Hawke’s Bay is alive with the sound of music! Sure, it may not involve Julie Andrews cavorting across the upper slopes of Te Mata Peak, but almost everywhere you go you are likely to hear or experience some form of local contemporary music.
Gigs at the Cabana or Common Room, Jamie McPhail’s ‘Small Hall Sessions’ getting performers out to the sticks, live music accompanying Hawke’s Bay Farmers’ Market goers, winery festivals, buskers in Napier’s Emerson Street, entertainment for corporate events, wedding covers bands, or just suburban garage jam sessions, you’re never too far away from the sound of music in Hawke’s Bay.
A big, diverse ensemble
Unlike Dunedin in the early 80s, or Seattle in the 90s Hawke’s Bay doesn’t have a unique “sound”.
In the early 90s bands like Jakob, who achieved some international fame, led a post-rock theme in the region, but with changing times, trends and populations the types of music you can experience in Hawke’s Bay these days is much broader.
“If you look at Paisley Stage or The Cabana, one night you’ll have a “Metal” night with five heavy metal bands. The next night it’s folk trios, and the next night it’s a DJ” says managing director of the Napier Music Academy, Rob Franks.
“When I moved here five years ago I was surprised by what a big musical community Hawke’s Bay has. Everyone knows everyone and they all go to each-others’ gigs and help out.”
“It’s really so diverse and I think that comes from so many young musicians coming through, but also the older ones who have been doing it for years and they have their style,” adds Hayley Munro, a teacher at the academy, as well as being a musician in several local bands, including The Miserables.
“Lots of people are in lots of different bands, and others will often fill in when you need a guitarist or something, because they’re close-knit and know most of the songs already.”
Music Machine proprietor and local font of musical wisdom, Richie Jackman, was asked to judge a performance of EIT music students recently “and the music ranged from rather heavy, to hip-hop, soul, to pop, right across the board there is some great stuff coming out of there!”
Musical tastes and styles, like fashions, constantly change with time. While I remember playing the recorder in the Tamatea Primary School Orchestra in the 80s alongside violins, “pianicas” (a keyboard you blew into to produce a sound somewhere between an accordion and a kazoo), and wooden xylophones, you could be forgiven for thinking the trusty old plastic recorder had gone extinct as many kids these days want to be guitarists, or rock drummers.
Ukuleles had a bit resurgence five to ten years ago and many schools, including my daughter’s, still have a ukulele group. Unlike the recorder the skills picked up learning the ukulele are transferable to instruments like the guitar and bass. So the downfall of the recorder may be just an evolutionary thing, but it could also be a digital thing.
Hayley Munro says, “When I was learning the recorder at school I couldn’t just pull out my device and learn about this instrument, or listen to this sort of music on Spotify because it just didn’t exist! Today they have a lot more information and access to a far wider range of music.”
“We’re not just teaching students how to play an instrument, but how to write songs, and how to perform and even showing some how to record.”
The Napier Music Academy has around 250 students mainly aged between 7 and 11, with about a dozen older (18 and over) who they teach in schools and at their premises on Craven Terrace. Lots of schools don’t have a set musical programme anymore, so this is where the academy comes in to help.
For older musicians Eastern Institute of Technology’s New Zealand Diploma in Music, headed by Sarah Terry and Tom Pierard, is the place to go and was roundly praised by everyone I talked to. EIT also has the advantage of advanced recording studios, giving students the opportunity to learn the technical side of recording, mixing and sound engineering, as well as song writing and promotion.
Confidence is also a big part of performance.
Often getting musicians to perform is one of the biggest and hardest steps. “They’re great musicians and enjoy jamming with one another, but might think they’re too young, or don’t have enough songs, but they can do a small set at Paisley or the like,” says Hayley. The academy and EIT help grow that confidence.
“One of the best things I have seen recently is when we hold Muso Nights and you see some of the young ones from the academy come through and their first performance is a little nervous, then a year later they’re up on stage, confident, playing good songs – It’s one of the things that keeps me going is that good buzz” says Music Machine’s Richie Jackman.
The Music Machine man
Jackman has been running Napier’s Music Machine store for 28 years. Originally based in the AMP building on Hastings Street (which was demolished to make way for the current Farmers department store), it relocated to the art deco era Hartson’s building, Napier’s original music store, several years ago.
His shop is a hive of musical activity, instruments, equipment and advice, with Richie and co-worker (and Jakob guitarist), Jeff Boyle taking centre stage.
A musician and songwriter himself, Jackman wrote for music label Warner Brothers Chappell back in Liverpool and was also a member of the group who bought and resurrected The Cabana as a music venue in 2008 after it had closed in 1997 and been turned into an art gallery.
“When I originally came here 30 years ago I was blown away by the level of playing and ability. Hawke’s Bay has always been a very creative area – a place for music and artists,” Richie says.
Jingle all the way
It’s fair to say very few people work in music in Hawke’s Bay as a fulltime job (Richie and Jeff exempt). If they do it’s mainly teaching music as their main income earner, with playing and performing coming second.
One of the few people to turn his music into a living in Hawke’s Bay is Rick Toner. Rick comes from a family of well-known Hawke’s Bay musicians and plays in covers band Playing Mantis. He has also been an announcer at a number of radio stations across the region’s airwaves.
Toner combined his media experience and musical skills to start Jingle King – a company that creates memorable, advertising jingles – those catchy 30-second musical advertisements you hear on your daily commute or in a shop that sticks in your head. He has produced successful ditties for local real estate agents, optometrists, cafes and more.
Rick has diversified even further by creating “The Jingle Studio”, which teaches the jingle business online to an American advertising market.
Some people play at home and don’t really perform at gigs. Others write music and play as much as they can in various local original and covers bands on the pub/weddings/corporate circuit.
Some write and play their own original music and want to be on the national and international scene, and this is where Backline Charitable Trust really want to help.
The Backline Charitable Trust was formed in 2015 after Kevin Murphy had discussions with Mike Chunn of Split Enz fame around his “Play It Strange Trust” – an organisation that supports youth song writing in Auckland. Trustees are Tom Pierard, Hamish Pinkham and Murphy.
“When the Backline Charitable Trust launched the www.hbmusichub.co.nz website in 2019 we thought 100 artists would have been a good target. This site is a free platform for any HB artist to register and is a window to the scene in HB. Currently there are around 150 listed on there,” says Kevin. The site also showcases local venues and has an event guide.
“We encourage promoters to view the site if they want local support acts and we encourage people looking for acts for their private functions to go there.”
The trust secures funding to host mentors and since 2015 has hosted a range of artists, songwriters, managers and producers. They have formed relationships with MMF (Music Managers Forum), APRA, NZ on Air, NZ Music Commission, Recorded Music NZ, and Creative NZ.
In 2020 Hawke’s Bay hosted APRA Songhubs writing sessions. “This was an awesome week of song writing involving six local artists writing with approximately 12 NZ producers and artists. Some amazing connections were made from that week,” says Kevin.
“We launched the HB Vinyl Record project Under the Sun last year – 40 artists submitted their music and we had 10 songs on the record, of which we pressed 300 copies, with half of those sent to the NZ music industry showcasing Hawke’s Bay artists.”
Typical of the artists featured on Under the Sun is Floyd Pepper, appearing on the album as ‘CASHEK’. Floyd, who teaches Screen Production at EIT by day, also plays in local band Groove Foundation. CASHEK plays a style of “downtempo” electronic music – the perfect sort of tunes for long Hawke’s Bay afternoons. Having signed with distributor DRM, CASHEK’s music is streamable on Spotify.
Floyd had used just a keyboard and laptop to record earlier works while travelling abroad, but since moving back to the Bay he now works out of a home studio where other acoustic and electric instruments like piano, guitar and percussive elements can be added into arrangements for depth and difference.
Projects scheduled to happen this year that Backline Charitable Trust will be involved in include AMPS – The Aotearoa Music Producers Series with the NZ Producers’ Guild. This is a session where local music producers are encouraged to attend and learn from an established professional NZ producer. Also on the schedule is Going Local – a two day seminar organised by INDIE Music NZ will be held in May.
After the success of last year’s release, Under the Sun Volume 2 – HB Vinyl Record Project was launched in February and will be pressed by October/November this year.
Technology has made massive leaps across every aspect of life over recent years and music is no exception.
Richie Jackman says recording equipment and associated electronics has seen an exponential increase in sales in the last decade as people look to do their own recording.
Rather than having to go exclusively to studios to record, the DIY approach assisted massively by computer programmes, and phone and tablet apps has become far more common. “I’ve recorded songs in my kitchen,” says Hayley Munro. “We live on a main road, though, so you have to contend with trucks and other vehicles interrupting your recording sessions. That was one bonus of recording during lockdown – at least the roads were silent!”
Alec Withers of one of Hawke’s Bay’s more long-established bands, Devil’s Elbow, says “We’ve been handling our recording since the band began, it can be tedious but it’s not too hard to capture decent sounds if you know what you’re looking for. But we don’t mix our music; that burden gets handed over to the pros.”
The availability and range of online tutorials, how-to guides and the like is now utterly phenomenal, too.
Napier-based Guitar Mastery Method is one company reaping the digital rewards. When BayBuzz profiled company founder, and member of local band Black Smoke Trigger, Charlie Wallace in 2020 he had over a dozen staff around the world, almost 400,000 registered students, 51,000 YouTube subscribers and the company’s revenue was in the millions of dollars.
The company is now getting in celebrity guitarists and offering hi-end one-on-one lessons via webcam. As I write, Wallace is advertising on Seek for an ops manager, offering a handsome wage, plus bonus to work in a “Kick ass company culture”!
Social media and digital streaming have taken over from analogue music formats, all but obliterating CDs, while vinyl has made a nostalgic comeback, showing that New Zealand’s “tyranny of distance” as Split Enz sang is a thing of the past.
“We used to make so much money selling CDs at the Farmers’ Markets, but CDs aren’t such a thing anymore,” Hayley Munro laments.
“You have to build up your social media side of things,” says Jackman. “It’s almost like in the old days where you had to go and tour everywhere. But now you can ‘virtually tour’ much more widely on social media and someone from the United States or Britain can hear your music and go ‘Wow!’ without you having to go to those places.”
Devil’s Elbow’s Alec Withers thinks it’s more of a combination: “There is no money in having music free online, it’s there because you want to be in the game. Any action that comes from those channels is usually a day or two after a live show, people will still be on a buzz and check out your videos and buy a CD, or digital download. If you are not active with shows or have a new release/video out on media then things simmer down pretty fast.”
Unfortunately those live shows have hit a bit of a speedhump of late.
Covid causes concert chaos
Local musicians and venues have suffered greatly under Covid – losing concerts, festivals, weddings, events and thousands of dollars of income from performances that have been cancelled or repeatedly postponed due to Covid lockdowns and restrictions.
You really have to sympathise with the likes of Roy Brown of The Cabana, who typically hosted 10-15 local performers per month pre-lockdown and traffic light system. He says the local live music scene is currently almost dead and, with all the Covid health rules and regulations, there’s nothing he can do about it.
“Virtual gigs” aren’t really an option at the local grassroots level, because of the cost to set up, record and broadcast is too high for a typically smaller “virtual ticket” return and the venues don’t make the money they would across the bar from live patrons.
Smaller venues like Ahuriri’s Urban Winery are still able to hold more intimate gigs, but such scaled down shows are not an ideal situation for all acts.
But it’s not just rules, vaccine passes and venue limits causing issues, says Hayley Munro.
“People have become far more cautious because of Covid. Some don’t want to go to places with crowds, others don’t buy tickets thinking the gig would already be over capacity, or it will be cancelled.”
While Covid may be the bane of local venues, it has given others time to write and create.
“From my personal point of view I wrote some of my best songs for years, because I had the time to do it,” Jackman says.
Future sound of Hawke’s Bay
“I think the music scene in Hawke’s Bay has been tested (by Covid),” says Hayley Munro. “It’s going to take patience and perseverance to be able to play together again in bands and festivals.”
“But we can hold our weight against other, bigger centres like Auckland. A lot of it is due to places like HB’s wineries – we have lots of amazing venues hosting amazing events and people want to support young musicians, and local talent and music is such a big part of those events.”
Jackman says there is a lot of great music writing coming out of Napier’s high schools. “Napier Girls’ has some tremendous vocalists who are writing their own, original stuff. There’s Liberty Fowler, there’s Ella Pollett, similarly Napier Boys’, and all the schools. The music teachers are admired so much because they put their heart and soul into their music and that goes back to the guru of them all, Mr Dave Boston.”
Boston, who received a Queen’s Service Medal for services to music in 2009, has taught guitar to generations of young aspiring Hawke’s Bay musicians for over 40 years.
“Some of the now-not-so-youngsters he taught, like Jason Alexander (of band Naked Gun and a music teacher himself) have grown and are now passing their wisdom and musicianship onto the next generations.”
Jackman’s hope: “It’s crucial with Covid and all the lockdowns, that it’d be lovely to see something really revolutionary to come through – like the Punk era, or Grunge period were. It would be lovely for the youngsters who are writing great stuff now to feel something that causes a new movement, an identity thing and it would be great if it was a positive identity thing.”