Nick Bollinger discusses the influences and traditions celebrated in Troy Kingi's debut double-album Guitar Party At Uncle's Bach.
Listeners with long memories might recall the phenomenon of ‘the Maori Hendrix’. From the late ‘60s until well into the ‘70s, there seemed to be a disproportionate number of Maori guitarists who could offer more than credible impressions of Hendrix’s flamboyant style. Some had the hair and the outfits; others just had the chops. But it was only with Bob Marley’s visit in 1979 that you could say Hendrix was surpassed in this country as a musical role model.
Troy Kingi is too young to have been in that first wave of Hendrix imitators; in fact he is too young to have been part of the Marley revolution either. Yet in this smart, bold and entertaining two-disc set you’ll hear echoes of both.
The way a song like ‘Leg Space’ combines the Hendrix-y tones of a wah-wah guitar with a Marley-ish minor-key melody, just shows how deeply embedded those influences now are, and how they have fused to become something else. And perhaps what is really being celebrated here, more than those two icons, is that ‘something else’, which I’d call the spirit of Maori music. Kingi alludes to it in the album’s title, which points to a tradition older than Marley or Hendrix; the tradition of passing the guitar around – in the pub, on the marae or at Uncle’s bach – and just playing songs for their own sake.
Guitar Party At Uncle’s Bach was not actually recorded at his uncle’s bach, though it may have been the next best thing. Kingi and his band The Electric Haka Boogie decamped from their Northland base to Lyttelton and the Sitting Room studio of engineer/producer Ben Edwards. Edwards has made great rootsy recordings in the past with people like The Eastern, Marlon Williams and Aldous Harding, and the warm spontaneity of those artists must have been good preparation for the great live, in-the-moment vibe of this album.
For a few songs Kingi is joined on guitar by Mara Te Kahika – son of perhaps the greatest ‘Maori Hendrix’ of them all, Billy TK – and you can really hear them firing off each other. Mara also adds his beautiful harmonies to several of these songs. But scattered through the album are outbursts of something even more social and spontaneous: field recordings captured by Kingi at various gatherings, including last New Year’s Eve, that provide hilarious and atmospheric interludes.
With 22 songs in all, spread across two full-length discs, is the quality sustained? Just about, and even what threaten to be the more generic rock songs are full of transcendent moments.
There’s guitar excitement as well as fine singing, but my favourite tracks are the quieter, soulful ones - such as ‘Moko’, in which he seems to be saying that wherever the elements of this music come from, or where he takes them, in the end it’s all about tradition.
Songs featured: Picking Up Speed, Leg Space, Tumbleweed and Spurs, You In A Nutshell, Just A Phase, Clear Sea Air, Moko.
Guitar Party at Uncle’s Bach is available on Lyttelton Records.