I think the last solo acoustic set I’d done was back when my life bottomed out and was probably the last time I got to play my beloved Ovation – the guitar that I had written all my best songs on. I was drunk and had talked about the songs rather than actually playing them. It can’t have been good and I lost everything around that time.
So I wasn’t going to let that happen again and that’s what made this gig so important to me. It wasn’t nerves as such – more a fear of letting everyone down and dread of those earlier times.
There was a guitar I had bought for Janey one birthday back in the good days that she had taken to Christchurch and been through the earthquakes with her – nothing fancy just a black Carlos that had a bit of damage. When she first got back to Wellington she gave it back to me.
My friend Dane came around to my flat one day and said he would take it to his dad’s shop and have it repaired. A few months later Dane died and I was in the awkward position of asking his father about the guitar. Alistair did a wonderful job on it and was so gracious when I finally got it back.
I had no case and wasn’t taking any chances with it on the bus so I got a taxi. The driver had no change so stopped at a petrol station where he poured water over the cab windows and I got wet. It was one of the coldest nights of the year.
When I got there my drummer Malky was behind the bar and gave me a pint that I took outside to sit with the off-duty staff and listen to Russell Self who was on first. It had been Russell that got me the gig and he played a fine set of his Delta blues. Then I was up.
I wore my Neil Young check shirt and long hair and just wanted to keep it real and unpretentious – not a show just the songs and me. I started with Weathered Lines for some reason, a song I’d written at the tender age of nineteen and I hadn’t really warmed my voice up enough for the high notes but it drew people in and looking up after it I saw a swag of good friends there right up close cheering me on.
It just got better from there on. A fairly safe choice of songs that have stood me in good stead over the years from all periods of my writing and that I knew people wanted to hear. Frida, the Lions, Lily and I. A few more challenging ones like End in Tears, On a Need to Know Basis and Stop the World and I did talk briefly about each one and dedicated a few.
The mic was close to the sound hole of my guitar and I knocked it a few times and I felt I couldn’t play any fancy licks so I pretty much just strummed through the chords and that worked really well with my voice.
Stand out songs for me were Stop Forever, Be with Me and especially Foreign Agent – I dedicated it to Carey Hibbert. I ended with a heartfelt Your Body Stays and that was my time up. I finished off the rest of that flat beer and thanked everyone.
It’s hard to describe the positivity afterwards – I had some of my very best friends there and they all loved it. My son and daughter, Janey and John, Jess and Ben, Maurice and Jenny, Malky and Hannah from the Spines and all my buddies that work at the Cross who stayed to hear me on their night off. Jhan, who books the Wednesday unplugged sessions, said it was one of their best nights ever and wants me back.
That previous disastrous gig had been at the Cross too but back before I knew anybody there – it really did feel like I had laid that ghost to rest.