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Interview – Ben Brown

Tuia! Tui – Tuia! Tuia te hā. Tuia te kupu. Tuia te kōrero. Tāu te māramatanga… Tihei Mauri  Ora… Tēna Koutou e hoa mā, e pēhea ana te hararei? Whakahari me whakahaumaru taku  hiahia ki a koutou kātoa. Ko Ben Brown tōku ingoa ā ka tu au ki kōnei no te taha o te  pānui whakaahua tuatahi o Te Awhi Rito; e whakatautoko ana i tēnei mahi ma nga pou  tāngata o te rōpū Phantom Billstickers.  

My name is Ben Brown. I’m the inaugural Te Awhi Rito. This is me beside one of the first  run of Te Awhi Rito Posters placed throughout the country by Phantom Billstickers. The  posters mark the beginning of a public awareness campaign on behalf of Te Awhi Rito – The Reading Ambassador (Not, by the way, a translation. but I’ll explain the references  shortly.) and a partnership with the Phantoms. Print production, pasting, infrastructure  and all other boots-on-the-ground support for the campaign is provided right across the  motu by the Phantom Billstickers crew. They tautoko hard. They’re solid. They’re sound.  They’re a little bit subversive. They delivered more than we asked for – I can’t say better  than that. All I had to do was whack up a design, email it print ready according to the  specs and the Phantoms took care of the rest. Pro bono. No stress. 

The kaupapa of Te Awhi Rito – The Reading Ambassador is to actively promote, inspire,  advocate for, represent, engage with, advance, support, affirm and ensure a love of  reading amongst our children – our tamariki and rangatahi. It’s a two-year appointment.  Ambassadors are nominated. They do not apply. They are administered by the National  Library and the Department of Internal Affairs. In February last year, in a meeting at the  National Library in Wellington I was briefed as to what the role would probably entail,  given that Aotearoa New Zealand hasn’t actually had a Te Awhi Rito – Children’s Reading  Ambassador before. Having been so informed, I was then asked – a little more formally – if  I would accept the appointment. It was, I have to say, an OMG moment. 

Oh – My – Great – Big – Never – You – Mind….  

Of course I accept the appointment. I regard it as a privilege. I feel honoured, respectful  and . . . perhaps a little bit uncertain? I’ve worked half my life pursuing the substance, the  matter of reading. I believe in its value and its worth. For thirty years I’ve called myself a  writer. The decades seem to have passed a little bit quicker than I would have liked. There  are fewer teeth in my head now and a lot more grey on top of it, though my slowly blurring  vision prefers the shocks of silver that it sees among the braids. In May 2021 

The posters are not directed at tamariki and rangatahi, but at those closest to them who  might yet wield some influence, model exemplar behaviours, judiciously exercise authority  if their authority still has effect. These are the parents, grand parents, whānau, caregivers,  teachers, older siblings, any other trusted, safe, reliable friends, citizens, civil, corporate  or private collectives, institutional or otherwise. The omens, for now, appear benevolent.  The year is new. The weather as warm as it should be. And the traffic lights on the corner  of Manchester Street and Moorehouse Avenue, Christchurch indicate quite clearly that  everything is green for go and pointing appropriately in the right direction. 

Mana kupu, mana kōrero – The power of words, the power of story

The messaging is deliberately enigmatic, presented in written form in the language of the  oral culture that first gave meaning to everything beneath the long white cloud. This is a  tauparapara. It is an orator’s device, a lyrical flourish, an announcement of intent. Formally  delivered, it would alert you to the commencement of whaikōrero and an orator – he  manukōrero – at the beginning of his work. Within its imagery and its rhythms we might  discern symbols and meanings alluding to some deeper context, seeking it out, as if there  are elements of meaning yet concealed. It is metaphor and poetic. 

As I mentioned, tauparapara is oral in tradition, But this tauparapara was written. It was  composed kei runga i taku rorohiko – on my computer – my ‘lightning brain’ machine. It  was constructed using Latin symbols formally introduced to the ancestors in 1814 by a  missionary named Kendall. In the vernacular of a post colonial narrative I could suggest  the irrevocable compromise of authenticity merely by the application of alien literacy skills, techniques and hardware imported here by the agents of Empire and the great  white colonial oppressor. But that would be counter productive and ignorant of the idea  that a living culture evolves.  

The metaphorical thread suggests the whakapapa of kōrero – of story – as an ambassador  of reading might consider it, from the first thought in a writer’s mind to the light of  understanding. These few lines are the core. Were I to announce my kōrero with this  tauparapara in a formal setting, I would begin with a refrain familiar to the paepae.  Structured around simplicity, using the natural cadence and rhythm latent within the  words, the refrain introduces the idea of a common thread drawing seperate elements  together. This is how things become bigger than the sum of their parts.

Tuia… Tui – Tuia …’  

Tuia is the threading through, as with a needle drawing the muka.  

It is the binding together.  

And so: 

Tuia te hā – Threading the breath.  

The breath that precedes and carries the voice. The breath that implies the thought  that the voice will bring shape and substance to. 

Tuia te kupu – Threading the word. 

The word that carries the idea. The word that gives meaning to things in the world  and reveals our relationship to those things.

Tuia te kōrero – Threading the story. 

The story, whether spoken, written or otherwise presented. The story that begins  and ends with words gathered to a common purpose; to elaborate all possibilities and  allow us to explore them. The story that helps us know ourselves and fulfil potential. 

Tāu te māramatanga – Understanding, meaning and insight are yours. Story exists to tell us things about ourselves. This is the ultimate purpose of story,  whatever form it takes, however frivolous or serious, whether fiction, fact or absolute  fantasy. Somewhere in the story is an insight into you. That insight is for you to find, but  it’s yours when you find it. 

Tihei mauri ora – Tihei is the sneeze of life, the first breath, possibly even the first  word…alluding to te hā for our purposes. Mauri – often referred to as a life essence, to me  it is the energy or force of existence. We might think of it as a constant flow through all  things. Quantum mechanics and thermodynamics offer similar descriptors to the nature of  things. Mauri carries with it all the metaphysical aspects; mana, tapu, wairua and so  forth. Ora is life. 

Te Awhi Rito – Reading Ambassador  

Te Awhi Rito is a juvenile harakeke plant. In this, our present context, it is also he tohu – a symbol – representing the Children’s Reading Ambassador of New Zealand. The symbolism is drawn from the body of lore, tradition and tikanga encapsulated in the the harakeke mythos. As often as not referred to as flax, native flax or New Zealand flax, harakeke isn’t a flax bush at all.  

Phormium Tenax is a day lily. Then again, day lilies aren’t really lilies either. The misnomer arises from the linen like fibres, called muka, that give  harakeke its renowned utility and unequalled status as a plant of immense mana in the  tikanga.  

Harakeke ensured the viability and survival of our original Polynesian settlement and its  evolution into Te Ao Māori. Māui tied down the sun and fished up the land with chords  and lines and bindings made of muka. Māori used it to build, clothe, gather food, express  in art. Muka hauled the waka, rigged the sail, secured the anchor stone. Harakeke  appeared in one form or another in every aspect of Māori life.  

As you observe Te Awhi Rito – the young harakeke – you will note the small central leaf.  This is Te Rito – the young shoot – the child, if you will. The leaves either side, they are  mātua – the parents. Either side of them, kaumātua – grand parents. Beyond the  kaumātua are the tūpuna leaves – the ancestors. These leaves fan out from Te Rito in a  supportive, protective embrace. This embrace is Te Awhi. In this way, the harakeke offers  a model of conduct, an insight into the human arrangement of whānau and extending  beyond, to community. 

In reference to the reading ambassador, Te Awhi Rito represents the support structures in  place to support our young people in the pursuit of reading. In an age of Information,  Technology, the library of the world is within reach to anyone with a browser and access  to wifi. The written word has never had more utility, more application than it has today and  will have tomorrow. Yet there are disturbing signs of a downward trend in the literacy and  reading skills of our children and young people. Reading habits are changing. Papers  have been written questioning the emphasis placed on a reading requirement in an age  where an app can do it for you. Ask Siri, she’ll tell you what it says. I personally take the view that if you think the machine can do it for you, you perhaps misunderstand what  reading – in a human context – actually is. To be brutally and fundamentally simplistic – as  far as I’m concerned, reading builds better brains, not reading doesn’t . For ‘better brains’  you could swap in ‘better minds’, ‘better imagination’, ‘better creativity’, ‘better critical  thinking’ etc. But you get where I’m coming from, eh. 

Time; why it’s important and why it’s not  

The easiest, most rewarding way to get our kids, not just reading but wanting to read, is  for us – the grownups – to show them the way in word and deed. Read to them and with  them as often as you can. Start before they even know what words are. Start before they  even know what they are. Give it a sense of occasion. Make it a habit to look forward to  an expected part of the day. If that idea intimidates you, ask yourself why. Then take the  time to find a story you like and just get on with it. It’s really that simple. Reading is how  we engage with written language and written language is our superpower – it elaborates  our world, places us in it and tells us how to do anything we want. All we have to do is  read.  

Every meaningful human experience down to the mundane and routine. Every imagined  possibility. Every failure. Every fall. Every step and stride and stumble and every miracle  on the way. Every madness. Every monstrosity. Every moment marked as a milestone,  whether magnificent or deplorable. All of it written down somewhere so that some other  human can come along, soak it up and see where it might lead.  

Let me be be clear. Reading to your kids does not mean teaching your kids to read.  Teaching your kids to read is a slightly different game. And it’’s hugely important, so you’d better be prepared when the time comes. But of course, if you’ve read to your kids, you’ll  all be good to go.  

I want to suggest that in a quietly profound way, reading to your children as often as you  can from as young as you like is a BIGGER thing in many ways than consciously trying to  teach them to read. And reading to your three week old or your three day old or your first child born this morning simply for the pleasure it brings is even BIGGER. I can tell you  that, generally speaking, all else being equal, it’s the furtherest thing from a chore you’ll  ever do in your life. It’s the pure and simple pleasure of story time, of moments spent  imagining, with your sons, your daughters, your non-binary offspring if that’s how you roll.  It’s much more than time, its the life of you and your children expressed in words  especially chosen for that purpose, on that occasion, where sounds coalesce into  meanings by an ancient magic that even a three-week old knows without knowing yet,  that hearing a story says – ‘Yes, I’m safe, I’m loved, I belong.’ 

So please, don’t let the best thing you might do in your life slide by because you  somehow convinced yourself you haven’t got the time. If you did, or you intend to, well  I’m sorry. But you’re wrong. It’s not the time you’re short of. It’s the inclination to care.  TIME is everywhere. The universe is full of the stuff. At the end of any day you want to  choose, it’ll be the only thing of real consequence that you and your kids will have.  So read them a story. Make it live. Make it so damn good, they’ll read it to their own kids  one day, just to see them feel what they felt. Just to feel what they saw you feel when you  read it. Then do it again. And again. And again . . . 

Post Script  

In summary then; we want to inspire a love of reading in our tamariki and rangatahi.  Reading for pleasure. Reading for fun. Reading because it makes you think better, feel  better, know better.  

No carrots. No sticks. Just words. W … O … R … D … S. Humanity owes everything to  words. They are our greatest invention. Learning to write and read them is our greatest  innovation. Nothing else comes close. Nothing else even happens. You’d think we’d be all  over it… Well… yeah… nah… maybe… or… maybe not… 

A funny thing seems to have happened as we make our way to tomorrow. These days,  technology and information lays Everything at our fingertips, in our pockets, on our  tablets, laptops and devices, in our cars, our TVs, our toasters – words have never had as  much utility or application – but a clear trend has emerged in the last ten to fifteen years –  engaging with the written word is becoming problematic. Reading as a comprehensive  skill set appears to be in decline. More of our kids are leaving school with reading skills  that can only disadvantage them in an information dense reality. 

A cursory browse through online stats reveals only that an abundance of information is  about as effective as none sometimes. New Zealand, for example, shows an adult literacy  rate unchanged from 99% in well over ten years. But we sit quite snuggly between  Iceland and Ireland so Njals saga and Ulysses keep us right up with the play. Samoa pips  us by nearly a percent. I’m guessing the Bible has something to do with it. The Good  Book worked for Māori back in the 19th Century.

The Adult Literacy Rate is defined by the WHO as ‘The percentage of population aged 15  years and over who can both read and write with understanding a short simple statement  on his/her everyday life.’  

MY LIFE IS SHIT will get you a pass. As long as you know what it means. I’ve seen it  written MY LIF IS SHIT! by a 17 year old locked up in Youth Justice just last year. The  exclamation mark would more than make up for the missing E in my book. That kid  understands. I’d give him a pass. He deserves it for being ignored for at least ten years in  the education system.  

I wonder if we can do better. 

Ben Brown.  

Lyttelton, NZ.  

January 2022. 

A Tinker’s Cuss – Jim Wilson’s Blog. 25th August 2021

It is National Poetry Day in New Zealand on Friday this week. It is a bleak and lonely week to have National Poetry Day even though poetry helps us reach to the very bottom of our souls. We look around the world and there is nothing but trouble, but poetry is mostly sweet in one way or another.

For me, it highlights friends who are no longer with me and the yearning for the time we spent together in better days gone past.

Friendships are mostly what has gotten me through life, good mates that I could clear the slate with, to tell them about every single time I wronged and every single time I felt wronged in return. My life has been up and down and that feeling firstly came from my mother who was the tempestuous type, when she loved you she really loved you and when she took you into the coal room with a leather belt she did damage. The worst kind of damage she did me was when I really needed her and she didn’t respond at all.

I was doubled up with Black Pete Raponi in Her Majesty’s Prison at Paparua over the winter of 1975. Peter was one of the most beautiful men one could ever meet. He was from up north and I believe he was adopted as a child by Pakeha parents. They had given him the world, but something was missing within Peter that nothing or no one could ever make up for. Peter was left to yearn his whole life through. This kind of yearning is not good for people and it did a lot of damage to Black Pete. He was a very good chemist burglar and he and I would often set off in my big black Rover 100 with gas cutting gear in the back so as to cut open the safes in chemist shops. This kind of behavior made us really good friends. I could count on him and he could count on me. He liked to overdose and he did it regularly. When you went to revive him he’d sometimes say: “No, leave me alone to enjoy it….it’s mine….I want to enjoy it.” Usually he’d be revived in the very nick of time.

He would often repay the same favour to me, that is to say he would often revive me in just the very nick of time. These chemist shops often held pure pharmaceutical Heroin, New Zealand being the last country in the world to stop prescribing Heroin for pain, and it was often mixed into cough mixtures in the 1940’s and 1950’s.

These chemist shops almost always had Pharmaceutical grade Cocaine, and then Morphine powder and “cans” (ampoules), and Omnopon, Palfium, Pethidine, Opium Tincture and so on and so forth. It was like a holiday in the South of France and in that state one couldn’t be annoyed by anything.

A famous writer (Anita Brookner) once said that time misspent in youth was often the only freedom one ever had in one’s life and I agree with that. No one in our group raised an eyebrow at the behaviour of another. There was no moralising and no one judged anyone else. Abnormal behaviour was tolerated. New Zealand, back then, was a place that one had to bust out of, one way or another.

Poetry, among it’s hundreds of very fine features, also helps us escape. In life, are we not here to help each other?

I have just bought a beautiful 1963 Volkswagen Kombi “Samba”. On National Poetry Day I’m going to load up my “Bubble” (New Zealand is under Covid induced “lockdown”) and drive them the long way to the supermarket whilst someone reads poetry until another takes turn at doing the same.

No doubt I’ll be glowing from ear to ear. I call this “Freedom”.

Keep the Faith,

Jim Wilson

Phantom National Poetry Day 2021 set to ignite public spaces!

Poetry fans across Aotearoa New Zealand are eager to create a vibrant, diverse Phantom National Poetry Day on Friday 27 August 2021, after the global pandemic curtailed public gatherings last year.

The packed programme goes live today (Thursday 5 August), revealing the breadth of our annual nationwide celebration. More than 100 events and competitions are scheduled for late August. You can find the full programme at Phantom National Poetry Day.

Now in its 24th year, Phantom National Poetry Day is set to go off with a bang, with events all around the country – from cafés and bars to libraries, bookshops, marae, schools, universities and parks. Poetry will also pop up on public transport, city streets, beaches, and hospitals. There’s something for everyone, whether it’s poetry slams, open mic nights, readings, book launches, workshops or performances.

Among the highlights are:

Whangarei – Fast Fibres Poetry 8: poetry anthology launch and performances
Auckland – Written Windows: poetry displays throughout Auckland Hospital, with a performance event including Selina Tusitala Marsh and Renee Liang.
Hamilton – Flesh and Bone ii featuring poets from the moana, including Kelly Joseph, Maluseu Monise and essa may ranapiri.
Wellington – Open Heart Surgery poetry evening at Good Books.
Christchurch – Counterculture – Politics in Poetry Open Mic: contemporary political poetry from Ōtautahi poets.
Queenstown – Pop-Up Poetry Workshop led by Amy O’Reilly and Bethany Rogers.
Dunedin – Poetic Cabaret: dine with pitch-perfect poets and invited instrumentalists.

To celebrate both Phantom National Poetry Day and Australia Poetry Month, online warm-up event Aus x NZ Poetry Showcase is scheduled for Thursday 26 August. The evening will include lively virtual readings from Tusiata Avia, winner of the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry at the 2021 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards; shortlisted poets Hinemoana Baker, Mohamed Hassan and Nina Mingya Powles; MitoQ Best First Book Award (Poetry) winner Jackson Nieuwland; and Aotearoa Poet Laureate David Eggleton.

On Friday 27 August, Tusiata Avia will also appear at the WORD Christchurch Festival 2021 event Confluence and Jackson Nieuwland will take part in Wellington event Shouting Into The Void: Six Poets One Megaphone.

Poet and NZ Book Awards Trust spokesperson Richard Pamatatau says, ‘As always, this year’s Phantom National Poetry Day is an opportunity for our poets to bring words, ideas and language to people across Aotearoa. To celebrate who we are, what we stand for and to reflect on what has passed. In the midst of a global pandemic, and after last year’s socially distanced celebration, it is delightful to see activity and vibrancy surging back into the day, with so many events planned.’

Nearly 20 wickedly good poetry competitions are listed in the Competition Calendar, including online poetry competition Given Words 2021 – Noho Mai, in its 6th year, and E Tū Whānau’s inaugural Spoken Word Competition, with winners announced on Phantom National Poetry Day. To find out more and enter these competitions visit Competition Calendar.

Much-loved children’s poet Paula Green has created an inspiring resource for teachers to use with students – one which will spark their imaginations as they write poetry and create events. Find out more at Phantom National Poetry Day Schools Guide.

Phantom CEO Robin McDonnell says, ‘Phantom Billstickers LOVES poetry and has been taking it to the streets of New Zealand and overseas for nearly 40 years. There’s something delicious about finding poetry in unexpected places – on walls, lampposts, billboards – for all the world to see. Phantom National Poetry Day gives us an opportunity to go large and celebrate our local poets. What’s not to love!’

Held annually on the fourth Friday in August, Phantom National Poetry Day brings together poetry royalty and fans from all over Aotearoa New Zealand. Many of the programmed events will be FREE and open to the public. This popular fixture on our cultural calendar celebrates discovery, diversity and community. For the past six years, Phantom Billstickers has supported National Poetry Day through its naming rights sponsorship.

For full details about all the events taking place, including places, venues, times, tickets and more, go to Phantom National Poetry Day Calendar of Events.

Social media links


Facebook: @NZPoetryDay

Twitter: @NZPoetryDay

Instagram: nzpoetryday

Hashtags: #NZPoetryDay

We get it. You want your sites to make more money

As a landlord, you know the hard slog and expertise it takes to sort out leases, maintenance and compliance. Not to mention finding good tenants!  

We know it’s hard work because our Sales & Marketing Director, Rupert Fenton, grew up in a family that owned commercial properties. What he absorbed around the kitchen table turned out to be oddly relevant to his subsequent career at Phantom.

Rupert, a bit about your background…

“I grew up in the UK where my family had a small portfolio of commercial properties. I remember listening to my parents and grandparents talking about rates, rent rises, deferred maintenance and all the other stuff you need to stay on top of. So I never had the naive idea that owning a commercial property was easy money.

“In the end I didn’t join the family business, opting instead for the media business. I’ve spent 25 years now in the outdoor advertising industry in the UK and New Zealand. I’ve worked for start-ups and the world’s biggest outdoor media company. And now I’m part of a great team here at Phantom.”

On the surface of it, being a landlord and running a poster network seem like quite different businesses. But you say they’re similar. What do you mean?

“It’s the fundamental business model. If you get the right tenant/advertiser in the right location, you will get the best result. 

“As a landlord you don’t want just any old tenant – you need a business that will really thrive in the space, as well as treating it with respect and paying the rent on time. As their business grows, you as the property owner will be rewarded with a greater return. In the same way, our advertisers benefit from being in high-quality spaces.

“By attracting the right advertisers into our frames, we’re rewarded when their campaigns succeed. They know they’ve done well so they’ll happily come back for more.”

Surely it’s straightforward – high foot traffic equals high value?

“Of course, a premium site on a busy street will command top dollar simply because of the number of eyeballs it attracts each week. But that’s just the beginning. 

“Just as smart retailers look to add value to their stores, we add value to our poster sites. So you’ll see retailers taking on the online threat by innovating with their commercial space, like Barkers with in-store barber shops in its menswear outlets. We have the same can-do, innovative attitude.”

Can you give any examples? 

“At Phantom we’ve been creating more four-in-a-row sites, because we’ve noticed that big brands like State Insurance or Mercury like to book sequential street posters that tell a story. We’ve also invested in extra-large sites, that act as eye-level billboards to give our clients extra impact. And we have the skills in-house to build shelves for product sampling, or to customise and colour-coordinate our frames with their brands. 

“There’s a big pay-off, because now street posters can now serve a strategic purpose in big brand campaigns – and attract more customers.”

What about the role of posters in recovering from Covid?

“We understand how their businesses were hit by the lockdowns. Losing tenants and customers was a brutal blow, and it affected our business as well as theirs. 

“That’s why we’re super-focused on maximising returns from our poster network and helping support the property owners where our frames live. You could say we’ve got skin in the game.”

Francisca Griffin: Taking to the Road

With songs to call on stretching back to her days with Look Blue Go Purple as well as two solo albums, Francisca Griffin is about to tour in the North Island for the first time in decades. The most recent of her solos records is the lovely and affecting the  spaces between. She’ll be playing Auckland and some  out-of-the-way-places with her band, The Bus Shelter Boys. She spoke to Richard Langston.

Francisca Griffin and The Bus Shelter Boys

Your album the spaces between is a record of such a particular tone and mood, I’m wondering how you approach those songs live?

Ah, that’s a good question. That was a solo record with a lot of help from amazing people, Mick Elborado for example, he plays keyboards on ‘Rising Tide’ and now he’s in the band playing bass. I’ve got Gabriel on drums and the songs have morphed a little bit as I think songs should. The same basic bones are there with the ones I play with the band.

We went into practice and I just told Gabriel and Mick that they should play, well we just started, and they played what they wanted. There’s only one song where I directed Gabriel and sometimes I tweak a little bit of what Mick’s done – can you hold off on this bit, and that bit’s really great. I really like what they’ve brought to it and I enjoy listening to other people’s interpretations within the tunes.

We’ve got three new songs and we’re going to bring them on tour. We also play some of my older music like ‘Eyes Are the Door’ which is on the Look Blue Go Purple compilation, the first song I ever wrote. 

What I particularly enjoy about Spaces is how it evokes where you live (Port Chalmers) and people who are obviously close to you…

Yep, it’s songs written over 15 years…maybe a bit more actually. I started writing ‘Stardust’

in 1995 but it didn’t morph into what it is on the record now until 2012, it just happened one day when I was practising , ah, those words fit this.

Were you surprised when you were writing Spaces how powerfully some of those people came back to you, for instance the song about Martyn Bull (who she married and who died aged just 22 in 1983…and who famously drummed on Chills song ‘Pink Frost’)…

That song, ‘Martyn’, I wrote when I was playing with Sandra Bell and Dianne Civil  and Emma Milburn…we were this very short-lived band called Formentations and I wrote it just after we had stopped playing. That song just arrived like so many of my songs do. I do have to work at some of them of course, you do end up working on all of them to some extent, but that song was just there.

I have this new view of death, it’s not a popular one,  which is cool…it doesn’t bother me. Not long after Martyn died I was as you would imagine bereft. One night I lay down on his side of the bed and I was fucking miserable…and as I was drifitng off to sleep…and this is no word of a lie…this happened… I felt a weight on the bed come down beside me and then give a really amazing hug. When I woke up it wasn’t there. I think it was Martyn. He was coming to give me a hug to say that he was alright, he was doing okay.

What year did you write that song?


Ok that’s sometime after …

Oh yeah, totally. The time between I spent in LBGP and being a mum and being in a relationship where I was not at all confident to go and play and my partner was not in the least bit supportive of that, and so I lost confidence pretty much completely. A pretty difficult few years but I got a few songs out of it (laughs).

One of the other songs that’s very affecting is ‘Ghost Boy’…I heard it and got the impression you’d lost someone else…

That was written in 2000, I started writing it on bass and then moved it over to the guitar – it was the patterns as opposed to the notes because of course my bass is left-handed – conventional left-handed and my guitar is left-handed but my strings are all around the other way cos as people know who’ve read any interviews with me I learned to play at peoples’ houses at parties in the ‘80s and they all had right-handed guitars.

My son Oscar was visiting here from London, his Dad brought him over when he was 12. The visit had some really really really good aspects to it of course, I was seeing my son for the first time in two years and he was seeing us for the first time in two years and getting to know his little brothers a little better. At some stage we had a gigantic fight, and he couldn’t vocalise why he was so angry and I wrote him a really long letter…actually I never sent it…I gave it to him when he was older…just to put it out there I think we’ve resolved those things and have mended those hurts.

That song, every time I played it for a long time, and still sometimes now, I start crying, and lots of people cry when they hear it. Ro Rushton Green who’s just joined our band from the band Sewage, Ro plays violin and we started practising it last week so we’re going to do it on tour.

Ther version you have recorded on the album…Alastair Galbraith’s playing…the way he makes his guitar burble…moan…mourn…and lament…it’s incredible…

He does an astounding job. When we started practicing last week Ro cried while she was playing. It’s not just a song about Oscar… it’s a song about loss. The last two verses are about realising that you are still connected although you are not in the same room. 

When we play ‘Ghost Boy’ it will be just me and Ro. I’ve played a few times solo when I’ve asked Alastair to come and play as well which has been really amazing. There’s 3 songs on that record that Alistair’s on that I’ve roped him into playing live a few times which is awesome. 

‘Martyn’ was recorded with Gabriel (her son) and me playing guitar and Ro playing baritone sax, on tour Ro will play an alto sax cos a baritone is a monster to cart around and Mick’s bass is pretty much the only thing new on that song when we play live.

Which reminds of the fact you’ve got a knack..a gift…an ability to gather a community of musicians around you when you want to make music…

It’s just so heartening. Let’s talk a little about Songs from the Sky (her first solo album released in 1998). That came about because I played at The Empire one night a solo thing with Alastair Galbraith and Peter Jefferies and for some reason I ended up playing last when it didn’t even occur to me…I’m a bit naive sometimes…(laughs)…following Peter and Alastair was a big ask and to hold people’s attention.

When I was finished playing someone said to me , that took guts to play after them and I just went, what? David Kilgour came up to and he said, they’re great songs… When are you going to record them? I just looked at him and thought, here’s this guy that I absolutely admire, I’ve loved his guitaring forever, so when he said this, I thought…ah huh (laughs).

I got funding after Roy Colbert, bless him, and David wrote letters of recommendation. I asked David if he would help on it and he was amazing, he and Stephen Kilroy, they put up with me being a mother of small children and my band Heath Te Au and Tenzin Mullin they were pretty amazing too.

I got the CD out recently and looked at what we all did and OMG David plays a lot on that record, and I had a convo with him recently and said once again how appreciative I was of his help through that entire process and he said, oh, it was fun, I really enjoyed it. I said do you remember playing all those basslines and he said, no. He plays a few on that record and some guitar on ‘What Dreams’. We play that one live, that’s a lot of fun.

In our set we also play  ‘Lunar Fall’ the Cyclops song and we play ‘Call Me’ from Some from the Sky and ‘Antarctic’ from the Shrew’d compilation in 1993  released in Women’s Suffrage year.

You’ve said in the past that you play by feel,  I wonder what about your boys, do they have a similar approach to you?

Alexander’s not in the band but he is on the record. He did music at school. He doesn’t read music but he knows about chords and he knows about transposing and keys which I don’t have a clue about…none whatsoever…Ro and Mick know keys so Ro goes what key’s that in and I say I dunno ask Mick (laughs).

Gabriel also took music at school  but he plays by feel and honestly he’s just the most incredible drummer. He’s in a couple of other bands which I dub screamo bands. They play super fast.

There’s quite a gap between your solo albums – something like 17 years – when might you make another?

Next year. We’ve got three songs so far and when I play really intensely I start to write. I can’t just sit down and write – I can do little riffs and stuff – that intense outpouring really happens when I’m playing a lot, either practising or touring. The three new songs are fully band songs and one of them is called ‘Broken Heart’, another song that has made people cry. 

But y’know that thing of listening to some music and having your own moment of being so touched I know that  is a really important thing for people to have that connection and feel that way.

What local bands are you listening to…and getting excited about?

Na Noise. They are  bloody amazing. OMG…Night Lunch. Anything Milly Lovelock touches is amazing, another young woman called Julie Dunn… she’s got a couple of projects called Bathysphere and  Fleshbug . I love Tiny Pieces of Eight and Wet Specimen and Negative Nancies.

Gabe said you’ve gotta come and see this band Dick Move. They really like you and they’re fans of yours, and  when I met them they were so fanned-out they couldn’t actually talk to me. They’re ok now! Lucy the singer was wearing the Look Blue Go Purple t-shirt on stage last night when I saw them, really cool. 

There’s a lot of activity on the experimental side of things – there’s a crashie noise trio of Peter Porteous, Mick Elborado and Robbie Yeats. They’re calling themselves Ghost Bells.

That’s a juggernaut of sometimes not working but sometimes working and working well.

And I have it on good authority from Bruce Blucher that the Alpaca Brothers have just recorded some new songs with Bob Scott.

Are you looking forward to getting on the road…playing Auckland and then some out of the way places….in Palmerston North…Featherston…and Paekakariki…

Absolutely.  I haven’t toured – we did three gigs in the South Island in January 2019 for the spaces between- but I haven’t been in the North Island playing with a band and doing that driving around stuff since 1987, the last Look Blue Go Purple tour. We played some unusual places then, we really didn’t want to do the university circuit again, we played lots of different places including Greymouth in this tiny bar I think it was called the Tramway. That was hilarious, the entire town turned out to see us, then took us somewhere for a party. Great. I’m so looking forward to the wonderful places we’re going to play – it’ll be a blast. 

The smaller places anyone can come, they’re all ages venues which we love. And St Peter’s in Paekakariki looks like a pleasure to be in. Featherston is a tiny gallery,  Miracle Room. That’ll be me and Ro playing quietly.

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