Prodigy returns to play at concert

Musical wonder's homecoming gig

NAOMI ARNOLD
Last updated 15:55 11/09/2012
Fairbairn
COLIN SMITH/FAIRFAX NZ
UNIQUE TALENT: Nelson musician William Fairbairn 15, has returned from Australia to study for his university level music exams.

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A Stoke musical prodigy who has spent the past year performing on the Gold Coast will entertain Nelsonians at a concert at the Suburban Club on Friday night.

Fifteen-year-old pianist, singer and composer William Fairbairn will be familiar to most Nelsonians as the musician in the gold jacket who has been playing at festivals and concerts since he was barely in primary school.

At 5, William first performed in public and released his first album. At 8 he was dubbed "the Elton John of Nelson", was awarded third prize for his entry in the instrumental section of the Pacific Songwriting Competition for his song Shark Catching the Rainbow Fish, and released his second album. In 2010, during a visit to Nelson, British piano genius David Helfgott heard William's composition Seasons of Life and requested the music so he could learn it.

Since February, William has been working on the Gold Coast, staying with his sister in Brisbane and playing in restaurants, hotels, and cafes most weekends under the management of Australia's biggest entertainment agency Mas Entertainment, a contract he scored by winning a talent quest called Raw Talent.

He is back in Nelson for the rest of the year to study towards his Trinity College London music exams, but intends to return to Australia next year with his mother to further his career.

While the piano has always been his main instrument, he also plays guitar, drums, harmonica and pipe organ.

"Just getting a lot of exposure in Australia is the main thing," he said. "My favourite type of gig is definitely the more popular gigs, with the more people the better."

Yet William, one of six children from a musical family, had a rocky start at birth. Born premature at 26 weeks, his under-developed lungs meant he had ongoing difficulties breathing. His mother, Anna Fairbairn, said they almost lost him many times.

"He was very, very sick," his mother said. "I never want to go through that again.

"But he's got a really good attitude to life and a lovely demeanour to other people - very caring and compassionate, and I'd say that's because of what he's been through."

Their old home piano was a magnet for William as a young boy. "He used to cry and beg to go to music lessons, and we thought ‘What a strange child; not many kids cry'. So I took him to [music teacher] Eleanor Clenshaw and she listened to him and said ‘Wow, in 20 years of teaching I've never heard of anything like this'."

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From then, his health improved.

"Physically he wasn't able to do a lot of rough-and-tumble sports, but he took his passion out in his music," Mrs Fairbairn said. "He was still in and out of hospital a lot but it gave him something to put his whole life into."

William was home schooled, and he partly credits his success to his education. "It has had its moments, but it's a much better choice because I can spend fulltime with my music as well as doing school work," he said.

His music teacher, Joel Bolton, said what made William unusual and "quite remarkable" was his ability in a range of styles.

"You'll get prodigious kids in classical, but not usually all of [the genres] - rock, jazz, classical and blues, he sings and plays harmonica."

At the moment William was practising from 8am until 5pm every day, with study for his exams taking up his mornings and perfecting his own compositions, including songs and movie soundtracks, in the afternoons. He also takes four lessons a week with long-time Nelson music teachers Mr Bolton and Joe Rifici, and has plans for a third album.

"I definitely want to tour the world and go to America and perform, because that's where a lot of people are," he said.

At his Suburban Club gig he will be performing various numbers from classical to popular.

"I do everything for a wide range of people, so it's fine for everyone and I make people happy."

- Nelson

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