Round the horn

Hopetoun Brown to be joined by Finn Scholes for Gisborne gig.

Hopetoun Brown to be joined by Finn Scholes for Gisborne gig.

Made up of Nick Atkinson and Tim Stewart, Hopetoun Brown will be joined by Finn Scholes for their Gisborne gig next week. The duo got its name by combining the names of Atkinson and Stewart’s homes in Auckland’s Hopetoun and Brown Streets. Picture by Paul Taylor

Life has been extraordinary for Hopetoun Brown since the summer solstice, says Nick Atkinson, one half of the horn-driven duo.

In January, he and sidekick Tim Stewart sailed Atkinson’s kauri-planked ketch to remote island venues around the Hauraki Gulf. One stop was Rakino Island where they loaded their instruments — bass clarinet, trumpet, trombone, giant tuba, tambourine and saxophones — into a dinghy and rowed it to shore. Rakino Island is off the grid so the musicians powered their small PA and LED lights from a solar charged battery bank.

“We played the gig at the community wharf with the sea on three sides,” says Atkinson.

“People arrived in boats, water taxis, yachts. We thought ‘something is going on with this band’.”

That thought was reinforced at the world music festival WOMAD in New Plymouth this year.

“They gave us two spots. We couldn’t believe the response. At one point we couldn’t start a song because the crowd was cheering so much.”

The Hopetoun Brown’s songs draw on old-school jazz, blues, plantation work songs, doo-wop and funk. They have no bass guitar player or drummer yet rhythm is what lights the duo’s fire. Their sound is driven by horns, vocals and exciting beat patterns.

The duo’s sound evolved while Atkinson (saxes, bass clarinet, piano and hollering) and Stewart (vocals, trumpet, trombone, tambourine and stomping) were the horn component of Supergroove. The two men were a “band within a band”, says Atkinson.

“We would have our own rehearsals but rather than play Supergroove sections all the time we started writing our own songs. We had no plans to make a band until much later.”

By later he means more than a decade by which time Atkinson had bought a wrecked bass clarinet from a second hand store and had the keys re-padded.

“Tim had this idea to sing St James Infirmary and for me to play bass clarinet, a very low instrument, an unusual orchestral instrument, “ says Atkinson.

“It goes well with Tim’s voice.”

Their performance of the jazz-blues piece, with a tempo so slow the song almost feels as if it’s about to break apart, was a eureka moment for the two musicians.

“We’re a two piece band. That’s a challenge to get songs across but if you have a strong bass line, and some rhythm, vocal melody and stomping, it’s amazing what you can get out of the bits of silence.

“Silence is really our canvas. We paint brushstrokes of noise on the canvas so even though the sound is sparse, if Tim is playing trumpet loudly, and I’m playing bass clarinet and sax, we can create a wall of sound.

“The rhythms turn us on. Someone who listens to Mendelssohn or Brahms loves the harmony. The rhythm is elastic. It will slow down or speed up. On the other end of the scale you have Fela Kuti, a Nigerian Afrobeat legend. With Fela Kuti you can have rhythm and just about ignore harmony and melody.”

But without the conventional beat drivers of bass guitar and drums, how does Hopetoun Brown achieve a strong sense of rhythm in its horn heavy sound?

“With the bass clarinet I can hint at what a drum beat does. I can hit between-notes where the bass drum would fall. When people listen to pop they want to hear the voice. A lot of live performance is so loud it’s hard to hear the voice. With our arrangements people hear the voice because the instrumentation is so sparse.”

In case this all sounds too brainy, Hopetoun Brown’s music is both filling and nutritious. It’s a million miles away from the formulaic but it’s accessible.

Let it Show from Hopetoun Brown’s album Looks So Good is made up of an overdubbed, eight track, bass clarinet recording that has some elements of traditional harmony.

Dissonance and unusual beat patterns in Let’s Not Be Friends from their most recent album Don’t Let Them Lock You Up bring to mind similar beats in The Streets’ Not Addicted, and Dub Pistols’ Mucky Weekend.

For Don’t Let Them Lock You Up Atkinson and Stewart expanded their instrumentation and got singer Steve Abel’s care-worn voice in on one song. Another track, Sticks and Stones has no horns but is driven by synth and vocal rhythms.

Joining the Hopetoun Brown duo for their Gisborne show is Finn Scholes, a genius in Atkinson’s ears.

“He is an unbelievable dude, a world- class trumpeter. He’s 10 years younger than us; in his early 30s. He has his own band called Carnivorous Plant Society.”

Carnivorous Plant Society specialises in cinematic jazz music.

For the Gisborne show, Scholes will leave the carnivorous plants at home but will bring his full-size tuba. Other than the double bass and piano the full-size tuba is the biggest instrument in an orchestra’s arsenal.

“It’s monstrous.” says Atkinson.

“He’ll also bring a vibraphone. It’s like a huge xylophone. It has metal keys and a vibrator.”

Scholes will also bring his Rhodes electric piano “and other little toys”.

“He always tries to sneak as many instruments as possible into the van.”

  • Hopetoun Brown, The Dome, Tuesday April 24, 7.30pm. Brought to Gisborne by Arts on Tour NZ and In Cahoots. Tickets $28 from The Aviary (cash only) and i-Site.

Life has been extraordinary for Hopetoun Brown since the summer solstice, says Nick Atkinson, one half of the horn-driven duo.

In January, he and sidekick Tim Stewart sailed Atkinson’s kauri-planked ketch to remote island venues around the Hauraki Gulf. One stop was Rakino Island where they loaded their instruments — bass clarinet, trumpet, trombone, giant tuba, tambourine and saxophones — into a dinghy and rowed it to shore. Rakino Island is off the grid so the musicians powered their small PA and LED lights from a solar charged battery bank.

“We played the gig at the community wharf with the sea on three sides,” says Atkinson.

“People arrived in boats, water taxis, yachts. We thought ‘something is going on with this band’.”

That thought was reinforced at the world music festival WOMAD in New Plymouth this year.

“They gave us two spots. We couldn’t believe the response. At one point we couldn’t start a song because the crowd was cheering so much.”

The Hopetoun Brown’s songs draw on old-school jazz, blues, plantation work songs, doo-wop and funk. They have no bass guitar player or drummer yet rhythm is what lights the duo’s fire. Their sound is driven by horns, vocals and exciting beat patterns.

The duo’s sound evolved while Atkinson (saxes, bass clarinet, piano and hollering) and Stewart (vocals, trumpet, trombone, tambourine and stomping) were the horn component of Supergroove. The two men were a “band within a band”, says Atkinson.

“We would have our own rehearsals but rather than play Supergroove sections all the time we started writing our own songs. We had no plans to make a band until much later.”

By later he means more than a decade by which time Atkinson had bought a wrecked bass clarinet from a second hand store and had the keys re-padded.

“Tim had this idea to sing St James Infirmary and for me to play bass clarinet, a very low instrument, an unusual orchestral instrument, “ says Atkinson.

“It goes well with Tim’s voice.”

Their performance of the jazz-blues piece, with a tempo so slow the song almost feels as if it’s about to break apart, was a eureka moment for the two musicians.

“We’re a two piece band. That’s a challenge to get songs across but if you have a strong bass line, and some rhythm, vocal melody and stomping, it’s amazing what you can get out of the bits of silence.

“Silence is really our canvas. We paint brushstrokes of noise on the canvas so even though the sound is sparse, if Tim is playing trumpet loudly, and I’m playing bass clarinet and sax, we can create a wall of sound.

“The rhythms turn us on. Someone who listens to Mendelssohn or Brahms loves the harmony. The rhythm is elastic. It will slow down or speed up. On the other end of the scale you have Fela Kuti, a Nigerian Afrobeat legend. With Fela Kuti you can have rhythm and just about ignore harmony and melody.”

But without the conventional beat drivers of bass guitar and drums, how does Hopetoun Brown achieve a strong sense of rhythm in its horn heavy sound?

“With the bass clarinet I can hint at what a drum beat does. I can hit between-notes where the bass drum would fall. When people listen to pop they want to hear the voice. A lot of live performance is so loud it’s hard to hear the voice. With our arrangements people hear the voice because the instrumentation is so sparse.”

In case this all sounds too brainy, Hopetoun Brown’s music is both filling and nutritious. It’s a million miles away from the formulaic but it’s accessible.

Let it Show from Hopetoun Brown’s album Looks So Good is made up of an overdubbed, eight track, bass clarinet recording that has some elements of traditional harmony.

Dissonance and unusual beat patterns in Let’s Not Be Friends from their most recent album Don’t Let Them Lock You Up bring to mind similar beats in The Streets’ Not Addicted, and Dub Pistols’ Mucky Weekend.

For Don’t Let Them Lock You Up Atkinson and Stewart expanded their instrumentation and got singer Steve Abel’s care-worn voice in on one song. Another track, Sticks and Stones has no horns but is driven by synth and vocal rhythms.

Joining the Hopetoun Brown duo for their Gisborne show is Finn Scholes, a genius in Atkinson’s ears.

“He is an unbelievable dude, a world- class trumpeter. He’s 10 years younger than us; in his early 30s. He has his own band called Carnivorous Plant Society.”

Carnivorous Plant Society specialises in cinematic jazz music.

For the Gisborne show, Scholes will leave the carnivorous plants at home but will bring his full-size tuba. Other than the double bass and piano the full-size tuba is the biggest instrument in an orchestra’s arsenal.

“It’s monstrous.” says Atkinson.

“He’ll also bring a vibraphone. It’s like a huge xylophone. It has metal keys and a vibrator.”

Scholes will also bring his Rhodes electric piano “and other little toys”.

“He always tries to sneak as many instruments as possible into the van.”

  • Hopetoun Brown, The Dome, Tuesday April 24, 7.30pm. Brought to Gisborne by Arts on Tour NZ and In Cahoots. Tickets $28 from The Aviary (cash only) and i-Site.
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