Any tempo's a good tempo

Wanaka musician Steve Brett at home with his classical guitar.  Photo by Marjorie Cook.
Wanaka musician Steve Brett at home with his classical guitar. Photo by Marjorie Cook.
He's had stars in his eyes since he was a child . . . Marjorie Cook meets Wanaka musician Steve Brett.

Classical music, Maori sing-alongs and the vibrant Dunedin music scene have all been big influences in Wanaka musician Steve Brett's life.

The semi-retired 61-year-old dentist and grandfather of three is still playing guitar years after first picking up an instrument as a child living on the Coromandel and joining in with a Maori neighbour's Sunday get-togethers.

Now an elder statesman of Wanaka's band scene, Mr Brett co-founded Wanaka's popular "Stars in Your Eyes" concert, now in its 16th season, and still plays in bands and shows.

He gets a huge kick out of helping others challenge themselves and perform publicly, sometimes for the very first time.

"I enjoy watching people develop through the rehearsals, developing confidence. It is really rewarding, " Mr Brett said in an interview with the Otago Daily Times.

Mr Brett has lived in Wanaka with his wife Fiona since 1984.

Shortly after they arrived, he joined Cardrona resident Jamie Robertson's band, Highway 89.

In 1984, Wanaka had just 1600 permanent residents and occasional gigs were held at the district Lions club rooms or a local backpackers.

"When it ['Stars in Your Eyes'] very first started, it was basically our band and various members of the band did an act . . .

If I remember rightly, I was Eric Clapton doing Tears in Heaven. That was in the lounge bar of the THC hotel," Mr Brett said.

"We roped in a few other people to spread it out."

Wanaka's music scene is still small, by city standards, but more pub gigs by local and out-of-town performers lend vibrancy to the working week.

"Stars in Your Eyes" is no longer the only show in town, with Wanaka audiences now turning out in hordes to see locals perform in home-grown school musicals, rock quests and theatre restaurant.

But there is no question it can still pull in the punters, with tickets always selling out within two hours of going on sale.

The production donates its profits every year to local schools and music programmes.

Last year, it gave away $15,000 and will give away a similar amount again this year.

Mr Brett was born in Dunedin and is the oldest of five sons born to Noel, a classically-trained pianist, and Dr Larry Brett.

The boys were brought up on a diet of classical music and family sing-alongs around the piano with their mother, and even now, Mr Brett enjoys "annoying" his staff by playing classical recordings at work.

He loved listening to classical guitarist Andre Segovia and when the family moved to the Coromandel he was taught to play guitar by a woman he believed was Howard Morrison's grandmother.

"Every Sunday we would go half a mile down the road where they had the typical Sunday session with a few beers and a sing-along," he recalled.

Mr Brett and his brother Chris became serious Shadows fans at Te Awamutu College and at Otago University, he, Chris and friends formed a band called Third Chapter.

They also initiated the Cellar Club, just below Barton's Butchery near the Musicians' Club on Manse St.

"We excavated that out and painted it up with psychedelic paints and it was hugely successful. That was about the 1970s. It spoiled my university progress. But on opening night we had a queue about a quarter-mile long," Mr Brett recalled.

All the time he was studying for his bachelor of science degree, he was playing in bands.

It took him five years to do a three-year degree, then he returned to university at the invitation of the dental school to do another degree.

When Third Chapter disbanded, he and another brother, David, formed a band called Noah, with cousins Richard and David Lindsay, and their friend Michael Guest, who played the drums.

Noah, a covers band, got together shortly after Mr Brett married Fiona, and continued to play at pubs and dances for several years.

Mr Brett said he became "a slack father, staying out too late and playing in bands" by night and working as a dentist by day.

When their three children were aged between 6 and 10, Mr and Mrs Brett moved to Alice Springs, where Mr Brett had secured a job as a dentist.

Six months later, Mr Brett was back in the fold of musicians, with the whole family enjoying a new and relaxed family-oriented music scene.

Mr Brett was introduced to the pedal steel guitar and still plays it, along with the six or seven other guitars he owns.

In Australia he also brushed up his ability to read music and began playing in show bands.

Mr Brett's passion for flying began in Alice Springs.

He started a branch practice at Ayres Rock, flying there every fortnight.

"It is so hard to imagine the scale. I had one guy who travelled 18 hours with toothache to get to the dentist," he said.

The town was an adventure centre "with 15,000 people and 1500 miles from anywhere", so the family bought a four-wheel-drive and explored.

Since he established his practice in Wanaka in 1984, Aspiring Dental Service has grown into three full-time surgeries.

Two other practices operating in Wanaka when he arrived continue to offer services.

Now, Mr Brett works three days a week and relishes spending more time with his family, playing music, tramping and learning to fly helicopters.

A second dan black belt in karate, Mr Brett was heavily involved in Wanaka's karate club for about 15 years but no longer instructs, following a series of tendon injuries.

But the Brett family's involvement in entertainment seems secure.

Last month, when Mr Brett took the stage again for the 16th "Stars in Your Eyes", he was joined by his youngest son Lachy (35), who also plays the bass.

Mr Brett is always keen to support the next group of nervous performers rising to the challenge of putting on a show.

"Often I think the opening night is the best night because there is no basis for expectations. To do rehearsals and suddenly be bowled over by this thunderous applause - it's really neat for them," Mr Brett said.

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