The 2017 WOMAD Awards

IMG_9563Another year later and I’m once again nursing an epic hangover from a wonderful three days at WOMAD in New Plymouth. This year we had the most stunning weather imaginable, the mountain was out in full glory, the flags were glistening in the sunshine and the people were kicking off their shoes and embracing bare feet as a cool-down method. The Bowl of Brooklands was looking its finest, and the music, food and dance that filled it was certainly world class, here are my picks:

The crowd favourite award:

This has to go to UK ska superstars The Specials. Their energetic set to close out Friday night was just what the doctor ordered. They had the bowl stage packed in and everyone was up on their feet dancing away as they charged through a hit filled set. Songs like Message To You Rudy and Ghost Town were echoing in my head for hours after they left the stage, only complaint – an hour set wasn’t long enough!

The unforgettable award:

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The Soil, an acapella trio from South Africa, blew me away. I am lost for words when I think back to their closing set on the Dell stage on Sunday night, it was the perfect performance to finish the festival on. This trio have voices like I’d never heard before and their ‘kasi soul’ sound is modern but traditional at the same time. It was simply magical to listen to under the trees and stars and beside a shimmering lake. I’ll never forget their show and that feeling.

The stage presence award:

Mali dance music hero Inna Modja had the most compelling stage presence. I couldn’t take my eyes of her! She moved with grace and funk, sang each note perfectly, told stories with pride and passion and generally just had me as putty in her hands.

The best dance party award:

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New Orleans jazz-hip hoppers the Hot 8 Brass Band had the crowd at the Gables Stage on Sunday dancing like mad things with their funky blend of genres. They had a contagiousness to their performance and I had a stupid grin plastered on my face as me and friends bogeyed the set away. Their musicianship was outstanding, to have so much talent on one stage is pretty darn impressive. Special mention to the trumpet player who regularly gave me chills as he hit such high notes so effortlessly.

The wow factor award:

Marlon Williams, our kiwi folk prodigy, ditched the dingy bar concert venues to take on the mighty Bowl of Brooklands and he did it superbly. He and his talented band the Yarrabenders, had the huge crowd overwhelmed in various fashions throughout his show. I was close to tears numerous times and kept gushing over how long he could hold a note for. I loved being up stomping my feet in a mad dash to keep up with the fast moving guitar before sitting back by the lake front to sway side to side in a mesmerised daze.

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The unexpected delight award:

Sitting down on a sunny Sunday afternoon to watch some of New Zealand’s best dancers on stage was a true privilege. The New Zealand Dance Company had the crowd captivated and were the talk of the festival for their stunning perfourmance of Brouhaha. I’m no dance expert but I loved it and didn’t want it to finish! Great to see the D put back in WOMAD.

Song of the Week – Anna

Song of the Week – Anna by Will Butler

Will Butler, one of the many geniuses behind Arcade Fire, has released his first solo album Policy. It’s all pretty impressive stuff but the second released single Anna, is just superb. To me, it’s the catchiest song of the year.

It may be a simple track lyrically but that is more than made up for by it’s energy. The song bumps and bounces along in such a fashion it’s impossible not to shimmy along with it as you listen. In fact, I’ve just realised my typing has even synced into a tapping pattern as I listen and write.

Arcade Fire is famous for its longer songs which build with emphasis as they roll along, but Will Butler’s solo work takes the short and sharp approach and it’s just as effective. Anna doesn’t mess around, right from the get go there’s a strong drum beat, a funky synth rhythm and repetitive vocals and these don’t let up throughout the song. Butlers falsetto’s at the start of the chorus are such an enthralling contrast to his lower tone as he echoes the last word of the line “cause you got to get money”.

This song is contagious, refreshingly unique and happy. I just love everything about it!

If you are a fan do have a decent listen to Policy. It is a fantastic album with a lot of light and shade. Butler teamed up with The Guardian newspaper and wrote five of the songs on it around news headlines. This makes for fascinating listening as he portrays his take on ISIS, the Greek economy, black holes and more. At an Arcade Fire concert Will Butler always stands out on stage, which is credit to him given how entertaining all of the band members are. I’m thrilled to be able to explore his own talents in this solo album.

Song of the Week – Cause I’m a Man

Cause I’m A Man – Tame Impala

This new track from the Aussie indie rockers is my current crank. Cause I’m A Man is the first official single from their soon to be released album Currents and it’s a damn good taste of what’s to come when the record is out on July 17th.

It’s a funky song, perfect for when you’re in a chilled mood and keen to bop your head along to something. A psychedelic synth undertone wafts throughout the song teamed up with a bass line which adds a catchy melody. In the verses Kevin Parker’s charming vocals drift across the top in a repeating scale of falsetto. But before you know it things are amped up a notch in the chorus with a grungy guitar riff and a stronger, gravelly vocal display which wakes you up from your hallucinations.  It’s a compelling listen.

There’s a lot of symmetry in this track. When I consider the level of repetition separately I feel like it should be boring. But it’s not. Somehow Tame Impala have worked their alternative magic once again and Cause I’m A Man has really struck a chord with me. Bring on more of this when Currents is released!

Concert Review: Pokey LaFarge

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Last night Pokey LaFarge and his wonderful band transported me through the ages. He turned a dark and dingy little pubinto a glowing musical oasis with his old-time sounding songs that had the power to enforce a smile on ones face and start a foot-tap it’s impossible to stop. I checked out the singer-songwriter in an intimate gig at Bodega in Wellington and LaFarge was so good, he even made it worth missing half of the Cricket World Cup final.

The St. Louis musician burst on stage with his band kicking things off in a lively fashion with a couple of tracks from his new album Something In The Water. Both Knocking The Dust Off The Rust Belt Tonight and Underground went down a treat among an audience of big fans, everyone was whooping and moving from the get go.

Straight off the bat Pokey was cracking hilarious jokes and feeding off every comment from an audience member with silly gags that went down a treat. His banter provided a lovely base for the fun and bouncy songs we were set to hear.

The set Pokey LaFarge, real name Andrew Heissler, played last night was a wonderful mix of old and new, slow and upbeat. The well-known foot-stomping tunes like Central Time and Close The Door were show highlights with a real blues and country sound shining through. Every word was echoed as Pokey lead the crowd in an impressively in tune and in time singalong. New album tracks Something In The Water, Goodbye, Barcelona and The Spark showcased his latest direction wonderfully and stood up next to the old favourites. In these tracks he displayed different tones in his voice and mixed up the tempo in a vibrant manner.

Pokey LaFarge’s band deserves a lot of credit for managing to steal everyone’s attention from the compelling front man on regular occasions. Pokey is a star, that’s easy to tell, but what a crew of musicians he has to back him up! The amazing artists who are all true heroes in their instruments, regularly moved me to a mouth-drop, wide-open moment.

Adam Hoskins is a force on the guitar picking the most beautiful solos like he could do it with his eyes closed. Not only that but his low-humming backing vocals gave much needed oomph to some of the songs. Ryan Koenig is the best harmonica player I’ve ever seen on stage, he blew me away every time he lifted it to his lips. Add into the mix his amazing washboard, complete with a silver desk bell and playing gloves, and he’s a force to be reckoned with. Joey Glynn’s work on the double bass kept a stylish rhythm. But it doesn’t stop there, TJ Muller on trumpet made me feel like I was living in the 1920s with his blaring solos played with incredible accuracy and Chloe Feoranzo added to that effect with her stunning work on the clarinet and saxophone.

Lets Get Lost, which was sung in a lovely duet with sexy-voiced Feoranzo who finally stepped out of the corner she was hidden in for most of the show, and Far Away gave us a dose of LaFarge’s softer songs without losing the energy he’d built during the feistier offerings.

But by far the highlight of the night was when Pokey LaFarge burst back onstage for an encore. Gone was the rhine-stone bowtie; donned was a Black Caps shirt (buttoned right up) and a batting helmet. The crowd, who had been checking their phones for cricket scores throughout the gig, was enthralled. It was hilarious watching him bound across the stage, swinging a cricket bat and trying to sing into the microphone without getting the helmet caught on it. What a fantastic and thought-out touch.

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Pokey and his crew wrapped things up with a grand version of La La Blues, thankfully featuring another brilliant harmonica solo from Koenig. It was the ultimate way to finish what was an incredible concert.

Pokey LaFarge promised onstage three times that he’d be back in Wellington again next year. I’ll be there and I highly recommend you are too.