an odd-looking man of indeterminate age could quietly appear behind the counter at any point, seemingly without moving or opening any doors. He would be wearing the sort of garment that I think people call a 'smock,' which is a strange word when you mutter it to yourself in a dimly-lit and odd-smelling seashell emporium on the high street.

"What did you say?" we were browsing aimlessly among shells that seemed to be jumbled up, displayed in no logical order. But how would you logically order shells? The logical thing would be to not have a shell shop in the first place.
"Oh, nothing. Um.  Smock.  Strange word."
"Smock.  Sounds like hitting somebody in the face with sock full of meat."
"Ok... why are we whispering?”
“Um, I dunno. Weird.”
“Have you seen any-"
"Can I help you?" An odd-looking man of indeterminate age had quietly appeared behind the counter, seemingly without moving or opening any doors. He was wearing a smock.
"Oh!  Ah yeah. Yes. Hello. Do you have any, that is, I'm looking for and I wondered if you had one, I thought maybe - do you have, ah, a seahorse? At all? A seahorse?"

Millicent Crow doesn't usually babble, but the man had the sort of unreadable expression that a police officer wears when his partner is asking you if there's anything else you’d like to mention in any of your other pockets. An expression at once bored and disapproving, accompanied by an uncomfortable silence  impossible not to fill with something that feels strangely like a confession.

"I just, I was going to do a picture. You know.  Paint it? The ah, the seahorse? I wanted to paint a seahorse. A picture of one."

The man looked around, left and right, apparently checking to see whether there was anybody else in his seashell shop.  It was a pointless exercise; we were the only customers, and the thick dust on the floor towards the back of what I was starting to mentally call the 'grotto' looked like it had been undisturbed for a while. He put his hands flat on the counter, paused significantly, then he spoke carefully, as though for the record.

“A seahorse.”
“Mm-hm. To paint?”
"I wouldn't have one of those."

The only word for his reaction was this: disgust.  This man, standing in his shop full of musty old shells, the dried-up remains of a thousand sea creatures – not to mention the idiosyncratic artworks created in that medium, presumably by his own hands – this man was responding as though we'd walked in off the street and asked him to sell us a human fetus to broil up and serve at lunch with the Queen. He wanted nothing more to do with us, these crass interlopers who had waltzed into his shop and violated some sort of strict, esoteric taboo.

"Ah, no? I thought you might, you know, since..." Ms. Crow made a gesture encompassing what was undeniably the sort of establishment that you would think would sell a seahorse.  "I mean like a dried one.  You know, stuffed maybe?  Not in a tank." 

"No." Disgust.

"Do you think you might be getting one?" The mind boggled at the thought of this man's supply chain. Armies of children combing the beaches of the South Pacific, a fleet of tramp steamers ferrying crates of shells to a warehouse in some port town, there to be cleaned and polished in a workroom full of little old nuns operating clanking machinery, powered by a system of leather belts connected to wheel driven in endless circles by a patient musk ox. The retail product would be delivered to the shop once a week by bicycle courier, and this man or the elderly aunt who was undoubtedly back in the stockroom somewhere would sign for it in flowing copperplate, slipping a mimeograph of this week's orders into the delivery boy's saddlebag.

"Do you know where we might be able to -"
"Can't sell a seahorse."
"I beg your pardon?”

He sighed, as though dealing with a slow learner. "You can't sell a seahorse. Not these days."
"You mean-"
"That's right.  It isn’t legal." From his fleeting grimace, it was clear that he pined for the halcyon days of the unregulated dried seahorse trade. It was easy to assume, looking at the yellowing price tags and the clear lack of custom, that things had not been the same in the dried sea-creatures business since they banned all the cool stuff.

The three of us looked at each other awkwardly. We’d had no idea, walking into his establishment, that we’d be asking this guy to violate the CITES treaty for us. All we wanted was to find a dried seahorse to draw, and now we looked like the sort of people who go about the place shooting elephants and turning their feet into wastepaper baskets.  It seemed incongruous that such rules should even apply in this strange little grotto, this otherworldy sea-shell merchant’s where a mermaid fabricated from hot-glued periwinkles was the standard stock in trade. It didn’t immediately make sense that what went on in this rarefied environment could have any material impact on the population of seahorses swimming gaily through the ocean blue, and the fact that this fantastical concern was bound by such mundane constraints as fisheries regulations seemed bizarre when its very existence seemed to fly in the face of basic economics.
We couldn’t press the point. We had no leverage, and I think we felt out of our depth – at sea, suddenly. If the man had an old stock of contraband sea-creatures stuffed behind a loose brick in the chimney, he certainly wasn’t going to stick his neck out for day-traders like us.  He didn’t say another word, but his expression was eloquent enough. ‘You people,’ the expression said, ‘you come and you go. You know nothing of the passion of the collector. My stock is wasted on your kind – wasted! Coming in here, babbling about paints and drawing.’ We walked out backwards, and his expression followed us down the street, muttering.

We went that way again a couple of weeks ago, and the place was boarded up. Almost like it was never there, but the air still smelled like starfish.

All of the pictures are by Emily Cater, aka Millicent Crow.

Monday, July 25, 2011

High Fidelity

When I made my new album, I used just the one little microphone.   I drove out to West Auckland to pick it up from the guy who had listed it on Trademe as 'slightly foxed but basically sweet,' and it served me well for the whole project.  I put it in front of things and hit 'record,' and the results sounded like what the things sounded like in real life, give or take.  I liked it, because it seemed to work - and, I realise now, I liked it because I was an ignorant wet-behind-the-ears hick and I didn't know any better.

Last week we started recording Reb Fountain's new album in at York Street Studios, which is where the grown-ups from the big cities go to make their records. And now - now I know better, by God. Here at York St, they don't use just one mic. I showed up at the studio on Monday morning and I walked into the tracking room to see not one, but sixteen microphones.  And, reader: that was just on the drum kit.  I don't want to belabour the point, but to an ignorant wet-behind-the-ears hick, that's a lot of mics. I was reminded of the rostrum at one of those triumphant press conferences that presidents of the United States of America give when their trained seals (at least I think that's what they said) hunt down public enemies in foreign countries, shoot them full of holes, and throw their bodies in the sea.  It is very tempting to suppose that this is how things should be done going forward.

The view from the violin recording station. The microphone in the upper right corner of the picture costs more than my car.  Just for your reference, other things that cost more than my car include: off-brand laptop computers, some kinds of pedigree dog, and vomiting eight times in a taxi.

You might be thinking that recording with this many microphones would go to my head. I mean, I only had about three pointing at my violin, but that's still two more that I actually own. Don't worry though, that's not what went to my head.  The thing that nearly did go to my head, but didn't quite, was how when you record with that many microphones, you need to have a really massive mixing desk.  The desk needs lots of knobs and sliders and a whole mess of outboard gear in racks, hooked up to big computers with flat screens and preamps with glowing vacuum tubes, and all this needs to be set up in a control room in front of a majestic triple-glazed window.  You know where I'm going with this, of course.  Yes, I can confirm that the control room at York St is way more like the bridge of a spaceship than any room I have ever been in in my entire life, and that is a significant milestone for me - but still that isn't what went to my head.

Simon flying the Battlestar Milllennium Enterprise

 Klingons on the starboard bow, etc.

What did go to my head, and this is something I fear I may never recover from, was Morton the Assistant Engineer. Like I said, on my album I used one microphone.  I also didn't have an engineer; I was the engineer.  And that was fine, because I can just about cope all by myself with the range of sonic options provided by one microphone.  Because I didn't have even an engineer, though, there was no room for an Assistant Engineer, and so I was blind and ignorant to the awesome possiblities afforded by this role.  An Assistant Engineer is an invaluable addition to the creative process, and frankly I don't know what I ever did without Morton.  As well as performing tasks like pointing microphones at things and patching preamps into mixers like a champion, Morton will stand next to the drum kit wearing a big pair of industrial earmuffs, ready to hand the drummer a different set of sticks half-way through a take so the sound can come out just right for the benefit of the sixteen microphones. He will run the protools console while Simon the boss engineer paces around the control room with his head cocked to one side, listening out for the perfect take.  He fetches, he carries, he puts instruments in their cases - the right way up! - and as if this wasn't enough, he is constantly making coffee for everyone.

Dylan Storey and Morton getting just the right guitar sound.  Two things to note about this photo:  1) Yes, Dylan has set up two separate Vox AC30s, just because he can. 2) Morton's head is way closer than a human head should ever be to a Fender Delux, and the fact that his ears aren't bleeding is evidence of his special powers.

Yes indeed, and not just coffee, either - really good coffee.  As a rule I don't usually care much about the quality of my coffee as long as it kicks like an angry donkey, but sometimes in my life a coffee will stand out from the crowd and I will take notice.  This week, thanks to Morton's expertise, that has been happening consistently. At first I was a bit worried about coming across like the greedy underemployed waster I am, out to get whatever free stuff I can lay my hands on, so I used my manners and just asked for simple long blacks.  I was careful to wait until he offered, and to say 'no thank you' at least one time in three. Then about half-way through day two, I realised that there was really no reason to hold back here - Morton is used to bona fide rock stars, who generally have no manners and are not afraid to make unreasonable demands.  I started getting him to concoct outlandish drinks with six inches of frothy chocolate milk piled on top of two or three shots of espresso, with an extra short black on the side for luck, and after that it got silly.  It was around then that I realised that this was going to my head, and it was awesome.  I stopped sleeping and developed a painful reflux condition, but I was preternatually alert, bang on the beat, and totally nailing my takes. The others were in pretty much the same condition, and so far the album sounds like what might happen if Orpheus had a baby with Thor and it got kidnapped by carnies who raised it up to  be a pirate.  So something seems to be working, and I'm pretty sure it's Morton's coffee.

Next time I make an album, I don't think I'll try to break into this flash studios for the grown-ups from the big city scene. I'll probably just stick with my ratty-tatty old hillbilly microphone and my temperamental laptop. Once you get the taste, though, there's no going back - I'll definitely be calling up York Street to see if I can borrow Morton the Assistant Engineer and his magical coffee machine.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Slow Burn Winter Tour Part 4: Misty Mountain Hop

The first time I played at Vinnies Cafe in Raglan was early in the summer of last year, and I knew straight away that I'd found the right place.  It wasn't that complicated - as I walked in the door the guy behind the bar put 'Immigrant Song' on the stereo and after that it was all Led Zep, all night long.  In hindsight, this is an issue I probably should have covered with Billy Earl and Betty Grey when I asked them whether they wanted to be my tour buddies this New Zealand winter.  I didn't  say it up front, but the main reason that I wanted to make this tour happen was not to promote my new album, or to promote their new album, or to play in any new exciting parts of the country and meet new people, or even to hang out and crack wise.  What I didn't tell them was the main reason I booked these shows was so that I could drive on winding roads through snowy mountains in a van, preferably in mist, and definitely listening to Led Zeppelin.

Mountains, misty.

For some people, the Lewis Pass is just a good way to get from Nelson to Oamaru, if that's what you need to do on a given day.  For me, it's a sweet place to listen 'Misty Mountain Hop,' and I think the reasons for this will be obvious to the astute reader. For some people, the car deck of the ferry is quite a boring place to be while you wait for the boat to finish docking in Picton.  For me, it's a chance to put on 'Black Dog,' turn it up, and rock out a little with the truck drivers.  I think I have mentioned elsewhere that as far as I'm aware, the main reason we have the Homer Tunnel at all is so people can drive through it in vans full of amplifiers, listening to 'Kashmir' quite loud. Anyway, when we started talking about doing this tour together, it's possible that I may not have made all this clear to the Teacaddies.

'Is there anything other than Led Zeppelin on that ipod?'  This was only about ten minutes, or a song and a half, into the Lewis Pass.
'I might just pretend you didn't say that.'
'Please don't make me do something to you that I will regret in years to come.  I don't think we need any more Led Zeppelin right now.'
'But... the mountains!  The kick drum sound! Come on!'
'The mountains were there before Led Zeppelin and they will still be there once you have turned it off.  Also, where the hell has Oamaru got to? We've been driving for ages.'
'Because of the Led Zeppelin thing I'm not going to tell you how much further it is, except to say that it's still miles away.  I already said I was sorry for booking consecutive shows in Nelson and Oamaru, so stop your whining.'
'Near Nelson.'
'Greater Nelson, yeah. People still came out though.'

Privately and secretly I was as surprised as anybody that we'd played to a full house forty minutes out of Nelson on a Wednesday night, but I was trying to maintain that it was all down to my awesome tour manager skills in some unfathomable way.  I wasn't having much luck with this, since I'd spent the previous week attempting to manage expectations by carefully explaining that the Nelson show was probably going to be a bit shit, and I'd only booked it for the food and a place to sleep.  Now that it had actually turned out to be a decent show, I was trying to spin the situation to make it look like good judgment rather than dumb luck.  This is a trick that political PR people learn at university, and when they graduate they sell it to their clients to use on voters.  I learnt it second-hand when I was working as a political studies tutor, and I used to make my students discuss it earnestly and write essays about it.  It's quite a popular trick, but unfortunately I don't think it works on actual humans.

'You were as surprised as anybody.  And it's still a pig of a drive to Oamaru.'
'Yeah, alright, I was quite surprised. But you know what would make the drive way faster? If we were listening to 'No Quarter' right now.  I bet it would totally synch up with the road.'
'Trust me, it wouldn't.'
'Wouldn't be way faster, or wouldn't synch up with the road?'
'Christ, neither. And I don't even really want to know what you mean by 'synch up with the road.'  Is that some hippie Wizard of Oz thing?'
'You're thinking of Pink Floyd. Which I also have some of and we could definitely listen to instead if you want?'
'Yeah, or I could drive over this massive cliff and kill us all in a fireball.'
'So you'd pretty much prefer to listed to Led Zeppelin then?  That's cool with me.'
'I don't get it, it's like you won but you didn't win at the same time. Just for the love of God let's not have any more Led Zep for the next ages. Please.'

 Taking time out to find devil horns is important.

It's surprising how often variations of this scenario play out in my life.  It's good to know that I'm not alone though. Someone similar must have got to the barman at Vinnie's, because when we walked in a week or so later to set up for the Raglan show, with me hoping just quietly in my head that he was going to drop maybe 'Ramble On' or at least 'Celebration Day' as we came in the door, the guy was playing reggae.  To his credit, and because it was in Raglan, it wasn't the piss-weak dinner-party kind of reggae that they've been piping out of Wellington for the past few years, but it sure wasn't the Zep.  I like to think I might have not been the only person there who was a little bit disappointed.

Of course, and as expected, the show went swimmingly.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Slow Burn Winter Tour pt 3: Running a little bit late on the road

You should take it as a good sign that it's going to be a good show when you're running a little bit late on the road - partly because you maybe slept in, partly because you stopped to look at the view too many times - and when you give the venue a call to sort of apologise and let them know what's going on, muttering some desperate excuse tailored to seem plausible without making you sound completely useless, instead of yelling at you to hurry up, time is money, the hosts say 'mate, relax.  You need to stop at Ohau Point and look at the baby seals, you will not be sorry.'

Betty Grey and Billy Earl, stopping to look at the view

This was on Sunday, and we were on our way to the Wairau Valley, running a little bit late on the road.  We were a little bit late because this was in the South Island, and on the South Island leg of the Slow Burn Winter Tour, I was the Sort Of Tour Manager.  Unfortunately, it turned out that I was the sort of tour manager who would prefer to get a half-hour more sleep in the morning and another cup of coffee on the way rather than hassle everybody to leave on time, and after the least rock'n'roll car crash back in Wellington, I was not the sort of tour manager who was inclined to encourage people to make up for lost time on the road by driving like maniacs.  Especially when we could stop to look at awesome things like the view or baby seals instead.

Sometimes, though, it probably does pay to adopt a less lackadaisical management style.  The mood in the van was tense as we rolled into Blenheim, around ten minutes before we were supposed to be walking on-stage.  I muttered "Ah, yeah, it shouldn't be more than about ten-fifteen minutes or so now."
"Ten to fifteen? How is that possible? Blenheim's not that big, surely?  This is Blenheim, right?"
"Yeah, it is. But the show's more sort of near Blenheim. Um. I think I said."
"They did say we should stop to look at the baby seals.  That's a good sign in my books."
"Really, I'm pretty sure it'll be sweet.  I don't think actually that we're going to get eaten probably."
"You need to stop talking about how we might get eaten at this show."
"Yeah, OK. Sorry."

Everyone was too nice to yell at me about it, but I was acutely aware that our ETA would leave us with approximately negative five minutes to lug all the gear out of the van and into the venue, set up the PA, run a sound check, set up the merch table, pull on our gig shoes, and start the show.  Eight shows into the tour we were getting pretty slick at executing this sequence of tasks, but undeniably it was still taking longer, on average, than negative five minutes.  There is also a school of thought that says you should try to sit down for at least ten minutes or so between driving for five hours and playing a two-hour show, but somehow that hardly ever seems to happen.  It certainly looked like it wasn't going to happen that day, and I was starting to wonder whether I had really needed to insist on the second and third cups of coffee in Lyttelton that morning.  It was difficult to see how it would be anybody's fault but mine if this show turned out to be pretty miserable.

There's something about the afternoon of a show that brings out the pessimist in most musicians I have known, and I include myself in that count.  People will say of musicians (and performers generally) that you're only as good as your last show - you've probably heard that. When you're strapped in the back of a van though, running a little bit late on the road, on your way to only god or the tour manager knows where, and you know that when you do get there you're going to have to bugger about setting up the PA while the audience files in to watch you tripping over cables and squealing feedback in the monitors - or, what is worse, possibly they aren't filing in at all because somebody (me, in this case) has booked the show not even in Blenheim but near Blenheim, and on a Sunday afternoon at that - well, then it's not about the last show.  The last show is forgotten, blurred into all the others, and your self-worth is now bound up wholly in the next show.  It's the next show that's important, and it could all go horribly wrong.

That's why it's important for tour managers to project an air of confidence, and to have spreadsheets and ready answers.  It's also why I'm not a very good tour manager.  When a musician says 'so where is it we're going tonight?' they want to hear the tour manager say 'somewhere where there is delicious food and really good on-stage monitors, where they will tell you that you are awesome at playing your instrument, and after that you can sleep in a nice warm bed or stay up drinking the appetising local beer, it's up to you.'  Unfortunately that isn't me, though. When I am pretending to be a tour manager and people ask me that question, I say: 'I don't really know.  I think it's in a shed or something, and we will probably be eaten by hillbillies, if anybody turns up at all.  We should probably figure out a) who's going to sleep in the van with the gear, and b) who we will let them eat.  I hope everyone brought a sleeping bag and a gun.'  I probably don't need to explain that this tends to erode morale.

It was really just my good luck, then, that I had been told to book that day's show at Las Fronteras.  There aren't that many other places where they'll tell you to stop and look at the baby seals when you're running late for no good reason, and there's not many audiences who are that good-humoured about turning up at the same time as the performers and watching them frantically scrambling around setting everything up.  There's not that many places where the hosts will diligently call around all the neighbours ahead of time to tell them there's a show on that weekend, so that when the band does turn up, late and smelling like seals, they find a warm room in a beautiful valley filled to the doors with what looks like everybody who lives in a fifty-k radius, as well as a pack of friendly dogs, all with smiling faces and not looking like they want to eat anybody at all.  As a tour manager with a fairly half-assed approach to timekeeping and poor attention to detail, I really had no right to expect anything good from that show and I knew it. That day, though,  my luck was good, the hosts were amazing, and the show went off like a double happy in a gas-tank.  That was the final gig of the South Island leg, and it was one time I think we were all happy to be only as good as our last show.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Slow Burn Winter Tour 2: The least rock’n’roll car crash

Anybody who knows me will tell you that if you want to get a moment’s peace around here then the last thing you want to do is ask me to start talking about myself. As a consequence, therefore, I don’t usually get the chance.  For some reason though when you put out an album the convention is for people to ask you to talk about yourself, and often they tape you doing it  and put stories on the internet or in the newspaper.  It is fashionable during this process to pretend that you don’t like all of the promotional nonsense and the interviews and so forth, and you only go along with it all because it is how the game is played or because you are made to, perhaps by the man.  I’m generally out of step with fashion though, and I find being given a chance to talk about myself in public really quite exciting.

St Peter's Hall - sweet gig.

So on Saturday afternoon, the day after a fine gig at St Peter’s Hall in Paekakariki, I was in Wellington, looking forward to the show at the Garden Club that night.  I was feeling pretty chuffed because I had just been up to the radio station to talk to a nice man about my album and play a song, and then I had sat for quite a pleasant half an hour in a car-park talking to another nice man from a newspaper about what some of the songs on my album mean (again – usually not much, they just sound good), and before that I had done a fascinating questionnaire for a website (fascinating, obviously, because it was all about me), and the whole thing was making me feel like kind of a big deal.  I was born in the eighties of course, and my teachers, following the educational style of the time, spent most of my primary-school years doing their utmost to build up my ‘self-esteem’ to borderline psychopathic levels. Like most people of my generation, then, it doesn’t take much external stimulus to make me feel like I’m kind of a big deal.

In and of itself this may not necessarily be a bad thing, but as Narcissus drowned in his own reflection (at least I think he did – remember, my teachers were too busy telling me I could be whatever I wanted to be to properly teach me the classics) so was my inflated sense of self-worth my undoing on this day. As I exited the car park, having finished discoursing at some length on the subject of me, and mentally congratulating myself on what I was deciding to call my lucidity and erudition, I somehow lost track of where my vehicle ended and other parts of the world began. Specifically, the parts of the world attached to other people’s cars.

‘Gosh!’ (You may recall I only say that when things start to go a bit wrong.) ‘Did I hit you?’
‘Well. My car wasn’t moving, and yours, I think, was. So yes.  You hit me.’
‘Ah. Ok. And… your bumper.  Was your bumper like that before all this happened?’
‘I see.  It was… shinier? Less sort of scratchy? And more firmly attached to your car?’

This was fine.  This was sort of OK.  This is what we have insurance for, to make these things go away.  So we exchanged names, the way people do.

‘Prebble?’  She seemed aghast, or at least surprised. What was this? Was I being recognised, in a carpark, by a member of the public whose car I had gently nudged with my car?  I was still thinking that I was kind of a big deal at this time, so you never know.  I felt simultaneously awesome and not awesome.

‘Which Prebbles?’ She asked.  I told her, as light began to dawn. This was going to be one of those ‘only in Wellington’ scenarios.

‘Young man, your uncle is a colleague of my husband. How are your parents?’
The awesome part of how I felt went away, leaving behind only the ‘not awesome’ component.

‘Ah.  Well, actually.  Yes.  Quite well, thanks.  Um.  They own this car, in fact.  I’m looking forward to telling them that I have driven it into a friend of the family.’

This is what touring in New Zealand is like.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Slow Burn Winter Tour part 1: And I haven't even left Auckland yet

For the duration of the NZ album release tour, I'm doing a sort of a tour blog for New Zealand Musician over on their site here - here's the first post from that series:

There's probably a lot of reasons why you might go on tour if you're a musician.  Undoubtedly some people do it for fun, and I'm sure there are people who find the money attractive.  There are all sorts of promotional benefits and so on also, but the main reason I go on tour is so that I have stuff to write about on my blog.  I'm not sure what it is about touring, but for some reason things just seem to happen more when you're charging around different parts of the world trying to play shows. Maybe it's the momentum; when things happen on tour they happen harder because you're moving faster than you normally would.  They also usually turn out to be funnier, these things that happen, I suppose because most things are funny with hindsight and when you're touring you move around a lot, so everything is hindsight.

I haven't left Auckland yet - that's going to happen at an ungodly hour tomorrow morning, by bus, of which no doubt more later - but already things are happening on this tour.  I should make it clear here that when I say 'happening' I tend to mean 'going wrong,' often with reportable consequences.  The main thing that's happened so far - and obviously, given that the tour hasn't properly started yet, it's early days - is that when I sent an email to the crew at the Wunderbar after this last round of aftershocks to say 'hope you guys are all sweet and stuff and also are you still, you know, open?' Debs replied pretty smartly saying essentially no, they aren't still open, because these plate tectonics just won't quit and this last hit has knocked them back into February.  I cannot imagine what that must feel like for them.

The Wunderbar is hands down my favourite venue in the South Island. I was pretty excited when they re-opened after the last quake, I knew it was a big deal for Lyttelton to have iconic venues popping back up.  I was even more excited when I found out that they had a free Saturday right when the Slow Burn Winter Tour featuring Rosy Tin Teacaddy and Bond Street Bridge Bringing Their New Albums To Life For The People Of New Zealand was planning to be in the neighbourhood, so of course I booked a show there. With the Wunderbar now closed for the duration, we now find ourselves casting around for a new venue.  This is ten days out from the show, in a town where most places have already shut up shop.

I've found over the past few years that if I ever have any kind of Christchurch-related touring problem, I adopt one and only one problem-solving strategy.  I continue to resort to this strategy because it is very simple, and it works every time.  The strategy is this:  When something goes wrong, get in touch with The Eastern, tell them your problem, and they will solve it.  Have you accidentally double-booked yourself with The Feelers in the front bar of some horrendous meat-market downtown?  Call the Eastern, tell them your problem, and they will take you down the road to the Media Club where there is an audience of nice people who actually want to hear music.  Have you written off your car at the Sockburn roundabout, seven hours out from a show in Oamaru that is looking less and less likely to happen now as you sit on the side of the road nursing whiplash and surrounded by cracked guitar cases?  Call the Eastern, and they will arrive at the roadside, wait with you for the towtruck, then lend you their van for the rest of your tour.  Has the venue you were going to play at been stickered off the road?  You know what to do.

So at press time,  Adam McGrath is stomping around Lyttelton trying to find a venue for the show next weekend, and I must say I like his chances.  I'm pretty confident that if a venue is to be found in that town, he's the guy to find it, and a fine venue it will be as well.  For now, though, we have a bit of anticipation and tension happening, which I think is healthy.

Once I heard from Adam that he was on the case, I started to relax a bit.  Then my phone beeped, and it turned out that Mr Nigel Wright, who is supposed to be adding his layers of sonic wizardry to the Bond Street shows in Wellington this weekend, is in line to get his flight down there pretty severely delayed or even canceled by this apocalyptic airplane-eating ash cloud we seem to be having on top of everything else.  It may even turn out that he can't play one of the shows, which is very sad because he makes everything sound awesome and St Peter's Hall at Paekakariki would have worked a treat.  I'm not too worried though - I called Adam again and he's having a word to the volcano, so it should all be sweet.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Spring Summer Awesome Winter Cover Art

One day soon I'm going to release a new album, the second long player from this thing I call Bond Street Bridge. That day will be the 20th of June 2011, which is why I said 'soon.' I've been working on it on and off for a quite a while, in between things like sleeping in, feeding the cat, and cleaning out the fishtank, which keep me quite busy. It's going to be nice to have it out in the world, or at least out of the house.

The album, as I may have mentioned before, is called Spring Summer Awesome Winter.  If I told you in the past that it was going to be called something else, it's only because I tend to just say things out loud as they occur to me and often they turn out to not be correct.  Fortunately things don't occur to me that often, or I would talk even more than I do, and I don't think we need that.  Anyway, I think you'll agree that Spring Summer Awesome Winter is a better name than whatever I might have said before - the only problem was trying to think of something to put in the press release about why it's called that, because people will ask.  I can't remember what I said on that front, but the real reason is that it sounds cool.  The rest is just hype.

Making albums.  Really the best thing about making albums is that you get cover art, and if you need cover art the best person to go to is Ms. Millicent Crow.  She's supposed to be writing a thesis at the moment, which you will probably be aware is reasonably time-consuming, but we have invented a machine that makes a couple more hours in the day. (We called them 12a and 12b o'clock, in case you were wondering.  The best thing about these extra hours is that phone never rings during them, and the only other people on the internet seem to be experimental physicists).  We use one of those hours for general relaxing, and the other one is for things like making awesome cover art for albums.  Here's what Ms. Crow came up with for this one, using watercolours, ink and gouache:

This is the front cover. The red leaf has a halo because of how awesome it is. 

This is the inside, the bit you see when you open it up. Each picture illustrates something from one of the songs, so for example one song has a line about a cigarette lighter, and one has a line about a feather and so on and so on.  Incidentally, not many of the songs make a lot of sense now that I come to listen to them, but that will probably not come as a massive surprise to regular readers of this blog. People sometimes ask whether, given that the songs don't make a lot of sense in themselves, perhaps the things like feathers and cigarette lighters and so on might be metaphors for other things?  Possibly more sort of significant things, like beauty or truth or the nature of love?  The answer is no, they usually aren't.  They're only in there because they sound cool.  The rest is just hype.

This is the inside of the booklet that you pull out and have a look at while you're standing at the merch table in a dimly-lit bar after a show, trying to figure out whether I will shut the hell up and stop talking at you if you just give me the twenty bucks for the album, or whether that would only encourage me.  The answer is almost certainly the latter, but you should buy it anyway because of the awesome cover art.

This here is the back of the album (on the left) and the bit that goes under the tray that the cd sits in (on the right).  Now would be good time to reflect on how good the layouts are, which I think is this: pretty good. And I would say that, because I did them.  I don't think they're necessarily so good that you'd be surprised that I did them, but I also think that they're just about good enough that you'd wonder whether maybe I did about half a semester of design school part-time at one stage and then realised that it was too much work and dropped out. Which is pretty good, cos I didn't even. Look, there's even crop marks and a 3mm bleed and stuff, cripes.  If you pay me, I will do the layouts for your next record.  You will probably not even need to pay me very much; for somebody who has spent such an inordinately long time getting educated it is amazing how little I will work for.