Wednesday, April 07, 2010

As they pulled you out of the oxygen tent / You asked for the latest party

I’m writing a lot at the moment. I’m writing stuff that probably won’t appear for a long time. Hell it might not even appear at all. But I’m writing, and getting things off my chest which satisfy me and scratch an itch, if you will.

But I think I need diversion, so I’ll tell a story. It’s a story I’ve long wanted to tell but to be honest it was only after a bit of prodding from Brigid that I decided to put pen to screen. I guess its been long enough now.

It was a wedding. A huge wedding and really, to toss an overused turn of phrase in the air, not just any wedding. A celebrity wedding. And not just any celebrity wedding but a wedding between an All Black (for anyone not living in New Zealand, France, several small Pacific nations, the honky bits of South Africa, small parts of New South Wales and smaller parts of several other European nations, that’s a male who plays a game a little like a bastardised mutant fusing of American and non-American won’t have heard of it but it’s huge in New Zealand in the way that Basque Pelota is huge in Central America) and a member of a manufactured pop quintet who, for a very brief moment were bigger than Barbie with adolescent females and housewives across New Zealand (and who’s existence directly paved the way for the global Pop Stars and Idol franchises).

They were called TrueBliss and I somehow found myself in the middle of the whole thing.

I’ll try to explain although the whole thing, the pop thing, not the wedding which I’ll get to, was an incredible haze and would take more than a few paragraphs in a blog to cover.

I managed Anthony Ioasa, songwriter extraordinaire, music producer and a man who now, for his own reasons, calls himself Anthony Gold.

Ant was approached by Jonathan Dowling, a filmmaker, to work on a concept he had. He wanted to create a pop group, five girls, and film the process from audition to group to recording studio to record label to video shoots to gigs and their lives in between. It was a new concept, called reality TV.

Jonathan didn’t invent the format or invent manufactured bands. What he did do first was to meld the two things together and it was a stroke of brilliance that should, when one considers how far the concept has been taken, have made him rich beyond his dreams. But somewhere along the way he lost control of the intellectual property in the concept and, for want of a better word, was screwed.

And yes, that’s another story.

Yep, Truebliss (the artwork spelled it tRueBliss but this far out I’ll pass) were massive. Jonathan and his partners took it from a rough concept through to a TV series that dominated the nation’s TV screens for two and a half months in 1999, then filled New Zealand’s town halls and theatres for the next two months with sell-out dates.

The album, quickly produced, written and mostly recorded by Anthony, with a select bunch of musicians, including Joost Langveld, did rather well selling some 40,000 copies in just over a month, with a number one single that went platinum two times over.

And then it all fell to bits. Inevitably. The concept was the TV show and the band was always going to have a brief life.

I really liked all five girls and got on with them all pretty well, most especially Jo and Carly but the end loomed, even if it wasn’t obvious to the five at the centre of it.

After the number ones and the sell-out tour it stopped like a maglev train hitting a brick wall. Single three didn’t even chart and the money, which was always tight, ran out.

And the recriminations began.

There were sorts of media reports that these poor girls had been screwed by the TV show’s producers, one of whom, Jonathan, not Peter Urlich who was scripted into the show as manager but never had the role outside that, was also the band's manager.

In November 1999 they fired Jonathan as manager, although he still controlled just about everything, and I was asked by the girls to act as manager, which all parties agreed to.

Time went by and in the nicest possible way we tried to ease them into a quiet understanding that it was, unless a miracle happened, over. We tried to engineer that miracle via their Sony deal and indeed we worked towards that with a new album full of Carly Binding authored songs, and an American producer. Then Sony pulled out and Carly decided to leave the band, for her brief solo career.

We sat in their lawyer’s office one afternoon and tried to tell them, the audits had been done, Jonathan was squeaky clean and it was over. One, Jo Cotton, looked at us and asked “Can’t we just do it again?” (Ironically some years later Jo got her wish when she won some TVNZ talent contest, now forgotten).

But in early 2000 one of the five decided to get married.

Megan Cassie decided to marry her long-time boyfriend and father to her daughter, Pita Alatini, who was, I’m reliably informed, an All Black (not that I would know one if, as seems to be the case as often as not, one randomly punched out someone in the street in front of me).

The invites, for Brigid, our daughter and myself, arrived in January for a wedding in February with a service in Otara and a reception at the Formosa Country Club out on the eastern perimeter of Auckland and a place I’d never heard of.

Carly wasn't invited.

Screen shot 2010-04-06 at PM 03.09.32

We were offered an option to rent a chalet at the club for the night and duly did exactly that. It was, I guessed, going to be the celeb wedding to end all celeb weddings in that nether-land partially occupied these days by truly bizarre sites like this gruesome oddity (why would you want to be anywhere near it…) but in 2000 was the exclusive domain of the weekly gossip rags.

And so, we suited up and packed ourselves into the car, and headed off to the church.

Somebody, I’m unsure whether it was Pita’s agents, or Megan’s family, had done an exclusive deal with The Woman’s Day for pics, for, and this may be an incorrect memory this far out, but it was a big wad, $40k cash plus a fair slice of the cost of the wedding, and there they were there, snapping away at famous guests as they arrived (famous people like to hang with other famous people I discovered and you only have to be famous for a Woman's mag cover or two to be one of them).

And they were, I guess, bemused and increasingly pissed off at the other lot, from the Woman’s Weekly, doing exactly the same thing.

Whichever party had sold the rights to WD hadn’t told the other party (and no-one at all had bothered to tell me) who had then sold the same rights, both exclusive of course, to the other magazine.

It was fractious but the bride arrived and looked duly fab, The groom looked sharp and another of those All Blacks (don’t ask me which, but he seemed to have an aura of desirability about him, given the looks and drools from both sexes that followed him) was best man.

The wedding went off without a hitch, all tears and that, it was quite lovely, and the best man looked bemused by it all.

Outside there were hundreds. A smattering of Truebliss fans and literally hundreds of mostly Tongan (the groom was Tongan) folks who, in what I was told was a very Tongan way, were openly invited to the ceremony.

Cool. The folks outside seemed to be loving it and proved to be pretty colourful subjects for the competing camera crews.

After the wedding we jumped in the car. I had Jonathan and Anthony in mine and we headed east. And east and east. Eventually we found the venue, after asking at a shop or two, and found ourselves driving up the long winding approach to the grand be-pillared reception.

And it was odd. Very.

I’ve not been to Palm Springs but I’m guessing that it’s full of these sorts of mutant private clubs where the riff raff are kept out and the rich old folk go to drink far too many cocktails, and eventually die. Except this one was targeted at the rich old Chinese folks, as the name suggested, and looked like it came in a your own country club box complete with dozens of fully mature palms, twee little bridges over twee man-made ponds, and a beautifully preened golf course for the stinking rich to wander around on the plentiful golf carts whilst the less privileged watched from outside.

Hey, it’s their money, but it did feel a little like we were sitting in some tacky privileged zone on the edge of the outerworlds. Screen shot 2010-04-07 at PM 09.51.43

I was, I have to say, impressed by the chalet. Not really the chalet as such, but the massive bathroom which was about the size of our whole house back in South Herne. And we were given our very own own golf cart.

It was, when we checked in, early afternoon, about 1 I think, and we took a couple of pictures of the private golf cart (I don’t play so it was a novelty) then, leaving it parked outside, wandered over to the gathering storm.

People had begun arrive, the sun was beating down and the kids were all ushered away to a separate zone where they would be entertained by clowns and fed vast amounts of coca cola and McDonalds. As a responsible parent I wandered off to get a drink myself.

A beer. There were a range but I took a Stella. And the sun beat down. We wandered around looking for shelter but there was little so we had another drink and the sun beat down so I moved on to the Pinot Gris.

An organiser of sorts told us that the main event would begin around five in the big marquee, a huge marquee actually, and we all conveniently had names on tables. Handy, since it was getting blurry.

Inside the tent was a huge table running down the west side (I think) set up for the official party, who now, I was told, included big parts of the All Black squad, parents, and guests from South Africa (Megan’s family is Zulu).

And there were lots of fab and famous people wandering around..TV folks, the odd Shortland Street bod and All Blacks.

So we all had another drink and the sun got stronger.

I looked around for food. There was none. Just aggressive wine waiters offering top ups. The few packets of crisps that were out when we arrived were long gone, so I went into the kids room and stole two cheeseburgers from the distributing Ronald, handing one to Brigid. It was something.

It's incredible what hunger, mixed with Pinot Gris and Stella will push you to do.

Around 4, we were staggering a bit under the weight of all this and I watched the kitchen folks putting out the sucking pigs. Along the front of the official table they were laid out, with one per two people. Little fat ones (this far out I can’t recall through the blur if they had an apple per mouth or not) that sat in the heat and starred blankly out en-mass. So we had another drink and the musos puffed on some green stuff (I don’t do that, and haven’t for many years: I start thinking my friends are policemen/women so it’s best to pass).

It was starting to fill up. The guest list was, I was told, officially about 300 people, but many of those who’d arrived uninvited at the church had made their first foray out to the Formosa Country Club and had parked their vans and cars in a large, pretty, grassed area behind the tent where they were pulling out the pub pets.

Their numbers had grown to about 400 I guess.

The security guards looked itchy but they were unsure what to do.

Around five, as the sun still pummelled us, and we were almost crawling, the announcement came to enter the tent.

And we did. Brigid and I found ourselves seated with Jonathan, Malcolm Black from Sony, and three Tongan fa'afafine from Sydney. A prime table right in front of the happy couple. We started to chat to the trio from New South Wales. You’re with the Alatini family? Oh, no dear. Oh, you must be with Megan then? No, we’ve never met either of them. So who invited you? No-one. We just thought we had to be here so we booked a flight and here we are. But you’re seated on one of the best tables in the house. Oh god..we just waited until everyone sat down and were pointed by an usher to these seats.

We actually hit it off rather well with these three, as we discovered, dressmakers, from Sydney who had no connection to the wedding but had the best seats in the house.

Okay, we were seated but the speeches began..and we had a new batch of this time for me, delivered to the tables.

The talking carried on, and in a very Island, and I found out shortly, Zulu way, every speech demanded several extended responses.

There was no food. There was no ventilation and the temperature was rising.

Three hundred completely inebriated, legless, guests, at least a dozen now frothing dead pigs that had been in the February heat for about 3 hours and rising temperatures and noise were heading to a climax.

I went for a wander to check on daughter and found the hundreds of uninvited guests behind the tent had started digging up one of the gorgeous golf greens for umus to cook the basket loads of food that were now being unloaded from vans. Pub pets (they’re the plastic beer containers that breweries sell their cheaper brands in, in bulk) were being tossed around the course and all over the beautifully manicured gardens where they were now sticking out like mutant gnomes from the New Zealand hinterland.

Isabella was fine and it was heading towards 8pm. The whole place was completely shitfaced. The two sets of photographers were glaring at each other across a divide of angry, hungry, loud people. The odd scrap was breaking out and nobody was paying the slightest bit of attention to the bride, groom or whichever official guest was making the umpteenth response to whatever response. All Blacks were chatting with girls who lined up to be chatted to, and every now and then one or two would wander outside..for a breath of fresh air of course.

And then they announced the dinner would be served table by table as they were called.

Immediately there was, from every table, a mad demented rush to towards the food. The catering manager leapt at the clawing mass of completely obliterated guests, abusing them and physically pushing them back.

And then the power went off and a table full of food collapsed as 100 starving drunk people forced their way to it in the pitch black.

After about 20 minutes of clawing and scraping, the power came on and people forced themselves back up and found their way through the mess and confusion to their tables.

The tent slowly wound down as food calmed the masses and the tap on the free-flow booze was, smartly, turned off by someone. And of course a few people simply passed out, drunk in the overpowering heat.

I went outside to see how the umus were going and the security guards were doing their very best to get the old Cortinas and the rest off the golf course before they settled in. As I watched two golf carts, with people hanging off the roof and sides, wheeled past and onto the next green where, as much as you can with overladen carts, they tried to do wheelies and drifts.

It was time to leave and we crawled back to our wee chalet and promptly passed out.

The next morning I wandered down to the reception past the tent. There were bodies everywhere, mostly the uninvited masses who pitched their own pup tents or simply slept where they fell. A golf cart was in the garden.

We paid and left as quickly as possible. I've not been back, although Isabella was keen.

The next day Woman’s Day tried to demand their money back, but, caveat emptor, it was done and gone.

Both mags ran stories about the gorgeous celebrity filled wedding and printed endless shots of famous people and Peter Urlich.

I read somewhere that they, in 2009, renewed their vows.