Thursday, October 16, 2014

Down at the old Mussel Inn

Just when I was getting used to sleeping at home again, it's time to leave town for a few days... About this time last year we played The Explorers Club: Antarctica show at the Mussel Inn for the Nelson Festival, and we liked playing there so much we said hey let's come back next time you guys have a free date, and they said yeah sure because I guess they liked having us there too and we didn't break anything.  But the Mussel Inn is such a key part of everybody's circuit that they book bands about a year in advance, so the soonest we could go back there was this Saturday.

So that's what we're doing - I'm going to do some new Bond St songs all by my ownsome lonesome, and the the fun will start when me and Millicent Crow do our Mermaid and Mariner thing with rock'n'roll sea shanties, field holler lullabies, old-time fight songs and a new song about and actual mermaid and an actual mariner.

On the way south we're going to play at the Museum of Wellington City & Sea as part of this thing, a bunch of songwriters sharing new songs in a beautiful environment, which should be a hoot and a holler - we played there this time last year as well, come to think of it, and they are lovely people at that museum.  Time to go to the airport again....

I know that's not how you spell muscle.

Museum of Wellington City & Sea Songwriter Circle - 7pm 16/10/2014 at the Museum, Jervois Quay, Wellington
Mussel Inn: 8pm 18/10/14 at the Mussel Inn, you know where it is.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Fringing in the Lucky Country

After a couple of weeks in China, wandering around in a haze of incomprehension, awe, and dumplings, Sydney at least made sense on all the superficial levels.  I could read the road signs, for instance.  My phone worked properly, so if I got lost I could at least go online and look at pictures of people's cats. And because we were now back on the Explorers Club: Antarctica touring roadshow, I was suddenly tour manager again so I had to know what was going on and make decisions and stuff.

Thunder in Sydney

In China I didn't have to make any decisions at all, not even about such basic functions as feeding myself - I just ate everything that appeared in front of me and grinned as broadly as circumstances permitted. We spent the entire tour being picked up and dropped off in various locations in a succession of late-model SUVs and sedans, being gently guided from hotels to venues to restaurants to points of scenic interest to restaurants to markets to restaurants to enormous statues of Chairman Mao and then, usually, to a restaurant.  About the only real input I had into any aspect of my routine for two weeks was to insist that somewhere along the way we find me coffee at least once a day, in order to prevent unpleasentness. This kind of lifestyle is a lot of fun, but it's no good for a person's hustle - it doesn't take long to get soft.  Also, at some point I ate or drank or otherwise ingested some aspect of China that made me really quite ill, so by the time Sydney rolled around I was operating on a much reduced strategic reserve and generally being a bit whiny.

Fortunately, Sydney turned out to be pretty straightforward, even supportive.  The accom was clean, the taxis were cheap, the venue was great - another human-sized DIY joint run by someone who loves putting on shows for her neighbours - and I discovered that in Sydney, you can leave your camera on the train and it doesn't matter at all because it will be waiting for you at the lost property office in the next station that same afternoon.  You can also buy proper cold medication at the pharmacy if you show them your passport and sign the right forms, so I was able to medicate myself into something close to performance standard. This was lucky, since we were there to play three shows in the Sydney Fringe, and after we picked up a nice review on the second night, we had a full house for our final show and all was right in the world.  Like, apart from my digestive system, which was still trying to figure out what I had done to it in China, but that is not a story everyone will want to hear about.

Full house at The Newsagency on the last night of the Sydney Fringe 

So now it's a week of show in the Melbourne Fringe, and so far that has meant good turnouts and dead-silent theatre audiences, which is always a good time. Staying in one place for a week is a new thing for The Explorers Club, so we are filling our days with punting in the Botanic Gardens, looking at art in the NGV, and trying to find the exact spot where Paul Kelly wrote 'Leaps and Bounds,' because that is how we rock and roll.  Then it's back to the old country for some Mermaid & Mariner shows - Golden Dawn on the 15th, Museum of Wellington City And Sea on the 16th and Mussel Inn on the 18th of Oct.  Shanties ahoy!

High on the hill, looking over the bridge to the MCG... Tim Guy reckons it was actually a bit further up the river.

So much art, so little wall space

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Rolling deep in Huizhou City

We were riding in a late model Lexus on an eight-lane Huizhou arterial at 3am, barreling across bridges with A Tribe Called Quest on the stereo and the AC cranked to cold because it's hot in HuiZhou City in September, even at 3am. The air is heavy and smells like it's got four million humans and a bunch of ducks living in it, and the sun doesn't shine bright but it heats the smog and the smog spreads a mouldy old blanket all over and wraps you up in that sleepy greenhouse fug, until your skin starts to melt and you get to thinking that maybe skinny jeans and a blazer with steel-toed boots and a shirt with a collar add up to bad packing choices for ten days of rocking and rolling in the land of the dragon.  And every time we stopped at the lights, the two Chinese b-boys in the front would wind down the rear windows so we could lean out of the backseat and call 'one two three bye-bye' to the next car over, right when the signal went red to green and the driver pulled some heavy Gs to get us back up to our customary cruising speed, which was this: quite fast.

The view from the hotel. Not to be used for navigation.

All the time, because I'm a nerd like that, I was wondering what the cops are like in China, and thinking that if they're as enthusiastic as I had been led to believe then driving around the place in a late-model Lexus with a memorable number plate may not be the best strategy going forward. Right then it was working for me though, for the primary reason that there was no earthly other plan I could think of to get us back to the hotel, becasue not only did I not know where the hotel was, I didn't even know what it was called, and even if I knew the address I had no idea what part of the city it was in or how I would get there from the side of a Huizhou arterial at 3am, so I just sang along and let the ride happen.

I have no idea how much a set of personalised plates will set you back in China but ours said LSD420 and I bet that plus the heat it may draw doesn't come cheap.  

We'd been at a pool party by the river, and I would tell you what the river in Huizhou is called and other such details if any of my maps worked in China. But of course they do not, because the government they have here has done a serious job of breaking the Internet and making sure things like maps and pictures of other peoples children and pets are really hard to get to. The upshot of this is that a big chunk of the band's time here has been spent trying to figure out who has access to what social networks, and how and when, and it's pretty much all in the service of trying to check how many likes this one photo Dale put on Facebook of him eating meat on a stick has got. If you think that's some kind of indictment of technology or our inability to be present in the moment and stuff like that then you get a prize because congratulations, you're probably right, but I will submit that being on tour in China is sufficiently packed with moments and sensory overload of all kinds that sometimes you just want to zone out and scroll through your news feed for a while, breathing through your mouth and sighing.

The pool party by the river was hosted by a couple who are easily, hands down, the coolest people I've met this year.  When I've toured around in New Zealand, or in Europe or Australia, a lot of the places I've played at have been these human-sized grassroots sorts of venues run by people who have a passion for a particular kind of music and for building a community around it in their town, and not necessarily for making a huge amount of money - or if they do make money it comes second to doing their main project, which is putting on great shows for their neighbours.  Places like the Mussell Inn in Takaka, The Dharma Bum's Club in Wairau Valley, The Wine Cellar in Auckland, Cafe Kairo in Berne, Galao in Stuttgart, the Open Studio in Melbourne - they're everywhere but I had no idea whether we could hope to find them in China, and up until last week I hadn't really thought about it all that much.

The Percussion Club - there is a lot to explain in this picture. Next time.

But I can now reveal to you that yes - there are venues like that in China. And one of them - the Lotus Percussion Club in HuiZhou City, population 4 million, is run by SayChen and Sabrina, a musician couple who have taken upon themselves a Holy Mission: to bring Hip Hop culture to China.  It turns out that this is about as difficult a task as you probably think it is, but it does mean that they have put together a sweet crew of Chinese rappers, DJs, b-boys and beatboxers, which makes for quite a banging pool party next to a river on a night off on a very improbable tour in China.

Our show at their club the night before had been packed out, standing room only on a concrete floor down the river a ways, as far as I could tell.  Sabrina's band opened with a sort of funk-jazz hybrid which had made me extremely curious to ask her what music she had been listening to that led to that particular sound. At the party we talked about how she loves James Brown and The Clash and Public Enemy and Michael Jackson, and how her and SayChen are Hakka and Hakka don't have such a great time in China so they have a fairly strong identification with narratives of racial oppression and so on, although of course this conversation was held in a combination of English, fake Mandarin, Charades, and a lot of hollering of song lyrics and the tops of our lungs next to a smoky barbeque by a pool somewhere near a river in Huizhou, so it took some time and quite a lot of beers before we reached true understanding. When we reached it though it was solid, and  the understanding we reached was that no matter where you are and what you're trying to do, if you don't have the hustle you ain't got a hope.

SayChen and Sabrina have the hustle in spades, and a couple of months back they put on a hip hop festival in Huizhou that pulled 1500 payers, so they are clearly taking care of business in a lot of good ways.  Pool parties in Huizhou city with visiting musicians from far parts of the world are one way they get things done, and it felt good to give them a list of bands from our part of the planet who would fit right in at the Percussion Club if they get the chance to chase the rock'n'roll to China any time soon.  Rolling back to the hotel in the Lexus across a dirty river with LEDs and neon reflecting in the clouds and on the soupy water, Buggin Out rattling the speakers and a beer buzz running, I felt like I had landed in just the right place by so many quirks and turns it isn't even worth thinking about how it happened, but by Thor I am getting some good stuff out here.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Sydney Morning Herald picked The Explorers Club: Antarctica as one to see this Sydney Fringe!

What a nice way to start the morning... the august Sydney Morning Herald picked The Explorers Club: Antarctica in their roundup of shows to see at this year's Sydney Fringe. 'A multimedia extravaganza of folk song, spoken word, storytelling and haunting imagery...' crikey!  I'd see that.

We're really excited about the next couple of months, we've got some great shows coming up in China, NZ, and Australia including the Melbourne and Sydney Fringe Festivals.  Tickets for Sydney are here, and Melbourne are here.

See you at the shows!

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Explorers Club: Antarctica at Melbourne Fringe!

And hard on the heels of our Sydney Fringe dates (Sydney gets the Straya premiere, because they are the pushy older brother in this story) we are delighted to announce that The Explorers Club: Antarctica has been selected for the Melbourne Fringe Festival Hub!

So we are doing seven nights at Fringe Hub venue Upstairs at Errol's Cafe in North Melbourne, and we are super excited to be sharing our songs of Antarctic tragedy and Edwardian pluck with the great state of Victoria, I can tell you. Here are the dates:

Melbourne Fringe Hub, Upstairs @ Errol's, North Melbourne Sat 27 Sept 8Pm
Melbourne Fringe Hub, Upstairs @ Errol's, North Melbourne Sun 28 Sept 7PM
Melbourne Fringe Hub, Upstairs @ Errol's, North Melbourne Tues 30 Sept 8PM
Melbourne Fringe Hub, Upstairs @ Errol's, North Melbourne Wed 1 Oct 8PM
Melbourne Fringe Hub, Upstairs @ Errol's, North Melbourne Thurs 2 Oct 8PM
Melbourne Fringe Hub, Upstairs @ Errol's, North Melbourne Fri 3 Oct 8PM
Melbourne Fringe Hub, Upstairs @ Errol's, North Melbourne Sat 4 Oct 8PM

Tickets for all shows are available here from our friend at the Melbourne Fringe - get them while they are still gettable!

And don't forget we are at the Sydney Fringe too:

Newsagency, Marrickville NSW Wed 24 Sept 7:30
Newsagency, Marrickville NSW Thurs 25 Sept 8:30
Newsagency, Marrickville NSW Fri 26 Sept 7:30

Tickets for Sydney show are here, thanks to our friends at the Sydney Fringe.

If you've never heard about our show before and you've just clicked through from somewhere, hello.

Our show is about Captain Scott, Ernest Shackleton and the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.  We tell stories, we sing songs, we project illustrations and photographs, we make people cry a little and laugh a little and celebrate the indomitable spirit of that titanic age.  We get very nice reviews for it and people tell us they like it a lot, we enjoy doing it and we're looking forward to bringing it to Australia.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Explorers Club: Antarctica at the Sydney Fringe!

Oh my, this is getting exciting!

The programme for the Sydney Fringe Festival has just come out and we're performing three nights of our critically acclaimed award-winning thing-o The Explorers Club: Antarctica, so tell your Sydney buddies to come on down if they like any of the following:

1) Antarctica
2) The heroic age of exploration on that frozen continent
3) Captain Scott
4) Songs about history
5) Sir Ernest Shackleton
6) A lanky guy telling stories
7) vocal harmonies
8) Douglas Mawson - he may get a look in at these Australian shows...

We'll be performing at The Newsagency in Marrickville on the 24th, 25th and 26th of September, and tickets may be purchased from the Sydney Fringe website here, so do that by all means and we'll see you at the shows!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Explorers Club: Antarctica at Illumefest

We'll be taking the Explorers Club: Antarctic on a wee jaunt over the the Coromandel in a couple of weeks for thier inaugural 'Illumefest' - they're lighting up Coromandel Town for midwinter and we're going to be projecting our multimedia show as a part of their Saturday Night midwinter celebrations.

We haven't played Coromandel Town before, it'll be good to share some stories of Antarctic struggle and survival on an outdoor stage in midwinter....

More details here, we're playing the evening of Saturday 5 July at about 8pm on the main street.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Shackleton's Whisky: A Tale Of Shame And Redemption Part 2

This is the second part of a story that I posted in the middle of last year, about how I failed to appreciate Shackleton's whisky, behaved boorishly, etc.  I said I was going to post the rest of it 'next week,' which turned out to be a lie. Here it is, eight months late but moving fast, and I hope nobody has been to inconvenienced by the delay.  You may wish to read the first part to get up to speed.

As I said, the story of Shackleton's whisky has legs in the popular press, and over the ensuing months I was unable to escape it.  I sought it out, in fact - partly to determine the enormity of my transgression, and also partly in my usual capacity as Antarctic History Nerd.  All I knew after that night at the Darkroom was that some whisky had been found under Shackleton's hut, there was a bottle of some derivation of the same whisky on the top shelf at the Darkroom, and I had failed, publicly and disgracefully, to show an appreciation for  that set of circumstances. I was pretty sure that it couldn't be the actual same whisky (could it?) but I felt a geeky sort of shame that I didn't know what it really was.

The full story, it turns out, is absolutely fantastic, and it's told best by Mr Neville Peat of Broad Bay, Dunedin, in his recent book Shackleton's Whisky.  It seems that in 2007, a team from the NZ Antarctic Heritage Trust were fossicking about under the hut that Shackleton's crew built in 1908 during the Nimrod expedition.  This is the expedition, you will recall, that earned Shackleton his knighthood - he and two others reached a new Furthest South, within 100 miles of the Pole, and Douglas Mawson, that brash Antipodean, led a team to as near the South Magnetic Pole as really makes no odds, so they claimed that for the Empire. A team from the expedition made a first ascent of Erebus, and they pioneered the use of motor vehicles and ponies in the Antarctic, with mixed results.  They also, it would appear, drank a lot of whisky - and it was a case of this whisky that the team from the Antarctic Heritage Trust dug up in 2007.

There followed a remarkable series of events involving the Canterbury Museum, the descendants of the distillers who made the original whisky at the end of the nineteenth century, a whisky-taster whose nose is insured for some astronomical sum, and an international courier flying to Scotland with a priceless bottle handcuffed to his wrist. It transpired that not only had this whisky survived its hundred-year freeze undamaged, it was actually really rather delicious - so White and McKay, who now own the company that made the whisky in the first place, set about replicating it and in 2010 they released a limited edition of the result.  Here was my answer - it was a dram of this replica that I had so rudely swilled at the Darkroom that shameful night.  In a strange way, learning the history of this drop made me feel a bit better - maybe I hadn't really tasted it, but at least now I knew what I'd missed.

Shackelton's Whisky

The actual person who was under the hut doing the fossicking was young James Blake, who as far as I can tell is as thoroughly decent a bloke as you could hope to meet. He's got the kind of honest, open grin that could sell oil to a Texan, if that's what he wanted to do, and this grin appears in a photograph in Mr Peat's book, shining out from under Sir Ernest's hut next to a case of the famous whisky.  As soon as I saw that photograph I hoped to meet the owner of this grin, because he looked like he could tell a yarn.  Since we both live in New Zealand, of course, that meeting soon happened in the normal course of events, without my really having to do anything.

Such a grin!
On tour last summer, we played a show as part of the festival commemorating the centenary of the return of Captain Scott's ship (minus, of course, Captain Scott) to the civilised world, which occurred in the port of Oamaru in February 1913. After the show, the grin appeared, closely followed by Mr Blake, who soon proved to be just as able a yarnsmith as I had hoped - he was at the festival to talk about what he'd been up to in Antarctica.  He's the kind of utterly impressive individual who does things like row a boat across the Tasman Sea and climb up high mountains - bold, romantic endeavours of the sort that divide any given sample of dinner guest into two mutually irreconcilable camps, rallying under banners inscribed, respectively, 'why?' and 'why the hell not?' I have enormous sympathy for such people because folk music is a bit like that too, only less dangerous.

As though rowing a boat across the Tasman Sea wasn't challenging enough, James revealed that he had raised the degree of difficulty considerably for himself by listening to this song on his ipod 'the whole way.' He said it kept him sane, and my heart went out to him because it just seemed so wildly unlikely that anything I wrote could impact positively on anybody's mental health - you poor thing, I thought.  Then he said some kind things about our show and how it captured the mood and the tone of the huts he'd been working on preserving down there on the ice, which was a lovely thing to say, and I felt sufficiently comfortable to share with him the tale of my disgraceful behavior with the whisky.  I can't remember what he said, but his tone was generally soothing and he was very nice about it. 

The encounter unsettled me - this was the chap who spent freezing weeks groveling around in the ice under the hut and actually found the whisky, got it out into the world for the rest of us to have and to hold.  By disrespecting the whisky, I felt like I'd let him down, and he just seemed like a really nice guy. And a guy who apparently had listened to one of my songs more times than any other human, including probably me - I felt like amends needed to be made. The only way to come back from this whisky incident, I decided,  was to sit down properly with a glass of the stuff, with a clear head and bright eye, among friends and with time to kill, in pleasant surroundings. In full knowledge of what I had before me, where it came from and what it meant, I could really do the thing justice. I would hold it up to the light to admire the amber glow. Swill it around in the glass to see it move. Sniff it. Pass it around. Warm it slightly in the palm. Pause, breathe, raise the glass, offer a toast to sweethearts and wives, and taste the hell out of it. Really savour that fucker. I felt like I owed some people.

There is actually some more to the story, in which I get right with the whisky, but I feel like posting significantly more that 1000 words on a Sunday would be churlish, so the rest will come later. When? Later.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Bitter Years, good time songs

No excuses, Internet land - here at team Bond Street Bridge, we do not excuse ourselves.  We stumble out midsentence, knocking over glasses and upsetting the furniture and while that is an impediment to our social advancement, certainly, we think it makes us charming.  However: People - probably you - have brought it to our attention that there has been very little blogging lately, and apparently (bless them!) they miss it.  So - an update, without any excuses for lateness or the longish time between bulletins.

The Summer Throwdown tour came hard on the heels of the Explorers Club: Antarctica tour, without really much of a chance to collect thoughts or take a breath and look at the scenery. That led to interesting mental health outcomes, but generally as well to a thumping good time.  The great disappointment of the summer so far has been failing to get a photograph of the odometer in the old Honda Odyssey as it ticked over 350,000 kilometers - fortunately other disappointments have been few, however, so we remain breezy and chipper. 

The old bus looking at the scenery as it thinks about the next hill and the one after that.

This tour has stood out from some others (not that they all blur into each other or anything - I may not remember people well but I do remember the order that the shows came in, and sometimes I count them instead of sheep when the last coffee came too soon before bedtime) because we had a new band along with us for the duration.  Band or cult, call it what you will,  and I have been meaning to write a little thing about it for as long as it has been in existence, which is coming up to two and a half months now - coincidentally about as long as this blog silence has lasted.  The band is called The Bitter Years, and I will explain how it works.

We look a lot cooler than we actually are, but we are still pretty cool.

The Bitter Years is Brendan Jehosophat Turner, who now holds the distinction of playing more Bond Street Bridge shows than any sane human should, Emily Millicent Cater, who has been Bond Street artist in residence since day one and now plays the banjo and a mean tenor uke, Alison O'Flagellant Millar stomping a mesmerising beat, and myself, doing the things I do but mostly hollering.  We play unplugged, we play outdoors, we play in bar-rooms and halls, we play loud, we stomp and holler, we play love songs and fight songs and old-as-the-hills country songs and we've been raising up a dust storm from here to Milford Sound and back over the past two months.  It's not a Bond Street thing, it's its own thing and for every old gospel song we sing about Jesus we sing one old gospel song about Whiskey&Mayhem to balance the books.  So now you know.

Stomping, hollering etc.

The house we all live in.  We sleep in a big pile on the floor.  I took this photo 
and I think it could definitely be in a calendar and get sold at gift shops.

It's kind of an old-timey family band, and the middle part of the tour when we were traipsing around the South Island picked up a bit of that raggle-taggle family feel.  We planned to meet up with old co-conspirators The Broken Heartbreakers to play some shows, and of course that meant bringing along four-month old baby Jean Heartbreaker, who took the whole thing well.  Once I had a fair idea about who was coming - a couple of weeks before the shows as it turned out - I rang up our man at the Blue Duck out in Milford to let him know that we might have a few more people along than I had first suggested.

"I thought we said three?"
"Well, yeah I know, the email did say three but the Heartbreakers are bringing their drummer now of course."
"Ok, so that makes what, six? Two of them, three of you and a drummer?"
"Pretty much, yeah.  But there's actually four of us now, cos we've started this new band that's actually a cult."
"So seven then?  That's no problem.  We'll find space."
"Yeah they're bringing a baby too, but I think that she has a box to sleep in or something so don't worry about her."
"A baby? Grand! No problem."
"Oh and also the baby's grandma?  Rachel's mum is coming to look after the baby when they're, you know, playing and stuff."
"Makes sense.  I'm sure there's room.  Bring 'em out!"

So we did, and that's why I love playing at the Blue Duck.  The next day we saw a shark, and in the evening we played at a house with a horse in the actual living room, and after that things just got weird.  I'll tell you about it sometime, but for now the message is:

The Bitter Years are a thing.  You can see us play at the following locations:

16 March:   Matakana Markets, 10am-2pm, then Coatesville Markets from around 4 or so.
22 March: Rogue Fest Rotorua, Kerosene Creek, sometime in the evening.  This will be pretty sweet.
28 March: Ponsonby Baptist Hall, Jervois Rd, with Great North! This will also be pretty sweet because they are a proper band and they know what they're doing.
30 March: Matakana Markets again - they've kind of adopted us.
4 April: The Gunslingers Ball presents DYLAN at the wine cellar.  This will be hilarious and also very fine.

But!  Bond Street Bridge is also a thing.  You can see us play at the following locations:

22 March: Rogue Fest Rotorua, Kerosene Creek, sometime in the evening.  As I said, this will be pretty sweet.
23 March: Wellington Opera House supporting Mr Billy Bragg
25 March: Auckland Power Station supporting Mr Billy Bragg

And after that we might just take a small break and actually stay at home for at least two consecutive weeks, and I will put some more stories on the Internets.  Gosh!

This is where the shark was.