ALL PHOTOS BY LUCY POLLOCK
When we arrived at Maggie's, a coffee shop just down from the Octagon in Ōtepoti, we weren't sure if the gig was on or not. Inconspicuous, with blinds down and lights dimmed, we went inside and chatted to the door person for a while before hearing someone's voice singing in the background. I peeked around the corner and saw that Robert Scott (of The Bats) had already started playing. The gig had started on time. We made our way into the main part of the venue, which was already full.
I saw Robert Scott open for Takumi Motokawa a few months ago, where he played with an electric guitar warbling through multiple delay pedals, so I wasn't sure what to expect. Today, Scott was playing a simple acoustic guitar with a pickup and a lamp attached to a mic stand to illuminate his notes below him. In the dim space, with its dark green walls, candlelit coffee tables and large luminescent lanterns hanging from the ceiling, it felt like the audience was sitting around a campfire in the clearing of a forest with the moon up above us, with Scott providing campfire tunes and stories. He chatted in between songs, eliciting chuckles from the audience. Everything felt warm and close, as the twinkling of the acoustic guitar strings rang out through the small space. This seemed to be a different environment from what Scott is used to playing in, "songs are a lot shorter without a band fluffing around aren't they?", which made the gig feel even more intimate and special.
"Johnny Cash impression time," Scott joked as he began to play ‘It's Not the Same’ by The Bats, "no it's just a low bit that's all, nothing like Johnny". Although Scott appeared to have taken inspiration from Cash for the song, a guitar interlude played up high with open strings out gave the song a distinctly Bats flair. I was impressed by the clarity of Scott's voice, as it still carried the same, spacious and resonant tone. After a Neil Young cover, the set was soon over and Scott commented "thanks a lot, let's do it again," before clipping the lamp and packing up to go off stage.
Francisca Griffin (formally of Look Blue Go Purple) was up next. I had stolen her seat after Robert Scott finished playing, and moved out of the way to let her access her guitar. Her first song, ‘Bring the Light’ acted as a line check, and the sound person (Stephen Kilroy) went up on stage to fix an amp while she performed. Rather than detracting from the performance however, it added to the intimacy and immediacy of the event. I'd seen Francisca Griffin play with her band The Bus Shelter Boys a few times, however this was my first time experiencing her solo set, which I was very glad to have witnessed.
The repeatedly strummed chords were mesmerising; harmonies changing fleetingly within a wash of sustained notes, creating melodies that sat and swirled in the background of the main chords and melody of Francisca's voice. Sat warm and comfy with my hot chocolate, I let the music take my mind places. There aren't many gigs where you can sit down with a cookie and hot chocolate in a nice thick mug, and it felt like the perfect accompaniment to the music. One song reminded me of a cave by the ocean, waves slowly trickling in and overlapping each other with the shifts of the tide. Another song, 'Bones & Lies' which Francisca introduced as her "backwards hillbilly Appalachian song", took me to a faraway cabin up a treacherous rocky mountain.
The highlight of the set for me was her song ‘Broken Heart’, as well as her final song "Ghost Boy" which completed the campfire checklist. But rather than this being the usual ghost story intended to send shivers up your spine, this was a story of reassurance and comfort.
Finally it came to Hannah Everingham's turn to play. After listening to her album Between Bodies, with its delightfully detailed arrangements, I was interested to see how Hannah would approach performing it live. She stood on the stage (if you could call it that) with the double bassist for a while, quietly strumming her electric guitar. I hadn't realised that this was the beginning of the set until I turned around and the man who had been sitting next to me just a minute ago, was now at the drum kit playing. I was immediately struck by Hannah's stage presence, as she sang staring out into the distance, guitar hiked up high with pedals off to the side, and a notebook at her feet.
Hannah played a mixture of songs from the album and unreleased material , to "build suspense". The arrangement reminded me of a jazz trio, with simple and tasteful drums providing a variety of textures, and a double bass thundering beneath everything, at times crawling its way up to the higher registers to add melodies above the guitar parts. Still, everything left space for her vocals to cut through, which is important, because she has a palpable gift for storytelling. That, alongside the rocking of the seat from my friend tapping her toes to the rhythm made me feel like I was being transported elsewhere, bumping along a long gravel road to some remote and peaceful place.
Listen to Hannah Everingham's debut album, Between Bodies below. It's available to purchase on CD via the Flying Nun Record shop here.