Sunday, 8 November 2009

'You should let me love you' ~ Stan the Man

Australian Idol is a lot of fun and I include an entry here for those of you who have not yet had this pleasure. I resisted watching it initially - I'd been hooked on American Idol for two seasons and was sure it would be disappointing in comparison. I could not have been more wrong. In fact I actually like Australian Idol more - the Australians seem more natural to me, but perhaps this is my own cultural bias - I think New Zealanders and Australians stand on more similar ground in this respect.

The music is reason enough to watch but it's the personalities that make it compelling, and as the show progresses the musicians become more skilled and their music a weekly highlight. And because they're human their performances vary in quality and impact. The judges critique each performance but once the number of contestants is reduced to twelve it's the public who decide who stays and who goes.

One special feature of the show is the guest appearance of well-known musicians who coach the contestants during the week and also give their own performance on the night. Liza Minnelli's coaching was especially heart-warming. Disappointingly the video of that is no longer available.  However, you can see her in action here:

Toby Moulton was one of my favourites, especially his performance of "Find me somebody to love", also his rendition of a Radiohead song which I think may be called "Exit music".  This sensitive performance of "Take On Me" shows his superb voice well.  The judges loved it:

Last week Toby announced he was withdrawing as his calling to primary school teaching is stronger than that of a career in music. He stood aside for those he knew wanted that career. Judges, fellow contestants and audience alike were shocked and dismayed but respected his choice and gave him a standing ovation. He's been an outstanding person to watch both for his character as well as his performances. I think he could have won. Never sang in public before entering the contest... Amazing!

Liza's coaching of Nathan Brake also produced a remarkable performance: I found her mentoring of him touching, both for the level at which she chose to engage as teacher and fellow dramatist, and also his response to her.  Nathan's subsequent performance received thunderous applause, so Liza's coaching was put to good use!

Let's not leave out the women: the two top ranked women are Kate Cook and Hayley Warner. Neither is your average pin-up; they are both unusual and very likeable.

Kate is a lesbian who left her job at an abattoir to participate in the contest and further her career in music. Here she is giving a very sensitive performance of Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide"

I liked Kate's unvarnished naturalness. Her mother committed suicide when she was a teenager which has left her with visible vulnerability, yet her manner is often at odds with this. She addressed the judges with responses such as "Yeah mite [mate], no worries mite" and a broad grin. One of the judges once asked, with an element of despair, if she was ever going to wear a dress on stage. Long pause... "Yeah-nah!" came the response! She has since left the contest and I agree with the judges - she is missed.

Hayley is still in it. She got involved in music only when trouble with her legs prevented her from pursuing her interest in sports. In some ways she looks like a scruffy kid and in other ways, such as in her musical confidence and ability to strut the stage, she seems much older than her seventeen years. She too is very likeable. Her performance of Pink's song "This used to be a fun house" was energetic and great fun - the crowd went crazy!!!

And let's not forget "Stone Cold Sober"! Thanks John, for a tele that can handle the sound - wind it UP!

All these contestants are great and remarkable in their own ways, but Stan Walker is my favourite - the Maori man with the most. The most what? An astonishing voice and a captivating ability to pulse out from the depths and take us all with him. The Madden brothers of Good Charlotte fame were just two of the guest judges who felt similarly.

Later note:
Disappointingly most of the YouTube clips originally included in this item have been removed due to 'terms of use' violations. I have adapted the text accordingly.

Stan did go on to win the the title and deservedly so, and Hayley was a fine runner up. Favourite performances of Stan's from during the competition were: "Under my Umbrella", "Sweet Dreams" by Beyonce...

...Leonard Cohen's much copied "Hallelujah," and although the judges panned the musical arrangement I loved "You should let me love you."

Yes, Stan, yes - we love to love you too! Bravo and well done!

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Country Calendar - other episodes I've especially enjoyed

As I've said in the item about cornmeal, "Country Calendar" is a wonderful show.

I list some other favourite episodes here for those of you who share my enthusiasm:
  • "Catlin's organics", which screened on 17th April 09 about the pros and cons of organic farming.
  • "Of milk and honey", which screened on 15th May 09 featuring a farm which produces organic milk in Southland, including their own ice cream
  • "Taste of the Land", which screened on 18th July 09 featuring an bio-dynamic (organically farmed) vineyard, Rippon
  • "Horse sense", which screened on 28th July 09 featuring a new style of natural horsemanship as developed by Kate Hewlett
  • "Great and small", which screened on 11th July 09 about a retired couple who make cheese from their two cows
And I find I can't leave this one out:

Cornmeal and an organics farm near Gisborne

Writing the recipe for Chilli Cornbread reminded me of an episode of Country Calendar about a family who produce cornmeal from their own extensive organically grown maize crops.

All Country Calendar episodes are up on the TVNZ website and can be viewed over the internet.  This is a wonderful service which I encourage you to use.  The only cost is your own internet charge.

This particular episode is entitled "New Growth" and screened on 13th June 2009.
Note that the screen can be enlarged to full size and the larger bandwidth selected which gives really good visual reproduction.

I found this episode really inspiring. Mike and Bridget Parker are a middle aged couple with three teenage children. They decided to go organic when the children were young as a healthy choice for them all and have made a very successful business of it. They farm a number of different crops of which maize is the main one. Just so we get the terminology straight: in New Zealand we more commonly refer to maize as sweet corn, or corn on the cob. And cornmeal, otherwise referred to as corn grits or polenta, is the yellow grain that is made from it along with cornflour and pop corn.

In addition to being farmers they became millers 0f their own corn when someone rang a neighboring farmer asking if anyone local produced organic cornmeal and they decided to put their hand up. Initially they had their corn milled some distance away in Waikato but a year later decided to do it themselves. Pests love to eat the grain which presents a big challenge to organics producers: ordinary commercially produced grain is allowed to be sprayed with up to sixty chemicals while it is in the mill and in storage; the official standard is that the grain must contain no more than five parts per million of what Bridget described as "really nasty stuff". The organic standard is zero.

It was a treat to see the three children - all young adults now - pitching in to help, and the footage of them sitting on the transplanting machine as it was driven up and down the field getting the sweet basil into the ground was most engaging. They were all working flat tack and very dexterously. Heartwarming too, to hear how well each member of the family spoke about the others, with emphasis on listening and co-operation. Best of all they seemed happy together and to enjoy it all.