Whanganui-based musician Anthonie Tonnon wraps up his tour of our nation's railroads today. Rail Land is a series of shows where he and the audience all travel to and from the gigs by train. We caught up with him at Paekakariki Station.
On his website, Anthonie Tonnon says “Our railways are miraculous, poetic, and mysterious things. They are gifts from the past to the future, and if they didn’t exist now, they would be impossible to build from scratch. Each has a story, and this tour will tell a little of each one”.
Rail Land is a tour designed by Whanganui-based musician Anthonie Tonnon, where he and the audience all travel to and from his show by train.
In Dunedin, his hometown, where rail is no more than an expensive tourist activity, he had to charter a special trip to get to Waitati. But in the North Island, there are suburban network lines that he wanted to draw attention to. The Capital Connection runs between Wellington and Palmerston North. There’s a line up to Masterton, and there’s the Auckland line, which will end up at Ellerslie. He’s a passionate advocate of public transport, and trains and their history have become a mastermind topic.
Not that he’s nostalgic about it - he wants rail to be a current, utilitarian, more widely adopted mode of transport.
But he does say it’s a meditative, relaxing way to travel. He reckons it put his fans in a very receptive mood.
On a sun-soaked Friday evening, we alight the Metlink train at Paekakariki Station, where we’re greeted with a few songs from local duo Rosy Tin Teacaddy, and join the walking parade to St Peter’s Hall, about 20 metres up from the tracks. We’re on schedule. Everything is timed carefully so that the commuting audience can catch the return train to Wellington at 10:13 pm.
Paekakariki even has a poet and author who specialises in railways, and Michael O’Leary recites a couple of these poems to kick off the show. Anthonie Tonnon has raided the Hocken Library for some advertising from the golden age of rail - beautiful images of trains and mountainous scenery line the walls of the hall.
He’s also dug up a letter to the editor from Janet Frame, lamenting the loss of the Taranaki train lines in 1977, which gets an airing over a reflective bed of guitar, and he’s written a jingle for his favourite line - “take the capital connection, the last great train of it's kind”.
All these special touches are tied in neatly with some of his new songs, like ‘Two Free Hands’ and ‘Leave Love Out Of This’. There are some old ones revisited as well, like ‘Twenty-Three’ (is the hardest age) - after all, this is a show that looks back at the way things used to be.
After two sets of songs, he checks his watch and says “We’re right on time” before launching into his last number - ‘the Capital’ - a love song to Wellington. When it’s done we amble dreamily into the warm night air, and the train rocks us gently back to town.
Rail Land finishes up its run in Auckland tonight. Details of itinerary here: https://www.anthonietonnon.com/ellerslie