Monday, December 08, 2008

Bill Direen's notes from the road

Tonight Bill Direen and the Bilders play the last gig in their epic tour of the Land of the Long White Cloud. They're finishing up in Lyttleton, after fighting their way through the North Island, down the wild West Coast of Te Wai Pounamu, and through the student bars and country pubs of Otago and Canterbury.

Bill has just sent me this off-the-cuff account of his adventures, which I've interspersed with some photos from the band's pre-tour rehearsals and their gigs in Auckland and Raglan.

Dear Scott,

One concert to go and I finally have an hour or so free to tell you more about the tour. It's been great. After we parted at Raglan the band headed south to New Plymouth where there were a few fun and games with a semi-operable P.A. As at the PR Bar last year there was a lot of experimenting and messing around with
cables and speaker combinations and, as has happened many times in this new Bilders life, we got a workable PA a-happening minutes before the gig. No sound man, so we had to regulate it ourselves, but a fine gig. We could all hear ourselves and the others on stage.

Many people don't realise how hard that is sometimes. Some bands are literally working in mute mode, just going through the drum patterns or bass lines and not hearing the finished mix. We usually manage to get a good onstage sound. And the results on this tour have been just fine.

Happy punters. Not many punters in New Plymouth, but a tight set. We slept on floors or mattresses on floors or couches and took off in two vehicles next morning. Brett and Richard and I went around the mountain and visited Parihaka Pa, paying homage to Te Whiti. I sang a song I wrote twenty years ago
about passive resistance, based on the words of a later passive resistant, and a more famous one, Gandhi:

When the black hand rages
when it uses brute force
we must fight it with peace
with truth force

If it spits out our names
and reverts to insult
we must fight it with silence
it will never exult

We may have to endure
bitter harm bitter cold
our houses pulled down
our properties sold

but we must never engage
in crime or outrage
we must never engage

we will never engage
in crime or outrage
we will never engage

Palmerston North Public Library extended its hours so that Andrew McCully and I could play a set for the patient audience. Andrew played the library's in-house piano and I played a quiet guitar. We played a mix of songs from the new album and older Bilders material. We were invited to stay at local musician Rob Thorne's house where we practised in the evening.

Thorne arrived with his orchestra of hand-made percussive and wind instruments, all made out of local shells or bones, or wood. There was a conch shell, seal bones, and a flute drilled by a puriri moth. He played them all for me in a sort of private concert...and it was spell-binding.

We hit Wellington and met up with many old friends. Some had travelled from the middle of the North Island to catch the show. We were joined by Mary Anne Bourke for this show, who sang on a couple of songs from Dial a Claw, the theatre show that was performed at BATS Theatre in Wellington in 1991. Some members of the original cast turned out.

The band set was free but tight in Wellington. Some think it was the best set of the tour. Local musician Vorn joined us in Wellington and would help out with an opening set at most of the venues to follow. He also helped the tired band with carrying and sweeping. Who was it told me you should never act on a stage that you haven't also swept?! We didn't have any choice about that, but everyone carried his weight.

A presence that I haven't mentioned yet, and one that had been with us since Auckland, is Campbell Walker, who asked if he could film the gigs on tour. He conducted some interviews along the way and hopes to turn the footage into a film. Though he and I had some communication difficulties at the beginning, we have reached a good understanding now.

Next gig was the ferry crossing, where Andrew McCully and I again performed as a duo, including some entertainment for some very small children. I drew out some old folk songs and the voyage sped by. We drove over to Takaka for an evening of wonderful hospitality. The local beer, the exquisite cuisine, the hand-built exotic timber houses, and the Mussel Inn, an old venue which holds a special place in our memories.

The following night we performed in Nelson in a theatre situation that contrasted with the wild experience for all that was the Mussel Inn. I was happy to be in a theatre space again and felt quite at home. A few problems with the PA were resolved in time. The audience was quiet and attentive and the evening carefully structured like a theatre event.

I told a few anecdotes about my theatre experiences with the likes of Ngaio Marsh and alternative collectives in Wellington and the owners of the Independent warmly invited us back next time we are in the area.

Greymouth (Frank's) was wild. A dramatic electrical storm hit outside just as we were playing 'Red Sky', and really, the entire evening seemed to have been planned by the gods. There was a broad mix of people, young, old, NZ and foreign, those who liked my acoustic work and those who preferred the 'Accident' phase of freer freak-outs.

Andrew Maitai (drummer and tour economist) stayed up till dawn with a couple of local fannettes but Brett and Richard and I retired early. This great night was set up by Rex Bourke who played a stunning guitar set before us. He and Ellen and Mark (of the venue) saw us off in the morning on an eight hour drive to Wanaka.

More notes to come...


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