It’s been a busy and exciting time for Grant Haua; now Tauranga gets a proper chance to hear his new band.
I’ve seen Grant playing for years now, and have been writing about him for almost as long. And for the last couple of years what I’ve been saying to everyone is that a jump to international fame and fortune only requires the right people to see him.
And Grant is ready: he sings superbly, plays guitar with such energy and skill that it makes seasoned musicians jaws drop when they watch him, writes great songs, and is a funny, honest and authentic performer on stage.
Now, at last, his new band, Swamp Thing, are playing a full gig in Tauranga, at Brewer’s Bar next weekend (Saturday 5 May). They previously played a slot at the Summerfest earlier this year, but this is an opportunity to see their full show.
Swamp Thing is a duo - Grant and Ngongotaha resident Michael Barker. They got together 14 months ago and it’s been a heady ride since then. Last year the recorded a debut album at Neil Finn’s Roundhead Studio in Auckland. The result was Balladeer, a tough dynamic slice of modern blues rock.
But calling it blues rock doesn’t really do it justice. This is not some derivative of Stevie Ray Vaughan (still, it seems, the overarching figure for modern blues players to emulate) but a solid aggressive sound that reaches back to the sort of rhythmic complexity that you hear in the music of Ritchie Havens. More remarkably, the album is a combination of purely drums and acoustic guitar.
And on the strength of Balladeer the band have been conquering Australia.
Last November saw Swamp Thing supporting Tim Finn on a three week tour through that country and, following that, they were invited to play a headlining show in Melbourne en route to the Blues in Bridgetown Festival, south of Perth. Christmas didn’t bring much of a let-up as they played the Woodford Festival in Queensland and the Peatsridge Festival in Sydney, both prestigious international bashes and almost impossible for a Kiwi band, let alone a new one, to get onto.
At the Perth festival in particular the band caused quite a stir and as a result in March they were invited to headline a show in Freemantle and were then flown to Esperance to do another show, finishing their most recent tour with two performances at the beautiful Nannup Festival.
Grant credits getting a foothold in Australia to the efforts of Michael Barker. Mike grew up in Rotorua and recently moved back there after living in Australia for the past 25 years. A well-known and respected percussionist on both sides of the Tasman, he has played with a slew of internationally-acclaimed artists such as The Black Sorrows, Neil and Tim Finn (both with Split Enz and Crowded House), Keith Urban and Missy Higgins. To top that off, Mike was a founding member of The John Butler Trio, with whom he’s played live on The David Letterman and The Jay Leno shows!
Mike had the dedication and connections and, as I still believe, it’s just a matter of the right people hearing them play.
So it’s good to hear that, as well as those Australian festivals, Swamp Thing put on a show recently at the Kings Arms in Auckland. Grant feels very positive about that gig: “I think we wowed a lot of local music bigwigs,” he says, “so the right people are starting to take notice.”
At the upcoming Brewers Bar gig Swamp Thing will be supported by Brilleaux, Tauranga’s very own kings of R ‘n’ B, and a relative newcomer, Papamoa resident Jessica Ross, a wonderful singer/songwriter who is currently recording her first album at Soundtree Studio.
If you want to find out a little more about Grant and Mike then have a look on Youtube. There’s a clip of Mike playing with the John Butler Trio at www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYGtMko-uuI and you just have to search for “Grant Haua” to find various snippets of him. Or you could just pop into a record shop and buy a copy of Balladeer. You won’t regret it.