This round-up for the year comes to you earlier than usual. Often I don’t get around to writing about the second half of a year until about February or March of the following year. But this year is different. For a start, it’s probably been my most prolific year in terms of releases – a Meech Brothers EP, a Matt Hay album and two singles with Anxiety Club. Also, with some interesting things booked for the next few months, an unprecedented “Summer” blog post, or perhaps, even monthly posts (gasp!) could be on the cards. But more about the future at the end of this post, let’s first look back at the last five months. Buckle up!
On a Sunday in the middle of July, Matt Hay & the Makers made the familiar journey around Wellington harbour to Eastbourne for another appearance at one of our regular spots – the Days Bay Pavilion. This was probably our best gig of the year. A near faultless performance, an incredibly enthusiastic (and decent-sized) audience, dancing! So much dancing – by young and old! This gig was also notable for not being preceded with a rehearsal of any kind. Is that the trick? Rehearse less? Proprietor, Angus was really happy with the night too. Good times!
A couple of months earlier, Anxiety Club decided to release one of our songs – “Be Still” – recorded last year, before I joined – as a single. It was decided to re-mix that original version and re-do a couple of things, including adding a contribution from me. I recorded my part with the trusty old casiotone (which I seem to have lost since then – where the hell is it?) and then everything went off to Andrew Downes (who had also been working on the Matt Hay album) to mix, before being Mastered by Pete Maher in the UK. In parallel with all of this we went out to the internet to seek video makers to pitch a video concept to us. We eventually settled on this chap based in Brighton, UK. Within a few weeks he banged out a pretty pro-looking video for us (on a pretty tight budget) featuring a beach, a hipster and a mysterious monolith. It turned out like this:
With a release gig booked in at Meow for the first Thursday of August, the PR machine lurched into life. I mucked in as much as I could on this front, employing my press release distribution list that I had developed doing Meech Brothers stuff. I also got in touch with Nick Bollinger, who I have got to know a little over the years who in turn connected me with the Producer of Radio NZ’s Music 101 programme. They offered to cover us in one of their “Introducing” segments. Take a listen here.
On the day of the show, Kev, Dusty and I went into the RadioActive studios for an interview with Don Luchito to plug the gig and the song. Unfortunately, there’s no recording of that one, which is a shame because, by all accounts, it was pretty hilarious.
The gig itself would go on to be a really great night. I had signed-up Emily Fairlight (I had met her through Andrew Bain (Fur Patrol) – who was also playing with her that night) as one of our support acts and Kev had roped in Ben Fulton with his Phaeton project. Our bass player Matt had called in some favours too in the form of a lighting rig and some dudes from his day-job (he does concert staging). We also invited Bradley Garner along to film some of the show. Despite the PR assault, the crowd wasn’t as big as we had hoped – it was a very cold Thursday night – but it was far from empty. We played really well. First gig for me with this band where it really felt “right”. James Goldsmith did a bang-up job of the sound – both on-stage and out the front. And those lights!!! As impressive as they were hilarious (when you think about the context of a mid-week, club gig). But it was worth it, and above all, it was fun. For one night, down a service lane in Wellington, New Zealand, we were Rock Stars. You be the judge – check out Bradley’s video from the night below – it’s also very pro, and probably the best capture of a live performance that I’ve been part of. It’s a pretty great song too, I think.
Post-show beers flowed. Emily and Andrew said they really liked our set and were specifically complimentary to me saying that I “made a lot of the songs (work)”. There was lots of general good will in the room with people like Gerry Paul and Simon Sweetman saying that they also liked what we were doing. Emily also asked me to join her band for a few songs at her upcoming album release show in September. How cool! I told her I’d try to make that happen – so what if I’m already over-committed?
Probably the nicest compliment of the evening was when a couple of total strangers came up to me and said that they mainly watched me all night, because I “looked so happy”.
At some point in August, the music department at the Wellington City Library got in touch with the Meech Brothers and asked us to answer some questions about “Brown Owl” for a blog post. You can read that here.
At the end of August, Matt and Andrew Downes went to Park Road Post to master the Matt Hay album with Mike Gibson. I stopped by to hang out and take a listen. I think Matt was pretty relieved to get to this stage. He and Andrew have spent a LOT of time on over-dubs, editing and mixing over the last year.
September started with a Matt Hay gig at Thunderbird on a Friday. It didn’t feel great but I think we played well and people enjoyed it. Probably most notable for the comment one of our regulars (at that venue) made as he was leaving – he pointed at me and said “he’s the heart of the band!”. Hilarious (and just quietly, I took it as a compliment).
A couple of weeks later, Anxiety Club was scheduled to play a support slot for touring Aussie duo This Way North, at Meow. Things were all rocking along smoothly until The Curse struck. First, Dusty chopped off a piece of his thumb whilst cleaning a coffee plunger – so he was off guitar duties for awhile. But we thought we could get through the gig without him. Then, a week out from the show, Chris came down with a throat and chest infection and was given strict instructions by his doctor to not do anything except lay low. There was no other option but to cancel. What made this doubly frustrating for me was that I had turned-down Emily’s offer to play at her album release show because it clashed with this gig. What else could go wrong?
I’ll tell you what else could go wrong – Gareth could get a throat infection just prior to the much-delayed “Brown Owl” release show – and he did. No medical forensics were conducted, but it’s quite possible he caught that from Chris. You see, Gareth and I had decided to add a drummer for the release gig, Chris was the natural choice. We started rehearsing with him a few weeks prior, so it’s quite possible that some germs were shared in one of those windowless dungeons that pass as rehearsal rooms at Toi Poneke. We considered cancelling the show, but pushed on as we knew it would be difficult finding a new date that worked for everyone. To spare Gareth’s voice, the final rehearsal was just Chris and me. We filmed that session and sent it to Gareth so he could practice along at home!
The release gig was at the intimate Le Maquis Cafe in Wadestown on the afternoon of the first Sunday of October. The good thing about an intimate venue is that it’s quite easy to pack it out. On the downside, when it’s really intimate – like Le Maquis – your audience is practically sitting on top of you!
Despite the less than ideal conditions – Gareth’s voice still not at full-strength, slightly under-rehearsed, and the intensity of being so close to the people who had come along to listen – it went remarkably well. We did the first half as a duo, which felt a bit like hard work, but things really lifted when Chris joined us for the second set (Chris is very good).
Here’s a clip from the gig – “Bright Light” from poco – probably the best-ever live rendition of it
Whilst all this Meech Brother prep as a 3-piece was taking place, work had also begun on a 3-piece version of Anxiety Club.
We had been offered another support gig at Meow, this time supporting young New Plymouth lad Jake McComb who performs as Viices. But with Dusty and Matt unavailable for the gig, we decided to trial a “lite” version of the band. Rehearsals with Kev, Chris and myself commenced in September and I really enjoyed them. It was nice having less people in the room and I was able to influence the direction of things a lot more. In our democratic band with some fairly strong personalities, it’s hard to get a word in – let alone an idea – a lot of the time.
This new format yielded immediate results with a new song dropping out of the very first practice. Evolving out of a jam with Kev using his vocal Harmonizer pedal to maximum effect, “I don’t want anyone (but you)” was born. A couple of weeks later I brought my laptop and some microphones along to practice and made a fairly raw recording of it – just a couple of room mics for the drums. It sounded kinda great. We decided to finish it properly. I re-did the bass part and Kev filed through a couple of overdubs and I mixed it. Within just a few weeks it was finished. To make a video to accompany it, I went for a drive out to Makara with my iPhone gaff-taped to the dash. Kev put the footage through a crazy filter, and huzzah, we had a song ready for release.
I was – and still am – very proud of this one. This is the kind of song and style of production I’ve been striving towards for a long time. We decided it was worth giving it a good push and we had the song mastered by web mastering service LANDR, put it up on streaming services and told everyone we knew about it. One of the people I told about it was Jeremy Taylor at Slow Boat Records who liked the song so much that he forwarded it to Caitlin Cherry who is a Producer on Jesse Mulligan‘s Radio NZ Afternoons programme. Caitlin got in touch with me and booked us to perform on the NZ Live segment of the show next February. Huge result!
The gig that this small version of the band had formed for, rolled around at the end of the month. Young singer-songwriter Iris opened the night, with us on second (ahead of Viices). It was a really small crowd – and a small crowd feels really small at Meow. This low-pressure environment was actually ideal for our first show as a 3-piece, and we ended up having quite a bit of fun. Just check out the banter either side of this song:
The VERY NEXT NIGHT after the Anxiety Club-lite gig, was the Matt Hay “Something Blue” album release show at Tuatara brew bar, The Third Eye. Have a listen to the finished product here:
We were lucky enough to have Darren Watson doing the sound for us. We loaded the gear in during the afternoon – and it was HOT – summer had started particularly early this year. We had probably the most extensive and comprehensive soundcheck that I’ve ever been involved in. The show was on a Saturday night and we got a pretty good turn-out. There’s always a bit of uncertainty on that front when you are doing a “destination” gig – it’s not like playing at Thunderbird or Days Bay, where people are going to turn up for food and drink – regardless of who is playing. But people came. They settled into the comfy couches and other pieces of eclectic furniture that they have upstairs in the performance space.
I learnt from Nick Bollinger that night that this building was once home to the studio of Plan 9 – who primarily composed music for film and TV – but the space was used for many other music projects and shenanigans – including recording most of the Windy City Strugglers albums. So there were some good musical spirits present. For more on the building’s history (it was built at the start of last century and it’s original purpose was the home for The Boys Institute, and was later saved from demolition for the Bypass and moved across the road) here. The braver among you could also watch a pretty experimental short film about the building here.
But I digress. The gig was good. We played well, despite being in that somewhat unnatural environment – for us – of being on a stage and being intently watched and listened to. It’s a good wee venue for bands like us – I’d like to play there again sometime.
Here’s a clip from the night:
On Saturday 11 November, the Matt Hay band participated in the Capital Blues Inc 21st Birthday celebrations – a mini-festival of sorts that had started earlier in the week on Thursday! Held at the club’s regular venue of the Hotel Bristol, event organiser Julie Lamb, had cleverly scheduled us in for the dinner time slot – which really suited us. Let’s face it, we’re not a blues band, and definitely not right for playing late on a Saturday night. George couldn’t make this one as he was up on Waiheke Island doing a gig with the Laura Collins Band. Despite George’s absence it went pretty well. Sound guy Damien Forlong complimented me on my “nice bass playing”. Here’s the last song of our set:
Thanks if you’ve stuck to the end of this post – this must be my longest ever bulletin. I’ll be back in the New Year when I should be able to report on Anxiety Club summer gigs including an appearance at New Plymouth’s Festival of Lights at the end of December. February will most likely see appearances at Kapiti Coast music festival Coastella, not to mention the Jesse Mulligan NZ Live show and a gig in Auckland. Yeah!