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Karl du Fresne – A Road Tour of American Song Titles

Anzac Hall, Featherston, September 2016

Reviewed by David Famularo

Having stopped to talk to Karl Du Fresne on a Masterton street one Friday afternoon in the past, I was aware that he was a fan of country music, and also that he was writing a book about his journey to the United States to visit places made famous in song.

Du Fresne begins the talk by reeling off a longish list, but in fact just a few of the seemingly endless list of songs that have a place mentioned in a song’s title or lyrics.  A state like Alabama could have had a book by itself, he pointed out.

The fact that du Fresne could have chosen so many more is a testament to Americans’ attachment to town, cities and landscapes, real or imagined.

As Du Fresne points out, “American music is very rich in referencing place.”

While the talk inevitably charts some of the same waters as the book, du Fresne’s adlib insights are some of the little gems on a rainy Sunday afternoon in the atmospheric Anzac Hall.

His final list of 24 songs were chosen because they were the ones that most resonated with du Fresne when he was growing up in Waipukura in Hawkes Bay from the late 1950s to early 1970s.

The aim of the book, du Fresne said at the outset was “to explore the imagined places of my youth…… they made an impression on me when I was at my most impressionable – emotions are so vivid in your teenage years, so all the songs have strong associations for me.”

Du Fresne seems to have been under no illusion at the outset of his journey that he would find exactly what he imagined.

As he points out, the San Jose that was a sleepy little pastoral town Hal David remembered from his youth and dreamed of escaping to in the lyrics of “Do You Know The Way to San Jose” now has a ten lane motorway running through it.

Some places like Bobby Gentry’s Tallahachie bridge exist, but not the town, while  other instances, the places do exist but the writer had never been to them, choosing their name for purposes of alliteration or rhyme. Marty Robbins say “Rosie’s Cantina from his tour bus and grabbed it for El Paso.

However, when du Fresne stood looking over the sea wall to the ocean at Galveston he felt it was a place Jimmy Webb must have visited.

Whatever the potential for disappointment, du Fresne was interested in “going to see some of these places – to learn more about them and what inspired the author to write a song about them.”

The question that naturally arised during the talk was why, of all the countries in the world, the United States has had such a propensity for featuring place names in songs, going back as far back as Home of the Range, Oh Suzanna and other nineteenth century standards.

Du Fresne grew up in a musical household and was serious about his music, playing bass guitar and singing in bands in many of Wellington’s most famous venues of the 1960s from the Majestic Cabaret to the 1860 Hotel.

But he recognised early on that he was never going to be good enough to make a precarious living out it, and instead became a journalist and eventually editor of The Dominion in the late 1980s.

Now a semi-retired freelance writer, du Fresne and wife Jolanta took three road trips through the United States, visiting children and grandchildren as an additional incentive.

The first journey was travelled in a RV (motorhome) “that performed flawlessly when it was stationary” but ranged from the difficult to the dangerous on all other occasions.

For the other two trips, the couple instead hired a car and stayed in the Motel 6 and Super 8 motel chains, low budget but pleasant.

Du Fresne argued in the talk that while great songs have been born in other parts of the United States, the two great centres of American music have been New York, home to large Jewish and Italian communities, and the musical artery that travels north from New Orleans to Memphis and then Nashville – birthplace of jazz, blues, soul and country.

“America is intensely musical but this is where the musical pulse beats most strongly.” Du Fresne also noted that the great American music has always come out of poor communities.

A number of times during the talk du Fresne highlighted the significance of the road to America.

“The road is such a crucial part of American culture – the American mythology of the road – the restless westward push. America has developed a culture that romanticises and almost fetishicises the road.”

Du Fresne read three extracts which gave a taste of the book – a mixture of history, observation and personal experience. His delivery style reminded me somewhat of Australian journalist and satirist Clive James.

One can’t help but feel that time and progress have evaporated whatever charms once existed in many of places cited in song.

But a few have managed to keep their charm, like Mendocino on the northern Californian coast, which impressed du Fresne.

The author also has a fondness for Nashville,  still a comparatively small city of 650,000 that still seems to have a thriving live music culture going on.

Which brings me back to the subject of country music. It is unclear if the strong country flavour of the 24 songs du Fresne chose  is  a reflection of his musical tastes, or suggests country music has had a particularly strong propensity for referencing locations in its lyrics. This may be due to country music’s strong emphasis on story telling, which is inevitably located in place and time.

 There is no definitive answer to this or any of the other questions raised by A Road Tour, but like so much else about music it makes for interesting speculation.

Dave Murphy – blues mojo still working

The Tin Hut, Featherston September 2016

Reviewed by David Famularo

I’ve known Dave Murphy since his family lived in Masterton in the mid-1970s. He had just returned to New Zealand from a sorjourn at Nimbin in northern New South Wales, famous for its alternative lifestyle.

Dave was very much a hippy then but a few years later he was well and truly immersed in the Blues, working for a Masterton market gardening Chinese family at the same time as finishing of an horticultural degree, if I remember correctly.

By the mid-1980s he was already a technically accomplished blues musician. I remember him playing upstairs at the Oak Arcade in lower Cuba Street, one of those trendy new  arcades that replaced the beautiful old buildings in Wellington that were deemed an earthquake risk, part of a destructive frenzy  sparked by the introduction of “Rogernomics”, New Zealand’s version of Monetarism, by the new Labour government.

Dave disappeared off the Wellington music scene after a car crash, the catalyst for a deep depression that saw him give up all music for a significant number of years.

Dave’s journey back to music and his first CD is captured in the film “Yes, That’s Me: Dave Murphy Plays The Blues”. Very much in the classic blues fashion, Dave was rediscovered and appreciated more than ever.

It would be impossible to suppose that such a story lies behind his music, such was the  assured performance Dave gave at The Tin Hut – except perhaps in a small number of spirituals he performs on the night that hint at an inner transformation.

I’m not a huge fan of the song Amazing Grace, I have to say, but Dave’s performance had the conviction of a true believer. He chose to play a much more up tempo version than I’ve heard before which worked to excellent effect.

It is literally decades since I last listened to Dave play live, in the intimate setting of his family’s home. After all those years,  the foundation of his music remains the same finger picking style of the early blues twentieth century musicians he admired then.

There is always the danger that homage can turn into impersonation but Dave has avoided becoming a slave to his heroes, and has instead become a unique performer in his own right.

There has been a noticeable broadening of his repertoire, with the inclusion of some of his own songs that in no way pale in comparison to the standards that fill most of his set.

Dave is a superb guitarist and it is this musicianship that his performance  is founded on, but his singing as well is  stronger than ever.

I suspect the character of his music will continue mature with the years, in the tradition of all good blues singers.

A testament to his performance was how much the musical energy lifted to another level in the space of just his first song, with Dave holding my attention to the very end of a set that started a bit later than it needed to.

Dave has never lost his modesty. His engagement with his audience was as  unpretentious  as ever. It included the story of how he and his dobro were reunited years after it had been stolen. Dave discovered it being played by a friend who had bought it on Trade Me.

Dave pointed out how beautifully the 30 year old dobro had mellowed with age and sounds better than ever. The same could be said of Dave Murphy.

Riki Gooch (0-0) and Campbell Kneale (Birchville Cat Motel)

Reviewed by David Famularo

Wits End, at the southern entrance to Featherston, is better known for its new age products than live music. But this has changed with a partnership between Victoria Brown and musician and artist Campbell Kneale.

Given the unique character of the venue, a brief description is deserved, this being a space about the size of a small living room which makes for limited ticket sales, a homelike environment, and complete focus on the music and musician only an arms-reach away.

I had already listened to recordings of Birchville Cat Motel, the name Kneale usually performs under, but this turned out to be a shadow of the impact his music has when performed live.

Kneale started off by moving into a prayful state, breathing into a microphone to create a sound akin to Tibetan throat singing.

Through a combination of  cheap electronics, percussive instruments and malfunctioning appliances, Kneale then began to gradually alter the texture of the music which evolved into a crescendo of sound and energy, but  never lost its subtlety, or became overpowering.

Anyone who has ever lost themselves totally in music will understand the essence of Kneale’s performance, the difference being that Kneale has trained himself to enter that state of mind in front of a live audience, a feat of courage and skill not to be underestimated.

As the music continued to evolve, Kneale slowly distilled the river of sound back into a human voice but not his, a neat and tidy way of coming back into the conscious realm.

Where Kneale’s music had an almost industrial edge to it, Gooch, best known as a member of Trinity Roots but performing solo under the title “0-0”, was more reminiscent of your French Impressionists like Debussy and Satie, with a delicate and richly melodic composition.

While sitting comfortably under the label of “minimalist electronica”, Gooch’s music was both a classical and jazz inspired – the arrangements were orchestral while the performance was improvised in the spirit of jazz.

While Gooch primarily used electronic instrumentation, he included live percussion to enrich the sound and add extra elements of spontaneity.

The overall impression of the night was that while electronica is mostly critically overlooked, in the hands of musicians like Kneale and Gooch it expresses the present cultural moment better than any other musical genre.

Wairarapa Bush versus East Coast

October 2016

Reviewed by David Famularo

I have to admit a certain level of excitement was building as the recently erected flood lights beckoned me from the grey overcast sky as I drove towards Trust House Memorial Park.

There was a lot riding on this game, at least for Wairarapa Bush  who were playing lowest placed East Coast.

Win the match and they would be in the semi-finals of the Mead Cup which goes to the top team in the Heartland competition – the second tier of provincial rugby, the first being the inspirationally named Mitre 10 Cup.

Lose the match and Wairarapa Bush would be left battling it out for the  Lochore Cup which goes to the top team in the lower half of the Heartland competition.

Plus it was the weekend of the reunion of players, coaches and administrators who were part of  Wairarapa Bush’s last great era of rugby, when the union climbed out of the Second Division to the First Division in 1981 and hung in there till the end of 1987.

That era’s best year was 1985 when Wairarapa Bush achieved fourth place, beating all the major unions except Auckland.

I arrive about 15 minutes before kick-off at 6pm, expecting tickets to be around the $15 to $20 mark but am surprised to find they are just $5 and that includes seats in the grandstand which is good as it is uncertain if the rain that has been around earlier in the day is going to reappear (it doesn’t).

Contemporary R&B pumps from the speakers on the sideline, the teams are warming up on the field, and members of the 1980s teams are mooching about on the recently installed artificial turf.

I easily find a seat dead centre in the grandstand which eventually nearly fills up – a big crowd by normal standards.

Looking around, this is not a typical cross section of your general public, which suggests local rugby does  not get the broad public support it did back 30 years ago.

A group of somewhat cool twenty-somethings sit in front of me, an anomaly in the crowd.

The two teams retreat under the grandstand to emerge about 10 minutes later, the Wairarapa Bush team lead by winger Cameron Hayton who is playing his 50th game for the union, with a guard of honour from the 1980s player, although it seems it should be the other way round as it is the eighties players who are being celebrated this year.

East Coast starts things rolling with a rousing haka. Sometimes during the match this ferocity spills over into a couple of questionable cases of playing the man and not the ball, and a few flare ups between the teams.

All the early pressure is coming from East Coast and as one bench expert a few feet away from me says “You don’t really want to be camped in the corner by your own try line against the lowest team in the competition.”

But against the general run of play the first try comes from Hayton with support from former All Black Zac Guildford.

East Coast reply with their own try about eight minutes later, with Hayton striking again a few minutes later.

It starts to become apparent that while East Coast is playing a fine all round game, Wairarapa Bush just has those couple of backs who can break through at any moment, and this becomes the general story of the game.

At times the Wairarapa Bush scrum and lineout is dominant, and the next moment East Coast is rolling the scrum and stealing the line outs.

Still, Wairarapa Bush looks like a team with potential if it can improve its tactical nous, do the basics like taking down players with the first tackle and getting to the breakdowns quickly.

Wairarapa Bush is only metres from the East Coast try line and with the scrum put in when the half time whistle blows, the home side enjoying a flattering 22-8 lead, but there no sense that the game is in the bag.

The Bee Gees blast from the sideline near where BJ Lochore loiters, All Black captain, coach of Wairarapa Bush in 1981 and 1982, and coach of the 1987 World Cup winning All Black team.

The break over, Wairarapa Bush is on the attack only for East Coast to score a try to bring the score to 14-22.

A few more complaints about the ref’s decisions from the nearby experts  – “He’s a socialist ref – he wants everything to be easy,” then Wairarapa Bush number 10 Sam Monaghan scores the try of the match, breaking a series of tackles for a good long run to under the goal posts.

Hayton arrives at the same destination a few minutes later with his third try, followed a few minutes later by a heavy tackle on a Wairarapa Bush play that sends auditory shock waves right into the grandstand. No one dies though. In fact, it is an almost injury free game.

East Coast is back for another try, and then it is Wairarapa Bush’s turn with a rolling maul to push captain Eddie Cranston over the line.

The conversion attempt from a somewhat challenging angle ricochets off the post but for some reason the ref calls for it to be taken again.

With the game safely in Wairarapa Bush’s hands, this time the ball is  handed over to Hayton in honour of his half century of  games with the ensuing half-hearted kick travelling well east of the goal posts.

The game is over, and all the locals are happy.

It’s a great 80 minutes entertainment for the price of $5. The atmosphere is relaxed and good spirited, and you don’t have to be an avid rugby follower to enjoy the game.

In fact, it offers a refreshing alternative to the excessive hype of Super 18 rugby for people who simply enjoy a good sporting match.



Tour de Science – a science story-telling show

By David Famularo

Thought you might be interested in this” said the note from a friend on a Tour De Science postcard she had posted to me. That wasn’t the only old fashioned thing about the show which featured David  Klein and his “Big Dummy” cargo bike on which he had been cycling around New Zealand, performing in 60 locations over summer.

Now his early thirties, Klein had gone through a stage familiar to many New Zealanders when in his twenties – what am I supposed to be doing with my career/life? A science nerd from an early age, it seemed inevitable Klein would become a scientist.

But he dropped out of university after 18 months and started packing boxes in a factory. Klein isn’t the first academically oriented person to have done this, Arthur Miller, for instance, worked in Brooklyn Navy Yard while writing his early plays.

Klein soon realised basic labouring work was not his future either and returned to university. Receiving his graduation certificate through the post (due to the cancellation of a graduation ceremony because of the Christchurch earthquakes) only brought up the same ennui as before.

Klein loved learning but didn’t love boxes – either packing them or being in one. For the past six months, perhaps temporarily, he has stepped out of a box with Tour de Science, a one man, one hour show in which Klein attempts to share the awe he feels for life and the universe through science.

Can a man and a bike performing for a live audience achieve anything that the Internet can’t? The answer to that is no and yes.

Nothing Klein explains to his audience is not available online but I came away with a better grasp of evolution and DNA than before. Although it wasn’t a part of his talk, I also had a glimpse of an understanding of the theory of relativity.

When Klein was talking about the distance between the earth and other objects to give some sense of the enormity of our universe, he was talking about it in terms of the number of years it takes for light to travel that distance (light years), using a measurement of time that only makes sense when you live on the planet Earth and which would make no sense in another part of the universe – hence the relativity (well, my skewed version of it anyway)

I had a friend drop by this morning who said how he had found a book he had gotten out of the library was too dense to read. I said this was possibly the fault of the author packing too many ideas into every sentence, paragraph and chapter.

Most people can only grasp a small number of big ideas at one time – well that’s the case for me. And here in lies the brilliance of Tour De Science. It doesn’t overload the audience with information, and it explains ideas in a simple logical flow, with amusing props to underline concepts.

Klein also understands that knowledge is a form of sharing, storytelling and entertainment. When he wore a large silver disc of the moon, Klein reminded me of Flavor Flav, hype man for rap group Public Enemy wearing a giant clock while on stage.

A “hype man” contributes to a performance of a band by using themselves as a prop, much like Klein used his body and his life story to encourage a love of learning.


Geoff Walker – side by side with Uganda

By David Famularo

Sitting down to some chips and pizza in a Masterton cafe with Geoff Walker, he hands me a stapled five sheets of A4 paper headlined “SidebySideUganda – Projects: A 4 year vision”. It’s an intriguing list of 16 projects over the next four years. It’s an eclectic mix that includes four containers of educational, humanitarian and farming goods over four years, 7000 Wairarapa school students supporting the education of children at Awere Primary School in Ludok Village, recording the experiences of refugees, and a business making reusable sanitary pads.

Geoff is the first to admit he’s not your conventional aid worker, but he has managed to whip up a lot of support for his projects already, and just as importantly, he has built connections between residents of the Wairarapa and around the village of Ludok in Uganda where Geoff has made his home away from home.

This incredible journey began in 2012. A friend from Denmark had made a number of trips to Uganda to deliver containers of donated goods. “She had travelled to Uganda a few times and had always said ‘Come and take some photos.’ You always go ‘yeah yeah, I will do that some time.’ Then in 2012 she was going again and maybe this would be her last visit. She said ‘You should come’ and I thought ‘what a good idea’ – getting away from here. 2012 was an interesting time.” Geoff is referring to the Carterton balloon disaster he had witnessed first-hand just 10 months earlier, photographing the passengers before the flight, as he always did.

“I went there [Uganda] for about three weeks, got introduced to different people and ended up in this area in the north so then I went back in 2013. I thought ‘what a nice place, the people are great.’ I felt compelled. Here’s my friend doing something, these people have been hard done by, we are one world, we are one family. They have a strong connection to us because of the Commonwealth and we’ve done nothing. Because of the Commonwealth connections there are a lot of things that make doing things a little easier, they even drive on the left hand side of the road like us, stuff like that which makes engagement a little easier. So that’s how it started off!”

young geoff walker

It was all a new experience for Geoff. “I’d never done anything like this before. I was in the Lions Club and that’s about serving your community. There’s a picture of me in the Wairarapa Times Age, I must have been about nine or ten, outside our house in Cole Street, in presenting a bag of money to the IHC director because I had raised money by having a cake stall and stuff like that outside our house.”

At this point Geoff breaks into a hearty laughter, much as he does throughout the interview. “Where it comes from, David, I’m sure, is people have been really kind to me, people have been really, really kind to me. I’ve had an interesting life, that’s for sure.”

Along with an altruistic streak, Geoff has always been a creative free spirit. “I’ve always been creative. I’ve been into photography for a long time, a long, long time, even at school (Wairarapa College). I met Doctor Roger Freeth one time who said ‘You don’t know how far you can go until you have gone too far.” Geoff follows up that comment with another hearty laugh.

“I’ve meet lots of interesting people in my life. I had the only the third digital photo printing machine in the world in my shop in Auckland. It cost $300,000 which was a lot of money. I had a photo shop in Remuera, one in downtown Auckland before that. Things had gone to crap. Things had gone not very well for all sorts of reasons so I came back to the Wairarapa [in 2001]. “In 2000 I stopped drinking, that’s a good thing, and I even I’ve stopped smoking.”

Geoff is not averse to taking detours along the path of the interview and at this point takes the opportunity to slam the influence of alcohol on society. “Alcohol is an avoidance of reality and that’s why governments like it. It’s easy to control people. Look at the Aborigines, look at what’s happened to them. Same thing’s happening in Africa. They have got a horrific drinking problem. That includes Uganda. “It’s soul destroying. Drinking is soul destroying. that is what had happened to me, it was destroying my soul. Now it’s not (laughs) and that’s great.”

As can be seen from the preceding comments, Geoff is not impressed with some of the changes Western culture has had on Uganda. “It’s getting worse and worse, Westernization is destroying the culture. What do Westerners do – go and conquer places and look what we are doing – we are destroying the world. It’s not working, what we are doing is not working.”

“I feel quite pleased that when I decided to go the first time, I thought long and hard about it,” Geoff reflects .“I looked up about Uganda because like you I didn’t know much about it. It had been kept pretty low key. Religion has been through there like a dose of salts as well, so they are confused by that. What does religion to tell? – that you are bad and you are going to go to hell. Guess what, bad is a judgement and religion says don’t judge. It’s taken away their way which worked very well. Bits of their culture are still there but it’s being eroded away, and that’s sad. Look at here, we are trying to get our culture back.”

At this point Geoff takes a sudden 45 degree turn at that last thought. ”How cool is this – at the signing [of the Treaty of Waitangi settlement between Wairarapa Maori iwi Rangitane and the Government in Wellington] they have got me as their photographer. What an honour, how humbling, what a wonderful honour.”

Anyone familiar with Geoff on Facebook will know that he loves taking and posting photos of his everyday life. “People appreciate what I am doing because I am living in the village, I am there as a participant, not as an observer. “I’m sharing their life, I live like they do. I live in a hut, I eat their food. We don’t have power.”

geoff walker home

What’s in  your hut? “Oh yeah, a mattress. We are fenced off, they connect and we are continually building more fences around ourselves and we wonder why we have problems. We are not connected any more. “Guess what? We are like molecules, the Earth is such a small dot within the context of the solar system, the galaxy etc, we are nothing, and yet we are everything at the same time.”

“But look at our society, we build more and more fences and we have more and more rules, they’re stupid rules. You can’t protect people from themselves and life still happen, accidents still happen. “In the context of the village they work with nature, not try and force nature – that’s what we need to learn from them.”

I have to confess that I quite like my fences but I appreciate what Geoff is achieving in building bridges between the two communities. I ask him what he has to say to people might ask why they should give money for his projects when there are other established aid agencies they can donate to. “Because there’s value in connecting people with people, you know? Making it a personal thing. It’s taking away the fence between us, its opening up that channel again, and I think there is a lot we can learn from each other, that’s really the key. Aid agencies do great jobs. I’m not putting them down, but those [personal] connections are what we are missing in the world.”

Geoff has been organising a more formal structure for his projects. By the time you read this, a Charitable Trust called the Sidebyside Foundation will have been established. “From my own point of view, because it’s gone big, it needs that structure,” Geoff says. “It just means it is moving to another level –I’m really proud of that. It’s not about me, it’s about doing the good stuff and that’s a wonderful thing.”

As highlighted earlier, there are certainly an interesting variety of projects on the go, other’s being LEAP – Lions clubs supporting the empowerment of Albinos in northern Uganda and Coffee Kids – ten children supported from cafes in the Wairarapa. It was interesting to hear an interview on Nights With Bryan Crump on Radio New Zealand where he interviewed the founder of an aid project that simply donates cash to those who need it, with the faith that they know best what to use the money on and will spend it wisely. A similar sort of philosophy informs Geoff’s projects. “Instead of us saying they should do this and that, just let them do what they need. Actually, we can learn a lot from them. We’ve got a lot to learn.”

On the other hand, Geoff has been grateful for the huge support he has received from Wairarapa residents. “I just talk to people, people are enthusiastic. The Wairarapa has great people.” He cites Farmers4Farmers where Wairarapa farmers and others will support a programme of $15,000 over four years to revitalise and develop the farming capacity of Ludok, the village he lives in, assisting in its recovery from the civil war in northern Uganda from 1996 to 2006 between the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and government of President Yoweri.

“Most of the projects are designed as a four year thing, to get people going again thing. Then we will see what happens. They have had enough aid and dependence on aid for too long. “All the projects have the aim of being self-sufficient. We surveyed 128 kids and their families around the village last year. The average family income is around US$200 a year. It’s all subsistence. I was  aiming for grass roots [assistance]. It started with wanting to support the kids and the farming was their idea. I said ‘What do you really need a hand with and what could really make a difference’ and they said ‘Help us to get our farming going again, and educating the kids.’ So that is what they wanted and everything else has flowed from that. Because they lost all that stuff in that war and it still hasn’t been returned. There is a whole range of projects but they are all interlinked. It’s just connecting the dots.”

boy with chicken

Geoff remembers a former boss saying he could sell anything, even sanitary pads, which fate has proved true. Lions and Lioness clubs are supporting the development and implementation of a programme for the manufacture and supply of reusable sanitary pads as a small business, along with tailoring, enabling female students and others to lead full lives free from the constraints menstruation can cause, saving money and creating a small business. “I knew that was a something that was needed and it was something simple.”

There are also plans for a “Heather Burgess Nursery School” comprising three rooms and named after a Featherston woman. “Just ten days prior to her passing, Heather asked me to visit her. She’s always followed me and chipped in $20 bucks here and there – someone with a heart. When I came back ‘I thought must go and see her.’ I hadn’t picked up how sick she was. A few weeks ago I get a message on Facebook. ‘Look Geoff, come and see me before I die. I want to give you some money.’ We had a chat and then she got tired as you would expect and then she gave me some money because she knows I don’t have any money. It was very touching and humbling.”

Geoff is open about how he has managed to come so far without having a full-time job. “I’m trying to support myself by selling my photos. I get asked ‘How do you support yourself?’ A friend of mine drank himself to death a few years ago. He was a smart money person. He gave half of his estate to ten of his friends. It was nearly up to six figures I got, so that has enabled me to do this. And his brother goes, ‘This is so cool. He would be delighted by what I’m doing’ – that’s true. What a nice thing! “That enabled me to do it, buy the tools I needed. I haven’t gone on a cruise or something self-indulgent. It’s good that people know that because they go ‘Gulp, how are you surviving?’ Well that’s how I survive. I’ve got nothing to hide.”

Geoff is equally open about his experience of a night of imprisonment which made the news back in New Zealand. “The funny thing was, I was arrested partly because I had this t shirt on which is from the Bayimba Arts Festival.” He pulls out a yellow T-shirt which he had been given when he ran a photography workshop at the festival last year. Geoff and his driver were taking an albino boy to have his eyes tested at a low vision centre. But it turned out that that day the main opposition party – whose colour is blue – was holding a rally in the same town (NB the government colour is blue).

“I was by the army barracks just by chance taking pictures of the nearby mountain. We had gone past the spot where it was good to take a photo. I thought this is  hopeless because there are all these slummy looking buildings in front of me. Anyway, I had just jumped back on the bike and all these guys came running out saying ‘What are you doing, these are army barracks blah blah blah. I said ‘Look, I’m sorry, I didn’t know and I was not taking pictures of the buildings, I was taking pictures of the mountain behind.”

“They believed me but said ‘We will have to get the intelligence officer to come and make sure it’s okay.’ The intelligence officer eventually came and he was okay. But while we were waiting for him to come, the girl from the village rang to see how the day had gone. When she found out where we were she panicked and rang a friend who rang the presidential offices in the State House. The man in the State House rang his boss and he ran the police. The army guy is talking to me and then the phone rings. He goes away and then comes back and says ‘I was just going to let you go’ – it had all been friendly – he says ‘That was the police in State House and they are sending someone out from the town to collect you.’ Because they need to take statements. Everyone is trying to look good, because you are a foreigner as well.”

“Then the police come and they were nice too. But it is maybe 9pm at night. They have got to do everything by the book because the orders have come from State House, so everything had to be done properly. I was questioned and so was the nurse who was helping the albino boy. They just wanted to make sure everything was covered so State House didn’t come back with more questions. So that was that. In some ways it was funny. So I had to stay in the cells. I got out the next day about lunch time.”

I ask Geoff if he is worried about being viewed with suspicion by the government, especially given his outspoken views. “I do. They know what you are doing and keep an eye on you – Yeah, I get warned.” So how have you managed to walk that tightrope so far? “The people are just nice. They are ordinary people. Even the police and military, they’ve all been good. But they keep an eye on me, I know that. But I don’t try and stay out of the political side of it “I’ve been warned about making comments on Facebook, because they monitor it all.”


One of Geoff’s most endearing projects is LEAP – supporting the empowerment of Albino’s in Norther Uganda. “They need special things like sunscreen, eyeglasses,, reading aids and even long sleeved clothes, and if we can provide them with education as well – they are less likely to get an education. But we can do that, that helps the families as well, you know? Do you think people seeing others helping albinos helps change people’s perception of them? Of course it does. I know it does because the first boy we’ve been supporting for a year and a half with our lion groups, I’ve been to his school twice. They are doing a great job, making everyone aware he is just normal, instead of being hidden away. We still do that with disabilities here. People who are different get pushed away.”

As a “mzungu” or European, how is Geoff viewed by the locals, I ask. “They are looked up at, looked down at, all of those things depending on the person who is doing the looking “Most people are great. They understand that you are there to help out and are just a human being.”

We end the interview with a brief discussion on the temperature and geography of Uganda, as you do. “They have the perfect climate, 28 degrees all day. The whole country is about a 1000 metres above sea level. It goes up to about 35 degrees and comes down to about 20, and at night time it’s probably about 18. There is plenty of vegetation. It’s tropical. Up north it gets a bit dry.”

I inquire as to whether the country has a litter problem as in common in many developing countries. “They have a litter problem. Because you see, it’s all non-biodegradable stuff which comes from Western culture, everything they have decomposes except the Western stuff – that’s a problem.”

Does Geoff have any advice for others interested in pursuing a similar path? “Yeah, follow your nose. Listen to your heart and intuition, not your head, because that is where your truth is. Your truth is in your soul, not your head.”

You can view more of Geoff’s photography at the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/geoffwalkernz

And website http://sidebysidewithgeoff.nz/

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Trust House Theatre, Rathkeale College, Masterton

 Saturday 1 – Wednesday 6 July 2016

Reviewed by David Famularo

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is all about magic. And there is plenty of magic in this production by the Rathkeale/St Matthew’s senior college. To the point where there is a touch of melancholy coming back to reality when the lights go up and you are back in your car heading home.

The fine line between reality and dreaming is one of the many intriguing and entertaining themes Shakespeare explores in Dream. He saves one of his best lines on this theme for the end of the play, spoken by the spontaneous and unpredictable fairy Puck:

“If we shadows have offended,

Think but this, and all is mended,

That you have but slumber’d here

While these visions did appear.”

Dream is one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, and deservedly so. It is brimful with some of his most quotable lines, most famously “The course of true love never did run smooth.”  It’s a credit to this cast, its co-directors Joanne Simpson and Matt Hudson, and production team that the audience is able to dine out so fully on the language.

This is a visually and aurally sumptuous production that makes it easy to believe in fairies. You are consistently led from one pleasant surprise to another, not the least being two songs sung beautifully in the middle of the performance.

One of the strengths of this production is that it captures the unique nuances of each of the four relationships in question. For example, at first we are meant to despise the forced love of the Theseus, Duke of Athens over his conquered bride Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. But their love grows in a way that makes sense within the world of power in which they are fated to exist.

I like to call Coronation Street the Shakespeare of soap operas because like the Elizabethan playwright, its writers know the human heart. In places, the plot in Dream plays like one of those story lines in Coro Street, with misunderstandings, mistaken identities and general confusion.

Shakespeare gently exposes the flaws in each of his characters but ultimately Dream manages to find good in everyone. Anger is just a momentary confusion on the way towards a normal state of happiness and peace.

In between his musings on the nature of reality, and the magic of romance, Shakespeare still finds room to tease the more amateur thespians of his generation, who become a group of bumbling amateur actors putting on a play to impress at the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta.

Even here Shakespeare can’t resist creating a fourth dimension by holding a play within a play, much like artists and film makers have used mirrors and reflections to create infinity. He even manages to embed the Romeo and Juliet ending into his amateur production. Clever.

It was Aristotle who coined the term “suspension of disbelief” for the way humans will suspend normal day-to-day reality while enjoying storytelling, whether around a fire, in a book, or watching a play or film.

With its beautiful fairies, stunning stage sets and excellent acting, this production made the leap from reality to fantasy an easy one, and delivered its opening-night audience into the enchanting slumber of a midsummer’s night dream in the middle of winter.

Kermadec – Lines in the Ocean

Aratoi Wairarapa Museum of Art & History, Masterton, November 2016

Reviewed by David Famularo

Probably the most affective book on New Zealand art I have ever read is “In Search of Paradise: Artists and Writers in the Colonial South Pacific” by Graeme Lay.

Copies of this richly illustrated and well-written book were sitting in a pile at Paper Plus Masterton for $10 each. After buying one and starting to read it, I went back and bought a couple more to give as gifts.

In Search of Paradise permanently changed my inner sense of geography. I started thinking of myself as living on an island in the Pacific after a whole lifetime of knowing this fact but not really feeling  it.

The book gave the sense of how new arrivals to New Zealand saw this country and the other islands of the South Pacific as alien environments upon which to imprint their ideals and imaginations of social, political and sexual utopias.

There are occassional echoes of In Search of Paradise in the journey of nine leading New Zealand artists  – Phil Dadson, Bruce Foster, Fiona Hall, Gregory O’Brien, Jason O’Hara, John Pule, John Reynolds, Elizabeth Thomson and Robin White – on the HMNZS Otago from Auckland, northward through the Kermadec region, towards the Kingdom of Tonga.

The Kermadec Islands are a subtropical island arc in the South Pacific Ocean,  around 1000 kilometres northeast of New Zealand, uninhabited, except for the permanently manned Raoul Island Station, the northernmost outpost of New Zealand.

The Kermadec Trench is one of Earth’s deepest oceanic trenches, reaching a depth of 10,047 metres. The New Zealand government’s attempt to create a  620,000 square kilometre Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary has ground to a halt, at least for the moment, after opposition from Maori Iwi who were not consulted as required by the Treaty of Waitangi.

In Search of Paradise explored “the magnetic attraction of the South Pacific for artists, writer and others who chronicled the European discovery of the islands of New Zealand,” according to its publicity.

In a similar fashion, the promotional material for “Kermadec – Lines in the Ocean” says it  “celebrates the artists’ journey and shines a spotlight on the extraordinary and special features that define the Kermadec region and connect us to the Pacific.”

Even now, the search for an untainted paradise in the Pacific seems to be as strong as ever. But the reality is that we are now living on a planet where people have to fight to save the last remnants of nature from exploitative destruction.

So it comes as no surprise that the Kermadecs are under the same sort of pressure as other parts of the world.

This journey was in fact initiated by the Kermadec Initiative of the Pew Environment Group to promote the establishment of a sanctuary.

I doubt that any of the 11 artists on board the Otago was so  naive as to expect an unspoiled paradise. Never-the-less Bruce Foster was compelled to photograph the litter he found  in just one 25 metre stretch of beach on Raul Island after a cyclone.

Fiona Hall highlighted the forces of exploitation above and below the water  – those wanting to fish it, mine, or militarise it.

The journey doesn’t appear to have led to any radical change in the nature of each artist’s work, but there is a wide range of media presented thanks to their diversity.

Elizabeth Thomson displays her typical light oriented abstraction, while Robin White opts to use tapa design to tell the story of the Bell Family who lived on Sunday Island (as Raoul Island used to be known) for 35 years from 1878.

John Reynolds

I particularly enjoyed the high standard of draughtmanship, especially in the etchings by a number of the artists, and the two abstract two tone paintings by John Reynolds (pictured above) of the wake of the Otago.

Most of the journey is spent at sea. I like the tale Greg Obrien tells of John Pule, whom he was already collaborating with before the journey, sitting on the deck of the ship for hours.

“Maybe the great lesson I learned from him was not to learn from nature or evoke it, but to place yourself in the midst of it.”

Never-the-less most of the artworks are preoccupied with the only landmass the artists visited.

Jason O’Hara’s experience of Raoul Island which is a semi-active volcano (its last eruption in 2006 killed a Department of Conservation officer) reminds me of how I felt during my visit to Stromboli, an active volcano off Sicily.

“I am haunted by the memory of Raoul. It invades my every day thoughts, summoning me to return. it hasn’t finished with me yet. I could feel it watching as we explored. A great visitor from the depths that has risen to our world, tolerating our presence as it has so many others. But at any moment it could flick us off when we cease to amuse.”

Elizabeth Thomson had been familiar with Raoul since the 1970s through an ornithologist friend who had spent time there.

“I was struck with the contrast between the vastness of the setting and the intimacy of what was in front of the lense – mosses, lichens, fungi, and also the petrels nesting deep inside burrows.”

According to John Reynolds,  “our role is to point at something and we do this by making art work,” which neatly sums up the purpose of the trip.

The effectiveness of sending artists off remote South Pacific Islands or the Antarctic is debatable, given the limited audience the visual arts have in New Zealand.

But every little bit helps, especially when it is being put to a good cause like raising awareness of the value of the Kermadecs.

Top photo: Elizabeth Thomson, left, John Pule, right

Farewell Zealandia – Forgotten Kiwi Songs of World War I

Farewell Zealandia

Roger Wilson sings, Brett Lowe conducts

By David Famularo, April 2016

Featherston has always had a strong connection with World War I due to its proximity of New Zealand’s largest training camp, which was just a couple of kilometres north of the south Wairarapa town.

However, I can remember a time, growing up in Masterton, when most memories of the camp focused on its role during World War II as a Japanese Prisoner of War camp, and specifically the incident in which 64 prisoners were killed, 94 wounded and one New Zealander killed.

Times have changed and the World War I camp is almost the sole focus of discussion. Almost nothing of it remains, as all the buildings were either demolished or moved off the camp immediately after World War I.

However, Featherston itself still enjoys an amenity built by citizens of the town for the soldiers – Anzac Hall – a stunning building, rich in native timber and the spirit of the past. Which makes it an ideal venue for Farewell Zealandia, a series of three concerts of “forgotten Kiwi songs of World War I”.

It is also hosting the companion exhibition of the same title, originally created for Te Manawa Museum in Palmerston North, which will later appear at Aratoi Wairarapa Museum of Art & History.

This first concert featured the luxury of an 11 piece salon orchestra (popular in the 1910s and 1920s) as well as four vocal soloists, with the Anzac Hall showing it has outstanding acoustics for this type of performance.

The conductor was Brett Lowe who also did an outstanding job of arranging the music based on 100 year old sheet music that likely only had the vocal melody and accompanying piano arrangement. The quality of the performance was all the more impressive given the musicians only had one rehearsal, in the morning of the concert.

The brains behind the concept are David Dell, archivist and historian at the Sheet Music Archive of New Zealand Trust, and Tony Rasmussen, social history curator at Te Manawa.

The two hour concert was built around Dell’s telling of the stories of the composers and lyricists behind each of the 10 songs performed by the orchestra and singers. These opened the door to another world, and to some degree the lives of the songwriters, which being a time of war naturally includes both tragedy and romance.

Much of the details of their lives has melted into the mist of time, but good luck and the sort of synchronicities that have “meant to be” written all over them, prised open the door of their lives just enough to let the light shine through all the way to 2016.

One example of this was Arthur Vivian Carbines who Dell could find no information on till a desperate-last, minute long-shot phone call on a trail that had seemingly gone cold got him in contact with Carbines’ great nephew Allan Carbine who told him the tragic tale Carbine’s death on the New Zealand assault on Chunuk Bair at Gallipoli.

Carbines, who had joined a medical unit only a few weeks earlier, was carrying back the wounded Lieutenant Colonel William George Malone, commanding officer of the Wellington Battalion, when a soldier mistook them for Turks and shot them dead. Allan said the story was told to his mother in an Auckland bank by a teller who was at Gallipoli with Carbines, and recognised the surname as possibly being that of a relative.

Even the photo of Allan Carbines that is in the exhibition has an unusual story. It was one of a number of photographic portraits of staff killed in the war that was hung in the offices of Carbines’ employer for many years, rediscovered many years later by someone who was sorting through a deceased relative’s estate, who had thoughtfully searched for a family member to pass it on to. They had been put in contact with Allan who brought the photograph to the opening of the exhibition at Te Manawa, revealing a pleasant and sensitive subject.

Arthur Vivian Carbines
Arthur Vivian Carbines

As for romance, that belongs to Corporal Ernest Franz Luks and pianist Winifred Lonsdale who performed together at Trentham and Featherston military camps, becoming the first couple to be married at Featherston military camp in 1916.

As Dell pointed out, it is highly likely the couple performed in the Anzac Hall at some point, making a performance of Ernest song “Trentham” in the same hall 100 years later all the more poignant.

People don’t realise how many songs were written by New Zealanders during World War I, Dell said in his introduction, with the archive holding the sheet music for 500 songs. Most were printed in small numbers of perhaps 50 copies or so. However, an exception would be Henry Ribbands and Charles James’ Land of the Long White Cloud which became the official marching song of the New Zealand troops in France.

Barrie Marschell, author of “There’s Only One Way Home, boys. It’s Through Berlin” – went on to have his music published in Australia, the United States and Britain after the war.

Generally speaking the 10 songs in this concert could be described as simplistic, sentimental to maudlin, patriotic to jingoistic, but also sincere in their feelings. There’s very little in the way of a real connection with the horrors of war, although Charles Fleming’s “Mrs Tommy Atkins” does ask the question of who will look after the women and children back home.

They are also extraordinarily sexless in the broadest sense of the word to include any sort of rhythm that we would associate with dance these days. It took the influence of black American music to enter the popular mainstream, finally arriving in New Zealand with rock & roll in the 1950 for music here to get jiggy. Before that New Zealand music was even more prim and proper than that of the mother country where at least the working classes added a bit bawdiness.

There’s no music that comes from an overtly female point of view either. The one woman composer, Elizabeth Ferguson Hume, is represented with “Lads of the Silver Fern” which could just have easily have been written by one of the male composers.

Just ahead of the national anthem – God Defend New Zealand – a song with its own fascinating history explained by Dell, which made much more sense as a composition as part of this concert, there was time for a few questions, the best and most intriguing of which was why there had been no songs written by Maori played.

Dell explained that some of these will appear in the final two concerts which will be performed by a trio. Interestingly, he pointed out that while in Britain (and here) people still remember some of the popular British songs of World War I such

It’s a Long Way to Tipperary and Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag, ours are almost completely forgotten – except for three Maori compositions – Pokarekare Ana, Now Is The Hour/Po Atarau (which was actually based on the melody of The Swiss Cradle Song by Clement Scott), and one other (the name of which I didn’t catch).

Dell surmised that this was because Maori continue to sing the songs of the past while European New Zealanders don’t. This may be true, but I’m also inclined to believe that Maori in general had a gift for musicality that was much more fluid and melodic compared to that of the relatively stiff European based popular songs of the same time. Songs like Pokarekare Ana remain ageless to this day, whereas the European compositions played here are very much a part of their time only.

Nevertheless, this first Farewell Zealandia concert was an enjoyable and very rare journey into a unique moment in New Zealand’s musical history, and certainly expanded my musical knowledge and experience into yet another sphere. It will be interesting to see what the next two concerts at 2pm on Sunday 10 April and Sunday 24 April reveal.

Further details of the upcoming concerts can be found here: http://www.eventfinda.co.nz/2016/farewell-zealandia-concert-series/featherston

Bush, Bog, Brine and Bugle: Yestermusic of Featherston County – Featherston’s Finest

Yestermusic of Featherston county

Reviewed by David Famularo

Bush, Bog, Brine and Bugle: Yestermusic of Featherston County is not so much an embellishment on factual history but a subtle re-invention of it – reviving the past but informing it with contemporary twists. At first the conceit is not obvious which is part of the wit of this collection of songs, ostensibly from Featherston’s settler past.

Through the 12 songs on this CD, producer Chris Miller has created a series of evocative myths. Yestermusic is also theatre to the point where the potpourri of musicians Miller has employed are called the “Players” Through them and some masterful number 8 wire production skills, he has brought alive a parade of almost forgotten characters.

The types will be familiar but their stories are not. Recording the characters of local history was a more haphazard affair 100 years ago, usually simple one or two paragraph anecdotes that passed from one generation to another.

Diaries that revealed the inner lives were few and far between. They would more likely record the number of bean seeds planted in spring than a settler’s feelings about their lives in their new home. Of course, there were exceptions, sometimes in letters to family and friends back home, but all in all, New Zealand’s European settlers were a taciturn lot, particularly the males who considerably outnumbered the females.

Miller has gone to considerable effort to research the times his characters lived in. The liner notes are an impressive piece of work, filling in details about the songs and enriching their meaning.

Many of the songs stand on their own merit as entertaining and often poignant tunes. One of the most beautiful and moving is Te Tuna Heke, sung in Maori, a sad farewell from an eel (tuna) who lived in New Zealand for 80 or so years who is departing for its final trip to spawning grounds far away in the South Pacific. Likewise the tara tern, which migrates between the Arctic and Antarctic circle several times during its life which asks itself if it is ready for the long journey.

Take away the Wee Fish has a more overt ecological theme, being a prescient ecological morality tale 100 years ahead of its time, its author “Fabian Guinness” considered a madman for seeing the danger of oil to the earth’s oceans.

Miller’s strong personal connection with Italy comes out in the fate of Ava Ragnatella, the Italian wife of a cruel immigrant Yorkshire farmer, whose fate is connected to the phenomenon of tarantism and the pizzica or spider dance from her home region of Apulia.

The little boot maker Rutherford did indeed lead recruits over the Rimutaka hill from Featherston Military Camp to Trentham from whence they departed for waiting ships in Wellington harbour, as can be found in a letter to the editor at Papers Past. But whether the rag he supposedly wrote ever existed is a mute point.

No Google search will find any pages dedicated to the subject of the Ballad of Swagman Magee. Instead it is an entertaining yarn with just the right amount of tongue in cheek humour to leaven its warning to all young men.

One of Yestermusic’s most charming moments, and the one that ends the collection is The Last Post (The Poppy & The Fern). Ostensibly a remastered recording of an original sound recording in situ by Canadian sound recordist Samuel Beaumont in 1918, it captures enthusiastic but terribly disfigured former soldier Timothy Mandrake playing the Last Post on harmonica somewhere in the bush above where soldiers were bivouacking for the night as part of their training. Scratches and hiss from the original recording remain. Like most of Yestermusic, a grand piece of historical imagining.

Here is a link to the album liner notes online (http://bit.ly/1OK0wcQ) or search for “Featherston’s Finest” on Spotify or iTunes. For more info on the album, contact Chris Miller at featherstonsfinest@gmail.com.