This guy in Hawke’s Bay started this thing a while back called The Sitting Room Sessions – follow the page on Facebook. Check it out. House concerts, basically. Small gigs. Acoustic, primarily. A sitting audience. Waiting to be entertained, open to hearing anything, sure of quality due to the curation by their host. He’s trusted. He’s proved his credentials by constantly finding the right people to play at the right time. Sometimes it’s as part of a national tour. Sometimes it’s a one-off. He’s had international acts and locals – in the case of Amanda Palmer now I guess it’s both.
The guy behind the Sitting Room Sessions is Jamie Macphail. And the place where he has been hosting them, most recently, is The Tasting Room in Haumoana – a brilliant room, perfect in fact.
This is not a review by the way, as you might have guessed from the style. And from the lack of specific event details. But I attended one of these Sitting Room Sessions for the first time just last weekend. It was Margot Pierard and Wil Sargisson. Margot’s a singer, Wil’s a pianist, they’ve worked together often – they do things separately as well. Pierard is local. Sargisson grew up in the area and is back on an extended Baycation due to Covid 19.
Their program for the evening was sublime. Jazz standards, primarily. There was some funk and soul too. But it was about the great jazz diva primarily – Nina Simone and Billie Holiday seemed like spirit guides, their influence so obvious on Pierard. Sargisson is a gifted accompanist – he can play, seemingly, anything. He has a great facility for blues and boogie woogie styles and is able to sit in underneath, digging up the supporting bones of any song. It meant he could move effortlessly from a cover of the Blood Sweat & Tears classic, I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know, through to Donny Hathaway’s interpretation of John Lennon’s Jealous Guy, via a bit of New Orleans-styled Dr John/Allen Toussaint gospel funk.
They were, as Macphail suggested in his introduction for the evening, world-class.
One of the things I loved so much about Pierard’s performance is how palpable it was that this music deeply resonates with her; is so hugely connected to who she is. She’s a fan. She is an extraordinary singer. But she’s a fan. She loves to sing – she said that often from the stage. But you could almost believe that one of the reasons to be on the stage was to share the information, to tell an audience about the song. To select a particular song. That she was then able to sing it – and get to the heart of it, carry the soul of it, revel in the weight of it – was icing. The cake baked so perfectly every time by Sargisson.
The other reason this is not a review is because I was – in the end – on the bill. Very kindly, I was offered a spot in the middle of the show to plug my upcoming book of poems and read from it. I was given a few minutes, as well as a very generous introduction. I talked about my connection with the Bay – growing up there – and read a poem that was connected to the place. I read a couple of short pieces about reviewing and the nature of criticism. And what a treat to be heard. To be given the stage. To have an audience patient and prepared to embrace culture. That’s a testament to Jamie and his Sitting Room Sessions. None of them knew they’d be getting a guest poet on the night. They were there for Margot and Wil. Hey, I was there for Margot and Wil too! They were amazing. But when I interrupted the flow of the evening and changed the direction momentarily I felt appreciated, I didn’t feel like I was butting in. That’s the warmth of the room and the openness of the audience.
The Sitting Room Sessions has been a home – for a night, sometimes for a return performance – to many of our best musicians. To some international visitors too, back pre-Covid, when that was allowed. If you’re holidaying in the Bay – or from there and hadn’t yet checked out one of the gigs – then do check in on the Facebook page and add yourself to the database. Check out the upcoming events. It’s really a wonderful treat.
The Death of Music Journalism launches at Meow in Wellington, Sunday October 11, 4pm. It’ll be available on the day and in bookstores the following day. It’s available to pre-order now. Information is in the link above – or you can order from any bookstore in NZ from now.