Reviews - Regional News | Connecting Wellington

Reviews

The Captain’s Run | Regional News

The Captain’s Run

Written by: Gregor Paul

HarperCollins

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

If I had to describe The Captain’s Run in just a few words, they’d have to be ‘heavy lies the head that wears the crown.’ 

Winning rugby matches might be a team effort, but it all starts with just one man: the captain. The man who’s charged with leading his men onto the field and inspiring them through his actions, whether on the field or off it. It’s often been said that the scrutiny he’s under is almost level to that of the prime minister regarding public opinion, profile, and accountability.

While the book might be called The Captain’s Run, it’s actually a bit of a misleading title since it delves into issues of leadership; specifically the different ways a captain can lead and how the dynamic of captain, coach, and the rest of the team has shifted to what it is today.

It touches on the importance of teamwork and how there’s never just one way to do something. 

We get to see New Zealand Rugby’s interesting evolution, starting in 1966 with Ian Kirkpatrick, when our national sport was still considered an amateur one, to arguably its greatest heights in the 21st century under the captaincy of Richie McCaw.

It’s a fascinating insight into what made each of the captains tick and how they approached their job. It describes the trepidation they felt about the role of captain and how they went about making it their own. They talk about their greatest triumphs and what they might have done differently had they been given a choice.

Gregor Paul, whose name you might recognise from his sports column in the New Zealand Herald, has done an amazing job of giving fans a look behind the curtain at a world that not everyone gets a chance to see firsthand.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to learn more, not just about rugby, but about leadership and achieving goals that we set for ourselves in our daily lives.

The Chiffon Trenches: A Memoir | Regional News

The Chiffon Trenches: A Memoir

Written by: André Leon Talley

Ballantine Books

Reviewed by: Colin Morris

There’s a very telling episode late in this book when this 6’6 gay, black, French-speaking American is sent by his employer, Vogue magazine, to a health spa to lose weight. He never mentions a clinician or masseuse or any other staff.  To him, they are just little people. The snobbishness continues when Talley reveals it was Jackie Kennedy’s dress sense and decorum at the funeral of President Kennedy that made him realise the fashion industry is made for him.

It soon becomes evident that Talley is a snob of the worst kind. A quill dipped in poison ink drips on every page with the name dropping of fashion designers and models. Yet, it is his repudiation of those who accuse him of sleeping with everybody from Steve McQueen to Karl Lagerfeld that hurts the most. Talley takes pride in being gay, and the women around him love him for that, feeling safe from sexual predators.

After failing to lose weight, he takes to wearing caftans. Talley even finds time to give us the name of his caftan maker in a souk in Morocco. Yes, the name dropping continues.

Never a greasy spoon diner for Talley, it’s always Maxim’s or Chez Georges in Paris. With a sycophantic woman on his arm, they drool over food and fashion.

I was reminded of Armistead Maupin’s books, Tales of the City, throughout. Characters were always described as wearing Ralph Lauren shirts, Gucci loafers, or Gap jackets. Here, every dress is named and described. Fashionistas will be delighted with the in-crowd names: Loulou de la Falaise, Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis, and we are privy to Naomi Campbell carrying 10 mobile phones while Lee Radziwill washes her hair in egg yolks!

Talley’s vitriol is reserved for Anna Wintour, scion of Vogue for the last 30 years. Accordingly, Wintour is portrayed as cold, lacking empathy, and dismissive, but also brilliant.

By turn this book is catty, funny, tart, backstabbing, gushing, gossipy, cruel, bitter, self-pontificating, and immensely readable.

Escape Path Lighting | Regional News

Escape Path Lighting

Written by: John Newton

Victoria University Press

Reviewed by: Ayla Akin

Escape Path Lighting is written by John Newton, author of numerous poetry collections. Newton emptied his entire bag of tricks into this latest piece of work, a novel with a challenging combination of poetic verse and satire. On reflection, having only just dipped my toe into the world of poetry, picking up this book was a rather obnoxious decision.

Set on Rock Oyster Island, Newton introduces you to a large group of eclectic characters. Luckily, Newton offers some respite and there is a character list at the start of the book. The personalities are key in this story of fugitive poets and talking parrots. I was sure I would love them all by the end. However, I did not feel there was a strong enough foundation set at the beginning. So, despite Newton’s fabulously creative imagination, the characters fell short of capturing my heart.

I started the book giggling when the character Arthur Bardruin washes up on the shore: “He hauls himself upright, a turkey-necked Venus, some two metres tall and stark bollocky nude!” The descriptions are vibrant and when the verses flowed it was fun to read. Verse formats set the tone, directing the reader to feel a certain perspective or purpose. However, I do not believe that the sentence breaks created the desired impact. The book is described on the cover as a “novel”, yet appears to lack the key components needed for an enjoyable, flowing story.

I really wanted to love Escape Path Lighting. At the end, in a bid to spark some kind of affection, I revisited a few of the pages that had caused me confusion. I discovered that I understood things better the second time round, but by then the damage was already done. This was my first poetic novel and I wonder if I should make it my last? Newton is clearly a gifted writer, but unfortunately missed the mark for me with this one.

The Big Gay Christmas Drag Show | Regional News

The Big Gay Christmas Drag Show

Presented by: Hugo Grrrl’s Gigs

Produced by: Willy SmacknTush

The Fringe Bar, 11th Dec 2020

Reviewed by: Petra Shotwell

Until tonight, it didn’t feel a lot like Christmas, but these performers truly have “made the Yuletide gay” with their festivities.

Tonight’s host is none other than Judy Virago, whose exceptional costumes are gifts in themselves. Judy keeps the audience entertained between acts with storytelling, flirting, and even a performance of her own; there’s not a moment in the night that we aren’t completely encapsulated in the show.

The first act of the evening is everyone’s favourite Aunty, Pamela Hancock, who brings such beautiful variety with her live singing and storytelling. Her character is so well established, I feel completely invested in Pam’s life. Next, The Everchanging Boy beautifully executes a simple concept through aesthetically satisfying costume and props, and elegant dance. Judy shares that they are the only person she refuses to stand next to on stage, because they’re too beautiful, and now I understand; I simply can’t take my eyes off them. Homer Neurotic is wearing a giant Christmas advent calendar, and immediately I’m taken back to the Christmases of my youth. This time, it’s absolutely adult content. What’s in Homer’s boxes? I can’t wait to find out. With his brilliant combination of funny and sexy, this king is a crowd favourite. Christmas isn’t complete without a Grinch, so Willy SmacknTush is here to deliver. When he performs, he commands the attention of the entire room. Donning a shiny suit and some very big, green hair, Willy retells a story we've all heard, but this time when The Grinch destroys Christmas, we absolutely love it. Once of the most polished drag performers I’ve had the pleasure of seeing, Hariel is the gift that keeps on giving. With her burlesque-style performance, Hariel is cheeky, flirtatious, and wonderfully lewd, while somehow... tasteful? Her lip-sync is flawlessly articulate, and completely mesmerising.

Finishing the show with a festive group act, these performers have me completely invested, and ready to sing Christmas carols. With tinsel, music, and a whole lot of glitter, it finally feels like Christmas.

Impossible: My Story | Regional News

Impossible: My Story

Written by: Stan Walker with Margie Thomson

HarperCollins

Reviewed by: Ayla Akin

When I first picked up this book, I had no prior knowledge of Stan Walker. Based on the cover (I know right, rookie mistake), Walker’s appeal alluded me. What could a 20-something popstar offer me with his “impossible” life story? Fast forward to the moment I peer up at my husband mid-read, crying, “oh my god Stan Walker achieved the impossible!” Walker pours his heart into this saddening and at times deeply disturbing autobiography. At its core is an uncomfortably relatable paradox – that where there is great love there is often deep pain.

Walker grew up in a large Māori family with poverty, addiction, and abuse a firm part of his daily reality. There are few social issues untouched. The troubling moment when Walker describes his great sadness and longing to take his own life provides an emotionally compelling and personal element missing behind the horrifying statistics of male suicide in New Zealand. The vivid accounts of physical and sexual abuse suffered by Walker at the hands of family members are naturally disturbing and yield a feeling of anxiety that persists sorely throughout the book.

A memory or experience, no matter how traumatic, is usually followed by mature and compassionate insight. These insights create profound moments as Walker finds peace for himself as the innocent abused child, his current recovering self, and even his abusers, for whom he has forgiveness. There is finally a beacon of light when Walker’s entire world, along with his family’s, changes through his willingness to accept his faith. Whilst I cannot relate to his religious awakening, I certainly can relate to pivotal moments that have changed the way I think and have helped positively shape my life.

Unlike most celebrity autobiographies, Walker does not strive for the hero narrative. The raw, spine-tingling honesty has purpose – to inspire change. Walker is proud of his heritage and uses his life story to powerfully express to other families that generational trauma can indeed end.

Honeybee | Regional News

Honeybee

Written by: Craig Silvey

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Petra Shotwell

Heart-warming, jaw-dropping, and utterly breathtaking, Craig Silvey’s Honeybee is an emotional rollercoaster.

This coming-of-age, coming-of-gender story follows Sam on their journey to safety, security, and self-acceptance. The novel, without hesitation, commences with Sam clinging to the edge of an overpass preparing to end their life. When they’re saved by Vic, an elderly man in the same position on the railing, the two form an immediate connection. Throughout the novel, and with the help of drag queens, new friends, and chosen family, we learn alongside them what led Sam and Vic to the bridge that night.

From the subtle, yet chilling Harry Potter references (Sam’s aunt only spoke to them to be mean about their mum or to tell them they needed a haircut), to the extravagant, yet unrealistic drag show experience, Silvey creates a world in which readers are immediately encapsulated. Silvey’s rhetoric powerfully and uncomfortably conveys Sam’s depressive numbness while creating an incredibly cathartic reading experience. As the story moves between past and present, Sam suffers emotional loss, physical pain, and inexplicable joy, until finally the numbness subsides and they’re ready to face the things that hurt them.

I cannot help but love this book and its profound delicacy, but neither can I help feeling the doubt that follows. Honeybee tells a deeply intimate story about gender identity, which leads me to question the morality of this story being told by a cisgender author. In a society where the stories of transgender and gender-diverse individuals are still so scarce, I’m inclined to feel that those stories should be told by those who experience them first-hand. Furthermore, I can’t help but question Silvey’s motives in his decision not to explicitly establish new pronouns or use the term ‘transgender’ once. While Silvey writes beautifully and primarily handles the tender themes with care, I’m overwhelmed with the discomfort of questioning the righteousness of his perspective.

Overall, Honeybee is a compelling novel which consumes the reader from the very first page, and conveys powerful messages of self-discovery and self-acceptance.

Baghdad or Bust | Regional News

Baghdad or Bust

Written by: Kevin Clark

Waxeye Press

Reviewed by: Colin Morris

Disclaimer: I’ve known Kevin Clark for about 40 years. I’ve served him in my record stores, been to his concerts, reviewed his albums, and I thought I knew pretty much everything about him. But, this book about his travels to Baghdad floored me.

So, in the words of the rock band Steppenwolf, “Get your motor runnin’ / Head out on the highway”, except imagine it’s 1964 and Clark is on a 1958 British motorbike with a sidecar storage box and fellow traveller Jurgen Erni. The aim, to leave South Africa where Clark was born and take an informal OE soaking up the architectural sites, as both men had just obtained their architectural degrees.

There is a sense of naive chutzpah that I loved. The thought of “Oh, let’s get up and go” will appeal to many. This is a boy’s own adventure venture and I won’t tell you what happened to the bike.

Once one gets over the tedious border crossings with the fractious passport checks, it’s gratifying that Clark recognises the generosity of the people along the way, many of whom offer free meals, accommodation, and help with the numerous problems with the bike. Clark juxtaposes the memories of 1964 with what has gone on over the years, countries that are even more out of bounds today with war, religion (more than once Clark asks the question of religion and the tyrants who enforce the rules), animosity, distrust, and the wanton destruction of architectural sites. To the intrepid traveller’s dismay, many of the sites are now just rubble. Yet even abandoned cities have their charms.

Among a wealth of data are some beautiful descriptions of places such as a gate in a Byzantine wall in Istanbul, the magnificent Hagia Sophia, the Al-Hamidiyah Souq market in Damascus, and Beehive houses in Northern Syria, a simple structure making a comeback to house displaced persons. In between, it’s camel rides, a belly dancing joint, kebabs, and sleeping in ditches.

The book is the perfect size to thumb through with great visuals, maps, and running commentary for all armchair travellers. An early Christmas present, perhaps?

All Rise | Regional News

All Rise

Gregory Porter

Universal Music Group

Reviewed by: Colin Morris

Just recently I came across a cartoon in which two small children were seated at the feet of an older man (a pipe, smoking jacket, armchair, you get the picture) as they ask, “Tell us grandad about the time you used to have to buy an album just for one song”. Yes, I roared with laughter as I saw myself not only then, but now. This came to mind as I was listening to Gregory Porter’s new album that I’ve been looking forward to. And yes, it’s worth buying it for one track, If Love is Overrated, but to say that would be disingenuous – the album is simply one of the best of the year.

Porter has a strikingly original soulful voice, a voice that conjures up the church and soul of Al Green, the seductiveness of Marvin Gaye, and the intimate warm baritone of Billy Eckstine.

There is nary a song on this album that doesn’t drip with sincerity. Porter’s articulation is another outstanding element, but more than ever, he has created a body of compositions that others can cover for years to come.

There is a myriad of emotions deployed here. Mr Holland is one example, with a rollicking Hammond organ and swinging brass. At the end of this song, which is about a Black youngster wanting to play with Mr Holland’s white daughter, the youth discovers that Mr Holland doesn’t discriminate. Given the times we live in, it’s very timely. Towards the end of the song, Porter speeds up his delivery, I suspect without telling the band, which catches them unawares. It’s a glorious unscripted moment.

With the COVID-19 outbreak, Porter has cut back on touring and retreated, with his wife and six-year-old son, to his home in Bakersfield, California, a city best known for the country sound of Buck Owens, Dwight Yoakam, and Merle Haggard. In the song Thank You, he pays homage to his Pentecostal church upbringing in the city of his early youth. Another sublime slice of Gregory Porter.

100 Years of the Blues | Regional News

100 Years of the Blues

Elvin Bishop and Charlie Musselwhite

Southbound

Reviewed by: Colin Morris

How wonderful to see two stalwarts of the blues checking in their egos at the door and having a rambunctious time. Elvin Bishop started with The Paul Butterfield Blues Band and then went on to a solo career and had a hit with Fooled Around and Fell in Love (1976). Later he played with John Lee Hooker, Clifton Chenier, and Bo Diddley. So, no slouch then.

Likewise, Charlie Musselwhite, reportedly the inspiration for Elwood Blues (the character played by Dan Aykroyd in the 1980 film The Blues Brothers), has been on the blues scene for decades.

For two musicians from the South, both who made their careers in Chicago and have played together over the last 50 years, it’s remarkable they have never recorded together before.

Musselwhite brings his growly fat harp sound, just like he did on my blues album of the year Sanctuary (2004). It’s an album that included The Blind Boys of Alabama, Charlie Sexton, and Ben Harper. Bishop with his skewed, often funny take on life is still a delight. Okay, he is never going to trouble the charts again, apart from the blues best sellers, but chances are if you stepped into a juke joint on a Saturday night in the Deep South, they would probably have to roll you out sometime on a Sunday morning. But you would have a big smile on your face just from the experience.

Mixing up the playlist, which includes Roosevelt Sykes’ West Helena Blues, Leroy Carr’s Midnight Hour Blues, and a go-to favourite Help Me, penned by Sonny Boy Williamson, Willie Dixon, and Ralph Bass, there are also nine originals.

Years ago, I read that The Animals played a gig in Newcastle then took the train to London, recorded their first album in just a few hours, caught the train back to Newcastle, and played a gig the same night. Bishop and Musselwhite took two days. I love albums that have that spontaneity.

I won’t pretend this is a great album, it is what it is – two old friends just having a good time with good music.