Hellos and goodbyes

By: Winston Watusi

Winston Watusi
Music Plus

Two important things are happening this weekend: a farewell and a welcome.

The hello is for local musician Brendan McCarthy’s debut album, which has occupied my stereo now for a fortnight and impressed me greatly.

The goodbye is to one of the area’s more colourful drummers, who is playing his farewell gig this Saturday (October 23). It’s at The Barrel Room on Wharf Street and he’s Warren Houston.

Warren has decided to move overseas; he’s going to live in Nelson. I first met him when his natural congeniality earned duties as compère of the Rotorua Jazz Festival - 25 years ago maybe? I quickly found out he was as quirky a drummer as he was an MC, and although he still lives in Rotorua, he’s in Tauranga frequently, most often to provide drums/percussion for bluesman Mike Garner.

Warren has been with many bands of course, but he’s played with Mike since 1999. Together they’ve done festivals here and in Tasmania, New Caledonia and Kathmandu, and toured Australia three times.

Warren is also one of the country’s leading airbrush artists, having painted everything from hot rods, guitars, canvases and bakeries to an America’s Cup keel. His Facebook page is filled with astounding photos of artwork.

And, never fear, Warren isn’t giving up music, just changing scenery: he has already been offered the drum seat in a Nelson blues band. His final gig with Mike Garner is at 7pm, no charge.

Warren Houston

Generation Overload

Last column I mentioned that Brendan McCarthy’s album is ready to launch on October 22 on all digital platforms and also on CD. If you’re looking for one bit of new music this weekend, I’d suggest going straight to his website, ApolloSteamTrain.com, which has everything you’ll need.

Brendan is very good at communicating with fans and the site is very cool.

Generation Overload is by Apollo SteamTrain, the name Brendan uses. In a way it fills three separate functions: it’s a debut album; it’s a “greatest hits”; and it’s also a retrospective. It’s certainly a debut, and since the songs span the past several years – some have previously been released as singles – it becomes a retrospective, and I assume he’s picked his best songs, hence a “greatest hits” label.

The problem with such ventures usually is that because of the long time-frame, and the desire to squeeze in every little thing, they can seem disjointed and unwieldy. No such issues here. From the hard-driving power pop of the opening title track, you know you’re in safe hands.

Not only is the song clever and catchy (and ass-kicking), but the production, the sound of the whole thing, is stunning. This is big guitar-driven rock, lotsa solid guitars, layered vocals and the odd sound effect. Think The Killers with a touch of latter-day Pink Floyd...

Brendan McCarthy

Good songs

There are good songs here, and Brendan is a serious songwriter. Second-up, Phone Box of Life shows his understanding of rhythmic lyrics, while Superstition follows with a sledgehammer guitar riff, not exactly fast but huge and heavy with dramatic chromatic runs in the melody.

There is much to praise here. The vocals for a start. Not just Brendan’s singing (which is excellent, both lead and the many harmonies), but the production, the size and sound of the vocals, and also the contributing backing singers, Denise Hyde and Tara Watson.

Although made over years and at three distinct locations – Auckland's Roundhead Studio, Welcome Bay’s The Colourfield and Brendan’s own Electric Sun Studio – and mixed by various people, including Nathan Sowter, Tim Julian, Clint Murphy and Brendan himself, it still sounds of a piece. The style is both varied and consistent and Brendan has loaded every song with subtle touches: I’m still discovering new and interesting things after many listens.

Hats off also to the two drummers, Jed Dawkins and James Bos, both of whom really drive the music. And finally, credit where it’s due to Brendan's guitar-playing throughout. Exemplary.

So... great production, great playing and not one but two “closing” songs: The Song Inside Your Soul (“When you were young...”) and The Baron of Carbery (“When the road is long...”), a 15-minute wrap up that is quite a journey in itself and a fitting finale for a serious album.