June/July 2013

by Mel Parsons

On Foreign Soil: Mel Parsons

by Mel Parsons

On Foreign Soil: Mel Parsons

On the back of the chance to perform at south England’s annual Great Escape Festival, West Coast-born folk artist Mel Parsons has gone for broke this NZ autumn. As this issue of NZM is being prepared she is bouncing around the UK/Europe for seven weeks, having not long prior finished a three week stint touring Australia. For this northern hemisphere leg of the journey Mel is on the road with Wellington guitarist Andrew Moore (River Run Wild, The Thomas Oliver Band).
I write this from Ireland, sitting in a 200 year old thatch cottage on the border of County Galway and County Mayo.
Tonight is the first night off we’’ve had in a while, and we’’re lucky enough to be spending it with two of Ireland’’s most well loved musicians, Noelie McDonnell and Nicola Joyce of The Whileaways –Ireland’’s new nu-folk supergroup… It’’s still pretty early on in our European adventure, but here’s what we’ve been up to so far…

May 16-18, The Great Escape Festival, Brighton, UK
Our first UK stop was The Great Escape Festival in Brighton which was essentially the catalyst for this whole trip coming together. Brighton seems like a buzzy town at the worst of times, and was absolutely humming over the three days of TGE. The festival runs alongside the Brighton Fringe Festival, and with an extra 350 bands in town the place was brimming over with creative types, and more shows than you could poke a stick at.

TGE is a festival for music fans on the one hand, and a full industry conference on the other. Our first performance was at the NZ Showcase at a venue called The Haunt, organised by NZ Music Commission’’s Outward Sound Manager, Gary Fortune, with four of us on the bill – myself, Lawrence Arabia, Six60 and Popstrangers. Big thanks to Gary.

Andy Moore (my guitarist) and I were a little nervy just before that first gig as the room had cleared out as soon as Six60 finished their set, and with five minutes before showtime we had a completely empty venue. Thankfully by the time we were onstage the venue had filled back up again and we had a nice full room for our first UK performance. As I learn after, at TGE the crowds wash in and out completely between each performance at a lot of the venues.

Our next set was at Komedia Studio Bar, another great venue. We had a ball, a great crowd, and met some fabulous musicians from all over the place – Canada, Belgium and a local act. Our engineer turned out to have been a roadie/soundie for loads of Kiwi bands in the ‘’80s, and had toured with The Bats, The Clean, The Chills… so he was stoked to be mixing for some Kiwis again.

While we were in Brighton I did a live recording for a new interactive online recording gizmo called WholeWorldBand. This was hooked up by my publicist in Ireland. I showed up for my session to be met by Kevin Godley (of 10cc / Godley & Creme fame) and put down a song for them. WholeWorldBand is Kevin’’s brainchild and from what I’’ve seen sounds like a pretty exciting concept – musicians from all around the world laying down songs and individual tracks to be added onto and mixed by whoever would like to have a go.

They have some big musicians on board for the project – I was sold at Stewart Copeland – but it seems like the idea is that it will be accessible to everyone. The project goes live in July, so I’’m looking forward to seeing how it comes out.

Billy Bragg headlined the festival playing a great show at the Brighton Dome. He also did a talk the following day at the conference.
As any Billy Bragg fans will know, he’s blunt and hilarious, and very down to earth. He talked about how he has established a ‘cottage industry’ with his own music, and is very hands on in the running of it all. Great inspiration for those of us beating down the independent path back home.

After a recovery afternoon on Sunday it was back up to London, to start the next series of shows…

May 20 & 21, London
Dublin Castle in Camden, is touted by many as a ‘rite of passage –’ which is all grand, lovely and nostalgic (they have messages written on the walls from Amy Winehouse and the like) – but to be honest I don’’t think we needed to explore that particular passage. We were on the bill with three metal bands on a night sponsored by Jack Daniels. Say no more.

The following night we played The Buffalo Bar in Highbury, which was a much better fit. We were playing support for Natalie McCool’’s album release, along with Scottish act Hunter & the Bear. A nice crowd and good vibe was an ideal way to send us off to Ireland the next morning.

After a harrowing 5am start in London navigating the Tube and trains, laden with gear, after what seemed like only an hour’s sleep, we made it out to the airport in time for our flight to Dublin.

Mel Parsons4538 nzm149May 22 – 31, Dublin, Ireland
Our first show was in Dublin that Wednesday night at Whelan’s. We were lucky enough to be supporting The Whileaways, who are based in Galway. I met these guys while they were out playing some festivals in NZ and Australia last year, and we have since become great friends. Whelan’s is a top notch venue, and we had great crowd. A 2am sit down dinner and debrief finished us off and was a great intro to Irish hospitality, which has been lavished upon us since we arrived.

Thursday May 23, Limerick City
The following day it was off to Limerick, to play support for UK artist Maxwell Greenwood. The show was at Dolan’s, which like so many of the venues over here – from the street looks like a tiny pub but is actually a cavernous multi-level venue with two big band rooms. Crowd-wise the night was a bit quiet, which was a shame for Max as he is quite brilliant. We had a fun night in any case, met the locals and a few different folks who were “best friends”” with The Cranberries.

Friday May 24, Galway City
The Townhouse is relatively new on the live front, but has a great vibe, and the owner is super enthused about developing the live music side of things. This show was a shared bill with Del Barber (Canada) and Orlagh de Bhaldraithe (Ireland), and as they say here, was great “craic””. Great crowd, lovely show. Galway is a buzzy town, and we’’d come back here in a heartbeat.

We have found that times and deadlines in Ireland are not to be taken too seriously – “soundcheck at 7pm”” could mean anywhere from 7:30pm to 9pm. As a matter of habit now we automatically add an hour to everything. It’’s also really light quite late here at the moment, so often the music doesn’’t start until 10pm or later.

We have four more shows here in Ireland, playing Cork tomorrow night, another in Dublin City, then Clonakilty, and finally Clifden before heading back to London for a few more supports. Then Andy is back to NZ and I will carry on alone, with a solo tour in Germany.

It’’s great and tiring and exciting to be touring so far away from home. It’’s expensive, and it has taken a lot of time and perseverance to put this all together, but so far has been very worthwhile. Meeting and playing with other bands has been a real highlight, some just for a great time and some for possible touring and collaborations. We’’ve also made some great contacts, including future promoters, so ideas for the next trip are bubbling around already…