A chain of musicians, across generations, contributed to the incredible talent at the Tairāwhiti / East Coast Smokefree Rockquest last weekend. One of those musicians is Owen Vickers. When I first saw him play at The Cabana in Napier, I quickly realised he was a real-deal rock star. He played with ease, like the guitar was fluid in his hands. His talent was plain to see. Hundreds of thousands of others could see it too. Owen was teaching guitar for one of the top international online guitar schools. His online guitar lessons were popular and accessible to people from all over the world. Long story short, I married him. He moved to Gisborne where he didn't know anyone, but sometimes we go out and his former students recognise him. Simon Mallet recognised Owen as the Auckland guitar teacher he had when he was 15. He says that "one of Owen's lessons back in the day was jamming on a pentatonic scale and making up melodies” and it was his encouragement and compliments on this exercise that got him interested in composition. Which in turn led to Simon going on to get a Bachelor of Music with PG dip in composition. Simon then passed that encouragement on to local rangatahi, when he was teaching music at The Band School in Gisborne. The line of knowledge turned full circle when Simon referred two of his talented guitar students, Dan Walters and Curtis Wylie to Owen for more intensive lessons. Owen has semi-retired from music and only plays in the Absolute Bowie tribute band, playing at the Dome in August. But he agreed to take the two boys as they had the talent and commitment to take their skills to the next level. The imprints that musicians like Simon, Owen and many other locals pass on to these rangatahi, will be passed on to future generations. And what an amazing imprint that will be. I attended my first Rockquest, where both of Owen's guitar students shone on a stage that was dripping with talent.
Jane Egan is the lower north island events manager for Rockquest and also helps look after Smokefree Tangata Beats Nationally. She covers Gizzy, Hawkes Bay, Wairarapa, Wellington, Manawatu, Whanganui and Taranaki. She's also on the team that runs the National finals events. "I've been involved with Rockquest since 1991 when I was a contestant and loved the kaupapa so much that I stuck with them covering all sorts of roles till I am where I am now. “There were 12 Bands narrowed down from 44 acts originally entered in the Gizzy region. We have a really diverse range of bands and I think that's the thing I love the most about Rockquest is that students get to express themselves however they want. They can put any combo of instruments together, they can explore any style and they can have their say about how they see their world. “I have always held the belief that Gizzy is the talent capital of NZ (or possibly the world) and I definitely think that success breeds success, which has helped dispel that mindset that we're just from little old Gizzy so we're not going to be as good as the big centres. We definitely punch above our weight here. Last year 3 of the top 10 Tangata Beats finalists were from here". Dan has played guitar since he was 8 and plays in the well-established band The Rabbits. His Rockquest band was Fire Hydrant Water Hose. He reckons the Gisborne music community provides everything you need to start learning, or, to reach whatever level of success you want. He acknowledges Darryl Monteith from Smash Palace as a key member of our music community, who’s helping it to thrive, providing a safe space for new or young bands to practice on stage. Curtis, from the band CLCS (pronounced Celsius), tells me he started playing guitar at a holiday program run by Ricky Boyd at The Band School at the age of 7 and decided to stick with it. Guitar lessons with Owen have improved his ability to shred. He's only 13 and his guitar playing speed is outstanding. Dan and Curtis agree that we have the resources and talent in Tairāwhiti to go far. Dan's next goal is to play at RnV with his band, and I'm confident he will. We will be seeing some of these kids on the international stage one day.
The East Coast / Tairāwhiti Smokefree Rockquest was a celebration of young musicians like Salem, who plays funk, and sings like Stevie Wonder, Grace who channels Etta James like an old soul, and Roy on drums is a future Taylor Hawkins. (I wish I had room to mention all the rangatahi involved. You were all amazing).
Tyna Keelan, another legend of Aotearoa’s music scene, who now runs the Music Production course at the Whirikoka campus of Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, was one of the judges at this year’s Rockquest, “I had a great time judging the Gizzy Rockquest...Such an eclectic and talented bunch of kids, I thought they were awesome!
“Gizzy’s future musical landscape is in good hands... Meke!” Rockquest is an impressive reminder that in 'little old Gizzy', we have everything we need to succeed.
Story by Aimee Vickers
Photographs by Leanne McIntyre