An Antipodean Adventure

Dear all,

We’ve been back from the Antipodes for around ten days so I thought it about time I blogged about an extraordinary family trip tied in with just a little bit of work for me too! The premise of our trip to Australia and New Zealand was rather different than my previous ventures to that part of the world. I’d always looked to do as many gigs as possible and earn as much as possible and not worry too much about regular bonkers journeys to do so! However…as my other half Nicol and my wonderful baby daughter (now 1!) Heidi were with me it felt prudent to limit the long journeys, not be taken up every single night with work and allow time to enjoy such a beautiful part of the world…but of course it’s bloody expensive to get out there and I do love my job! So hopefully a balance was struck with 18 gigs across the two countries over the course of six weeks.

First New Zealand. My previous blog tells you my feelings about this wonderful country and nothing about this trip changed my deep love of the place. Though it’s fair to say the beginning of the trip wasn’t the most scenic! It was into Auckland, the biggest city in the country by far to borrow a car (more on that later…) from my dear friend Dave Warren and then a drive across the city to my old friend Tom from school who has lived in New Zealand for nearly 20 years. No disrespect to Auckland, which has some fine spots, but I suppose that drive and the areas weren’t particularly what Nicol was expecting after hearing me wax lyrical about New Zealand’s scenery since we first met!

But we did have a seriously lovely time with my friends and Tom took us to some gorgeous beaches and rural spots which soon reassured Nicol that I was onto something with this whole New Zealand thing! Then the first gig at the legendary Bunker. What a place! Devonport Folk Club has been running at this extraordinary place on top of Mount Victoria for decades although the late great Roger Giles, its driving force has sadly passed away since my last trip. There was a lovely moment in a typically splendid New Zealand gig where I finished a fast paced tune set and someone handed me a glass of something strong. It was then revealed that this was Roger’s own brew! We raised a glass to the great man.

Then it was down to the giggiest portion of the trip with dates in Hamilton, Te Pahu, Katikati, New Plymouth and Greytown on successive days. All were really enjoyable gigs – Te Pahu deserves a mention as it is a truly unique house concert in a brilliant property built by Wayne its owner and they are legendary hosts with many musicians relishing the chance to stay there. The gig is a joy as well in a beautiful room which can seat 80 people. Not your average house gig! Then in the interval you get out onto the patio and view the glorious New Zealand scenery. Amazing!

After the run of gigs and a fair old bit of driving it was off to Wellington to basically stay there for five days apart from a brief trip to Palmerston North for a gig there. Wellington is one of my favourite cities on this earth – all the New Zealand charm and friendliness and some great scenery but also a vibrant, happening place with superb cafes, loads of music and atmosphere. I love it! Thanks to Andrea and Nick for putting us up for all this time! The gigs in Palmerston and Wellington were both wonderful but the latter was pretty special…

I have mentioned elsewhere about Kate Griffin, an outstanding musician who I had the privilege/terror of tutoring while she was at Sheffield University. She is now a fully fledged pro as I knew she would be and her duo Mishra were on tour in New Zealand at the same time! So we felt it only right to share a gig so Wellington was the place to do this. It was brilliant to see Kate do her thing and it so unbelievably exciting to see a young UK banjo player breaking down the barriers of clawhammer banjo. Her partner Ford is also an outstanding musician and we did a few numbers together on what was a special night.

And then it was back to holidaying for a bit with lovely stays in Foxton Beach and Taupo booked for us…and Foxton was indeed lovely…but Taupo had to wait. So touching on that car I mentioned earlier. I seriously don’t know what it is about cars in New Zealand but I swear I’m cursed! And this trip threw up another car fiasco when we were on our way to Taupo and were driving through a very little place called Waiouru when I noticed the engine temperature reading on the car had gone to max…not ideal. There was steam coming from the bonnet too. Then followed one of the most New Zealand things ever…

A very nice couple came out to see if we were ok and the lady kindly said that they lived over the way and if we wanted to come in for a cup of tea and keep the baby in a safe place out of the sun we would be very welcome. The chap then had a look under the bonnet and identified what he thought was the problem and said the mechanic over the road could fix it in the morning….so said we should just stay the night! So we did! What wonderful people. We had a lovely evening!

Anyway, the car was sadly beyond repair in the short term so new vehicle sourced and very kind assistance from the legendary Dave we did get our night in Taupo and our trip to Hobbiton was also rearranged I’m happy to say! It was then to Whangerei for a lovely gig at the Woodshed before finishing our New Zealand tour back in Auckland at the mighty Auckland Folk Festival where I played two highly enjoyable sets and teamed up with Mishra, Good Habits, Dave Alley and Albi and the Wolves for a joyous weekend of music and collaboration! New Zealand I bloody love you.

So then to Australia…

It didn’t get off to the best start as Europcar had put the wrong baby seat in our car and then had no idea how to fit the correct one which was also crap…but anyway we travelled to Nicol’s uncle and aunt where we would base ourselves for the majority of our time in the country. Chris and Margo were wonderful hosts and doted on little Heidi and it was so bloody lovely to stay there!

The gigs began the next day for me as we headed to the stunning Upper Lansdowne where I had a lovely gig in the hall there as well as staying with Al and Helen whose house is absolutely extraordinary and teeming with wildlife – I saw a platypus no less!!! Then it was back towards Newcastle…where cars did their thing again as our tyre punctured and it turned out the car had been fitted with tyres of a very unusual size which NO GARAGE HAD. Oh the joys…Europcar were once again about as useful as a hole in the wrong end of a condom as they had no cars but offered to tow me to one of the places that didn’t have a car…Anyway. It was sorted in the end. Idiots.

Back to the gigs…Newcastle and Hunter Valley Folk Club was absolutely cracking as was the legendary Humph Hall in Sydney the following day, another truly unique and amazing house concert run by the incredible Wayne who is an extraordinary driving force in the arts scene. Legend. Then it was off the gigs for a couple of days so we were back with Chris and Margo and headed to see lots of Aussie wildlife and scenery. Then it was to Woy Woy for a lovely gig at the folk club and then I did the last two gigs unaccompanied by my family owing to the long journeys so I headed to lovely Tumbarumba and Tumut for two absolutely splendid gigs to finish my tour before we headed to Sydney for some tourist time with Chris and Margo and then an emotional farewell.

What a trip! What a trip! I mean to say what a trip! I’m so pleased we did it and ignored the naysayers who thought us mad for taking a one year old with us to the Antipodes! It was a joy and I love that part of the world and thanks to my wonderful partner Nicol for being such an amazing mum to our girl and doing so much of the parental duties while I gigged. Most of all thanks to my wonderful daughter – she was born so early and yet grew so quickly and into the wonderful girl we have now and on this trip she once again defied the odds and was so ridiculously placid and well behaved. What lucky parents we are to have you Heidi. And Australia and New Zealand, we’ll be back. All three of us.