Adapting. That’s the goal of the music and arts journo now. Has been the case for a few years. But never more so than right now. I started 2018 wondering if there was much point in writing or if there were any readers left for me at all even. I then decided it was about gathering experiences and enjoying them. I was no longer on the clock and forced to go to gigs – it was about choice. I still wrote a few reviews of course. Same deal with albums. I mostly hunted out records for myself, writing about them long after they were deemed “Brand New”. Or not writing about them at all, just enjoying them.
I didn’t review the best gig I saw this year. Nor write about the album I listened to (and loved) the most. These are small victories for me. It felt really liberating.
I returned to the stage – twice – to read poetry and creative works. That was frightening and rewarding. Fortunately, in that order. There were great podcasts to capture – I reckon it’s been the best year for the podcast in fact. And I still chipped away at plenty of reviewing – across film and DVD, books and music.
As well as providing reviews every month on RNZ. And getting to present a few new features for radio too.
So, I’m going to walk back through the year. A bit of a boast perhaps. But if I don’t celebrate it who will? Here goes with 2018’s highlights for me:
I played records to an empty bar. Proving I might be on the list of nominees for World’s Worst DJ I stepped out just after a random thunderstorm and unseasonable Weather-Warning weather to play one of my best sets of funk, soul and groove tunes to…absolutely no one. The barman was the only one in the audience. And after staying at it for as long as seemed reasonable (and then for an hour or two after that) he said “great tunes man. A shame no one was here”. Indeed.
The Selecter and The Beat killed it hard. This was a great way to start the gig-going year. I enjoyed a beer with my good pal Jon McLeary ahead of this double-bill. Both bands were superb.
I was co-pilot at 2Ser in Sydney for their classic “Dirt Music” show. My friend Stuart Coupe invited me to select most of the music for an afternoon in the studio helping to co-host his legendary, long-running weekly program of great music and views, “Dirt Music”. This meant world-premiering a brand new Darren Watson song, playing some old R’n’B and soul and blues and pop tunes – and meeting Chris Abrahamas, pianist for one of my all-time favourite bands, The Necks. And co-interviewing him live on air with about five minutes of warning!
I saw the big dumb rock-show that was the Foo Fighters (with Weezer opening) and it was kinda fun, yo. I only went because I was on holiday and slightly curious. Also, never seen Weezer. Realised they should be the official opening act for every band ever. Just constantly on tour as the curtain-jerkers for any big ole rock show. Foos bored me shitless, then, oddly, about 80 minutes in, they won me over. Then lost me. Then won me back again. It was good fun for a bit.
Marlon Williams played a showcase of his brand-new, then unreleased songs in Sydney.. It was the typical record-company shindig. But through a friend I was invited along, necked a beer or two, had a photo with Marlon – who was surprised to see me there, and warm, enthused and very polite. He also nailed the songs on just guitar and sometimes piano. It was a real treat.
The Favourite Album I Reviewed: Nils Frahm’s All Melody
Podcasts: I had a second chat with Jules Desmond about his music and bands in Wellington in the 1990s/00s. I spoke with wine taster, critic, judge and businessperson Yvonne Lorkin. And musician Adam Page shared stories about his life as well as bonding over Van Halen worship.
Tom Scott’s play, Joan, about his mother sure was something. The writing was great, savage. But the performances were incredible.
I spoke on RNZ for the first time in 2018. Reviewed new albums by The Liminanas and Nils Frahm.
It was really special to see Nathan Haines performing in 2018. The Arts Festival is often more miss than hit when you’re reviewing, things get thrown together at the last minute, or don’t really work – but Nathan Haines and Jonathan Crayford would have been special anyway. But given the circumstances it was incredibly moving. A very fine and special way to kick off 2018’s festival.
Podcasts: I had a big chat with Wellington drummer Ant Donaldson. My wife’s cousin is the artist Marie Le Lievre, we spoke ahead of her Wellington exhibition. I finally had a chance to go deep with poet, broadcaster, journalist and raconteur Richard Langston. And on the plane back from Sydney in late-January I read the fantastic book Tinderbox, which meant I had to get in touch with Megan Dunn and speak to her about that, mermaids and art criticism.
The Staves provided a much-needed musical highlight of the Arts Festival. It was lovely. Simple. So easy to get on board with – a gentle triumph. They sounded gorgeous.
Mixed-media, multi-discipline theatre show HOME was the hit of the festival – one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen. As I marveled at the scope of it, the discipline, the wrangling, the freedom, the abilities of all involved and the freshness and the ability to include chance and revel in it the woman sat next to me said “don’t clap too loudly, they’ll bloody come back!” So, it wasn’t for everyone. Clearly.
RNZ invited me in to talk for even longer. Lookout! This was the start of something. I was asked to prep a 40-minute chat about musical feuds. It was a lot of fun.
At The Wake was the best local live theatre show and single performance I saw all year. Amazing piece of writing by Victor Rodger, brilliant direction from Jane Yonge, the other actors (Marco Alosio and Jerome Leota) were very good. But this was Lisa Harrow’s show. What a marvel. Virtuoso work. It was an honour to be allowed in the audience to witness something of that scope, that skill, that integrity.
Podcasts: I had a big, deep chat with Ebony Lamb (she of Eb & Sparrow). Also a hotel-lobby chat with Andrew Fagan (he of the Mockers). I visited Dennis O’Brien of Slow Boat Records at his house to talk through his life and memories. And then record collector and podcaster James Buttery visited and we talked vinyl. Finally for the month I found myself in conversation with American singer/songwriter Elvis Perkins. A real thrill.
The Lie at Circa Theatre was amazing. Florian Zeller punches you in the guts with his theatre. And this was a wonderful thing to see and feel and experience.
I wrote the liner notes for Darren Watson’s new album. I think I delivered these at the very end of 2017 actually – but it was for a 2018 release. A great thrill to be asked to do this – and the album is his best. A proper vinyl release with proper notes on the back-cover, old-school style. So it was a real buzz seeing it all finished. You can click there to read not only my thought about being asked to do it but also the actual liners.
I got to review Brett Anderson’s memoir Coal Black Mornings for The Spinoff. This was quite an honour for me. Having Steve Braunias as your editor – even if for just one piece – is frightening. In a good way.
Podcasts: I had a second chat with Jeremy Taylor – this time it was under his Slow Boat Records guise and specifically a promo for Record Store Day. Then sound tech, musician and photographer Gil Eva Craig talked about her behind-the-scenes experiences with music. Back in promo mode I talked to Darren Watson again – this time to discuss his brand new album, Too Many Millionaires. And I sat down with internationally acclaimed actor and living legend Lisa Harrow.
Whistle while you work. Another chance to do something other than just review records on RNZ. (I like reviewing albums a lot by the way). But the chance to talk more generally, to find weird connections and to present a feature – good fun. This one wasn’t my idea at all, but it turned out to be a real treat and a lot of fun – talking about songs with whistling in them.
The Favourite Albums I Reviewed: Luna’s A Sentimental Education, Neil Young’s ROXY Tonight’s The Night reissue, Sunny War’s With The Sun, Kody Neilson’s Birthday Suite and Emily Fairlight’s Mother of Gloom.
Podcasts: In Hawke’s Bay I talked to musician, mental health advocate and venue owner Roy Brown of the Cabana. A wonderful talk it was too. And then, still from the Hawke’s Bay trip musician and artist Fane Flaws. I finally had a sit-down with producer, broadcaster, editor and schemer Mark Cubey. And got to meet and chat with musician Emily Fairlight.
Christian McBride’s New Jawn was actually dope. The Jazz Festival is weird – in that the safe-as-houses, simple, not really jazz stuff thrives for the mainstream audience of sponsor’s spouses it caters to. The really great push-the-envelope stuff just gets dismissed as clatter. I’m not sure whether many actually were into Christian McBride and his New Jawn – or “New Thing”. But I was. I fucking massively was!
The Favourite Albums I Reviewed: Death And The Maiden’s Wisteria, Mali Mali’s Azimuth, Stuart A. Staples’ Arrhythmia, Venetian Snares x Daniel Lanois, Angelique Kidjo’s song-for-song cover of Talking Heads’ Remain in Light and Ebo Taylor’s Yen Ara.
Podcasts: Meeting and speaking to poet Chris Tse was wonderful – we talked music as much as we talked poetry. I reconnected with Good Morning TV host and journalist Sarah Bradley. Then Sam Cutler, former tour manager to The Rolling Stones and Grateful Dead came around for a cup of black tea with four sugars (!) and a chat. I also talked to Warratahs lead man and solo artist Barry Saunders. And I finally managed to get novelist Pip Adam up to the house for a chat. (I say ‘finally’ because she lives about four houses down the road).
Songs For Nobodies deserved to be seen by EVERYBODY. Ali Harper’s one-person-show where she impersonates a bunch of legendary singers and plays over a dozen characters in total was incredible. Tour-de-force stuff. She was amazing. It was brilliant.
Totally just flew to Sydney to see Suzanne Vega with her band. It was amazing. Every bit as good as I hoped it might be. And then better. And by the time we had bought the tickets and got all sorted we knew this was the first of two shows we’d see. But it was still great. Little did I know – at this point – there was more good Vega news to come…
Podcasts: I met with Ali Harper and we talked through her show to promote it but also her life dedicated to music, theatre and…Musical Theatre! I got to have a chat with the legendary Bill Direen. And then poet and musician Russell Self came around and played some slide guitar in my lounge. On the poetry theme still, Helen Heath and I had a big chat about her life and work.
After seeing Suzanne Vega and her band in Australia she comes to Wellington and I see the show and it’s also brilliant. A different gig – just her and the bassist – many different songs too. Which is just what you want when you’re a fan and you’ve just seen the act a few days ago. Hard to pick a favourite moment or show. Two very special gigs. Major highlights of the year.
In the month that I get to see Suzanne Vega I also get to see Bob Dylan. I’d seen Dylan three times, but hadn’t seen him for over a decade. First time seeing him in Auckland too. It was great. And I got to review it for RNZ also.
The Favourite Albums I Reviewed: Walter ‘Wolfman’ Washington’s My Future Is My Past, Underworld & Iggy Pop’s Teatime Dub Encounters, Lump, Oneohtrix Point Never’s Age Of, Shannon Shaw’s Shannon in Nashville, Peter Perrett’s How The West Was Won and John Carpenter’s Movie Themes 1974-1998.
Podcasts: First up I talked with guitar maker, musician and former local council member Ray Ahipene-Mercer. Then it was fellow music-writer, DJ and musician Chris Familton. The month of Vega continued with a sit-down conversation with Suzanne Vega just before she flew out of Wellington. A dream. And then, just in time for National Poetry Day a conversation with quite possibly The National Poet, Bill Manhire.
Two 76yo Pauls released incredible albums. So I had to talk about that on RNZ – as well as reviewing the albums for the site too.
The Favourite Albums I Reviewed: Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour, Paul Simon’s In The Blue Light, Paul McCartney’s Egypt Station, Aphex Twin’s Collapse EP, Hildur Guðnadóttir & Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score to the film Mary Magdalene and Tony Bennett and Diana Krall’s Love Is Here To Stay.
Podcasts: It was my third chat with my good friend Emily Writes and it was by far the deepest. The most-listened to podcast I’ve made. By miles. I loved meeting photographer Peter Black and talking to him. A huge thrill for me. Then friend and fellow music-writer, DJ and freelancer Martyn Pepperell stopped by to talk through his history and the huge year he had in 2018. I finally got to have the chat with Dianne Swann that I had wanted to have a year earlier (that was my fault for cancelling). And then Rhian Sheehan stepped by to talk about his new album and live show.
Another RNZ feature – this time talking about music-related novels. This one was actually my idea. I pitched it a while back and they came to me asking me to throw something together. On the day Jesse Mulligan was away so I talked with Wallace Chapman. It was cool. Hopefully. It was certainly a fun challenge and a fresh angle.
I co-interviewed Steve Gadd live on Radio. Jesse Mulligan had sensed – by my rabid frothing – that I was something of a Gadd fan so he asked me to be on hand to “co-interview” the legendary drummer. I didn’t know until about an hour beforehand that Gadd would be in the studio with me. I told him I had been listening to his signature grooves since I was 6 years old. He said he liked my hat.
Of course it wasn’t enough to meet Steve Gadd I had to drive up to Palmerston North and back in one night so I could see the gig he was playing. I should mention – as I did in this review – that James Carter was on the bill too. And was amazing. Both musicians were generous with their time and appreciative of Rodger Fox and his Big Band. A class outing for all. I burned back late into the night blasting Split Enz. Good times!
I was invited to speak at the Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival and it was a fun weekend indeed. I never get invited to shit like this! But this year I did. And it was a blast. We got put up for the night in Napier and me and Nick Bollinger “danced about architecture” at the Cabana. Jamie Macphail never failed to ask the right prompting questions. And Hawke’s Bay’s weather and arts scene was just beautiful that weekend. (The conversation was recorded and will be my first podcast of 2019).
The Favourite Albums I Reviewed: Jo Meares’ Back To The World, Harry Lyon’s To The Sea, Anika Moa’s self-titled return-to-form, Steel House, St. Vincent’s MassEducation and The Mountain Goats’ Hex of Infinite Binding EP.
Podcasts: It was time to turn the tables and have me interview Jesse Mulligan. I also had a big sit-down literary chat with poet and publisher Mary McCallum. I spoke with Circa stalwart – actor and director Ross Jolly. And previewed LitCrawl 2018 with co-directors Claire Mabey and Andrew Laking.
It was LitCrawl and I was on the bill and shitting myself royally-as. Guest curator Chris Tse included me in the “Lit-Sync For Your Life” portion of the 2018 LitCrawl. I had to respond to a song in writing and then a drag performer lip-sync performed the song after I had read my piece. I was only sharing the stage with award-winning novelist Pip Adam and award-winning poet Tayi Tibble. The thorn between two literary roses. It turned out to be a blast. Here’s the piece I wrote and read.
RNZ paid me to sit and talk about George Harrison for a fucking hour. I hardly ever have the best job or best life but sometimes I come close to it. This was one of those times.
It’s always fun going to the pantomime with Oscar. Following his pantomime visit and review last year Oscar’s been told he has a standing-date to review the Circa Panto every year. We had a blast. And his reviews are getting better all the time…
The Favourite Albums I Reviewed: Ralph Towner’s My Foolish Heart, Rosanne Cash’s She Remembers Everything, Neneh Cherry’s Broken Politics, Roger Kellaway Trio’s New Standards Vol. 3 and Mary Lattimore’s Hundreds of Days.
Podcasts: I spoke with voice for hire and now solo star in her own right Sandy Mill. Then I finally got Gerry Paul to sit still for long enough to talk through some of his legendary stories as promoter, player and event organiser. Another Circa stalwart is Auckland-based actor Bronwyn Turei. I talked with Chris Wilson of the band Gold Medal Famous. And had an emotionally forthright conversation about music and mental health with singer and songwriter Reb Fountain.
The Beastie Boys Book was perhaps my favourite thing of 2018 – the greatest cultural experience… It was much-hyped, long-expected and it still blew my mind. It was a wonderful reminder of a great band – but it was so much more than that. It was a story of friendship, of forming tastes and understanding the subcultures around what you do; the influences and antecedents explored. And the equivalent of dick-jokes and fart-jokes too. It was a comic book and a text book all in one. And the audio-book was worth it for the cast alone. I spent a lot of time listening to podcasts this year but none made as much impact as Beastie Boys Book. The physical item – ie: The Book – is beautiful. A masterpiece of design too.
A friend invited me to Living Colour and it was a school night and I went anyway and it was fucking fantastic. I was expecting it to be good – they’re a great bunch of players – but it was super-great. Like really super fantastic. Good crowd, nice vibe, great concert.
Podcasts: I caught up with my friend – Hawke’s Bay-based artist Freeman White. I also met and talked with the Hello Sailor survivor Harry Lyon, congratulating him on his debut solo record after 50 years in the business. I had a great chat with Tom Scott now of Avantdale Bowling Club also from Home Brew and other great rap-related projects. And for my last podcast of 2018 I posted a phone interview from 2015 (previously unheard, unreleased) with the legendary Joan Baez.
It was a good year. At least in many ways.
Thanks for reading and listening if you did.
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