Fly My Pretties - Barnaby Weir is Flying High
Author: Rebecca Thomson (photography by Louise Hyatt)
He burst on to the scene in 1998 with The Black Seeds and is still best known as their front man, but there is a whole lot more to this Wellington musician. Barnaby Weir likes to keep himself busy and so has other 'sideline' projects - Flash Harry, Dub Connection and most recently, Fly My Pretties.
With Fly My Pretties the 27-year-old is really starting to flex his musical muscles. It is an ambitious project and its outrageous repeat success shows not only the clout Weir has in the local scene, but also the fact he has the skills and ability to pull off such a project.
Fly My Pretties can best be described as part concert and part mix-media exhibition. It's an epic project that sees the stage transformed into a recording studio and film studio in one - complete with a live audience watching on.
The idea for Fly My Pretties came to Weir at the beginning of 2004 when he felt the need to do something different.
"I'd just seen Flight of the Conchords [Bret McKenzie and Jermaine Clement] perform, which gave me some ideas. I like what they do."
He cooked up a grand plan to mix music, theatre and film, and then approached Loop Recordings to ask for their help. Already experienced with mix-media work including their own Loop Select CDs, the record company was enthusiastic about adding the recording and marketing skills to Weir's proven creativity.
Weir came up with the name Fly My Pretties, a vague reference to the Wizard of Oz - although the witch never actually spoke the line when sending out her winged monkeys to find Dorothy and Toto. "It's like Humphrey Bogart never said the line 'Play it again Sam' in Casablanca," he grins.
Eager to collaborate with musicians - and friends - he hadn't worked with before, Weir simply asked around. "Age Pryor is a mate of mine, and Sam Scott, we go way back but I hadn't played with him either."
The musicians come from top Wellington acts such as Fat Freddy's Drop, the Phoenix Foundation, the Black Seeds and Dub Connection. Then in October 2004, the eclectic mix of FMP musicians performed an epic range of reggae, soul, pop and acoustic guitar at Wellington's intimate Bat's Theatre. There was little marketing, except word-of-mouth amongst the Wellington music fraternity and its hangers-on, but all five shows quickly sold out.
The multi-media extravangza was recorded live by engineer extraordinaire Lee Prebble, whose production on the album managed to retain the intimacy of Bats Theatre, which is not much larger than your average lounge. And in line with the idea of releasing the whole live experience on DVD as well as CD, a camera crew from Nektar Films caught all five shows on film.
From there, a selection of tracks and visual clips were chosen for the first Fly My Pretties album, which was released through Loop Recordings in November 2004.
Happy with how the initial project worked out, Weir decided to expand the team - wanting to add new blood and showcase the talent of more Wellington musos.
"I really want to show Wellingtonians what talent there is here because there's so much of it. All of the musos [in FMP] are very very talented - I want audiences to see that."
The Return of Fly My Pretties family includes Lee Prebble, Hollie Smith, Mailee Mathews, Sam Scott, Module (Jeramiah Ross), Adi Dick, Nato, Dan Weetman, Age Pryor, Tessa Rain, Jarney Murphy, Brendan Moran and Mike Fabulous.
"I asked Age, Sam, Holly, Adi, Module and Tessa to come up with two songs each. Daniel had a song he wanted to do, and I had a couple, and I made one up with Mailee and Sam."
It took six months to come to fruition and although the songs are preconceived, Weir says "there's still room to jam on some of them and others are set in concrete when we play".
And play they did. In October Fly My Pretties performed four shows at Wellington's 800-seat Paramount Theatre (normally reserved for films) and three shows at Auckland's Hopetoun Alpha. Images from New Zealand Film Archive films were used in the visual backdrop for the live performances, and once again Lee Prebble and Nektar Films recorded the whole shebang for a CD and DVD, which was released in November with the title 'The Return of Fly My Pretties'.
To say the least, Weir was surprised - and thrilled - about Fly My Pretties success in larger venues.
"It's [the Paramount] big theatre to fill. I guess there is a big audience out there for this kind of stuff and they turned up to see it even though they didn't really know what they were going to see, they have an idea, they know it's folksy and a collaboration but that's about it."
Weir is not one to trumpet his own success and quickly reminds us that Fly My Pretties goes beyond the musicians. A crew upwards of 50 worked on the last project, including the Nektar film crew, the Loop team, Joe Garlick who created the albums' artwork, and everyone from sound operators to costume designers who worked on the live show. Too many to name, but Weir is only too happy to give credit to everyone involved.
"It's a pretty amazing team, in the broader sense of the word that is - all the musos, the Loop guys, the Nektar guys and the camera people, the make-up people and the people who do costumes. Having everyone come together and everyone inspired and into it [the project] - that's a really gratifying thing."
The ever-ambitious Weir is now taking FMP to Wellington Opera House (about 1300 seats), the majestic bastion of International Arts Festival events, opera and overseas theatre.
He says it's a good venue for FMP and the December show "will be wicked. We are doing the live show one more time to celebrate our release and for those who missed out."
And after filling the Paramount four times over there is not doubt that the Opera House show will be a success.
They will be playing most of the FMP2 album, as well songs from the previous album. And once again Nektar will do a live visual mix.
Somewhere between the October FMP shows and the December gig, Weir found time to head to Australia with the Black Seeds to perform in Sydney and Melbourne, where says they were well received.
The 'Seeds is still his main project and he talks candidly about what they're up to, telling New Zealand Musician there's a new line-up and a third album is under way.
"We're quite excited about that. It's going really well. We started recording in May ... and we're doing some more now. It's exciting."
The 'Seeds have said goodbye to Richard Christie and Shannon Williams, and have welcomed Tim Jaray and Jarney Murphy.
"Shannon decided he wanted to do other music and stuff and Rich also had other commitments work-wise."
Weir also quietly notes there are more plans for Flash Harry. He says he's "working on a Flash Harry album, but that's a slow burner".
This is hardly surprising given the amount of work that must go into the FMP project, never mind the work with the Black Seeds. But Weir takes it in his stride and when asked if he has time to sleep, he gives a resolute "yes".
"I do a full working day and then it's time to go home and relax really." And somehow, you get the feeling he does.