I celebrated one of those milestone birthdays recently where, if I were playing cricket, I would slightly raise my bat to the crowd and then take guard hoping to amass another half tonne. One of the gifts I received was a ticket to see Marlon Williams at Villa Maria Winery in Auckland. If you haven’t heard Marlon Williams then you’re in for a real treat. He’s only a young bloke but he writes beautifully crafted songs, with a voice that is once angelic, then deep, soaring, and really quite sublime.

The opportunity to see him and his band, the Yarra Benders performing with the Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra, was one I had been looking forward to for a long time – mainly because I had never seen Williams perform live, and I imagined that the accompaniment from the APO would be something else. I was right.

“It’s a pleasing thing to realise every now and again that my imagination is a deluded fool.”

Winery gigs and tours are a relatively recent phenomenon in New Zealand, and I had never been remotely interested in them before. In my head it all seemed like a huge hassle, thousands of people, too much wine, and music that would not be presented at its best. It’s a pleasing thing to realise every now and again that my imagination is a deluded fool.

In another manifestation, I had driven to Villa Maria to interview their head winemaker and had been hugely surprised that such an idyllic locale could be nestled so close to the noise and mania of Auckland International Airport. The winery is beautifully situated on rolling hills and it is hard to imagine you are remotely close to a large city. It’s a very nice spot.

“I may be a little biased, as I have been a huge fan of his for years, but in terms of Kiwi musicians, McGlashan is in the very, very top tier.”

So with my daughter and some friends, we drove out on a balmy and calm Auckland night, not sure of what to expect at all. Our dithering in leaving meant we missed Emily Fairlight, the first support act. But after we found a spot on the bank toward the back of the amphitheatre, it wasn’t too long until Don McGlashan took the stage. I may be a little biased, as I have been a huge fan of his for years, but in terms of Kiwi musicians, McGlashan is in the very, very top tier. He has been in Blam Blam Blam, the Front Lawn, The Muttonbirds, performed and released work under his own name, and played and toured with a number of local musicians as well. He is a superb songwriter and musician, and although I’ve accumulated thousands of happy hours listening to his songs, I had never seen him live before.

“Sitting on the grass with thousands of other people, seeing the sun begin to set while listening to his closing song, “Anchor Me” was about as great a birthday present I could have hoped for.”

It was worth the wait. He played songs from his previous bands, and new ones too. He even got to rock out the French Horn, in his own particular way. Sitting on the grass with thousands of other people, seeing the sun begin to set while listening to his closing song, “Anchor Me” was about as great a birthday present I could have hoped for. Don was full of praise for the main act and spoke happily about how much he was looking forward to the tour. He comes across as a sincere and thoughtful person who respects not only his craft but the others who share in it as well.

After a short wait, while my friend walked off to locate some beers, or wine, Marlon Williams took to the stage – with the APO pocketed discreetly behind him and his band. Now, when I heard the words “Marlon Williams and the Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra” together, I thought the performance would be huge – with the symphony dictating the volume and the vibrancy of the songs. But no, again, my imagination was dead wrong. From the very beginning, the orchestra was a carefully selected and implemented tool – to accent and enhance Marlon Williams’ songs, his voice and his band. Sure it got huge at times but Williams took his audience by the hand from the get go, meandering, delighting and entrancing, before a final half hour that was utterly bombastic.

“So, that’s a fairly positive review all in all and without a doubt I would commit to seeing other musicians I like in a unique winery setting.”

Williams has already gathered the sort of attention that will only take him further in his career. He is hard working and plays a lot. I was mightily impressed by his performance and it will only get better on this tour, as everything gels, and the combination between the band and the orchestra is honed.

So, that’s a fairly positive review and, without a doubt I would commit to seeing other musicians I like in a unique winery setting in future. There’s a few complaints but they were insignificant and none of them were to do with the music I was graced to hear. All in all, easier access to the wine and beer tents doesn’t mean that much at all, and the crowd I was a part of contained little or no intoxicated clowns, who all to often can detract from a great night out. So I will take that as a good thing.

At the moment and for a little while this is one of my favourite Marlon Williams’ songs.

For more information about the rest of Marlon Williams’ tour go here.