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The Frank Burkitt Band - Newsletter Interview: Frank Burkitt

20 Nov 2018 // An interview by Reef Reid

Over summer from 30th December 2018 through 9th March 2019, The Frank Burkitt Band embarks on their "Lost But Alive" tour and given the amount of dates and the places they will perform, it seems an apt title. Not only are they playing a huge amount of dates with nine in the South Island and 23 in the North Island, they will visit some unique places (Waiheke, Golden Bay, Paihia) participate in a number of festivals, not all of which are music festivals (Whare Flat Folk Festival, Festival of Lights, Gladstonebury) perform at a number of music clubs (Whanganui Musician's Club, Taihape Musician's Club, Levin Folk Club, Katikati Folk Club) and even a museum!

I caught up with Frank Burkitt in Wellington for a chat before the tour...

That's a lot of dates in a relatively short period of time isn't it? 

This will be our fourth national tour of New Zealand and I think in the first one, we did a similar number of dates, then next we did a bit less and now this is the most we've ever done. The reason behind it is that we have so many great venues that we found in quite a lot of rural areas, because we don't just stick to the cities. So many great old halls in New Zealand which lend itself so well to our music. So many communities that we've been really taken in by over the last four or five years since we started and so we will visit them again.

Whanganui Musicians Club is a great example actually. They are such a fantastically run place. John does a really good job as well as the other guys when we played there about 2 or 3 years ago. It was just a crazy night that was really packed and there were all sorts of other local bands performing before us as well. Taihape Musicians Club, we are doing something very similar.

We found the more rural the place the greater the gig, as touring bands often don’t go to those parts of New Zealand and they really do support anybody that comes through. So there are a lot of gigs like that.

We're looking ahead and releasing a live EP and the more gigs we do to support that the better. It is going to be full on though! It will be the first time we head to Waiheke Island for example, at the Artworks Theatre. Waiheke has the jazz festival that happens in April and they've got a good history of putting on some good shows so I’ve always wanted to go there and that'll be great!

Whare Flat Folk Festival is where it all starts as well and that's going to be a fantastic lineup, with a lot of our good pals and it's just a lovely festival to kick things off

You've been on national tours before, what in particular are you looking forward to on the upcoming tour?

Some of the gigs that we've done before have given us very fond memories. Probably one of the main things we look forward to is going back to those places and catching up with all of our friends across the country that we only really see when we're on tour which is really great. Whare Flat, we're really looking forward to that festival.

New Zealand is quite a unique country to tour around because it's really pretty and the rural areas are so different. Touring here has an easy feel. Some of the house concerts we've got in the smaller towns are going to be the highlights, because we are best experienced live in intimate settings

With the release of "Raconteur" earlier this year, is that what audiences can expect to hear on the tour, or will you be mixing it up from your other NZ released albums and/or some new material?

We released “Raconteur” about 6 months ago and we weren't ever expected to release something else so quickly. Then we just recorded a live EP about two to three weeks ago and that is going to be released at Whare Flat Festival (probably) at the beginning of the tour. It's also our first live release with a six piece band so that's going to be good.

Oscar Laven will be joining us for about 9 or 10 gigs on tour. Not in the South Island but in the North Island. He will be joining us for about half of the North Island gigs which is great. It’s always a pleasure to have a man of such talent with us. He plays in just about every jazz band there is in Wellington. He's a great guy and it's an amazing privilege to have him play with us. He played all the horns on ‘Raconteur’ and he was with us on the live recording of our EP.

The set will consist of probably “half and half”. Some of the old ones from our first album and ones from the last 3 or 4 years and also some of the best ones off our Raconteur album. Then 6 or 7 brand new tracks that will be fresh that we will not have gigged before and so that's exciting!

So you came to New Zealand in 2009 and settled here in 2014. What was the attraction to Wellington as opposed to other towns or cities, such as Auckland?

I toured New Zealand about 10 years ago with a different band. Kara is my lady in life and also in music and she by day, is a research scientist. She was given the opportunity to work in Wellington and that's what brought us here.

But we both love New Zealand. We wanted to leave Edinburgh and we felt this was a really good option and with her job as well. Since then, the formation of this band has been the driving force in my life. I have had previous goes at a music career but not anywhere near as successfully as I have since I've been in New Zealand. But in quality of life terms, we like the lack of people in New Zealand compared to back home.

Aside from Kara, how did you come to meet and now perform with your current band?

We had been in New Zealand about 3 weeks and Kara and I did a duo gig on a double bill with Kim (Bonnington) and Dusty (Cameron Dusty Burnell). Dusty played Mandolin and sang with Kim Bonnington, they were on the same bill as us and I met Dusty and we jammed a bit. I have always really liked working with a double bass player but I didn't know where to find one.

I snuck into the jazz school and pretended to be a student. I put an advert up on the notice board for a double bass player and James (Geluk) answered the call. He was the first guy that did and it was fantastic as we just hit it off. So James, Dusty and myself rehearsed as a trio and started playing a lot more bluegrass and country which was Dusty's background and I was going through a bluegrass phase. But I've never really been a bluegrass player.

We formed the band just the four of us and various people would tag on through the years but the core of the band is the four of us and we're very lucky because we work very well together as musicians. James brings his jazz background and Dusty brings country and bluegrass. I write songs influenced by whatever I'm surrounded by at the time which very much at the moment in Wellington, is jazz. I'm a big fan of the Rogue & Vagabond up the road so probably the most music I watch is jazz and that's really influenced my song writing in the last 3 to 4 years and you can hear that on the albums. I love that whole mixture of country, jazz, folk and blues and all that mixed together is what comes out of the music we play

What other projects are you involved in currently or that maybe on the horizon?

I perform as a solo artist and Kara and I do a duo set that is a little different. We do a lot more Scottish folk which we got to perform recently down in Dunedin at an event celebrating St Andrew’s Day and the Scottish ties that Dunedin obviously has with our beloved Edinburgh.

I also put on the Wellington Independent Music Showcase which last year had four bands perform on consecutive nights at Bats Theatre. It was a great, sell out event. We had Miles Calder & The Rumours, ourselves, Lost Bird and Graeme James. I tried desperately to do it again this year but didn't quite have the time.

Occasionally I book tours for other artists as well but pretty much this band is the main focus. I’ve got a real desire and ambition to further the progress of The Frank Burkitt Band, hence the mammoth touring schedule. But certainly after June next year (2019), the band will take a well-earned break and I'll tour as a solo artist. I’m in the process of booking a solo Canadian tour July 2019.

What are your "current" musical influences and why?

Right back at the very beginning it was Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Nina Simone, with perhaps a little Billy Joel and The Beatles thrown in. That's where I think I've come full circle. Jazz/swing to celtic folk, to Americana and then back to jazz/swing. I used to croon along to Sinatra as a teen. Weird, I know. Then when I left home and went to college, I discovered acts like Van Morrison, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, all the folk crowd along with Scottish folk legends such as Dick Gaughan and Bert Jansch.

Tim O’Brien is a personal hero of mine too. He does a lot of the bluegrass and at times infuses it with Celtic folk. When I was learning and singing the traditional celtic folk songs in Edinburgh, I discovered Tim O’Brien and that led me to Americana. His incredible song writing has always been a huge influence.

And then there’s the contemporary artists such as Pokey LaFarge, The Wood Brothers are Phenomenal, The Punch Brothers. I really look up to those guys. Certainly with our upcoming live EP you’ll hear a lot of their influence.

When you are not thinking about creating or performing music, what does Frank do for enjoyment?

Fishing is the main hobby of mine. I'm a big fly fisherman whenever I can get to the river which is nowhere near as much as I'd like too. I go out to the Wainui river or the Hutt River. The Wainui river is really good for fly fishing. Sometimes I go up to the Tongariro or the Ruamahanga. I do a lot of tramping as well. Kara and I have done a lot of the great walks and big long tramps and stayed in the huts and camps whenever we can.

When and where did you last go fly fishing?

About a week ago in the good weather at Wainuiomata.

Musically, where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

I always say that for the last 4 years we've worked really hard building a following in New Zealand and we’re so grateful for that. I would love in 5 years time to have a similar following in Australia, the UK and possibly one other country in Europe or Canada possibly. That would be fantastic.

It's an insane amount of hard work ahead and the band may not survive it, but if we are still together in 5 years time, I can envisage something bigger for us. Most importantly though, I hope I keep loving the creative process of writing, arranging and performing my songs. It has to always be about the music.

But who knows what will happen in 5 years time?

Quick Fire:

To close the session informally, I put a few (arguably horrid) quick fire questions to Frank, as follows…

Red or Blue?

Beer or Wine?

Celtic or Rangers?
"Neither! I'm a Liverpool fan, but ok...Celtic."

Neil Young or Tommy Emmanuel?
"Ohh... Neil Young"

Theresa May or Donald Trump?
"Oh, come on!! No Comment!"

Big Country or Simple Minds?
"Big Country"

With 32 dates nationwide over summer, there are plenty of chances to see The Frank Burkitt band perform live. Head over to his website for ticketing detail.

Interview conducted by Reef Reid, for Muzic.Net.NZ at Crumpet café in Wellington on Monday November 19th 2018.


About The Frank Burkitt Band

Creating a truly genre spanning album influenced by jazz, blues, folk, swing and all things American Roots, The Frank Burkitt Band are a Wellington based string band that have become popular throughout New Zealand since their inception in 2014. Inspired by the likes of Van Morrison, Pokey LaFarge and Billy Joel, it is highly original songwriting that makes them stand out.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for The Frank Burkitt Band


Year: 2021
Type: Album
Year: 2018
Type: Album
Lost But Alive
Year: 2018
Type: Album
The Parade
Year: 2016
Type: EP
Fools And Kings
Year: 2015
Type: Album

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