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bandstanding – susannah bridges looks at music in the west “... a hopeless romantic at heart ...”

The Fringe first met Sarah Macombee, lead singer of Macombee & The Absolute Truth back in 2009 when we were known as The Titirangi Tatler. Singer/songwriter Sarah had been settled here in the West for only a couple of years. Five years on and there’s a new album on the way, to be launched at Titirangi Theatre on December 13. The album is called No Man’s Land. “It was finished about two months ago, but it was slow progress and a long time in the making,” Sarah says. Sarah suffers from MS and, although she

had been in remission, the condition returned a few years ago just after she started work on No Man’s Land. “My original producer also sadly passed away during the earlier part of the recording project, and it wasn’t until Louis Bernstone (at Ellamy Studios in Blockhouse Bay) stepped in that I really found traction with the album again,” she says. Born in London and growing up in the Southwest of England, Sarah discovered piano at a friend’s house around the age of nine. Her father was an ex-Dominican Monk and played classical music and the church organ; her mother was into pop and liked Rod Stewart and Elton John. From an early age Sarah liked Marc Almond and Gary Newman and had a fascination with Fred Astaire, Ginger Rodgers and old MGM musicals. “My sister and I were always making up songs and musicals, but I hated doing music theory and practice. I was a good girl growing up and writing music was my way of rebelling. I’ve always liked to write and perform my own songs, because no-one could tell me that they were wrong!” Sarah was singing backing vocals in a band when only 15 and left home a year later to join Bristol-based Unity Station who cut a single at Abbey Road, were played on the BBC by John Peel and reached number two in the Canadian indie music charts. A stint in band Dice and session work followed but having four kids while in her 20s meant that Sarah was in and out of bands for the next 10 years. “I wrote my first album, Sense Offender, when I was around 28 or 29,” says Sarah. “I’d met Howy [husband] by then and he was hugely encouraging and supportive – I really had no confidence till I was about 30.” Sarah, Howy and family emigrated to New Zealand in 2007. “We just

wanted to do something different. We sold everything, gave the kids one suitcase each to pack what they wanted to bring and then we were off. Howy had a childhood fixation with maps and ‘the other side of the world’. We didn’t really know anyone here, but we found a place to rent in Laingholm Drive on Trade Me and we’ve been Westies ever since. Everything has just fallen into place,” says Sarah. By 2010 Sarah had released Sense Offender in New Zealand and

had put together a nine-piece band. Howy played bass, daughter Poppy sang and son Jazz was on drums. They performed in what she describes as a “Caburlesque” fashion, with gigs at TFM, Leigh Sawmill Cafe, and the Prana Festival.

When asked to describe the sound of No Man’s Land, Sarah uses the words “dreamy, cinematic, lush and enchanting”. The music is heavily orchestrated and the stories are powerful. “I began the recording with my original band, Louis and I wrote most of the orchestration but many musicians have contributed to the project. I wanted to write more poppy, upbeat songs for No Man’s Land but I think I am really more of a storyteller, and seem to have a penchant for writing sad songs. I’m a hopeless romantic at heart, and that’s what the songs are about.

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“I’ve also been inspired by film – I sometimes feel like I’m in a film when I’m listening to my songs.” So it is no surprise to learn that a film is being made to accompany the release of No Man’s Land. The film – made by Titirangi local Arthur Gay – takes the form of a docu- drama, interspersed with still images, and it will screen

behind the band at the Titirangi Theatre performance. “I want to create an audio visual experience for the audience,” says Sarah. And Sarah hopes to include the audience in the performance as well. “On the day of the show I’m going to conduct workshops with people who have always dreamt of getting up on stage with a band. I’ll work with them on harmonies and performance techniques. They can then be a part of the show later that night performing a song from the album.” Sarah, a singing teacher and self-described “harmony ho”, has also

recently written and performed the music for a play (Mockingbird by Lisa Brickell) and written and performed a one-woman auto-biographical show called Put Up and Shut Up.

For more information go to For tickets to the gig and the workshops on December 13 go to Sarah will also be featuring on Radio New Zealand on December 12 at 1.15pm.

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