4 November 2017, Common Room, Hastings
The intense heat of a Hawke’s Bay evening hung about us as we waited for Graeme James to take the stage. It was a full house, Common Room was hot. Clearly the Nelson-born musician’s reputation preceded him as an expectant audience of men and women lined the walls, filled the chairs, sat on the floor. His tools of the trade were arranged around the stage. A one-man band. However, this is the not the classic ‘one-man band’ playing a number of instruments simultaneously with various limbs. Graeme James is a master of the loop pedal.
It’s flawless. Graeme’s impressive musical ability, his natural talent for sound and rhythm had the audience absorbed. We could have been anywhere in the world: a heaving pub in Dublin, a beer garden in Germany. I was transported. Graeme can swap musical genres in a heartbeat. From an Irish jig, folk-like sound with a hint of Afro Celt Sound System to Vivaldi. From Eastern European disco to Midwest American barn dance.
Graeme James is like a cocktail mixologist. The audience was built up ingredient by ingredient. Starting slow with a dash of guitar, building the tune and tempo with a boost of bass, a flicker of electric violin, a slap of percussion, a spike of harmonica, a sprinkle of beatboxing. His final finishing touch, his vocals. My personal favourite was the violin. Each time he picked it up I was entranced. His playing took me back to Celtic roots.
Graeme writes and sings about life: about his personal experiences, about never giving up on your dreams and valuing what’s important. His facial expressions, his eye contact, he giggles and slight smiles as the words tumbled out conveyed sincerity and honesty. He looks truthfully at life; the hardships and realities, as well as the joy. He happily shares his philosophies with his adoring fans.
It was not just his musical genius or transparency that kept the audience wanting more. Infectious and engaging, he served all this up with huge amounts of energy and enthusiasm. Maybe it stems from his busking start on Cuba Street making enough money to simply get by, or his love for seeing people have a great time. Whatever it is, it works. Wherever possible he would encourage audience inclusion. A highlight of the evening was when Graeme created a song on the spot from audience suggestions; “Helicopter, rhubarb, toilet” were the chosen lyrics sung to a combination of Scar and Disco. The song was called ‘Don’t Panic, Alfonz’, a Common Room original!
Graeme is clearly one of those talented people that can focus on many things at once. As exports go, New Zealand should be proud of this one. High value and innovative. He said he will be returning to New Zealand in 2019. Until then Graeme James, we “Wish you Well”.
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