Black Barn Winery, Havelock North
Saturday, February 4
A repeat of last year’s show, with the same line-up – and why not! – a stunning venue and a great line-up of talent. It was a(nother) perfect Hawke’s Bay summer evening when Debbie Harwood took to the stage to open; showcasing two original songs (Humour Me and Isolated) before welcoming Hammond Gamble. He delighted with the blues standard Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out and a brief interval seemed – at first – concerning. But of course there are wine sales to make when you’re staging a show in such a venue.
The concert proper kicked off when Harwood was joined by her original Cat’s Away friends Annie Crummer and Margaret Urlich. The magical chemistry is still there – the three singers performed party hits and had the natural amphitheatre’s aisles trickling down to front of stage. Crummer and Urlich took turns delighting with choice cuts from their solo catalogues – for
Margaret Urlich that meant the wonderful Escaping, for Annie Crummer it was See What Love Can Do.
When Shona Laing joined them she kicked off with a rousing 1905, the full band treatment lifting the song up and into 2017. And (Glad I’m) Not A Kennedy soon followed. After a few jokes around rewriting the song to include a “Trump” rhyme Laing further delighted with a wonderful take on Soviet Snow, this one dedicated to the guy making American currently grate.
The When The Cat’s Away arrangement of Asian Paradise was the evening’s introduction to that song’s writer, Sharon O’Neill. She joined Urlich, Crummer and Harwood on stage to complete her song, working through a small handful of her favourites, culminating in Maxine.
The evening continued to build – several crowd members dancing up front, O’Neill and Laing filling the spaces in a joyous version of Melting Pot. Dragon’s Young Years (written by O’Neill and her keyboard-playing husband, Alan Mainsfield) had everyone dancing and an encore of Dragon’s Rain sent everyone home happy. By this time Gamble was back on stage in a backing singing role.
The concert was at its best when the five women shared the stage – there in celebration of song, stoic as women in an industry that hasn’t always treated them with respect. There they were tonight owning the stage, so sure, so confident, so in control. The songs – anthems – tumbling from the stage. Margaret Urlich was whirling dervish-like as she recreated the dance moves from the video for Peking Man’s Room That Echoes. Crummer, so good too in knowing when and how to lift each song. Harwood more understated, a key component of each song though – perfectly poised and placed as backing singer, adding her harmonies. And the concert was also about celebrating the roles played by O’Neill and Laing as pioneers, as songwriters; legends.
One slight grumble, I didn’t feel Hammond Gamble needed to be there. He didn’t disappoint, didn’t ruin anything, but it might have been a stronger statement for the power of women in music if the “special guest” wasn’t a man. His contributions felt somewhat token in the grand scheme. That said the real joy was seeing O’Neill and Laing with a backing band, hearing those still vibrant songs. And the effortlessness and camaraderie that Harwood/Urlich/Crummer exude is a testimony to the runs-on-the-board they’ve added. It was a magical night. Everyone filed out happy, close to elated.