Music Lawrence Arabia

Published on November 21st, 2013 | by Morgan Coulton


Going Impressive Places

Today I met with James Milne AKA Lawrence Arabia and he was nothing short of the dapper, clever wordsmith that I had imagined. We spoke of his current NZ tour of the provincial circuit, playing a gig with Peter (from Peter, Bjorn and John) in Stockholm and the possibility of performing before the Black Caps test matches this coming summer.

Hi James, thanks for meeting with me today! How’s the tour going?
It’s been really great, the South Island was incredible really. I mean I’m from the there but it’s always important to remind yourself how very impressive the place is.

You’ve played at some pretty interesting/unconventional places and venues, what’s the idea behind this tour?
They are places I’ve always wanted to play at that are on the circuit but it’s actually quite difficult to get bookings at some of those places. Like the Mussel Inn at Takaka is booked about a year in advance. They only do two or three shows a week and it’s such a great place to play that basically a lot of people on the provincial touring circuit just book there every year. Normally in the cities you just book three or four months in advance. We’ve been wanting to do it for so long but it kept falling through. We had a few tours recently where we’ve done three or four shows at the most and then just been really frustrated at the end of it, cause we were just getting into our stride after four shows and then it just stopped…that was it. So we were trying to replicate that feeling of being on a long tour.

Have there been any stand out gigs on the tour?
It was kinda like we had an upward trajectory for those first four or five shows and I think Lyttleton was really great.

Is that because of your home crowd there?
Yeah it was, I mean it’s always better. It would be good if it was somewhere else cause I always have to do a gig in Christchurch being my hometown. But yeah… they all were distinctive. Wanaka was a really interesting act there, it had a 50th birthday kind of atmosphere. It was quite a swanky bar right on the waterfront and they were giving out free cocktails as you came in. Basically people were all around the place – doing everything but listening – and then eventually everyone got really drunk and at some point our BPM reached a certain level where people wanted to dance. Everyone came in and danced much more then any other crowd. Before that, they were just talking about whatever they were talking about…investment properties…

And how did your UK tour go back in May? What was it like touring with the Phoenix Foundation boys?
Ahh it was really good, I was just travelling on my own. I did the whole thing with no funding or any expectations of making money so I basically just paid for the airfare and just tried to spend as little money as possible. They were very generous and let me sleep on their floors and in their hotel rooms. Also Sam, Luke and Chris played as my band for the shows. So it was just a good way to get back to the UK without spending money on getting a whole band over there.

So you just went over solo?
Yeah, I played at the Great Escape festival and I played those shows solo and that was actually fine. And I did one show in Sweden as well in Stockholm, I had a string trio and a local band playing with me. We played with an American guy called Big Search and a Swedish band called Woodlands – who are a really good band, a very funny live act. The guy Peter (Peter, Bjorn and John) put on the show so he organised this band; it was the drummer from Woodlands playing, Peter played bass and then this Stockholm string quartet were playing with me as well. So that was an amazing experience as well, very worthwhile.

What else did you get up to over there? I heard you’re quite the cricket fan, did you manage to catch any games?
Yes, I did! I went to Lords for two days and saw us get absolutely thrashed. I’ve never been to a cricket game in England before so that was pretty exciting. Lords is pretty much in the Westend and you kind of imagine it being quite small but it’s actually a really big, cricket ground. It’s got some stunning old stands and is just a really good intense cricket-watching atmosphere. There’s a deep thrum of men talking about cricket basically…all of these posh, drunk red-faced members who wear their orange/red and yellow ties and tweed blazers.

Haha! I heard your latest song ‘Sweet Dissatisfaction’ on Kiwi FM recently, has it been officially released?
No it hasn’t…I didn’t even know how they got a copy of that song. But it turned out that my publishing company released it on a catalogue that they send out to music supervisors. And I didn’t know they had released it…

So you didn’t even know it was out yet?
No I didn’t know it was out. I mean I like the song but I didn’t want people to think it was my new single. Cause it was just a song that was made for a film. The Aarhus Festival [Denmark] commissioned me to make this song and there was a filmmaker, Jim White who made a film inspired by the lyrics of this song.

Really…What’s it about?
The song is about having a hangover. But I haven’t actually seen the whole film cause it’s in Danish and 15 minutes long so I couldn’t understand it. You kind of get the gist of it but I couldn’t get through it cause it’s not subtitled. But the film is about a homeless man, I’m not sure if he’s hung over or not!

Cool. So Thursday is the Vodafone NZ Music Awards, congrats on your nominations! (Best male solo artist & best alternative album for the release of Sparrow) Are you actually going? Cause you have you gig on at Kings Arms that night also.
Thank you, yeah I’m going to go between sound check and the gig. Cause it’s earlier then the televised thing so might as well…

Fair enough. There seems to be a lot of young, interesting groups and individuals making music in NZ atm, are there any acts that you keeping an eye on?
Well not really, I haven’t been listening to much music at all. I think the last band I listened to is a Christchurch group called Salad Boys, it’s very early Flying Nun-ish, like loud pop music. I’ve been rather remiss in my keeping up with new music; especially being a Dad it’s a great excuse not to go out.

The group that you formed back in 2010 with Liam Finn, Connan Mockasin and co, BARB, are you guys going to make any more music or what’s happening with that?
We keep talking about it but I don’t think it’s a priority for anyone. It was really fun making the album but no one was around to promote it so it just disappeared really. I think we made some pretty good music and there were a couple of songs that weren’t released that were still pretty good and I’d like to see them released. I mean we’re still really good friends but Connan is living in Manchester now and Liam is in NYC, so it’s kind of hard to consider getting back together again.

With your tour finishing on Saturday what are your plans for the rest of the year/summer?
Well I’m writing an album at the moment. So I don’t really have any more plans other then write more songs and have a holiday. I hadn’t planned anything beyond this tour, which is probably foolish fiscally but I wanted to leave myself open a little bit to just being a songwriter rather then a gigging musician. So hopefully this tour can at least see me through for a couple of months then I think I’m going to be doing a recording in March and April. I’ve written quite a few songs but I’m just casting the net far and wide to try and get as many songs as possible. Give myself the best chance of recording something good.

Then I’m probably going to spend next year in the northern hemisphere, at least for a few months. I’d like to play in a small town in Italy or something and just focus on the positive aspects of being overseas. Having the opportunity to play in some medieval town is what makes it worthwhile.

You could play at the arena in Pompeii, like Pink Floyd did! Will your family come over with you as well?
Yeah, which will be an experiment. But I’m looking forward to it.

That’s lovely. Now I have an idea, would you consider teaming with Cricket NZ to provide some sort of pre-match entertainment for the upcoming tests in Auckland this summer? Wouldn’t that be fun!
Haha it would be. We have thought about touring and trying to time our tours with cricket but I do fear that even though I see cricket as an intellectual game I wouldn’t describe the audience as being that way. Although my music is not necessarily intellectual I fear it may be lost on the audience or drowned out by their abuse.


Written by Morgan Coulton



Be sure to see Lawrence Arabia, he has just three days left of his tour;

Thursday 21 November – Kings Arms Tavern, Auckland
Friday 22 November – The Yot Club, Raglan
Saturday 23 November – Leigh Sawmill Café, Leigh

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Music lover, sometimes singer and part-time inquisitor for Presence Zine.

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