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The Windy City Strugglers on film

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Costa Botes joins the line-up of talented New Zealand directors whose work is screening at the 38th Telecom Auckland International Film Festival. Costa has taken the theme of the struggling artist…

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Costa Botes joins the line-up of talented New Zealand directors whose work is screening at the 38th Telecom Auckland International Film Festival. Costa has taken the theme of the struggling artist and made an exquisite documentary on Wellington band The Windy City Strugglers.

Read on for A Few Breezy Words on The Windy City Strugglers - by Elliott Murphy (American singer/songwriter based in Paris)

Image: Arthur Baysting of the Windy City Strugglers. "...deep blues from way down under, as if the Mississippi River had gouged its way through the center of the earth and come home in - New Zealand of all places."Costa Botes joins the line-up of talented New Zealand directors whose work is screening at the 38th Telecom Auckland International Film Festival. Costa has taken the theme of the struggling artist and made an exquisite documentary on Wellington band The Windy City Strugglers.

Read on for A Few Breezy Words on The Windy City Strugglers - by Elliott Murphy (American singer/songwriter based in Paris)

Image: Arthur Baysting of the Windy City Strugglers. "...deep blues from way down under, as if the Mississippi River had gouged its way through the center of the earth and come home in - New Zealand of all places."The following piece was written introducing the Strugglers to a European audience after they were signed by French label, Last Call

"I promise you this is not a line - " (as the Windy City Strugglers sing in one of their songs) when I tell you about one of the most intriguing and original bands I've heard in ages. For me its deep blues from way down under, as if the Mississippi River had gouged its way through the center of the earth and come home in - New Zealand of all places; where they tell me these boys have played together for more years then they probably care to remember. There is an easily recognizable purity to their musical approach and a respect for tradition in their songs and yet when you put it all together it's like something you've never heard before. Some kind of World Music Blues from the netherworld between dance hall Tom Waits and acoustic Eric Clapton with roots even I can't trace. The guitar picking is elegant and rustic, the slide guitar and harmonica totally authentic and the arrangements sparse and leaving nothing to be desired. And the vocals are so very, very moving (at least to my ears) and as effortless and natural as Van Morrison, even as heartfelt as Bob Dylan in places. Listen to "Snow on the Desert Road" and tell me if you've ever heard anything sung like that before.

It evokes a land and a time that can leave you lost between centuries.

The Film:

When blues loving teenager Bill Lake moved from Australia to New Zealand in 1968 to escape the Vietnam War draft, he took with him a box full of priceless old blues records and a harmonica. He formed a band and called it the Windy City Strugglers, because Wellington, the city he'd moved to, was famously windy, just like Chicago. The other half of their name echoed that of the Mobile Strugglers, one of the
African-American 1920's era country blues jug bands that Lake adored.

Four decades later, the Strugglers are still playing and recording. They have evolved from being a band playing old blues covers into an originals unit of striking originality and depth. While still drawing on deep roots of Americana, the Strugglers now make music that speaks more about their own country. They might even be described as New
Zealand's answer to the Buena Vista Social Club, if they weren't all younger than the Rolling Stones (albeit barely). Also their music is more black and blue than salsa.

The film traces the ups and downs of the Strugglers long career, focusing on their stubborn refusal to conform to the bent rules of the music business. Funny and passionate, Struggle No More explodes the conventional myth of the 'struggling artist' and arrives at a conclusion that's guaranteed to warm the heart of anyone with a soft
spot for underdogs.

Director's Statement:

The point of the exercise for me was to engage in something that was deeply felt, personal to me, yet true to the subject. I really believe that the general can be found in the most specific of things. You can't get much more specific than a band from Wellington that few have heard of, yet their story speaks volumes about the persistence of passion.

Ten years ago, on a somewhat more spectacular canvas, I explored exactly the same subject in Forgotten Silver, a mildly notorious 'mock-doc' I made with Peter Jackson. This documentary is no fake, and I like to think the heart on its sleeve is even bigger.

It's an underdog story, and stories about underdogs are always satisfying if the characters we're supposed to be rooting for are likable. These guys are very likable. They're battlers. They're survivors. They're really good at what they do. But they haven't made any money with music in over forty years of playing and recording.

So ... the theme of this film is the persistence of passion. In a
country supposedly full of what Gordon McLauchlan famously described as "passionless people", this is a pertinent topic for anyone remotely interested in the arts. Why is it SO hard to make a living as a creative person here? Does it follow that being a business failure equates to being an artistic failure? Is it worth it?

At one point, Rick Bryant sighs, "sometimes I think, perhaps I've made an enormous goof and wasted my life playing minority appeal music ..."

That's a rare moment of regret. Much more heartfelt is the Strugglers conviction that whatever they've achieved, it has been worth it.

From the NZ Film Festival programme

A Wellington cultural institution for longer than the Film Festival, the Windy City Strugglers finally get their close-up in Costa Botes' funny and affectionate musical documentary. First appearing in 1968, when the Stones were the world's most famous blues band, the Strugglers were founded by Australian draft-dodger Bill Lake, and emulated the
gentler blues of the Memphis jug-bands. Lake's flatmate and friend Rick Bryant would soon join the band. As other bands rose and fell around him, Bryant would always come back to it. Covering songs they loved, they eventually evolved into first-rate songwriters themselves. Botes talks to Strugglers past and present, draws colourful anecdotage from such reliable witnesses as Simon Morris, Graham Brazier, and Midge Marsden - and whips in a few music industry types to reveal the limitations of the commercial world. The saga that's traced here is such a distinctively kiwi one because of the shy guy at the heart of it. Stoically self-effacing off stage, Lake quietly asserts the value of changing only enough to stay true to the stuff you love.

Bill Gosden
Director, NZ Film Festival.

NZ Listener, July 8, 2006

Closer to home, Wellingtonian Costa Botes (Forgotten Silver) documents another reunion: the Windy City Strugglers led by Rick Bryant and Bill Lake, who started playing Memphis jug-band blues in 1968, and who, despite an irregular history, seem stronger than ever today.

Rangataua, halfway between Auckland and Wellington on the Main Trunk Line, is the inspired venue for a songwriting jag for an upcoming album - inspired for its visual resonance with the (American) South, which Botes suggests in a few choice frames.

Augmented by stills, concert footage, and present and former members and admirers such as Graham Brazier and Midge Marsden sharing the telling of the story, Struggle No More speaks eloquently of a world outside the manufacturing of pop-stars and idols and the biz. The bottom line for these guys has always and only ever been the music.

Gotta love that.

Helene Wong

Wellington Festival screenings will be at the Paramount, Tuesday July 25, at 6.00pm, and Wednesday July 26 at 11.30am.

Auckland screenings will be at the Academy Cinema, Thursday July 27, 6.00pm, and Friday July 28, 10.30am.
Bookings available at Ticketek, and Festival.

Costa will attend screenings to introduce the film and for a question and answer session afterwards. Anyone who is really keen can get a brief taste of the movie by downloading a short trailer. This can be found on the Strugglers web
site:
www.windycitystrugglers.co.nz
The link to the trailer and some information about the film is in the NEWS section.

Written by

Arts Work Project

18 Jul 2006

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