In the course of recording my solo album, Mark Austin and I got in various players to work on different tracks. My old buddy Les Knight played double bass on The Great Unloved and Peter Robinson did terrific piano arrangements for Your Body Stays and Say Why You Ache.
When my son broke his neck in Dunedin I went south for a long while to be at his bedside and Mark continued on with mixing and tinkering with the songs. He brought in Vanessa Stacey to sing backing vocals on Say Why You Ache. He would send me new mixes and updates and I loved Vanessa’s voice.
A few months after I returned, and Mark was going through his own crisis, I was offered a solo gig at the new Bodega and Les, Peter and Vanessa offered to accompany me.
It turned out to be a great night – Vanessa’s powerful voice made me feel I had to raise my game in terms of my singing and Peter’s piano playing was a nice foil for my guitar. I had played with Les before and felt comfortable with his bass playing and his knowledge of my songs.
In the audience that night were Dougal Speir and Phil Rowntree and after the gig they both wanted to join me as well and so we all formed a band – the Jon McLeary Experience.
I’d seen Dougal play over the years in the Mangaweka Viaduct Blues Band and rated him big time as a guitarist – he was telecaster like me but could peel off Hendrix riffs like you wouldn’t believe with a deft touch.
Phil was an animal drummer with double kick technique that was totally unique and could play through all my styles of song – like a lot of drummers he was a library with a huge heart.
We all got together and started exploring all the new songs I was writing and it was all so different for me. I had to consider every member – give Peter and Dougal room to express themselves and Vanessa a few songs to sing lead on. We became a viable live band and did some great gigs – Fringe Art’s Fest at Frank Kitts, Aro Street Fair and plenty at Bodega.
I think though, to Les and I, there was an element of herding cats about the band – they were all such huge characters. And also I was in a heavy drinking phase and probably in no fit state to marshal those troops.
One by one they fell away. Peter was first, saying he couldn’t make gigs and then turning up in the audience. Dougal wanted to get back to pure blues and had issues with Phil who felt he was underappreciated. Our next drummer, Colin didn’t get on with Vanessa…
When he came home, the three of us – Les, Riki and I reinvented the band as if it had never been away.
It had been a learning experience.
The Ghost of Electricity –War Stories by Jon McLeary is a new initiative at Off The
Tracks, a series of stories and reflections from painter, writer and musician Jon McLeary