Unsung Heroes of the local music & food scenes

By Nici Wickes

Musician Chris Priestly. Picture / Babiche Martens
Musician Chris Priestly. Picture / Babiche Martens

Shakespeare wrote, "If music be the food of love, play on," and for most of Chris Priestly's working life, a passion for live music has been entwined with his love of Auckland's cafe and food scene.

It is to him that we owe Real Groovy Records, the fantastic Java Jive cafe and live music venue that once rocked Ponsonby's nightlife and later, Atomic Coffee Roasters and Cafe, which he also established.

His latest project brings to life his passion for New Zealand folk music with a collection of songs telling the stories of some of our own little-known or nearly forgotten folk heroes that he discovered in the archives of old newspapers and rare books.

Unsung Heroes brings to life such colourful characters as the Ponsonby balloonist who took to the air never to be seen again, the sealers stranded for more than two years on an island off the South Island and the story of Darling Jennie, New Zealand's first professional magician.

"Every time I discovered a new character there was such a rich story to tell. Writing the songs has been an incredible way to delve into our distant past and highlight the stories of our colonial past through folk music."

Priestly and his own unsung heroes, fellow musicians Nigel Gavin, Cameron Bennett (yes, the reporter) and Martha Louise, will perform the folk songs live. Guests will feast on a three-course, colonial-inspired meal including barley broth, devilled kidneys, beef and ale stew and treacle roly poly pudding.

The food will be dished up on pottery made especially for the event by local potters Peter Lange and Suzy Dunser.

Priestly promises that an evening with Unsung Heroes will allow the "rare traces of our national identity to ring out through the evocative sounds of new and old folk songs". Play on, indeed.


• Unsung Heroes Colonial Dinner, May 21 at Corelli's, Devonport. Bookings essential. Ph (09) 445 4151.

- VIVA

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