Highly regarded from his time with One Million Dollars, Richie Setford has subsequently proven to be pretty much a bona fide musical genius – based on the evidence of the three superlative albums he has released under the guise of Bannerman. The third, ’Clawhammer‘ was released in NZ in June to genuinely gushing reviews, many of which were published only after he had already left the country, bound for Europe with Batucada Sound Machine – for whom he plays guitar for and sings. BSM already have a strong Berlin connection and now Bannerman/Setford is forging his own, as he vibrantly and candidly reveals here. Thanks for the card Richie, much appreciated.
I don’t really like change. I don’t hate it either, once I’m in it that is, but I generally don’t seek it out. It’s the initiating part I find the hardest. It’s the sloth in me.
’A change is as good as a holiday?’ I don’t think so. I like my holidays neutered. Why would I want a vacation cloaked in anxiety, where every day is a Rubiks Cube? Nup, I’m staying in NZ. I have a job in the music industry, I get to play in a band with my friends and release an album every year. I know how to communicate with my neighbour and if I want a mince and cheese pie, I know where to find one. I’m 37.
But this isn’t a holiday. I’m in Berlin not Mt. Eden. I don’t have a job anymore. I’m a musician now and slowly beginning to work out what that might mean. Monica is with me and we’re changing together – which for me is better than changing alone. Sometimes I’m the strong one and spout off positives and this city starts looking like some sort of bohemian treasure. Sometimes she’s the one to pull me along with her intensity and drive.
These are the settling in days, I guess people call it ’culture shock’. Heads down trying to find the pace. Coming up for air to realise youre in one of Europe’s cultural capitals with history at every turn. It’s right in front of us but we forget to look. So we’ve started to make Saturday our ’Get to know Berlin’ day. Otherwise it’s just survival in a different city. That isn’t why we came.
I arrived here in August 2013 on the back of a Batucada Sound Machine tour. It was the band’s fourth tour here. BSM have a German record label, booking agent and publicist; we have a team now. That’s good progress and the guys are looking to come over next year for a career changing six month stretch. They’ll base themselves in Berlin, we’ll tour and record an album and we’ll continue to marvel at how a band that’s had limited success in NZ gets to flourish in a market place 10 times as big. And it’s been 10 years since this band started, did you all know that? A nine person world music/fusion act no less – hardly the most fashionable of beasts. There are many reasons why I like BSM (the travel of course is a big carrot) but really I couldnt have kept going without Bannerman in my life.
When I landed in Berlin, I went straight to Ben Anderson‘s hoff in Neukölln. Five years ago this area was apparently barren of any sort of commercial spaces. Just rows of West Berlin apartments with graffitied doorways and dog shit on the pavement. (That much hasnt changed.) Now Neukölln is filled with artists, street markets, bars that look like bookshops or somebody’s living room, ground floor living rooms that look like vinyl stores or pop up galleries, grumps and gypsies, mums and babies and poodles and weed and beer. Australians, Turks, Danes, Spaniards and Americans (and even some Germans). Ben use to play with me in One Million Dollars, then he was in The Shades, The Hot Grits, The Living Diamonds and finally History of Snakes, before he left Auckland’s Cross Street and got in on the Berlin barista buzz.
We started jamming Bannerman songs about a week after I got here and by the third week we had a bass player and two gigs booked. It’s thanks to Ben that I hit the ground running. Oliver Emmitt (who is also in BSM) joins us from Amsterdam for any shows we get. It’s a new look Bannerman from the one that played in NZ and recorded ’Clawhammer’. I want it to expand a little, but I’m happy with where it’s at for now.
The first gig we had was at a run down corner bar called Brücken-Eck, or as Frank the owner likes to call it, The Place To Be. It isn’t, but I like it. If youre from Auckland, think The Thirsty Dog or somewhere like that, but step back four decades and throw in some old men propping up the bar. They have a stage and allowed us a drum kit, so it worked. Having a drummer seems to be a limitation in performing at a beginner level here. A lot of the small venues don’t want drums. Fair enough, but it ain’t my bag. Bannerman is a band that I prefer to have some live presence, rather than to simply frame a singer/songwriter.
So anyway, Frank had billed us as The New Zealand People, which was nice of him, but you know, kind of lazy. We got to soundcheck missing a mic and a bass guitar so it was a stressful and frantic first gig, but fuck it was cool. First time with a new band is always special. Not auspicious or anything like that, just a good wee gig that got a good response from the 20 or 30 people that showed.
That was a Thursday. On the Friday we moved all the gear up the road to a place called The Zone. This place has a reputation in Neukölln and is often busy. The room you play in is basically a tiny basement box, band and audience on the same level. Fits about 60 or 70 folks and gets real smoky.
Oh yeah, that’s what I need to tell you, everyone in Berlin smokes and people who thought they’d quit come to Berlin and start smoking again. So that night I ended up with two lungs full. The audience was quiet, in a good way the band said. These were good baby step gigs. I’m now in the process of trying to organise three or four shows around Europe in December. Nothing booked yet.
Right now I’m living off savings and the money I got from touring with BSM and I’ve started thinking that this is like my sabbatical as a songwriter. It’s the year I just get to explore my craft, chase the muse and all that. This realisation has made the ’Why are you here? voice pipe down. You see I need to box things in order for me to embrace them. If I don’t understand why I’m doing something, I’m a little edgy.
Anyway, all of those years working in Auckland, balancing music with a job, well it’s culminated in this opportunity. I’m trying to write every day now. I’m writing to order and I’m writing for me. I’m trying to just follow any idea that comes my way and take it to a conclusion. Maybe it’s not a song I can use, that’s okay, I’ll keep it on the books. This year I have the space and time to create a massive body of work and one that hopefully opens some doors in the future. We’ll see, but at least I’m finally letting the change in.
Crazy Planet Records is an independent touring company based in Berlin, who work primarily with NZ artists. www.crazyplanetrecords.com