The plane descends over what looks a heavy Tasman Sea into a thick bank of cloud covering the land mass. Soon we’re in the soupy gloom that spells rain. The droplets form fast moving lines that angle upwards across the windows. The engines are muted in the enveloping moisture. The plane rocks and lurches a little. We peer downwards in search of the sight of terra firma. The rushing air catches the lowering landing gear with a great yawn. The coast appears dimly at a few hundred feet and we’re down in what appears to be Glasgow airport. This is the furthest any of us have ever been from home and it’s British weather. It’s a half hour trip in driving rain to our sky-tower digs. Modern. The Do Not Disturb is a button by your door that makes your room number glow red in the corridor.
We are treated to food in a rooftop gaff by our promoter, Stuart, an old friend whose inaugural T in the Park festival we played in 1994. That event became a touchstone of the Scottish cultural economy and a rite of passage for every teenager in the country. Stuart came out here some twenty years ago and he gives us the lowdown on New Zealand life. The pseudo house music in the bar eventually grinds us down and I flop into my big white bed at midnight and do not emerge till three the next afternoon. Auckland immediately hits me with its energy. In its multicultural buzz it feels way different to the Australian cities we’ve stopped in. It has the vibe of a major Oceania port with its mix of the many peoples of the south west Pacific. There seem to be fifty different languages being spoken. I turn a corner and see a man dressed in orange fall from the sky. He may or may not be attached to a wire suspended from the Sky Tower under which I have coffee, sharing a bench with a (possibly) Polynesian family who, even though we’re outdoors, ask me if I mind that they smoke. Bring it on. The centre is a mess of exuberant modernism between which stand charming early 20th buildings you might still find in New York or Glasgow. There’s rainforest on the surrounding hills. It’s tropical, it’s temperate, it’s a confluence of climates and cultures. There are boozy old characters who look like retired pirates, students in flip-flops, young couples with shopping bags. A huge drop of warm rain hits my head and the sun comes out, slanting from a more forgiving angle than Melbourne’s overhead death ray. It’s cool enough to wear jeans, warm enough to lounge about. The breeze carries the sweetness of the sea, fresh and reassuring.
Meandering to the venue I pass a performance poetry event in a pleasant square and a man with a green Māori face tattoo in an electric wheelchair. We nod hello. After an annoyingly long soundcheck in a venue that could be any number of Victorian city halls in Britain I wander off to a restaurant with a friend of a friend who moved out here yonks ago. I’m introduced to a charming group but make my excuses to save my voice. I pose for a selfie with a nice couple as I leave. I’m somewhat somnambulant after the time zone jump. I drift uphill to a park where a drunk man is giving a security guy lip by a rococo fountain. A tinny church bell rings. I feel like I’m in a tropical version of Eastbourne, with delicate flowerbeds ringed by high palms. Crickets call, birds twitter and the fountain’s spouts splash hypnotically. A Queen Victoria bronze stands on a marble plinth looking down upon her imperial possession. There are a few fallen trees from the recent cyclone. It’s warm and utterly serene and my mind is in pre-show neutral. I force myself to consider the catastrophe of home, willing this bounteous screen dissolve to reveal a gaping tomb. But instead a fat man jumps into the fountain and surfaces, miraculously, smoking a fag.