Pearl opening for Elton John at Westpac Stadium, 2007 (Image: supplied)

The Monday Excerpt: The day the music died in Whanganui

An extract from a music memoir by Lisa Nimmo, one half of Wellington pop-rock duo Pearl, who were a successful live act in the 2000s.

A month after the album release, Chris, Shelley and I headed off to Whanganui and Palmerston North for our first out-of-town gigs as recording artists. We were excited about getting to Whanganui, as we’d put a lot of effort into our promotion and anticipated a great turnout. We were playing a free public gig in Majestic Square, right in the heart of the city centre. We’d booked a street advertising campaign in the week leading up to the performance, the local paper had run a large feature story on us, and we’d arranged an interview with Classic Hits the Friday afternoon before the gig.

The interview went well. We played a couple of songs live on air, made sure we talked about the next day’s gig, and said our farewells. We were happy with the triangle of promotion we’d coordinated between press, radio and street, and we were looking forward to meeting our audience.

But no one came.

It’s a bizarre experience to perform a gig to an audience of zero. It was tempting to just pack up and slink home with our tails between our legs, but we’d come to play, and play we did. For 90 minutes we played our hearts out, pretending to be superstars performing to an imaginary audience of thousands, but we knew that whatever confidence we’d gained as a result of our recent album success had been flattened.

We were quiet as we packed up our gear afterwards. Doubts about our ability to succeed started to surface again, but I didn’t want to voice them. We’d made a big effort — the promotion, travel and accommodation as well as the time away from the kids. All for nothing. Whanganui had given us a big slap in the face, and it sucked. We hoped that Palmerston North would be more receptive and that our luck would change.

*

We’d arrived in Palmerston North and had just finished setting up the PA, backdrop and signage at our venue for the evening’s gig. It was a new day, the sun was shining and we were doing our best to keep our spirits up and look ahead.

“It’s great that we now have such low expectations,” I said. “At least we won’t get disappointed.”

We were wandering down the street looking for a bite to eat when Chris’s mobile rang. “Oh, hi Phil,” he said. Shelley and I didn’t pay much attention. We were window-shopping, admiring a pretty floral dress in a shop window.

“We’re in Palmerston North. We’ve got a gig here tonight at the Grand Beer Café. Whanganui? Yeah, it was great…Not quite as many in the crowd as we’d hoped for,” he shrugged.

He listened for a few seconds, and then he said, “Really? When?”

Shelley and I turned and looked at him.

“Are we available? Er – yes!” he laughed.

I thought: How does he know whether we’re available? I manage the gig calendar — I hope he isn’t making a commitment we can’t keep.

“What’s the date?” I whispered at him. He shook his head, signalling that it didn’t matter, then turned his back to focus on the call.

“Okay, sounds great, Phil,” he said. “I’ll give you a ring when we’re back in town to talk through the details. Thanks for thinking of us.”

He was grinning from ear to ear, stuffing his phone back into his pocket with an incredulous look on his face.

“What?” we demanded.

“You’re not going to believe this,” he said.

“Believe what?”

“Phil actually pulled it off. That international act he was talking about bringing to Wellington? He’s done it. It’s all confirmed. December the sixth, and he definitely wants us to be the support act. It’s at Westpac Stadium!”

“Oh my God, really?” I asked, wanting to believe it but afraid to get my hopes up.

“Who for?” said Shelley. “Who’s the artist?”

He could barely get the words out. “Elton John.”


Blame It on Abba by Lisa Nimmo (Graphetti Publishing, $35) is available at Unity Books.

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