Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Inspirational NZers

Last week I had the pleasure of sharing a stage with some New Zealanders doing some amazing work for their communities.

I travelled down to Timaru for a night to provide some added entertainment to the "Speaker's Tour" of the NZer Of The Year Awards and I was made to feel rather insignificant by these inspiring speakers.

I had already heard Sam Johnson, the face of Christchurch's Student Army, tell his story and had already been won over - their cause is, what seems to me, a rare altruistic light amongst a generation of young people who are becoming increasingly self-absorbed. They're next big push for Christchurch and its people is an event called The Concert so get involved if you aren't already.

Joining Sam on the stage was a man on a mission to change one of the country's most notorious suburbs, Flaxmere. Henare O'Keefe is a highly charismatic figure who holds a genuine love for his community and its people and is doing all he can to spread that same mantra to as many of his neighbours as possible. In the process, he's also setting an example for others in New Zealand and his work has even spread to other parts of the country already. Here's a little video on what he's all about:

The other significant speaker I heard and also had the privilege to spend four hours driving with that day was Billy Graham - another man on a mission to change the culture of his hometown. Naenae has been a suburb in steady decline since the 1980s and, like Flaxmere, has garnered a rather undesirable reputation. Billy has gone about changing a community with a dwindling spirit to one that is now on the road to renewal - all through him establishing a boxing gym, one that instills within young men respect, discipline and self-motivation. Besides this he's also no doubt helped the suburb in reducing its crime rate by 30% since the gym's inception.

It's in encountering these people that one sees first hand that people are out in our country actually helping others. With the state of our political climate, it's easy to be cynical about what's being done about our people's futures. But there are people helping and they're not waiting for votes or funding, they're going out and making change happen. 

I hope the inspiration I acquired last week can last into my future endeavours and I can do more to help people through my work than I've done in the past. 

I hope you guys can feel this inspiration as well and can do your part to help make our awesome country's dark places brought into the light. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Grizzly Bear

The new Grizzly Bear album Shields is great for this drizzly it here:

An honour

A day after my experience with Kidz Rock, I spent a day at my old high school - Tauranga Boys' College.

The chief reason for my visit was to act as the guest speaker at the annual Old Boys Dinner in which Bryan Gould was named Old Boy of the Year. I basically told the story of how I came to be me and played a couple of songs with my acoustic guitar. The night was a success and it was awesome to see a lot of familiar faces as well as meet some inspiring new ones - Gould being one in particular.

The school has undergone quite a culture-change since I was there - in a very encouraging way. During my education path, my exposure to Te Reo and Maori culture in general basically ceased as soon as I entered high school. At the time I didn't really mind and didn't think much of it, but as I grew older, saw more of the world and met more people I developed some distinct jealous-pangs towards those who had.

These days the education system does a much better job of integrating Te Reo into the curriculum but then it's up to the schools themselves to involve Maori culture in general within school life. And this is where Tauranga Boys seems to have improved greatly.

During the day I attended and played a song at a full school assembly. It all seemed pretty straight forward until the head boy demanded the boys all stand and deliver to their guests the school haka.

Over 1700 boys then proceeded to raise all the hairs on the back of my neck in providing me a truly special experience, a true honour, something I will always remember.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Kidz Rock

This week I was fortunate enough to be a part of a great enterprise between Tauranga primary schools called Kidz Rock.

This year was the fifth year the event has taken place and involves ten schools across Tauranga that put together bands every year. Those bands then spend a day receiving mentoring from local musicians, hear professional musicians' advice and perform a concert in front of a healthy-sized local crowd in a small theatre.

I've been a part of mentoring schemes to schools in New Zealand before but these were the youngest kids I'd worked with - and it was scary how good they were.

When I went to primary school I was lucky to get my hands on anything more than a recorder or an out of tune acoustic guitar. These kids have electric guitars, electric and acoustic drum kits, bass and double-bass guitars, ukeleles for Africa...and basically anything else you'd ever want to play. These kids also have zero inhibition about picking one of these instruments up and learning the gist of it. 

They were easily more proficient than kids I'd visited at high schools and also had none of that horrible mid-teen self-consciousness which can stop any kind of expression in its tracks. I believe a large reason for this is the Kidz Rock event.

By giving these kids something exciting to work towards and be a part of, they're driving themselves to achieve things that really are amazing for their age as well as things that are particularly exciting for music in this country. If these kids keep doing what they're doing now, for the next ten years, we are going to witness some extreme talent rise to prominence in New Zealand. And what this means for the industry is that artists with mediocre talent, but a bit of an image or corporate push, that currently find success, will be washed away.

It was awesome to be a part of the event and I'd encourage other schools out there to start something similar if they have the chance as it really adds an exciting element to a local community and our country's culture.

Here's one of the bands I remembered to cool. 

Also, another band has a website, music videos, endorsements and a song on iTunes....all things I have none of right now!! Incredible...

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Album of my Week: Songs of Patience

From the first note of the first song I heard from Alberta Cross I was a fan. So it's always a great week when a band like that releases a new album.
This, their second, is a more expansive record than their first - it has more shades of expression in sound and content than their first and is a lot more hook-laden (which people may rebel against...but it just makes me sing along a whole lot easier).

If you haven't heard of them before, they're a US band with a leg in each camp of Southern Rock and British Rock - quite like another great band I've touted on here before: Boxer Rebellion.

There aren't many rock bands left in the world (sorry), but these guys are holding the flag pretty damn high right now, so listen if you're still a fan.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Don McLean

I've stolen the reference to this from Bob Lefsetz' latest email, but I've also cut it down to the parts that resonate. 
These questions were recently put to Don McLean, the writer best known for the song American Pie.
I've found that while the innocent pursuit of your passion is a valuable perspective, the view from the other end of the road can always add a new and valuable shade to your outlook.
When you look back over four decades in the music business, what do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment?
The main thing I would like to say is that I have become the person I wanted to be. As opposed to reaching goals but being an alcoholic, or reaching goals but having four failed marriages, or reaching goals but having kids in rehab. A lot of people reach their goals, but at a terrific price.
Is it safe to say, then, that you never cared about fame?
I had a recording contract with Clive Davis for about a year. He kept sending me wimpy little songs to sing and I didn't want to do them. So we ended our association. I guarantee you if I had decided to sing those songs, with the production values they would have used, I would have had hit records. But I didn't want those kinds of hit records. I don't want songs that don't mean anything. You wind up regretting it in the end anyway. Because if you get a hit that you don't like, you've still got to sing it.
Songs come and songs go. So what do you think about the staying power of American Pie?
It's a real honor and a gift. The thing that I value about the songs that Buddy Holly wrote and that Elvis sang, the songs by Pete Seeger and the Weavers, those songs are my friends. Better than my friends, in fact, because they're always there. And my hope is that people will consider my songs to be their friends as the years go by.
You're doing a concert tour in England next month. At age 66, have you ever considered retiring?
It's not really a career. It's a way of life. It's like breathing. I can't do anything else.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Closing one door...

When I joined Midnight Youth my ambition in life was to write and release an album – I didn’t care what it cost or how it was received, I just wanted that record in my hand to share with my family, friends and, one day, kids.

We were a gang of boys jamming twice a week and playing the odd show in small pubs around Auckland for three years before my life changed - I had the chance to achieve that final goal, to record an album.

Once it was released I had acquired, briefly, that fleeting feeling of utter contentment in life.

Then the record happened to be successful and I chose to leave my fulltime job and follow my music and a new set of goals. It was a huge life-change and one that I’ve followed for the past three years around the world, constantly soaking up the highs and lows and growing in my musical journey.

Six years after that dream began I’ve come to the point of another new beginning. It’s a long time - in a period of a person’s life where personal realisation and change is rapid - and what I’ve recently discovered about myself is that, to be happy, productive and to grow more as a person, I need to make a fresh start. In order to do this, there is no doubt in my mind that I need to leave my band.

Midnight Youth has, undoubtedly, given me some of the best years I will have in my life and I am well aware that I may never have the same kind of commercial success in a chosen field ever again. I will forever be indebted to the guys in the band and the people who supported and fell in love with the songs we created and gave me a stage to perform upon.

But life isn’t all about perceived success; some of it is about love, passion, challenge and change within your own mind and those closest to you and these things, unfortunately, present no smooth, constant road.

I have now chosen to pave my own street, pack my own bags, strip myself naked and, importantly, sing my own song. Follow me if you choose…

Monday, September 3, 2012

Album of my week: Karen Dalton

So I've cheated a little this week but it's all because two days of fleeting spring inspired me to go on a musical mission to find a soundtrack to my sunny book-reading.

What I came up with wasn't an album, but more of a catalogue.
Karen Dalton was a folk musician from the same era as early Bob Dylan who didn't find huge success but was very well respected in that scene at the time.

She released a total of two albums and they make for the perfect soundtrack for quiet, breezy, summer sessions. There's a wide variety of tonality in her songs and her unique voice makes those tones all the more interesting.

It's all twangy, jangly, loungy, folky goodness from a time everyone wanted to live in, so get yourself a taste if that sounds like you.