I REMEMBER it was summer when I took this call: it was 8pm and I was still working in the garden.

"This is some of the best music I've ever heard, you need to come down here!" said my friend.

I somewhat reluctantly cleaned tools and pulled on some clean clothes and just a few minutes later I walked into the Savage Club to a wall of driving sound.

It was Swamp Thing's first gig in Whanganui but word had already got out and the hall was packed with happy punters.


At first I couldn't work out why the drummer was right at the front of the stage and kept trying to look around him to spot the other musicians.

But therein lies some of the magic of Swamp Thing, an incredibly talented pair of New Zealand musicians.

It does Michael Barker an injustice to call him a drummer.

He plays a huge kit, plus will on occasion add congas, marimbas or a couple of other indigenous percussive instruments I can't name.

He is the entire rhythm section, usually playing kee bass as well, a keyboard-based substitute for a bass guitar - no wonder he is dubbed The Octopus.

And did I mention he sings vocals on some tracks, at the same time?

Michael's paired up with Grant Haua, who plays a wicked blues guitar and has a classic whiskey-and-cigarettes voice to match.

They are stubbornly independent and have built their growing fan base by doing the miles on the road.


They've just released their fourth album, which their fans helped produce by buying in advance.

They played Womad for the first time this year - to a rapturous response.

It was a mutual love affair that night at the Savage Club.

The crowd was loving Swamp Thing's hard-driving blues and Michael and Grant couldn't quite believe what they had walked into.

In truth, the Savage Club Hall is a Whanganui icon and something hard to fathom.

That it has brilliant acoustics is just another reason that keeps class acts coming back.

My curiosity piqued, I went home to look up the Savage Club. You probably know something of it already - how it started as a gentleman's club in London in 1857.

Its name, so the story goes, was a reference to an infamous English poet who died in a debtor's prison some 100 years prior, likely from liver failure brought on by drinking.

The club was for working men in literature or art, later broadened to include musicians.

None were respectable enough to gain membership of the more established gentleman's clubs of the era but the Savage Club's reputation improved and even royalty were counted among the members eventually.

Such clubs are anachronisms in our day, and the London club has just 300 members now.

The paraphernalia lining the walls of the Whanganui Club rooms testifies to the number of Savage Clubs established in New Zealand, many in small towns.

I had the hard-working volunteers who run the Whanganui Musician's Club to thank for bringing Swamp Thing to our town.

Now of course the Musician's Club has taken over the hall from the now-defunct Savage Club.

I am so happy that this great initiative continues to have a suitable venue, and that the surreal surroundings of the Savage Club are largely preserved. (If you live here, you know what I mean. If you don't, and you love live music, it's a reason for a road trip on the first Friday of the month.)

It wasn't long before Swamp Thing stormed into town that I'd first been taken to the Musician's Club.

Even as I stared around open-mouthed at the interior of the Savage Club, I loved what I found - a not-for-profit, all-about-the-music venture run by and for the community.

I loved the open-mic format that encouraged anyone to get up and have a go.

I loved how the club encouraged and supported local kids and their bands. (I loved how damn talented these teenagers were.)

I loved arriving with a parcel of steaming fish n chips from George's and the Agee jars of home-brewed something that arrived with the young guys sitting along the table. This is make-your-own fun.

I loved the all-ages atmosphere, the incredible diversity of people - nowhere else I go am I among such a cross-section of Whanganui folk.

I love that a handful of people care enough about creating this that they volunteer their time to organise it (and clean up afterwards).

I love the piping-hot complementary savouries brought round about half-time; no mini-meat pie has ever tasted better.

And because I'm middle-aged now and my wild clubbing years are decades behind me, I love that it's all over by 11pm.

Swamp Thing return to Whanganui next Friday - August 18 - and will be hosted by the Musician's Club.

-Rachel Rose is a writer, gardener, fermenter and fomenter. More reading and sources are online at www.facebook.com/rachelrose.writer