14 Feb 2015

Stages: The Yot Club

Yot Club
The stage set-up at Yot Club / Photo by Anthonie Tonnon.

Started as a live music joint with enough atmosphere to keep young people from driving to Hamilton on weekend evenings, the Yot Club in Raglan is a popular venue where locals mix with out of towners, touring bands and international visitors in close quarters.

Anthonie Tonnon spends Waitangi Day at the Yot Club and celebrates Bob Marley's 70th birthday with Raglan-based band Cornerstone Roots.

The Yot Club is running early tonight. Doors are at 6pm, and tickets to Cornerstone Roots’ celebration of Bob Marley’s birthday cost $10 at six o'clock, $20 at eight. It’s thin on the ground inside the venue just before the crossover, but there is a line of 20 people buying cheaper tickets and then heading back to the hostels and holiday houses they came from. Many seem to be European backpackers, who hang in packs of four or five.

Nervous to choose my first subjects, I eventually pounce on a merry group of four including John Gregich from Auckland,and Jill Eglinton from Sydney. Jill tells me about nostalgic childhood trips to Raglan, and John discusses the time-saving benefits of the new Te Rapa bypass on State Highway One. Before long, the group are inviting me back to Jill’s holiday house until the show starts. I must decline - if I only come home with interviews from citysiders there isn’t going to be a story.

I try to think back to when I last went to a reggae gig and realise it was a long time ago. Yot Club proprietor Andrew Meek took a change of scene himself in coming here. When I performed here this time last year, he had just started, after running house and techno venues Ink and Coherent in Auckland for more than a decade. The Yot Club is one of the first singer-songwriter shows he’d managed. When I interview him tonight I see he’s getting to know the local tastes well. "Reggae gigs are big" - he tells me. Cornerstone Roots and Knights of the Dub Table compete for the highest audience numbers here, but locals also like a good heavy gig, as does Andrew. Last night they had loud German two piece DYSE here on their way to Auckland's 'Off The Radar' festival, who apparently had great interaction with the crowd, telling good stories about growing up in Berlin before the fall of the wall.

Raglan feels a little more hidden from the world than say Leigh, even though it’s similarly close to Auckland, and even closer to Hamilton. Cornerstone Roots frontman and Raglan local Brian Ruawai talks about how in the past being a fishing village with black, as opposed to golden sand gave it a different feel, perhaps delayed the onset of holiday-town development. I wonder what it’s like to live here. Could it be that Cornerstone Roots have found a perfect place for a band to be located - close enough to an international airport and main centre gigs, but cheaper than the cities? A quick scan of the prices for dinner on the main street puts a dint in that theory, and when I later talk to Brian’ partner and co-founder of Cornerstone Roots Naomi Tuaopepe, I learn that Raglan faces plenty of difficulties.

“I’ve had friends that have had to leave because the rents are too high and the food is too expensive. It’s a really hard one because you need the travellers to come…one of the things that annoys me is that we have a lot of people who come and buy houses [without living in Raglan]. But it really affects our schools - the ratings are quite high because it looks like it’s a rich town- but it ain't .” - Naomi Tuaopepe.

I find myself interviewing more audience members tonight, as opposed to the musicians I perhaps use as easy pickings in the towns I’m more familiar with. There is a couple who have come from Rotorua, a band of girlfriends who have come from Hamilton. There is Jo, the Irish manager who came here as backpacker and is now going for residency. I’ll later regret that I don’t manage to catch some more heavily accented backpackers before the band starts up. By the time Cornerstone Roots start, it’s a capacity crowd - and backpackers, weekenders from the cities, and locals melt into one ecstatic crowd.

I’m enthralled - the band shows why they are legends in this town - Naomi’s bass work is masterful, and Brian’s lyrics deliver strong messages that cut through even to a dancing, hand waving crowd. I decide not to take the Te Rapa bypass home - Naomi tells me a short cut that takes me behind the Waikato river to Huntly, driving through forest and farmland by moonlight.

Music Details

Artist: Cornerstone Roots
Song: Take Me
Composer: Brian Ruawai
Album: (single)
Label: Self-Released

Artist: Cornerstone Roots
Song: Is it Real
Composer: Brian Ruawai
Album: (single)
Label: Self-Released

Artist: Cornerstone Roots
Song: Redemption Song (live)
Composer: Bob Marley
Album: RNZ Recording
Label: Unreleased

Artist: Duchess
Song: Raglan City
Composer: Raglan
Album: Duchess EP
Label: Tea Set Records

Artist:My Baby
Song: Got A Habit
Composer: My Baby
Album: Loves Voodoo
Label: self released