Well, this definitely goes down as a nice highlight so far! Below are some photos of the trip. Travelling to New Zealand to play some of my favourite music with some of the guys who created it?! Yes please! The Band have long been one of my favourite groups, whose influences of American music span Blues, Country, Gospel, Ragtime, Old Time, New Orleans, Soul – it’s all in there. It was incredible to see Garth Hudson come in to the first rehearsal, transfer himself from his wheelchair and transform from a slight frail-looking man into a formidable whirlwind of energy and passion at the piano – he sat down and played for half an hour or so, totally fluently and brilliantly, a mix of standards, ragtime, blues, gospel and classical tunes. I was down to play the parts that Richard Manuel did so beautifully, and it was a real buzz to be playing and look up to see Garth jumping around from keyboard to keyboard in his keyboard cocoon. At one point we were playing The Weight and Garth came over and demonstrated, in his idiosyncratic way, what he played on the song – a lovely moment for me. Garth’s lengthy improvisations before we played Chest Fever or The Weight were quite something, jumping around between styles and keyboards, always exploratory and passionate – a combination of qualities highly valuable for any musician wanting to develop their own voice. Garth’s wife, Maud, also sang great, particularly a moving version of ‘It Makes No Difference’ that her and Garth did together.
John Simon was a delight to work with and hang out with, a knowledgeable and soulful man who kept the whole musical crew ship-shape! I was very glad that John was able to come along after I suggested his involvement to the organisers after meeting him on the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise a few years back. John had brought some first pressings of his book, ‘Truth Lies and Hearsay’, a wonderful, enlightening and humorous memoir that I recommend anyone to read.
It was awesome to meet a whole bunch of fantastic Kiwi musicians (in no particular order!) – Brett Adams, Kevin Borich, Tami Neilson, Barry Saunders, Delaney Davidson, Adam McGrath, Mike Mark Dennison, Hall, Brett Adams, Diane Swann, Wayne Bell, Peter Dasent, Neville Grenfell, Brendon Packard, Hayden Godfrey, Andrew Uren, Dave Khan, Paul Ubana Jones. There were some great moments onstage and a lot of laughs along the way (and possibly a little too much whiskey).
I was glad to spend a whole week in Auckland and get to know somewhere a little better than the usual day or two spent in places while touring. I enjoyed a great day out to Waiheke Island, hiring a bike and cycling from one awesome vineyard wine-tasting to another – until I got a puncture in the middle of nowhere at the Man O’War end of the Island (25km from the ferry terminal)! Fortunately, after about 30mins of no car passing me, a vehicle stopped and gave me a ride to the Man O’War vineyard for a final tasting before someone from the vineyard dropped me back at the main town.
There was slightly surreal end to the tour where, after the last gig at the Auckland Aotea Centre, a ‘thanksgiving dinner’ was laid on at the town hall (not at the Civic Centre, where the gig was moved from because of a 2ft deep sewage leak in the theatre). We were sat on the stage having dinner when Garth wandered up to the huge church organ and improvised some fantastic stuff, a wonderful unexpected moment. My brain-addled attempt to play it is best forgotten about, although Peter Dasent and John Simon did some sterling playing (shortly before John’s lovely wife, C.C., fell of the 1.5m high stage just as Peter cranked up some theatre style organ!).
The trip took us from Auckland, where we rehearsed and I bought a hat, to Christchuch, where we felt a small earthquake, to Wellington, after which I acquired a large hangover, back to Auckland where we finished the tour with a large organ jam. All bloody fantastic!
I managed to catch up with awesome engineer Nick Poortman while I was in Auckland – Nick mixed our Jawbone record (vinyl being pressed as I write!) – and did a little work with him to finish a track for that record. Through him, I also ended up in the quite beautiful Roundhead Studios playing on a record for Jonathan Densem, produced by Greg Haver – Jonathan was sadly diagnosed with an inoperable cancer and wanted to record a catalog of songs while he could. So, it was emotive grounds for an album and an honour for me to contribute to the record. You can find out more (and donate to the cause) HERE.
Here are some photos I took on this memorable trip!