Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Touring with the Explorers Club:Antarctica

Here it is, eight o'clock in the morning and I've already been for a run. I'm not lying, I waved to my neighbour and my neighbour waved to me, which naturally made me think of this song, and of what the whole neighbourhood might look like under fifteen feet of pure white snow.

And that reminded me about what's happening really quite soon - next year, certainly, but I'm sure we're all starting to realise that that counts as soon. As you'll be aware, there has been a certain kind of monomaniacal obsession happening at Bond Street Bridge HQ lately. It started, as these things often do, with a perfectly normal bout of light reading on common piracy, the lure of the heaving ocean and salt spray - monkeys with little waistcoats on and so forth. This led, via an unhealthy interest in H.M. Queen Elizabeth the first of England, to specific pirates - Drake in particular, and Dampier, and other swashbucklers with letters of marque in hand and fire in the belly. Drake's circumnavigation fired the imagination, as it must - what audacity! The hunger! And suddenly the floor of the living room and my side of the bed were home to half the contents of the 910 (exploration) shelf from the library, which is a good place to work if you tend to get obsessed with things. Drake led to Cook, and Cook - as well as plucky midshipman George Vancouver, who climbed far out on the bowsprit in polar waters as the Resolution went about for the last time and who claimed, for a while, the title of Furthest South - well, Cook led of course to his own great unrealised goal - the mysterious Southern Continent, that great counterweight of the world, locked in ice and tucked all the way down there at the end of the Dewey Decimal system at 998.9: Antarctic History.

 Sled dog and gramophone on the Terra Nova expedtion.  By Emily Cater after Herbert Ponting

And this obsession narrowed, as obsessions will, and it focussed, and for a while all was ice and darkness and the pluck of certain stalwart Edwardians.  You know who I'm talking about, of course - Robt. Falcon Scott, Captain of the Royal Navy, who we're just starting to remember again was not really a colossal bungler at all and whose achievements before his death out on the Great Ice Barrier dwarfed those of his predecessors, and Shackleton of the Merchant Marine, with his superhuman charisma and charming lack of attention to detail, Frank Worsely - a Lyttelton boy, you remember - whose feat of polar navigation in the James Caird is still unparalleled, Tom Crean, Oates of the Dragoons, Bowers, Cherry, Campbell's men in their ice cave all winter, eating rancid seal meat and smoking everything that would burn, and even Mawson, that brash colonial. Titans all, and golly, what pluck!

Capt. Frank Worsley, the Lyttelton boy. By Emily Cater

It soon became clear that this obsession required an outlet beyond my monopolising conversation at every opportunity with garbled stories of the half-remembered exploits of these public-school poster boys. ('And then the ponies fell in the water! And I think it was Oates, or maybe Bowers - no, Oates - or, no, it was Bowers but Oates showed him how - because of the killer whales, and the leopard seals and whatnot all circling round, and they couldn't pull him out, poor beast, onto the ice I mean, so he had to kill him with his ice axe.') So, in order to get the whole thing off my chest, I suppose, I wrote some songs.

These songs and the stories that go with them - such stories! - have now been beautifully illustrated by Emily "Millicent Crow" Cater, and this summer we're taking them on the road as a show called 'The Explorer's Club: Antarctica.'  Bond Street Bridge are doing about 25 shows through February and March, taking in the Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin Fringe Festivals, the celebrations in Oamaru marking the 100th anniversary of the return of the Terra Nova to civilization, Christchurch Music in Parks, opening for Mt Eerie in Barrytown, a party in Okarito, sharing stages with some of our best musical buddies - Rosy Tin Teacaddy, Matt Langley, uncle Delaney, Tiny Lies and of course Luckless and Brendan Turner, and shows from Bayly's Beach in the North to Milford Sound in the South.  The show will take slightly different forms depending on the venue, and in its complete version it's a combination of spoken word storytelling, original illustrations and heritage photographs projected behind the band, and of course foot-stompin, heart-string tuggin folk songs. 

So that's what's happening, and that's what I was thinking about as I waved to my neighbour this morning, staggering in from a really quite unadventurous run around the suburban block, and I must say I'm rather looking forward to it all. Here are all the dates and things; there will be other details to come and we're selling tickets for the Auckland shows here so get in and get them.

The Explorers Club:Antarctica Tour Summer 2013

All of these shows are with Luckless except those marked *

Sat 2 Feb: Paekakariki, St Peters Hall with Delaney Davidson, Rosy Tin Teacaddy and Dos Hermarnos 8pm, $15
Sun 3 Feb: Nelson, Playhouse Theater with Brendan Turner 3 pm, Free
Mon 4 Feb: Barrytown Hall supporting Mt Eerie *
Wed 6 Feb: Franz Josef, Blue Ice Cafe with Brendan Turner
Thurs 7 Feb: Oamaru, Grainstore Gallery with Brendan Turner 8pm $10
Fri 8 Feb: Waitati Hall with Brendan Turner 8pm $10
Sat 9 Feb: Port Chalmers, Chick's Hotel with Matt Langley 9pm $10
Sun 10 Feb: Chrischurch Botanic Gardens Lazy Sundays 3pm Free*
Tues 12 Feb: Te Anau, Black Dog Bar with Brendan Turne 8pm Free
Wed 13 Feb: Milford Sound, Blue Duck Bar and Cafe with Brendan Turne, 8pm Free
Thurs 14 Feb: Fairlie, Kimbell Garage Gallery with Brendan Turner, 8pm $10
Fri 15 Feb: Lyttelton, Wunderbar with Tiny Lies and Ben Brown, 9pm
Sat 16 Feb: Wellington Fringe Festival, The Moorings with Rosy Tin Teacaddy, 8pm $20
Sun 17 Feb: Wellington waterfront, Performance Arcade with Grayson Gilmour, 5pm free
Fri 22 Feb: AUCKLAND FRINGE FESTIVAL, Wine Cellar with Bernie Griffen 8:30 pm, $15*
Sun 23 Feb: Bayly's Beach, The Funky Fish (Sam Prebble Solo) 3pm*
Fri 1 Mar: AUCKLAND FRINGE FESTIVAL, Wine Cellar with Luckless 8:30 pm $15
Fri 22 Mar: Amberly, Nor'Wester Cafe with Brendan Turner
Sat 23 Mar: Wairau Valley, Dharma Bum's Club with Brendan Turner

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Return of The Wine Cellar Strings

OK, listen: It seemed like a good idea, we gave it a go, and it sold out – so we're doing it again.  On Friday the 14th of December the Wine Cellar Strings return to our spiritual home in the depths of St Kevin’s arcade, joined this time by the cream of Auckland’s alt-folk crop, fresh off  the Gunslinger’s Ball Tour – Steve Abel, Bernie Griffen and The Bads.

The Wine Cellar Strings, who desctibe ourselves in press releases as 'a rag-tag collection of string players from some of the most exciting acts currently operating in Auckland’s thriving alternative folk scene,' made our sell-out debut in September of this year. The concept was simple (as, it must be said. were many of the people involved): fiddle players, cellists and upright bass players from bands that play and drink regularly at The Wine Cellar – the beating heart of the Auckland underground, as we say in press releases – would get together and form a string section, inviting our favorite songwriters to feature in occasional special shows, performing stripped-back versions of their songs with swaggering string arrangements.

That first show in September, featuring Reb Fountain, Goodshirt’s Gareth Thomas and Bernie Griffen, essentially went off in quite a big way, packed the Wine Cellar, everyone was happy, and the Wine Cellar Strings were invited to join Delaney Davidson, Marlon Williams and Tami Neilson – the three finalists of this year’s APRA silver scroll for best country song – for a special one-off show on Waiheke Island, which was quite lovely and included at least one member of the string section smooching Marlon's stubbly cheek after he had brought the house down with 'I can't help falling in love with you.' Which is unlikely to happen at future shows so don't get any ideas.

For this second performance at the Wine Cellar, the Wine Cellar Strings have invited along three acts with well-deserved reputations as leading lights of the Auckland alt-folk scene and by God we're lucky to have them.  Bernie Griffen, Steve Abel and The Bads have just toured the North Island with the wildly successful Gunslinger’s Ball, and they’re each in peak performing voice. The Bads and Bernie Griffen have just stepped off the stage after supporting Emmylou Harris at Vector Arena, and Steve Abel has caused audiences around the world to swoon with his mournfully beautiful songs.

Do yourself a favour, tell your friends and catch these three acts at the top of their game supported by Auckland’s hottest band of string-sawing rascals at bar that keeps the scene alive: The Wine Cellar, St Kevin’s Arcade, 14th December, doors at 8:30.

Go on. Presales are here and you should get them pretty quick I reckon.

The Wine Cellar Strings are:

Dave Khan, Sam Prebble, Emily Giles, Brendan Turner, Will Wood, and Louise Evans. Between them they’ve played in The Broadsides, The Grifters, Bond Street Bridge, Don McGlashan’s Band, An Emerald City, The Broken Heartbreakers, Forbidden Joe, Rodney Fisher’s Backyard Orchestra, The Bads, Reb Fountain’s Bandits, and altogether more bands than they can recall.

Monday, September 24, 2012

New Zealand IceFest

This weekend Bond Street Bridge are heading south again, answering the siren song of the frozen wastes, heeding the call of the wild, seeking, as Robert Service would have it, to 'pierce the veneer of outside things.' We're not actually going to Antarctica, more's the pity - although if you would like to facilitate that you're more than welcome - no, we're going to Christchurch.  Which is actually not at all frozen at this time of year, but what they are doing is having a festival called 'NZ IceFest,' which celebrates Canterbury's role as the gateway to the ice, and they have very kindly invited us to play some shows at it.

Millicent Crow has started work on the illustrations for the show we're putting on in the 
2013 Fringe Festival - here's Captain Scott.

So we're playing this Friday at the Naval Point Yacht club, overlooking the very harbour from which Scott sailed on both the Discovery and the Terra Nova expeditions, the port where Shackleton laid up for a month or so on the Nimrod expedition, trotting his ponies up and down the beach at Quail Island to teach them how to drag sleds. (If you want to talk about how this isn't quite as dumb as it sounds, buy me a drink after the show and we can discuss the physical properties of ice and sledge runners at low temperatures; It will be fascinating, I can assure you.) The exciting thing about this show on the Friday is that we're opening for Mr Don McGlashan, who remains one of my very favourite songwriters in all the world.  No doubt I will do or say something foolish, so that's something to look forward to.

Look, it really happened.  
Preparations for the British Antarctic Expedition (1907-1909); shows a horse pulling a man on a sledge, along the beach. Kinsey, Joseph James (Sir), 1852-1936 :Photographs relating to Antarctica and mountaineering. Ref: PA1-o-463-04-2. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://beta.natlib.govt.nz/records/22326585

Then on the Saturday and Sunday we're playing a couple of daytime shows at IceFest events: on Saturday the Antarctic Air Day at Christchurch airport, which will give me an unparalleled opportunity to nerd out about planes, and on Sunday we're playing at the IceFest Ice Station in Hagley Park.  The Ice Station has all kinds of amazing events and exhibits, including an immersive 3D projection exhibition of Jane Usshers beautiful photographs of the huts at McMurdo Sound, so it's entirely possible that I might get distracted and forget to play the set. Altogether, I can't think of a better way to spend a weekend.

Fri 28 Sept: Don McGlashan spring tour with support from Bond Street Bridge at Naval Point Yacht Club, Lytteton
Sat 29 Sept: Bond Street Bridge at NZ IceFest 12:15, Chch International Airport
Sun 30 Sept: Bond Street Bridge at NZ IceFest Ice Station, 1:30, Hagley Park

Friday, September 14, 2012

One Thousand Miles in an Open-Top Mustang

I was on the bus, the mobile library bus that I drive sometimes, sitting out at Little Huia there waiting for customers. With the spring rain coming down and the hills looking like a Chinese painting, the sea was washing in over the sand flats and the rain hissing as it hit the tarmac and I was thinking: Jesus this is the life. And also: Christ I wish wasn't here, but with my best friend Tim who is right this minute out on the highway, on the right-hand side of the road and the far side of the world, barrelling along between Frisco and San Diego, the smell of petrol and the desert, all on his own and driving a thousand and some miles in an open-top mustang.

I assume there's a desert, and I assume it smells like petrol, because why wouldn't it? If you were in an open-top mustang - and if you're not, why aren't you? - if you were you'd want to smell a bit of petrol on the wind I would think, and maybe the smell also of the desert, which I assume is a dry sort of smell, of dust. There must be a desert, I'm sure of it because it's in all of the books that I can remember about California, there's a desert there and there's also oranges and vines, for when you get too damn hot and you need to drink orange juice or red wine.

There was a time a few days earlier when it was late at night and it suddently hit me, as I was clicking through the National Libary catalogue and sending them a couple of emails to correct the captions of some the photographs they have in there that Ponting took on the Terra Nova expedition (but blow me down if some cataloguer didn't get a couple of details wrong and we can't have that, not on the internet, not late at night) and what hit me was that I hadn't been outside in about two and a half days, not even to the letterbox. That was a good two and a half days and I did get some things done, including a fairly long period lying on the floor wondering about things, and I also learnt to play Leaps and Bounds by Paul Kelly and I sent some emails and ignored some more, but it's actually not that healthy to stay inside for two and half days even in the Spring when it rains all the time. Better to be out in the open air, in a Mustang with the top down and the wind.

There would be breakers as well, giant rollers that come all the way around the Pacific Gyre, running ahead of the late summer storms and crashing onto a beach with the sky a washed out grey and sun red like the juice of a blood orange, running down into the sea, and on some headland with a scatter of gravel we could slide to a halt and sit up on the back of the seat or the edge of the door with the hot grille of the mustang pointing out over the ocean and the heavy trucks rolling by on the highway behind, salt on the wind and the seagulls hanging on the updrafts like a still frame from a movie, and that would be a good time to put on 'Envy of Angels' by the Muttonbirds and miss home already, even though it's only been two days.

And I think Salinas is around there somewhere, which is where Bobby McGee would come on the radio, and that song is always worth it for two bits: the part where the band comes in, and then the key change, which is full of hope. Also it's a song that we used to listen to Tim's dad sing, and I remember one night maybe on a tramping trip or something when we were probably about twenty or twenty-five years younger than we are now and he sang it as a way of making everyone shut the hell up and go to sleep. These days I often sing it to myself in my head if I've been awake for too long, so why not holler it out real loud as we roll through Salinas?
The best thing about the mobile library, apart from driving it up hills to make the motor growl like an old bear, is how it runs on diesel. Whenever I have to fill up the gas tank my hands smell like diesel for the rest of the day, and that's a smell that reminds me of Tim's old boat that was always tied up in the bay, and it smelled like fish and diesel in the summer and we'd sit on the deck drinking Tasman Bitter that you could get for about ten bucks a dozen then after a while we'd fall into the sea, more often than not. I'm not saying that those days are gone or anything, but they do make the smell of diesel sweet for me.

If you park the bus in the right place you can get the internet on it, so I can sit and wait for customers as the rain comes down, and I can pull up the maps and trace the road from San Fransico down the coast to San Diego with Born In The USA on the stereo and go, in my head, come on man, give me a turn of driving this sweet mustang with the top down.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Introducing the Wine Cellar Strings

Here's how it happened: Dave said to Rohan, or maybe Rohan said to Sam, and Sam's pretty sure he said to Will at some stage and Will's not sure that he remembers the conversation but he doesn't deny it, and Dave definitely mentioned it to Emily but she's overseas right now and she'll probably do the next one, but Dave and Sam both talked to Brendan about it one night at the Sawmill after the bar staff brought out a bucket - a bucket, mind! - of bourbon, and then Louise got involved, probably, and what they said was this, more or less:

"Look here, the Wine Cellar is awash with these underemployed wasters slinging their violins, their violas, their upright basses and their cellos. They all seem to know what to play on all of these different songs, and when they're not playing their instruments  they just drink the bar dry and holler at the customers, getting in the way and breaking the crockery so by god let's make them useful! What can we do with all these dirty folk-inflected string players, many of whom don't or can't or won't even read music, or at any rate they deny they can, with an insouciant shrug of the shoulder and flick of the quiff, oh it's all so off-the-cuff and spontaneous isn't it, this devil's music that we play? With their tight jeans and their hand-made cigarettes. Unseemly! What can be done with such people?"

So sort of in the manner of a social programme, the kind that local governments introduce to keep youths from vandalising public property, it was decided that there  should be inaugurated a Wine Cellar String Section.  It would be called, for the sake of simplicity and for arcane tax reasons, 'The Wine Cellar String Section,' and it would operate in the following manner:  Every once in a while, at a prearranged signal, these various fiddlers and cellists, violers and bassists would gather at the Wine Cellar. They would invite along a handful of songwriters who pass one test, which is that the members of the string section have  to think that they are awesome.  The songwriters would sing their songs, and the Wine Cellar String Section would do what they do well, which is play strings.  There are no other rules.

The first time this happens will be August the 17th.  The String Section will include at least Dave Khan, Brendan Turner, Sam Prebble and Will Wood (who between them have played with Don McGlashan, The Grifters, An Emerald City, Paul Ubana Jones, The Broken Heartbreakers, The Broadsides, Reb Fountain, The Bads, Luckless, Charlie Ash, Hannah Curwood, Tim Guy, Bond Street Bridge, White Swan Black Swan, Rodney Fisher's Backyard Orchestra, and a whole bunch of other things) and probably some other people as well.  The songwriters, this first time around, will be Gareth Thomas of Goodshirt, Bernie Griffen of the Grifters, and Reb Fountain.  You are warmly invited to come along and see what happens;  Bond Street Bridge will get things started atnine sharp and after that all bets are off.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Future Belongs To The Airship

Quite recently our friends at the Film Archive presented in brilliant black and white The Flight Of The Airship Norge Over The Arctic Ocean: In which Roald Amundsen, that hero of high latitudes, leads an attempt to fly over the North Pole in an airship in the midst of the Roaring Twenties.  Those of you who are aware of my passing interest in both polar travel and the Golden Age of Airship Transportation will not be surprised to hear that at my earliest opportunity I secured a ticket and waited, impatiently tapping my fingers on the table, for the day of the screening to roll around.  There was much anticipation here, and I certainly built the occasion up rather a lot in my head and in conversation with people over preceding weeks. As usual, these conversations tended to run along the lines of 'guess what I'm doing this weekend?' (I have the conversational skills of an emotionally stunted ten-year-old, so this would inevitebly be blurted out as an  unrelated interjection when it was really the other person's turn to talk.) 

'Oh, wait, let me guess' the other would say, either wearily or sarcastically '- are you going to see that movie about the airship? And the Antarctic?' 

'Um yes you're half right but actually it's the Arctic not the antarctic so yeah, but yeah that's what I'm doing, cool eh?'

It is a constant source of amazement to me that people continue to talk to me at all, but I suppose the conventions of politeness are still strong in our society. Lucky!

The Airship Norge: exploration in style. From the NZFF website

So if you're reading this you probably already know about the film I suppose, because no doubt I have bored you on the subject in real life, but here's the thing: It was even better than I thought it would be, and I felt even more awesome after seeing it than I thought I would.  And I thought it would make me feel pretty amazingly ace, so it just goes to show that I still have a long way to go when it comes to accurately predicting how the decisions I make are going to make me feel in the future. 

Obviously this movie was so great partly becuase of the whole polar travel thing and partly because of the whole airship thing.  Those things are pretty much givens, so I don't need to talk about them all that much except to observe that it is one of life's tragedies that we don't use airships as much as we used to, and at some stage I'd like to look into this to find out why. My guess is that there really is no good reason and all it will take is a decently-funded advertising campaign and a few well-chosen celebrity endorsements (Johnny Depp, H.M. Sir Prince Charles, Cory Doctorow) to shift public opinion slightly and re-introduce the Golden Age Of The Airship. Here's hoping!

Polar travel and slow-motion airship wrangling aside, the real star of this movie was of course Amundsen's nose.  As well as a steely resolve, an iron will, and a salutary ability to learn the sledging secrets of the Eskimos in only two and a half winters, Amundsen was possessed of one of those rare noses that only truly remarkable individuals may own: the kind that starts off aquiline and just keeps on growing.  Julius Caesar had one; Buster Keaton had one, the old guy who sits in the corner of your RSA has one.  Like his stature in the Norwegian national psyche, Amundsen’s nose was by the latter part of his life truly titanic, and it broke his path through the world like the bow of an ice-hardened whaling ship.  In this film we see his nose as it points resolutely out the window of the airship while the rest of him pets a jolly little terrier, we see it feted through the streets of Oslo, we see it as it calmly sniffs his in-flight mug of warm schnapps and finds it good.  Truly an amazing nose, and the world became a poorer place when it led Amundsen to his icy doom (not pictured).

This bust of Amundsen by Arne Vieglend really does justice to the nose.
It's from the Caterbury Museum; you must go and see it if you're nearby. 
photo from nzmuseums.co.nz

As an audience, we were expecting the nose, and Amundsen conniseurs will have left the cinema satisfied in this regard.  What we were not expecting (at least those of us weren't whose grasp, like my own, of European history is risible at best) was that one of the other stars of this show would be Uncle Mussolini and his merry band of Fascists.  That's right, you remember - that lot were well at it by 1925, throwing around their weight and marching on Rome, parading about the place in their pretty frocks. Because say what you like about the Fascists - and I wouldn't for a moment argue that Il Duce should not have been hung by his heels from a power pole - but by god they knew how to dress, and when they wanted to celebrate a thing they really put on a show.  A real pity about everything else, obviously, but from a cinematic point of view these guys really had it going on.  It was an Italian airship, apparently (students of polar history will have known that already, of course), so it's quite natural that Mussolini was all over it from a propoganda point of view, and he personally pinned a medal on the chest of Umberto Nobile, the Italian designer and pilot of the airship, when they returned from their - spoiler alert! - successful flight over the North Pole.

Umbero Nobile with his dog Titania.  Titania, along with a polar bear, a walrus, and several reindeer, was the real star of the show.  Of these, only Titania was not hunted for sport by the plucky adventurers.  Photo from wikimedia commons, original in the Library Of Congress

The reaction of the Norwegians was much more spontaneous, of course. Fewer banners, for one thing, uniforms less snappy but still very much a la mode (I miss the twenties, I really do - we all dressed so optimistically) but the main difference was that instead of pinning stuffy medals on his chest (and I suppose this is illustrative in a broader sense of the differing approaches of fascists and constitutional monarchists) the crowd carried Amundsen shoulder high through the streets of Oslo.  Soulder high - why don't we do that any more?  One hears about it, but I don't believe I've seen it done before.  It looks delightfully undignified as a matter of fact, whilst still being the utmost sign of respect that a person can be accorded by a baying, cheering, constitutionally monarchist mob.  Let's do that to somebody, I thought immediately - but who? Now that we have reached all available poles of the earth by every concievable means of transport, I suppose we don't have any reason to bear people shoulder high any more.  Oh well.

Amundsen's nose after its historic flight. 

For extra points, as if extra points were needed, the film also had a live piano score, played by the inimitable and wonderfully monikered Nikau Palm.  I have droned on at great length in the past about the joys of cinema accompanied by live music, and all I will say about the piano accompaniment in this case is that if you're not going to go all out and use a theatre organ, which would be my go-to plan A, then playing variations on 'those magnificent men in their flying machines' on a grand piano will do just fine.  I was thrilled.  I actually spent a good part of the film leaning forward in my seat, grinning like a seal. 

To complete this picture of cinematic excellence, the final detail, the rug that tied the room together if you like: there was a lovely man on the stage with a script and a microphone and I immediately wanted to make friends with him, purely because he was Danish and I could listen to him talk all night and half the day. Am I normal? I like to think I am. Anyway, his job was to translate the title cards, live for our edification.  This film was made in the twenties - we must understand that the whole Norge enterprise was partly geared towards flying an airship over the pole, but also substantially focused on filming an airship being flown over the pole.  That's one of the things that so thrills me about the heroic age of polar exploration; these guys had media strategies that make Alistair Campbell look like a dabbling amateur. So the original movie was produced in  about 1927 I think, in that magical era before cinema was ruined by the addition of soundtracks: hence the title cards.  Of couse, the title cards were in Norwegian, so they got this wonderful Danish fellow, whom I failed to befriend, to translate them into English for the monlingual riff-raff in the cheap seats. 

This is Amundsen's nose when he was younger. Still impressive, but it just got better and better.

What a combination! Snappy uniforms, graceful airships, swaggering noses, a romanically tinkling piano and Dane with a voice like treacle.  If you ever get a chance to see this film, you must grab it with both hands, because you will not be sorry if your interests include airships and polar adventure, and if they don't then they should. Up the Norwegians! Shame about the Fascists! The future belongs to the Airship!

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Diamond Age

I sometimes have this wild feeling that perhaps we are living in some sort of Golden Age of New Zealand folk music.  This is probably an example of what social researchers call 'observation bias:' most of my friends are folk musicians and they're writing a load of very good songs right now; my memory is not good so I tend to focus on the present, much like a fox terrier; and my awareness of the history of New Zealand folk music is really pretty patchy to be honest although of course I do my best.  So given all of these perceptual filters, it's not surprising that I would say that right now is a great time for New Zealand folk music, in the same way that a fox terrier might say that today is a good day for running around and barking at ducks.

But I do think that I might be on to something.  Thanks to the economy - thanks, economy! - Christchurch and Auckland are brimming with underemployed wasters who can holler along pretty well on a range of stringed instruments, so some of the bands are getting really pretty hot.  Also thanks to the economy, and our  reasonably terrifying government - thanks, the government! - there's quite a lot to sing about at the moment, Wellington is full of laid-off public servants with banjos, and we've got a bunch of very good writers writing very good songs about actual things, not just their hair or how hard it is to be in your twenties.

I mentioned Adam's song State Houses by The River the other day and that's a good example of what I'm talking about.  Twenty-Nine Diamonds is another one - it's by Bernie Griffen, who knows a thing or two about a thing or two and he wrote this song around a year or so ago I think.  It's exactly the kind of folk song people should be writing.  It's simple, it's direct, it's got a whole lot of heart and only three chords so any idiot can play it, and by god it's on the money.  Me and Will played it on the ferry on the way back from a tour down south last year, in that strange Irish bar they have there. It's one of the oddest gigs you can do in this country, rocking back and forth with the swell as travelers and truck-drivers try to watch the league on a  muted TV, but everyone does it because your get your van across the strait for free so you might as well. Hardly anybody ever listens, but I remember that when me and Will played Bernie's song there quite a lot of people did listen and I wouldn't be at all surprised if a few people are still humming it because that's the kind of song it is.

Anyhow we're playing a couple of shows with Bernie Griffen and the Grifters this weekend so come along, by all means.  The Broadsides are playing as well and they're just the kind of band I'm talking about that's getting really pretty hot, as of course are the mighty Grifters. The first show is tonight at the Thirsty Dog on K rd at around 9, and then we're all going up to Leigh on Saturday night to play at the Sawmill and howl at the moon.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Unchained with a Puffin

Now I am not of course a racist, but I'm sure that at the end of the day you will agree, fundamentally, that there is an essential difference, scientifically speaking, between people who come from the North Island and people who are from Down South. This difference can be best understood by a simple experiment: Observe what happens when you tell people that you went on tour around the South Island in the dead of winter, with an itinerary that included three high-altitude passes and the West Coast glacier country, with heavy weather warnings in place, and that you took along a set of snow chains that almost, but didn't quite, fit your vehicle.  Back home in Auckland, this news tends to be greeted with reactions along the lines of 'oh great, so you took chains along then.  Good thinking.  Shame they didn't quite fit, but what's the worst that could happen?'  Fair enough.  In the South, however, they are, as I say, different.  They look you up and down.  They shake their heads. They tend to not say anything much more to you, but if they do, it's variations on a central theme, which is this: 'You are the utmost of nincompoops.  You are worse than useless and you ought, for your own good, to be taken out behind the chook-house and shot.'

Bond Street Bridge onstage at The Morrings, looking deceptively competent.  
Once we're actually onstage we're pretty OK. Photo by Brooke Singer, stolen off of her 
facebook and used without permission.  Thanks Brooke!

Again, fair enough.  All I can submit in my flimsy defence is that we did not, in the end, die on the icy roads south of Fox Glacier.  The only possible explanation I can think of for this outcome is that we must have not yet accumulated sufficient Experience Points to be properly rewarded in Valhalla by whatever gods are still on duty there, and they're waiting until we've completed a few more laps of the country trapped in a van talking nonsense all day and howling out folk songs at night, while they decide what to do with us.

The other explanation, and this is the more likely one, is that we had a secret weapon along on this tour - a secret weapon, a late addition, proof if it were needed that good things do come in small packages: somewhere there a couple of weeks or so before we kicked things off, Ivy got an email from Lindon Puffin.  Now I first met Lindon - in Lyttelton of course - several years ago, in the middle of a meandering sprawl around the country with the Reb Fountain Travelling Circus (during  which we had some trouble with high altitude passes as well, I now recall - of which more later).  We'd just played a show at the Harbourlight (may it rest in peace) with everybody in reasonably high spirits, and out of nowhere there was this guy who seemed to know absolutely everybody in a twelve-kilometre radius and who could clearly talk the paint off a wall, who immediately made me think 'alright, good people!' and in pretty short order we were  all in the back room of the Wunderbar, propping up the piano there and hollering out Front Lawn songs long after business hours.

These qualities alone ought to be reccomendation enough, but I suppose I should acknowledge that we all know people who are useful when faced with a task like wrapping themselves around a bottle of whiskey and hollering out Front Lawn songs late at night, but who are in other repects utterly without merit.  I don't think I need to tell you though that Puffin is not such a one as this.  The email he sent to Ivy proved to be one of those pieces of luck that in hindsight make you realise that no matter what you plan to do, it's always just better to rely on the occasional bolt of pure good fortune because sometimes, reader, they do come along. It was a fairly simple email, at around five hundred words quite brief by Puffin's standards, and the gist of it was 'I see that you guys are touring in the South Island.  How about I come along too?'  Gold.

The view out the window of the car on the way through the Haast Pass. Photo by Ivy Rossiter, stolen from the Luckless facebook page and used without permission at risk of intellectual property-related violence. Thanks Ivy!
We said yes please, of course, because who wouldn't?  And by Thor I am glad we did because touring with Lindon was like some sort of grass-roots-folk-band-with-not-much-money-but-by-golly-they-bring-a-ton-of-attitude master class. When we met up with him at the Nelson show in the goat-smelling yurt at the Free House (it's way better than it sounds, I swear) he very quickly established that he is a frighteningly effective person to have around in a touring situation. He took one look at our mic stands, frowned, and made us promise to leave them at the Dharma Bum's club the following night and pick them up on the way back through because really, they just weren't good enough; and from them on he basically did everything. Sound was taken care of - it was his PA, and the only problem was that the vehicle I brought along was too small for his subwoofer.  I suspect he will never let me forget that. Driving in snow? Lindon was all over it, and he took care to teach us a patent technique to prevent windscreen disintegration at high speed. Fitting the chains? Northern dilletante that I am, I didn't even get my hands (let alone the sleeves of my good jacket) dirty - Lindon was the one who grovelled around in the muck and discovered that the chains I had acquired just didn't fit, no two ways about it, and he was good enough to not even rub my nose in it very much or leave me behind on the side of the road for the wolves as I no doubt deserved. He packs a van tighter than I've ever seen, and when we did get to his place in Lyttelton following some tense days on snowy roads, late arrivals, cold starts and a brush with our old friend Johnny Law on the highway south of Oamaru listening to the new Homebrew album at a good volume, he turned out to have not only two small kittens to play with but also a flatmate who restores Antarctic huts for a living - but I got a bit shy and I didn't talk to her about it all that much.

What we didn't realise at the time was that the obvious subtext to that email was 'how about I come along too, because you will need somebody there to see that you don't kill yourselves or miss any shows due to rank incompetence?' We just thought - well, we didn't quite know what to think.  We were tickled pink, but we couldn't figure out what on earth might motivate Lindon, an artist with what has been described by industry insiders as a 'legacy' to come on tour with us, who have never been described by industry insiders at all as far as I am aware and long may it last.  Being based in Auckland, the thought that he might have been motivated by concern for fellow-creatures didn't cross our minds, of course - we were looking for the angle.  Baffled, I called him up as we drove north out of Christchurch, heading home.

'We were just talking in the car, man, and we couldn't figure it out - why did you actually come on tour with us?'  We'd been talking a lot of shit to each other all week but he was actually silent for a moment and I felt like he was about to say something significant.
'I just needed to test that PA, basically.  It's new and I wanted to make sure it worked.'
'Oh, ok.  That kind of figures.  Bummer about the sub not fitting then eh? Sorry about that.'
'Right.  Well yeah that's all I guess. We were just wondering.'
'Ok, well just don't get lost or crash on the way home or anything and make sure Ivy doesn't get any more tickets for God's sake.'
'I really don't have any control over what Ivy does or doesn't do, but I'll definitely keep it in mind.'

Anyhow, we heard when we got home that Lindon's song Outta Reach is in the longlist for a Silver Scroll this year, so what I suggest you do if you're an APRA member is take a coin and toss it in the air  and if it comes up heads, vote for that song, and if it comes up tails vote for State Houses By The River by The Eastern, because they're both excellent songs done by people who make music right.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Touring with Luckless

I went on tour with Luckless last year in the springtime and I came back with a head full of new songs, glass in my foot, and a broken rib.  I maintain, at least, that it was broken: others claimed, rudely I thought, that if it was 'really broken' I would have been complaining more - both at the time and subsequently.  This is an attitude that betrays a fundamental lack of understanding (sadly all too common in these morally degenerate times) of the virtues of Putting Up and Making Do, of Carrying On and Suffering In Silence (or as near to silence as makes no odds) - the virtues that sustained the brave members of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedidtion in their times of hardship, that kept Scott's men trudging through the snow, finally to attain the South Pole a polite, modest and plucky second.  If Oates was capable of walking uncomplaining to his death on feet like sides of frozen mutton, if Shackleton could have a cat shot in the head and calmly order a round of warm milk for all hands, surely I can sustain a broken rib or two with only a small amount of perfectly understandable whining?

One of Captain Scott's dogs recreating the HMV logo on the ice.  Photo by the acclaimed Herbert Ponting, available from The National Library website, where one can spend many a happy hour looking at photos of explorers.

The glass in my foot came from Chick's Hotel, that haunted and crumbling pile next to the wharves at Port Chalmers.  There's supposed to be a tunnel there that runs from the docks to the basement of the pub - in days gone by they used to bring contraband, both goods and people, off the creaking tall ships and through the taproom in the dead of the night, apparently.  Although why you would bother to do this is anybody's guess, given the innumerable small coves around the harbour that would seem to present far more convinient smuggling routes.  I do know, though, that the crew of the Aurora, the ship that broke her moorings in a blizzard down in McMurdo Sound, abandoning Shackleton's ill-equipped Ross Sea party to the horrible privations of an Antarctic Winter, spent about six months laying up in Port Chalmers in 1916 while the Expedition Committe in London argued with the Colonial Governments of Australia and New Zealand, the British Crown, the Royal Navy, and an endless list of creditors about who would pay to go and rescue the men left on the ice - 'those penguins!' according to one W. Churchill (at that time first lord of the Admiralty) who was all for leaving them to their own not inconsiderable devices.  There is not a shred of doubt in my mind that the Aurora crew probably spent a lot of time at Chick's Hotel as they waited for orders and patched up their ship, and I like to think that it was a shard of one of their whiskey bottles that lodged itself in my foot at some ungodly hour while I stumbled about on the axminster carpet looking for my sleeping bag.

Donovan's Store: A cold day in Okarito

That tour was a great one for down time - we spent a misty day at Okarito, over on the West Coast where the white herons live, sitting in Donovan's Store drinking bad wine and playing all the songs we could remember in a room with wooden walls lined with photographs of everybody who lives in the town, all sitting in their living rooms. After that Ivy from Luckless kindly agreed to join my band and now she sings and hits a drum and it's just right.  After I came back from that tour I wrote a whole lot of songs that I haven't finished yet, and a a few that I have, and most of them seem to be about the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration: of which more later. The point is, Luckless have just released their debut album, which is called Luckless, and I urge you to go and buy it at once. To facilitate this, we're doing another tour, this time in the dead of the Winter, mostly in the South Island again because the South Island is a good place to be in the dead of the Winter. The album is a soaring, sweeping, serious piece of work, it's a hell of a lot better than most albums and it has not a shred of lazy hipster irony to it, which is refreshing and welcome in a time when so many damn things do. So come to the shows, by all means, and tell your friends: the Bond Street set will be all about explorers and the Luckless set will be awesome.  Here are the dates:


Friday 22nd June – The Moorings, Wellington with French For Rabbits (early-ish show, 7.30pm)
Saturday 23rd June – The Free House, Nelson
Sunday 24th June – The Dharma Bums Club, Wairau Valley (early show, 4pm)
Monday 25th June – Donovan’s Store, Okarito
Tuesday 26th June – Cooks Saddle, Fox Glacier
Wednesday 27th June – Theatrette, Oamaru
Thursday 28th June – The National, Dunedin, with Matt Langley
Friday 29th June – The Brewery, Christchurch
Saturday 30th June – The Darkroom, Christchurch, with Aldous Harding

Friday, April 13, 2012

Some normal Auckland shows in bars.

It's time for some normal shows in Auckland bars. Bond Street Bridge have spent the Summer out in the cold sunlight, playing shows from the dust of the Lyttelton Petenque Club to the very backyards of the horrifying zombie mansions that line Luckens Reserve in Auckland's West Harbour. From the shores of Lake Okarito where the white herons nest to the flaming braziers of the Sawmill at Leigh, from the stalactite-hung weirdness of the Playhouse in Nelson to the ancient beer-sticky boards of the Napier's Cabana, from the haunted halls of Chick's Hotel to the Blue Ice Cafe where the wind blows straight in from the Fox Glacier and back to the baroque bizarrity of the mask-hung walls of the Grainstore Gallery in Oamaru's white stone port district, we have slung guitars, beaten drums, tapped laptops and whispered tales of glory.

Now we are ready for the Golden Dawn.

DJ House and Garden is a Golden Dawn veteran. His caped silhouette looming powerfully behind the wheels of steel is a welcome sight to those liquor-swilling denizens of the Inner-Auckland evening who haunt his dancefloor - but everything must pass, ladies and gentlemen. After one last ever final An Emerald City show (28th of April, St Kevin's Arcade on the dot of 8pm), Reuben P. 'House and Garden' Bonner will return to Berlin to fight the forces of badness and keep the northern hemisphere safe for rock and roll. This last Golden Dawn set for quite some time will be an excellent oppourtunity to witness DJ H&G dropping 'Ramble On' on an unsuspecting Ponsonby Road the way only he knows how, so let us hope to god he does that.

The whole turkey-shoot costs only five bucks as well, so you would be beserk to miss this. It's next thursday  (19th of April) at Golden Dawn Tavern of Power, tucked away on Ponsonby Road there. To answer your next question: yes, it does feel weird to be playing somewhere in central Auckland that is not the Wine Cellar.  We're just mixing things up a little here.

And, by dint of either planetary alignment or great judgement, we're also playing a show in Auckland the following night. This one's at the Wine Cellar of course, with a bunch of other  sweet bands. They'll have wine cellar and whammy bar opened up and it will all get quite fun. The bands are us, Mulholland (in their only NZ show for some time), Coach (with a bunch of new stuff I believe), Nikita the Spooky and the Circus of Men, (who sound pretty awesome), Brendan Turner and Callum Stembridge, and Brendan has as usual put together a pretty alarming poster. 

So, details:  

Bond Street Bridge and DJ Reuben P. 'House and Garden' Bonner: 19th April, Golden Dawn, 9ish
Mulholland, Bond Street Bridge, Coach, Nikita the Spooky and Circus of Men, Brendan Turner, Callum Stembridge: 20th April, Wine Cellar and Whammy, 8:30 start.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

In The Pines

A couple of days ago we took our coffee for a walk through the pines behind the zoo, which is where we go usually when life is getting a bit samey and we want to see the elephant.  I'm not sure how many people know this, but there's a few places around Western Springs where you can get a good look at the elephant, and she quite likes it I think when we go and say hi, because she doesn't have a buddy anymore since Kashin died and the horse the zookeepers said they were going to get her as a pet doesn't seem to have turned up yet.

There's something comfortingly medieval about the idea of an elephant having a pet horse.  It evokes an orderly worldview, a nice tidy Great Chain of Being in which everything has a place in an Aquinian hierarchy: God at the top of course, then the Angels, The King, Noble Cats, Peers of the Realm, English Yeomen, Foreigners, Women (domestic), Women (foreign), Greater Beasts of the Field, Hounds, Lesser Beasts of the Field, Fowls (of the air), Fowls (domestic), Vermin & Serpents (Marine and Terranean), Hypothetical Unsaved Antipodeans, Strolling Minstrels, Vagabonds, Demons, all the way down to nasty old Lucifer brooding away in hell down there. It makes perfect sense on this view for anything higher up the chain to own anything lower down - so an elephant can clearly have a pet horse, or God could have a pet anything, but a domestic chicken, for example, could not keep an ox as a pet because that would be absurd.

But anyway, for whatever reason the zookeepers decided that the elephant didn't need a pet horse after all, so she just sort of mooches round her field and tries to make friends with the rabbits, who aren't really up for much.  We go and visit her once in a while, as I said, to keep her spirits up, and I think she appreciates the company, even at a small distance.  Elephants are OK to look at from a distance because they're reasonably large.
This time round, we were peering though the pine trees and waving a little bit so she could see we were there, and we were suddenly reminded (presumably the association was with the loyal Elephant Cavalry of Imperial British India) that this year is the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.  That elicited a round of back-slapping and respectful congratulations with coffee-mugs raised generally Northwards, very much in the tradition of Scott's men when they were on the ice. Then, since we were in a remembering mood, I remembered something strange that happened a long time ago and I'd almost forgotten.

"Have I ever told you the story of the time I played the tambourine By Royal Appointment?" I asked. 
"Nope.  Have you been saving it up?"
"Well, I'd almost forgotten in fact.  These sorts of things happen tediously often, you know." I was adopting an airy tone, suitable for the out-of-doors in reasonable proximity to wildlife.
"They don't at all, you know.  It's just that your memory isn't what it was because you tend to make things up instead of actually trying to recollect them."
"That's a good point, but this did actually happen I think.  Somewhere, I have a green T-shirt with a crown on it, about the right size for a goofy-looking ten-year-old."
"That sounds like the kind of thing you would have worn when you were about eighteen, actually, and picked up in any op-shop in Lower Hutt."
"Well. I confess I did try to wear it then, but it was pretty tight even on a goofy ten-year-old.  On a goofy eighteen-year-old there was just too much midriff.  I can't remember though whether that specifically was the problem, or whether it was just that it didn't match my eyes, but  anyway I did try and fail to wear it as an eighteen-year-old.  The provenance of the shirt, however, was not in doubt.  It was handed to me, I recall, shrink-wrapped, by a matronly-looking woman standing in an enormous warehousey thing in Earl's Court Stadium.  I think it was a stadium.  Something like that."
"Why was she handing you a t-shirt?"
"She was handing it to me, I think, because I could not be otherwise persuaded to leave the buffet table.  I think we were supposed to go up to the front and get them ourselves, but there was an abundance of free food and I didn't have many manners in those days."
"That sounds very likely.  But why were you there in the first place?"
"Well. As a Tambourine Player by Royal Appointment, it was my duty - my honour, really - to play the tambourine for Her Majesty on the occasion of an earlier jubilee.  The fortieth, I think.  Silver? Gold? Is that fortieth?"
"I'm not sure.  It would definitely be a metal though I'd say.  Let's call it silver, and leave gold for fifty.  That seems reasonable."

When we got home and consulted the Commemorative China, we realised
that silver is actually 25 years, and it happened in 1977. We still don't know 
what metal forty is. All other details in this story are accurate though, more or less.

"OK, it was the Queen's Silver Jubilee.  So she got me to come an play the tambourine for her."
"In a tight green t-shirt with a crown on it?"
"Naturally.  This was 1992, of course, and tight green t-shirts with crowns on them were the very height of goofy-looking ten-year-old fashion."
"OK.  What were the princes wearing?"
"Um. I don't know.  Suits, I'd imagine.  You have to remember that even as a Tambourine Player by Royal Appointment, you don't necessarily get to access all areas. I have to confess I don't recall seeing the princes."
"Not at all?"
"Not that I recall.  There was a lot going on though.  I'd just been introduced to Dungeons & Dragons, for example, so I was a bit distracted."
"Introduced to Dungeons & Dragons? By the matronly lady with the t-shirt?"
"No, she only features in this story as a t-shirt deliverer.  The Dungeons and Dragons vector was a boy called Colin.  He was, I think, a Triangle Player By Royal Appointment."
"So this wasn't a solo performance?"
"No, I had a band I guess.  Sort of."
"Oh, that's a shame, I kind of imagined you in the drawing room at Buckingham Palace waggling a tambourine like that boy from Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close, all by yourself on the Royal Carpet."
"Transfixing the corgis with my scintillating rhythm?"
"That would have been cool. In my green T-shirt."
"And the Duke could have dropped a race-bomb, and you wouldn't have even know because you were only ten."
"And a little bit goofy-looking."
"With a crown on your shirt." The elephant did a bit of a snort around now, showing that not everybody wanted to hear about this couterfactual scenario.

"Yeah that would have ruled, but remember I didn't have very good manners - so I would never have got that kind of gig. I totally could now though, because I'm really good with old ladies and the Queen would love the now me. Back then she would probably just have not been amused."
"And you would have eaten all the asparagus rolls at the garden party."
"For sure.  No, the real life thing was different. It was like, every country in the Commonwealth had to send some kids along to this thing called The Great Event at Earls Court Stadium.  I think it was a Stadium.  Something."
"Sort of like The Hunger Games?"
"Yeah but way more lame.  Like nobody got to do any fighting or anything, and I don't think there was a death penalty involved."
"That already sounds lamer than what I know about the Hunger Games."
"Which is actually not heaps, eh?"
"You're right, it's practically nothing.  So it wasn't really like the Hunger Games at all then?"
"I don't think so.  I don't really know anything about the Hunger Games either, so let's say it was more like the thing at primary school where all the choirs have to go to the Lower Hutt Horticultural Hall and do a performance."
"Oh yeah and you sing something like There's a Fraction Too Much Friction and the singing teacher gets real grumpy because all the kids sing essentially the same word for Friction and Fraction and it makes her look bad in front of all the other singing teachers."
"That's the one.  Except instead of Schools, it was Countries, and instead of the Lower Hutt Horticultural Hall it was Earls Court Stadium."
"Or something."
"Yeah, or something.  And instead of singing teachers, it was - I'm pretty sure I'm remembering this right - some dudes from the Army."
"I think so.  It kind of makes sense, like maybe they were the Brass Band or something."
"So these guys from the army taught you all to sing a song?"
"That was the interesting thing, actually."
"Finally." The elephant looked up expectantly as well.

"Nah, stay with me here. This story has The Queen in it, remember? No, the thing was, they figured we would all be way too unruly and retarded to learn a song, so-"
"So they gave you, what, a bunch of percussion instruments?" Millicent Crow has a post-graduate diploma in Primary Education, but you don't need one of those to know that this plan was doomed from the start. The elephant shook her head.

"Yeah, weird eh? There were maybe a few hundred of us.  How many countries are there in the Commonwealth?"
"Counting Zimbabwe?"
"Yep, this was 1992, remember? They were still in the club then."
"Right. Um, no idea."
"Me neither, but I reckon fifty or so.  And there were about six or seven kids just from New Zealand, so that makes, what? Heaps of kids."
"Heaps of kids."
"Way too many to make it a good idea to hand out percussion instruments. But they did! I think I lost faith in the Army as an institution around about then."
"I bet you didn't, because you've already told me that there was an unlimited buffet."
"You're right.  Sorry.  I shouldn't impose my current prejudices on my goofy ten-year-old self. No, plus I think I thought their uniforms were pretty cool."
"That sounds more likely."
"So they had these percussion instruments, and all these kids, in a massive warehouse-"
"You said stadium."
"It was more of a warehouse.  And they gave us our lunches in paper bags."
"Not a buffet?"
"I think - I think - there was both. Which would make this about the best thing that had ever happened to me up until that point and probably quite a bit further on as well."  I grew a little bit misty eyed, and the sun slanted through the pine trees in a Golden Age kind of way.  "And we were there for two days!"

We were there for two days, I remembered. Oddly enough this was all coming back to me as we were talking, although it seemed like a strange sort of thing to forget in the first place.  Two days in what I remember now as a large empty warehouse or aircraft hangar, presumably somewhere in London - possibly behind Earl's Court, which is more of a hall than a stadium now I look at it on the Internet - with children from all over the world, many of them in colourful national costume (we got the t-shirts, apparently New Zealand doesn't have a national costume) and everybody milling about, hitting woodblocks and cymbals, twirling around and getting underfoot, eating asparagus rolls handed out by a bunch of crewcut blond dudes in military dress uniforms. It was sort of like if you got Baz Luhrman in to design a high-concept refugee camp, with a lot of emphasis on camp. A really good place at any rate to get recruited into the ranks of goofy-looking ten-year-old Dungeons and Dragons players.

Each group of kids had to learn the rhythm - just the rhythm, no words or even actions or anything - to our 'national song.' At least the main hook to that tune, anyway - the killer middle eight that would get Her Majesty sitting up in her seat reflecting on the loyalty of her subjects and the vastness of her empire.  This was 1992, so it was still OK to say 'empire,' of course.

"So what song did you guys learn?"
"That was one of the weird parts.  It had to fit in with this big long piece that the orchestra was playing" (let's say it was the London Philharmonic, or at least the BBC Pops, something with a little class) "and it was really quite long, so they sort of squished us in a bit."
"Squished? Like how?"
"Well, we all sat on this big map they'd painted on the floor of the stage, all the kids on their own countries.  Or it our case and with like Fiji and stuff, it was more that we were sitting in the sea near our countries, because they were using azimuthal projection, which unfairly favours the Northern Hemisphere.  The Canadians were positively rattling around, and Northern Ireland had plenty of room.  Didn't stop them stretching their legs South a little though, bless their Loyal hearts."
"So there you were, sitting in the sea."
"There we were, sitting in the sea.  And for some reason - I don't know who the arranger was or anything, but we were getting the short straw left and right.  Not only did they give us this tiny little squiggle to sit on" - here I was becoming indignant, no wonder I had buried this memory - "Not content to squeeze us into the sea, guess what our 'national song' was?"
"Ooh, um? Gosh... Blam Blam Blam, There is No Depression In New Zealand?"
"Try again.  National song. Synonymous in the minds of the Royal Family with these shaky isles and their verdant land uplifted high."
"No, I give up.  Go on."
"I'll tell you: Waltzing. Matilda. Waltzing Bloody Matilda. The national song of the Loyal and Ancient Dominion of Australiaandnewzealand, apparently.  That's when I became a communist."
"No you didn't, that was later on at University when you saw a picture of Che Guevara looking smoking hot."
"OK, you're right, but I should have.  Anyway, we got our own back in a way.  It really is a daft idea, giving a pack of kids percussion instruments and expecting them to wait quietly until their cue.  We really wanted the Queen to notice us, so we sort of joined in with the other National Songs as they happened.  Lots of vim and enthusiasm, but my god some of those National Songs are tricky! Talk about embarrassing your singing teacher - I expect the Army Brass Band guy in charge of training the ANZAC contingent is scrubbing latrines in Afghanistan as we speak."
"Do you think she noticed?"
"Well.  This was twenty years ago, and she's had two chances since then to invite me to play at her Jubilees.  Which, conspicuously, she hasn't done.  So my guess is yes, she noticed."
"Not amused?"
"Not only that, she hasn't even come to visit since then.  She keeps sending the kids instead. Or going to Australia."
"Which she obviously thinks is the same place anyhow."
"Yeah.  Waltzing Bloody Matilda."

I shook my head. My faith in the Great Chain of Being had been dealt another blow.  The elephant snorted, took a final trunkfull of grass, and ambled back inside her Elephant Hutch.  The rabbits sniffed the air and bolted for their burrows as the baboons across the creek began their post-prandial howl.  The light had gone from gold to red and we toasted the Queen, packed up the picnic, and headed for home through Western Springs Park.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Hope and Wire

I just watched the video for the 'the letting go' from the Eastern's new double album Hope and Wire, and I don't mind who knows that I sat on my bed on on a sunny morning in Auckland City and cried like an orphaned baby seal. What a sad-sack, I guess, but I'm normally way tougher than this so don't worry about me.  It's just, you know, theres a lot going on on this album they've made here.  A lot more than you get in a lot of albums from a lot of bands: a lot more hope for one thing and also a lot more wire. Hope and wire - I couldn't think of a better line to capture the feeling of Christchurch since the earthquake, and I can't think of a better band than the Eastern to put it on a record.

I've seen this hope and wire in the past year. Playing music around the country I've been through Christchurch for shows a few times since the quake, throwing myself every time on the unstinting hospitality of the Eastern Family, the way we have done for years. In June I was travelling with the Teacaddies and we were booked at the Wunderbar. That was one of the very few venues that was operating at the time, having just reopened after the first quake knocked out the stairs back in September of 2010. Then the June 2011 shake happened and the place closed up again, so we needed somewhere to play. Not the biggest or most important problem by any means in a city of problems, but Adam and Jess got on the case, and I got my first taste of hope and wire in post-quake Lyttelton.  We played at a jury-rigged weekly club night at the Naval Point Yacht Club hosted by Al Park of the red-stickered Al's Bar, with an ancient PA, Axminster carpet on the floor and a roomful of people happy that things were happening, that there was a place to go in a town in ruins. We went back to Eastern HQ that night with some guitars and we heard the songs they'd been writing, heard about all the street-corner and backyard shows they'd been playing since February, keeping the music going and spirits up. That was hope.

A couple of months later I came through with Luckless and we played a live to air on RDU. I'd been hearing about how they'd come through the early part of the year badly, they'd lost their studio on the University campus and they were broadcasting out of a van of some kind.  What I hadn't heard was that the van they were broadcasting out of was actually the bastard child of Barbarella's deep space love capsule and a Mad Max war truck, as imagined by Heath Robinson after a solid morning in front of a bottle of absinthe - basically the best vehicle of any kind that I saw in all of 2011.  Imagine this: It's a horse float.  It's got a perspex bubble in the roof like the tank that Tintin drove on the moon. It's got a generator and all the switches, knobs, dials and oscillators you need to run a fully-functioning radio station. The inside walls are lined with astroturf. And! The side wall folds down into a stage, so you can set up a band anywhere you want, and broadcast the performance live.  We rolled up to the show at C4 Coffee company on the edge of the red zone in Tuam street to find them set up and ready to go, Gabe the programme director grinning from ear to ear with dreadlocks all the way down his back.

'We've got a sweet signal,' he said. 'I climbed up the back of the building with the antenna cable and tied it to the downspout.  Direct line of sight to the repeater on the Port Hills.'  That was wire.

Ivy and Will rocking the RDUnit: Note the astroturf.

I can't think of Christchurch without thinking about The Eastern.  They're a touring band, they work harder probably than any other group in the country and they're on the road a lot.  As much as they're away, though, they're a local band. Their songs, their artwork, the way they operate, they're all about Christchurch and they're especially all about Lyttelton Harbour.  Jess Shanks writes about being a Southern Girl, Adam writes about the harbour lights and the bars on London Street.  There are pictures of the Port Hills on their album covers, and before the quake they could be found any night of the week playing in bars around town because that's their job. Like a lot of bands, we get help from the Eastern every time we come through Christchurch, and that night they were putting us up at this house they were recording at, in Dallington.  We had a late show at the Brewery and we'd been up at all hours in Oamaru the night before when we managed to lock ourselves out of our accommodation at four am, so everyone was a little wired and shaky as we followed Adam's directions from Tuam street.

Dallington was fucked. Christchurch locals have got used to lumpy roads apparently, but to an out-of towner it's very disconcerting driving on tarmac rumpled like a quilt and full of holes. Crossing the Avon on a twisted bridge, we could see that this part of town was mostly abandoned. The verges were overgrown, the driveways were blooming with poppies, it was spring time and there was nobody mowing the lawns. Rooflines sagged and windows were empty; it felt creepy peering into people's deserted living rooms so after a couple we stopped looking.  At what we thought might be the right letterbox we killed the engine and looked around, listened to the quiet. This was clearly not the right place, couldn’t be. Nobody lived here. This was Poland, this was East Berlin, this was an abandoned suburb in the second-biggest town in New Zealand. We were not ready for this, nobody was ready for this. These directions, we thought, must be wrong. Some tension in the car, cracks. Sobering. Depressing, even. Then we heard a guitar, laughter, people, a dog. We piled inside and there were amps and a drumkit, cables and mics, preamps everywhere, lyric sheets stuck up on the wall and guitars on every surface, they had the electricity going and there was beer in the fridge. In an abandoned house, in a suburb full of abandoned houses waiting for insurance companies to come and tear them town, The Eastern were making a record. Hope.

Sign on the wall at the recording house. Adam has also taken to carving his
 name into the floors of venues with a knife, I am told.
A month or so later I came back through with the Broken Heartbreakers and we stayed at the recording house again.  The whiteboard on the wall showed that the album was nearly ready, ticks in most of the boxes. There had been a couple more shakes in the meantime and the driveway was covered with fine liquefaction dust that got in your mouth when the wind blew.  The house had settled a bit and some of the doors that opened last time were jammed shut now, but it felt like a place where a good thing was happening.  I asked Adam to play me some of the tracks.  'You can wait,' he said.  Fair enough.

We were playing at the Brewery again that night, but thanks to Carmel from Volcano Radio we had an afternoon gig as well, at the Lyttelton Petenque Club.  Some years back me and Emily had stayed in a well turned-out hostel on London Street, an Art Deco place that wore its age well and kept clean rooms.  It's dust now, a pile of gravel. The corner where it stood isn't empty, though - the gap has been filled by the open-air headquarters of the raggedy rough and ready Lyttelton Petenque Club, because really, can you think of a better use for a gravelly lot?  There's a community garden there too, and people selling coffee and markets once a week: a place to go amongst the ruins, see the neighbours, chuck rocks about.  We set up our PA in the corner of the dusty lot and played our set, got a sunburn. People were hanging out, smiling, filling the gap. For the rest of the tour all of our gear and our cables were covered with dust and we didn't mind. Hope and wire.

Listening to the new album this morning I could hear all of this and so much more. So much more – these guys live there after all and I just blow through sometimes. I’ve got some anecdotes, they’ve got a year of dust and rubble, friends killed and maimed, confusion, uncertainty, hope and wire. They put all of that into this record I think. The video made me cry though (not as in ‘brought a tear to my eye’ or anything so restrained, I’m talking about crying, Roy Orbison-style: no control, great choking sobs and tears rolling onto my laptop) it made me cry because before all this happened, I walked in those hills with that exact dog, I played in those bars with my friends, I rode the ferry to Diamond Harbour and looked back at the Timeball Station above the port, I woke up to the valleys around the harbour white with snow on a morning in August. I love that town and the ruins break my heart. Lyttelton isn’t my place, but it’s a place I love, and The Eastern have made the album that Lyttelton deserves.

Millicent Crow with Shank's dog Banjo above Lyttelton Harbour in 2009.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Out There Doing Things

Clearly, nobody in this photo owns this truck. It's parked by the Dharma Bum's Club, Wairau 
Valley and it belongs to a man named Trevor.

There may have been very little action on the blog for the past few weeks, but that's only because I've been Out There Doing Things.  So I can report, in no particular order:

  • The abandoned former meeting-house of the Dunedin Theosophical Society in is full of weapons.
  • Oamaru is still a great place for albatross heads rendered in papier mache - and this time, Reuben, we had leave to wear them on our heads and dance around if we wanted. But we didn't want, because instead we kept the front bar of the Criterion open long after bed-time with David Bowie covers on a tiny guitar.
  • The Dharma Bum's club in Wairau Valley is one of the the best gigs in New Zealand right about now.
  • Nobody in Dunedin locks their doors - not the people who ring the bells at Knox Church, and not whoever it is who is currently responsible for securtiy at the former headquaters of the Dunedin Theosophical Society - which is full of weapons.
  •  Chick's Hotel is still haunted.
  • The Bluebridge ferry is what sea travel should be all about.  There are laminated photocopied lists of who gets to be in which life raft taped to the bulkheads, and reminders about which crew member is responsible for what in the event of a sinking. Sample text: 'Position: CAPTIAN Emergency Position: ON BRIDGE Duty: IN CHARGE.' No fucking about, and the decor is Soviet-era Black Sea Cruise Liner.
  • Two good songs for riding the pitching deck of a ship at sea in a gale: Stormy High by Black Mountain and Immigrant Song by the Zep.
  • It is very hard to find anything useful to do with and A-zero sized poster on a windy afternoon in Wellington with half an hour to spare, but the crack under the door at Evil Genius Records is large enough to carefully slide one through.
  • Some seriously cool things are happening in Christchurch at the moment.
The venue printed A0 posters and all we had was some sellotape and a half-assed can-do attitude.

This is not hipstamatic or any of that bullshit. It's 100% sneaking up the bell tower of Knox Church with Millicent Crow  and taking photos through the stained glass.  We make our own fun.

I want to be in the life boat with the Chief Engineer please

More on all of that later.  Meanwhile, look at this cool blog.  Also: Shows this weekend in Waterview, Raglan, and Karekare. Oh my heck yes!