In tune with ebbs and flows

Last updated 13:00 16/08/2012
Midge McCleary
FREEFORM: Fresh from a European tour, Midge McCleary plays The Boathouse on August 11, with percussionist Little John.

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After years of touring, acoustic guitarist Midge McCleary has developed a sixth sense about the energy that flows through an audience; something intangible that might turn the evening into a fleeting night of something special - or an absolute clanger.

"You do start picking up that skill over the years of what people are into and what they're doing," he says.

"Sometimes it's quite hard, sometimes it's easy. Every night's really quite different.

"You can play a similar set one night and it can be an amazing night of reaction with energy between each other, and the next night it can be a dead duck.

"It's the ebb and flow of the world, I suppose."

Naturally, he's hoping Friday night's gig at The Boathouse with percussionist Little John will be the former category.

"I'm going to be turning up, setting up, and going hard," he says.

McCleary has just returned from a tour of Britain, the Channel Islands and France, where he wrote most of the material for his latest album Love Bus.

Now Picton-based, McCleary has never played at The Boathouse before, but will bring two sets of his original jazz-tinged, freeform, blues-inspired music pulled from his three albums, perhaps with a few favourites that people might recognise.

"I might even be trying out some new ones; I'll see how the mood takes me," he says.

He's been compared to the likes of John Martyn and Michael Hedges, with a funk/blues twist. He's predominantly a finger-style player on acoustic guitar, using alternate tunings, percussive rhythms, funky progressions, and a bigfoot stomp box to provide a solid beat to drive the groove.

He's just signed up with Blenheim label Hear No Evil, and this upcoming gig is a testing-the-waters type of visit, in preparation for a country-wide tour later in the year.

Born and bred in Hawke's Bay, he's developed a personal theory about the musical calibre of places built on the sea.

"Anywhere near the water seems to have a lot of good music going on. That's my theory; I'm sticking with that one," he says.

Known for his improvisational nature, his songs are never played the same way twice, so audiences are always guaranteed a fresh perspective.

"I'm trying to make something alive in the moment, by not sticking to the confines of a song. I try to improvise my own songs every night I play them, coming up with something new on the spot each night, to keep it alive, really. To give it breath. If the mood's right it can turn into something beautiful."

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  • Midge McCleary, The Boathouse, August 17, 8pm. Tickets $10 on the door. For more, visit

- © Fairfax NZ News

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