Bannerman’s Dusty Dream Hole…

It’s exciting to hear new music from a close musical collaborator and friend – Richie Setford was the éminence grise and main creative force behind one million dollars, a band to which my life was tied for a big chunk part of the last decade.

Now Richie has released his first full album as a solo artist: The Dusty Dream Hole is released under his nom de scène Bannerman. Sonically, the departure from our one million dollars adventure couldn’t be more dramatic:

The offspring of several years gestation, The Dusty Dream Hole could be described as broadly cinematic… the album encompasses lilting ballads and sharp-edged, distorted dreamscapes that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy: from the headlong jangle of My Quarantine to the glistening lounge-pop that adorns Caverns.

Richie’s musical interests and songwriting have always stretched a long way beyond the funk and soul of the one million dollars project. I was lucky enough to work with him in some smaller settings – both gigs and in various bedroom and lounge jam sessions – where Richie’s gift for melody and gently twisted song-stories could be taken outside what could be interpreted by an 11-piece groove band. In some important ways, The Dusty Dream Hole sounds to me like the logical outflow of those explorations.

The textures that fill Dream Hole reflect for me the years Richie has spent in the studio with various bands . Like a population of goblins poking their impudent heads out of hollow logs, the album is replete with chunky guitars, strings, folk harmonies, horns and stripped-back drums.

Most pleasingly, and perhaps for the first time, we get to hear Richie’s full range as a vocalist – his Tom Waits growl on Deep in the Forest is quite arresting.

Of course, my thoughts on Bannerman can never be objective. I know the musicians involved too well and –  to some limited extent – I heard the origins of this music as it took shape in flats in Western Springs and Kingsland in mid-noughties Auckland. I hope however that this album gets out to a wider audience – not just because I count Richie as a friend, but because his musical vision deserves to be shared.

The Dusty Dream Hole can be purchased online (digital and CD) at amplifier.co.nz, and free download samples are available on bandcamp.

Decade in Review

According to some people, midnight tonight marks the end of a decade. At first glance it’s hard to see how far we’ve come in this time. It’s been a decade of Dick Cheney, Harry Potter sequels and The X Factor, but surely there’s been some personal growth going on beneath the radar too.

Tash tweeted today that “we grew older, further apart and closer together, grew deeper, wiser, more foolish. Lost and found hope, but didn’t grow Up.”  Which is lovely, and possibly true if I could work out what it meant, but I thought I’d try to capture some of the spirit of the “noughties” (as I experienced it) in ten photos…



2000: living in France the first time round, learning to be an Alsatian. Hanging out in a small town at the foot of the Vosges, hiking in the hills to work off the tonnes of tartes flambées consumed.


2001: back in Auckland, joined one million dollars.  For a short period, we were something like the biggest little funk band in the land: albums, low-budget music videos and collective food poisoning in Vanuatu ensued.


Flatting in Western Springs in the first half of the decade: I learnt how to be (mostly) a vegetarian and make leek-and-potato soup.  In between cooking, we used the kitchen to make low-budget music videos.


Helping out with youth group leadership at St Paul’s Remuera, I ended up driving the van on our now-legendary ski trips. Little sleep was had by all involved, but we did get to see Paradise.


2004-06: Getting wrapped up into the free improv scene in Auckland, we formed slightly inexplicable musical units such as the Dominion Centenary Concert Band. Audiences didn’t understand what we were doing, but that was OK, because neither did we. But the costumes were fabulous.

2005: Got paid a moderately obscene sum of money to be an extra in Peter Jackson’s King Kong. It turned out to be one of the worst films of the decade, but at least the costumes were fabulous.


Over the course of the decade, I managed to ski at Le Markstein, Châtel, Méribel, Val Thorens, Arolla, Zinal and Grimentz (in Europe); and at Whakapapa, Turoa, The Remarkables, Coronet Peak and Cardrona (in NZ). My skiing didn’t improve much, but I fell down a lot and bought a helmet.


2006-2008: In Oxford, another spiritual home was discovered. A town where you can consult mediaeval manuscripts in the Bodleian and chase semi-wild horses on Port Meadow within 15 minutes walking distance.


In the UK, one slightly inexplicable musical project got replaced by another: The Original Rabbit Foot Spasm Band. It provided an excuse to tour the pubs of Oxfordshire.


2009: finally made it back to France on the back of an MBA degree. Montpellier was hot, friendly and offered great opportunities for hiking, including the lovely Gorges de Lamalou.

So somehow I’ve finished the decade by moving to Paris. Looking back, it’s been a busy ten years, and I’m thankful for the good friends and family who have shared it with me.  I always had the impression I could have fitted more in, but in fact quite a lot got achieved anyway despite the procrastination and the blogging.

I hope the next decade is just as action-packed. I just wonder if the costumes will be quite as fabulous.

Have a very Happy New Year, all of you, near and far.  All the best for a peaceful and fulfilling 2010.

Voices from the Past

Psalm 23 (for Toby) (arr. Rowley)
Performed by the King’s School Chapel Choir – Auckland, NZ, November 1991

Back when the world was a little younger than it is now, I sang in the chapel choir at my prep school. Recently, an mp3 conversion of a 1991 recording of the choir (complete with tape hiss) has fallen into my hands. Hearing this music again provoked reflection on an important phase in my musical education.

Surprisingly, 18 years later, the cassette doesn’t entirely make me cringe. We were a pretty decent choir – nowhere near the standard of King’s Cambridge, but entirely respectable for a bunch of 10-to-13 years olds. A few flat kiwi vowels rather ruin the Latin of Fauré’s Ave Verum; the phrasing and timing of consonants is a little haphazard, but overall, it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

It’s strange knowing that all those unbroken voices now belong to men who are fathers, engineers, lawyers, marketing lecturers and dentists, living in half a dozen countries. One of us has even served tours of duty in Afghanistan. At one time we were all choristers.

My four years in the choir were entirely formative. First of all, we learned performance discipline. We had four 8am rehearsals on weekday mornings, and four sung services a week (3 weekday chapels and 1 Sunday service), all year outside school holidays. In later musical projects, that sense of committment remains: if you’re in the band, you’re part of a team: turn up to rehearsals, and do the gigs. No excuses.

Benjamin Britten – There is no rose from Ceremony of Carols (Op.28)
Performed by the King’s School Chapel Choir – Auckland, NZ, November 1991

For me, one piece we performed stood out from the rest of our repertoire – Britten’s There is no rose from his Ceremony of Carols. It sounded deep and ancient, a hint of a wider musical world that we might encounter in years to come. At 13 years old, singing Britten somehow seemed serious work, like we were actually performing real music, whatever that was.

Hindsight is treacherous. The imagination has a habit of creating links to the past that perhaps aren’t there. But I can’t help believing that a big part of my love for music finds its roots in endless winter mornings spent in chapel, all those vocal exercises, the routine of robing and the inexorable rhythm of the Book of Common Prayer.

We probably didn’t completely appreciate what we were doing at the time, but almost two decades later, all that singing starts to make sense.

Stephen Sondheim – Send in the Clowns
Performed by the King’s School Chapel Choir – Auckland, NZ, November 1991

Blast from the Recent Past

The weather’s too good this weekend to spend time indoors writing a long blog post. So here’s Another New Zealand Music Month Post, immodestly featuring my old band… I discovered this clip that I didn’t think was online, but someone’s posted it. The song is The Original off our first album. Luckily I don’t appear the clip at all!

Filmed over a weekend on a road near Muriwai beach, in downtown Auckland, and on the cycle path along the Northwestern Motorway… shoestring budgets and digital post-production all the way!

Funk Video Banned by TVNZ

  • Here’s follow up to a post from last month about Auckland band The Hot Grits. It seems that their video is too controversial to be shown on national TV channels in New Zealand.

    Not even a “post-9pm/Adults Only” rating. Actually banned from the airwaves. It’s apparently the only music video to have been banned by TVNZ since 1988.

    TVNZ broadcast Bugsy Malone at least once a year, which features kids acting out gangland violence and murder. But apparently kids drinking milk is offensive? Sure there is adult subtext here, but is there nobody at TVNZ who could see humorous intent? Sheesh.

    The Hot Grits – Headlights

    Hot Grits

    The Hot Grits are a large-scale funk/afrobeat band that sprang from the same Auckland funk’n’soul scene as one million dollars. They’ve finally got around to releasing their first full-length album, It’s Too Drunk to Be This Early.

    The Hot Grits occupy the red corner of the funk arena, exponents of straight up-down afro-funk with not a few overdriven guitar solos and a sprinkling of politics added to the stew. Apart from anything else, they are great live band.

    Their first video for the song Headlights is worth checking out. A great concept well-executed, and a good example of how you can make an entertaining video with a limited budget.

    Homeward

    Pat Metheny Group – Last Train Home
    From Still Life (Talking): [Buy]

    Pat Metheny is not really a musician I listen to much, but his composition Last Train Home I really like. It’s a deceptively simple song that somehow conveys the bittersweet urgency of travel, the necessity to zoom through new landscapes, to see what’s beyond the next hill. But every journey seems to be a wide arc that will bring you back home, eventually.

    Passport

    Tomorrow I head back to New Zealand for a short three-week trip. It’ll be great to see a whole bunch of friends and family again. Although it feels like just 6 months, it’s actually been two years since I’ve been home. Will be interesting to see what’s changed, and what’s still the same.

    I plan to post a few short “postcards” on the blog while I’m there. So see you soon, on the other side of the planet.

    Great Barrier

    D’Arcy Clay

    Daniel Bolton‘s music career lasted just over 12 months, from early 1997 until March 15th, 1998, when he was found dead at home, aged 25. He had committed suicide.

    During his short period of notoriety, Daniel Bolton (stage name D’Arcy Clay) gave New Zealand a bona fide classic hit and left us with the memory of a talent so compelling that we all wondered what might have happened, had he lived.

    Recorded in his bedroom in Auckland on a 4-track in 1996, D’Arcy Clay’s song Jesus I Was Evil exploded on the b.net university radio stations across New Zealand in the summer of 1997. It didn’t quite sound like anything you’d heard before – a sort of punk/rock/thrash-funk singalong that you couldn’t get out of your head. After the initial success of JIWE, the follow-up EP on Antenna Records reached number 5 in the New Zealand pop charts.

    While today D’Arcy Clay is remembered in New Zealand mainly for his only hit, his entire recorded output of 12 songs remains fascinating – including a psychedelic take on the Dolly Parton song Jolene. His trademark fuzzy funkiness also featured on songs like All I Gotta Do. All 12 songs are available on the posthumous Anthology 2 CD set, through amplifier and smokecds.com

    Probably the most comprehensive account of D’Arcy Clay’s short life is a recent article in the NZ Sunday Star-Times, written to mark the 10th anniversary of his death.

    Musica na Cabeca

    posterf

    It’s finally happened. On Saturday April 19th one million dollars plays its final gig ever, at 4:20 in Auckland. It’s been a long journey for the band since 2000, a journey in which I was a fellow traveller for about 6 years until Europe shouted louder than the funk.

    Saturday 19th will be a great celebration, and I think it’s worth remembering what a groundbreaking band we were. The first kiwi band to break the longstanding taboo on clandestine Brazilian immigrants, the first to play for Bobba Fett’s solo dance party and the only band to ever outnumber the crowd at a gig in Hamilton.

    Musically, too, the band pushed boundaries, no better illustrated than in the song Energy State – our first album was called Energy State, but the track itself was never included on the album, because it was too dangerous. Its sheer funky power severely maimed several engineers during mixing and a test version of the album actually had to be removed from a flat in Waterview by a Hazardous Materials Unit from the City Council:

    one million dollars – Energy State (Unreleased)

    Apart from these tricky moments, being a member of the band was a huge privilege, certainly one of the greatest experiences of my life. Beyond the small achievements of three albums (Energy State, Soup Kitchen and Stand Up for the Shake Down), several music videos, tours around New Zealand, Vanuatu and to Sydney, it was the people who I will never forget. Musicians, engineers, flatmates, friends. They all know who they are, and the problem with a funk band is that there are so damn many of them that if I start thanking them individually I’ll leave someone important out.

    So guys, have a great night on Saturday, alongside our old friends The Hot Grits and our devil spawn The Shades. I’ll be thinking of you all, and the great times we spent together. It was worth every minute. Peace.

    Vanuatu

    Live at Fest Napuan, Port Vila, Vanuatu. October 2004

    Storehouse

    Station Blues – Storehouse
    (Free mp3 on www.storehousemusic.com)

    Tom Rodwell has been mentioned on this blog before (in the days before I lost all my data). He’s based in the UK, but was raised in New Zealand and cut his musical teeth on the Auckland scene.

    Tom’s mean line in old blues and spirituals is often rolled out as a solo show, but his duo project with bass player Joe Pineapple is called Storehouse.

    Storehouse

    Rarely have I heard a room more deeply rocked by a small group than at a Storehouse gig. The guys are funky and minimal – in sum, everything they need to be, and no more.

    Storehouse also exist on myspace and YouTube.