Freida Margolis used to be a butchery. The signs are still up.
But now Frieda Margolis is one of our most precious little venues in Auckland for discerning punters (all 50 of them) to come see some extraordinary musicianship of all genres. Butchery is an art form, after all, if you really try.
And tonight is no exception. The cramped stage area is entirely swamped by a thing of wonder, because Michael Barker has driven up from Rotorua with a truck full of ‘phones, and this one happens to be a giant of an instrument of West African and South American origin, the Marimba.
Just off to the left (looking into the bar) is a smaller ‘phone, a Vibraphone, and while the uninitiated might default to “xylophone”, the aluminium bars in both Vibraphone and Marimba provide for a mellower, jazzier sound. Immediately in front of the Marimba is a small keyboard with a snare drum and a bass drum hidden in the box seat.
So this is interesting, but of course, it is also Michael Barker and Finn Scholes, and there are no more interesting players in our music scene than these two eclectics.
The ‘phones are played by two mallets seemingly woven into each players hands, and off they dance, into the first song, a 2006 Barker original and title track off his solo album, Wonderland. And indeed, we are transported into a land of wonder. Finn alternates between the 'phone and his beloved trumpet, and the music is enthralling.
Michael takes us on a childhood journey as he lightly tinkers out a tune, a story of a nocturnal breakout by him and a friend, on a boat with no life jackets, smoking, getting into trouble on the water, being rescued by his father’s cursing mate, and for his father’s cursing mate's troubles the boat slips off the trailer on the way back into town. Michael does a runner, and he’s still running, up and down the keys as he sings Out on the Lake.
With some adroit manoeuvring, Michael moves out from behind the Marimba and squeezes in behind the keyboard for a haunting version of Red Right Hand, by the Peaky Blinders courtesy of Nick Cave. Then straight into a Bossa Nova, slow jazzy version of the Church’s Under The Milky Way Tonight. Finn’s trumpet highly supreme.
A guitar appears, and a song about epic journeys in search of the rock ‘n roll dream, a trip to New York to appear on Letterman, and immediately back to Byron Bay Bluesfest. The song which emerged from that is By Your Side, a song to his son for when he’s away.
Check Michael Barker out with John Butler in around 2005
Nick Atkinson appears, where did he come from? and the duo becomes a trio as the saxophone joins the fray and, what a song! Its Kraftwerk and their homage to the model who poses for consumer products, Das Model. Only the German language can produce lines like that. And once again we are transported, but Michael needs a break, and so do we.
The genre bends again and they kick off with a so-called Brahms Disco, actually Hungarian Dance #5, and its classical gas. The Wild Ones is a lockdown song, showing Michael Barker the singer/songwriter in yet another light.
Now we’re off on a jazz journey with Left Bank, Nick Atkinson and The Genius of Finn Scholes. The audience is, like, wow.
... feel the intensity of professional musicians who not only love the music but are only satisfied by perfection.
Michael announces an acoustic blues song about a certain person and the song is called Rotten, and I suspect it’s about a certain maskless man who wields irrational power in a big land overseas. And next up is a slower, groovier version of Rumours and Lies, and Finn Plants us on a Carnivorous journey.
The crowd joins in for an old anthem, Po Karekareana. It could be Anzac Day.
It’s a privilege to be up close and personal with these guys as you both see and feel the intensity of professional musicians who not only love the music but are only satisfied by perfection. Good enough will never do. It’s the expression just as much as the sound which makes the live experience so visceral. And this music resonates to every gut muscle in your body.
Ok, we’re live so Let's Get Live, another Swamp Thing staple. And then, penultimately, Manza, from the aforementioned Wonderland, before a self- appointed and anointed encore (there’s nowhere to go, what do you what me to do, run around the block?).
Another complete surprise, there’s no limit to the repertoire when you can finish a night of rock, folk, blues, fusion and classical with the Stranglers’ Golden Brown.
What a night. What can I say? I can’t, words are failing me, even to write. So, I’ll use Trevor Viller’s, the man who puts the experience to image: Palpable synergy, is what he calls it. I call that a good shot.
Radio 13 thanks and credits Trevor Villers for all the images featured in this article.
Michael Barker and Finn Scholes' Set List:
- Out On The Lake
- Red Right Hand
- Under The Milky Way
- By Your Side
- Das Model
- Hungarian Dance # 5
- Wild Ones
- Rumors & Lies
- Pokarekare Ana
- Left Bank
- Let’s Get Live
- Golden Brown