Five Kiwi pieces
As I sat in Wellington Airport, waiting for my flight – the first of three long flights home – a small earthquake occurred. The terminal building shivered for about 30 seconds. I looked around me. People continued chatting and checking their mobile phones.
Moments later, following the sound of a gong over the intercom, there was recorded announcement.
‘ATTENTION. EARTHQUAKE. DROP TO THE FLOOR AND COVER YOUR HEAD WITH YOUR HANDS.’
One or two people around me smiled, shook their heads in amusement, then continued what they had been doing.
I decided not to drop to the floor or cover my head, but it did occur that the warning could be serious. I had heard of aftershocks; presumably there is such a thing a as beforeshock. During my stay in New Zealand, I had been told several times – always rather cheerfully – that earthquakes over the fault on the building’s and which Wellington is built occur pretty precisely at 300 year intervals.
The last one was 301 years ago.
It’s part of the paradox of New Zealand that this apparently calm, green and mellow land sits atop a rumbling fault line in the earth’s core, and it was one of which I was made aware on the first day of my tour a fortnight previously. My first gig, in Picton on the South Island, was earthquaked off – building work on earthquake defences had overrun.
That was one of the few setbacks on what was a memorable tour, during which I played to great, responsive audiences who laughed and sang along in all the right places. I have too many happy memories of all this to mention in a public blog, but here, somewhat egotistically, are some song-based memories of my trip
1. Me Too in Wellington
Staying with the Sue Harkness, the president of the Wellington Folk Festival, I played to her and her friend Carmel Penny, a song I had been working on recently. In spite of my jet-lagged performance, they liked it enough to suggest that I should launch it at a Radio New Zealand National interview with Jesse Mulligan I was doing the next day. So the following morning, after recording a little video at the fantastic Alistair’s Music Shop in Wellington, that’s what I did – here’s the RNZ interview.
2. I Can’t Call My Baby ‘Baby’ at Wellyfest.
There’s a special dawn chorus at the Wellington Folk Festival, which is affectionately known as Wellyfest. At around breakfast time on a crisp spring morning, the first ukulele, guitar, melodion can be heard from one of the tents on the encampment on the scout camp where it is held over the long Labour Day weekend. Soon there is the stirring of other instruments and by mid morning, the sound of the festival – people happily playing music – is all around.
For me , the weekend involved a show on the main stage – with an unscheduled late-night set in the more informal Balladeer Tent – and on the Sunday, a couple of well-attended and interesting workshops, closing with a set in the final night’s showcase concert, where I played this.
It was a wonderful two days, full of superb, ever-surprising music from New Zelaand and international musicians. Some of the best and most interesting acts I saw were local musicians who proved that the best kind of folk music is eclectic and unsolemn, bringing in musical influences from past and present, from home and abroad. It reminded of why we all play music, and how lucky we are.
3. Saved By a Song in Napier
For a week after the festival, I travelled around the southern half of North Island, playing gigs at such varying venues as the wonderful 4th Wall Theatre in the suburbs of New Plymouth on the west coast, to the Cabana in Napier on the east coast, where the duty manager Pagan Moon turned out to be what she called ‘a protest art’ – this is one of hers.
Then there were two sell-out concerts in Palmerston North and Otaki, organised and hosted by my new friend Ruth Birnie, Dale Webb and, the man who first suggested that I should play in New Zealand, Cavan Haines.
Now and then, I pulled over to the side of the road to enjoy the astonishing landscape I was driving through. In Hawke’s Bay, I sang a song on the beach, drowned out by the south Pacific waves and the occasional gusts of wind. Here’s a brief clip.
4. Sad Old Bastard in Dunedin
My last show was at the New Edinburgh Folk Club in the South Island town of Dunedin, before which I travelled out to the Otago Peninsular outside the town to see the albatross colony. A single royal albatross was in residence, allowing me to take this photograph on my phone. It probably won’t be entered into the Wildlife Photograph of the Year competition.
That night I played a startlingly enjoyable gig at the folk club at the end of which, probably with more emotion than was entirely appreciated, I asked the audience to accept my thanks on behalf of all the people to whom I had played over the previous ten days.
5. Darn Right I Got the Blues in Otaki
For my last night, I was back in Otaki, an hour north of Wellington. As I listened to my host Penelope Haines playing on the harp (Cavan was rehearsing in a local production of The Vicar of Dibley), I reflected on what an intense, interesting and often surprising time I had had in New Zealand.
I would have liked to stay longer. Next time, I hope, I will