Jazz in the ‘Rapa

Not much into jazz myself, but this looks like a bloody good event for those that are http://www.jazzinmartinborough.co.nz/index.html

Fill your boots!

Dead Love

This abandoned and unloved house has been the topic of many a conversation over the years that I’ve lived next to it. To many of us in the neighbourhood it’s a convenient landmark (“do you know the haunted house? We’re a couple of hundred metres past there … “) while to others it’s an eyesore. Despite being directly opposite Stonehenge Aotearoa, the house may well be the most photographed relic in the Wairarapa.

This is a lovely little painting of the house in 2004 by Tracy Puklowski, who was then the Director of our local Wairarapa art museum, Aratoi.

One Ronnie

This is very funny, especially for the more ‘chronologically challenged’ among us …

The new breed of musician

I’m constantly surprised – amazed even – by the entrepreneurial skills of the new young musicians coming through. Gone seem to be the days of the goofy, head-in-the-clouds muso traipsing around aimlessly and playing for a few coins or a feed.

I had the pleasure of hosting Mel Parsons for a house concert here recently, and as well as being a great songwriter and performer she’s a thoroughly buttoned-down young lady. I’m also well acquainted with the Warratahs’ Barry Saunders, who’s never sitting still when it comes to getting a gig or making a record (although, to be fair, he probably can’t be added to the ‘new young breed’ list!).

Last year a trio of ladies calling themselves ‘Saints & Sinners’ came through town and played a great show at our little local bar, Lounge. One of them (I don’t know if she’s a saint or a sinner) was Tami Neilson, a Canadian native with a big voice and a big personality, married to a kiwi and based in Auckland. Like most touring musicians these days she runs an email newslettery-thing announcing tours and recordings and offering the odd free song download. The one I got this morning included all three of those things, but also had an intriguing invitation at the bottom: “WIDGETS (Put my stuff on your web pages and blogs!)”.

Now I’m familar with widgets because I use them in my line of work (web design and development), but this idea of promoting yourself by making widgets available in a few clicks  for others to place on their websites for your benefit seems so cheeky that I just had to do it.

Being Here – Why people leave their city lives for a home in the Wairarapa

Steven and Mary

It was the weather that finally did it. Really, that city is only fit for penguins and masochists.

They were over it, had reached a stage in life when, although not retired, there was no need to be holed up in a big house on Wellington’s south coast watching the rain and seawater soup drive horizontal past the picture window. Friends had lived in Masterton, had often talked about the distinct seasons, the lovely evenings with the sun setting on the verandah, glass of the local in hand. Sounds like us, they thought. Cheap houses, too – we could put some aside for later. Goodbye, then, to those ‘nothing’ days, farewell the indeterminate gloom, hello summer, autumn, winter and spring.

Thirty degree summer days are bone dry, not a humid fug like you’d get in Auckland, and when they take the washing off the line the towels are crisp and crunchy like poppadoms. To them the winter frosts are so pretty and the cold is forgiven because a nice day will come and they can light the log fire tonight and be snug behind the curtains. Spring bulbs flower along the rural roadsides, bright yellow in the noonday sun. And clear autumn evenings when a million silver stars wink at them, saying “good decision”.

Chris and Lizzie

The Skytower recedes slowly in the rear-view mirror and green fields lie ahead. Manukau, Takanini, Drury, Bombay, the motorway exits tick quickly by and will soon be replaced by the rolling hills of northern Waikato and the Hauraki Plain. A few hundred kilometers to drive, seven or so hours to a new life with no plans, nothing organised aside from a small rural property which will be a home of some sort, for now at least.

Crazy. Everybody told him so. High paying job, nice villa in a nice part of town, kids at the nice leafy school up the street – why chuck it all in? But even at that distance the Wairarapa has a magnetic attraction impossible to repel. Is it the luscious landscape, the big sky for thinking big thoughts? Or perhaps the gentle pace and gentler people? It’s certainly the clean air for the boys to breathe, the pretty little rural school for them to learn important things at, things you don’t learn at city schools, like why the firewood shed is inhabited by huhu grubs.

The Hendersons

It’s funny how they moaned when they were here as kids. Nothing to do, they complained. Masterhole they called it, Cardytown, Greydom. No shopping, no clubs, no fun. Can’t wait to get out of the place.

But one by one they’re returning. Back to our new place, or to buy a block right near where we farmed back then. Just for a little while, she said, I’m sick of travelling. It won’t be for long, he assured, I just need to make a few dollars, buy a house in town. And the youngest one, she tried flatting in Christchurch but didn’t last – too noisy, too fast.

The winged one has nested, found a good bloke – her high school sweetheart! – and got settled, milking cows at Parkvale (we will be grandparents in five and a half months). Her brother has built a house – just out of Mauriceville – and is happy there, alone for now, with his dogs. And the young one, she tried city life again but she’s back at home, leaving a trail of broken hearted young men no doubt. Maybe one will follow her here.


She’d often noticed that there’s a certain bend on the downhill side where the whole valley opens up before your eyes like an oil-on-canvas landscape. And how it always seems to be bathed in sunshine while everything behind her is gritty and grey. And how much she was beginning to resent that haul back over that hill, tick tock, by the clock, every Monday at dawn.

I’d love to get away from all that ‘corporate wife’ stuff, she thought, give the children a provincial upbringing, not have to fuss about the house so much. But I’ll need to put a very good case. Decent schools? Check. Our current property suitable? Yep. Social possibilities? Well, it’ll be different, but there’ll be as many as we need. Proximity to the extended family? They’ll love to visit.

Would you mind the commute, honey? Not at all darling, not at all.

(First published in Wairarapa Lifestyle magazine, Winter 2010)

Wilco (The Review)

Two words. Woo hoo!

Jess was in da House!

It was perfect. Just how I wanted it to be. Music was very definitely in the house last night.

Judging by the enthusiasm with which the concept was received a couple of months ago; the enthusiasm with which Jess Chambers‘ performance was received last night; and the enthusiastic emails I’ve received today, the old-fashioned ‘salon recital’ could be making a comeback. I said it was an experiment (although someone did point out that I also called it the ‘inaugural’ Ahiaruhe house concert) and I can confidently say that the experiment was a success. There was some luck on my side though.

I was lucky that Jess was keen to entertain my left-of-centre suggestion in the first place. I’d have understood if she hadn’t been – it’s a bit of a hike over the hill and back, the audience number is limited by the size of the room, and it could be an intimidating setting for someone used to bigger spaces. I got around the first issue by offering to put her and her partner Peter up for the night and feeding them good farm produce and their favourite beer; I solved the second by charging a little more for entry than I was originally intending; and avoided the third by not sending her any pictures of the room before she got here.

The weather was also likely to give me grief  – this house can be very noisy if it’s raining heavily or blowing hard, and getting in the front door can be a mission in a northerly. But we got lucky with that too – it was a beautiful, dead calm autumn evening and the room was as quiet as a church. And warm, thankfully, as this house can be mightily cold in a southerly snap.

Lucky also to have a supply of great friends and acquaintances who jumped at the chance to attend, some coming from as far away as Wellington and Pukerua Bay as well as from around the Wairarapa. As much as I’ve claimed that I set it up because I wanted to hear Jess in such a setting, providing music for people has always been a bit of a pastime of mine, albeit previously in the form of cassetted recording tape or plastic disks of data (sshh, don’t tell). So sitting in that room last night with 40-odd familiar people who were showing that they were thoroughly enjoying the show – including a wife who hadn’t sat down all day until then – I felt like the luckiest guy in the world.

The performance was magical. The intimate setting suited Jess’ understated presence perfectly. Peter Hill was the ideal accompanist on guitars and mandolin. The audience was wonderfully attentive and hung on every note, and were generous with their applause. And Jess was funny and engaging and sang her beautifully-crafted songs with passion and precision. It seemed all over far too quickly.

So, any thoughts about who to get for the next one?

P.S. See Karl du Fresne’s review of the show here http://karldufresne.blogspot.com/2010/04/concert-in-wairarapa.html

Proved Wrong – Again

I’ve been proved wrong – again.

So many gigs I’ve attended in recent times have been spoiled by inconsiderate patrons blabbing their way through the performance that I’ve been considering giving up attending live music altogether. Too damn frustrating. Yes, I’m getting on a bit in years. Yes, I’m a bit sensitive to these things (only one sound at a time – please!). And yes, the onus has to be – at least in part – on the performer to win over the crowd and make them want to listen. But I still don’t understand the folk who pay good money at the door and then chatter all night, oblivious to what they’re (presumably) there for. I just don’t get it.

However, at the San Francisco Bath House last Friday were The Mountain Goats and a crowd which was as one. “Sshhh” was hissed and the singer smiled. “Quiet” was whispered and the audience chuckled. Respect. I really didn’t think it was possible – even the big ones recently (Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams) had talkers and hecklers, right next to or behind me of course. Every other gig I’ve been to at the SFBH has been tainted by chin-waggers – except, actually, now that I think about it, Loudon Wainwright. And John Darnielle of the Goats reminded me very much of Loudon – big presence, messed-up mind, acoustic guitar, autobiographical songs. The audience for the Goats was clearly a group of fans, and they paid their money and they turned up and they listened and indulged in a bit of banter and they got their money’s worth. And some.

Anyway, I’ve been ruminating (sorry) on the Goats’ gig as I prepare for a (booked out) house concert I’ve organised for this weekend. Frustrated, annoyed, exasperated by recent events at local (and other) gigs where attendees have been just plain rude and have spoiled others’ enjoyment, I’ve got the wonderful APRA-winning singer-songwriter Jess Chambers and her multi-instrumentalist mate Peter Hill playing right here in my lounge for a group of like-minded music lovers. There will be quality music, there will be responsible imbibations, some little nibbles at interval, and quietness – apart, of course, from the artists and the applause and the chatter at half time and before and after. At least that’s how I envisage it playing out. If it does, then my faith will be restored – until I’m proved right again at the next public gig.

The Madman and The Cathedral

If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed by work or life, or even if you’re not, check this out. Astonishing!

El Loco de la Catedral from James Rogan on Vimeo.

Solanum lycopersicum – an urban or a rural fruit?

Gardening doesn’t come naturally to me. I was born in the middle of London and raised between there and a tiny house in central Wellington.  Although my very resourceful mother coaxed a family-load of vegetables and herbs from a few square feet of dirt in Tinakori Road, the urge to till the soil never rubbed off on either of her sons – or her cockney husband, for that matter.

Ironic, then, that I should end up with 25 acres of perfectly good growing land, but maybe not surprising that I can manage only a pocket-handkerchief vege plot.

This fact was pointed out to me by a recent vistor who questioned why it is that I have things growing in big pots on the deck (she’s always asking pointed questions). I told her, truthfully, that it was because I already had the pots and I was sick of them lying around sprouting weeds. She didn’t believe me. Then I agreed with her that maybe I’m living an urban lifestyle in a rural environment.

But I’ve been thinking about that, and I’m not sure that we live much differently from many of our farmer neighbours. They have flat screen TVs and espresso machines. They have candle-lit dinner parties and welcome their pet dog inside (although not necessarily at the same time). Crikey, some of them even have European cars. And they don’t all have sprawling vege gardens or kill their own meat.

My little plot – and the offending terracotta pots – is just the right size for me to tend and for my family to pick from. It’s usually got some lettuce, some rocket, chillies, chives, a few spring onions, parsley, coriander when it’s not seeding, and my favourite nadine potatoes. In the cooler months I grow leeks, broccoli, and lettuce. We also planted some fruit trees the winter before last and the nashi tree had half a dozen sensationally sweet pears a few weeks ago. There’s a heritage apple and a quince, pear and, I think, plum, plus a fig and a walnut tree. Oh, and the essential bay, nearly cut off in its infancy by territorial hares.

And my little plot always features tomatoes in the summer. Until recently I’ve grown a few heritage varieties, and always liked the “Black From Tula” from Kings’ seeds. This year I discovered a Supertom which had had the Tula grafted on to it, and what a revelation that’s been! One $8 plant has kept us going all season with sweet, dark fruit, plucked ripe and still warm from the summer sun. (An enduring memory of a trip to Italy is calling in to a rural  roadside café, asking for a salami and tomato sandwich, and the patron ducking out the back to pick the tomato.) But the tomatoes in the pots were a letdown. Maybe they were feeling too urban?

I’ve come to really value my humble plantings, silly as they may look in the expanse that could be occupied – perhaps like me, a city boy transplanted into the country.