Kerryn Fields delivered an intimate and trademark welcome back to live music set at the Wine Cellar on Friday night. For me it’s a little bittersweet, because I’m reminded of how fabulous she would have been at this year’s BowieFest, my annual birthday bash, if only we hadn’t locked down a couple of weeks earlier.
A little lockdown rusty and nervous, the early jitters soon fade and her self-deprecating, homespun tales of her life and loves, put the glue into an evening of pure folk, pure spirit, and pure talent.
If you don’t know Kerryn Fields she’s a big lanky lass from Te Kuiti, based mainly in Melbourne, after a lengthy stint in Canada, where she acquired her Akubra hat. Which usually hides all her hair. But no haircut in Te Kuiti, and now we see some curly girly locks leaking out. Life for Kerryn has had its challenges, which she has shrugged off through her songs, delivered with a cutting sense of humour, which exemplifies how Kerryn has opted for life, when she could easily have given up.
I first saw her last year when she opened for Wallis Bird at the Tuning Fork, and her voice, ranging from altro to contralto, immediately won me and the audience over. What a voice, from Armatrading to Elliman, it’s nothing but compelling. Then I walked into a bar in Gore a few months later and there she was, down in the deep south to be awarded Country Song of the Year at the New Zealand Country Music Awards for Mama. A beautiful certificate and a small cheque, famous and penniless, but the recognition was welcome and appropriate.
And now she has been caught by Covid on a visit home, trapped in Te Kuiti with her family and the legacy of a lifetime’s catalogue of bad jokes about the very place she is now confined to. Hard to hide in a small town. Looking for all the lost dogs her grandfather used to go to the pub to see men about.
Sitting in King Country, going Nowhere Faster, and this is how she opens her set, also the opener from her 2016 album Rascals. Then the beautiful love song, composed during another visit to her hometown, Until You.
And then a tribute to the man she spent many a night with, but no, this is not a revelation of a gender bending nature, this is the man who fixed her legs up when her bones outgrew her fragile body and the man who, more than anyone else except Kerryn, helped her retain the capacity to walk. And he, during surgery, loved to listen to Canadian Folk Music.
Kerryn has a new album all cooked and simmering in the Melbourne oven, and she just must get back there soon, quarantine or no quarantine, to oversee the release of the all-important sophomore. Many if not most of the songs she sings tonight are familiar to me, because they were being road tested last year, but not on record, so anticipation is rising. Songs like Out on the Porch, The Letter, Fifteen, and Atlantis, one I hadn’t heard before.
But, oh, Te Kuiti has a lot to answer for, like the shed, which her father built to house his business, and also his family, all five little rascals, and where the divorce happened, when Kerryn was Fifteen, and a tough experience for anyone of that tender young age. And as for the sheep, well, now she steals my joke about Kiwis not shearing their sheep. Not with anyone. But it’s such a good joke, especially for the Kiwi-anthropic Aussies, that I can easily grant her sharing rights for her sheer audacity.
The audience sings along easily and willingly to the award-winning song Mama, except for me. I always sing in mute. It’s better for everyone, even the headbangers in the Whammy Bar next door, who intrude, uninvited, through the wall.
Twelve songs and it’s all over, but the small, attentive audience is convinced. The legendary Marty Duda is more than convinced, and I’m happy about that. That makes two of us. Both legendary and convinced.
Kerryn Fields is only underrated because she’s under-known. We need to spread the word…..
- Nowhere Faster
- Until You
- Canadian Folk Music
- Should I See You Again
- The Letter
- Trains and Whistles
- Where I’ve Been
- Out On The Porch
Radio 13 credits and thanks Chris Zaagdwyk for all the images in this article.