R E V I E W
Fly My Pretties at Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival
By K.D. [with additions and critical counterpoints in parentheses by I.D.]
After a few afternoon showers on the penultimate day of the Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival, the evening sky was open and clear, and the families were out when Fly My Pretties took the stage; their first visit to Hamilton in seven years.
We were first greeted, in te reo Māori, by Matua X – the festival’s host, MC, ringmaster, provocateur, and “Waikato’s premium expert in waste minimisation and proactive circular economy practice” – with some impressive reminders about being responsible with waste at this para kore festival. Nice work Hamilton Gardens!
Links to Te Ao Māori became pronounced as Fly My Pretties filtered onto the stage, striking in their attire of red, black and white, the colours of the Tino Rangatiratanga movement.
Tīmatanga: We were treated at the beginning to the entire line-up “getting together”, with ‘We got to get together’ - a track that focused on vocals and percussion. This was followed by Bailey Wiley taking the lead on singing ‘Take it from me’, with the sound growing and swirling around her silhouette animation on the backdrop. Mo Ete was next to take centre stage, leading the collaboration through her song ‘Closer’. What a beautiful voice, with an impressive ability to glide from qualities of smooth reggae to rap, and inspire some smooth grooves on the dancefloor too.
[I estimated at least a thousand in attendance by this stage, with ages ranging from less than 6 months to greater than 60 years].
Barnaby Weir, the ‘bandmaster’ of Fly My Pretties, led a rendition of ‘Lucky’, a song off their debut 2004 album ‘Live at Bats’. The audience were really starting to get their groove on front of stage at this point. A more chilled song with a strong ska beat was up next, ‘Aztechknowledgey’, led by Troy Kingi [who wouldn’t have looked out of place in Parliament Funkadelic - a band Fly My Pretties has many similarities with, including being a collective of revolving musicians]. Points here just for the awesome spelling of the song title. At this point the benefit of having the name of each song displayed on the screen on stage really became clear.
Ria Hall was up next – I was very excited about seeing Ria perform in the wake of the hype over her just released album, ‘Manawa Wera’. Ria brought us in with a beautiful and strong mihimihi, and her song ‘Where did all my people go?’ was a delight to hear, with the vocals of the chorus framing a strong riff that reminded me of a jazzy musical. Lauren (LA) Mitchell was equally as impressive when she metaphorically, though not literally, took centre stage with ‘I’m Alive in the World’; her beautiful bluesy voice complimented by her talent on the keys.
Anna Coddington acknowledged her deep roots in Hamilton as she launched into the appropriately named ‘Garden’ – dedicated to her Nana Coddington, whose ashes lay scattered at the Hamilton Gardens (as does mine). It was a beautiful, haunting song that soared right into my bones, with Lisa Tomlins really contributing to the timbre on flute.
[One of the performers rightfully gave some love to Hamilton Gardens sometime around this point; Hamiltonians often fail to recognise the quality and the uniqueness of our gardens, and the great job they do balancing the development of both world class gardens and hosting events like this festival]
Barnaby Weir came back into focus as he led the collaboration through ‘Champion’, a pleasing song with a strong country feel. I kept expecting the lyrics to turn humorous, ala Wilson Dixon.
[With Coddington’s crafted pop, followed by the country-tinged ‘Champion’, this was definitely the section of the show that was from my perspective the most interesting - or at least the most to my tastes]
Back to Mo with ‘Mud & Stardust’ – released on the sixth Fly My Pretties album – another beautiful, slightly haunting song that showcased the ability of Mo’s voice to glide from “pretty” to strong and grunty (in a good way). The way the vocal rhythms built over the top and around each other was a pleasure to the ear.
Barnaby Weir took to the stage again, this time with the very well-known Black Seeds song ‘Turn it around’. This was a very slow, chilled out and melodic version, and I was starting to think that the bodies on the dance floor would really be hanging out for something a bit more danceable by this stage of the set, when the song built into a much more rocky reggae feel, and it was rad.
Lisa Tomlins, so far stunning on the flute, took centre stage for ‘Angels’, a song that “gave the percussionists a break” by only utilising vocals. This song had a very strong gospel sound and was dedicated to ‘Philly’, and everybody grieving the loss of a loved one.
Age Pryor entered and stated we might recognise him from the television, though how I’m not sure? [Google hasn't helped me on this one either...]. Was it the Trustpower advert, or am I missing something bigger here? The band played ‘Singing in my soul’, apparently the “unofficial wedding anthem in New Zealand”. Another song off the first of the Fly My Pretties albums, this was a hit with the audience, although the ambience was somewhat affected by the low flying helicopter that chose this moment to fly directly overhead.
Anna Coddington was back in focus for ‘Bird in hand’, another haunting but also enlivening song. I went to the show thinking I would enjoy the well-known reggae tracks most, but came away most inspired by the music of this beautiful wahine instead.
LA Mitchell returned with a song from Fly My Pretties third album. ‘Apple heart’ started off sweet (not least as it was written for Lauren’s husband before he was her husband), but became something much more as it built into a strong, almost Moulin Rougey vibe. Age Pryor fronted with ‘Folding over’; its simple, upbeat lyrics and music matched with a simple box (and bird) animation, but was somehow very pleasing indeed. Those on the 'dancefloor' were happy to get something they could really move to.
Ria Hall also returned, which I was again excited for, but ultimately I felt slightly let down by the fairly mainstream reggae beat complementing the song ‘Walk’ from the new album. Lisa Tomlins, finishing the song on flute, was the highlight here, and she was quite rightly noted as the “M.V.P.” by Ria herself.
The well-known ‘Bag of Money’ followed, which was perfect for the audience. This was accompanied by lots of loud cheers. While I also really enjoyed it, it was about this point that I really realised how much I was enjoying my introduction to the “new” (to me) material, rather than the old-school, well known reggae beats. Troy Kingi later fronted ‘Ethiopia’ – some more enjoyable but fairly typical reggae – although the high keys sounded an enjoyably interesting counterpoint. The musicians possibly had the most fun of the night with ‘Hit the Hay’, led by Ryan Prebble. Kind of grungy, kind of electronica, kind of voodoo rock reggae. Whatever the genre, it was funky and enjoyable.
[For me, the reggae strums and beats were wearing a bit thin though this section. Nevertheless, overall, the performance spanned a range of other genres, including laid back funk, smooth jazz, gospel and pop, with precise musicianship and vocal harmonies. All of this was highly inoffensive and unchallenging – you didn’t need to know the songs to enjoy them, which made this performance perfect for the broad-aged festival crowd].
Mutunga: The whole ensemble was back on stage to finish with some funky reggae, and with a much fuller sound than that which opened the show. They went off, returned, and when they finally sidled off again, we were left with some excellent synchronised drumming to finish. Impressive stuff.
Those who didn’t take centre stage but were still impressive on their instruments included: Nigel Patterson (keyboard), Jarney Murphy (drums), Mike Fabulous (bass), Iraia Whakamoe (drums), and James Coyle (keyboard).
[‘What kind of flower would Fly My Pretties’ be?, I asked myself following the show. They were certainly showy, like an orchid, but they were also as accessible to pollinators as a buttercup – having the ability to be appreciated by a wide range of visitors who came to sample their nectar].