An uplifting experience

Molly Devine and Metitilani Alo perform with Graeme Downes and the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra at Tally Ho! 2 in the Dunedin Town Hall. Photo: Gregor Richardson
Molly Devine and Metitilani Alo perform with Graeme Downes and the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra at Tally Ho! 2 in the Dunedin Town Hall. Photo: Gregor Richardson
Reminiscing about the first Tally Ho! concert, Metitilani Alo and Molly Devine remember the weirdness of people asking for their autographs. The pair talk to Rebecca Fox about being inspired and star struck.

It is the night of the first Tally Ho! concert in the Dunedin Town Hall.

Backstage is packed with Dunedin Symphony Orchestra and Dunedin Sound musicians getting ready for the inaugural multidisciplinary performance.

No-one knows what to expect.

In among it all, singer Metitilani Alo has his head in his book of music for the show.

''I was so nervous, I might forget my words.''

Dunedin Sound musicians Shayne Carter, Martin Phillipps and David Kilgour urge him to put it away, saying ''nah, you'll be right, put it away''.

Molly Devine works on her new music being recorded in Wellington. Photo: Nik Brinkman
Molly Devine works on her new music being recorded in Wellington. Photo: Nik Brinkman
''It was such an amateur thing to do. But I felt I had to be perfect.''

Alo has been part of the line-up of Tally Ho! since that first concert alongside fellow Dunedin singers Molly Devine and soprano Anna Leese. This year they will be joined by Nadia Reid and Anthonie Tonnon.

Music lecturer and Verlaines frontman Graeme Downes, one of the instigators of the Tally Ho! concept, says the tradition of extraordinary song craft emanating from this city is decades old now.

''That their work [the young artists] can survive on the same programme as some of the enduring greats of yesteryear speaks highly of their stature as songwriters and performers, and shows the tradition is still developing.''

Nearly all the established artists that started out in the '80s are still active - The Chills will be on tour in the US immediately prior.

Metitilani Alo works with members of his church choir. Photo: Gregor Richardson
Metitilani Alo works with members of his church choir. Photo: Gregor Richardson
''There is an exciting inter-generational dynamic happening with the inclusion of the new superstars.''

It was a huge honour for the young University of Otago music student to be asked to perform by Downes.

''In classic Lani style I was like 'yo, I'm keen'. Then I thought 'oh my gosh, this is real'. It was the first time I'd been offered to sing with an orchestra but just working with Graeme is a scary thing 'cos he's so good; he's a genius.''

By the time the second Tally Ho! concert came around, Alo was a bit calmer but just as terrified.

''There was no looking at the music 15 minutes before the show.''

The Dunedin Town Hall stage, complete with a full orchestra, is a long way from his early days growing up in the West Auckland suburb of Massey.

As a Samoan, church and music were part of life.

''It was not until year 9 that I really thought I think this is what I want to do.''

He became involved in choirs, theatre sports as his ''passion'' for music developed.

The University of Otago's music programme was chosen because it was good and unique but also because it gave him the chance to grow and be independent away from the close-knit community at home.

''It was the break I needed to focus on me and do what I needed to do. It was the best decision I've ever made.''

These days Alo is the events music director for the Otago Pacifik Island choir at the university's Pacific Island centre involved with the university's 150th celebrations. On weekends he performs at Vault 21 and is involved with his church.

''In a general week I'll go from singing acoustic pop rock covers on a Friday to running a church choir on Saturday and Sunday and throughout the week teaching Pacifika music at the university.

''I'm really not specific to one genre.''

But he has taken a step back from the many projects he has been involved in - he committed a year to recording an album of his home church choir - to concentrate on his own music.

''I had this real urge to start work on my own music which I've never really made time for before.''

So he has spent most of this past year writing his own music and thanks to being granted some New Zealand on Air funding for Pacific music will soon release his first single.

''I find comfort from having people to look up to.''

While his music covers many genres, his first single will be a Samoan song.

He has struggled with releasing an EP because he performs such a mix of songs - rap, singer-songwriter vibes - which does not fit any box.

Alo says he is now at a point in his life where creating his music is more about building up a portfolio of work and sharing it.

''I'm not really fussed about how many plays it gets. If it hits the mark with one person, happy days.''

Fellow former University of Otago contemporary music student Molly Devine is also about to release new work.

For the past six months she has been working on four original tracks in Wellington that are to be released in May.

''It's an exciting opportunity. It's pop, its quite upbeat and happy. I'm loving it. I wrote a lot of serious music when I left uni, so this is very light, very happy, different.''

Her new work has love as its central theme, not just personal love but love for nature - especially southern New Zealand's landscape.

''Tramping and being part of that, there are so many beautiful things to draw from. It's just opening your eyes and seeing those things.''

Before that she had done a couple of tours and releases and taught music and mentored young musicians.

She attributes her music passion to her parents, especially her father, who really appreciated and loved music.

''They're big dancers. Watching how much they love music was really inspiring. One of my favourite things to do is watch Dad sit on the couch and put a song on. He always closes his eyes takes a deep breath. The amount of awe he has for music has really inspired me to make it.''

It does not matter what role she has in the creation of music - she is ''into it''.

''It is quite important as a musician to understand what goes into making music. I've found it really useful for me being able to communicate what I want to produce.''

Devine also has clear memories of that first Tally Ho! concert and its intensity.

''Before the concert it was hard to get a grip of what a big deal it was. It sounded like this amazing idea but it wasn't until we walked into a jam-packed town hall and saw all the Dunedin Sound musicians . . .

''We really felt like we were treated like rock stars as well. It was just crazy backstage.''

The full impact hit when they stepped on stage and there was this amazing wall of sound behind them.

''When it finished it was like 'let's do this again tomorrow'. It was like 'wow, incredible' and then it was gone.''

It became even weirder when people began asking them to autograph their programmes.

''I was like 'I'm no-one','' Alo says.

''It was super weird. Wow, it was so worth it,'' Devine says.

She has nothing but praise for the time, love and passion Downes put into orchestrating the songs for the show, not to mention the original writers' work.

''It was so exciting meeting some of the original artists. Graeme would, like, introduce us saying this is the person who wrote . . . it was cool.

''I'd never sung a song before where the artist was in the room. It was so strange.''

When she sang Randolph's Going Home, knowing Shayne Carter was backstage, all she could think of was doing it justice.

''I knew how important this song is to him.''

Both singers had been exposed to the Dunedin Sound during their contemporary music studies but did not truly appreciate it and the artists until they got involved.

''It was an incredible education. We got to get under the hood of these cool songs,'' Alo says.

''I remember coming away from Tally Ho! one so inspired to write thematically and musically in that way.''

For Alo, the song that stays with him is Andrew Brough's interpretation of James K. Baxter's Andy Dandy.

''I still listen to that song to this day. It's the song for me. For me it's such an emotional song. I wanted to write a whole album in this style. It's really hard to describe this style because it's so varied.''

Emotion has played a big part in all the concerts.

Alo lost a close family member in the week before the first concert and then in the second concert everyone was mourning the loss of Roy Colbert, one of the main figures behind the shows.

''It was really emotional without Roy. We were all doing it for Roy.''

Devine: ''I think Graeme is still trying to fulfil Roy's vision.''

There will be new orchestrations of favourites from the last concerts plus one or two new songs.

''It'll be a walk down memory lane.''

Finishing with the song Submarine Bells has become a tradition, one which they appreciated.

''It's a beautiful song and leaves you feeling good,'' she says.

''At peace,'' Alo says.

To see

Tally Ho! 3 
Dunedin Town Hall
April 13

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