Friday, December 9
Ten years ago I saw in Wellington’s Town Hall, spellbound as Graham Brazier sang the words of Hone Tuwhare’s poem, Friend, in a simple, lovely acoustic strum; the perfect song-setting for a story about a get-together over an afternoon pint. Mahinarangi Tocker provided yet another highlight, that sublime voice cutting through the strings and piano of The New Zealand Trio to deliver her version of A Northland Heart-Scape.
Ten years on the tribute concert, the 10th Anniversary run-through of the Tuwhare songs becomes not only tribute to Tuwhare but to Brazier and Tocker, there are others from the original cast missing too – some overseas or with other work commitments, so this version of the show recreates the songs and has original narrator Rawiri Paratene once again delivering the conscientiously scripted biographical details; these work not just to set the scene and provide crucial details about the writer of the words now placed in song-settings, it also means the technical crew can make the necessary changes for each song, one minute it’s a jazz pianist, the next a classical trio, singer/songwriters, electronica producers, rock bands, hip-hop MCs, it’s all done seamlessly – not a whine of feedback, not a moment of awkward silence. That each musician can simply plug in and play is due to the hard work of the on-stage crew and the lights and sound people at the back of the venue and so often this doesn’t go mentioned but here it deserves the space of a few lines in a review – at the least – for it really helped to make the evening.
The best moment – musically – is the same as the first time I saw this show. Don McGlashan and classical pianist David Guerin reunite to perform Rain. Guerin’s piano evoking the plink-plonk of raindrops, a mournful euphonium line from McGlashan conjuring the mood of loneliness, contemplative and alert – that line, “I can hear you making small holes in the silence/rain” as alive and vital as any lyric in any song ever, lifted perfectly from the page to the stage. It is the most exquisite combination of writing/arranging/performing – McGlashan’s voice and compositional framing as important here as Tuwhare’s finest verse. It was goosebump-inducing the first time, a decade ago. Same deal now. It is the evening’s highlight.
But Warren Maxwell does a good job of paying tribute to Brazier with the version of Friend. The reformed Goldenhorse reminds people of a certain power within pop music, and Charlotte Yates working with her trio had been the curtain-raiser to that in a sense. Not one act was bad, every single singer delivered – and what a joy to hear these voices, strong female voices in particular, proud Maori voices – Whirimako Black, Sandy Mill, Mina Ripia (WAI), Kirsten Te Rito, such beautiful singing to help frame these words from one of New Zealand’s greatest poets.
Again, as with the first run through a decade ago, it becomes about the depth and breadth of Tuwhare’s work, with just enough of the individual musical personalities peeking in. We have comments on politics, satire, irony, grieving, painfully acute, simple language all at once quizzical and profound. His memory and words were well served once again and the new show had just enough in terms of new voices to make it stand on its own. A triumph.