Musician John Leigh Calder has returned to live in his hometown Whangarei after leaving 45 years ago to forge a career in the hard-to-crack London industry.

Since the mid-1970s, the composer, vocalist and double-bass player has worked in London and Sydney as a backing and session musician, recorded four albums of his own jazzy bluesy funky music, been a songwriter and movie score writer.

Before his international journey, John Calder was in the famous-in-Whangarei and known-elsewhere band The Clan and played with several other groups in Northland and beyond.

''After hustling around London for a few years as a musician,'' his break into what he describes as ''slightly famous'' came when his band's single American Echoes hit the Record of the Week spot.


That saw it played once every hour for a week — on BBC Radio 1, Power Play Radio Luxembourg, with airtime on other radio and television channels.

''I was no better a musician after that, not straight away, but I got lots of experience which led me to being able to have a lifetime music career.''

After 11 years in the UK, Calder and his wife Kathleen moved to Sydney where they raised three daughters, keeping a house in London where his work took them for six months a year.

Last year the couple moved to Waikaraka. That means longer travel times for the London commute, which will continue, and with all three daughters now off on their own careers or study, Calder owns up to a twinge of empty-nest as well as new-nest syndrome.

''It's a beautiful spot, out there on the harbour, but we have to make a lot of adjustments. We'll see what happens.''

But being home feels so right, too.

Fond memories of his musical beginnings take him back to the show that celebrated the opening of Okara Park sports ground 50 years ago, and playing at the iconic, indoor A & P showgrounds/hall which would be packed with up to 1200 people every Saturday night.

Generations of his family have been born in Northland, from Te Parawhau iwi to early European pioneers.
A great-grandfather who died in 1862 lies in New Zealand's oldest churchyard, Christ Church in Russell.

Among properties those pioneer ancestors owned was one on the Waikare inlet, purchased more than 100 years later by Austrian architect and artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser.

Calder is enjoying getting back into the local music zone, and has formed a jazz-based band with other now-local internationals, Matt Watson (piano), Walter Bianco (tenor sax), and Matt Hennessy.

Whangarei's venue The Butter Factory isn't Wembley, the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, Sydney Opera House or other prestigious venues where this APRA Jazz Composer nominee has performed.

But he says he couldn't be happier about The John Leigh Calder Quartet playing there on Saturday night, part of a global journey back to his roots.