Friday, April 12, 2013

Great God! This Is An Awful Place

It's amazing what you can get for a bottle of whiskey.  As we rolled out of Otaki at the end of the first leg of the Explorers Club:Antarctica tour, having just played 16 shows in the past 14 days, and driven the van four and a half thousand ks over that same period - a lot of winding and climbing, three times through the Lindis Pass, down the Buller Gorge, up the Haast, to Milford and back with the smell of clutch and brake hanging heavy in the air like brimstone, like napalm, like victory - well we'd been up late the night before finishing off the fizzy wine that they gave us in lieu of payment for the last show (the fee, oh promoters and future partners of Bond Street Bridge, has since increased), we had the music turned loud to promote wakeful driving, and we weren't sure at first whether we were hearing things when the van started making a noise like a an old yak coughing up his breakfast.  We'd cashed our chips at the main gas station in town - I forget what we did, but we couldn't face going back there - but Thor* was on our side, and the next gas station had a mechanic on duty and this mechanic needed only a little persuasion to take a blowtorch to our undercarriage in exchange for what was left of a bottle of Jameson's.

Whatever he did to the van, it's holding good, and thus was inaugurated whiskey as the principle medium of exchange in the Bond St economy.  (Again - promoters, festival bookers and the like: we actually prefer cash or bitcoins, this story is mainly just rock'n'roll posturing.)  So when we got back to Auckland, we thought we'd try our luck with a stash of very fine 12-year-old single malt we'd picked up from the New Zealand Whiskey Company in Oamaru, who are as premium a parcel of moonshiners as you'd hope to meet in that still-studded corner of the country.  We shopped round for tenders and by far the best deal we've been offered was from Hazel Gibson, who in a trice rustled up a film crew and with their new-fangled patent cinematograph-photolithography process, captured these bright crisp images of our performance at the Wine Cellar in the Auckland Fringe Festival:

I think you will agree that we came out on top in this particular deal, which I guess means that now we owe Hazel a favour. Which means she wins!  Curses, foiled again etc, but I gather that she filmed the whole thing, so there ought to be more videos like this coming out over the next few months.  The audio was all recorded live on the night as well, thanks to Rohan Evans' wizardry on the mixing console.  He also got whiskey, and of course it goes without saying that we are also in his debt, as we have been for a number of years.  If Rohan Evans called in all his debts at once, every musician in Auckland would have to put every piece of gear they own up on trademe.

For those of you who don't know the story, this song is about the arrival of Capt. Robert Falcon Scott and his men at the South Pole, just over one hundred and one years ago.  They had hoped to get there first, of course, but they did know that Amundsen was also heading for the pole and that he had a head start.  For most of the journey, however, they had been able to convince themselves that they must be in the lead, not having found any sign of the Norwegian team.  It was only a matter of days before their arrival at the pole that the British team came across Amundsen's tracks, and at this point the tone of Scott's diary takes a decidedly dark turn.  At the pole, he writes 'Great God! This is an awful place, and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without the reward of priority... now for the run home, and a desperate struggle.  I wonder if we can do it.'  I almost always get a manly tear in my eye when I read this entry; it's simple and brutal and there is only one way out.  The writing remains extraordinarily lyrical under the harshest conditions, and it was straightforward enough to turn this part of Scott's diary and some of his last letters into a song.  I hope it does him and his party justice.

*God of all things van-related.  Full disclosure: the van is a people-mover.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

What we do in April

April is upon us, and we're doing a couple  of special shows as we continue to take the *ahem* award-winning show 'The Explorers Club: Antarctica' around the country.  The good folk at the Tauranga Art Gallery rang up six weeks or so ago, as we were tearing down the West Coast on the way to a party in Okarito where at least two people would turn out to be dressed up as ships, dogs would be dressed as other, more famous, dogs, there would be more than one Amelia Earhart and a resplendent Julius Von Haast, as well as open fires and the many many half-wild children that haunt the fringes of any gathering down there in Westland, running about underfoot in a baying, slavering pack and by god you don't want to turn your back on the whiskey or they'll be off with it faster than a weka with a set of car keys.

Explorers Club party, near Franz Josef. Note people dressed as ships, dogs dressed as other dogs, etc. 
Do not try to party like this in the city, you will not be able to reach these levels. 

Anyway we were making good time on the tight turns, listening to War of The Worlds at a reasonable volume, screaming in the scary bits and shaking our skinny fists at the mountains, those awful snowbound monstrosities that wouldn't stop their looming out there to the left of the car, and shaking our fists also at that mighty ocean roiling away out there to the right, generally passing the time the way we do when we're driving through scenes of surpassing natural beauty and feeling a little bit diminished by it all.

For the love of God, move back the mountains.  How they loom!

So it was reassuring, amidst all of this awful (in the sense of filling one with awe) and deeply savage (in the sense of there being a lot of trees around) sensory overload, to receive a phonecall from that most genteel and civilised of institutions, a public art gallery.  I pulled to a halt at the side of the road and reduced Jeff Wayne to a polite murmur, and we did the deal then and there, using the magic of wireless telephony:

Thurs 18 April: The Explorers Club: Antarctica at Tauranga Art Gallery 7:30 PM, tickets $25

So come to that, if you find yourself in the Bay of Plenty at the right time.  The next night, we're appearing on Waiheke, in the wonderful Artworks Theatre.  Last time we were there it was as the Wine Cellar Strings, backing Marlon, Delaney and Tami, the sweetest country threesome you'll hear in New Zealand at the moment.  And ladies it's true - I did kiss Marlon Williams all upon his stubbly cheek, and he will always have a piece of my heart.

Fri 19th April: The Explorers Club: Antarctica at Artworks Theatre, Waiheke Island, 7pm $15 presales, $20 at the door

It's only a short and very beautiful ferry ride from downtown Auckland, so let's just agree that we'll see you there on the night.