Pioneering women in the Bay

By: Winston Watusi

Winston Watusi
Music Plus

It’s October already, a month for female singer-songwriters to wend their way  to Tauranga.

There has been a huge rise of female singer-songwriters in recent years, the most obvious in terms of international stardom being Lorde.

Just as an aside, if you Google “Lorde”, the first predictive result it offers is “Lorde Net Worth” - is that really what people most want to know about her?

But the plethora of such artists isn’t, I think, because of Lorde. If I was taking a punt at rough history I’d trace this latest rise back to Bic Runga.

“The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”

Hunter Thompson said that, though he neglects to mention that it’s worse for women.

Bic Runga’s success changed a lot of things here, at least on a surface level. Her appeal to middle-of-the-road audiences, both male and female, made music companies think afresh and suddenly they started searching out female singer-songwriters.

(Here’s another aside – if you doubt this anti-woman bias I mention, were you aware that many commercial rock radio stations used to refuse to play two songs back-to-back by any female singers because they claimed they were too similar-sounding?)

That’s not to say there hadn’t been intelligent, charismatic New Zealand women before who were singer-songwriters.

Just that Bic Runga finally prised open a commercial door that others had previously pounded on with more than a little resistance.

Shona Laing

In fact, the woman whom all singer-songwriters in this country are judged against, the one who really made it all possible for others, is performing here in a couple of weeks, the night before another extraordinary woman, who has released pretty much my favourite Kiwi album this year.

Shona Laing plays at the Jam Factory at the Historic Village on Friday, October 18. I don’t really know what to say about Shona as I assume everybody knows  of her music.

She is something of a legend after all.

Her biggest “hit” was Glad I’m Not A Kennedy but there are a bunch of extraordinary songs – 1905, Mercy of Love, Soviet Snow - that many people will recognise just from the soundtrack to their lives. Shona is still the only woman to win the APRA Silver Scroll twice.

Recently Shona has been doing some work with Liam Ryan of the Narcs at his home studio in Waihi – would it be too much to hope for another set of new songs after this long break? - renewing an acquaintance going back to when they toured together in the mid-eighties.

Shona is also a fantastic live performer, magnetic on stage and hypnotic to listen to: I’d recommend you do.

Tickets are $25, doors open 6.30pm.

Jan Hellriegel

The following night, at the same venue, the great Jan Hellriegel, a musical pioneer since the mid-nineties and the founder of NZ publishing company Songbroker, performs. Jan put out an album earlier this year, Sportsman of The Year, that is simply brilliant. Big, exciting blues-inflected pop songs with smart personal lyrics, a meaty band – even some horns – and great production. But it wasn’t just an album. “Sportsman Of The Year – A Suburban Philosophy” is what you’d call a “multi-media project”, and also exists as a book with photos and 12 chapters based on the new songs. There are also 12 podcasts on Spotify, one for each song. This is Jan’s fourth studio album and, unusually, she’s playing some live shows to promote it. She describes the night as “An uplifting evening of songs, stories, Q&As and suburban philosophy”. Have a listen to the album – you won’t regret it. Tickets for Saturday, October 19 are $30, doors open 6.30pm.

Check out these shows. Then when Nadia Reid, Reb Fountain, Tami Neilson and Milly Tabak and The Miltones arrive at the end of the month for the Arts Festival, remember: these two helped make it possible.