Wednesday, 25 November 2009

The North Island

The Auckland Sky Tower at night.

Tuesday 13th October. Travel to New Zealand. 
Travel: Flight Q.F. 762 / Flight Q.F. 131

Depart Perth: 8:10 a.m.
Arrive Melbourne: 2:35 p.m.

Depart Melbourne: 4:10 p.m.

Arrive Auckland: 9:40 p.m.

An important day for me. I’ve only ever spent one day in New Zealand before today, and that was last time Steeleye toured Australia - the last anniversary tour (35th). We flew to Auckland, played the concert, and flew back to Australia. Ironic really, considering I’ve held a NZ passport for over ten years now.

I acquired the passport on the strength of my late Father been born and having grown up in Dunedin on the South Island, a subject I wrote about in some detail when I was in Scotland back in March (see: The Circle Game).

The plan here, once having arrived at Auckland, is to head for the Quadrant Hotel where I’ll see Carol for the first time in almost a month. 
Tomorrow I pick up the hire car from the Omega office, which I gather is just around the corner from the hotel. We’ll spend the next two days in the Auckland area before heading off to the various folk clubs and arts centres where I’m performing.

Albert Park

Wednesday 14th & Thursday 15th October. Auckland.

I Love the place; it just doesn’t have the same hurried and crowded feel that one might expect in a major city. The population of 1.4 million here is almost four times that of New Zealand’s capital Wellington. And incredible really when you think that in the rest of the county there’s only just over another 2.5 million people.

A lot of time was spent just walking, drinking flat whites*, walking, eating, drinking more flat whites, walking and eating.
We found a South Indian restaurant which was pretty good.
And I bought a ukulele at the Rock Shop, a place I visited on a previous visit here. 

My last visit to the Rock Shop back in 2004 was quite eventful. I got chatting to the guy who was serving me, maybe he was the owner? - I can’t recall. I told him why I was there and who I played with, and then he said he’d show me something. I was full of curiosity as I followed him upstairs to a locked room. He unlocked the door, and ushered me in. You wouldn’t believe it! - I know I couldn’t; before me was the greatest collection of Beatles memorabilia I’d ever laid my eyes on - Ludwig drum kits, Hofner Violin basses, Gretsch and Rickenbacker guitars, Reslo microphones, Beatle suits, sheet music, LPs, 45s, pictures & posters; a stockpile that must be worth, well, many thousands.

I’d told Carol all about this, and so I figured that when I went for the uke I’d once again have a friendly talk to sales assistant, and she, Carol, would be able to see it for herself. 
This time the chap who served me was pretty young; he didn’t seem very interested at all in conversation, only interested in selling a ukulele to me. I told him how I’d been escorted up to this room, and he said, “you must’ve caught the boss in a good mood. I’ve been working here three years, and I only got to see it last week. Now would you like a receipt sir?”. 

And that was it.

Friday 16th October. Solo concert. Katikati Folk Club.
We started our journey at midday. It was good to get out into the country side, away from the city, and to see some of the much anticipated scenery. With a brief stop
at Waihi Beach - about fifteen minutes from our destination - it took more-or-less the expected three hours to reach Katikati.

The club is held once a month at the Katikati bowling club. The people - organisers and audience alike - were brilliant, it was good way to start my mini tour of NZ.

Ken at Waihi Beach

The sound man didn’t seem all that guitar-friendly though, I’d have to say. As I played I struggled to hear the guitar against the voice, but figured it just had something to do with the acoustics of the room. Then, when more than one audience member started to say, ‘the guitar’s not loud enough’, I knew that it wasn’t just me.
He did seem a little reluctant to push that fader up on the desk - a bit of a handicap for someone like me who depends so much on having my guitar work heard loud and clear.

This has often been a problem for me, something I’ve encountered many times with even some of the most experienced sound engineers. I believe a great many of them have a stereotype view of how a guitarist / singer should sound - the voice out front and the guitar well behind. Classically speaking, I suppose that’s what we all became accustomed to with the likes of Dylan and Paul Simon and all the other singer songwriters heard over the years. With these guys the words and the voice were always more important than the guitar playing.

There is only one way to absolutely guarantee that you are heard in the way you want to be heard - the way that expresses what ‘you’ do, and not what others might have done, and that’s to have your own man on the desk, someone who understands exactly what you do, what you’re about and what you want; this is fool-proof, and, of course, expensive.

There are other ways that will get you close, like having a long enough guitar cable to go out, for at least some distance from the stage, and hear it for yourself. This is something you’d do, of course, during the sound check. Potentially, this approach fails in a couple of ways; it fails to allow for the changes that occur to the acoustics of a room when the audience arrives; also, once back on stage, the power again falls into the hands of whoever has them on the faders.

Again, the mantra comes to mind: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change . . .

We stayed over with John and Di Logan, and were made to feel very welcome. John, as with many of the people actively involved in the folk music scene over here are UK ex-pats, and all have their own fascinating stories to tell of how not only how they ended up in New Zealand in the first place, but also about the emotional, and even physical ‘to-and-froing’ before eventually settling down here for good.

Saturday 17th October. Solo. Onewhero.

Set off on our drive from Katikati after a walk along the Uretara river with John and Di, and getting caught out by a deluge of rain in the process.

It took us about two hours to reach Onewhero (pronounced: On-e-fairo), on the way driving through the spectacular Karangahake Gorge.

This is the second day of travelling here in NZ, and I cannot explain how completely fantastic the scenery is. And judging by what I’ve been told, I ain’t seen nothing yet!

The show itself is in the OSPA Theatre. It’s hard to fathom; it looks like the middle of nowhere, and they’ve not just built a theatre there, they manage to keep it going. 
The day I arrived was the final day of an arts festival in which they were exhibiting, and selling the works of local artists. 
Non of the above would be happening was it not for the dedication of Richard Gemmell - a sheep farmer, and a great lover of the arts.
Carol and I stayed with Richard and wife, Jan on their farm; it had a great feel to it. Again, it seemed like we were in the middle of nowhere, a feeling one is inclined to get often here in New Zealand.

The show went well, but again there were PA issues. They’d not long had a new public address system installed, and no one appeared to know just how it needed to be set up and what outputs should be connected to what inputs, etc.
I helped out as much as I could until we got some level of functionality from it. I actually thought we’d got it all figured out, but discovered at the evening’s end that everyone had been hearing me in mono through only the centre speakers; the two outer ones, both left and right, had been left unplugged.

Sunday 18th October.

Spent much of today taking it easy at the Gemmell household before Carol and I made our way back up towards Auckland and on to Devonport where we booked into the Esplanade Hotel on the waters front - not too far from tomorrow’s venue.

It just so happened that Richard and Jan had planned to see a movie that evening at Northcote, very close to Devonport, so we rendezvoused later that day, and watched the German film: The North Face; it was absolutely chilling and gripping; sorry, I couldn’t think of two adjectives that didn’t sound like puns.

Monday 19th October. Solo. The Bunker Folk Club, Devonport, Auckland.

The early part of the day was spent sight-seeing as we took a drive further north to Snells Beach.

Roger Giles has been running the Devonport folk club for the last forty years, and both he and his club are about as characterful, colourful and notorious as you can get. 
We arrived at the house he shares with partner Hilary at around 4 p.m. ate dinner before making our way up the hill to The Bunker, and that’s actually what it is - a bunker - a property with some historic importance that actually belongs to the city of Auckland.

It has been rented out to Roger for a song (for the last forty years), solely to accommodate the folk club which is held each fortnight.
This place; this club - it’s an institution. It’s unique. The club was packed, and the crowd was up-for-it from note one.

Then, after my first number a head came round the door. The owner of the head, in an announcement that carried much volume, informed everyone that the fire brigade were conducting an exercise outside, and because one or two audience members had left their cars parked in a manner best described as … well, ‘not very clever’ the fire engines couldn’t get through the very narrow road which winds it way up the hill.

I’d only just begun, and my audience were deserting me in numbers. But it was OK, it contributed even more to the feel, the content, the eventfulness of that night. And anyway, I felt sort of honoured to be the very first guest at The Bunker - in its forty year history - to have their set halted by a fire fighting exercise.

*Flat white: a coffee beverage prepared by pouring the creamy steamed milk from the bottom of the jug over a single shot (30ml) of espresso, it is most commonly found in New Zealand and Australia.

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