Good Habits at Guide Hall: Concert Review 3rd July 2021

Ministry of Folk transformed the Auckland Guide Centre into an intimate alt-folk hall Friday night with Bill Angus and the Mighty Ways, Hoop and Good Habits. The dimmed hall, fairy light lit stage area and your own drink of choice sets the scene for an evening of music where everyone seems to be friends, including people you have only just met.

The music started early at 7.30pm which unfortunately meant I missed most of the Bill Angus set. Angus was accompanied, for the first time, by Natasha Senee on violin. His warm vocals over plucked or strummed chords and her playing combined to strong effect and I looking forward to ensuring I hear more next time.


HoopHoop are always a key part of the Ministry of Folk line up, they are Alasdair Baxter, vocals, guitar and banjo, Nick Edgar, vocals, guitars and flute, Emily Allen, violin, Glenn Coldham, bass, and Rusty Knox, Drums. They played an eight-song set which included a cover of Young Blood by The Naked and Famous.

The first song Brightest in the Land celebrated the island wide life sanctuary Tiritiri Maitangi with the flute blending with the guitars and drums and the violin adding emphasis to the lyrics. As well as connection with place Hoop lyrics deal with the connection with people, for example in When You Were Gone “sing me a song, I’ll hum it gently when you have gone”. This slower number highlighted the effective harmonies of the very different voices of the singers Baxter and Edgar.

After the twangy slow groove of the cover of Young Blood and the danceable country pop of a new song Unfurled, we were asked to imagine a Mariachi band playing the next track. We were helped to envisage this by the horn section of Gary Neil and Cam Mclean surprising us as they burst into life at the back of the hall. To me the song sounded more like ska than Mariachi music, but the title Rio Grande definitely links to the idea of a Mariachi Band. The song was enthusiastically received by the audience and the horn section joined the band at the front of the hall. The horns remained an integral part of the Hoop sound of the final two songs Sunshine and Thank You.

Good Habits
Good Habits
Good Habits

Angus’ and Hoop’s sets warmed the audience up for the evening’s main act Good Habits. Good Habits are Bonnie Schwarz, vocals and cello, and Pete Shaw, accordion and percussion who met at the University in Manchester when studying music.  They were touring New Zealand when the borders closed. They set up a base here and found local collaborators that assisted them to produce their first album and to carry on gigging. Their set combined storytelling, fine musicianship and huge energy to deliver a memorable performance.

The set list was loosely built around their own back story, of meeting, coming to New Zealand, and then getting trapped here. They moved from song to song seamlessly with Schwarz’s fast paced story telling bringing to life the narrative that informed the songs.

Early in the set they played Hitch, about their experiences of travelling in New Zealand. Schwarz told us that she thought that her cello deterred some drivers from picking them up. This was probably a prudent approach by the drivers as you never knew what she would be doing next with the instrument. One moment she was plucking bass notes as if in a jazz club and the next time you looked she was sliding the bow across the strings as you would expect in classical performance.

Good Habits
Good Habits

As for the inevitable question about whether this duo had more than a musical relationship Good Habits had a song called Under My Nose that provided an answer. As with many of their songs this twisted and turned to reveal a complexity that you were not expecting from just two instruments.

Although it was the voice of Schwarz you heard talking and singing throughout the night, Shaw was able to impose his influence on the proceedings due to the array of sounds that he extracted from the accordion. Sounds which included veering from conjuring up a late-night cafe in Paris to being the accompaniment to a sea shanty and more.

In addition, when Schwarz offered Shaw a choice between two songs for an encore he chose a third. And so, the set ended with their version of Those Were the Days, that used Schwarz vocals to powerful effect as well as their ability to tease the audience with stops and restarts of the instruments.

Good Habits
Good Habits

Throughout their extended stay in New Zealand Good Habits have gigged extensively and their performance is slick and professional as well as warm and fun. Currently they plan to perform a farewell tour which runs through until then end of September.

Though I have been suspicious of such tours as I have been seeing farewell tours by The Who since the early 1980s, I would definitely look out for these gigs, especially as they have dates where they share the bill with Jenny Mitchell.

The final announcement of the evening was that Ministry of Folk have a bonus event this month. On 30th July they will be hosting a Bob Dylan’s 80th Birthday party special where the hall will be a set up like “Later…with Jools Holland” and there will be songs by a large number of artists who are alumni of the Ministry. I’ll be making sure I turn up on time….

John Bradbury

Brightest in the Land
When You’re Gone
End Before the Start
Young Blood
Rio Grande
Thank You

Good Habits

I Used to be a Nice Boy
I’ll Follow You
Under My Nose
None of Your Business
Tide Me Over
After the Afternoon
I Don’t Know Anymore
I Will Still be Here
Those Were the Days