Hollie Smith (supported by Tyson Smith) and opening act Phil & Tilley are another event hosted by the Tauranga Art Gallery. ARTbop’s Loretta Crawford enjoyed an evening of music and performance.
As we arrived at the Tauranga Art Gallery on Saturday night a small crowd, undeterred by the spring rain, had gathered outside. We were let in at 7.30pm and jostled politely for drinks and seats; those who missed out sat on the staircase, upper balcony or stood at the back.
The gallery was lit simply but prettily with a pink glow, the stage framed by artworks from a current exhibition called “Bluetopia: Manifesto”.
First to the stage was opening act Phil and Tilley, a young UK duo who are now based in Waihi. I had seen them perform at TED X in July, and was looking forward to seeing them again.
The lead singer plays guitar and sings in a rich, husky voice that seems wiser than his years. His co-performer plays what looks like a deconstructed double-bass – no wood, just the metal skeleton of the instrument. These guys strike me as true musicians and raconteurs. They were witty and familiar with the crowd, but professional when it came to their performance (despite having their set list on a shopping receipt which they were unable to read in the shadowy venue.) Their sound is a unique, poetic blend of contemporary acoustic folk with beautiful harmonies. Their second album is currently for sale on iTunes and if you enjoy Ben Harper, Xavier Rudd, Jose Gonzalez and the like, you may want to check them out for yourself.
Now for a quick comment on the crowd: those aforementioned who were standing at the back talked loudly through Phil and Tilley’s set and the noise carried through the snug venue, often drowning out the music. A few disgruntled audience members must have said something to gallery staff as the crowd was given an affable telling-off before Hollie came onto the stage.
Once we were all suitably warned to keep the rabbling to a minimum, Hollie made her appearance with guitarist Tyson Smith shortly after 9pm.
Hollie has a background in Celtic and jazz music, and has been a guest vocalist for groups like Fat Freddy’s Drop, Trinity Roots and Recloose. Though I have been a fan of Hollie’s for years and have seen her sing with these groups, Saturday night’s gig was the first time I’d seen her perform alone. As expected, I was awed by the purity and power of her voice, but, with the exception of a stirring rendition of Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child”, this material was all her own. Often dubbed New Zealand’s “Queen of Soul”, Hollie lived up to that reputation with a flawless performance. Her voice is inexplicably jagged and smooth at the same time, and her technical ability as a singer is breath-taking. Her songs were passionate and personal, including a tribute to her late friend which she performed for us near the end of her set. This is hard-working singer who knows the meaning of sorrow.
For the encore, Hollie played the guitar alone for one song and Tyson joined her again to finish up with a lovely rendering of the mainstream hit “Bathe in the River” (penned by Don McGlashan).
With a hectic schedule both here and in Australia looming, Hollie reminded us good-naturedly that being a musician in New Zealand is no easy thing, even for one as popular as her. With her new single “Lady Dee” now available on iTunes and a new album of material due out before the end of the year, it’s a timely reminder to support our New Zealand artists so they can continue telling our stories, sharing our hurts and reminding us who we are. Hollie is one of those outstanding performers and storytellers and if you’re new to her music, be prepared to be taken on soulful journey. If you are already a fan, now would be the perfect time to reacquaint yourself.
Loretta Crawford. Eastern Bay of Plenty based ARTbop correspondent Loretta Crawford is a writer and concert goer.