Hawke's Bay Arts Festival Finale / 28 October 2019 / By Rob Harbers
“Parting is such sweet sorrow,” said some guy sometime, and tonight it fell to local Ben Throp and his troupe of Intimate Strangers to farewell the fifth iteration of the Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival, and the wondrous Spiegeltent, by sharing a set that encompassed both original numbers and a diverse selection of cover material, drawn from the long list of artists who inspired him.
Opening piece For The Sake Of My Soul, an original written especially for this performance, provided a strong introduction to a night that would go on to encompass a variety of styles, from reggae to old-time soul to folk and various points in between. First cover performance, Neil Young’s Old Man, gave the band an opportunity to show their impressive abilities, particularly Scotty Smith on mandolin and Hannah Fraser on violin, with the bonus, for those for whom the particular vocal stylings of Mr Young are an acquired taste, of a different singer.
The set took the format of being one original then a cover, and it’s a tribute to the strength of the original material that it sat comfortably amongst the covers, which were from, among others, Richard Thompson, Bob Marley, Radiohead, and a particularly moving performance of the medieval English folk song The Unquiet Grave, which Ben stated to be one of the songs in his life which made him cry upon hearing it.
Breaking in to Beck’s Nobody’s Fault allowed guitarist Jeff Boyle to open up and show a little more of what he’s capable of, although overall, it must be said, the format required him to be strangely subdued, by comparison with the sonic soundscapes I’m more used to hearing him creating in his day job with the pioneering Hawke’s Bay post-rock trio Jakob (now there would be an Arts Festival gig to blow the roof off the Spiegeltent!). Guess it’s what needs to happen when you’re one of the players, much like the low-profile David Bowie took in the mid-70s as a member of Iggy Pop’s band.
Original song Little Bit of Devil (?) provided pianist Ben Wilcock to show off his impressive skills on a number that showed a strong soul, almost bordering on gospel, influence. Local stalwart William Devine (Tropical Downbeat Orchestra) formed a strong rhythm section with drummer John Gray, although the drum solo section, while highly skilful, struck a slightly discordant note in a session that was otherwise drawing on the strength of the ensemble playing.
But as the end came near, and so we faced the final curtain, the band came back on, and did it Ben’s way, as filtered through Bob Marley’s No Woman No Cry, and One More Cup Of Coffee from the metaphorical elephant in the room Bob Dylan.
A fitting end to the first half-decade of Arts Festivals, and a promise of things to come, as the lights went out and it was closing time – see you same time, same place next year!
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