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Concert Reviews

Concert Review: Wallis Soars Like A Bird In Auckland

Where: The Great South Pacific Tuning Fork, Auckland NZ
When: 22 Mar 2019
Roger Bowie

Irish singer-songwriter, Wallis Bird, captivated the audience at the Tuning Fork in Auckland, New Zealand last Friday night with support from NZ alt-country artist Kerryn Fields.

Where do all these singer/songwriters come from? Where do they all hide? How do we fit them all in?

It was a very different Tuning Fork from that of a week ago. One week is a long time, even though five years from now we will still remember last week in Christchurch as if it were yesterday. But it must go on, this thing called life, and tonight we have a far more lively, upbeat and almost joyful platter on offer from two very different female artists.

I always find that the best gigs are the ones where I have low, or no, expectations. Tonight is no exception. The contrast is visually obvious, the almost overly tall cowboy girl from the King Country, and the diminutive 5 foot nothing Irish dynamo.

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Kerryn Fields

So what about the music?
Kerryn Fields is back home after many years in Australia and Canada, and tonight she is a very proud prodigal daughter, wearing her Canadian purchased Akubra and working hard to conceal any traces of an Aussie accent.

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Kerryn has a huge voice, with a baritone range which evokes Joan Armatrading and a touch of Tracy Chapman. And she writes sweet songs, unless she’s angry, and then out comes the ukulele, and up goes the tempo.

Kerryn spent ten years in Waikato hospital as a young girl because her body outgrew her bones and just gave up. And now she sings about the experience, and the pain and the perseverance shine through her songs. As well as humour. What’s life about, if there’s not a laugh and a song?

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Her compelling nine-song set draws from her 2015 release Rascal, songs like Should I See You Again, and the memory of seeking out a penpal, The Letter. There’s a song about her grandfather, a big man who was the station manager at the Te Kuiti station, Trains & Whistles and the ukulele songs, Lips So Sweet and Broken Down Heart.
And some new songs, the hugely evocative opener Until You, a song for all the mothers, Mamma, Canadian Folk Music and the poignant last song, a hymn to stem cell therapy called Atlantis. It’s a tough gig and Kerryn Fields is a tough cookie. And I’m now a fan, as I’m sure is everyone who came out to see the main act.

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Check out Kerryn Fields, go see her on her tour. She’s even going to Invercargill!!


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Wallis Bird

If it’s not obvious who Wallis Bird is, it doesn’t take long. She’s one of those on a long list of talented Irish performers who we have never heard of until now. And of course, she has the Irish gift, as well as a typically irrepressible, effervescent joyousness which often emanates from the Emerald Isle. I know who she is! She’s Bernie, one of the school mums from Mt Carmel. I see her almost every day…. Hi Bernie !!

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Wallis is now Berlin-based and plays her guitar left-handed and upside down, an unintended consequence of a childhood accident between her hand and a lawnmower. Must have made her angry too, but not ukulele angry, good old guitar strumming frenzied thrash anger, with guitar strings smashing the way Pete Townshend used to deal with his guitar. And all this complemented by a range of folky ballads, finger-snapping pop, and a touch of electronica... layering of sounds through her loop machine. Eclectic, that’s what Wallis is.

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Five albums by now, and her set, which wasn’t written down (at least not for me) ranged across her repertoire. Old and new. First up The Ocean, then a new song with a singalong chorus (already, two songs in), a punk-folk song about love, respect, peace, another singalong That Leads The Way sounding like something I’d definitely heard before, and Change on the piano with a finger snap. Five songs in and we have been swamped with her versatility, her range, her banter and the sheer force of her personality.

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Other songs which stand out include Seasons, Control, another song about her 35-year-old self in bed with her parents (“life is long but time is short”), the beautiful Home, the title track from her latest record, and the final song To My Bones.
At times I am reminded of Luka Bloom, and the penultimate song, the haunting In Dictum, with her support team Tracey and Aidan backing on vocals, brings to mind Glen Hansard’s music from the movie, Once. And she is an Enya fan... 

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But I really must stop searching for reference points. Wallis Bird is a reference point all on her own. And in acapella (when there are no more guitar strings), her voice dips and soars like a... well, like a Wallis bird.

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Two singers, two tales of adversity, two redemptions in the power of the song. An unexpectedly awesome night.
I’m told that the role of the reviewer is sometimes to be critical. Sorry, can’t do that on this one... 

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Radio 13 thanks and credits Reuben Raj from SomeBizarreMonkey Photography for all the images featured on this article. 

Written By: Roger Bowie Roger Bowie has been collecting music since 1964, starting with 45 rpm singles, and then building an LP and CD collection from 1970. 1.8 per week since then. Not a vast collection, but eclectic and occasionally obscure. Roger is a big Americana fan, and regularly attends AmericanaFest in Nashville, held every September. Also, he once played golf with Alice Cooper...