Swamp Doctor re-assembled in January following drummer John's return from Turkey. We've been working on new material as a three piece of keys, guitar and drums, and a new sound is emerging: fresher, simpler, and more song-driven. Here's a taste of what we've been up to, recorded at a recent band practice.
We've done a couple of low-key casual shows recently, but our first major show in a while is imminent! And it's going to be a smorgasboard of performative treats, with theatre, comedy, dance and music. Not only that, but there's going to be SOUP.
(Poster image created by me with lettering by fellow Swamp Doctor and partner, Josh.)
After Kiwiburn - whose principles include 'radical self expression' and where casual nudity was the norm - I plunged myself straight in to an event which was the polar opposite: The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, which was to perform in Wellington for the second time ever in February.
I had blithely signed up to be part of a group of Shetland fiddlers for the Tattoo at the Wellington Folk Festival in October 2015, thinking it would be a fun challenge, a little out of my normal habits of experimental, underground, and intimate performances. What followed was a baptism of fired: blindingly fast tunes; surrounded by extremely accomplished musicians for whom fiddling is their lifeblood; marching - yes, marching, through the ranks of bagpipers, no less; co-ordinated uniforms; and a venue with ten minutes' walk between dressing room and stage entrance.
Here's a clip of the finale taken by one punter to give you a sense of the scale:
And here's another video of the Lochiel Drill Marching team - the fiddlers were part of this section, playing a somewhat militarised rendition of the Lord of the Rings theme music.
Tens of thousands of people saw the show at the Westpac Stadium, and thousands of us performed in it.. And now I can officially say: I was part of a mass spectacle. Am I glad I did it? Yes, certainly, it was eye opening and was like a shot of steroids for my fiddle playing skills. Would I do it again? Probably not! But I met some great people and experienced a side of life that is a world away from my normal reality.
After the Tattoo, my next mission was the return of The Shadow Chateau to CubaDupa in March. But I'll save that for a new post - a video of the show will be ready soon and I can't wait to share it.
Whoops, I almost forgot that I made a blog! Wouldn't be the first time.
Starting from way back in end-2015, this is what I've been up to.
The Out Of The Suitcase Puppet Festival in October 2015 was incredibly exciting for me - meeting puppeteers from around the country, seeing a bunch of shows, and performing with Gamelan Padhang Moncar in 'The Fall of Alengka', and presenting The Moth and The Moon to an audience of puppetry enthusiasts.
I was particularly inspired by the shadow puppet version of 'Hine Nui Te Po', which featured an ingenious home-made stage that was itself a puppet and many other clever tricks and devices. Shadow theatre seemed like the perfect medium for the Maori goddes of darkness and night to find her expression.
There is a great review of three shows, including The Fall of Alengka, here.
Next on the agenda, in December, was a gamelan performance with some stunning young dancers from Jakarta.
I jumped from a summer holiday straight in to preparing 'Sloths At Sunrise' for Kiwiburn 2015. Marika Pratley and I assembled a collection of found instruments such as bamboo rattles, metal pipes, river stones in a bowl, and pot lids, along with sloth-themed paraphernalia, fairy lights and other ephemera, to create an interactive sound installation.
Kiwiburn is a tricky thing to explain for those unfamiliar - it's essentially a participatory art festival based on the principles of Burning Man. Everyone purchases a ticket; everyone contributes something. There are no paid artists; there are no stages; there are no paid organisers or crew. What you experience there is the flowering of the creativity of a diverse crowd of people, many of whom would not consider themselves artists. Everyone brings what they want to the table and the offerings are many, unexpected, big, tiny, intimate, spectacular, amateur, professional, serious and spiritual, hilarious and irreverent.
As well as 'Sloths At Sunrise' I ended up taking part in many musical jams across the festival week, and became part of an impromptu orchestra accompanying fire dancers at the effigy burning.
Me in the hat with the flax band. As you can see, a fair few fiddlers around!
Holy moley it's a feast for the eyes! The very first Swamp Doctor music video. Shot by Natalie Cheetham and Esther Ridell; edited by Natalie. These fantastic people also made the props; I made the basket crowns and the shadow puppets. What you can't see in this is how freeeeezing cold it was in the Town Belt in Newtown that day.......
Nat and Esther deserve many rounds of applause (and beer) for their generous donation of their time, efforts and creativity!
Back in Easter of this year, Swamp Doctor spent a few days with Rohan Hill in the Innermost Gardens hall in Mount Victoria, recording what we pessimistically hoped would be an E.P. but turned out to be an album.
I'm please to report overdubs were minimal, post-production surgery was minor and painless, John Wilson did a mighty fine job of mixing and Rohan did a great job of mastering. And so, I give you: Pickles!
Of the 15 or so tracks we recorded, 12 made it on. These represent nearly all the songs we have been playing over the last year, and they represent the first official release of music I've had a part in writing. We're all extremely proud.
Pickles! is being released as a download and jar of pickles (only available at shows); on Bandcamp and on CD. We tossed and turned about doing a vinyl, and that might still happen, but we'd have to cut off a few songs.
Thoughts are already turning to new songs so let's hope the next release is not far away.
The Shadow Chateau made its debut appearance at CubaDupa back in March.
The Shadow Chateau is a 4 metre diametre tipi which I made myself for non-rational, fantastical, whimsical reasons. After its creation it became apparent that its most logical use would be as a venue for shadow puppetry.
I met Anna Bailey of String Bean Puppets when she was working with Joko Susilo on a wayang kulit (Javanese shadow puppet play) in 2014. We promised to collaborate on puppetry and this is where it has ended up. The show was called The Moth and the Moon - it's simple and poetic, following an anonymous person, a giant moth and an animated street light.
My bandmates Josh Harris and Tarryn Waugh, and our friend Anton, played some lovely live improvised music for the show (they, and the audience, are inside the tipi in the video). The above was filmed when a passing samba band added in an unexpected grooviness...
Our original, beautiful big moth (left) unfortunately didn't get used as we planned it. The higher than expected light levels in Te Aro Park led to a radical re-arrangement: instead of the puppeteers projecting from the outside in, we decided we would have to join the audience inside, and project out, making this guy too cumbersome. But he will be appearing when we do the show at the Out Of The Suitcase puppet festival in October!