Sneaky Feelings in earlier times: Matthew Bannister, David Pine, John Kelcher and Martin Durrant / Photo by Jeremy Freeman
Sneaky Feelings: The Mercury Moment CD Album 2020
Sneaky Feelings released The Mercury Moment album in 2020, 40 years on from forming as a band in Dunedin. It has not been a continuous 40 years as the band stalled later in the 1980s, and careers and families consumed band members' time for two and a half decades or so.
The band had thought about getting back together and recording, but the issue had become David Pine's availability. He was away a lot; he had a proper job that took him to places like Malaysia and India, working as a New Zealand ambassador or High Commissioner. These sorts of jobs don't leave much spare time for strumming the guitar. Back in Christchurch between placements in 2016, he was, at last, free to start playing again and thinking about writing some songs.
There were also geographical obstacles to overcome. Musically active Matthew Bannister lived in Hamilton, Martin Durrant was in Wellington, while John Kelcher, like David Pine, lived in Christchurch and had built a studio, The National Grid, the obvious place to convene and make a record. Some live gigs certainly helped sharpen up their playing and get them ready for the process of producing performances worthy of recording. This recording became the album that is Progress Junction (look for it on a decent map) which came out in September 2017. They enjoyed the process so much they wanted to do it again.
Sneaky Feelings run as a democracy. Drummer Martin Durrant and bass player John Kelcher contributed the occasional good song to releases right from the start of the band's career. But throughout the 1980s, David Pine and Matthew Bannister were the primary songwriters in the band. The new democracy now sees all band members contributing equally. On Mercury Moment, that is three songs each.
David Pine was the rustiest band member to come back to recording music. A highly demanding career as a diplomat allows him very little time for mucking about with a guitar. It took a while for David to get back into the groove of playing, singing and writing songs again. Still, he managed it with songs such as 'Heavenly Bodies', 'Last Letter to Eugenie', and the especially pleasing 'The Mercury Moment', all of them intriguing and attractive songs.
It isn't all that easy for a drummer to write songs, they need access to a guitar and piano and have some proficiency on them to get the job done, or some help from other band members, which is surely what being in a band is all about. Martin Durrant's contributions of 'Autumn Song', 'Billy Wild' and 'Better Plan' are doleful, pensive, melancholy songs which reward repeated listening.
John Kelcher had his song 'Walk to the Square' included on the much underrated 1987 Sentimental Education album, and there is a hint of that song that carries onto the rousing and uplifting 'Stardust Magical' on this album. Musically deft, lyrics lightly clever, John's vocals are just right. 'Goodnightmare' is lyrically fun and has flashes of musical excitement and a stomping chorus. 'Punakaiki' is an epic surfer tune with surf guitar, bongos and an organ that sounds like a theremin. Lyrically the focus shifts from the surf and the beach to inland and its forest, birds, moss and insects. Punakaiki (between Westport and Greymouth on the South Island's West Coast) is incredibly beautiful and nature-rich, and this song celebrates the ecological marvel of the place.
Matthew Bannister was the awkward Sneaky Feeling. It was amplified by sharing the stage with the at-ease and affable David Pine. While his singing might once have occasionally wobbled, the guitar playing was good, and the songs were better. 'Husband House' was a grand, ambitious affair that, for many, framed the whole early 1980s Dunedin phenomenon. A music scene built on songwriting more than anything else, and both David Pine and Matthew Bannister were contenders in that world. Their ambitious 1980s career took them on European tour adventures and the recording of some fine albums before they fizzled and the intrusion of real lives with jobs and families.
Matthew Bannister had a family (all musicians) and a real job (as an academic and book writer) but managed to keep his music-making going. After Sneaky Feelings started their hiatus, he formed The Dribbling Darts of Love with his partner Alice Bulmer and Alan Gregg (The Remarkables, The Mutton Birds). Since then, he has performed as two different entities; he has done the band thing with The Changing Same and the solo One Man Bannister, both producing smart and entertaining releases. Matthew has also produced a couple of loving Beatles covers albums, Rubber Solo and Evolver.
The Mercury Moment album cover
On The Mercury Moment, the Matthew Bannister songs are particularly impressive. ‘Sun is Shining’ is outstanding, with particularly strong and dynamic guitar playing. ‘Silvercrest and Hilldale’ is a witty, fun take on life in the suburbs of Hamilton. 'Accept/Except Me' is a dreamier affair with singing that drifts above a bed of intriguing instrumentation.
The Mercury Moment is full of great musical moments. Great songs are at the heart of it, with all four band members contributing good to excellent material that has then been well arranged, well played and sung and well recorded. It is a particularly strong release. A release that was, to a degree, buried under a cloud of covid and its associated lockdown. The exciting moment of release was obliterated, but the music itself does have a life of its own that lives on and is available to check out. I suggest it is well worth doing so.