Oh 2017, what a great music-year you have been so far!
The Happiness Idea
Early in the new year a new radio show on our local community station, Access Radio put a call out for a theme tune for their show. The show was The Happiness Idea and the song they chose was my old instrumental, Hermit Crab (from the Lost at Sea EP). They were all really nice and positive about it (as I’d guess you’d expect from people producing a show about happiness) and it was a great wee confidence boost. The show first aired on 6th February, and prior to that first show, I even got profiled and quoted in one of their Facebook posts:
And yes, Tony Kemp from our old band, Blender is involved with the show.
Back in November of last year, a new local band posted a “Keyboard player wanted” ad (I think they actually specifically wanted a “Hammond player”) on the Wellington Musicians Facebook community page. Even though I wasn’t looking for another band, I couldn’t help but check them out, and gosh darn it – I really liked them. In terms of musical influences, we had a lot on common – from alt-country (Wilco, Ryan Adams) to 90s alt-rock (Radiohead) and a lot in between. I traded a few messages with lead singer and principle songwriter, Kev Fitzsimons every few weeks where I would say something like “I really like you guys, and I’d love to be a part of it, but I really am a bit over-committed at the moment”. He’d typically respond with something like, “all good, we don’t practice too often, why don’t you come along for a no-obligation jam”. So this went on for a bit and then in the New Year, I just thought, “F**k it” – why not just have a go. What’s the worst that could happen?
At the end of January I joined them at their regular practice in one of the rehearsal rooms at the bottom of the Toi Poneke Arts Centre, and despite my normal “Impostor Syndrome” fears, it went really well. They all said nice things and offered me the gig on the spot! I found out later that they had actually auditioned a couple of other keyboard players before me who hadn’t worked out.
The band – Kev, Cameron “Dusty” Burnell (guitars), Matt Coplon (bass) and Chris Hill (drums) – had formed early in 2016, had worked up a bunch of Kev’s songs, DIY-recorded three of them and had yet to do a gig. That all changed in February with our debut gig at Moon on Friday 17th.
It was a fairly wet and horrible night, but a lot of people made the trek out to Newtown. Frank Burkitt (who Dusty plays with on a regular basis) opened the night and did a stellar job of warming up the crowd (he’s a total pro, really). Then we were up and it went really well. Amazingly good for a first show. I didn’t feel completely comfortable – both physically and mentally. I was crammed between Dusty and the drum riser, but more than the physical discomfort, I was still finding my way with these songs and this band. It was kinda strange to be playing with a loud rock band. But you know, in the end it was tremendous fun, and an undoubted success.
A second show quickly followed, again at Moon, and this time supporting the rather wonderful OrangeFarm. In a surprise last-minute twist, OrangeFarm decided we should be the second band as we’re a bit “louder”. This kinda threw us a bit, and pretty much wasted the afternoon sitting around waiting for a soundcheck that didn’t happen. Kev was also carrying a cold and went home for a pre-gig rest. I went up to Dusty’s place in Brooklyn to hang out and eat some left-over curry. It was a good chance to get to know him a bit better and meet his partner Kim. Not only do they live together, but they play music together in some bluegrass bands and their duo Kim & Dusty. We had good chats about music and other things, and I’ve never seen a house with so many guitars in it. We all caught a pretty hilarious “disco uber” back to Moon for the show. It was a good-sized crowd, and OrangeFarm did a really lovely set. If you asked the rest of the band how our set went they’d probably say it wasn’t that great. For a start, the on-stage sound was terrible. I guess we didn’t really find our groove. But personally, it was a much better show than the first one for me. I felt slightly more at home – although at this stage I still don’t quite feel part of the band – a little bit of an outsider. Despite all the challenges, people dug it and were complimentary. There is dancing. I wisely avoid a post-gig drinking session at Dusty’s place that involves moonshine that leaves Matt pretty destroyed the next day.
There would be no further gigs this side of winter solstice, but over the following months I solidified my place in the band. Feeling more at home and confident with each practice. I even started making songwriting contributions, and helping out with a lot band management stuff. I don’t know how this will all play out – and I suspect that it won’t be a terribly long-lasting band – but for now I want to cling on to it for dear life because it makes me happy and maybe it could turn into something quite special. In some ways, it’s the band I’ve always wanted to be in. Moral of the story: persist. Never give up.
The first date in the Matt Hay & The Makers calendar was at regular haunt Days Bay Pavilion on February 19th. I can’t remember a hell of a lot about this one (I am writing this about 6 months after it happened). I remember it was sunny, my parents made it along, as did some of the local regulars. It’s pretty cool how there are people out there who come to see us every time – even though they are not friends or family. I believe they call this an “audience”.
On Sunday March 26 (a couple of days after that second Anxiety Club gig) we played at Wellington’s eccentric, iconic, and hugely popular weekend-long street festival CubaDupa. We were playing on the Julie Lamb-curated Hotel Bristol stage at noon. After a delayed start while we waited for the the sound guy to turn up, we played a really good set. The rain even held off. People stopped and watched. One thing we all enjoyed was the freedom to play loud. Usually we play in small cafes where we have to keep the volume under control. But here, in the middle of a vibrant, brash festival, going through a big sound system, we were able to cut loose without consequence. Fun! Watch:
A week later and it was a Sunday session at the Kelburn Village Pub. As always when we play here, we were kinda great. Something about that room and the way it sounds. Most of my Anxiety Club band mates came along to watch too, which was nice. I personally was on top form. Just could do no wrong. Even Matt remarked about my playing – perhaps he could just actually hear me for a change!
There was a gig at Thunderbird on April 7th but I had to sit that one out due to parental responsibilities.
And what of the Matt Hay album that we tracked last year at The Surgery, I hear you ask. Well progress continues to lurch on with Matt clocking up countless hours with Andrew Downes as they mix, edit and generally wrangle the songs into line. It’s difficult to predict an exact date of when it might be released, but if I had to guess, I’d say sometime in Spring. Stay tuned.
And last, but by no means least, we finally did it. We finished and released the EP at the end of March. And of all the achievements I’ve talked about above, this one means the most. It’s the most personal. There’s an actual piece of me in it (well, actually not a real piece – that’d be a bit gross and weird – but you know what I mean). It’s been a hard road at times, but as is often the case, a bit of struggle often yields the most satisfying outcome. I proudly present Brown Owl:
Popular wisdom is that you put on a release show when you release your product, but with our organisational reserves (and rehearsal time depleted) we decided to just set the EP free without all that malarkey. We’d figure that out later.
Instead of that, we played a “secret” set at the Kroon for your Kai acoustic night at the Southern Cross in April. It went really well. Regular show-runner Ruby Solly was sick and wasn’t there, but the stand-in host and the sound guy were really complimentary, saying we were the best act that they’d had all year. It was just the sort of thing we needed to hear after such a long break from gigging. Here’s a wee sample from the night:
In May, Gekkan – a magazine published for the ex-pat Japanese community living in New Zealand – included Brown Owl in it’s new music column. How random is that!!!
I’ve saved probably my proudest music moment for last. In June, Gareth and I signed a publishing deal with Jan Hellreigel‘s Songbroker. Songbroker is part-label, part-publisher primarily focused on placing New Zealand music in film and tv – or “sync licensing” as it’s known in the biz. Regardless of what may come of it, it was another moment of validation. To be judged and accepted as actual bona fide songwriters was hugely gratifying – even Jan herself sent us a wee e-mail to say that she liked our songs. Have we finally “arrived”? After all these years?
Yeah, like I said at the top of this post, it’s been a pretty fantastic music year so far.