Kiwi Summer Soul Train: Renee Geyer, BIlly TK Junior & The Groove Shakers, Juice on the Loose, Murdoch James Estate Martinborough
This was the first time that Murdoch James Estate had held a vineyard concert, and in fact it was the first vineyard concert I had ever been to, so I didn’t know what to inspect.
My expectation was that there would be lots of people getting drunk on wine and being a bit obnoxious as alcohol tends to do to a lot of people.
But from the moment I drove into the winery everything was chilled out and pleasant – a laid back and non threatening atmosphere with lots of casually but well dressed ladies and gents plus a small number of children, alcohol sold from one tent and gourmet burgers at a stall.
The venue is a natural amphitheatre with a lake at one side and a steeply rising bank at the other, surrounded by mature trees.
The stage was a truck trailer on which Juice on the Loose was already pumping out some fat grooves by the time I arrived around 4pm.
I’d never heard of them but they are a testament to how New Zealand is producing some pretty amazing bands, each in its own niche genre.
I ended up talking to one of the band members, Bill, after their set, and it turned out that they are based in Auckland and comprise some very experienced New Zealand and British musicians.
Their internet bio says Juice was formed by Alan King who once upond a time played in various bands that shared the stage with some of the greatest musicians of the 1960s and 1970s including Jimi Hendrix and Cream.
Juice’s set was extended for another 35 minute which was great as it gave me some more time to enjoy them and allowed the band to stretch out to a funking hot version of Bill Withers’ “Use Me”, followed by Ray Charles’ “I Got A Woman, and a general indulgence in soul boogaloo.
It was a pleasure and luxury to hear the Hammond organ filling out the sound, totally lifting the music, not just for Juice but throughout the night.
Next it was turn of Billy TK Junior and The Groove Shakers. It was Billy’s inspiration and energy that brought this line-up together for which he deserves a lot of kudos.
I’m not sure when was the last time Rene Geyer played New Zealand. Back in the 1970s I remember she was a regular visitor to this country but it was Billy TK Junior’s energy that brought her back after a long hiatus and it was obvious later in the night that it meant a lot to her to be back again.
I was familiar with Billy’s dad Billy TK Senior’s sixties psychedelic guitar but it was interesting to see Billy Junior carving out his own niche in the soul and R&B genre.
There was an element of the more traditional electric blues sound to some of The Groove Shakers numbers but I liked it best when they strayed into some classic rock including an excellent version of JJ Cale’s “Cocaine”, and Santana’s version of “Black Magic Woman”.
It’s always great to hear classic rock songs freshened, revitalised and re-interpreted by a new generation’s energy.
Then as the dusk set in and an almost full moon rose over the lake, it was Renee Geyer’s turn to shine. By this time the pared down hardcore stage had been bathed in a delicate and erie blue light.
Geyer brought her own band which is an indication of her commitment to providing the best show possible, and pretty amazing given that the whole night’s entertainment was only $35.
I’m not sure how much Geyer has changed over the years but I’d describe the 2014 version as a cross between 1960s blues vocalist Christine Perfect (later to become better known as Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac) and 1980s Marianne Faithful.
There is a raw and abrasive edge to her personality and performance. At 60 years of age, and with 40 years in the business, she still holds nothing back, and on the night gave her all to her vocals.
The great thing about this venue is that you could go right up to the stage and mix it with the band, and retreat up to the side of the hill to hear the sound as clear as a bell.
It was from this vantage point that you could appreciate the sophisticated and highly nuanced arrangements of the band
Vocally, it’s very easy to get a bit messy in the heat of the moment, but Geyer and the band never sacrificed the musicianship although the energy was all about dancing.
Among the standouts were was BB Kings’s “The Thrill is Gone”, Gladys Knight & the Pips’ “Midnight Train to Georgia”, Phoebe Snow’s disco soul hit Standing on Shaky Ground, and 1970s Jimmie Cliff number “Sitting in Limbo”.
Geyer finished with James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s, Man’s Man’s World” (not my favourite song, I have to admit), Billy TK Junior joining the band to play out the gig with Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” ending a night of complete immersion in R&B.