9 Jun 2023

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  • Turkey The Bird - Gig Review: Turkey The Bird @ Ministry of Folk, Auckland - 11/06/2022

Turkey The Bird - Gig Review: Turkey The Bird @ Ministry of Folk, Auckland - 11/06/2022

11 Jun 2022 // A review by Kev Rowland

It was a very wet and windy drive over to The Ministry of Folk, but one I was willing to make as I loved the latest Turkey The Bird album and tonight was the last night of the tour. I made it safely to the old hall, which was very dark and atmospheric which was certainly enhanced by the Northumbrian and Uilleann pipes care of Helen Douglas and Mark Muttley Sanders, otherwise known as The Underdrones. There was something incredibly fitting about that plaintive calling which would not have been right if we had been in here on a bright sunny day, but on a very Wintry dark night it was absolutely perfect. Given they were only there as background, most of the people already in the hall were still having conversations and not paying that much attention, which was far less than the musicians deserved as they were excellent. The tunes all seemed traditional and would not have sounded out of place at a ceilidh in the Western Isles. Mind you, some of the material was incredibly mournful and would be far more fitting at a wake than a dance, but just right for the evening. It was just the perfect start for the evening, with a fair crowd braving the rain and also deciding to be here instead of Eden Park.

Then it was time for Hoop, Al Baxter (vocals, guitar, harmonica, banjo), Nick Edgar (vocals, guitar, harmonica), Emily Allen (violin), Glenn Coldham (bass) and Rusty Knox (drums, vocals). They are also the organisers of The Ministry of Folk, so normally work as the support act. Tonight, they kicked off with Al singing the Dylan number, Tell Me That It Isn’t True, with Nick adding that important harmonica. His electric guitar also provided the harsh edge against Al’s acoustic, with the strong rhythm section and violin bringing it all together. Outlaws is a song written by Nick about his in-laws, and has a much more laidback feel, with plenty of space in the arrangements and the rest of the band really coming in on the bridge and chorus. Their style is Americana, with Al and Nick often swapping instruments as well as lead vocals, and they have a very relaxed manner which only comes with playing together so much. 

They invited Mark to join them on Glencoe, a song written by Al for his father. They had only decided earlier tonight that Mark would be involved, so had a quick run through before the gig, and now he was adding that Scottish sound to the song which seemed very fitting, harmonising well with Nick’s flute while Emily’s violin was plaintive throughout. It would be very easy to concentrate on Al and Nick all night as they are generally both the focal point and the main audio element, but what makes Hoop such a well-balanced band is by having an incredibly strong and vibrant rhythm section who provide a wonderful platform while Emily does not often take the lead melodic role but is always taking the music in quite different areas. Oblivion had Al providing banjo and harmonica while Nick was back on acoustic while also being back on lead and having two powerful singers and songwriters who are also multi-instrumentalists is an obvious bonus for any band.

They were playing a shorter set than they would normally to allow Turkey The Bird the opportunity to have a long one and soon we were down to the last two numbers. The last time I saw Hoop they opened with As Good As It Gets, but here it was the penultimate so a very different position in the set, with Emily having the opportunity to have a real presence. They closed with Rabbithole, a song about conspiracy theorists which was one of the highlights last time around and is again with some plaintive violin and powerful lyrics. This is the second time I have seen the guys this year and they are definitely worth coming out for. 

Turkey The Bird are Adrian Whelan (guitar, mandolin, bass, spoons), Andre Manella (guitar, bass, stomp box, synth), and Sol Bear Coulton (banjo, guitar, lap steel), and before the gig we were discussing how musicians never seem to bother to dress up to go onstage anymore, but Turkey The Bird are putting that to rights. Apparently, they were a little self-conscious of their gold suits at the beginning of the tour but now there are issues getting them off once they are on! There was quite a cheer when they walked onstage, and Andre asked if everyone else felt under dressed? Take On The World may start off quietly, but as the song builds the harmonies come in and the three voices meld together to create a very special sound indeed. Everyone in the hall appeared entranced by what was happening in front of them, and it was only the very first song!

In concert they are exactly as I expected them to be from the cover photo of the album and the way it sounds: they are three consummate musicians who have a rapport which only comes from doing the hard yards together. Sol took lead vocals on his own song, ZigZag Melody, while the funky dated keyboard solo from Andre was an absolute delight, making everyone laugh as it was so corny. They are one of those bands who have total confidence in their abilities, so they relax while playing and have a load of fun, which transfers to the audience. Just four songs in and I was having a blast, and I also knew what the rest of the audience didn’t, that there were 19 in the set list, so we had hardly started!

Andre plays a few different instruments, and this allows the band to expand musically, although always with their incredible harmony vocals. Winters Past saw Adrian take the lead, Andre switching to bass and Sol onto lap steel, with a very different and quite emotional mood as the atmosphere changed quite dramatically with a song which is incredibly poignant and deep. Compare that to the song which followed, This and That which feels like it could have come out of the Sixties with a real groove and vocals to die for – it stops on a dime. I don’t think I have heard spoons played at a gig before, but Adrian on You Gotta Do It Right was a revelation – that man has skills! Pour Me Another marked the halfway point of the set, showing another slowing of the tempo and a change in the emotion. The guys know the best way to emphasise the sound is by playing with dynamics and contrast and we were certainly getting that in the set as they were constantly changing approach, as well as instrumentation. 

Sol was the first to admit defeat and lose the jacket but given there was a white spotlight just a few feet from his left hand pointing directly at him I was rather surprised he lasted that long. A laugh went around the hall when he explained the reason they used North American sign language on their shirts is because that is where most of their deaf listeners live! Then we went into Together, which starts slow but soon builds into a high energy blaster which got the crowd clapping for the first time. After this they went into the well-known folk number Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, for which they divided the audience into three for some participation. I can safely say I have never heard it performed like this before, and they have transformed an Eighties pop number into a folk banger. 

We were two thirds of the way through the set now, but the guys were showing no sign at all of slowing down, although it should be pointed out that by now only Andre was still wearing his gold jacket, although I am glad to report there had been no discarding of the silver trousers. They were truly ripping it up now with Donna Lee blasting out, and if this hadn’t been an all-seated gig with tables I am sure there would have been plenty of reels taking place. They then played on what they described as the most arousing version of the song ever, another cover, Kiss. It is fair to say I have not heard it quite like this before, more inspired by Tom Jones than Prince. This meant that Adrian had to provide falsetto, but his entry had to be delayed by a few bars as he was laughing too much! In many ways this is what tonight was all about, three mates having a blast and us being lucky enough to join in the fun. 

You’re Hot is another tongue in cheek number, full of Seventies swagger, sounding totally out of place in the 21st century, and therefore fitting in perfectly with the rest of the material. If this was heard in isolation one may wonder what was going on, but by now it made total sense. Everybody Needs a little Sunshine was announced as the last song of the set, with the caveat that if they were asked for more, they may remember another they can play. They were finishing on another high-octane belter with incredible vocals, and all the audience put their hands in the air and swayed in time. Needless to say, everyone demanded another song. Someone requested spoons, which led the band to play Spoonerism which allowed them to play on words, and Adrian the opportunity to show off once again, but this really was spur of the moment stuff as it was not what they expected to play at all! The night ended with Art and Design, another “get up and dance” number, and finally it was over. 

What a gig. Last Friday I was fortunate enough to be at one which is guaranteed to be in my Top 10 at the end of the year and tonight I was at a very different one indeed and yet here I am thinking exactly the same thing again. They may have completed their NZ tour, but when you hear they are coming to a venue neat you this is a band not to miss!

Photo Credit: Kev Rowland


About Turkey The Bird

Turkey The Bird is New Zealand's answer to 'Simon & Garfunkel' if '&' was a musician too.
Catchy folk songs with stunning rich melodies and effortless smooth lyrics. Songs that tell uplifting stories about love and life.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Turkey The Bird


When Turkeys Fly
Year: 2022
Type: Album
Turkey The Bird
Year: 2021
Type: Album

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