Random Play by Graham Reid


If you're happy and you know it . . .

Possibly because I spend far too much of my life taking the cynical adult world seriously – you know, disingenuous self-serving politicians like Hide and Carter, the blanket coverage of the Carmen case et al --- I have forgotten the delight of hearing an honest emotion expressed without guile.

Last night I was reminded how refreshing that can be.

“I'm really happy,” said Janine Foster – and she was. Delightfully so. She beamed, glowed, was embarrassed and slightly awkward about it too – but she was genuinely happy.

She'd just been announced the winner of Auckland Uni's School of Music's annual Songwriter of the Year competition.

Held at the Maidment, this competition had six diverse finalists and – far from the manufactured bullshit of competition and doing the other contestants down we see on model and cooking shows -- this was an event where all the contestants might have wanted to win but you could feel the camaraderie and mutual support on stage. And from the enthusiastic audience of friends and family.

All the finalists are in the school's Popular Music Programme, so it's a fair guess they not only know each other but have given their peers (and now competitors) encouragement along the way. And in the nature of this competition they could, when presenting some of their original songs, call on others by way of backing musicians or vocalists.

Last year's winner Jocee Tuck – a real talent yet to fully emerge, see here and here was there as a back-up singer, and some of Artisan Guns (one of my favourite young Auckland bands, and also music students) helped out.

The audience – encouraged by MC Timothy Giles – bayed their support and approval and so when Foster stepped forward to collect the award she really was happy.

Not that some in that adult world I mentioned would think much of the prize. Those middle-managers losing their jobs in the supercity but taking big handouts – see you again in a year when we learn you're all back as “consultants” huh? – wouldn't think $1000 worth of MusicWorks products, a single produced at Beaver Studios and interviews on Juice TV and Kiwi FM added up to much.

But it does for these young people.

And this was about young talent taking its first steps on a road which chief judge Jan Hellriegel noted would become a rewarding and interesting life.

We on the outside have a lot to look forward to: Rose Howcroft and Martin Paris are fine singer-songwriters in the making (well, made already actually); Chess Countess (aka Tamsyn Miller) brought a sense of theatre to her production of her songs which included an elaborate costume and terrific choreography (her background in theatre was evident but deployed in a pop context) and . . .

Then there were Phil Kim and Earl Ho (aka Edward Sans): Kim first sat at piano (with a harmonica brace) and sang a lyrically mature and affecting ballad, and then pulled out strong pop performances when backed by fellow musicians (including some from the jazz programme).

And Ho . . .

Well, he's some kind of star already and was undeniably popular. His songs are unusual (Night-time at the Zoo appears to be a metaphor for death by corporate job?) and when given the chance he rocked out, rolled around on the stage and drove the band into stadium-directed pop-rock. Terrific.

But Janine Foster – who appeared last year and gave Tuck a run for her money in my book – was something special.

She works with synth loops and guitar to create sound beds for her songs – and she has a voice which can shift from delicate in the ballads to quivering soulful emotion (the Gin-type belting pop of You Stole My Heart which could be the breakout single of an album she should record real soon).

But the song of hers which won me was the engrossing Ticking Clocks – which she had to deliver again as her encore because she hadn't prepared anything else. I was real glad to hear it again.

Actually, to be honest, I thought the repeated line which was a great hook wasn't “these ticking clocks when you're not there” but “he's taking drugs when you're not there”.

That, I'm sorry to report, is the adult cynicism which has afflicted me. Gotta get over that.

Today though – after a night which reminded me again how many talented, wonderful and mutually supportive young adults we might never see command a headline through speeding from cops -- I'm really happy.

Not as happy as someone I could mention though.

More: Did a quick search and both Rose Howcroft and Chess Countess have MySpace pages here and here respectively.

And I didn't mention that while the judges were deliberating the joint winners of the high school songwriter competition performed: Massad Barakat-Devine from Sacred Heart (pop-rock with whistling on Forget About Me) and Jayme Fitzgerald (nice line introducing a song about her future husband, “he's going to be a lucky man”).
Both are 16 and as MC Giles noted he didn't want to think about what he was failing at when he was their age.
UE for me.

And Elsewhere: Thrives with new music, the different, rare and strange and much, much more. Enjoy. Be happy.

Graham Reid is the author of the book 'The Idiot Boy Who Flew'.

(Click here to find out more)

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