As prophecised, I have a summer blog post for y’all!
Whilst these past three months have been dominated by Anxiety Club adventures, it was a surprise review for the Meech Brothers on Radio NZ that stands out as a personal highlight, so I’ll start with that.
Meech Brothers Radio NZ review
In the middle of February, William Dart included a couple of our songs on his regular New Horizons review show which airs on both Concert and National radio. The theme for this particular show was artists that had featured in some way in the Summer edition of NZ Musician magazine. You may remember that Brown Owl was reviewed in that issue of NZM, but surprisingly Mr Dart kicks-off his commentary on us by revealing that he already knew of us from our previous release, poco and proceeds to play “Best way to be” from that EP.
Before playing “Diving Bell” from “Brown Owl” he remarkably connects it to some rather iconic NZ songs and songwriters;
I felt intangible but very personal connections with other numbers by The Muttonbirds and Dave Dobbyn, that is Don McGlashan’s “Anchor Me” and Dobbyn’s “Belltower”.
William Dart, February 2018
Wait, back up the truck! Holy f*ck. Did he just mention cultural treasure “Anchor Me” in the same sentence as “Diving Bell”. I think he did. But it was actually the comparison to the other song – the way more obscure Belltower by Dave Dobbyn that meant more to me. It actually meant a hell of a lot. Gareth and I are both big fans of Dobbyn’s mid-career trilogy of pretty terrific albums (“Lament for the numb”, “Twist”, “The Islander”), and I have always been particularly fond of Belltower. It’s a song I have listened to countless times, and it still can give me goosebumps to this day. To hear an independent, respected, knowledgeable critic identify traces of that song in the fabric of one of my own songs all these years (decades) later kind of blows my mind. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt prouder of our music. And he really “got it” too, going on;
At one point the brothers casually refer to the limitations of a four-track recording, but they use meager resources to fuel a song that could be positively anthemic. They sing about strange things going on in the long grass and there’s some delightful weirdness lurking in the song itself.
William Dart, February 2018
I’ve always aimed for some weirdness, and something a little off-centre in our music, but have always worried that it has come across too conventional – so it’s nice to hear that someone else thinks it’s at least a little bit weird!
In a few minutes Mr Dart was able to validate this choice to write music and has rekindled my belief in the Meech Brothers project.
You can listen the full commentary here:
Now let’s rewind back to the night before the night before Christmas…..
Anxiety Club “Christmas Party”, Moon, Newtown
23 December 2017
This really was a warm-up gig for the Festival of Lights, it was never going to be a large audience two nights before Christmas at a bar in Newtown. Still, it exceeded my expectations in terms of the audience and our performance. It served it’s purpose well. We had a few random strangers say they enjoyed it. Andrew Downes also made it along which was nice – and he finally got to meet Kev and others who he had only corresponded with via email during the Be Still re-mix project. Local troubadour, Bill Hickman was our support act with Dusty sitting in for his set.
Festival of Lights, Pukekura Park, New Plymouth
29 December 2017
A galvinising moment for Anxiety Club. I really believe that this show gave us the confidence and belief that this is worth sticking with. That greatness could be possible – despite the logistical difficulties of making this band work and the occasional personal differences between us. This band is worth sticking with.
Firstly, we were blessed with amazing weather. And then the people came – as they always do to an event like this – but a good bunch of them set themselves up in front of the stage, and most importantly – they stayed. This show would be the first of a trilogy of what I like to call, “Rockstar Weekends” of the Summer. Weekends – or even just parts of weekends – where we seemed to be in some sort of parallel existence where most aspects of normal adult life were relegated to the hazy blur that exists at the borders between music-land and reality.
Why was New Plymouth a “Rockstar Weekend”? Well firstly, we had a setup and soundcheck in the middle of the afternoon. There was already a crew setting up the big sound system and helping out. Organisers and technical people were really nice to us and treated us with some level of respect. Then there was the evening itself. Just magic. The setting. The lights. All the people! I’ve heard Kev since quote an audience of 1,500 – I’m not sure if that’s the total number through the gates, or just those at our stage – but it seemed like A LOT (by our standards). I wasn’t even that nervous – it was almost like an out of body experience. Kev was also confident and relaxed (could have been the pre-show whiskies), with some genuine witty banter and connection with the audience – even managing to get many of them to wave their cellphones in the air – like you might see at some massive, cheesey stadium show – for “Love Rescue Me”.
And we did win them over. People loved it – which is pretty amazing for original music from a little band from Wellington. It was a big buzz. There was much celebrating. There were singalongs and drinking and some ridiculous dancing in local bars until the small hours. Oh, Happy Days!
Later, event organizer, Lisa Ekdahl would send us a reference where she said:
They gave a professional, unique and gracious performance that would fool you into thinking they have been together for many more years. Their sound is hard to describe, effortlessly gliding from a hint of one genre to the next and absolutely leaving you wanting more. Their collective talent means there is a wonderful future ahead for them
Tiny Town, Coastella
17 February 2018
The next outing wouldn’t be until mid-February, and even though it was only Kev and I performing as a duo, I still classify it as a “Rockstar Weekend”. It all started when we arrived at the Artist Gate and were driven to our stage in a golf cart! Like everything in my music life, it’s all about scale. My successes and joys – whilst incredibly meaningful to me, are of course pretty tiny in the scheme of things. Nothing could illustrate the scale of my musical achievements more symbolically than the very stage that Kev and I were to perform on that afternoon. That stage was “Tiny Town” – a converted shipping container that is billed as the “world’s smallest theatre”. They’re probably right – it can only hold an audience of four (up to 6 at a pinch) people at a time. The audience is rotated through after each song. In a way, it is more performance art than a standard live gig. So after the highs of the golf cart ride, I finally see this minuscule stage, and my initial reaction was “really? – it’s come to this!?!”. But you know, first impressions shouldn’t always be trusted – because this turned out to be a truly memorable gig. But first, free beers in the VIP area.
We then crammed ourselves onto the teeny tiny stage after Bill Hickman finished his set and away we went. As planned, a new audience was ushered in for each song. Kev and I would introduce ourselves and then ask the audience to do the same. It was quite intense playing so close to the audience, but we played really well, managed to form an authentic bond with the audience, and people were really positive. Someone said we should be playing on one of the main stages. There was lots of interest. Most importantly though, it was a lot of fun.
Looking back, I have a great deal of fondness for this gig and I think a big part of it was because it was just the two of us. Whilst I enjoy playing in the full Anxiety Club band and being a part of making that big sound that we make together, in the end I am essentially an ensemble player in that group. This brings it’s own particular set of rewards – but there is something possibly more exciting about being up front and shouldering more of the responsibility of making the music. I guess you can reap a bigger slice of the gratification pie. You can bask a bit more in the glow of the positive feedback. You can banter a bit more. Is that ego? Maybe. Is that bad? I guess outwardly I am often seen as the selfless, sympathetic, sensitive accompanist, but I don’t think it’s wrong to admit that I enjoy a bit recognition and a bit more of the spotlight every now and again. Watching the video back, I clearly had a good time:
I think I also really like the duo format. I can trace that duo-love back to a life-changing gig I attended by soul songwriting hit makers Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham in Wellington back in the late 1990s. Memorable not only for the acute awareness I had that I was witnessing bona fide legends in action, or the shear soulfulness of Penn’s delivery, but for the way that Spooner conjured a lush backing with only his trusty Wurlitzer electric piano. In some ways that night formed the template for the duo stuff that followed with me and Matt Hay, my brother and now Kev. Nick Bollinger has been clever (and kind) enough to make the Spooner comparison and join those particular dots more than once.
But I digress. After our set we had a bit of food and beer and roamed the festival taking in performances by Dusty’s other band (The Frank Burkitt Band), Nadia Reid and meeting and chatting to friends old and new – including Jess Bailey who we would share a stage with in a couple of weeks time in Auckland.
All in all, a pretty great day out.
Videos of full set here.
Anxiety Club, NZ Live Session with Jesse Mulligan on Radio NZ
23 February 2018
Kicking-off Rockstar Weekend #3 was a live-to-air performance and chat with Jesse Mulligan on Radio NZ on Friday afternoon. As you may remember, we got this booking on the back of me sharing I don’t want anyone (but you) with Jeremy Taylor (Slow Boat Records) who in turn forwarded it to Jesse’s producer, Caitlin Cherry who promptly got in touch to schedule a session. Every Friday, his show features the long-running “NZ Live” programme where a band or musician gets 40 minutes to talk and play some songs to an audience of over 200,000 people. It’s a great opportunity. And we did good. Real good. We played great – with Kim Bonnington (half of Kim & Dusty) helping out on backing vocals – which added so much to the songs (she had also joined us for a couple of songs in New Plymouth).
There was lots of great feedback while we were on air from the public. Aside from the playing, the banter went really well too. After the show, Caitlin even commented on how good and humorous our chat was, noting that some bands can be really hard work on that front.
Judge for yourself – have a listen to the full show -> here <-
(I get to talk and demo some synth sounds around 21’30” mark.)
And here’s a pretty blurry and dark video from my little action camera of one of the songs:
After the session – and the back-patting, and fielding compliments from RNZ staffers (including Nick B), and messages from friends and strangers – we loaded all the gear into Dusty’s van. Dusty promptly hit the road for our gig scheduled for the following night in Auckland. The rest of us would fly up the next day.
Anxiety Club, The Wine Cellar, Auckland
24 February 2018
Within 24 hours of the Radio NZ performance we were all in Auckland. Dusty had driven through the night and miraculously he – and the gear – made it there in one piece. I spent the afternoon relaxing at the sister-in-law’s place before rendezvousing with others at the venue in the late-afternoon. The Wine Cellar is a proper music venue, with an entirely appropriate underground (it is literally underground) and grungy vibe going on. Situated in St Kevin’s Arcade on K’ Road, it has an interesting layout with the bar area separate to the performance space. This is actually a pretty clever arrangement and it means bands don’t have to compete with people trying to order beers, and there is also a place for people to go chat and drink away from the music if they are so inclined. So you get a nice focussed audience – it’s a bit more “concerty”
If you’ve listened to the RNZ broadcast you would have heard quite a lot of really positive feedback that streamed into the studio during the show. This really bolstered our confidance levels heading into this gig, but we really didn’t know how – or if – it would translate into ticket sales – especially given the radio show was only the day before the gig. We were not prepared for the reception we would receive in Auckland. Firstly, we had the highest number of pre-sales that we’ve ever had – with around 40% of the capacity sold before the show. By the time we hit stage the audience had reached maximum capacity for the venue – we had sold out our first show in Auckland! It was a real “moment”.
Jess Bailey in her Fables guise opened the show with James Geluk (Frank Burkitt Band) on Bass with Dusty joining on Lap Steel for a couple of songs. Not only did she play a lovely set, but she also brought along a crew of the hipper segment of the Auckland folk community – including her boyfriend Finn McLennan-Elliott who runs the Second Hand News blog and helps organize the Auckland Folk Festival.
But it wasn’t just this folk crew – or even people we knew – who packed the venue to see us – a lot of people had come down because they heard us on the radio. Such is the reach and credibility of RNZ – and Jesse Mulligan’s (rising) star power.
I hadn’t been feeling that great most of the day. I don’t know what it was (nerves, a cold?), but I felt very out of sorts; tired, head-achey and very bluuurghhhh. There were moments when I just didn’t want to be there – which was a shame because this should have been a time of much mirth and tomfoolery. But you know what, when we took to the stage and Kev starts “Holes in my skin” off, and I add a little organ underneath, and then this band – this very good band that I’m somehow a part of – crackles and launches into the second verse behind us with this tremendous energy and presence – I instantly feel much better. I feel great even. This is the best thing. Ever.
It all goes remarkably well. We play well. The atmosphere is electric. The crowd love it. The sound mix is good, and Rohan, who runs the venue – and does the sound – also fires up the projector which provides some pretty cool visuals behind us. At one point towards the end of the set, Matty ends up playing in the crowd. Good times! Spirits are high. After loading out there are drinks and catch ups with friends and new fans. Eventually, we all end up at a house party at Jess and Finn’s place somewhere in Kingsland (I think). I get back to my accommodation in the wee hours. Certified Rock Star weekend right there people!
The band now faces the very real challenge of maintaining some momentum and somehow capitalizing on all of this. Making this particularly challenging will be the absences of Dusty and Matt for a couple of months (while Dusty tours Aussie and NZ with the Frank Burkitt Band, and Matt is away on tour in a technical capacity for his work). We may not all be in a room together again until May. However, we have studio time booked in June to record an EP and we’ve started broadly planning a September tour. We just need to keep it together in the meantime. Wish us luck!
There will be some Matt Hay gigs over Winter which will be fun and will help keep my live chops exercised. Just need to figure out where to book some Meech Brothers gigs. Hard to figure out where we fit in the scene – but if I’ve learnt one thing from all of this, opportunities and adventures often come from places that you least expect.