The Bend is one of the projects involving Fane Flaws, Tony Backhouse and Peter Dasent – the three musical friends have a 40+ year connection and have released music together as Spats, I Am Joe’s Music and most successfully in the collective consciousness as The Crocodiles. Under the name The Bend they made the music for the multimedia project The Underwatermelon Man & Other Unreasonable Rhymes (a book and video album for children) – and now, we have a new album by The Bend, a new album that was started in 1987, was lost for many years, never fully forgotten, now finally resurrected.
It would be reason enough for celebration – just to hear the clever composing mind of Fane Flaws and the skilled musicianship of the three friends – writers, singers, multi-instrumental talents. But We Disappear is a whole lot more than just a lost album, blessedly found.
For a start, all of the lyrics are written by Sam Hunt. This is a collaboration – in the sense that every word you’ll hear here was first published on the page and performed on the stage by our greatest performance poet. Flaws wrote most of the music – taking poems, many of them already well known (Wave Song, Beware The Man, School Policy On Stickmen) and turning them into songs, not just setting them to music but actually making the poems almost, well, disappear – to re-emerge butterfly-like as pop songs, given the gift of flight by one of New Zealand’s great song visionaries.
The album also features the last known sessions by Bruno Lawrence. The kiwi acting great was drummer not only in the Crocodiles but leader of Blerta – under which a young Fane Flaws served his early musical apprenticeship.
There are many layers to the connection in and around this album – and you feel them in the resulting recordings. Six songs were in the can from the initial 1980s sessions. When those tapes were recovered a quarter-century on, Dasent, Backhouse and Flaws decided it would only be right to do something with them – they started working on new recordings to fill out an album, they called on friends old and new to assist. So there’s some generational blurring – some of the best voices this country has ever produced (Backhouse, most promimently but also Mammal alumni Rick Bryant and contemporary jazz and soul singer Margot Pierard) and it all makes for the feeling of time suspending itself.
One needs listen only to My White Ship, where the slackwire walk of Jonathan Zwartz’s bass line puts out a coil for Bruno Lawrence’s drums to dance in and around, Backhouse taking Hunt’s poem by the shoulders and guiding it through choppy seas of guitars and keys, some tenor sax by Craig Walters too. This could have been recorded 40 years ago or just yesterday. When you listen now it feels as if it’s coming out live from your speakers – as if the CD or vinyl or digital code is a wee music box and the players are living inside it. So deep is the connection to this music and the commitment to this poetry.
I think most remarkably (and so I’ll stay it again) these are songs – never merely poems set to music. The words of Hunt will often catch you by surprise, the abilities of the singers here and the composers, to set them in such way, is a constant revelation. Backhouse’s beautiful ballad placement for Every Time It Rains Like This – his singing and composition – makes a modern torch song for middle New Zealand, Flaws’ way with what might be the weirdest lyrics on paper (“It’s said that children should not use stick-figures when they draw!) is never less than dazzling; his remarkable gift to hear a song in anything, to make a melody from spit and sweat and graft, to present it in 3D as aural artwork is one of the greatest gifts offered from our musical community.
This has the feel of not only a passion-project but, brick by brick, it is a towering masterpiece.
In all of this the reminder that Hunt’s words have been recited by the poet with bands in support (Mammal, The Warratahs), have been turned into songs by David Kilgour and remixed with stuttering techno backdrops. And yet the gift of Sam’s words is just one feature of this album.
The statement here – by Flaws most particularly – is that anything can be a song. And not only that you’ll hear psychedelic flourishes of the best pop music from the past, painting too from the palette of jazz, or quirky barrelhouse blues-inflected baroque pop (Walking The Morning City).
We talk of New Zealand Music as if it’s a genre, but then we make monuments only to marketing, the sound we support across so many of our awards and celebration months is barely identifiable as Kiwi, let alone distinctive. But here we have several decades of the best talent this country was lucky to ever have. And centuries of knowledge and influence and the command of great players, production and such spirited collaboration.
We Disappear might be named after a poem, a poem that has turned into a song. But it’s also the very spirit of and in this album – some of the players you hear here have disappeared from the physical frame already, some of them might not have long left in this world, all of them – spanning generations – are disappearing right here in front of our ears. Re-emerging and re-energising as particles and participles of the very music. The greatest gift there ever could be.