1. Making Baby Float
With minutes to spare, the IIML twitter alerts me to a concert taking place nearby at the grandly named New Zealand School of Music. The Spaces In Between is another collaboration between pianist and composer Norman Meehan, poet Bill Manhire and singer Hannah Griffin. It’s been a couple of years since I saw them at St Andrews on the Terrace, and in that time the careful treatments have gelled into compelling art songs, and Griffin’s performance has an added depth and assuredness. The poems given musical settings include David Mitchell’s witty ‘Aesthetics’ (I last saw Wellington’s leading Beat down the road nearby in John Street), Baxter’s ‘High Country Weather’ (appropriately spare), Manhire’s ‘Buddhist Rain’ and – with a gospel vocal trio - David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’. Meehan introduced Hone Tuwhare’s ‘To Elespie, Ian & their Holy Whanau’ as “curiously named”, which would be news to the peace-loving Prior family. But he has a lovely touch on the Steinway, his arrangements having a gentle humour, and at one point guest Colin Hemmingsen’s clarinet provides an oxymoron: a joyful lament. Keith Hill’s recent documentary on this troupe is called Persuading the Baby to Float.
2. Laus Tibi Domine
Art, Keith Richards once said, is just short for Arthur. Turning poetry into songs is a risky endeavour, the results are often so arch. Denis Glover apparently grumbled at Douglas Lilburn’s 1954 settings of his ‘Sings Harry’ poems, and it has to be said something more earthy would have been more suitable. Meehan’s success reminded me of Dave Dobbyn’s deeply moving treatment of James K Baxter’s ‘Song of the Years’, which opens, “When from my mother’s womb I came / Disputandum was my name …” It was a match made in heaven, so perhaps Dobbyn should look to updating ‘Sings Harry’: like Baxter, Glover is a kindred spirit. Charlotte Yates, who commissioned Dobbyn’s song for the Baxter album, wrote that his use of repetition “turned the somewhat lad-least-likely last line of the poem ‘Laus tibi, Domine!’ into an utterly joyful and triumphant outro.”
3. True Adventures
After a gap of 27 years, I’ve been re-reading the one book about rock music that approaches literature: Stanley Booth’s classic The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones, about the 1969 US tour and so much more. First published in 1984, and recently reissued by Canongate, and I’m looking forward to reviewing it soon. It’s meant a revisit to the canon, especially Let it Bleed and Sticky Fingers (Exile got a workover at the time of its reissue in 2010). One of the standout moments is his observation, “There were no grownups among us.” I wish I could find the actual line again, but at a time when books fight to justify their space, this one has returned like a prodigal son.
4. Someone to protect
Which makes me think of a new earworm for the day, written circa 1973, released in 1981. Sax solo by Sonny Rollins.
The IIML twitter also provides “A website that some folk might find handy.”