Space Waltz & Jan Hellriegel: Artworks Theatre, Waiheke Island, April 8, 2023
There’s anticipation in the air. A sense of something special about to be served up. How often do we see a band back performing after a forty-nine-year gap? Jazz is a broad church it seems. Space Waltz has landed in re-boot as part of the Waiheke Jazz Festival.
First up is Jan Hellriegel whose musical career stretches back to Otago University days and the band Cassandra’s Ears. She begins with a story rather than a song: I was a tomboy, school sores right up my arms, I was pretty much fearless. Dressed casually for the sunny Waiheke day that Easter Saturday was, she’ in shorts. First song is No Idea, off her It’s My Sin album.
Her stories are as memorable as her songs. Both are delivered with a warmth and the poise that comes from having stood on many stages.
She tells a story of being Warner’s next big thing. Being flown to their convention on the Gold Coast where there was a swimming pool populated with exotic fish that died every couple of days and needed replenishing. A metaphor for the music industry. You don’t last long as the next big thing
If I had to choose between Jan the rock star and Jan in the suburbs, no contest. The suburbs for me, she says. A segue into into Geraldine. Arresting lyrics: I wonder if I scream loud enough/Will I recall the night I’d left myself behind?”
Songs and stories of raw honesty and directness. Delivered with a warm smile, robust acoustic guitar and an astonishing vocal range. Love and Conviction is from Sportsman of the Year. The album that has a book. And then a song from her next project: a musical.
Captivating, my companion remarked. A crisp description. Not every support act gets such a succinct accolade.
Grey memories of 1974. It was my 5th form year. Labour Prime Minister Norman Kirk died in office. Robert Muldoon became leader of National. And New Zealand’s hosting of the Christchurch Commonwealth Games was accompanied by a saccharine earworm of a song called Come Together.
Suddenly, a more memorable song burst through like a comet. My school uniform no longer felt grey. In the TV talent series New Faces, Space Waltz challenged the drab sameness of conservative New Zealand. Their song Out on the Street peaked at number one in the New Zealand singles chart with lead singer and songwriter Alistair Riddell offer camped up otherness and Bowie-esque other worldliness.
As with Hellreigel, Alistair Riddell, dressed in black, begins with story rather than song. He describes beginnings. Meeting bassist Peter Cuddihy at Kelston High. Then launches into the ethereal Seabird. Hints of Yes. An apt first song for Waiheke given the way gulls accompany the ferries. The band has a full and transporting sound.
Riddell tells of roots in gatherings in Asquith Ave, Mt Albert, Eddie Rayner joining in. The Eddie who eventually left to be full-time in Split Enz. Two other early members, Greg Clark and Brent Eccles went on to form Citizen Band. Space Waltz as crucible of influence.
Second song and it’s a sparkling rendition of David Bowie’s Man Who Sold the World. Riddell strums a Gibson acoustic guitar. I hated being called a Bowie-copyist he says but now I’ve embraced it. Three more Bowie covers through the set. Each has the crowd singing along.
Hypnotise Me follows. Engaging. First single off a new album. 49 years between albums. A new record in two senses of the word?
Throughout, Eddie Rayner’s keyboard wizardry and impish side glances are a joy to watch as are the smiles from Peter Cuddihy. And this version of the band has Patrick Kuhtze on drums and Waiheke’s Solomon Cole on electric guitar. Cole’s bandmates – two vocalists- join in and suddenly the majority of those on stage are from the island.
The new songs are solid and the audience welcomes them. Eddie is impressed. Getting adults to appreciate new songs is like getting kids to eat a new vegetable, he says.
Back to the familiar. Scars of Love has a Roxy Music feel. Then, the inevitable. The big hit. Out on the Street, Riddell’s homage to the colourful street-life of upper Queen St.
Riddell quips we waited six weeks to get to #1 because of Kung Fu Fighting. Who remembers that one? My fifth form self in grey school uniform does. And I can still feel the pleasure when Space Waltz displaced it and was a kiwi #1.
Riddell seems genuinely elated to feel the Artworks love and have the band performing again. In his youth he pouted campy-ness; tonight he just smiles in gratitude and joy.
Last song, Bowie’s Suffrage City. All over by 10pm so the crew can get the 11pm return ferry.
A night of being reminded that a walk down memory lane can be more than hearing echoes of the past. It can also be a tight mix of the old, the new and homage to the genius that inspired it all.
Click any icon to view a gallery of images Robin shot during the show.
Space Waltz setlist
Man who Sold the World (Bowie cover)
Changes (Bowie cover)
We’ll Rule the World
Blessing and a Curse
Scares of Love
And Up to Now
What Good Does it Do Me
Out on the Street
All the Young Dudes (Mott the Hoople/Bowie cover)
Suffragette City (Bowie cover)
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