Graham Reid | | 3 min read
It has been more than a wee while – he says 17 years in the liner notes to his current album – since we have heard new music from Ross Mullins, once the unofficial Musician-in-Residence in his home suburb of Devonport.
From the mid Eighties with his acclaimed debut album State House Kid, songwriter-singer and keyboard player Mullins – who fronted the band Last Man Down – had a run of records on which he looked closely at Kiwi life, adapted James K Baxter's The Bay, sang of Where Fairburn Walked and . . .
Very few New Zealand musicians have looked so closely at us.
Across his first three albums State House Kid, This Sporting Life and Parting Shots were songs with titles such as Going to Australia, Featherston (about the shooting of Japanese prisoners there in '43), Beneficiary, Pinehead, Night of the Test, Standard Three, Working for the Brewery, Dawn Parade, Hanged in a Police Cell, Farmers' Bus . . ..
Other albums followed throughout the Nineties (Stranger at the Ranchslider and King of the Mercuries) but since Tidemarks in 2001 Mullins has been off the radar.
He is now back with Ross Mullins and the Snaps (some of whom were in Last Man Down and/or are longtime fellow travelers like guitarist Nigel Gavin, drummer Jason Orme, saxophonist Jim Langabeer and singer Caitlin Smith) for the album The Poet and the Fisherman.
And, as always, he turns the microscope on his and our world: aging, the emotion and financial cost of a marriage break-up, the death of loved ones, the working life, quitting the country because you can't keep afloat here . . .
And there is the comfort of love and domesticity amidst it all.
Just life as we know it.
Time to let Ross Mullins – who could have answered our questions in French and cited chanson singers and Celine because he's actually Dr Ross and a French teacher, or even answered our jazz version – answer our Famous Elsewhere Questionnaire . .
The first piece of music which really affected you was . . .
Rachmaninov’s 2nd and 3rd piano concertos or was it For All The Saints (Vaughan Williams)?
Your first (possibly embarrassing) role models in music were . . .
Dylan (of course), Ray Davies (Dead End Street my first single), Lovin’ Spoonful and Cohen
Lennon or Jagger, Ramones or Nirvana, Madonna or Gaga, Jacko or Jay-Z?
Lennon, (pass on the rest)
If music was denied you, your other career choice would be . . .
The three songs (yours, or by others) you would love everyone to hear are . . .
Cais (Milton Nascimento), Sandy Cove (Jimmy Webb) Nature of Power (Vince Jones)
Any interesting, valuable or just plain strange musical memorabilia at home...
Beware the Man Sam Hunt’s LP with Mammal and the J K Baxter EP
The best book on music or musicians you have read is . . .
How My Heart Sings (Bill Evans bio by Peter Pettinger)
If you could get on stage with anyone it would be?
Glenn Gould (for a chat), Randy Newman? Thelonious Monk?
The three films you'd insist anybody watch because they might understand you better are . . .
Monkey Business (Marx Bros), Seventh Seal (Bergman) and Contempt (Godard)
The last CD or vinyl album you bought was . . . (And your most recent downloads include...)
One song, royalties for life, never have to work again. The song by anyone, yourself included, which wouldn't embarrass you in that case would be . . .
Avec Le Temps (Léo Ferré)
The poster, album cover or piece of art could you live with on your bedroom forever would be . . .
Poster of the Marx Brothers (has been on my wall for 20 years)
You are allowed just one tattoo, and it is of . . .
A rose for Pam (Lord knows she deserves it)
David Bowie sang, “Five years, that's all we've got . . .” You would spend them where and doing what?
Chilling out on the Kaipara Harbour.
And finally, in the nature of press conferences in Japan, “Can you tell me please why this is your best album ever?”
I had to dig deep to get some of these songs out, peeling off a few layers of the onion as Joni Mitchell calls it, working towards a new honesty. Hope to keep working in this direction.