Hard News by Russell Brown


Getting Out

If you hadn't heard, I'll be chairing a discussion called Tweeting the Revolution, with Toby Manhire and Vaughn Davis, as part of the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival, on Saturday May 12. We'll be discussing the relationship between between the tools of social media and political change. And yes, we will mention Malcolm Gladwell.

I'm flattered to be part of a festival lineup that I think has something for everyone.


This week's Media7 programme on the gulf between the reality and the reporting of our prison system induced indignation and anger in the studio audience. You may experience a similar reaction.

You may also be interested to know that after having Phil Guyan of the Christian Broadcasting Association on Media7 last week, I've accepted a reciprocal invitation to be interviewed on one of the CBA's flagship shows, Real Life with John Cowan. The format is biographical, leaning toward the Big Questions (which, as an atheist, I am happy to discuss) and the coolest thing is that I get to play some favourite tunes.

The show airs live from 8pm to 9pm on Newstalk ZB this Sunday. Awesomely, you can even call in and apparently I talk to you.


The highlight of a most pleasant Easter weekend was attending a "live preview" of Lawrence Arabia's forthcoming album The Sparrow in the lovely old hall at Whangateau, on the way to Leigh. It wasn't any old gig: the invitation asked us to bring a plate and the band stretched to a brass section and a string quartet.

The first thing to say about the set is that, from the very first bar, it was Lawrence Arabia, only more so. About 300% more so, by my rough calculation. The performance was captured for a DVD to accompany the album, so you'll be able to check my sums on that.

If the last album generally survived the indignities of a pub gig, The Sparrow is more the stuff of a theatre show (arts festival bookers, make a note). It's not that there's nothing down there for dancing -- some of the white funk of the Fabulous/Arabia project seems to have flowed on into this record -- but there's a melodic delicacy and complexity about it that is actually worth sitting down and listening to. And marvelling at. As Fiona turned to me and said two songs in: "Talented bastards."

In an ideal world, a Sparrow tour should consist of a string of delightful evenings in vintage community halls like this one, with a 50% discount for punters who bring a plate. James could eventually travel the world explaining "Ladies or gentlemen a plate" to baffled journalists. But I digress.


Tuesday night was fun. A few of us gathered for a beer with Matthew Littlewood, who was up to see The Specials. He wasn't the only one having a beer before the show -- Britomart's bars were thronged with fortysomething chaps and ladies in their ska-ified clobber.

I gather that Shed 10's first run as a proper music venue was a success. Unfortunately, it'll be the last for a while, as the shed's first floor is in need of considerable repair. The bar ran out of beer before the headliners came on and the Specials finished without playing 'Ghost Town' (not, as initially believed, because of noise complaints from waterfront apartment dwellers, although apparently that happened, but to meet an agreed 10.30pm curfew).

Meanwhile Fiona and I made our way up town for the night's other show, Lucinda Williams at the Town Hall, where the fortysomethings were outnumbered by the fiftysomethings.

Lucinda herself is, of course, 59 years old, and she looked all that and then some at first: she seemed tired and moved like she had a sore back. There were some long gaps between songs while she consulted a member of her crew about the earpiece she was using for foldback. But there was not one moment that she stepped to the mic where she did not absolutely bring it. The depth, clarity and emotional authenticity of her voice is a continuing marvel.

The first hour of the show was downbeat. I don't really know her last album, Blessed, but 'Copenhagen' from that record was a highlight, along with 'Fruits of My Labor'. Then, pretty much bang on halfway, she kicked it up with 'I Lost It ' and 'Real Live Bleeding Fingers' and later a blazing 'Honey Bee'.

"I keep thinking that looks like Steve Earle," said Fiona, noting a large, bearded man in a cowboy hat in the wings.

She wasn't aware that Steve Earle was playing the King's Arms the next night. She just knew what he looked like from watching Treme. Girl's got a keen eye.

"Perhaps he'll come on stage," I said.

And he did, during the encore performance of 'Drunken Angel' and three more songs after that (you can see the full set list and photos at Marty Duda's 13 Floor website). The consequent collective babyboomergasm nearly blew out the sides of the Town Hall.

Note: I still hate that as per last time, this was sold as a seated show. The actual seats have been upgraded, but it's hard for audience to properly respond to the music when everyone is crammed into rows. Ironically, I wound up with a buggered back -- we were three rows back, over to the right, and turning to watch the performance all night was vexing and uncomfortable in the extreme.


I had not been to one of the Herald Online Sundae Sessions recordings before, so when their creator, Hugh Sundae, asked me if I wanted to come along to the Home Brew session at York Street last night, I was well up for it.

The period covered by the writing and recording of Home Brew's eponymous debut was prolific even by Tom Scott's standards -- it's a double album -- but not always a happy one and the darker tunes showcased in the session might come as a surprise to fans used to thinking of Home Brew as a mobile party. They're also a real step up. When it ended, 40 minutes of poetic funk consciousness just didn't seem enough. Happily, they've set aside 48 hours for the album launch party on May 4 and 5, in a disused brothel. (I'll be taking Fiona to Wellington for her birthday that weekend, which is probably just as well.)

You can pre-order the album on iTunes here. And Hugh, you can definitely invite me to one of your sessions again.


Tunes! This Mojo Filter rework of Dionne Warwick's 'Walk On By' is a sweet serving of bass:

And if you didn't catch it on Twitter last week, I'm loving what Leftside Wobble did here:

Ditto this dub of a Meters' classic, via Brixton:

And finally, a most unexpected cover of the Undertones' 'Teenage Kicks' by the Scottish band Union Avenue. They are a Johnny Cash tribute band, but not in the usual sense of playing all Johnny Cash's songs. They're a tribute to the sound of Johnny Cash. You'll get it when you hear it.

Have a nice weekend, everyone.

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