Sunday, April 13, 2014

Shackleton's Whisky: A Tale Of Shame And Redemption Part 2

This is the second part of a story that I posted in the middle of last year, about how I failed to appreciate Shackleton's whisky, behaved boorishly, etc.  I said I was going to post the rest of it 'next week,' which turned out to be a lie. Here it is, eight months late but moving fast, and I hope nobody has been to inconvenienced by the delay.  You may wish to read the first part to get up to speed.

As I said, the story of Shackleton's whisky has legs in the popular press, and over the ensuing months I was unable to escape it.  I sought it out, in fact - partly to determine the enormity of my transgression, and also partly in my usual capacity as Antarctic History Nerd.  All I knew after that night at the Darkroom was that some whisky had been found under Shackleton's hut, there was a bottle of some derivation of the same whisky on the top shelf at the Darkroom, and I had failed, publicly and disgracefully, to show an appreciation for  that set of circumstances. I was pretty sure that it couldn't be the actual same whisky (could it?) but I felt a geeky sort of shame that I didn't know what it really was.

The full story, it turns out, is absolutely fantastic, and it's told best by Mr Neville Peat of Broad Bay, Dunedin, in his recent book Shackleton's Whisky.  It seems that in 2007, a team from the NZ Antarctic Heritage Trust were fossicking about under the hut that Shackleton's crew built in 1908 during the Nimrod expedition.  This is the expedition, you will recall, that earned Shackleton his knighthood - he and two others reached a new Furthest South, within 100 miles of the Pole, and Douglas Mawson, that brash Antipodean, led a team to as near the South Magnetic Pole as really makes no odds, so they claimed that for the Empire. A team from the expedition made a first ascent of Erebus, and they pioneered the use of motor vehicles and ponies in the Antarctic, with mixed results.  They also, it would appear, drank a lot of whisky - and it was a case of this whisky that the team from the Antarctic Heritage Trust dug up in 2007.



There followed a remarkable series of events involving the Canterbury Museum, the descendants of the distillers who made the original whisky at the end of the nineteenth century, a whisky-taster whose nose is insured for some astronomical sum, and an international courier flying to Scotland with a priceless bottle handcuffed to his wrist. It transpired that not only had this whisky survived its hundred-year freeze undamaged, it was actually really rather delicious - so White and McKay, who now own the company that made the whisky in the first place, set about replicating it and in 2010 they released a limited edition of the result.  Here was my answer - it was a dram of this replica that I had so rudely swilled at the Darkroom that shameful night.  In a strange way, learning the history of this drop made me feel a bit better - maybe I hadn't really tasted it, but at least now I knew what I'd missed.

Shackelton's Whisky

The actual person who was under the hut doing the fossicking was young James Blake, who as far as I can tell is as thoroughly decent a bloke as you could hope to meet. He's got the kind of honest, open grin that could sell oil to a Texan, if that's what he wanted to do, and this grin appears in a photograph in Mr Peat's book, shining out from under Sir Ernest's hut next to a case of the famous whisky.  As soon as I saw that photograph I hoped to meet the owner of this grin, because he looked like he could tell a yarn.  Since we both live in New Zealand, of course, that meeting soon happened in the normal course of events, without my really having to do anything.

Such a grin!
On tour last summer, we played a show as part of the festival commemorating the centenary of the return of Captain Scott's ship (minus, of course, Captain Scott) to the civilised world, which occurred in the port of Oamaru in February 1913. After the show, the grin appeared, closely followed by Mr Blake, who soon proved to be just as able a yarnsmith as I had hoped - he was at the festival to talk about what he'd been up to in Antarctica.  He's the kind of utterly impressive individual who does things like row a boat across the Tasman Sea and climb up high mountains - bold, romantic endeavours of the sort that divide any given sample of dinner guest into two mutually irreconcilable camps, rallying under banners inscribed, respectively, 'why?' and 'why the hell not?' I have enormous sympathy for such people because folk music is a bit like that too, only less dangerous.

As though rowing a boat across the Tasman Sea wasn't challenging enough, James revealed that he had raised the degree of difficulty considerably for himself by listening to this song on his ipod 'the whole way.' He said it kept him sane, and my heart went out to him because it just seemed so wildly unlikely that anything I wrote could impact positively on anybody's mental health - you poor thing, I thought.  Then he said some kind things about our show and how it captured the mood and the tone of the huts he'd been working on preserving down there on the ice, which was a lovely thing to say, and I felt sufficiently comfortable to share with him the tale of my disgraceful behavior with the whisky.  I can't remember what he said, but his tone was generally soothing and he was very nice about it. 

The encounter unsettled me - this was the chap who spent freezing weeks groveling around in the ice under the hut and actually found the whisky, got it out into the world for the rest of us to have and to hold.  By disrespecting the whisky, I felt like I'd let him down, and he just seemed like a really nice guy. And a guy who apparently had listened to one of my songs more times than any other human, including probably me - I felt like amends needed to be made. The only way to come back from this whisky incident, I decided,  was to sit down properly with a glass of the stuff, with a clear head and bright eye, among friends and with time to kill, in pleasant surroundings. In full knowledge of what I had before me, where it came from and what it meant, I could really do the thing justice. I would hold it up to the light to admire the amber glow. Swill it around in the glass to see it move. Sniff it. Pass it around. Warm it slightly in the palm. Pause, breathe, raise the glass, offer a toast to sweethearts and wives, and taste the hell out of it. Really savour that fucker. I felt like I owed some people.

There is actually some more to the story, in which I get right with the whisky, but I feel like posting significantly more that 1000 words on a Sunday would be churlish, so the rest will come later. When? Later.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Bitter Years, good time songs

No excuses, Internet land - here at team Bond Street Bridge, we do not excuse ourselves.  We stumble out midsentence, knocking over glasses and upsetting the furniture and while that is an impediment to our social advancement, certainly, we think it makes us charming.  However: People - probably you - have brought it to our attention that there has been very little blogging lately, and apparently (bless them!) they miss it.  So - an update, without any excuses for lateness or the longish time between bulletins.

The Summer Throwdown tour came hard on the heels of the Explorers Club: Antarctica tour, without really much of a chance to collect thoughts or take a breath and look at the scenery. That led to interesting mental health outcomes, but generally as well to a thumping good time.  The great disappointment of the summer so far has been failing to get a photograph of the odometer in the old Honda Odyssey as it ticked over 350,000 kilometers - fortunately other disappointments have been few, however, so we remain breezy and chipper. 

The old bus looking at the scenery as it thinks about the next hill and the one after that.

This tour has stood out from some others (not that they all blur into each other or anything - I may not remember people well but I do remember the order that the shows came in, and sometimes I count them instead of sheep when the last coffee came too soon before bedtime) because we had a new band along with us for the duration.  Band or cult, call it what you will,  and I have been meaning to write a little thing about it for as long as it has been in existence, which is coming up to two and a half months now - coincidentally about as long as this blog silence has lasted.  The band is called The Bitter Years, and I will explain how it works.

We look a lot cooler than we actually are, but we are still pretty cool.

The Bitter Years is Brendan Jehosophat Turner, who now holds the distinction of playing more Bond Street Bridge shows than any sane human should, Emily Millicent Cater, who has been Bond Street artist in residence since day one and now plays the banjo and a mean tenor uke, Alison O'Flagellant Millar stomping a mesmerising beat, and myself, doing the things I do but mostly hollering.  We play unplugged, we play outdoors, we play in bar-rooms and halls, we play loud, we stomp and holler, we play love songs and fight songs and old-as-the-hills country songs and we've been raising up a dust storm from here to Milford Sound and back over the past two months.  It's not a Bond Street thing, it's its own thing and for every old gospel song we sing about Jesus we sing one old gospel song about Whiskey&Mayhem to balance the books.  So now you know.

Stomping, hollering etc.

The house we all live in.  We sleep in a big pile on the floor.  I took this photo 
and I think it could definitely be in a calendar and get sold at gift shops.

It's kind of an old-timey family band, and the middle part of the tour when we were traipsing around the South Island picked up a bit of that raggle-taggle family feel.  We planned to meet up with old co-conspirators The Broken Heartbreakers to play some shows, and of course that meant bringing along four-month old baby Jean Heartbreaker, who took the whole thing well.  Once I had a fair idea about who was coming - a couple of weeks before the shows as it turned out - I rang up our man at the Blue Duck out in Milford to let him know that we might have a few more people along than I had first suggested.

"I thought we said three?"
"Well, yeah I know, the email did say three but the Heartbreakers are bringing their drummer now of course."
"Ok, so that makes what, six? Two of them, three of you and a drummer?"
"Pretty much, yeah.  But there's actually four of us now, cos we've started this new band that's actually a cult."
"So seven then?  That's no problem.  We'll find space."
"Yeah they're bringing a baby too, but I think that she has a box to sleep in or something so don't worry about her."
"A baby? Grand! No problem."
"Oh and also the baby's grandma?  Rachel's mum is coming to look after the baby when they're, you know, playing and stuff."
"Makes sense.  I'm sure there's room.  Bring 'em out!"

So we did, and that's why I love playing at the Blue Duck.  The next day we saw a shark, and in the evening we played at a house with a horse in the actual living room, and after that things just got weird.  I'll tell you about it sometime, but for now the message is:

The Bitter Years are a thing.  You can see us play at the following locations:

16 March:   Matakana Markets, 10am-2pm, then Coatesville Markets from around 4 or so.
22 March: Rogue Fest Rotorua, Kerosene Creek, sometime in the evening.  This will be pretty sweet.
28 March: Ponsonby Baptist Hall, Jervois Rd, with Great North! This will also be pretty sweet because they are a proper band and they know what they're doing.
30 March: Matakana Markets again - they've kind of adopted us.
4 April: The Gunslingers Ball presents DYLAN at the wine cellar.  This will be hilarious and also very fine.

But!  Bond Street Bridge is also a thing.  You can see us play at the following locations:

22 March: Rogue Fest Rotorua, Kerosene Creek, sometime in the evening.  As I said, this will be pretty sweet.
23 March: Wellington Opera House supporting Mr Billy Bragg
25 March: Auckland Power Station supporting Mr Billy Bragg

And after that we might just take a small break and actually stay at home for at least two consecutive weeks, and I will put some more stories on the Internets.  Gosh!


This is where the shark was.  


Monday, December 30, 2013

Bond Street Bridge Summer Throwdown Tour


Hard on the heels of an epic 2013 of sold-out shows, rave reviews, and thousands of winding miles, Bond Street Bridge are hitting the road again to visit old friends, meet new ones, and raise the roof from Invercargill to Baylys Beach.

The past year has seen Bond Street perform over 100 shows on the road, playing at fancy places like arts festivals, museums, art galleries, opera houses and theatres all over the country. They have performed their unique show ‘The Explorers Club: Antarctica’ to packed houses and critical acclaim across the length and breadth of New Zealand, circling the country twice and winning the award for ‘Best Music’ at the 2013 New Zealand Fringe Festival awards.  The show was a ‘perfect evening of music’ according to the Dominion Post, a ‘tour de force’ said the Nelson Mail, the new album spent a month in the charts and won the praises of the toughest critics in the land, but with all of these high-culture venues and hushed, seated audiences - not to mention hotel-grade accommodation and the better sort of whiskey - Bond Street Bridge are worried about going soft.

So to kick off 2014, Bond Street Bridge take it back to the bar-rooms and Community Halls in a Summer Throwdown Tour, setting aside their high-concept Antarctica show and upper middle-brow cultural aspirations for a month or so to bring out a raft of new material and demonstrate that they can sling a guitar in a bar full of good-time yahoos just as well as they can hold a room full of history buffs in thrall with tales of icy disaster.

Bond Street have been writing new material and plundering folk-song archives to breathe new life into old singalongs and shanties, unearthing hair-raising stories and rousing choruses.  Expect the Devil, expect jealous gods and queens of the underworld, maimed seadogs and lost loves, the darkness at the edge of town and the light of a spiteful moon, vocal harmonies, stomping feet and jangling guitars as Bond Street Bridge reveal the work they have been writing on the road over the course of their 2013 travels.

Along the way the band are meeting up with old friends around the country - The Broken Heartbreakers for selected South Island shows, Rosy Tin Teacaddy for their annual St Peters Hall shindig in Paekakariki, Hannah Curwood, back from London for the Summer appearing at the Golden Dawn, and of course the enigmatic Brendan Turner will be opening the shows along the way with his trademark dark delta blues.  Later on in March, the band have been invited to open for Billy Bragg at the Opera House in Wellington and the Powerstation in Auckland, a state of affairs that has them reeling in happy disbelief.

Join Bond Street Bridge as they blaze a track through the summer of 2014, hearts on sleeves and boots on the floor at a bar in your town.


Friday 3 January: Baylys Beach , Funky Fish
Saturday 4 January: Whangarei, Old Stone Butter Factory (Explorers Club: Antarctica show)
Friday 24 January: Auckland, Golden Dawn with Hannah In The Wars
Saturday 1 February: Christchurch, Brewery
Monday 3 Februrary: Blue Duck, Milford with The Broken Heartbreakers
Tuesday 4 February: Invercargill, Brad and Chrissie’s place
Wednesday 5 February: Oamaru, Grain Store Gallery with The Broken Heartbreakers
Thursday 6 February: Waitati, Mandy Mayhem’s
Friday 7 Februrary: Blackball Hilton
Saturday 8 February: Nelson, Playhouse Café
Saturday 22 February: Paekakariki, St Peter’s Hall with Rosy Tin Teacaddy
Sunday 23 March: Wellington Opera House opening for Billy Bragg (Explorers Club: Antarctica show)

Tuesday 25 March: Auckland, Powerstation opening for Billy Bragg (Explorers Club: Antarctica show)