Rambler exploring his roots

Bill Direen on stage.
Bill Direen on stage.

Wandering minstrel Bill Direen may finally be home in Dunedin for good. Possibly. Mike Houlahan talks to the itinerant musician/writer about the appeal of frequent relocation.

Bill Direen hasn't quite been everywhere, but a nomadic career as a musician and author has seen him live in all of New Zealand's main centres, Berlin, and most recently Paris.

Now Direen - who has been making music for a small but dedicated fan base since the 1980s - is back in Dunedin, and thinking of it becoming his next base.

"I'm 99 per cent decided I'll move here," Direen says.

"I've lived in a number of different countries and got to meet a wide variety of people and come into contact with ideas that I guess I was looking for in a way. I'm very happy to find there are people in many different countries who will pay to see me play a few songs . . . I don't know if I've set out to be a nomad, but I know that whenever I go to a new place I think that this is where I could stay.

"I've come here now, and I do think this is where I'll stay. Perhaps I'm just a person who has the gypsy spirit."

Direen returned from Paris late last year, and has subsequently served up a rare treat for devotees - a tour by Direen and full band. While the Bilders are no longer the permanent entity they were when Direen came to prominence in the early 80s, the name has remained. While the band's records were remastered and reissued several years ago, it has been the internet which has driven a resurgence of interest in Direen's music.

"Those early shows only reached a few hundred ears, but now with the internet people can pick up so much music and those songs can get much wider coverage."

Having focused on solo shows for many years, Direen has gradually returned to the fuller sound a band offers, and has a selection of musical friends who can slip into the line-up depending where he is in the world.

"I have tried to put together permanent bands before, but everyone is always very busy," Direen says.

"I had friends I would play with in France, there were people I would play with in Germany, and it ended up that there were musicians in various countries I could hook up with to practice and record if I was there. I found I had a, what would you call it, maybe a colony of people who are happy to play with me. In Dunedin I'll be playing with Stuart Page and Mick Elborado."

As well as a set of standard songs - which will see Direen explore his extensive back catalogue - there will be a set of improvised songs and a series of readings. The first of Direen's two Dunedin shows - his first here since 2008 - doubles as the launch of the latest edition of his literary journal Percutio - one of the many creative offshoots of Direen's decision some years ago to embark on a literary as well as a musical career.

Indeed, it is writing that has given Direen a hankering to plant roots somewhere.

"I am working on a novel about a guy who comes back to New Zealand after having been overseas. If you are seriously writing, you do need a very solid base, you have to put in an eight-hour day or however many hours you can manage. I guess you have to stop somewhere eventually."

Bill Direen and The Bilders. Taste Merchants, lower Stuart St January 18 and 19. January 18 doubles as the launch for the 2013 edition of literary journal Percutio. 

The Southland Times