13th Floor Explores the NZ Festival

The New Zealand Festival kicked off in Wellington this weekend. Tim Gruar was there to sample some of the music events on offer, including a dance production with music by Eden Mulholland, new soul singer, Teeks, an historical take on pop in Te Reo from Ria Hall and the return of jazz sax player Nathan Haines.

Rushes – Friday 22nd February, Circa Theatre


First up was Rushes, a unique blend of dance, music and audience interaction created by Malia Johnston, Rowan Pierce and Eden Mulholland. When you arrive at Circa Theatre the first thing you notice is that literally everything except the Bar and ticket booth is covered in white paper. The audience are encouraged to explore the whole building. This maze of rooms and corridors is sprinkled with dancers. In one corner dancers stand rigid, shivering. Room after room, we explore, down warrens of corridors, inside a television set or into a void (created by a single intense white light and dry ice). There are peep hole in the walls that look up into other rooms, a voyeuristic view of what you just witnessed. A balloon room.

In the centre is a large space where dancers work away in front of the band (the Mulholland Brothers) who create a programme of ethereal electronica that echoes throughout the entire Circa theatre. Dancers fill the space and as you move so do they. They play individual characters but become one unit as chaos forms a final ensemble piece and starts to make sense. Even my 6 year old got it. “It’s about how we all rush around, crazy and no knowing where we are going but in the end we come together to work as one.” If you get a chance, go and see this. It’s an alarming but comforting work that can only be experienced in the moment.

Teeks – Saturday 23 February – Festival Club

To create an intimate atmosphere the Festival Club has returned to the Wellington waterfront with the Speigeltent. Set up like a Victorian circus tent, only small and cosy, with stained glass windows, booth seats around the outside and folding seats in the centre. With a bar at one end and a small stage at the other, gigs are designed around a one hour programme, often playing back-to-back. So you get mainly bands with acoustic or simple setups. The idea is to get the audience close to the performers.

Photo supplied by NZ Festival

We got pretty close with Te Karehana Gardiner (aka Teeks), who was accompanied  by Nick Dow on keys and violin, Sheridan Ngaropo Tetai (BV’s) and Abraham Kunin on jazz guitar. Teeks’ voice was pure, sweet soul. He blew away the capacity crowd. On record Teeks sounds like many up and coming u-soul pretty boys. But in the flesh, with production and effected stripped away it’s really just him and his voice. That’s a different matter. It’s a mix of soft, sweet, with a little bit of bass behind it. He sings with ease and little real effort.

Teeks was stoked at the turn out for this early show, his first proper concert and overwhelmed by the response. His band played quietly and respectfully, but never really opened up. I think they realised this was Teeks’ moment. Even backing singer Sheridan was a little reluctant to let fly, even though it was clear she had the chops.  He finished up with If Only and A Song For You, his current big hits.  Teeks’ smoky voice and simple, humble approach made him a real pleasure to be in the room with.

Ria Hall (With The Nudge) – Saturday 23 February – Festival Club

Ria Hall
Photo supplied by NZ Festival

Ria Hall’s recent album, The Rules of Engagement, about the 4 rules written up prior to the Battle Of Gate Pa in 1864 was the main inspiration behind her set tonight.  Supported by the wonderful and very capable Wellington outfit, The Nudge (James Coyle on Key Boards, Ryan Prebble, guitars and Iraia Whakamoe, drums) Ria put on a very deft display of classy, dignified singing and story telling.  They were dressed up as soldiers from the 1880’s in peaked caps and braid.  She was resplendent in a brown felt cloak coat and red potai (top hat).

Ria covered a number of tunes from her new album which include lyrics in Te Reo and English. She was also joined on stage by Mara TK for two songs, including a wonderful rendition Black Light, which they penned together. Her voice was ‘on point’ throught every song. The most poignant was delivered after her short description of the origins of Cameron Road in Tauranga, named after a British soldier who led the assault on local Maori, yet, she said, they built the road the marched on, almost in defiance of their coming fate. The songs The Battle/They Come Marching meant so much more after hearing this. Prisoner was also a very moving track, penned by Mara’s father, Billy TK, Ria talked of what a mentor he had been to her.

Nathan Haines and Johnathan Crayford – Sunday 25 February – Festival Club 

The fact that this gig even went ahead was incredible in itself. Four months ago NZ Festival Director Shelagh Magadza had told Jonathan Crayford that Nathan Haines was to undergo throat surgery. So, if you keep up with Nathan’s Facebook, then you’ll know that it’s been a real journey to get where he is, and seeing him on stage was a real joy.

Johnathan Crayford and Nathan Haines
Photo – Tim Gruar

He played his way through a very challenging programme of Ravel’s Pavane; Tomas Albinoni’s Giazotto; works by Samuel Barber and Erik Satie (1st Gnossienne and 1st Gymnopédie) and a bit of Gustav Mahler (Adagietto from the 5th Symphony).  For the most part Nathan played his flute, occasionally swapping to a tenor sax and clarinet but it was clear that the set was lighter than originally planned.  Only twice did he really let loose and blast us with his trademark playing style.  For the rest he stayed in close and subtle, perhaps preserving his mojo and vocal chords, which must have still been on the mend.

To do some of the heavy lifting Crayford had thoughtfully added in the skills of Peau Halapua and Sophie Buxton on violin and Rachael Wells on cello who suitably filled in the gaps.

Some grumbled that this was a classical programme, when they were expecting jazz.  The fact that Nathan was even with us is a miracle.  We wish him the best and honour him tonight.  He is growing back to where he was and we can’t but want to support that.

Tim Gruar