Lawrence Arabia plays it all

PRIZE WINNER: James Milne aka Lawrence Arabia with his award for best male solo artist at the Vodafone Music Awards last year.
PRIZE WINNER: James Milne aka Lawrence Arabia with his award for best male solo artist at the Vodafone Music Awards last year.

If you've been a musician for a while, making set-lists for your gigs can be a challenge.

This time around James Milne, aka Lawrence Arabia, chose a different road. Instead of picking and choosing he's set to play his three albums in full over two (Auckland) or three (Wellington) nights.

The first nights will see him play the self titled Lawrence Arabia (2006) and the Taite Music Prize-winning Chant Darling (2010).

The last night he will play his acclaimed 2012 album The Sparrow from start to finish accompanied by a string quartet.

Going down memory lane and unearthing songs he hadn't played since 2006 (some never performed live on stage) was a great challenge.

"I haven't played some of the songs from Chant Darling since going first on tour in May 2006" he said.

That's why he's enjoying playing the first album the most.

"It's so long ago, that it is a novelty again."

He and his bandmates opened old session files from Lawrence Arabia trying to remember how the songs were played.

Apart from playing his solo shows, supporting and playing with Liam Finn at his recent album release tour, Milne is also working on new material and spending a lot time with his 1-year-old daughter.

He has again teamed up with Mike August aka the Black Seeds' Mike Fabulous with whom he released Fabulous/Arabia in 2009.

His fourth solo album, recorded partly in Lower Hutt, was more than half finished and Milne expected to release it early next year.

"It is more poppy and vibrant than the moody Sparrow," he said.

Thinking back to when he wrote the tracks for his first album, the song-writing process was much slower these days.

"While back then it often was a burst from a mysterious force, I am much more critical with my own work," he said. When writing lyrics it could be months before a new line was added.

May is almost over, and although featuring on a compilation by German beer company to celebrate New Zealand Music Month, he's not really sold on the whole concept.

"It sill has the approach that New Zealand music is in need of charity or pity," he mused.

"Everyone is struggling and they do need help but it might be time to reframe it."

Instead of bemoaning the state of things, a big festival around the country that actually celebrated local talent, might be a much better idea to reignite people's passion for music.

But in lieu of that, there are Lawrence Arabia gigs to go to this week.

If two or three consecutive nights sounds a bit too much, Milne recommendedfans see his performance of his latest album The Sparrow.

"Apart from my band there will be also a string quartet and extra horns," he promised.

Lawrence Arabia plays his albums in full at Auckland' Kings Arms Tavern on May 28 and 29 and Wellington's Puppies on May 30 and 31, and June 1.

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