The big band build

By Paula Yeoman

Top musos are mucking in for a good cause, writes Paula Yeoman

Don McGlashan, Sean James Donnelly  (SJD)and Anika Moa outside Holy Trinity Cathedral. Photo / Doug Sherring
Don McGlashan, Sean James Donnelly (SJD)and Anika Moa outside Holy Trinity Cathedral. Photo / Doug Sherring

They are far happier writing songs than they are doing DIY. In fact, most can't recall the last time they picked up a hammer - if ever. And yet on October 10, a group of the country's leading bands and musicians, including Shihad, SJD, Don McGlashan, The Phoenix Foundation, Anika Moa, Boh Runga and Hollie Smith, will swap their instruments for tools.

Their goal will be to build a four-bedroom house on the forecourt of Auckland's Holy Trinity Cathedral in the Big Band Build - a charitable collaboration between Habitat for Humanity and the New Zealand Music Foundation.

It's not the first time Habitat has pulled together a group of high-profile Kiwis to build a home for a family in need of housing. But the twist in this week-long event is that by night the artists will perform a series of never-before-seen gigs inside the Cathedral.

McGlashan will band together with SJD and The Phoenix Foundation to form a one-off supergroup. Trio Moa, Runga and Smith will team up with special guests, who are yet to be revealed.

There's also another secret gig planned, with details to be released soon. And for the finale, rockers Shihad will perform an entirely acoustic set for the first time.

"This is epic. It's the first time it's been done in New Zealand. And we think it could be the first time it's been done around the world," says Katherine Granich, Habitat Auckland's Volunteer and Fundraising Co-ordinator.

At the end of the week, the house will be moved to a site ready for a family in need.

Granich is frequently asked what skills are needed to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity.

Her answer is: none - just the desire to get stuck in and do a hard day's graft. And that's exactly what Habitat is expecting of the artists, who will be guided by a team of professionals throughout the build. "It's not an easy day. It's a tiring day, but in a good way. We won't hurt their guitar hands or anything like that. But it feels good to put up a wall or install a window," she says.

That's what attracted Shihad frontman Jon Toogood to the project.

"My dad was a carpenter. I was far more interested in how you put a song together rather than how to make a house stand up. But I was also quite fascinated with it. My dad would be making these houses when I was a kid and it seemed out of reach for my brain. I just wasn't wired that way. So it's time for me to find out the basics of how it really does work."

Anika Moa has never built anything in her life. "I have five brothers so it's their job to do the tough man jobs for me. I like the idea of holding a hammer and smashing things with it, but in reality I am quite lazy."

But Moa, like Toogood, had no problems in saying yes to donating her time for free. The pair are both big supporters of what the New Zealand Music Foundation does, and have childhood memories of living in less-than-salubrious surrounds, so are also pleased to get behind an organisation like Habitat.

Toogood recalls how his parents - immigrants from the UK - spent all they had on an old rundown house in Wellington.

"They came over from England with £10 or something in their pocket and they bought this crappy house in Island Bay for nothing. I just remember my whole life, dad was slowly adding a room to it, or rebuilding the bathroom or a building a deck. It was pretty squalid, but we were a tight family and it was lucky that Dad was a carpenter.

"I sort of watched it all but I never really thought that much about it. I just took it as a given that you'd always have someone around you that could build a house. And I realise now, we're pretty lucky to have dads around to do stuff like that."

Moa, meanwhile, grew up in state homes. "I actually loved it. They were always hard to live in though - lots of dampness and mould and there never seemed to be anyone who could help us by fixing the problem. It was just something my mother got on with," she says.

"We made our house a home and that was the go."

Both singers also know how out-of-reach home ownership is for families in 2013. "It's just ridiculous. It's all boom and bust, boom and bust, and at the moment it's boom, which means for most people it's impossible to buy a house. And that's sort of the dream for everybody isn't it? So you're left with people renting for their whole lives. I had a look at Auckland prices recently and it's absolutely unrealistic, compared to peoples' incomes," says Toogood.

The four-bedroom home that Toogood, Moa and their peers will build will be put up on the forecourt of the cathedral in Parnell and later transported to a site in Auckland. They will work alongside volunteers in teams of around 10 with two to three professional supervisors for each group.

By day, members of the public will be able to watch the house being built. At night, those there for the music can stop by and check on the build's progress.

"It's sometimes hard to get publicity for what we do at Habitat," says Granich. "We don't make a lot of money and we can't spend a lot on publicity, because a lot of the money we do make goes back into our builds. So to do something this high-profile is just amazing for us. Everyone who is interested in music is going to be interested in what we're doing now, which is a pretty cool group for us to be able to access for a change."

It's also a triumph for the New Zealand Music Foundation.

Chair Campbell Smith says it's one of the most unique projects he's worked on and he's thrilled such a high calibre of musicians is coming together for such a good cause. "We wanted to do something different, to put on something special. The Shihad unplugged gig, I consider that to be something of a coup. I am so stoked they agreed to do it. Don McGlashan, The Phoenix Foundation and SJD will put on a special night too. I think they're planning on being on stage together," says Smith.

"And when it's a full house in the Cathedral, and you get the acoustics right, it's magic. If you're going to do something like this, you want to do it in an auspicious special environment."

What is Habitat for Humanity?

A charity that builds and renovates homes in New Zealand and around the world in partnership with families living in substandard accommodation. In Auckland alone, it plans to build 20 homes over the next year.

Habitat for Humanity's Volunteer and Fundraising Co-ordinator in Auckland, Katherine Granich, describes it as a "hand-up, not a hand-out" non-profit organisation.

"Families come to a public meeting and they get an application at the meeting. They fill it in and we go through a process of selection. We look at their finances and their ability to pay a mortgage. Once they're selected, they need to put in 500 hours of 'sweat equity'.

That is them coming out and working on their house, or another build," explains Granich.

"In that time we support them with financial literacy, education about home ownership and home maintenance. So they learn not just how to service a mortgage but how to look after their home. Then they enter into a five-year rental agreement with Habitat. After that, they enter into a sales and purchase agreement and the family buys the house. At the end of 10 years, we expect them to seek a commercial mortgage. By that time, generally speaking, our families have put in maybe $100,000 on the house."

Granich hopes the Big Band Build helps people to gain an increased awareness and an empathy for people living in poor housing. "The people we are working with are living three families to a house, they're living in garages, they have lots of sick kids because the conditions are appalling, the rental costs are humungous. I just read an article in the paper that said the median house price in New Zealand has gone up to $440,000. In Auckland it is significantly higher than that. Home ownership is completely out of reach for the majority of these people."

Habitat describes its ownership model as "an aspirational scheme that supports deserving low- income families out of overcrowded and unhealthy accommodation into a safe and decent home that can provide the catalyst for a new life and a new future."

What is the New Zealand Music Foundation?

A not-for-profit charitable trust set up in 2012.

"The idea was to create a foundation that could raise money and distribute to all sorts of charities and entities that use music to help New Zealanders in need, says chairman Campbell Smith. "I learned through working with the Raukatauri Trust that music can do amazing things for people.

"The other element was to set up a fund for musicians in need. It's not easy to make a living working in the music industry in New Zealand and if something bad happens to members of the wider industry, such as roadies and tour managers, they have nothing to fall back on, and we wanted to help."

The Music Foundation hopes to entertain, engage and unite people towards this common goal and help achieve some remarkable things. It encourages the idea of "music
supporting music''.

The Big Band Build Concerts at Holy Trinity Cathedral

Thursday October 10: Don McGlashan, SJD and The Phoenix Foundation
Friday October 11: Anika, Boh & Hollie with friends
Saturday October 12: To be announced
Wednesday October 16: Shihad Unplugged


All acts and key partners are providing their time and services free of charge. Concert tickets from nztix.co.nz and ticketmaster.co.nz

For more info and to register to volunteer at the build, visit bigbandbuild.co.nz and Facebook.

- Herald on Sunday

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