The Silver Scrolls are a great celebration of New Zealand songwriting, but what we really watch them for are the bloody covers. (Image: Tina Tiller)

The greatest Silver Scrolls performances of the past decade

Each year, the highlight of the annual Silver Scrolls aren’t the speeches, but the covers. In advance of tonight’s ceremony, Sam Brooks runs down his favourite performances since 2010.

Tonight is the 2020 APRA Silver Scroll Awards, New Zealand’s most prestigious prize for songwriting (and you can stream them right here from 7:30pm). The nominees this year are:

‘Don’t You Know Who I Am’, written and performed by Reb Fountain

‘Get The Devil Out’, written and performed by Nadia Reid

‘Glitter’, written by Stella Bennett, Joshua Fountain and Djeisan Suskov, performed by Benee

‘In the Air’, written by Arapekanga Adams-Tamatea, Brad Kora, Stuart Kora, Joel Shadbolt, and Miharo Gregory, performed by L.A.B

‘Mighty Invader’, written and performed by Troy Kingi

As well as the biggie, there are a range of other awards presented, rewarding excellence in Māori songwriting, classical composition, and original composition for film and TV. You can watch the ceremony from the comfort of your couch from 7:30pm tonight right here:

But those are the awards. You’re here for the fun stuff: The covers!

The clear highlight of each ceremony are the cover versions peppered throughout. Each nominated song is covered live, and the artists who perform these song are curated by a guest musical director. Julia Deans is the musical director for 2020, and in the past this role has been filled by the likes of Bic Runga, Shayne Carter and Jon Toogood. 

The results are eclectic, sometimes wild, and tend to flip the nominated songs in a way that showcases how strong they are as musical works. These tunes can not only survive but thrive under reinvention and reinterpretation. 

So, after painstakingly poring through the past 10 years of performances – I have a hard job you guys – I present what I consider to be the cream of the 2010s crop. Your taste might (probably will) vary from mine, so if you want to check out the others you can find them right here.

2010: Ermehn, Anonymouz, Aaradhna & the You Alone Chorus perform ‘How Bizarre’ by OMC

Honestly, this is one of the most joyous videos I’ve ever seen. The song, performed in tribute here to the recently deceased Pauly Fuemana, is one of the most recognisable in our history. Hell, I’ve heard ‘How Bizarre’ enough times in my life that even the phrase “every time I look around” is enough to trigger me. In saying that, Jesus Otara Millionaire Christ if this song doesn’t sound great performed by a choir and a full bloody band. Even that blaring trumpet feels welcome here. Points to Aaradhna for throwing in a few riffs and trills, because why the hell wouldn’t she? How often do you get to sing ‘How Bizarre’ on stage outside a karaoke bar at 3am?

2010: 3 Houses Down performing ‘Young Blood’ by The Naked and Famous

Were you a person with access to the radio in 2010? Then you’re probably still traumatised by the ‘yeah-yeah-yeah’ hook of ‘Young Blood’. A great hook, no doubt, but sometimes a great hook feels like a left hook when you’ve heard it a hundred times.

This is the platonic ideal of a Silver Scrolls cover: it shows the strength of the song underneath the production, and serves as an incredible showcase for the artist covering it. Look at how much fun these guys are having! Listen to those solos! You can’t help but smile at this performance.

2011: Sandy Mill performing ‘Ko Koe’ by Tyna Keelan

Fact: Sandy Mill is one of the world’s most qualified back-up singers. You could have her sing the Ponsonby News and she’d make it sound like bloody Dame Kiri.

Also a fact: If you put a great vocalist with a world-class voice onstage, give her a great song to sing (backed by a moody, house music-y beat), then you’re going for gold. Those big notes, my lord! As round and full as me after a 3am trip to the dairy.

2013: Mark Vanilau & Scribe performing ‘It Dawned on Me’ by Dave Dobbyn

This one might surprise you. Scribe is obviously a great rapper, but he’s also a genuinely lovely singer. He takes on this Dobbyn classic (in honour of his induction to the NZ Music Hall of Fame) Mark with Vanilau quietly killing it softly on the keys behind him. And, well, it’s bloody lovely.

2013: Tami Neilson & Weiting Shyu performing ‘Language’ by Dave Dobbyn

Dave Dobbyn’s ‘Language’ is one of the most heart wrenching songs written in any language, ever.

Here Tami Neilson sings like she’s not just tearing her heart out of her chest, but like she’s tearing your heart out as well. Hearts do not remain in bodies when Tami Neilson is singing.

Put this singer and this song together? To quote Dobbo: I lose language. Just watch it and you’ll understand. (Also: A goddamned harp! Where do you hear that outside a Joanna Newsom album? Not often enough, frankly.)

2014: Terror of the Deep, Rhian Sheehan and a guest string section performing ‘Bridges’ by Broods

I’m a sucker for a string quartet, what can I say? Also, go back and listen to the original version of ‘Bridges’. Song holds up, y’all.

2015: SoccerPractise perform ‘Tahi’ by Moana Maniapoto

I wish a lot of these covers were available as singles to bop to in a playlist. In the fantasy world where that has happened, SoccerPractise’s preternaturally chill, ‘laxed-out cover of Moana Maniapoto’s stormer ‘Tahi’ would slide into more than a few of my party playlists. I feel like a cooler person just for watching it.

2016: Jeff Boyle of Jakob, Julia Deans, and Chris O’Connor perform ‘Rainphase’ by Salina Fisher

One of the cooler (or nerdier, depending on your perspective) parts of the Silver Scrolls is the performance of the classical composition winners: there’s at least one of these each year, and they’re all worth checking out. It’s a great showcase for this kind of work, and on a bigger platform than it might usually get. This moody, tense performance of ‘Rainphase’ is my favourite of the lot, but I recommend checking them all out. Our nation’s classical composers are, to use a classic phrase, lit.

2018: Teeks, Nick Dow, and Ngā Tūmanako perform ‘Te Ahi Kai Pō’ by Ria Hall

If you’ve scrolled through the rest of these, I would implore you to stop right here. Clear out the next six minutes and 19 seconds of your day, you won’t regret it.

You know those covers that seem to be a strange meeting of spirits, always fated to be? Think Whitney Houston and ‘I Will Always Love You’. To bring it closer to home, think Whirimako Black and ‘Both Sides Now’. To bring it closer to this piece, think this cover.

Teek’s voice – hitting that same fairy alien register that ANOHNI and Bjork have done beforehand – comes at Ria Hall’s gorgeous waiata at just the right angle, Nick Dow’s piano is delicate but strong, and Ngā Tūmanako lift the whole thing up, especially in the tremendous last minute. It is honestly just fucking beautiful. 

2019: Bella Kalolo performs ‘Happy Unhappy’ by The Beths

One of the best things about these covers is when the performers are having fun, and bringing the song to meet them halfway: it feels like a backyard jam, in the very best way. I don’t think anybody had more fun at last year’s Silver Scrolls than Bella Kalolo, who performed a jazzy take on The Beths’ pure-pop hit (Kalolo’s take on Lorde’s ‘Royals’ at the 2013 ceremony was equally fun).

You can stream the Silver Scrolls here from 7.30pm.




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