SONIC KICKS: Show Me Where It Hurts

Sonic KicksSMWIH

Show Me Where It Hurts are a Rhodes electric piano, drums and vocals duo from Auckland, New Zealand. Both musicians have been key players on the Auckland scene for the last two decades with Josh Hetherington fronting Thorazine Shuffle and Ronny Haynes drumming with bands such as Pash and Fagan And The People.

The pair have just released their debut self-titled EP (stream/buy below) which follows their 2014 7″ single ‘Show Me Where It Hurts’/’All I Ever Need’ (included on the EP). This time around they’ve built on the one-two punch of the drums/Rhodes combination, adding harmonies, guitars, percussion and keys to the mix with players such as Salon Kingsadore’s Hayden Sinclair on bass, Tom Rodwell (‘Sheffield’s answer to Lightnin’ Hopkins’: NME) on guitar, legendary double bassist Peter Scott, Finn Scholes (Carnivorous Plant Society) on trumpet, and Cam Allen on baritone sax. The results are a richer, more textured and nuanced set of recordings that drip with sweet soul, humid grooves and Hetherington’s voice which soothes and strains in equally rewarding amounts.

Hetherington – songwriter, singer and the man on the keys in SMWIH – kindly took the time to reminisce, enthuse and wax lyrical about some of the important albums that have shaped his musical life.

The first album I bought…

Kiss – Unmasked (1980)

MI0002326466Not their greatest, but as an eight-year old turned on to Kiss by their Australasian pop smash ‘Shandi’ (and Dynasty’s ‘I Was Made for Lovin’ You’), along with an older friend’s encouragement, and, yeah, the make-up, mystique and all-out cartoonish-ness of the whole thing, then you couldn’t go wrong with a comic book cover, the original line-up – at least in name (there was a notable session player in place of Peter Criss on the drums) – and the pop accessibility of many of the harmony laden, yet still riff-heavy, tunes (many co-written by producer Vini Poncia). It all made for a perfect entry point as far as these ears were concerned, at very formative stage. Their concert at Western Springs (Auckland, NZ), in December 1980, was my first and was also highly formative.

Gene Simmons’ standouts ‘Naked City’ and ‘She’s So European’ are big-ass, pop metal tunes, Paul Stanley’s ‘What Makes the World Go ’Round’ and ‘Tomorrow’ fill the same sort of bill, but it’s the Ace Frehley tunes, ‘Talk to Me’, ‘Torpedo Girl’ and ‘Two Sides of the Coin’ – along with several of his killer solos – which hark bark to the grittier era of their early-mid ’70s oeuvre, and which always stood out to me.

An album that soundtracked a relationship…

Nick Cave – Your Funeral, My Trial (1986)

MI0003093418Your Funeral, My Trial is an album I gave to my wife early in our relationship, and it holds a special place for me. The doomed, world-weary romance and weighty carnival-esque feel of the record, with its heavy Hammond use (often played by Cave), not to mention a song called ‘The Carney’, provided a beautiful, dark and contrapuntal soundtrack to a happy and exciting time, and proved not at all prophetic for us in its foreboding atmosphere (16 years on!).

I love the title track, and the prototypical, Cave-ian ‘Sad Waters’ which features a character called Mary (no less), with hair of gold and lips like cherries (natch!), who seduces the protagonist’s soul, wading the aforementioned waters with her dress up past her knee, turning them into wine under weeping willow trees, whose vines she plaits.

It still makes me want to drink too much vodka.

An album that inspired me to form a band…

Nirvana – Nevermind (1991)

MI0001996061Nevermind showed the way for rock music post its ’80s nadir, I think, tearing back the curtain to reveal the possibilities of combining a vital and uncompromising, underground punk spirit and sound with the ’70s metal and rock ’n’ roll of this teenager guitar player’s high-school years and the high (’60s-based) art-pop and rock of his childhood (early ’80s Beatlemaniac that I was).

Teenage angst had arguably never sounded quite as raw, exciting, honest, vital, uncompromising or as inspiring as this. Inimitable as it was, it was the intent and the perfectly executed, and infectiously simple idea that provided a way forward, when one had otherwise seemed unforthcoming, much in the same way I’m sure punk in the ’70s did for so many young players and bands.

I got in touch with a drummer I knew from primary school who suggested I bring my guitar along to the rehearsal of a group he was playing with, and I joined my first proper band (Thorazine Shuffle).

Albums that reminds me of my high school years…

MI0002960634Led Zeppelin – II (1969), The Rolling Stones – Let It Bleed (1969), The Beatles – White Album (1968), The Who – Quadrophenia (1972), David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust (1972), Lou Reed – Transformer (1972), Bob Dylan – Blonde on Blonde (1966), The Clash – London Calling (1980), Elvis Costello – My Aim Is True (1977).

I dug pop radio, too, but as a guitarist and nascent songwriter I was immersed in another era, educating myself (in a certain area, anyway), somewhat out of time and out of step with contemporary mores. But I also loved The Cure – and Licensed to Ill and Appetite for Destruction came along at about the right time, too!

An album I’d love to hear live and played in full…

You Am I – Hourly Daily (1996)

Album330_HDr-363x363I’d love to have caught one of these shows in 2013 with all the live horn and string arrangements, when You Am I performed the album and Hi Fi Way (1995) in their entirety.

Hourly Daily is a beautiful, evocative and poignant record, that makes me feel as sad as it makes me happy. Though I’m not Australian, there’s a spirit, sound, sense of humour and sensitivity to this band and Tim Rogers’ songs – as optimised by their mid 1990s output – which has always appealed to me and to which I really relate – making me wonder if perhaps the suburban New Zealand childhood I experienced wasn’t so different from that of many of our Australian cobbers.

The Triple J documentary on the making of Hourly Daily, which originally aired in the early 2000s, was recently posted at the station’s site, and is a compelling listen, with the multi-tracks revisited, and drum, keyboard, guitar and vocal parts re-examined, soloed, marvelled at and celebrated by the band.

Personal note: Having shared Auckland Big Day Out festival bills on a number of occasions in the 1990s, my then band (Thorazine Shuffle) finally got a chance to share a stage in support, on the night You Am I debuted their new guitarist Davey Lane at Auckland’s Powerstation in 1999.

My favourite album cover art…

The Rolling Stones – Exile on Main Street  (1972)

MI0000035025‘They’re gonna love it!’ Mick Jagger was quoted as saying upon seeing the design from beat photographer (and subsequent director of infamous Stone’s verité film Cocksucker Blues), Robert Franks. And by they, he meant the kids, legions of them, Stones fans all, who would understand implicitly, in the monochromatic murkiness of the sleeve and the music, this perfect representation of the marriage of art and commerce, music and money, the band and the record.

The front cover isn’t simply the collage of freaks, strongmen, dancing girls, ventriloquists, b-grade movie stars and billiard ball eaters, which it initially appears to be. Rather, it’s a single photograph of a wall covered in postcards, cigarette cards, snaps from a bygone era (covering all of the aforementioned material and a great deal more).

The distinction is important, as interest lies not only specifically in the strangeness of the images themselves, but in the strangeness of the world they represent in the photograph’s entirety, and the unease and loneliness it (and the realisation of its nature) evokes.

As with the album itself – a sprawling yet somehow highly successful, evocative, moving, inspiring and ultimately cohesive (in its whole) exploration of rock ’n’ roll, Gospel, blues, country and Americana – the photograph is greatest as the sum of its parts.

Franks was heralded by none other than King of the Beats, Jack Kerouac himself, who wrote the introduction to the photographer’s iconic collection of photographs, The Americans, first published in 1958. His employment by Mick Jagger was in part testament to the lineage (that bona-fide Beats connection) that his involvement would lend. But it was mostly due to the greatness of his work – Franks clear understanding of, and eye for, the magnitude and unknowingness of his greatest subject matter (in America and Americans), in harmony with the greatness of the singer’s and his band’s own work (and their understanding of their own often overlapping subject matter) – not to mention Jagger’s own impeccable instincts and taste.

The back cover and gatefold spread are balanced with additional Franks images from his ’50s America – a box office showing a Joan Crawford film, a small-town parade of saluting servicemen and civilians, lonely juke joints, a desert road – and augmented with Super 8 stills shot by the photographer of the Stones, surrounded by the decadence of some of the gardens, streets, studios and porno theatres of L.A – Mick, Keith and Charlie, Bobby Keys, Jim Price, Marshall Chess, Mick Taylor, Bill Wyman, a sleeping man (one eye open), an unidentified woman, bystanders, hangers on, mugging for the camera, smiling, pouting but mostly looking bored, yawning, self-conscious – the ennui of the ’70s having well and truly set-in.

‘They’re gonna love it’, and indeed they did. I do, too.

A guilty pleasure album…

Dire Straits – Making Movies (1980)

MI0003515822Another formative album from my childhood, so there’s a strong nostalgic element. That said you can’t really go past the melodrama or whirligig-ery of ‘Tunnel of Love’ for a song.

And how about ‘Romeo and Juliet’? That picked Dobro intro always grabs me, and Mark Knopfler’s film noir, street-wise patter, always impressed me as a kid, too. Come to think of it what am I apologising for? It still impresses me. Plus he plays guitar on Dylan’s Slow Train Coming (another guilty pleasure!)

The last album I bought…

Sly Stone – Listen To The Voices: Sly Stone In The Studio 1965-1970

ListenToTheVoicesSlyA killer collection of often rare, formative-era, Sly Stone produced cuts as Svengali-style producer and hit man.

Tracks include unreleased demos, nuggets and gems from the Family Stone along with songs Sly wrote and produced for artists such as (Nuggets-era) Beau Brummels, Billy Preston, 6IX, Joe Hicks, Little Sister, The French Fries and Sly himself – and many have been excavated and in some instances mixed for the first time for this release, by compilation producer Alec Paleo.

It’s a master class in pop, soul and funk production with heavy signposts along the way telegraphing Sly’s production peak (and personal nadir) in ’71’s dense, claustrophobic, and sometimes downright paranoid There’s a Riot Going On – both his biggest album to that date, and the record which saw the dissolution of the original Family Stone line-up.

Tracks by 6IX, Joe Hicks, Abaco Dream and Sly himself often point the way towards Riot’s infamous and hypnotic, narco-funk minimalism – with tracks often sparsely yet powerfully furnished with early drum machine, direct and extremely up-front bass, harmonica, effected keyboards and guitar, not to mention Sly’s own unique and unselfconscious singing and vocalisms.

Earlier tracks often reflect the more raucous, upbeat R&B and soul of The Family Stone’s earlier breakthrough hits (‘Want to Take You Higher’ and Dance to the Music’) – and the joie-de-vivre of Beau Brummels’ ‘Underdog’, The French Fries’ own ‘Danse a la Musique’ and Sly’s cover of The Kinks’ ‘You Really Got Me’ are infectious and irresistible.

The Paleo’s access to master tapes sees studio banter included on many of these cuts, adding further insight into the fertile, creative and vital period for Sly Stone at the height of his popularity and burgeoning production prowess.

Another, more recent release I’m Just Like You: Sly Stone’s Stone Flower 1969-70 is a more focused look at productions specific to his Stone Flower label, and cuts which more directly point to the iconoclastic minimalism of Riot. Many tracks appear on both compilations and each release is great, though the former offers more surprises and a broader palette, while the latter is also available on vinyl.

The next album I want to buy…

Shayne P. Carter – Offsider

a2976649321_10I can’t wait for Shayne Carter’s new piano-driven album Offsider. In fact I’ve been looking forward to it since I heard about it from Carter’s drummer Gary Sullivan (JPSE, Dimmer) some years ago. So it’s been sometime in the making and on the strength of the first two singles (available to hear at shaynepcarter.bandcamp.com) it’s going to be a cracker!

I’m a fan of Carter from across his career (Double Happys, Straitjacket Fits, Dimmer and solo), and this change of angle in his decision to learn, write and perform on piano promises intriguing new musical possibilities from a true, original and uncompromising composer and writer (and also intrigues and resonates with me in terms of my own, more recent, piano-based approach to writing and performing with Show Me Where It Hurts).

Apocalyptic first single, ‘We Will Rise Again’ is as tense as can be in its foreboding waltz-time verses, and almost overwhelming free-time, feedback- and string-drenched refrains, which it dissolves into repeatedly.

There’s no easing of the tension in second single, ‘I Know Not Where I Stand’ either, where strings, synths and Carter’s strident yet delicate piano line marches in lock step with Sullivan’s four-on-the-floor, bass-drum driven groove, which is punctuated by an ever growing crescendo of driving, swinging brush-strokes predominant on the snare, and Carter’s own anxiety ridden vocals, cushioned occasionally in chorused harmony with himself.

NEW MUSIC: Show Me Where It Hurts

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Auckland, NZ duo Show Me Where It Hurts are next week officially releasing their debut single ‘Show Me Where It Hurts’ at Lucha Lounge on Friday April 4th with support from Betty Loves Elvis. After a couple of years of demos, studio recordings (at Neil Finn’s Roundhead Studios) and live shows (including a support slot for Bobby Womack) Josh Hetherington (Fender Rhodes, vocals) and Ronny Growler (drums) are releasing their single on 7″ vinyl which will be available at the show and at local record stores, with a digital release via Bandcamp. Here’s the new clip for the song and it’s rhythmic soul that perfectly intersects the sound of the band Spain and the jazzier strains of Jimmy Smith.

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LIVE REVIEW: Bobby Womack @ The Civic Theatre, Auckland, New Zealand (18/05/13)

photo by Veronica McLaughlin
photo by Veronica McLaughlin

words by Charles Hemmingson / photo courtesy of Veronica McLaughlin (13th Floor)

 

Soul is when you take a song and make it a part of you — a part that’s so true, so real, people think it must have happened to you. … It’s like electricity — we don’t really know what it is, do we? But it’s a force that can light a room. Soul is like electricity, like a spirit, a drive, a power. 

Ray Charles, 1966

If anyone had the qualifications to set about defining the essence of soul in words it was the man who had a great deal to do with defining and refining the concept, the music, the movement itself.

At Auckland’s Civic Theatre on Saturday night another man, with the credentials and a musical history and career dating back almost as far as Ray Charles’ himself, demonstrated the power of soul in the very way that Charles describes, and no one who was there will likely forget it soon. When Bobby Womack, two-thirds into his ultimately 20-song set, went into A Change Is Gonna Come – a number which defines his own legendary mentor and friend Sam Cooke’s career, spirit and achievements probably more than any other song from Cooke’s towering repertoire – it certainly did sound as if Cooke’s powerful, personal, political and visionary story was Bobby Womack’s, too. And light the room he did.

As the defining moment of a show which brought the house down in a way one imagines only the real deal of a true gospel-fuelled rhythm ’n’ blues revue can do, it was the essence of soul – moving and electrifying. That moment also stood, of course, as a very personal tribute to, and as a symbol of, one of the true soul innovators in Cooke (a man who trail-blazed a path from the spiritual-based gospel circuit to the secular chitlin’ circuit to broad mainstream acceptance and love) – as well as a symbol, of course, of Womack himself – a man who followed directly in the footsteps of Sam Cooke (who mentored the Womack brothers’ first band The Valentinos from 1956 and signed them to his own label in 1960, once he had the clout and capacity to do so).

And what a voice did, and does, Bobby Womack possess. An original in all of the ways deemed important on that path such legends tread – legends of whom, Womack himself seems so aware, so few remain – in his performance of Cooke’s song, the well-documented triumph and tragedy of Womack’s life rang in a cracked yet joyous performance, which both crystallised and transcended the show.

Because, and for all of the histrionics, flash, polish and grit of the genuinely funky 13-piece rhythm ’n’ blues review band backing him – the horn solos, percussionist, and feature solo spots for the backing vocalists – was it not the voice of Bobby Womack we were there to hear, to witness, to celebrate above all else?

That voice, always as gravely as it was sweet (a quality even in his teens well-noted by Cooke) is now a beautiful weathered thing. Nonetheless, and even in its clear and road-worn imperfections, it’s a sound to behold, and on Saturday night it was the very essence of soul, its rich baritone, cracked yet unequalled falsetto, and deep, righteous vibrato cutting deep into the hearts of the front and back rows all.

As a singer grows older his conception grows a little deeper because he lives life and he understands what he’s trying to say a little more. If the singer tries to find out what’s happening in life it gives him a better insight [into] telling the story of the song he’s trying to sing.

Bobby Womack, Dayglo Reflection (Featuring Lana Del Rey), The Bravest Man in the Universe, 2012

Opening with Across 110th St, the title track of his classic seventies blaxploitation soundtrack, and arguably the epitome of the sub genre, it couldn’t have been a bolder move. It’s a tough song, both in terms of its range and phrasing, and proved a challenge for the singer straight off the bat. Arguably it’s the artist’s trump card in a wealth of potential set material – his much loved, best known song, and a number perhaps best reserved as a set’s knock out blow – though you could also understand the move. It’s his calling card, too, and in that a means of setting the scene when the lights go down and the audience shivers.

And with intent established he went on as he kicked off, his voice warming with every tune, the audience following willingly and willing him on. Three songs (Please Forgive My Heart, Deep River, and the title track) from his latest and great Damon Albarn-produced The Bravest Man in the Universe – a record which seems to touch a lot on notions of regret, forgiveness and redemption in its communication of a world-weary, but unbeaten and uncompromising taking of stock – sat naturally alongside some of his biggest hits, Lookin’ for a Love, That’s the Way I Feel about Cha, Woman’s Gotta Have It, Harry Hippie, and even slick, soapy eighties melodramas If You Think You’re Lonely Now, and I Wish He Didn’t Trust Me So Much.

But it was the aforementioned Cooke classic and the true, abandoned gospel of Jesus, Be a Fence Around Me which had Auckland’s Civic feeling about as close to Harlem’s Apollo Theatre as it might ever feel, the singer entreating the audience, to stand up, to clap their hands, to testify – and rise and clap and dance and testify we did.

And some people say it’s just rock ’n’ roll. Oh, but it gets right down to your soul. You’ve gotta just keep on pushing, keep on pushing. Push the sky away.

Nick Cave, Push the Sky Away, Push the Sky Away, 2012

That Bobby Womack is treading the boards now, only months after family tragedy and his own struggle with grave illness, is further testament to his clear drive to sing, to connect, to testify himself. In a pimping red leather suit, shoes, cap, and shades, Womack – even with a tendency to tire at times, and despite clear physical limitations and the undeniable fragility of a man who’s plainly walked the walk – held centre stage and the spotlight as one imagines he always has.

I’m sure Nick Cave, a man who also knows not a little about the essence of soul, would understand Womack’s continued drive to write, to perform, to sing even still, and well beyond reasonable expectations of stamina and the official set list, even after the house lights have come up. And if the sky in Cave’s song represents the great beyond, or at least an emptiness or entropy or a stasis which presses or threatens us all, then perhaps there really is only one thing for it – there to be found in rock ‘n’ roll music, soul, gospel, rhythm ’n’ blues – there to be found in doing what you’ve always done, in never giving in nor up, in bringing it in on the one, two, three, four…

It certainly felt that way on Saturday night, as Womack’s valet repeatedly, and in the age-old R&B star-time tradition associated, in particular, with James Brown, re-jacketed him – Womack turning him away at one point, as Murray Cammick has pointed out, in the ultimate compliment to his audience.

Music is nothing separate from me. It is me. I can’t retire from music any more than I can retire from my liver. You’d have to remove the music from me surgically — like you were taking out my appendix.

Ray Charles, 1978 from Brother Ray: Ray Charles’ Own Story by Ray Charles and David Ritz

Music certainly remains with and in Bobby Womack, and no amount of illness, or real, potentially debilitating surgery has been able to remove this from him. Saturday night at the Civic was true testament to that.

Openers, Show Me Where It Hurts, proved an inspired (if initially left-field seeming) selection with their original and beguiling Rhodes electric piano, drums and vocals approach. The Auckland duo held it down and held their own in the face of what must well have felt an intimidating prospect, given the pedigree of the headliner – and for a solid, swinging 45 minutes engaged early comers, who were rewarded for their promptness with a hot and sometimes rollicking performance from singer, keyboardist Josh Hetherington and drummer Ronny Haynes. Both contrasting and complementing the main attraction, it was a performance in the true spirit of the occasion, and it ended up feeling just right.

Standout tunes All You’ll Ever Need, (an apparently theme-tuned) Show Me Where It Hurts, and stomping Motown-tinged finalé  Joanee – alongside a wicked and funky, yet weirdly faithful rendition of seventies Rolling Stones’ incongruity Fool to Cry – warmed an audience who seemed as if they didn’t quite know what they were witnessing, but somehow really liked it – yes they did!