Chris Cornell played his final gig with Soundgarden in Detroit on Wednesday night and hours later was found dead in his hotel room. Chris Cornell was best known as singer and songwriter for Seattle grunge band Soundgarden, which had critical success with the 1994 album Superunknown, and Grammy Award winning singles “Black Hole Sun” and “Spoonman”.
The Warratahs Runaway Days that came out last year. In a time where folks seem to care less and less about records, The Warratahs put a pole in the sand with a flag on the top flying high and strong with the words ‘Yeah, So what…’ stencilled on it. Any album with the song ‘Kupe’s Tears’ on it would be a classic out the block and that would be enough, but after 30 years of song for the Warratahs to still be punching in that division makes me feel unworthy and ready to give up. And also to keep swinging, get better and lift my reps of songwriting push ups.
Which other instrumental musician would you most like to share a stage with?
Well I would like to stand in the middle of the sound of Booker T and The MG’s. Al Jackson, Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn and Booker T create the sound of God in both my ears and my heart.
Who would be your ultimate singing duet partner?
I would happily be the Cisco Houston to Woody Guthrie, or the Marvin Gaye to Tami Terrell, or the Gram to Emmylou, or Sam with Dave or any of those perfect combos. But in reality I’m the most excited about singing with the random stranger after the gig around a table. They are the shining-est (I know that’s not a word, but it feels like it should be in this context) moments of singing I could think of and no matter the fame or wonder of any of those others, there is nothing more holy than a post gig sing-along.
If a song started every time you walked into a room, what would you like yours to be?
“Rock n Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution” by AC/DC or “I just want to see his face part 1” by the Staple Singers or “High Hopes” by Frank Sinatra.
If you could’ve written any song ever written, what would it be?
I would be proud to sing Anchorage by Michelle Shocked if it was me who’d come up with it.
Horses Patti Smith tied with Master of Puppets – Metallica
That’s my list and I’m sticking to it.
Top five musical influences?
And what album is on high-rotation for you right now?
Over the years I’ve become very frightened of flying and considering I fly every week, this is very troubling. Every take off and landing I listen to ‘Hats’ by The Blue Nile and it helps chill me out. Also every morning I listen to Gorecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs as I sift the many confusions in my brain over coffee.
Adam is best known for his work being the driving force of the band The Eastern, who are widely regarded as the hardest working band in the lands. But did you know about his social conscience and the value he places on not only community but public libraries too?
I posed a series of questions to Adam in order for us all to get to know him a little better…
So Adam, what was the first album you ever bought?
“When I was ten. I hadn’t seen or heard from my Dad in two, nearly three years. He never paid child support and his name was dirty in my house. So he was like a ghost that I vaguely remembered.
One day I got home from school and on the doorstep was ZX spectrum 16kb computer and a jar full of money delivered courtesy of my erstwhile father. I was stoked, my mum full of sighs. We plugged the computer in and it worked, surprisingly. Come the weekend we hit New Brighton mall for a little shopping with the jar money, Mum got some new threads ready for a dance at the working mens club. I got a GI Joe Cobra Bore, “rip and roar, cobra bore, lots of trouble for GI JOEEEEEEE!” I still remember the advert.
But for me the holy relic of purchases on this day was a copy on tape of ‘Raising Hell” by Run-DMC. This changed my life, made me obsessed and hungry for music in a way I had never felt before, either for toys, or lollies or anything else my young brain had ever thought it wanted. That desperate desire continues unabated today. After 1000 failed jobs and nowhere/nothing starts there was no choice but to give my self up wholly to the blessing and curse of full time music and song slinging. I blame my dad, Reverend Run, Darryl McDaniels, Jam master Jay and New Brighton Mall.”
Which instruments do you play (on stage and not)?
On stage; guitar and harmonica and the nodules in my throat. On record I’ve played bass, mandolin, and keyboard. However not a single one of these, on stage or off would anyone (including most people in my band) say I was anything more than a hack and a chancer.
Is there an instrument that you don’t play but which you would love to be able to?
I would like to play the tin whistle. However whenever I pick up a tin whistle everyone around me suggests I don’t take it any further.
What was your first guitar and do you still have it?
I guess what I call my first guitar was an old F-series Yamaha, I bought for $100 at a junk shop on Manchester Street. I used to go in and play it and listen to the proprietor’s problems, health emotional and otherwise. This served me in good stead because the guitar was actually $120. It had a crack and the top lifted off from the sides, so I taped it together with yellow and green and white insulation tape.
I took that guitar all around the eastern and southern states of America whereupon even in its battered state it kept me feed and watered as it sung out across street corners from Philadelphia to New Orleans to Nashville and many smaller more lonesome corners between. After some time I guess it sensed that I had improved enough for something a little better. It’s job done, it pretty much committed guitar suicide whereupon all parts of it decided to more or less break at once; machine heads popped off, bridge pulled up, neck snapping. It was time to let it go.
It was called Rosilita and the last I saw of her she was in a wardrobe in the town of Conshocken, Pennsylvania waiting for either the dump or the next pair of desperate hands crazy enough to take her out into the world.
From now until his library performances in May, Adam will be reaching into the depth of our digital resources, he’ll be searching and exploring our physical resources, and most of all he’ll be connecting with the people of Christchurch by hearing their stories and discussing their lives/loves/losses. He will use much of what he discovers to inspire new works, songs and music, and during May, Adam will be available for a series of “Live with the Library” concerts, during which he will tell his stories of us, the people of Christchurch.
And here are the dates and times for Adam’s performances;
She is currently working on an EP of lullabies and a new album of adult material. She says she writes music “to explore certain parts of my brain that don’t tend to appear in conversation.”
Aside from music, Flip has a passion for animal welfare, wholesome foods and cooking, and is a Francophile. And of course there’s the new love in her live, her young daughter. We flicked some quick questions to Flip about her passions:
You’re an avid cook and vegan, what foodie books are you enjoying that you can recommend?
What music do you like to listen to when you’re cooking?
If my husband is cooking it’s always gypsy jazz. For daytime summer cooking I prefer (Belgian musician) Stromae or Rokia Traore, for evening or rainy day cooking Leonard Cohen or Gillian Welch.
You have a toddler now. How has parenthood changed your music apparoach?
Well for a start it’s pretty hard to get quality practice time in as my daughter loves to play the guitar with me if I pick it up. It’s all about fitting it in nowadays… trying to find quiet moments to play and be inspired.
You were vegan at 15 and even got your nickname Flipper from your animal rights activism. What form does activism take for you these days?
These days my activism mostly looks like setting a good example – living a vegan lifestyle, reducing plastics in our home, eating and wearing organics etc. but I have written a few pieces on my blog www.ewyum.com about certain food topics I feel passionately about.
You’re from Christchurch (having grown up in Parklands) and spend time here when not living in France. What are some of your current favourite spots in the city?
I’ve always appreciated libraries but never so much as right now! When we first got back from France we used New Brighton Library for all of our printing and boring officey stuff around my husband’s New Zealand Residency and applying for rental properties etc. Then I was there weekly during pregnancy reading an unhealthy amount of baby-related books. Now I take my daughter to keep her bookshelf rotating (and keep me sane by changing up the bedtime books). It’s truly invaluable.
This Beats Perfect is a contemporary young adult story about finding your voice. There’s music, social media and girl meets boy. Author Rebecca Denton was a teenager in Dunedin in the early 1990s rocking out to the ‘Dunedin Sound‘ and has been ensconced in the music scene ever since. Her novel even includes a playlist. We went ‘backstage’ to talk to Rebecca about writing her first book and musical influences.
The novel’s title is a perfect play on words. The story is based a little bit on the author’s own life experiences of being 17. Denton was a singer-songwriter herself but too shy to put herself forward due to a “fear of failure.” She says that “always in the back of my mind since I was really little I wanted to write… a book, a movie… write, write, write” and that it was a matter of finding “creative courage” to do so. In a way, this first novel is like putting a song out there. I interviewed Rebecca to hear more.
Rebecca, you have said you still feel like a kid, 18 at heart, and in This Beats Perfect you say you get to revisit dreams that you didn’t chase. Can you tell us more? Both the main characters Amelie and Maxx are held back by a fear of failure – about playing their own music to a wider audience – whether it’s anonymous Amelie feeling performance anxiety as she falters at her auditions or famous Maxx afraid to break out of the boy band mould he’s found himself in. Has this focus on a fear of failure come from somewhere for you?
I picked up the guitar from 14 (after I rather shortsightedly deemed my piano and trumpet were highly uncool). I wrote a few songs and played the odd gig but I was so terrified performing that I never chased this passion with the ferocity I should have. As a teenager I was afraid of being judged for many reasons but one of the most critical was that I felt if I wasn’t exceptional then it wasn’t worth trying.
This all or nothing fear of being nothing but *the best* never left me. It followed me right through my career in advertising and TV and really held me back. I was too afraid to stand out creatively, make bold decisions and believe in and listen to my own voice. Because of this I never fully put myself out there.
Then I got older, wiser, and realised that creativity can be a personal pleasure and it didn’t matter if that outspoken friend or peer I looked up to didn’t like what I did. It didn’t need to be for them. When you get wise to the fact that critics are not the custodians of pleasure, you become free. See: PUNK ROCK.
“Not everyone is going to like what you do no matter how real you are.” – from This Beats Perfect
How does the saying ‘write what you know’ apply to your novel?
When I decided to write a book, I didn’t have time for tonnes of research (due to small children) so I thought: What did I do at 18? Who did I want to be? Let’s relive that. And luckily I’d spent my career working and being around music and musicians so I was able to draw on that. I didn’t know everything of course. I got a little help from some friends.
Rebecca, you moved to Dunedin as a young teenager and went to Logan Park High School. How has growing up in Dunedin shaped this young adult novel? Tell us more about the influence of this time and place on your novel?
Frankly, I hated high school. But Logan Park has produced some pretty crazy talented folk* over the years. I didn’t click with my music teacher, or perhaps any teachers while I was there, but I appreciate some things looking back. The school was far more liberal and supportive of creativity than some of the more conservative single sex schools in Dunedin.
By the last couple of years of school I was so tediously bored and from about the age of 16 I started sneaking out of school and hanging out at the student union at Otago University in my school uniform or this little café near the university where they sold Dime bars, mugs of tea and single Camel cigarettes.I fell in with a music crowd and started sneaking into gigs at the Empire and the Crown. The 3Ds, The Clean,The Chills, The Bats,Bailterspace, Straitjacket Fits – I listened to or saw them all, multiple times. I was so lucky to be living in Dunedin at that time – it felt important. And in the days before the internet, small towns in the South Island never really felt important.
This time of my life totally influenced the book. I had the most amazing, clever and eccentric group of girlfriends with whom I shared everything and explored everything. There was a lot to love, and a lot to leave behind but it’s still with me, everyday. There are elements of people who have been a part of my life intertwined everywhere.
The tagline title to This Beats Perfect is ‘She’s NOT with the band…’ In your novel, the main character Amelie is definitely NOT a groupie. Tell us about the character’s need to not be defined by a either a boy or her father.
I wanted to explore an area of music we don’t normally find a lot of women – and that is production and composing. PRS for Music (The Performing Rights Society) did a report in 2011, and discovered that only about 13% of registered composers in the UK were woman – I’ve not seen the numbers but I’m pretty sure it’s around the same or maybe even less in engineering and producing. So a heroine songwriter was a must – but a budding engineer was even more interesting to me.
Amelie shows her nuanced musical knowledge in the novel, rattling off obscure genres (like Nerdcore, Japonoise, Baby Metal, Nintendocore, Happy Hardcore and Fidget Bass). A depth of music appreciation shows in your writing. The playlist aspect you’ve created to tie-in with the book is unique. Each chapter is titled after a song. Can you tell us more about that idea?
My editor gave me feedback in the editing process that I needed to pack the book with more music. And I was struggling to come up with titles for chapters – so I thought, ‘hang on what about a playlist that reflects Amelie, the story and me?’
You have specifically referenced Lyttelton musicians Aldous Harding and Marlon Williams in your novel. When Amelie’s sound engineer father encourages Maxx to find the soul of his own music, he takes him to see a musician he feels embodies this…
“His voice was deep as Johnny Cash, but with a modern cabaret feel, inspired and exquisite storytelling over timeless melodies.” “This isn’t songwriting for money, for fame, even for the audience’s entertainment.” … “Reminds me of Marlon Williams…”
I just want to support Kiwi musicians as much as possible, and I absolutely love what Marlon and Aldous are doing. Marlon Williams’ cover of the Screaming Jay Hawkin’s track Portrait of a Man is just so… so good.
Any favourite memories or places in Christchurch for you?
When you live in Dunedin, Christchurch is the big smoke. I specifically remember I saw The Bats there when I was 16 (braces and all) with my friend Marea. She wore my mum’s home-knitted emerald green ’60s dress and I wore some cobbled together monstrosity.
What did you READ when you were a teenager?
You know, not a lot. I kind of stopped reading at around 13, well books anyway, and all my spare time was dedicated to music. Playing, listening, memorising lyrics. I did love books like Flowers in the Attic (yikes!) but honestly I just didn’t really read very much. I wish I had. I think if there had been a more interesting YA (young adult) reading community like there is today I would have read much more.
What role did (or do) libraries play in your life?
My father is an academic and writer so I spent a LOT of time in libraries with him when I was younger. Even today, when my Dad visits there will probably be some kind of trip to the library involved. I love going to them with my kids as well, snuggling up on a sofa and reading Hairy Maclary for the 100th time.
What’s your next project Rebecca? Any encores?
Book 2 follows on from This Beats Perfect, but it’s not Amelie’s tale, but the story of two young women: the privileged daughter of a record label executive who gets caught up in the business of selling celebrity secrets. And a hyper bubbly fangirl who has outgrown her idols and looking for what to do next. It’s fun, but also probably more layered than This Beats Perfect. Book 3 is in the same fictional world as well. I’m just starting it, but it will be about an all-girl punk band who scam their way to international glory. I can’t wait to write this book.
Rock on Rebecca!
This Beats Perfect would make a great read for artistically inclined teens or any young person wanting to give their passions and talents a push. This is the sort of book I want to give my musically minded daughter in her teens. It is published by Atom Books and Hachette New Zealand.
This Beats Perfect
by Rebecca Denton
Published by Hachette New Zealand
More about the author: Rebecca is originally from Melbourne, moved to Dunedin as a young teenager and later spent many years in the UK. New Zealand sits deepest in her heart. She now lives in Austria with her young daughters, a trumpet, 2 guitars, a keyboard, several vintage computer games. She spent her career travelling the world making music TV for MTV and Channel 4, and wrangling young adult audiences for the BBC and ITV. She’s filmed Iggy Pop, MIA, Kaiser Chiefs, Sonic Youth, Jack White, Dirty Pretty Things and The Klaxons, to name a few.
Rebecca says: YA literature is SO MUCH MORE than fantasy. There are so many incredible books out there (200+ debuts in the USA alone this year).
Everyone teenager (and adult) needs to read The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. The story was inspired by the killing of Oscar Grant, an unarmed 22 year-old African America by a transit officer and is one of a crop of books exploring racial injustice out this year.
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli is going to be a cult movie – so read the book first! And one of the most hotly anticipated YA books of the year is The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich. A fellow YA author said to me that it is ‘one of the best books you’ll ever read.’
Grace Taylor. Seek out some of her spoken word performances online or Taylor’s TedX Talk. And then buy, share, support and help to raise up voices of the marginalised in New Zealand.
Go to Art Ache if you can (it offers original pieces of art at affordable prices). There was one recently in Dunedin, and they happen regularly in Auckland. Buy some affordable limited edition pieces by other New Zealanders and help boost our artists.
If you like the sound of This Beats Perfect …
You may also like the recently released Lonesome When You Go by Saradha Koirala. Paige plays bass in high school rock band Vox Pop, which means keeping steady even in their most raucous rock and roll moments. But in the tense build-up to the Rockfest competition, Paige finds she can’t control everything in her life, no matter how hard she practises. Lonesome When You Go is a novel about practising solo, performing like a rockstar, and how contributing your best self to something can create a force greater than the sum of its parts.
Author Saradha Koirala taught English at high school in Wellington for ten years. Read an excerpt from Lonesome When You Go.
Emily Writes is a Wellington-based writer whose blog posts have a habit of going viral. She is mother to two year-old Ronnie and four year-old Eddie and over the last couple of years I have chatted with her online quite a bit.
With a three year-old myself our online conversations have covered the full range of parental indignities from pregnancy and childbirth to toddler tantrums and terrible things that have happened to our soft furnishings. But also moments of delight… and Alexander Skarsgård gifs.
Emily’s new book, Rants in the dark, is proving a hit with parents across the country. Ahead of the Christchurch launch event at Scorpio Books next week, Emily chatted to me about her book, how she writes, and shared some favourite reads of her own.
So you started out blogging about parenting stuff, segued into somewhat tipsy movie reviews, have become the parenting editor at The Spinoff and now you have a book out. The next inevitable step is the biopic of your life, so the real question is… who will play you?
Oh my gosh, that is so hilarious. Alexander Skarsgård would need to be my husband in a movie and we would need to have many off-camera dress rehearsals and practice runs.
I would really like it if Beyoncé could be me… I love her… My inspiration is Beyoncé so I would like to meet her. Because if she played me in a movie I could meet her and then maybe we would become best friends.
I’m now thinking about this a lot. Because it would probably be like a Shortland Street actor, right? Or someone who could do a believeable Kiwi accent, so maybe it could be… Nicole Kidman in a fat suit or something? Or… Cate Blanchett’s very good at accents.
What were you aiming for in writing “Rants in the dark”?
I hope that it is kind of a friend in the night to mums and new mums. If they’re awake at 3am or something like that – I wrote it at 3am. So I hope that it feels like somewhere they can turn in the night when they’re feeling a bit overwhelmed. Or during the day, or any time. I hope that it’s a different kind of parenting book.
It’s not a place for advice, or judgment or “I know what I’m doing” because I definitely don’t know what I’m doing. I hope that it just makes mums feel good about themselves but not in a “yoga” way.
Do you feel like there is a niche that parenting books weren’t quite hitting and that that’s where “Rants in the dark” sits?
I guess, yeah. I got What to expect when you’re expecting when I was pregnant and it kind of terrified me, and it’s also a bit like reading a dictionary. It’s quite a full-on book and I looked but I couldn’t find anything that properly prepared me – and I know that you can’t properly be prepared [for parenthood] – but I guess I wanted something like “hey, this might not be every single second of incredible delight. It will be amazing and the best thing ever but there will also be some really hard times”. That’s a really hard message to get across and maybe that’s why there aren’t books like that.
I just really felt like because we had tried so hard [to have a baby] that I would be ecstatic every second. And it’s that whole thing where, any parent talking about the hard times, you feel like you have to justify straight away – I am really happy… And that’s why it’s such a difficult thing to talk about but I think we really do need to talk about… the realness of parenting, I guess.
I felt, with Eddie’s illness… how did this ever happen? And that’s a really hard thing when you start motherhood with something that you never expected that turns your whole life upside down. So I wanted to write something that maybe resonated with those mums that didn’t have this super smooth run into motherhood.
Sometimes I felt, when Eddie was really sick, that all these mums around me just had these perfect lives, and I know that that’s not true… but I felt very weird, alone and kind of “othered”… And I know that a lot of mums who have babies that have health conditions or are prem or that type of thing, they feel that too. So I hope that in that way it serves the community.
Emily Writes is not your real name, is it? Why did you feel the need to work under a pseudonym?
I guess the pseudonym is about the fact that I want to protect the privacy of my children. Every step of the way I’ve had boundaries and wanted to respect their privacy, and not only privacy but for me it’s about respecting them as people. …We talk a lot about what I’m writing, in terms of respecting the boys, but there’s a lot of trust there that I’m never going to do something that hurts them.
But I guess I don’t want them to spend their lives with people saying things like “oh, is your mum blah, blah, blah”. And I don’t want them to be Google-able, if that’s a word. I don’t want them to feel like they are characters or anything like that and I want to respect my husband’s privacy. He’s a really shy person.
… It also allows me a little bit of separation… I want to be able to come home and I walk through the door and I’m with my kids. …I find this is sort of a way to remind myself that I am a mum first to my kids and a wife and that is really important to me that I prioritise that and this allows me to not get too far up my own a*** or something.
With two small kids, it must be a struggle to write sometimes.
It’s hard to get it good. I write heaps. My drafts folder is like a phonebook… but it’s all s***. It’s easy to write lots but trying to find something good enough to publish is hard.
What I did was all at 3am, 4am because my kid is just intense. Every time he woke up, if I had an idea, I would note it down during the night and the book is like lots of little blog posts in a book. So I didn’t have to change my way of writing or anything [from blogging]. So I feel like I was pretty lucky. I think writers who write actual books are amazing.
[I remind Emily that she has written an actual book]
Oh yeah, I have written an actual book. I forgot.
You just feel so lucky to have a book that you just feel very weird, and lucky and how did this happen? And it just doesn’t feel like it was hard because it’s so exciting. And also I didn’t do the grind like other writers did. I feel like I’ve been shot up the a*** with a rainbow, basically. I’ve just been very lucky.
What authors or writers do you yourself enjoy reading?
That’s a great question. I love Bunmi Laditan. I discovered her after I had started writing because someone said “you remind me of Bunmi” and then I went on her Facebook page and she’s just amazing in the way she talks about anxiety and mental health – just so powerful. I love Bunmi.
I love Clementine Ford. I just read Fight like a girl. I think that was really brave. It’s kind of like Feminism 101, a really nice sort of entry into intersectional feminism…
I really love Emma Neale whose book Billy Bird – I just cried the whole way through it – it was such a powerful metaphor for parenting.
I love Sarah Laing’s Katherine Mansfield book, Mansfield and Me. I love that book. It’s amazing. I wanted to read it because I really like her as a person. She seems super nice and lovely. I don’t know her but that’s how she seems. So I thought “I’ll just buy it because she seems really nice and I want to support New Zealand authors” and then I loved it. You know when you just don’t know if you’re going to like a book or not, and then it’s everything? And I never thought I’d be into a Katherine Mansfield book but I loved it.
You’re coming down to Christchurch and doing a book launch event at Scorpio Books soon.
Yes, I’m so excited to come to Christchurch and that Scorpio Books wants to host me. And I think someone is running around trying to organise a day event so that we don’t exclude mums who can’t go out during the “witching hour” because their children are tyrants. Which is my children. I don’t mean that to insult anybody’s children.
I’m quite nervous about the Unity launch in Wellington because my kids will be there but I feel like if they absolutely crack it, I’ll just be like “See? I told you. Everything in the book is true”.
The New Zealand Book Council are giving away one copy of Rants in the dark. To enter the draw, email firstname.lastname@example.org with “Rants” in the subject line by Thurs 16 March. (Remember to include your postal address!)
A NZ Opera production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s most popular comic opera, The Mikado, opens this week in Christchurch at the Isaac Theatre Royal.
Australian bass-baritone Andrew Collis has performed all over the world and appears in this production in the role of Poo-Bah. I chatted with him last week about the world of The Mikado, humour, and the family link to W. S. Gilbert that fostered his interest in opera.
How would you describe The Mikado to someone who has never been to see the show before?
The thing about The Mikado is that it is first and foremost a comic piece of musical theatre. It is a piece that has a lot of energy. It’s melodic. It’s a nineteenth century piece so it’s not modern in that sense. It’s an acoustic piece so we have no microphones, we just perform on stage. I think the proof of the pudding is in the eating – so far audiences have laughed a lot, which is great because it means that the jokes still work and that audiences can still get something out of it 130 years after the event.
It may be a nineteenth century work but many people still go and see Shakespeare plays which are much older so jokes can have a long life span…
You get someone like Oscar Wilde who was also writing at that sort of time – The importance of being Earnest – that sort of humour still works as well, and the Mikado is not a thousand miles away from that. It’s the same sort of witty banter that Wilde was so good at that that Gilbert also did well, so it’s a similar sort of thing to that, I think.
Tell me a little bit about the character that you play.
Without going into the story too much, he is “The Lord High Everything Else”. The main part, Ko-Ko, sung by Byron Coll, has been appointed to the title “Lord High Executioner” and Poo-Bah, in his government, has become “Lord High Everything Else”… Poo-Bah lists all the jobs that he has and basically he has become the encapsulation of a kind of overly pompous, titled bureaucrat who’s also on the take…It’s actually become a term in the language for that sort of character. He’s a real Poobah, he’s got his finger in every pie and is on the make and is somewhat corrupt.
I think that’s a concept that modern audiences can relate to, definitely. Do you have a favourite part of The Mikado that you particularly enjoy?
I love the role that I do. I think the best song on the night is The Mikado song – the emperor of Japan comes in and joins the show about half way through the second act. That’s a great number and …I listen to it every night from the wings. It’s sung by a fine baritone, Wellington resident, James Clayton.
And Byron Coll, the Christchurch born Ko-Ko in the piece, he has some wonderful numbers particularly a duet that he does with Helen Medlyn, who sings Katisha, is tremendous.
Tell me a little bit about the costumes. They seem to be a break with the traditional in a lot of ways.
Mine is a kind of fusion. An oriental, nineteenth century fusion complete with top hat. They’re very inventive costumes. I think they’re trying to bring in various different references and influences. The school girls are all dressed in a Harajuku style costuming. And a lot of the men are sort of half Japanese, half not which I think is trying to encapsulate something about the piece that, although it is set in Japan, it doesn’t have a whole lot to do with Japan. It’s really a piece about the mores and functionings of nineteenth century English life set in the context of Japan, which was very fashionable at the time. In the 1880s it was a very fashionable part of London life. [Note: A Japanese Village exhibition opened in Knightsbridge, London in 1885]
It’s a reference to its time, really. And the Harajuku thing is a way of breaking a connection of it being particularly nineteenth century in that obviously [Harajuku] is of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries – and there’s a reference to modern technology in there too.
It’s essentially a modernised version of a traditional piece which still, I think, hopefully takes the piece seriously and doesn’t ridicule it too much and that just tries to make it a bit bouncier and more fun for a modern audience.
I hear that you are descended from the Gilbert half of Gilbert and Sullivan…
My maternal great grandfather was Gilbert’s first cousin and he and his brother and sister came out to New South Wales and Sydney in the mid 1850s, I think, and in the family (although I didn’t join the family until some time after that) it was always part of the folklore that Gilbert had been a cousin with whom they kept in some touch but they didn’t see much of him after that period of course because they were living in Australia. So it was very much a part of growing up – my family was not particularly musical or theatrical but Gilbert & Sullivan always played a role in our lives because of this connection.
It’s a bit sad to think of a fifteen year old boy being into Gilbert and Sullivan but nevertheless I was, and that’s why I got into music theatre and opera as my career because that’s what opened the door to it for me and from that I started to listen to other sorts of classical music and opera….
If you hadn’t become an opera singer what direction to you think you would have gone in your career?
I did a law degree when I finished school because lower voiced males, well they usually take a bit longer for their voices to mature before you can start trying to work. So I did a history/law degree… and then worked for a couple of years as a legal bureaucrat which is quite Gilbertian in lots of ways… And then decided that I would have a crack at seeing how I would go and that was in 1990 and I’m still going…
So I’m very grateful for the whole Gilbert connection because it’s given me a sort of direction in my life which has been a lot of fun and very interesting.
Have you performed in Christchurch or at the Isaac Theatre Royal before?
No. My first time. I’ve done a bit on the North Island in Wellington and Auckland but not in Christchurch yet so I’m looking forward to that very much… but I hear great things about [the Isaac Theatre Royal] so I’m looking forward to seeing it.
I haven’t been to Christchurch since the earthquakes so it’s going to be fascinating to see it but I’m sure also quite moving and disturbing to see what’s happened. I’m certainly looking forward to doing the shows and I hope that it brings the citizens of Christchurch a bit of enjoyment, I hope anyway.
…We’ve noticed in our audiences that there’s been a good presence of young kids and that they’ve actually enjoyed it and there’s been a lot of laughter — it is, at the end of the day, a family entertainment and families so far have enjoyed it and I hope they will in Christchurch as well.