Garin teens rock off with top awards

CROWD FAVOURITE: Kieran O'Connor of Oh Blok.
CROWD FAVOURITE: Kieran O'Connor of Oh Blok.

Performing on stage is a feeling that cannot, and has not, been matched by anything else in their lives, say a group of teenagers from Garin College who claimed the top spots at the Nelson Smokefreerockquest on Friday night. Nelson's 2014 Rockquest winners Oh Blok and Gabriella Atkinson speak to Stacey Knott.

The Rockquest is a staple in most musical teenagers' school years. Born 26 years ago in Nelson, the nationwide teen music competition , open to both soloists and bands, is unique.

It has sparked many musical careers - Nelsonians including The Peasants (now The Broods) and New Vinyl have won in recent years.

FINALIST: Gabriella Atkinson says singing is all she wants to do.
FINALIST: Gabriella Atkinson says singing is all she wants to do.

Gabriella Atkinson, named best act in the solo/duo category on Friday, is only 14 but says she knows music is the only thing she wants to do in life.

Gabriella has been singing as long as she can remember. No stranger to the stage, she was in the semi-finals of the New Zealand's Got Talent television series last year.

She took to the stage with just her guitar and two songs.

Inspiration comes from her musician father, Kevin Atkinson, who was waiting in the wings while Gabriella performed, and was there with open arms when she finished her two songs.

Gabriella has written about six songs, and had just finished one she performed that day.

"I was really nervous about forgetting my lyrics. It's really different playing at home than playing in front of an audience. You don't perform your best at home, it's a different atmosphere."

Having her dad there as support was what she needed. He wrapped her in his arms when she exited the stage and reassured her she had played well. And when she was named best solo/duo artist at the end of the night, this was definitely reinforced.

Originally from Pennsylvania, the family moved to New Zealand seven years ago.

Kevin and Gabriella play gigs together. He raised her on the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and the Beatles.

"He's taught me everything. I look up to him so much, he's one of my biggest inspirations."

But Gabriella also likes teen pop star Taylor Swift, and her songs of love reflected this.

She only likes to sing songs with meaning. Both songs she performed at the Rockquest were about lost love and heartbreak, though not necessarily her own experiences.

"I am 14 so I write from movies, or something I have seen, some of it is something I have experienced."

"I want to sing songs that mean something to me. If I don't, I don't connect with it, I can't sing or write a song that has no meaning. The thought of people knowing my songs and singing along warms my heart."

"The first song I wrote was about my parents breaking up. It was raw, I think a lot of people will connect with it whose parents have broken up."

With music in her blood, she finds peace and comfort in performing on stage.

"It's the most amazing thing ever. I feel more comfortable doing that than talking. I connect with it and its a really beautiful thing. I am really lucky I grew up with music around me.

"I have nothing else I want to do more than music, there's nothing else I love more. If music works out for me that's all I will need. I'll be the happiest person in the world."

She wowed the crowd, and the judges on the night. Many of her friends were in the audience to support her and the atmosphere left her buzzing.

" I love the atmosphere, it's so relaxing for me. The stage in my second home. I could live on stage performing for people all my life."

Also no strangers to the stage - particularly the Rockquest one, were Oh Blok, who reigned supreme at the event.

The five-piece were named best band for the second year running, although the line-up was different from last year's.

The band is made up of Garin students Louie Persico (electric guitar), Paddy Sanders (synth), Kieran O'Connor (singer) and Sam Butler (bass) as well as Robbie Day (drums) of Nelson College.

Some members have been playing together for about four years, while Robbie and Sam were added to the mix only a month ago.

Paddy says the band is a "fluid progress".

"We were playing music with Robbie and Sam at the start of this year, and we enjoyed playing together. We worked well as a unit writing music, and it was fun. This is the band lineup we are comfortable with at the moment."

Paddy says Sam and Robbie are both brilliant musicians who had come second in Rockquest in 2012 in their band Midnight Summer.

The boys are inspired by prior Garin winners the Peasants, now the Broods.

"They have been an inspiration to us, showing us what's out there and how we can succeed - through Rockquest especially."

It's a pop sound Oh Blok are going for. They have diverse tastes, but all like the band 1975.

They also say playing live is a feeling like no other.

"[It's about] the vibe, we have good times we laugh a lot and get energy off each other. It flows, which is so nice as a band. It's awesome interacting with everyone. There's no other feeling that can match that going up on stage," says Kieran.

The boys have a few rituals before they take to the stage, though, including singing acapella versions of their songs.

"It's awful. We are not singers, so it sounds terrible. We often have a talk, and wish everyone well, which is quite cool," Paddy says.

Like the other top bands nationwide, the boys now have about three weeks to put together a video entry.

If they are lucky, they will perform at the national finals at Auckland in September.

And after that, when four of the five members will have left school, they remain hopeful.

"Next year will be a challenge. We will take it as it comes. We love playing music together and hope to continue that."

This year, Oh Blok plan on playing many gigs throughout Nelson, and are excited about the prospects, with Nelson Underage organising gigs.

"There's exciting things happening this year, especially with Nelson Underage rocking through."

The Nelson Mail