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  • Gig Review: Music in Parks - Hillsborough @ Monte Cecilia Park, Auckland - 05/03/2023

Gig Review: Music in Parks - Hillsborough @ Monte Cecilia Park, Auckland - 05/03/2023

05 Mar 2023 // A review by Kev Rowland

On a beautiful sunny afternoon it was back out for another afternoon care of Auckland Council and their free Music In The Parks series. This is one of the ways the council support the arts, and there are a series of free gigs which started in January and go through to the end of March covering many different styles. Yesterday it was opera, and now this afternoon it was folk which included two of my very favourite bands so I knew this was one not to miss. I arrived in time to hear Albi & The Wolves finish their soundcheck, and then it was time for Turkey The Bird. Soon afterwards Nick Dow had his turn and once everyone was happy it was just a case of relaxing in the sunshine and waiting for the clock to tick towards 1:00. It was wonderful to see so many families here with young kids, as it is so important to get youngsters involved in live music. There are reports that this will be the last ever season of events due to council cutbacks, but let us hope that is not the case as free events like this allow so many people to experience bands they may not otherwise see, and the arts need all the support they can get.

Nick started off playing keyboards and singing Layers, which was such a delicate way to start the afternoon. Immediately one is drawn into his voice, as there is so much passion and emotion, and even though the park had hundreds of people listening, everyone was quiet as they were entranced by what was taking place in front of them. When music is as good as this there is no needs for lights, no need for anything fancy, just a musician baring his soul. He followed this with Under the Surface, which had a slightly more uplifting arrangement, yet his vocals were still full of pain and passion. He has been likened to Jeff Buckley in the past, and that is certainly an apt comparison as there is a great deal going on with his vocals. For Daughter & Her Dad he set up a percussive loop and then started playing violin on top of that, before getting back on the piano and using the loop throughout. This contains some underlying jazz elements in the accompaniment, but it is always the vocals and lyrics which command the attention. There is a huge amount of depth in everything he is doing, and it comes across incredibly powerfully. It is strange that to come across music this deep from someone so young, yet he has vast experience in the NZ music scene, working with the likes of TEEKS, Jamie McDell, Marley Sola, Rob Ruha, Rory McKenna, Moorhouse and Hollie Smith, and when he said there was a new EP coming out later this year I am sure I was not the only one who paid attention and took note.

Slow is just like the title suggests, brooding and packed full of soul with some underlying jazz and even funk styles, all taken at a relaxed pace. He set up a drone on the violin before commencing Not Set In Stone, where he wanted to get audience participation on the lead line, and there is no doubt that some people were singing but many others were happy enough to be sat in the sun enjoying the vibes. Run was the first rather upbeat number of the afternoon with a nice funky sound. He ended the set with Need It More Than Ever, and I must say I thoroughly enjoyed his set. I had not previously come across his solo work, but Nick is a musician I am certainly going to be watching out for as not only does he have a wonderfully delicate touch on keyboards, but his vocals are wonderful and his lyrics incredibly deep.  

Now it was time for Turkey The Bird, the trio of multi-instrumentalists of Andre Manella, Adrian Whelan and Sol Bear Coulton. This afternoon they started with two acoustic guitars and banjo, and when Andre also brought in the stomp box the crowd reacted and we soon had our very first dancer up the front, quickly joined by others. Take On The World is an infectious number with hooks which invites people to singalong and get involved, and that is what was happening right from the beginning. That obviously wasn’t fast enough, so they went into Taking it High, which does feature some lovely falsetto as well. These guys always have fun onstage, are amazing musicians and write songs which people want to get involved with, so consequently it is impossible not to have a good time when these guys are in the house (or in a park..). The next song, Orbit, actually isn’t by Turkey The Bird, but Sonic Delusion (which is also Andre), and had Andre playing xylophone, adding a different sound to the mix.

Fourth song in, This and That, and we had yet another style, almost country rock, yet with two acoustic guitars and a banjo, with three guys who provide wonderful harmonies. When it finished, Andre asked if a group of people could join together to lift one of the trees and put it nearer the stage and then put it back later as it was just so sunny. We were then introduced to Adrian, who was a spoons champion in Ireland for five years and he showed off those talents in the next song, You Gotta Do It Right. Before this afternoon I had only ever seen spoons played once in the many hundreds of gigs I have attended, and that was the last time I saw these guys! We even had a few spoon solos – sophisticated stuff! Cave Rave saw Sol switch to guitar and provide lead vocals, Andre on acoustic bass and Adrian on shaker. This has more of a late Sixties Laurel Canyon feel to it, with great harmonies on the chorus.

Sol and Andre kept the same instruments for Spoonerism, a song written just for Adrian to show off his skills, and I do recall the lyrics being somewhat difficult for Sol as they are all written in spoonerisms, which are a nightmare to remember, but it did give Adrian a great opportunity to show off his skills. Together saw Andre back on lead vocals and acoustic, Sol on banjo and Adrian on mandolin as they slowed it down from where it had been, but of course we all knew that would not last and when the stomp box came in the tempo was raised. I have seen these guys likened to Mumford & Sons, but to me they are very much Turkey The Bird, one of our truly great live acts. They are always so relaxed and doing whatever they want to do, while having a blast and getting everyone involved. The cover of Girls Just Wanna Have Fun was treated as crowd participation, and the guys really turned it into their own with massively complex vocal harmonies. They then moved into Donna Lee, and now we had kids up dancing as well, which was wonderful to see as mandolin, acoustic guitar and banjo combined with harmony vocals to create sounds which were lifting over the Pah Homestead. 

Whiskey is one of my favourite TTB numbers, starting with harmony vocals, nice and gentle but then it kicks off. Adrian plays electric bass on this one, which combines with the stomp box to provide a real punch with the acoustic guitar and banjo over the top. After this it was pointed out by Sol that their shirts are written in North American sign language as that is where most of their deaf listeners live (think about it). We were then into You’re Hot, a song so simple that even if you have no mouth, you can sing along (according to Andre), which shows a way more calypso style of the band. Everybody Needs A Little Sunshine has a nice acapella section and really shows just what these guys can do, but time was now moving on and Art and Design was their last song of the afternoon, which they called the fastest song in the world, with two acoustics and a banjo ending their show. Yet another incredible set from TTB, and even though they have only just finished I can’t wait to see them again.

There are not many bands who will follow that, but Albi & The Wolves are one of our hardest working outfits, and one I have seen many times over the years, and they never have a bad gig. Micheal Young (double bass, vocals), Pascal Roggen (violin, vocals) and Chris Dent (vocals, guitar, stomp box) have been together for eight years, touring all over NZ and other countries, bringing their own particular style of acoustic music to the masses. They have an innate sense of timing and many of their songs change in tempo and style, allowing the dynamics and contrasts to really come through. They started this afternoon with It Ain’t Easy, with plenty of harmonies and a nice easy start but soon we were off and running. They have an easy relationship on stage from being friends for so many years and having so many shared experiences. In fact, Try is a song about Chris breaking up a relationship and as he was tuning his guitar it was down to Pascal to give the background to what was a wonderfully sleazy and groove laden country song.

Pascal and I were having a long chat before the afternoon commenced, and I was stunned to realise he had played on an incredibly important doom album, Cathedral’s The Garden of Unearthly Delights, and he was just as amazed that I knew it. From here we went into Hearts on Fire which allowed Pascal room to blast off a solo. What makes this band work so well is not only how they write songs with great hooks but how they all complement each other. Micheal is the one who keeps it all grounded, and with two others who can go off at tangents it is essential there is someone to do that. Pascal is not only insanely talented (and seemingly able to sit in with anyone, just ask Nick from South For Winter) but is one of the happiest people ever to grace a stage, then in the middle there is Chris who is forever bouncing off Pascal and ensuring the audience are all along for the ride.

One Eye Open is another of their upbeat songs, and it has long been one of my favourites, although the slow down and bluesy violin solo always catches me out as it is such a shift, but soon we are off again. By now the guys had the largest number of dancers to date, with young kids pressed up against the stage and plenty of rather older people having loads of fun. Pascal then demonstrated all the actions we had to perform during I’m Not Free (apparently inspired by The Wiggles), a song about Chris giving up alcohol. Given the nature of the lyrics it is not surprising that this is one of their more thoughtful numbers, with some swing to remove some of the gravitas of the words, but much slower than many of their others. The actions must have worked as this definitely had the most reaction from the audience this afternoon.

They stayed with a more restrained song with Closing Time, but there were even more people up dancing now as the band were obviously having an impact on the crowd. It was great to see so many here this afternoon, with hundreds of people enjoying quite a folk extravaganza. Chris even took some lead lines on this one, sparring with Pascal. From this they segued straight into the much rockier This Is War, which has one of the most powerful choruses in folkdom and the only thing which can be done is join with the guys and shout the words at the top of your voice. At least I did.

Fall With You is one of their oldest songs, and while Micheal and Chris are on one level keeping it tight, Pascal is often providing swirling violin which is very psychedelic in style, and one can see why Chris said about people waving their arms with this one as it very much has that laid back and other worldly feel to it (along with some wonderful vocal harmonies). This in turn led into one of their very newest songs, A Little Time, yet again mid-tempo and this time with Pascal providing pizzicato which gave a very different feel indeed. All I Am starts as a reel, and then we are off – if you ever wanted to get up and dance this is the song to do it to. Pascal took the opportunity to come down and join in with the dancers while undertaking a solo, never missing a beat.

We were on the home run now, and rather fittingly for what Auckland and other parts of NZ have been through recently, it was time for I Will Not Be Broken, the anthem which demands participation. It may start slow, but it kicks up in the chorus, and is another which has needs people to shout out the chorus. A lot of people got up for this one, which is the right thing to do, and looking around I could see plenty of people singing. All too soon it was over and they ended with Settle Down, which had even more dancers as they took the opportunity for the last song of the afternoon. Mind you, I am not sure they expected a last of Psycho Killer in the middle, but it kept everyone going as Pascal ripped off one more solo.

This afternoon was a massive success with three great acts, loads of people enjoying music in the sun, and plenty dancing and having fun. I truly hope Auckland Council continue to support this event in future years, as this is an essential event.

Photo Credit: Gareth West / Focused West Media
View the photos here


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