So how was New Zealand?

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Dear all,

Well I am now well and truly back in Blighty (sounds like an album name, but don’t worry I’m not seriously contemplating it) and feel I should reflect on a mammoth trip. My first New Zealand tour was a year or so in the making and was certainly not without its little stresses but it must rank as a truly amazing experience with wonderful gigs, great new friends in quite the most remarkable country. Future trips there are planned and I’m sure I’ll have many more great times there but there’s always something special about a first trip that goes quite so well and I’ll always treasure it.

So to start at the beginning…always on the lookout for gigs of course I’ve more recently played abroad rather a lot and I thought I’d look into the New Zealand thing, principally because I have a very good friend from school who moved there eight years ago and it had been an ambition to visit him there. Secondly, some friends of mine did some gigs there so I decided to simply email every folky or appropriate looking venue I could find on the wonderful fantastic remarkable internet (how the hell did musicians know about gigs before it?) and see if there was the remotest chance of getting enough together to pay the considerable airfare. In truth, I didn’t really think it would actually happen but did it for the hell of it. Three days later it became remarkably apparent that I was in fact going to New Zealand! The folk clubs were all rather keen, as were other places, and I became acquainted for the first time with the remarkable hospitality and helpfulness of the Kiwis as several musicians and contacts went way beyond the call of duty (not that they even had a duty!) in helping me fill my tour up. Then to top it all, Auckland folk festival decided to give me a headline slot and assist with the rather tedious process of getting a work visa so what was originally planned as a two week trip ended up at nearly five!

So off I went on the 22nd (or was it the 21st, I can’t remember now to be honest) January I flew to New Zealand. Now I tell you something about planes…they get bloody boring after a while. And I end up with remarkable cramp in the legs, buttocks, feet and just about everywhere else when sat on one for seven hours, one for fourteen and another for two and a half. Thankfully the normal anxiety about the banjo going in the hold was absent thanks to a charming lady on the desk at Gatwick who rightly recognised that there is no issue with it being in the cabin so that was nice. I then arrived into New Zealand…oh no I missed out one thing. When you fly from Dubai (where I changed) to New Zealand there’s this peculiar cherade where you get out the plane at Sydney, go through security and then get back on the same plane! I was rather curious as to what I could possibly have picked up whilst on the plane but there you go.

So yes I then arrived in New Zealand after being searched about four times when getting into the airport and waiting for half the duration of the flight to retrieve my suitcase and was met by Tom. We then talked like old friends for a while (you know, because we are) and I was informed that the CDs I’d sent over in advance had in fact not yet been delivered because they were too expensive to release and we’d need to pay hideous amounts of taxes. This was not exactly ideal, but fortunately I explained that I was a complete fathead and had put the sale value not the manufacturing value (whatever the hell that actually is) and all was sorted…except they sent them to Hamilton not Auckland so they then had to get them back and we had to get them from the airport.

Much to my irritation, this was too late for Auckland folk festival but fortunately I did take 35 with me in my hand luggage and these I sold out of pretty much instantly in what was I think the best first gig in a new country I have ever done. The reception generally stunned me and I have seldom played a festival (and I’ve done a few in my time) where the rest of the bill were so stunningly good. 10 String Symphony, Mark Mazengarb, Emily Roughton and Tattletale Saints were nothing short of mesmerising and to round off a wonderful festival I had several wonderful sessions including being part of an all-in on stage jam which involved a lot of jumping around, always a good sign I feel. The festival was then rounded off by a party at a quite amazing house including a pool which I was thrown into. Was good fun. I felt remarkably part of this group of people despite having only met most of them two days earlier!

So after this and with my legs still feeling deader than UK politics I spent a week or so in Auckland where I stayed with Tom. Tom was the saxophone player in my first band from school and we jammed together again which was quite a surreal experience and bloody good fun. During this period I also got to do some radio interviews and youtube things and such like, publicity sort of stuff. That was really nice and I have to say the interviewer on Radio New Zealand was great, he asked interesting and insightful questions which makes a nice change from some of the inane drivel I’ve encountered sometimes in the last year or so…well alright on Radio Stoke.

Tom is also good friends with a famous shot putt olympic champion called Valerie who is quite a star out here. So we went for a meal with her and out on the town in Auckland where weirdly I also got recognised but not quite as much as she did. We also went round to her house for a barbeque and I managed to beat her at table tennis which I’m not going to lie I was intensley proud of. However, I must make sure she doesn’t read this for it’s probably not advisable to gloat when the defeated athlete is considerably stronger than me, or you, or just about anyone.

Anyway, it was soon time for the tour (my god this is turning into a long blog) and 7th February saw my next gig up in Tutukaka about three hours north of Auckland. Schnappa Rock was the venue for essentially a good old fashioned pub gig and what fun it was! It was a typically mammoth Walsh set and I had a lovely time. We then headed north to Kerikeri where we stayed with the daughter of a very good friend of mine from Stafford and she and her family were an absolute delight. Thanks Rachael! Oh and I had a gig there too – Driftwood Central was the venue and oh my word what a venue! An idyllic paradise is the only way I can describe it and the crowd were lovely too. Next up to round off a trio of North North Island gigs I headed to Maungapatere (which I still can’t pronounce or spell) for a quite delightful house concert and once again experienced the fabulous hospitality of New Zealand people, they are so generous and lovely.

Next up it was back to Auckland for a gig at a truly unusual venue – a world war bunker on top of a mountain! Devenport Folk Club is the one and is the most famous folk club in New Zealand run by the truly bananas Roger Giles. This gig was sold out twice over practically and it was fairly snug in there. Valerie came too so for I think the first time ever a celebrity attended a gig of mine. I then got up at a revolting hour the next morning to go and play on Good Morning TV just before 10cc! Have a look at the youtube link here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Czs-i7OZcyg

I continued onto Hamilton next for a gig in the back room at Biddy Mulligan’s to a full house which is always nice. The crowd were great including a crazy bloke at the end who told me at least nine times he shared a name with Steven Gerrard. Nevertheless, he was a very nice chap and good company…just pissed. Then it was onto New Plymouth for a really stonking gig at the Rhythm Bar where I revelled in playing a very uptempo and rocky kind of gig. I then made the short trip to Stratford to play the last ever gig at the Playskool. I was honoured indeed and it was a very fun night including a jam with the Fedz to finish off. Shame on me for not mentioning the scenery so far. On just about every car journey I stopped on a regular basis to savour the beautiful views and hit quite a few beaches too. What a fantastic country! And so it was onto the capital Wellington to play the famous Bodega, a few nights before Stiff Little Fingers! It was a fun gig and a good way to round off a fabulous time on the North Island.

The next day saw a ferry trip over to the South Island and in true musician style, my fare was free owing to my playing a set on board. Better still, I ended up having a cracking jam with a sterling chap from the US who played a mean guitar. We had a bloody great time, easily my favourite ever ferry journey. Then came the Mussel Inn in Golden Bay. Now this really was a gig to remember beyond all measure. The Mussel Inn is a cracking place built by the owners themselves who also built their house and brew their own beer on site. They have music almost every night and like all my other gigs sell tickets for them. It started out as quite a civilised sit down affair with people…well sitting down and listening intently. It was great and lovely range of ages with a large number of young folk. Then midway through the second half…well what turned out to be midway through the second half…people decided it was time to get up and dance. I was actually going to do one or two more but thought that would be a bit crap given the circumstances so carried on for quite some time. There was dancing on tables, rhythmic chanting of my name (always wanted that) and best of all the sight of a 70 year old man standing on a chair raving. Then to top it all, at the end of the gig I was swamped in a giant hug by the audience and when I finally made the short distance to the bar I was handed a beer. A pretty good night that.

That was hard to top, but Picton is a lovely place with Le Cafe a nice venue run by the hilarious Peter. It was a bit quieter certainly but a very nice gig. Next up was Nelson where I played the Boathouse to a packed house of lovely people and again ended up playing for some considerable time! Some dancers too though slightly more ballroomy than the Mussel Inn which was more along the lines of raving. Two gigs to go after that with the Linkwater Country Inn proving a lovely venue in the middle of nowhere and finally a full Christchurch Folk Club.

Christchurch is a very interesting city to visit. Sadly devastated by a huge earthquake three or four years ago, the damage is still there to see and it was quite harrowing seeing these beautiful buildings with huge bits missing and more harrowing still was the memorial site for the 120 people killed when a TV building collapsed. But with it was a great spirit and signs of a city getting back on its feet. I felt priviliged to be toured round the city and it was powerful stuff. Huge thanks at this point must go to Tom and Liz in Havelock who were kind enough to host me for much of my time on the south island and assisted greatly with arranging more gigs.

And so it was nearly time to go but after the ferry ride back and the quite monumental amount of time it took to get off the ferry, I drove up to Taupo to see my old chum Rue who used to live in Stafford. He didn’t know I was in New Zealand til seeing me on TV despite the fact he almost never watches any. Funny really. We had a good night out and then I returned to Hamilton to Tom’s family and we then headed up to Auckland in preparation for the mammoth journey home.

And so came the journey home. New Zealand is quite simply a country all its own, it is like nowhere else. It is small and incredibly remote and with that comes a special atmosphere of warmth, hospitality, friendliness and quirks. Added to which it is stunningly beautiful almost throughout and the people seemed rather keen on my music. I intend to go many more times and enjoy its unique qualities. Thank you New Zealand, see you again soon.

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