Back up to Auckland Guide Centre in Mount Eden tonight for my second consecutive gig (Sol suggested it was a turkey sandwich as I am at Vader tomorrow) to see Taranaki’s finest, {Turkey The Bird} at The Ministry of Folk. Before that we of course had {Hoop}, who are Al Baxter (vocals, guitar, harmonica, banjo, mandolin), Nick Edgar (vocals, guitar, ukulele, flute, harmonica), Emily Allen (violin, viola), Glenn Coldham (bass) while tonight Gary Hunt was filling in for drummer Rusty Knox. 

They kicked off with Pohutukawa, which featured Al on lead vocals, a really nice start to the night with both Al and Nick on guitars and some wonderful violin, plenty of luscious lines and melodies to lift us away. Caution to the Wind allowed the band to show a more commercial take on their folk style, with Nick switching to flute and Al adding a harmonica to his set up. Their music is always light with plenty of space, yet also full of layers which makes for a very pleasant listening experience indeed. The last time I saw them play was when they supported {T-Bone} and I had forgotten just how much I enjoyed them. We were getting a lot of new songs tonight, and next we had Nick’s lockdown song, Take Me To A Time, which saw him on lead vocals and back on guitar. Having two songwriters and singers in any band is always an advantage, as it ensures the band does not run out of material and there is also plenty of variety, which makes for a nice balanced set. It also means they are both able to take lead when they wish, but are also strong harmony singers, which adds another dimension when they utilise that aspect. This is another where Emily provides a wonderful melody over the top, and while not as flashy as some (step forward Pascal Roggen, the violin player’s violin player), she has a wonderful sense of timing and presence. In some ways, Glenn and Gary stay very much in the background, but it is their foundation which allows everything else to be built as they keep everything solid while never pushing themselves forward to the detriment of others.

Al said that song always reminded him of Van Morrison, and I can certainly see where the reference comes from, although to my ears that was even more the case on next song Sunshine. With two songwriters they switch it up in the set, and most of this material was new to me, even though I have seen them three times previously. Al now gave us a medieval folk song which include a milk white steed in a lead role, even though it was about trickle down economics. It started with Al solo, some delicate percussion and flute, and then we were into something which felt as if it could have come right from the pen of Chris Leslie. This is a great story song, full of the tradition, yet modern at the same time. Rabbit Holesaw Al kick things off with an electric banjo, which is the first time I have ever come across one, which allows him to change the output and is certainly a little different. Although one might expect this to mean they were moving more into bluegrass we instead stayed firmly in their modern folk, and Emily again taking a deserved lead. Call Me Home saw Nick back on lead vocals, slowing it down somewhat, almost in a Harry Nilsson or Harry Chapin style. They ended their set with Thank You, another gentle groove with a sudden stop when Nick sings the line “listen to the silence”. Another nice set and I look forward to seeing them again soon.

Tonight was the penultimate gig of a 27-date tour for Turkey The Bird, and I have been looking forward to seeing them again since I caught them at Pah Homestead earlier this year as they are a trio who always have fun onstage, are all multi-instrumentalists, but most importantly have great songs. Their sense of humour comes through on their album titles (their last being When Turkeys Fly, think about it) while their t-shirts have TTB in North American sign language as that is where most of their listeners are from (again, think about it). Adrian Whelan (guitar, mandolin, bass, spoons), André Manella (guitar, bass, stomp box, synth), and Sol Bear Coulton (banjo, guitar, lap steel) started tonight with two acoustic guitars and banjo with the wonderful singalong Take On The World, wonderful harmonies and leopard skin suits (not sure if this is an upgrade or downgrade from the gold suits from the last tour). Molly Brown feels more like a drinking song, with Adrian now on mandolin. With Adrian back on acoustic and André we had the first cover of the night, The Waterboys’ Fisherman Blues with Adrian now on lead. One can tell just from the first few numbers just how many gigs these guys undertake as there is a togetherness which only comes from being on the road multiple weeks of the year, playing anywhere and everywhere, paying their dues. It really is an incredible commitment, and while Adrian and André are fairly active, Sol looks so relaxed he could fall asleep at any moment (but never stop playing).

They used to tour when they had a new album out, but these days they organise a tour when they have new outfits as it is important to get the order right. We then went into the calypso of Orbit, with percussion from André – this constant instrument switching allows them to produce so many different arrangements, but always with amazing vocals and songs packed full of hooks so everyone here was having nearly as much fun as the band were. We were told to imagine we were now all French artistes living in the Twenties, with Sol on lead vocals and acoustic guitar, Adrian on electric bass and André on synth and we were into ZigZag Melody which felt more as if it had come from the Seventies with some very funky sounds indeed.

Adrian was back on lead for the next song, Winters Past, which also saw Sol on slide for the first time tonight. This is delicate and emotional – Adrian originally started writing this when still solo, and it was only finished with the rest of the guys who elevate the number with solid bass from André, and the slide from Sol adding poignancy and additional depth. In many ways this is one of their more commercial songs, and is one which many people would love if they just made the effort to discover the band. Sol took the lead on Cave Rave, which had some funky bass and a shaker to give it very much an island feel, and yet more bright vocal harmonies. As the song progressed we had more percussion, and Sol demonstrated he can solo on an acoustic just as well as he can on a slide. I realised I was singing along while also typing, there is something about their songs which are incredibly infectious and just so much fun. This continued with their drinking song Whiskey, which commences with wonderful harmony vocals before they ramp it up and really start belting along and finally we had people up and dancing which was wonderful to see.

They should be recording their next album later this year, and now we had a brand new song from Sol, Stone Wall Creek, which sees them move deep into bluegrass with banjo and mandolin being very important aspects of this high-octane number which is again highly infectious and ends with a harmony shout. Next up we had their crowd participation number with Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, and everyone here certainly did. I know it was not a competition, but Team Adrian was a clear winner.You Gotta Do It Right features some superb spoon playing from Adrian (and don’t forget, TTB are the only band who sell spoons as part of their merchandise). Sol commented that having completed a nationwide tour with Adrian he could certainly say he is a very good spooner indeed, and has kept him warm on many nights. Taking it High is another with a chorus which had people up and dancing, as it is just so infectious and downright fun.

Donna Lee is another thumper, reminiscent in some ways of Chumbawamba, with that same down to earth roots sound which demands people sing along. You’re Hot has a beck and call chorus which demands the men wear very tight pants, as the falsetto is high indeed. I am sure they play this just so they can have fun every night listening to the audience strain, and is typical TTB in that it is infectious and a load of fun while Sol and Adrian provide those very high harmonies. André started Everybody Needs a little Sunshine acapellaSol and Adrian joined in on harmonies, and then we were off in the same format as they started the night, two acoustics and a banjo, with the same amount of energy they had been displaying all through the set, and I know I was not the only one who was sad the evening was coming to an end. They pretended to leave, we cheered and shouted, and they came back for one of their fastest and most intense numbers, Art and Design, packed full of shouts and cries and the audience clapped along one last time.

Yet another great evening was had by all at The Ministry of Folk, who certainly put on some great gigs so check them out on Facebook. There is no excuse for not catching Hoop if you live in Auckland, while Turkey The Bird are a band who tour Aotearoa every year, and if you can’t see them live then grab their albums!

Photo credit: Kev Rowland