Graham Wardrop and Rosa Shiels

10th June 2007, by Geoff Skinner

For those who ventured out to attend this concert on one of the coldest nights of the year, they were more than well rewarded by Rosa and Graham ready to entertain, and obviously loving this reunion of musical friendship, that has existed for many years.

For Rosa, the first time she has performed at the club for four years and if there were any nerves they didn’t show, as she rattled through some old and new songs with consumate ease. Graham as usual, a wizard on guitar and always complementary with his vocals, set the backdrop for both of them to play up a storm with two well-honed sets.

The music was a selection of material that told of requited love, betrayal, lost innocence, and a whole raft of other subjects that songwriters of this calibre have permission to sway us with. Stand out songs for me were Broken Hearts, Breath, a gorgeous evocative slow ballad that was new to me, Passer By and When I Fall one of Rosa’s own songs that has a catchy Latin American rhythm and I’m hoping she will record. Street Dealer is another favourite of mine and always makes me smile as the first time I heard it I couldn’t get the melody out of my head as it sounded like a poppy toothpaste commercial with a really sinister message. One of those tunes that your brain has programmed from day one. Other stand outs were the traditional Storms Are On The Ocean with Rosa on autoharp, my favourite version of Paul McCartney’s Wanderlust and a song about a famous hooker from Melbourne (whose name escapes me) with the great line “A lift for a lady/ give her a ride”.

Graham as usual played some stunning instrumentals, none finer than a tune he had learned from the great guitarist Leo Kottke called Poor Boy. A stomping piece played with sizzling dirty steel and driving beat that absolutely cooked. Here was a man surely loving his work. Moments later it was an instrumental version of Don McLean’s Vincent played with feather light harmonics and the sensitivity of a surgeon. The bonus for me, however, played on ukulele and crooned by Christchurch’s latest lounge lizard “Shuffles Wardrop” the old standard, I’ll See You in my Dreams. His skill has never ceased to amaze me and I’ve come to the startling revelation the only reason I don’t play guitar like him is that he makes his own instruments and he puts in a lot more chords than I have on mine!

This review wouldn’t be complete without mentioning two songs that just stopped me dead in my tracks. The first, a song penned by Graham called Galleries. A long time in the making it’s a gentle song that tells of reflections of life on canvas, the human face behind the masks we all wear and somehow celebrates life and humanity. The other, a poem written by the great Australian poet George Essex Evans, called Women Of The West put to music by Graham and sung as a duet with Rosa. Firstly, it has one of the most audacious key changes ever written that works a treat, and some lines that freeze frame images as you listen. Try “The white bush holds the secrets of their longing and desire/when the white stars in reference light, behold the alter fires…”

As I walked back to my car in a cosy wee haze I reflect on a stunning night of music, one that was close to mirrored twenty years ago in the Great Hall. As Gerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead once sung, “What a loooong, strange trip it’s been” and for those more astute readers, reviewing this concert has been a rare treat for this old dude.

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