Coastella 2018

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For photos by McKenzie Jennings-Gruar click ‘McKenzie’s Album’ in the menu above

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WOMAD 2018 Diary

WOMAD Day 1

(Words only – originally published at https://www.13thfloor.co.nz/womad-2018-day-1/)

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Drummer – Thievery Corporation – Photo: McKenzie Jennings Gruar

A capacity crowd have packed out the Bowl of Brooklands, in New Plymouth, this weekend for one of New Zealand’s favourite all-ages festivals.  From the get-go there’s colour, revelry, food, spirit, passion and, of course, music!

It may seem like a cliché but it’s totally true – the sun always shines on WOMAD.  Yes, indeed, all day Ra played hide and seek with the clouds.  However, come 6PM it all cleared away.  And, with the exception of a well time ‘cleansing’ shower during MP Andrew Little’s welcome speech, the rain stayed away.

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Hon Andrew Little opens WOMAD 2018  Photo: Tim Gruar

On first, was the Brazilian mega-funk act Bixiga 70, who opened with huge sound of brass and Latin/Afro-beats supported by a video of protest actions from around the world.  Although their music was instrumental, the juxtaposition between it and iconic protest scenes like the the man who defied the tanks in Tiananmen Square or women in San Paulo covering their naked bodies in anti-rape stickers was extremely moving.  The band really knew how to get a message across.   However, this was the only time the band got so political.  The rest of their high energy material was all about dancing.  Which is exactly what the the 9,000 or so who’d already turned up were here to do.

By the end of the night it was expected up to 17,000 would be on site.  Every year this festival gets bigger and bigger. Young and old had made it to the festival, pitched up their tents, parked up their prams or walkers and were intent on having a great time.

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To add a bit of colour, audience members were invited to dress up for the night and, looking around I saw some pretty amazing efforts.  There were plenty of colourful tied died costumes, animal noises and up-dated Victorian bodices and lace.  But my favourite was a lady in a leather steampunk helmet with WOMAD spelt out across the spikes on her hat.  Although, later that was topped by two ladies dressed as glowing jellyfish.

Worth spending time at was a workshop with Aussie miners The Spooky Men’s Chorale, who held a workshop under a canopy of ancient trees on the Te Paepae Stage.  They had the assembled group all singing back a selection of chants and atonal notes, over which they sung creating an impressive sound and the perfect way to show how they create their music.  It was not only informative but great fun, too.

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Aldous Harding Photo: McKenzie Jennings-Gruar

One not to miss, Aldous Harding and her three piece down on the Bowl Stage put on an intimate and compelling show.  Not easy to do when you’re a separated from the audience by a duck pond.  She started very quietly with the delicate I’m Sorry and Blend.  When she played Horizon, you could have heard a pin drop.  Cloaked in blues and purples, backed by puffs of moor-smoke, her song, in all its intensity, drifted across the glass lake some ghostly spectre from Wuthering Heights.  Comments afterwards, some from well seasoned Womadians, confirmed how captivating her performance really was.

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La Vent du Nord Photo: McKenzie Jennings-Gruar

Bringing the party to the Gables Stage were five Canadians, Le Vent du Nord, who mixed up their modern take on ‘folk’ with hurdy-gurdies, accordion and bouzouki alongside the usual guitars and fiddles.  They mainly sung in French, accented with various other languages to provide a bit of joie de vivre.  I particularly enjoyed Nic Bourerice’s flourishes on the hurdy-gurdy which he played with absolute grandeur.  Nearly everything they did was based on some kind of familiar Celtic reel or stomp, so they were instant favourites with the crowd, who danced and clapped along, spinning like whirling dervishes.

For a bit of variety, I went off to check out the Taste The World tent, hosted by Master Chef star, Jax Hamilton.  She had in Jojo Abot, who will play on Saturday.  The wonderfully funny and charming young Ghanian performer made us all a ‘Red Red Curry’ with chick peas, peanut butter, coconut cream and a whole stack of chilli to blow your mind.  With it she gave sage advice, about following your dreams, to the young ones in the front row and explained how, with music, it is possible to learn many languages.  She herself sings in a number of African tongues as well as French.

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Jax Hamilton cooking with Tama Iti Photo: Tim Gruar

The big decision of the night was a split between two headliners – On U Sound System pioneer Adrian Sherwood or USA EDM music heroes Thievery Corporation, who were playing down on the Bowl stage.  It really was no contest in the end.  Whilst Sherwood showed off his DJ skills mixing up a selection of dub and reggae tracks – recent and ancient – Thievery Corporation brought  a big show, featuring every one and everything but the kitchen sink.   They opened with Facing East, featuring Eric Hilton sitting cross legged on the the Sitar.  Later he’d play us a couple more jams.  The other part of the duo, Rob Garza, remembered his trademark silvery jacket and stood out behind the keyboards and techno-toys.  We got plenty of material from the new album, The Temple of I and I.  Highlights included Racquel Jones doing Letter To The Editor, Notch’s honey sweet vocals on Children of Zion and later his energy on the punchy Weapons of Distraction.  Rapper and showman Mr Lif led a stomping version of Fight To Survive, which morphed into a brilliant finale incorporating the title track and a blazing guitar solo from Hilton.  Later, Lif came back and helped resurrect the band’s big hit The Richest Man In Babylon for the encore.  On my stereo, their new album sounds kind of mellow but on stage tonight it was bursting at the seams with fire.  It was a brilliant set for the first night at WOMAD.  As one punter said, as we were walking back to the camp: “The ‘Thieves’ were definitely the highlight of the night.”  I’d have to agree on that.

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Mr Lif – Thievery Corporation

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Jojo Abot Photo: Mckenzie Jennings-Gruar

WOMAD 2018 Day 2

(Words only – originally published at https://www.13thfloor.co.nz/womad-2018-day-2/)

The second day of WOMAD was as chaotic and wonderful as ever.  With more big headliners like Kamasi Washington and Mista Savona sucking in the crowds and getting them moving with frantic energy, they helped WOMAD live up to it’s well earned ‘festive’ spirit and reputation.  Many kept last night’s costumes and could be seen boogieing around the site like they never left.  That also added to the flavours of the day.

For us campers, the night was calm and quiet, so we all got a bit of a sleep in and at least a bit of breakfast before heading down to the bowl.  Judging by the friendly and chilled vibe around me,, even the children, of which there were many, we’re having a great time – even at 6AM!

By gates opening all 17,000 expected ticket holders, musicians, stall holders, and stall holders had already arrived and were in the mood to party.  It was hot but overcast, perfect weather.  The versatile and dynamic Cameroon singer Blick Bassey was on the Gables Stage when I arrived.  I’d seen a little bit of his act the night before in the cooking tent but I was not prepared for his amazing falsetto solos.  Soaring to spine tingling heights, his voice was almost like a tin whistle at times but much sweeter.  His act is really just him with banjo or a child’s electric guitar, playing simple repetitive riffs but it’s what you do with that which counts.  He’s a real showman, perfect for a festival, having everyone eating out of his hands.

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Daymé Arocena Photo: McKenzie Jennings-Gruar

Also on the Gables Stage, I saw the incredible performance of Daymé Arocena.  Backed by one of the tightest jazz trios I’ve ever seen they played their way trough music that smashed traditional Cuban styles against Cumbian, Mambo, Salsa and Cha-Cha and then blending it up with classic College Jazz and delivering it with a full on Rock’n’Roll attitude.  Arocena may be small in stature but her personality was ten feet tall.  Her voice is so full of soul and character, with that radiant smile coming through on every note.  Her beautiful smile and charm won over the crowd getting them up dancing Cha-Chas and bouncing around like there was no tomorrow.  Most of her set came from her CD Cubafonia, which is almost impossible to pigeon hole.  As she told me earlier in the day Cuba is a melting pot of styles from Africa slave culture to Chinese gold diggers, exiled from California.  That’s the best description you can get of her roots.  Her set threw in a few English numbers but for me the winner was La Rumba Me Llamo Yo, the funkiest Rumba on the planet.  It’s still ringing in my ears.

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Finn Scholes – helping out Hopetoun Brown Photo: McKenzie Jennings-Gruar

Hopetoun Brown – aka Tim Stewart (claps, vocals, trombone) and Nick Atkinson (sax)  – are two lads that grew up together, on the same street and in the former mega funk outfit Supergroove.  So it was appropriate that they decided to use Che Fu’s Misty Frequencies as the holler back track for the audience participation section of their set.  The rest came from their two albums, which is a pretty stripped back collection of brass driven blues and Dirty New Orleans- type tunes with a downtown busker feel.  They also brought out Finn Scholes on trumpet from Carnivorous Plan Society to do Own It.  Scholes stayed around for a stunning solo on Burning Fuse, and a wonderfully jazzy turn on the xylophone as well.  Much of their stuff is like a meld of old time street blues.  Later, they grabbed Callum Passells from Aldous Harding’s band a tune as well, a nicely seedy torch song.  These guys seem to know everyone.  I hear Stewart, who’s also a professional chef, will be knocking up some seawater and potato focaccia bread with homemade onion dip at the Taste the World tent later, so I’ll definitely pop along for that.  Later that night, I caught the Hopetoun Brown boys helping out with Aldous Harding’s mournful set.

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One of the most colour performances I saw came from Jojo Abot.  More a performer than a singer, her music was probably best described as digital pop – sung in a multitude of languages.  However, it was her incredible costume of long flowing red dreadlocks, camouflage and blood red flourishes that stood out.  Onstage, she was accompanied by a danced whose face was partially painted in a shimmering gold design, like a modern interpretation of female warrior war paint.  She also had a producer creating sounds from a set of keyboards and premixed tracks, in time with a bear chested drummer keeping time with angry tribal beats.  This was a fierce performance.

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Mark Williams – Dragon Photo McKenzie Jennings-Gruar

I missed most of Dragon’s set running between interviews and other gigs but from what I heard the foursome were in fine form, providing the party atmosphere for the night with their mandatory set of well loved hits – RainApril Sun in Cuba, Kool & The Gang’s Celebration and See No Evil, to name but a few.  Nobody was complaining down at the Bowl stage – most were singing backstreet the top of their voices.

Every WOMAD had a crazy gypsy collective, and this year it was Toronto’s Lemon Bucket Orchestra who provided the Oom pa pa.  Originally a four piece, they’d managed to smuggle another six players and a sousaphone into their suitcases.  The music was predictable but perfect for a mid-March summer’s evening knees up.  With full bellies and few drinks under their belts the audience at the Brooklands stage found their dancing feet.

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Anoushkar Shankar Photo: Tim Gruar

Sitar player and daughter of the great Ravi Shankar, Anoushka Shankar performed on the Bowl stage to a mellow and relaxed afternoon of listeners.  Given her heritage I was expecting a mainly classical set. However, a quick Google will show you that it was Anoushka has broken the mold working with EDM producers to create a very modern sound.  Today, she gave us a selection of material that could be likened to Enigma or even Thievery Corporation.  The most memorable music came from her new album Land of Gold, which she explained was her personal response to the humanitarian trauma of displaced people fleeing conflict and poverty.  It was made with percussionist Manu Delago, who along with an upright bassist and a chennai player, was on stage today.  Delago mixed up tradditional tamblas with Latin rhythms totally transforming the sound.  Borders and the title track both painted very startling and poignant images about refugees caught in the crossfire of modern political turmoil like Trump’s wall to keep out Mexicans.

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My Bubba – Photo: McKenzie Jennings-Gruar

I had a brief glimpse at Swedish/Icelandic duo My Bubba, who well surrounded by a distinctly folky mob at the Dell Stage.  Most of their hunny sweet duets seemed songs seemed to be reinterpretations of Jo Nesbo stories about loneliness, noir forests scenes and other sinister things – all told with bone dry humour.

For me, my favourite act of the day was jazz-funk sax maestro Kamasi Washington.  Being a Wellingtonian I’d not yet had a chance to see him play on his last tours, which only included Auckland.  So this was a special treat.

Washington had brought his regular band down, fresh from his Powerstation gig the night before. (You can read the review at www.13thfloor.co.nz).  What struck me immediately was how damn tight this unit was, especially drummers Ronald Bruner, Jr (Thundercat’s big bro) and Robert Miller who both shared the risers behind separate kits, creating this massive storm of fusion beats.

They were joined by Brandon “Hot Sauce” Coleman, and bassist Josh Crumbly and their newest member, trombonist Ryan Porter.  He gave his band leader some real competition, letting loose all over the shop.  Washington’s best tune was a bit of a surprise: a tune he introduced as ‘Anisha and Elroy’ or ‘Charlie Brown goes to Inglewood’.  The track was led by Coleman, who’d rearranged the famous cartoon show theme into a whole rainbow of different funky cosmic colours.

They belted out another couple of genre-bending tunes with plenty of elaborate work on the sax and trombone.  Washington has an inclusive policy about leading, everyone gets a turn.

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Kamashi Washington captured on Tim Gruar’s S7

Standing at one side of Washington was singer Patrice Quinn. Except in some of the vocal parts of Truth, which are more like choral interludes, she seemed content to sway about in her own little bubble of bliss. That was until the ultra funky keytones of Coleman’s Moog kicked on The Rhythm Changes. The intro starts off like Stevie Wonder’s Superstition but with Quinn in behind it was heightened beyond anything you can imagine.  Add to that the hyperdrive of this super crew and I, for one, was in ecstasy.  So were the rest of the people at the Brooklands Stage.

Saturday night finished on a high with Aussie Jake Savona’s project: Havana meets Kingston.  This was a collective of Cuban and Jamaican artists including members of the Buena Social Club and legendary dub rhythm section Sly Dunbar and Robbie. Also on stage was a horn section, percussion and Buena Vista’s very classy keyboardist, Rolando Luna, who transitioned between dub tunings and flambouyant Latin piano with remarkable ease.  Mista Savona, himself sat mid-stage behind a bank on key boards conducting, directing and announcing the tracks.

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Brenda Navarette  Photo: Tim Gruar

The set started with Cuban singer Brenda Navarette’s solo voice welcoming us all.  The song started slow bit built up as more musicians jpined the stage until everybody was on and pumping out an infectious blend of hip sweating Salsa.

It was wonderful to see Buena Vista’s most famous laud player, and his most famous moustache, Barbarito Torres on stage tonight. He gave us two or three killer solos.  Also impressing was English-Jamaicam Randy Valentine on trumpet litterally blowing the house down on Vibracion Positive and Candela.

Amongst the songs was Chan Chan, which appeared on the original Buena Vista Social Club album, only this one was ‘souped up’ with extra deep bass and a dub-step courtesay of our Jamaican heroes.  Both were looking older but their was no denying they still had it, keeping up like it was second nature.  Watching Dunbar play, in his work overalls and construction hard hat, was like watching an alchemist at work and I had the privilege to see him at making magic from the sidelines.  His movements were short and deft but there was so much more going on under the drumskins.  Mr Shakespeare also got a spot late in the set to show off his own skills.  He gave a great stripped back solo sending explosions of deep bass notes reverberating around the whole Brooklands Bowl.

I’d been looking forward to seeing this project since I first saw it on the programme.  The real question I had in my mind was would it work?  However, given Cubans come from a mixed heritage that includes Spanish and African, it’s not a huge stretch to go to dub and reggae.  Most of the tracks tonight tended to follow one genre or the other, rather than fully blending both together.  Either way, it all created fabulous party music which got everybody dancing for the rest of the night – all the way back to the campsite.

 

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TINARIWEN  Photo by McKenzie Jennings-Gruar

WOMAD 2018 – Day 3

(Words only – originally published at https://www.13thfloor.co.nz/womad-2018-day-3/)

Predictably, Sunday is always the ‘chill out day’ at this festival.  Time for yoga, sleep-ins and ZUMBA – at the Dell Stage!  By 11.00 O’clock the line to the in-gate went all the way up to the Racecourse, about half a mile.  Their were over 15,500 on site, according to TAFT CEO Suzanne Porter.  Not bad for a festival now in it’s 14th year.  Today was all about culture and expanding the mind with some 70’s Afro Funk, Chilean pop, Poetry slams, culinary adventures and Desert Blues.

At the Te Paepae stage I caught a bit of a beat-boxing workshop and at The Nova Taste The World Stage they were doing the TSB Community Trust Cook Off.  On the Gables Stage, which is conveniently right next to the media area, I caught the set of Iraqian Oud player Rahim Alhaj.  I found it refreshing to hear his very strict ‘parlour’ music, accompanied by an Iranian santour (a zither) and an Arabic percussionist.  Their beats are very different in construct – quite mesmerising but also remarkably soulful.

One of today’s heavy weights might be unknown to many Kiwis – until now.  Pat Thomas is one of Ghana’s all time greatest vocalists, playing for over 50 years.  He started in the bar scene before moving to Canada for a while due to civil war in the 1970’s, hooking up with exiles over there.  His legacy includes working with Ebo Taylor and Tony Allen.  That experience came out with him performing with his five piece Kwashibu Area Band – a collection of Ghanian players from all over the world.  Their particular type of Afro Funk differs from Fela Kuti and other African musicians because they only use one guitarist, so the groove is dirtier but the funk is still ultra-good for dancing.  His set covered a number of differing styles from his career including Hi-Life, reggae and big band Astro-jazz, complete with a stonking brass section.  I’m not an expert but I recognised a couple of classics such as Ma Huno and Yamona.

WOMAD has always been about an experience winder than just music.  Today, there were workshops by poets and novelists, like Paul Cleave.  He writes mysteries, with his latest book, A Killer Harvest, he told us, being about the very creepy concept of genetic memory.

If you mention poetry to some people you might as well have told them they’d stepped in something horrible but Penny Ashton knows how to make a party out of a few well chosen words.  She gave us a couple of her own, including a hilarious and slightly naughty ode to her hubby, Yorkshire poet Matt Harvey.  He came on after to do some very funny absurdist poetry – lists of things that go together – like ‘arseholes and BMW’s’.  The hour was rounded off with more humour from Samoan poet Tusiata Avia and last year’s Poetry Slam winner.

I noticed that the talking bookshelf (people who share their life experiences) was considerable under stocked this year.  Although, there was a rather fine gentleman dressed in full Centurion armour on hand to share his rather quirky genealogy.

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Face painting  Photo: McKenzie Jennings-Gruar

Children were well catered for again this year.  As always, there’s a dedicated space for them, with crafts, entertainers and plenty of things to climb on.  There was also a children’s parade on at 6PM, a tradition at WOMAD where all kids on site get to dress up and participate.  And if that wasn’t enough a they could join in A Curious Game, a pop up activity run by actors dressed as elaborate cartoon chess pieces, who were organising kids into various crazy formations on a huge black and white checkerboard.

Down on the Dell Stage, Mahuia Bridgeman- Cooper’s collective , The Black Quartet (dressed all in white) were performing a set of modern tunes, including Springsteen’s Fire.  They’ve jammed with people like Kayne West, MJD and Ladyhawke, so they had plenty of material to draw on.  They have a traditional set up of cello and violins and I know what they are capable of but, sadly, they chose to stay away from anything really challenging or truly inspirational in their set.  Being a festival it was no surprise when they were joined on stage by Hopetoun Brown to finish with Aha’s Take On Me.  It was a warm late summer afternoon, so the perfect time to get away with something like that.

If a higher, more classical experience was what you were after, then that could be found with Victoria Hanna’s workshop.  Raised in Jerusalem in an ultra-orthodox household she gave a compelling talk about her music and her discovery of the secular world.  She explained how singing and rapping in Aramaic had helped her overcome her life-debilitating stutter.  Her warmth and humour during her workshop was quite surprising after seeing her performance the night before and everyone was mesmerised by this exceptionally brave woman.

The night party started with the obligatory gypsy music, provided by Chico Trujillo from Chile .  There’s not a great deal I can say about this nine piece except that their version of lounge music is more akin to a bar brawl than a quiet cocktail on the porch.  It’s raucous, brash and brassy.

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Nano Stern cooks the World Photo: McKenzie Jennings-Gruar

By comparison, their compatriot Nano Stern did his second set of keen pop tunes and then went off to cook everyone Ceviche and chillied prawns in the food tent with Jax Hamilton – plus a couple of acoustic folk songs.  I tried his food. Delicious.  And his singing’s not bad either.

The Miltones came on the Gables Stage at 4PM, just in time for beer-o’clock. Milly Taybak was in fine voice today, enjoying the sunshine and showing off her bright pink satin kimono dress.  The band mostly go for the rockier 70’s rock things, so for any leftover Dragon fans they were most likely to have been down the front hard at it on the floor.  They even chucked in Neil Young’s Down By The River, alongside their own Pursed LipsWildfire and Gypsy Queen plus a stack more of barnstormers.  Halfway they toned it down for down for a version of Glory that will put goosebumps on an elephant.  Guy Harrison’s solo on keyboards in that one those particularly memorable moments from their hour on stage.

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TINARIWEN Photo: McKenzie Jennings-Gruar

Towards the end of the day, I caught another headliner Tinariwen, the renowned Tuareg collective from Northern Mali who play a unique version of desert blues.  On stage they cut a striking image, playing in full head gear and robes.  Their sound is raw and powerful, yet bone dry like the sand.  When they first appeared on the World Music scene a few years back they were a surprising act, almost a novelty.  Now days, there are many bands that sound similar.  Their new album, Elwan, recorded in Morocco provided most of the material.  I recognised Sastanàqqàm but having not heard the new album or had any help from the stage it was hard to be able to tell you what else they played, save for one of their big hits Cler Achel.  That didn’t stop everyone getting the gypsy groove on in preparation for Flamenco-metal act Rodrigo Y Gabriela.  Alas, travel plans meant I missed them and was left wanting.

Overall, the weather, the food and the music made Sunday at WOMAD another memorable day out for all the family.  This festival knows its strengths and always plays to them.  That’s why I’ll keep coming back.  My only grumble – once again, there very little ‘dance’ in the program.  It would have been nice to see that.  Next time, perhaps.  Big thanks to all the volunteers, as well.  They really made it special.

For more see www.13thfloor.co.nz

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Photo by McKenzie Jennings-Gruar

Electric Wire Hustle: Ready For The 11th Sky

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Published on 13thfloor.co.nz

The 13th Floor’s Tim Gruar fills us in on the latest from Electric Wire Hustle…

Following on from the release of the award winning Love Can Prevail, Wellington’s Electric Wire Hustle are set to release their third album, The 11th Sky, which continues themes of surreal storytelling, first seen on 2014’s Aeons EP This new album further pushs the boundaries of conventional genres with grainy electronic beats, smoky vocals and driving synths, further expanding their psychedelic/soul-sound.  It’s like David Lynch meets Motown, but with the essence of Aotearoa.

Human life and knowledge were said to originate in the realm of Ranginui, the sky father.  In one tradition, the god Tāne climbed to the citadel Te Tihi-o-Manono, in the highest of the 12 heavens, known as Te Toi-o-ngā-rangi.

And it was there that he retrieved three baskets of knowledge: te kete-tuatea (basket of light), te kete-tuauri (basket of darkness) and te kete-aronui (basket of pursuit).  Or so the legend goes.  On Electric Wire Hustle’s new album, The 11th Sky, the journey mirrors Tāne’s but is somewhat incomplete.  “I feel like we’re stuck on the 11th Heaven, somehow unable to move.  In my mind there’s room to move but something always holds us back – love, people, money, dreams.”  We’re almost at the final destination but somehow this is just out of reach.  This was the description Mara TK gave Tim Gruar recently when he phoned him up to discuss the upcoming release of EWH’s third album.  That feeling is best summed up in the lyrics of the Oh I, which talks of landing on ‘Cloud 4 ½’ and ‘Cloud 6 ½’ , that is points short of the mark.  You get there’s a sense of dissatisfaction and searching on this album.

Another song that grabs your attention is Troublemakers, with lines that are calling his lover away from dangerous elements to a better place elsewhere.  “That one has some viola on it and strings (courtesy of Mahuia Brifleman Cooper).  It was (Gramski’s) Paul McLaney that connected us up.  I’d been working with him and the Black Quartet for shows at the pop-up Globe Theatre in Auckland.  The Black Quartet have something of a Classical music rockstar status, having worked with Kanye West, 60Sixty and Ladyhawke.   “Mahuia had the bones of that song and was quite a big part in its development – like an angel taking it to some other place, where I’d never thought to go.”  Mara employed a harpist, Natalia Mann for Golden Ladder, one of the earliest tracks on the album.  “Although, by the time I’m finished it’s been ‘doctored electronically quite a bit.”

Now Operating EWH as a solo project Mara has written and produced much of it by himself, with contributions from a host of collaborators ranging from a harpist to producers like and vocalist Diva Mahal – who sings on March (apparently, this was initially her song before EWH took it on).

Originally, EWH were a three piece – David ‘Taay Ninh’ Wright (keyboards, synths) Myele Manzanza (drums) and Mara TK (vocals, bass, guitar), with assistance from producer Benny Tones, making edgy dance funk with futuristic overtones.  Back in 2006 Mara ran into Wright playing in Christchurch and the two got talking.  Wright promised to call Mara up when he moved to Wellington, and eventually did, leading to a long collaboration.  They found Myele busking on the streets.  “The three of us got together to make our self-titled album and we did well with that, traveling around the world, touring it through festivals and shows to over 14 countries.  But,” he explains, “we grow up, and travelling turns to making babies and working, etc.”  Their second album Love Can Prevail, Mara explains, philosophically, was a big departure from their original path.  “We were exploring and sending out probes, looking for a landing spot, trying to figure out the landscape.  You know, people need to categorize you and understand what you’re doing.”  Then Aeons saw the group strip down to a duo between Mara and Wright and yet another new direction.  It reflected Mara’s constant desire to re-investigate musicianship.  Something he’s also tried to do on other projects like Data Hui, which also features is his father, psychedelic guitarist Billy TK, Rikki Gooch and Nudge drummer Iraia Whakamoe.  Taniwhunk (2013) explores ultramodern blues, country and folk driven by an investigation of the theme of “Maoris in space.”  Maria refers to it as “a sci-fi re-appropriation of the navigation techniques of the first Maori settlers of Aotearoa, as re-imagined through a bilingually futurist space exploration lens”.  There is a new Data Hui album in the pipeline, hopefully this year.

“History is now three generations deep for Black Music but not everyone plays it.  I had plenty of show band music, like the Maori Volcanics around me when I grew up but it was bands like the Shadows that really influenced me.  Dad would play desert blues albums and jazz like Coletrane.  But it was Apache that captured my imagination.  He had to play it for the bands he worked for, note for note.  Even the mistakes.   When I reflect on my Dad and his life, as I get older myself, I get some excitement about what he achieved and I want to capture some of that in the Data Hui project.  It’s also there in the stories of The 11th Sky, too.”

‘Together alone’ is the best way to describe Mara’s production process, crafting much of The 11th Sky at Wellington’s Blue Barn studios over a two-year period. “It took me a while to get into the right space before I could really start. “I had a little room to myself where I could drift in and do a few hours, without economic pressures, etc.”  Benny Tones and engineer Ben Horton completed the production process, working around Mara’s last minute changes and edits.  “Yeah.  Nothing’s safe.  I kept coming up with new ideas for the final production – new samples, sounds and stuff.  Some tracks have over 6 remastered because I kept adding things.  One song, ExMachina got held up because it has an Aretha sample which I added at the last minute and we had to get clearance.”

The album’s cover “conjures up little dream world’s in somebody’s mind” Mara reckons.  The ethereal image of an abandoned rollercoaster shrouded in blue clouds gives the impression of tranquil isolation like the stillness of a mountaintop – peaceful, yet threatening.  “It was actually a photo from the New York Times of a Theme Park after a Southern States hurricane.  It has this sort of aftermath narrative to it.  I have changed it to be more like an I completed journey.”  To be continued….

The 11th Sky is released September 30th

Saturday October 1 – Neck of the Woods, Auckland
w/ The Turnaround
Tickets from Non Stop Tix

Friday October 7 – San Fran, Wellington
w/ Troy Kingi
Tickets from Eventfinda

The 11th Sky
Released Friday September 30
First single coming Thursday September 1

Punk Legends Stiff Little Fingers – The interview

Interview first published at www.13thfloor.co.nz

“Live fast, die young,” and “Not fade away,” surely apply to the first punk generation that exploded in a blitzkrieg of bile and fury in the 1970’s. The mantra was like some anarchic politico-SAS mission. Yet a few of the old guard endure – The Sex Pistols reformations or the return of the Buzzcocks… and it was no surprise to discover that Irish Punk heroes Stiff Little Fingers just celebrated 40 years of stickin’ it to the man. The 13th Floor’s Tim Gruar got right to the point in his interview with lead singer Jake Burns.

TG: Weren’t you supposed to crate the chaos and get out?. Yet here you are 40 years on.

JB: “People still are angry and there’s still a lot of rage we can tap into.” He laughs, in his treacle-thick accent, “Trump is a gold mine. We just celebrated 40 years of challenging the system and the establishment. How many bands will he spawn in protest, I wonder?”

TG: What was Belfast like in the 1980’s? Paint a scene of the early days of the band.

JB: “I was about 11 years old when the Troubles began – about 1969, 1970. The civil unrest that was going on at that time was every day life to me. The riots, invariably bomb scares, not always with bombs involved but even just the mere whisper of trouble meant your bus home was diverted, delayed or cancelled altogether. You couldn’t walk down certain roads because of the threat that a building blowing up. On the plus side, for an 11 year old, somebody might get wind of a bomb in the school and you’d get the afternoon of which was great (laughs). That’s the only upside I can remember of it.”

TG: So when you started as a band, I understand that you were into Deep Purple and Led Zep, etc. You were even called and tear Purple’s 197- classic Highway Star.

JB: “Yeah, well why wouldn’t you? We couldn’t play it but why wouldn’t you chose a name like that? That goes back to the days when I was about 12 and all the guys I hung out with were all that little bit older than me. They were 15, 16 years and they were the ones buying the LED Zep and Purple records. I got into that stuff at an early age. I completely missed out on Glam Rock, completely passed me by.

“Every other kid my age was listening to Marc Bolan and mucking about having fun. I was seriously sitting around, listening and discussing the latest Jethro Tull album with a bunch of older kids in great coats, y’know? (Laughs) But you know I think it actually helped me when the punk rock thing came around. I’d been listening to all these hard rock bands on record and in pubs and stuff. I was completely fed up withe the guitar solo, and the drum solo and stuff so when punk rock came around I thought “Thank God something that’s finally here that’s exciting and vibrant and quick and done in three minutes.” Y’know? I was a very easy convert (to punk).”

TG: How did punk rock come around for you?

JB: “It was John Peel. His radio show. He was always at the forefront of what was cool. He was from way back but always moving. Hugely influential. He was the champion of Pink Floyd in the 1960’s but then the next band and the next. So when Punk Rock happened that was the only way we could hear it – on his BBC radio show. And it was a sort of ‘side bar’ to all the social unrest in Ireland that was goin’ on around us at the time. And no band was stupid enough to come across to Northern Ireland to play. So the only way to access them was on the radio. The only sources were the music papers and when Johnny (Rotten) famously went on television and swore then they (The Sex Pistols) were on the front pages of the tabloids every where. Suddenly Punk Rockers were ‘Public Enemy #1.”

TG: You wanted to be ‘Public Enemy #1’ as well?

JB: “Not really. That was just a side effect. I remember it transformed me though. I went from being a long aired hippy to gettin’ my hair cut. My dad was initially delighted that I’d cut my hair but then he saw the punk rock get up and he kinda wished I’d grown my hair back again (laughs).”

TG: I found some early footage of Stiff Little Fingers from the early 1970s on YouTube and all your fans and audience are already decked out in Punk attire. With Mohawks and ripped clothes and safety pins. There’s even a guy with a swastika around his neck. So there must have been a scene established in Belfast pretty quickly after the whole thing took off.

JB: “Yeah, well it did, really. Was once asked to critique Culture Club (for a TV show) and people would say “Why are you doing that – Punk’s meant to be ‘real’ and ‘gritty’ and that.” And I thought, well, “did you ever see us? We were more dressed up than they were!. And bizarrely I ran into Boy George later that week and I asked if he remembered that and he fell about laughing. “Yeah, I remember that”, he said. So there you go. We were louder and more obnoxious peacocks.

“There were more similarities than people care to remember. It was all just part of being rebellious. The whole swastika thing was very misguided and certainly nothing I took part in but all part of it. Anything to provoke a reaction, I suppose. I’ll thought and stupid”

TG: Can you remember your first gig as a Punk band?

JB: “The very first show was in a bar in Belfast called Lamb’s Lounge – Paddy Lamb was the owner. I’m not sure Paddy really knew what he was gettin’ . We basically 30 or 40 songs – it was a very long set. It was a strange old evening. We veered from Damned songs to Eddy and the Hotrods to Dr Feelgood. I think we even played Van Morrison’s Gloria. I seemed to remember jumping on tables and jumping around, generally. It was very unruly because it was what we thought Punk rock should be, you know? And there were a couple of people in other bands who’d come to check us out. And we tried to do the same thing. So apart from those guys, who kinda knew what to expect. The rest of the audience didn’t have a clue. Just a couple of bemused guys who’d come out for a quiet beer. They didn’t know what the hell was going on on the stage (laughs hardheartedly).”

TG: Was Belfast crazy back then, with Punk coming in, the largely working class population that were attending pubs and gigs and then being surrounded by the IRA and the troubles every day?

JB: “Half the place wanted to escape it all, half wanted to fight back and who ever left just wanted to blow it up. That’s pretty close to what it was like. We kinda kept out of each other’s way. If you wanted to see a particular band then you went to a particular bar. There were certain ones that we played, but others you didn’t even try to get near. There were bands doing covers of the Eagles and Steely Dan, or whatever. They had certain pubs. So you didn’t even try to get into those. And their audiences had no interest in seeing us and we had no interest in trying to play for them. There was rivalry but more like oil and water, certain people just didn’t mix and that was that. You stayed way from certain place because that’s where the bombers met, or the unionists or the bosses, etc.”

TG: What’s the craziest gig you’ve done?

JB: “There were so many. Going back to the earliest days I remember the first time we played outside the UK, a show in Finland, an open air festival. Tens of thousands of people turned up. When I take my glasses off on stage the audience just becomes a blur. Maybe the first two rows. To my poor eyes it was like playing to a cornfield with all these millions of blond heads disappearing off into the distance. We did it with a band called the Members and the back stage was a double-decker bus, the hired equipment was terrible. Everything broke down or sounded awful. We were so frustrated. We got so pissed off we ended up trashing all the equipment out of rage. The we left and only then did we notice The Members standing on the side of the stage ready to go on. They were going to use the same gear. And we were, like “Oh. Oops, sorry. We forgot you had to use that gear.” Sheepishly retiring and skulking off. And then having to sit on the double-decker bus with them while the roadies had to repair it all so they could go on. I’m amazed we’re all still friends to this day. They weren’t particularly pleased at the time.”

TG: Back in the day, the tabloids beat up the Stiffs for exploiting the Troubles in their lyrics and praised the Undertones for avoiding them. Was there any truth behind this?

JB: “Well, that was their attitude, the papers. That we were cashing in on it all. How you can cash in on your own life and what was happening around us at the time, I really don’t know. I felt that both attitudes were valid. I felt that bands that went to The Undertones, they wanted to go see a band and forget their day to day stresses of living in Northern Ireland. The were there to provide entertainment and that’s perfectly valid.”

TG: Your recent record Inflammable Material seems to me to be less of an ‘Irish’ record more universal. Also, is this really a chronicle of teenage frustrations. Odd choice for men in their middle age?

JB: “Everyone calls it the ‘Irish’ record because it feels like it belongs in the era of The Undertones’ Teenage Kicks. Which might be right, I suppose. The theme is close to what we’ve always talked about in our music: disaffected teenagers kicking out against the world. In some ways I want kids today to do more of that. Be less complacent and get off their I-phones and challenge what’s happening around them. Done be a drone. Hey, I’m still disaffected, and I’m still kicking out!”

TG: Do you think the environment you grew up in give it some extra edge and maybe that’s what people outside Northern Ireland are tapping into?

JB: “That’s likely but it’s our perspective – all that we knew, really.”

Auckland Folk Festival

Thanks to the wonderful Trevor Villers, got to attend the third day of the Auckland Folk Festival on Sunday 28th January.  This annual three day event has three main stages, umpteen workshop spaces and it’s own tent city as most of the attendees and artists choose to camp out under the stars at the idyllic location of the Kumeu Showgrounds.  The festival featured a number of big hitters such as Nadia Reid, Reb Fountain, Klezmer Rebs and Canada’s East Pointers.  Another surprise was Scottish harpist Esther Swift and USA’s the Lonely Heartstring Band. Here’s some of Trevor’s wonderful photos.

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