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Sunday sessions just the latest gig for veteran muso

Flagstaff Team

By mid-afternoon every Sunday, a small group of people at Harmony Hall are singing their hearts out together. It could be the Beatles, a sea shanty or a sad country number; there is a guitar, sometimes mandolin and banjo, or a fiddler. It sounds warm and happy and, at times, pretty chaotic. Musician John Davy calls the gathering of his loose collection of singers and players Lazy Sunday Afternoons. It’s the sort of scene he reckons there ought to be a lot more of around Devonport – and in all communities. After nearly 60 years of playing the guitar and singing – in addition to his day job – Davy felt a regular singalong, and a super-casual scene for locals to drop in to when they feel like it, were long overdue. “Good live music adds colour to life. Everyone gets something from it,” says Davy. He set up the event in early winter, and it’s become a regular thing for him and around 20 people who come and go. “It’s an outlet for people to just come along and chill and enjoy the music, even if they feel they can’t sing very well themselves.

I believe you can create a heart to pump some passions and joy into our local community. “Our lives have become digitised, repetitive and dull. Sunday afternoons can be a pretty quiet time for some people, and I know plenty that just don’t leave the house.” The weekly gathering is dear to his heart, but it’s just a small recent piece of his life and times in music. Davy is nudging 70, but he’s out many nights playing his acoustic guitar and singing with groups all over the city – mostly Irish, Scottish and folk music. And he’s slightly dismayed to find that these days he can’t fit in more music in more places. Running Celtic concerts at the Rose Centre, for example, fell by the wayside because, in his own words, he ran out of puff. Get him talking music and it will be a long and colourful conversation, laced with gigs and the many musicians he’s played with over half a century and more. Whether it’s a fiddler, a tin-whistler a singer or guitarist, there is a good chance he’s played with them at least once, or maybe just last week, or he is going to play with them soon.

From a lifetime of live music there comes a huge network of musical connections – plenty of those including a couple of generations. His own son James taught guitar in Devonport, and Davy is proud  of his talent and delighted to perform with him too when the chance arises. Davy’s own journey in music began with  listening to classical music as a child growing up in central Auckland.

By the time he was 10, his mother had found him a guitar teacher – the legendary Dave Tatana. Walking to a Karangahape Rd studio for his lesson was a weekly highlight for the very enthusiastic young guitar pupil. After that arrangement ended, Davy was lucky enough to get lessons with another big name in guitar music of the era, Gray Bartlett. “You could say I was incredibly lucky to be taught by these guys. They were just

wonderful teachers and they really set me on the path as a guitarist.” In the late 60s, his parents, Ben and Rui Davy, moved to Devonport. Davy junior had to turn his attention to earning a living. He studied accounting at the University of Auckland, but the call of the family printing business won over, and he went to work with his father. Making music and getting the gigs always loomed large, but from the proceeds of his day job Davy was able to buy a house right on Cheltenham Beach by the time he was in his mid 30s. Those were great days, he recalls, even if his good fortunes in real estate were to be short-lived. He had a grand piano at both ends of his living room, and a ready bunch of fellow musos to come over and make music as often as they could. Davy is quick to point out they were ever mindful of the neighbours. “It’s not like we were making an earsplitting noise with electric stuff.” He can’t easily recall every one of the musical groupings he has been part of. But since the garage bands and school bands of his youth, there’s always been a trio or a duo, and there was his long-running Blacksmith Band.

The latter, he’s proud to say, played in plenty of Auckland’s top spots, including the opening shows for the Aotea Centre and the Vector Arena – both very desirable gigs. But bands, says Davy with a grin, have a way of reaching a high point and then imploding. “They sort of get to a place where everything’s seems to be perfect. They’ve got the sound right, they’re working together brilliantly, and then bouff! It all flies apart and everyone goes their own way and starts over again.” In recent times, Davy’s big commitment has been coordinating the live music at the popular Titirangi Market, as well as playing and singing there himself. He notes that Titirangi is a favourite spot for outdoor music because there’s scarcely a lawnmower to be heard on a Sunday morning. “In Belmont I’m living in lawnmower valley. Some days the racket is so bad I just have to go out. “Doing the music at Titirangi has been incredibly enriching and at least another 30 or so very talented people have come into my life,” he says, opening up more possibilities for initiating live music. Irish music is probably Davy’s greatest passion, and he says it’s easy enough to pull a band together in a moment. “The thing about Irish music is that everyone knows the same songs. It all comes from the bible of Irish music – O’Neill’s Music of Ireland. There’d be more than a thousand songs in that book and anyone who likes to play Irish music knows them. So wherever you are and whoever you are playing with, you are going to know the same songs. “Everyone loves that sound of Irish music.” But let’s not forget his regular gigs with the Scottish Fiddle Club either. Davy is in Devonport-based choir Village Song. After an exploratory natter with other members and musical friends, he felt his Lazy Sunday Afternoons concept could grow and evolve.

From his extensive song list, he puts together a possible selection, complete with lots of YouTube clips, which he sends out between Sundays. “I just want people to come along and sing, or even just come and hum along. One of the happiest moments for me was to see someone who has recently turned up just join in with us, with a huge smile on her face. She’d always believed she couldn’t sing. People get a lot out of it. I hope the group will evolve and that more musicians will join us. Who knows where it could lead.” Davy is adamant the community needs much more live music in public places, and in restaurants, bars and cafes, and is very happy to be part of trying to make it happen. He says friends relate stories of enjoying the live music and ambience they encounter on overseas travels, and often note a sense of belonging involved. “We could so easily have that here. We have the people to create those scenes and bring much more music into our village. Why not? The big public events are one thing, and they are better than nothing. But I think we should also be having lots more smaller events, where people are participating. That way we’d be involving a lot more people in live music right here. “Music keeps us sane and it makes people happy. And I’m all for that.”

This article originally appeared in the November 1st edition of the Devonport Flagstaff.Download PDF.