“Jo, have a listen to Ambush In The Night and Top Rankin’. They’re the next on our list of new songs. Plenty of horns in the intros.”
That’s Maui, our lead guitarist, giving me a heads-up on what to prepare for our next rehearsal.
In Roaring Lion, you got to practise BEFORE you come to practice
There are nine of us and it’s hard to get us all together. Our fortnightly rehearsals are usually four hours at Pulpitation Studios in Browns Plains, Queensland. It’s pretty full-on. Maybe 45 minutes to nut out the new songs, then boom we start our three, one-hour sets, with short breaks in-between each set. We just about make it within the four hours booked. Often it’s a Saturday morning rehearsal followed by the evening gig. That’s a long day. But so good!
Roaring Lion plays in Brisbane, the Gold Coast, and the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.
In the video below, we’re getting back on stage for our encore, at Thirsty Chiefs Brewing Company, in North Lakes, Brisbane. Our rhythm guitarist Wayne sets us up with a chicka-chicka rhythm, soon joined by drummer Bojan, and we start a medley of Stir It Up, Jammin’ and Turn Your Lights Down Low, although the last one isn’t in this clip.
I’m the ‘creative’ keys. I play keyboards but I don’t play much piano. I’m a mini-orchestra — horns! Lots of horns! Plus some strings, and some meandering around on pan flute, clavi and harpsichord. I’ve even got the sitar in Stir It Up.
This band is my musical family — or whanau — as they teach me the Maori word for an extended family. We really are a world family — Maori, Samoan, Croatian, Chinese, Australian, New Zealand, British, European. We love being a motley of ethnicities and nationalities and singing out Bob Marley’s music and his message of one love.
Our crowds are a bit like that too, and Uncle Bob’s music touches all generations. I look out at the audience and think: How do young people know Buffalo Soldier?
But they know it and here they are to prove it, at the BBQ Bazaar in Burleigh Heads, on the Gold Coast. Vince is taking this video on his phone, while on stage singing. How good is that? His daughter is singing too, that’s vocalist Aleisha. C’mon, you cannot listen to this and not smile!
Before I joined the Lions I had no idea that there could be so many elements to reggae music. I knew the songs Jammin’ and Could You Be Loved and One Love, but my listening was cursory and I thought that reggae was cool and relatively simple music, albeit set to profound lyrics.
How wrong could I be? There is so much to hear and recreate. I am in heaven! We do a stonking horns intro in Natural Mystic, inspired by Brazilian band Mato Seco who do a super smooth interpretation of this song. Ambush In The Night has poetic, arching horn phrases and dipping triplets— they break my heart! Rat Race is peppered with tight, stabbing accents, all in harmony.
You got to have the feels, Jo.
That’s what backing vocalist (and sometimes bass player, rhythm guitarist, and keyboards player) Vince told me early on.
He explained that a song might seem simple, but the changes don’t always happen in the same places. Our band leader and lead vocalist Glen may switch the verses, wheel it (rewind to the start), or repeat the bridge to let the audience sing along. Vince wrapped up simply:
Just watch Glen, Jo.
It took a bit of getting used to. First time I performed with the band was at the Koala Tavern in Capalaba in 2021. In the middle of a song Glen turned and gave me the biggest smile.
“Aw, that’s so kind,” I thought, taking that to be a reassuring look, me being a newbie and all.
Nope. He meant:
“Horns, transition to the next song, NOW!”
Far out. I’ll never misread that again.
I listen all the time now, to the solid foundation of Taria’s bass guitar, or the tell-tale roll, or cymbal, or high-hat, or other subtle cue from drummer Bojan telling me it’s time to change.
Maui is a killer guitarist and our musical director. He works out the keys of all our songs so that we transition seamlessly. He composes new intros so our openings are fresh. I’ve even gotten used to being next to him when he’s so loud! We also have squillions of images of him cos photographers just love to take pictures of him. I wonder why, hey? 😉
Talking about photographers, Bojan’s wife is artist Caitlin Halsall, who is responsible for taking many of these images. How lucky are we? Here’s one of rhythm guitarist Wayne on the right, and my big bro keyboard player, Sam.
Sam likes to be free! None of that fiddly stuff that I do for him, thank you very much! He’s got that skank rhythm in his veins and he and Wayne are the pulse of our sound. Sam plays some of the signature electric piano and organ parts, and I hear him doing organ glissandos all the time!
Last but not least, the Lions are not only great to make music with, they’re kind, beautiful people. Bojan asked me in February 2020 if I wanted to play in a reggae band, and there has been some kind of magic in my life ever since. Here we are on the day I auditioned with the band, in Pimpama. I am lucky.
There’s a ska festival coming up in our calendar, and Maui’s already sending me videos. It’s the best homework in the world! Music Is Life!