Paekakariki writer David McGill’s impression of the launch of “Fences Fall” – a CD of songs by Kapiti musicians based on lyrics and poems by Michael O’Leary. This took place on 5th November 2011 at St Pater’s Village Hall, Paekakariki.

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St Peter’s Hall, Paekakariki, Guy Fawkes night, about 7.30pm. Folk are gathering for the live launch by Kapiti musicians of poems by Paekakariki poet laureate Michael O’Leary. The hall hosts broad cabaret tables with blue light centrepieces, soft blue lights identify the bar to the left of the entrance, there are coloured lights on the old white walls, a small rainbow glitter ball revolving overhead. Dr O’Leary presides in the far corner below stage beside a stack of the freshly pressed CDs. There is an expectation of stage fireworks.

John Baxter takes a seat beside me at the back table. The musicians didn’t get my father’s poems, he says. Be interesting to see how this goes.

Ruth arrives with her celebrated platter of cut sandwiches: cucumber and celery, cheese and chives, ham and mustard, delicate little asparagus rolls. She offers a glass of red wine to wash down the sublime sammies, as the musicians warm up on stage. Helen Dorothy steps forward with her delicate guitar, accompanied by mandolin.

Community Board chairman Adrian Webster reads a tribute to Michael from Jon and Jacqui Trimmer. Mayor Jenny Rowan takes the risk of her own poem tribute to launch Michael’s CD.

Dr O’Leary, I presume, says John affectionately as Michael tells us there are three commemorations. He came to words from the music of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan. His mother got him out of bed by yelling the Beatles were on the radio. She died on Guy Fawkes night 1968, his father the same year. The second commemoration is the brutal dispossession of Parihaka. John Baxter is wearing the commemorative white feather. The third is Guy Fawkes himself, the only person, Michael says to much laughter, to enter Parliament with honest intentions. The musicians, he says, chose what they sing on the CD from his three poetry collections of recent years.

Niels Gedge steps forward on stage to sing the ‘Doowop’ song that is the Mayor’s favourite: ‘Did Jesus play his guitar, gently weeping.’ Ah, yes, reference to George Harrison. And at the end, as it was for the Beatles, ‘Let it be, yeah, Let it be.’

Francis Mills is on stage with Michael. We know the songs well from the fundraising concert for the CD a few months back. Mills has a deep, mellow country style and warm guitar strum that is perfect for two of my favourites on the CD. First ‘A Memento of You’, an extraordinary narrative of meeting a woman unexpectedly at Raumati shops from whom the poet stole a scarf. She tells him her mother has just died and the scarf tightens around his throat. The revelation ‘mocks us/So deceptive and beguiling, and then it shocks us.’ I cannot get out of my mind the words ‘Surpised, yet not surprised/ Bound together, but we must be apart’.

The second Mills number is ‘Self Deception’, an SS officer observing the loading of Jews on the Belsen bound death express. He sees a boy who is Jewish looking float away and realises he is watching himself. An ‘evaporating image’ you cannot forget, cloaked in Michael’s love of railway stations and steam from the engine’s boiler billowing everywhere.

The launch is a celebration, the musicians crank up their best dance music, Al Witham with his mean swamp blues has half the audience bopping and swaying round the dance floor. It is too much for Michael, who abandons his CD table and joins the swirling dance exponents. The glitter ball spins faster, the music accelerates, Gilbert Haisman pounds the piano keys, Niels and Romeril strum and blow on the sax, Helen Dorothy’s exquisite voice. Kayte Edwards of the Green Parrot band steps stage front to conclude the MCing with riffs on the contributors and her stunning rendition of my other favourite, the eponymous track ‘Fences Fall’. The high tremulous split of the word ‘des-o-lation’ sends shivers all over me. The ‘desolation appears/T’ween us lies the emotional wasteland’ are the words, belied and yet not belied by her powerful, positive, soaring, swooping delivery.

The opening words are so true: ‘Across the table you sit from me/Good wine, good food before us.’ And great music, 12 tracks for $20. Michael has to return to his CD table to sign those rendering down his CD stack. It is autobiography we can all access, beginning with the blank slate ‘of an Orakei bastard’ in the opening track that has one of the poet’s typically complex literary, cross-lingual, demotic puns ‘T.A.B. Ula Rasa’. The part-Maori/part-Irish poet chants in Maori and English with counterpoint from Gilbert Haisman’s sprightly jazz keyboard playing.

The album moves through the scarf tightening, the Beatles Doowop, the uplifting des-o-lation, Al Witham’s wonderfully lugubrious ‘Fifteen Years’ blues reminiscent of Tennessee Ernie Ford on ‘Sixteen Tons’, the ‘quietly breaking petals’ of Helen Dorothy’s heartrending ‘Breaking Beyond’, Brian Romeril’s blues wail ‘I’m Cryin Mama’, Al again on the extraordinary ‘Make Love and War’ where Vietnam is as bad as the Nazis because ‘It doesn’t matter who’s killing ya/If you’re being killed’. Kayte Edwards trilling again in ‘the embrace we live for’, ‘For that Moment’. Francis Mills with ‘Self Deception’ and accompanying Michael declaring ‘I am a stone/I am a poet,’ and ‘Words fly from my weather-worn exterior’.

Ah, but what words, and how richly they are revealed in this magical CD. You can hear for yourself, contact Michael for the CD at Too late for Ruth’s sammies, but. I helped finish them while chatting to Paul about The Who, out of the corner of my eye Michael whirling boyishly round the dance floor, his ‘evaporating image’ smiling back down.

As we left, a firework gushed rainbow rain into the night sky. Was that John Baxter I saw striding off into the night, the white feather fibrillating? This time the musicians did the poet proud.


Kapiti launch of “Fences Fall” CD

5th November 2011

New CD launched by Kapiti Mayor

‘Fences Fall’, a new CD of songs with lyrics by Paekakariki poet Michael O’Leary, will be launched by Mayor Jenny Rowan on Guy Fawkes night (Nov 5) at St Peter’s Hall in Paekakariki.

The launch party will feature live music by performers on the CD. The songs, written mostly by well-known Kapiti songwriters, are described as “Kiwi re-invention of the folk traditions and boldly literate rock music associated with Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, the Beatles, Irish folk song, and the seminal sounds of blues and country.”

“The launch will be quite a party,” says Michael O’Leary. “The CD features about 20 great Kapiti Coast musicians. Most of them are well-known performers with CDs of their own, and the party will see them turning on, for most part, their raunchy dance music side.”

Michael O’Leary is described by Dr. Nielsen Wright as “… a powerful writer (who) never falls into mediocrity and consistently shows a strain of genius.”

He has written 20 books of poetry and fiction, and is a trustee of the Poetry Archive of New Zealand Aotearoa. He also runs the Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop (E.S.A.W.) which has published works by Hone Tuwhare, David Eggleton, Elizabeth Smither, Gregory O’Brien, John Pule and others.

The songs on ‘Fences Fall’ are by singer-songwriters Helen Dorothy, Kayte Edwards, Niels Gedge, Francis Mills and Al Witham, with instrumental numbers by Gilbert Haisman and Brian Romeril. It was recorded at Ross McDermott’s Soundsgood studios in Paraparaumu.


Poets to the People

Sunday August 28th 2011

Another local icon in the world of poetry, art and literature. We are pleased to welcome to Lembas

CD cover

Dr. Michael O’Leary

Michael has encouraged many other poets and writers and is a trustee of the Poetry archive of New Zealand/Aotearoa.

Several Kapiti musicians are presently compiling a CD based on his poetry.

Lembas Café, Raumati South

4-6pm (come early!)

Preceded by open mic – bring one poem of your own to read! Please put your name on the “reading board” before the session starts.

$5 cover charge. Drinks and snacks available


Recent Comments January 2012 

Fences Fall – Songs from the Lyrics of Michael O’Leary which was released last month and has had two launches in Auckland and Paekakariki, with one planned for Dunedin early in 2012. Below are some initial responses to the album.

After four decades of friendship, I thought Michael O’Leary had exhausted his capacity to surprise me. But Fences Fall is wonderful in ways I didn’t expect. It’s not just that the poignancy of Michael’s lyrics words strikes me afresh when heard from a range of fine voices, the album really works in musical as well as literary terms. O”Leary backed with cello andd sousaphone. Who would have thought that would work? But it’s magic! – Iain Sharp

Masterful, brilliant! – Peter Olds

Stunning tracks energised by O’Leary’s great lines. Take it neat or take it on the road – Michael Gifkins

Other online communities where you can find Fences Fall:

To order a CD or download:
or buy direct from me for NZ$30 (including postage in NZ only) at

Michael O’Leary
PO Box 42
Paekakariki 5034

New Zealand



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