Photography by Jo Melbourne
I’m hiking a steep one-way road on Mt Victoria in Devonport, Auckland. I’m not prone to bouts of physical activity; however, in this case the effort is worth it; soon I will see Gitbox Rebellion perform at the Bunker.
I reach my destination and realise my partner, Kathy, is far behind—she’s not too keen on exercise, either. Bugger it! She’ll be okay. I have important Crazy ‘Bout Guitars business to take care of. So, I mingle with a group hanging around outside the Bunker’s entrance.
It’s a beautiful night. From up high, I see a container boat gliding across Devonport Harbour, and the millions of lights before me make Auckland city look kind of stunning. Perhaps, though, the beauty is enhanced somewhat by impending doom. You see, Cyclone Gita is due to arrive tonight fresh from causing chaos in the Pacific Islands. Anyway, right now, is a perfect night for some great live music.
The Bunker actually dates back to 1891; it used to be a military command post. And, it is an unusual music venue. There’s an old piano, a wood pile, a small library — is that a whale bone on the wall? Also, there are posters everywhere. “I love a live performance,” says one, which is apt: there is no PA tonight, so Gitbox will play entirely unplugged — you can’t get more live than that.If you like this review, please share.Click To Tweet
I take a seat, and there’s still no sign of Kathy; I guess she’s taking a breather. There is a line of nine acoustic guitars in front of me resting strings down on chairs.
The musicians appear, and our host, Devonport Folk Club President Roger Giles, introduces the group. He warns that if we enjoy tonight, not to tell anyone because space is limited at the Bunker. Mr Giles is holding a toy guitar—the kind with batteries that makes ‘guitary’ sounds when you press a button. He says he’s going to play with the group. Thankfully, he’s kidding.
Gitbox is almost ready. The group’s leader, Nigel Gavin, strikes a tuning fork, and the musicians tune their instruments.
For a guitar lover, like me, there is a smorgasbord of guitars on display. I see founding member Bo Hermans has an Ovation; Kim Halliday, one of the two ladies in the group, has a Taylor, and Peter Kirkbride is holding a beautiful guitar that he built himself.
The group begins its first tune, 13 Beats, with a dissonant chord. Yikes! I know these guys are good (I’ve seen them rehearse), so this must be a taste of ‘Gitbox humour.” I’m right, and they begin playing a beautiful melody decorated with harmonics.
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Gitbox Rebellion’s performance is full of improvisation and humour. “Shorts,” Nigel instructs, and everybody stops playing except those wearing shorts. “Ladies,” and Sonia Wilson and Kim Halliday take the spotlight. “Beards,” and Peter Kirkbride and Tomislav Skulic take over.
Gitbox is also fond of, what I call, ‘musical tag.’ Here’s how it works: One guitarist plays a note and then looks toward a bandmate seated to his/her left or right; the ‘tagged’ guitarist then plays a note and repeats the process.
I particularly enjoy an old Nairobi Trio number called Sacred Hill. Guitar Boogie is cool, too. It’s the tune that Gitbox performed many years ago, with custom-made guitars, on a show hosted by Bill Ralston.
I muse that it’s impossible to get bored of Gitbox because there is so much happening at once. And, like instruments in an orchestra, they achieve impressive dynamics when sections of the group play the same lines in unison.
Now, the group rises to its feet. The night is almost over.
“Encore,” somebody shouts. Yes. Play another, I think.
So, Gitbox obliges with the only cover of the evening: The good the bad and the ugly. Awesome!
It was a great night. Gitbox Rebellion was amazing, the audience was fun, and best of all, Kathy made a full recovery and enjoyed the music, too.
Sorry, Mr. Giles. I enjoyed the night and will be telling everyone about it.