new zealand electronic poetry centre


Alan Brunton



From London

Angeline Conaghan

I first saw Alan Brunton and Sally Rodwell perform in the Roadworks production of City of Night in a candlelit warehouse space in Wellington about six years ago. My friend Claire was part of the chorus, along with a group of stunning young Russian women. I was so drawn to the energy of these people that I went back and saw it again a couple of nights later. There was so much to take in and I wondered how I could be a part of such exciting work.

Some time later I was starting to get interested in free vocal improvisation through my friendship with saxophonist Jeff Henderson and other local musicians. One night after a performance at Bats theatre with some of these people I met Sally and asked how I could go about working with them. She told me: ‘We love singers, just come along and see what you think.’ And that began a friendship with Alan, Sally and many others involved with Roadworks and Red Mole.

The first time I met Alan I was a little fazed and intimidated. This gruff, deep-voiced, handsome, surly figure appeared at the Island Bay Surf Club one day for a Roadworks rehearsal. He had been communicating bits of script and text to Sally up to this point via post/fax as he was spending the year in Christchurch as poet in residence. I remember there was a small piece of vocal extract, Falling in Love Again. Alan pointed to me and said: ‘Sing that bit!’ Daphne Owers and I stumbled through some semblance of a melody and I was relieved until Alan looked and us and said: ‘Well, with a German accent . . .’

But I soon found, through working with both Alan and Sally, how to find a voice within the work they made. As I worked more with them my confidence grew as an actor, physical performer, vocalist and composer and I always felt appreciated and encouraged for what I bring to their style of theatre.

As for work I have been involved in with Alan, I have particularly good memories of two shows. The first is Radio Radio (1999) which was performed in Auckland and then in Newtown in the very early days of The Space. There are many standout images in that show for me, among them Alan at the start in his fake nose and specs saying: ‘This country is … fucked up.’ Or Alan and Sally playing tennis and discussing The Millennium in a piece where the line between the script and their own everyday style of passionate banter seemed very blurred.

I was a sort of backing singer in the show (‘lots of sequins and bright pink’), providing the musical backdrop along with Kieran Monaghan and Grant Sutherland on bass, drums and guitars. I loved being part of something that felt so unafraid and provocative. A friend of mine had come to see the show in Auckland and hated it; afterwards we had argued vehemently about its political content and it struck me at the time how dulled down so much performance has become. I carry these experiences with me now in my own projects and hope that I can bring this kind of energy and boldness to my own work.

The other show was Compostela (2000), a trio piece with Alan, myself and Kieran which we performed and then filmed for a local television channel. The show was simply a chance to get lost in the words: lyrical descriptions and humorous, beautiful tales of Alan, Sally and (then toddler) Ruby’s travels through Spain. It was quite a loose piece for me and Kieran which Alan pretty much rewrote for every performance (this always amazed me, when did he sleep?). And that’s what keeps everything interesting; you never quite know what’s happening next. Alan would suggest a few specific motifs and lyrics to work with, but melodies and anything else to throw in was up to me and I love to work this way.

Two and a half years ago I left New Zealand to go travelling and ended up stopping in London like so many other New Zealanders. My aim was to make a life for myself as a musician, my partner Gareth was starting out as an actor, and we were both broke but determined. A few months later, in January 2001, Alan and Sally turned up and stayed with us in our grotty little flat in North London. Not long after they got back to New Zealand Alan sent me an e-mail, praising our efforts at tackling a new life there. I really treasured it as they were hard times and I felt he really understood where we were at.

We are still here in London and enjoying increasing success in our chosen fields. In June we met Sally and Alan in Porsgrunn, Norway, with good friends Jeff and Daphne, and Miff who is living and working there. It was a great reunion. A week earlier Daphne had moved to Berlin; now she and I would sing in the performance of Zarathustra Said, and Alan, Jeff and Sally would perform their show Grooves of Glory. Gareth and I had also made a small piece, inspired by a newspaper article we’d read in London, which we performed at an open space towards the end of the festival, This was just a beginning for us working together, also the first time we had made our own work as actors, and it meant a great deal for me to have Alan and Sally see it.

I have many strong memories of the time there. One that really sticks is Alan on several occasions stopping in the street and waiting for Sally to catch up so they could walk together, complaining with a wry smile that she was ‘stopping to chat again!’

I was due to catch up with them again the following weekend in Amsterdam for two more shows but it was not to be. A couple of weeks later, Gareth and I were married. I have always taken a great deal of inspiration from Alan and Sally as a couple, and I thought of the two of them a great deal. They have been mentors for me both professionally and personally in many different ways. I will never forget, and always value what working with and knowing Alan has brought to my life.


November 2002


Last updated 05 December, 2002