Gig of the week: Kora

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When Kiwi chart stars Kora hit the stage at Saturday’s Peak Festival, it’ll cement the band’s Queenstown connection – two of their number first hooked up here.

Bass/keys player Dan McGruer now commutes between Queenstown, Wellington and Auckland, while singer/guitarist/keys player Laughton Kora calls Orewa home, but the pair once performed together
in Queenstown band Soul Charge.

Laughton says a few years in the Wakatipu from the late 1990s put him back in touch with his musical roots.

He and brothers Stu, Francis and Brad – all members of double-platinum-selling Kora – grew up in Whakatane under the wing of their multi-instrumentalist father Tate.

But while based in Te Anau and learning his trade as a chippie, Laughton let his music slide.

“Queenstown is where I really first started to open up, public-wise, with my music. I used to go over there every second weekend, ended up really liking it and moved there in 1998.

“I got right back into my music, starting with the Showbiz Queenstown company, which was like a musical theatre thing. I did a show called Encore 2000 then another called Return To The Forbidden Planet the following year.

It’s really when I started singing.”

Soul Charge also featured the likes of Downtown Brown, Killa Puha and P-Digsss of the Sunshine Sound System.

“There was a real good crew down there,” Laughton says. “It’s great that everyone has gone off and done their own thing.”

Queenstown singing teacher Margaret O’Hanlon used to give Laughton a few coaching tips in his early days.

She recalls the fledgling rocker turning in a show-stopping performance in Return To The Forbidden Planet.

“Laughton wasn’t billed as the star of the production but he ended up stealing the show,” she says.

“At that point no one knew just how good he was and he turned in an incredible performance.

“He’s a very good actor as well as a first-class musician and singer, and he clowned it up and got all the laughs. It was obvious he is extremely talented.”

O’Hanlon adds: “I’m delighted for Laughton that Kora have done so well and the Peak Festival show must be one of their biggest yet in this area. I’ll definitely be going along to see them on Saturday and give Laughton a bit of added support.” 

Kora have just returned from an 18-date European tour to promote their self-titled 2007 album and build on their fan base.

With invitations to festivals in Copenhagen and England to fit around summer festivals at home, the band will be looking to become more “industry-professional” in 2009, says Laughton.

“Musically, we know we’re pretty sound but the industry is a big and different game.

“I think we’re brave enough to allow ourselves to do whatever we want, but we’ve been talking about our second album and I think we’d like to try a bit more crafting – perhaps even play the commercial game,” he adds.

“But writing those one-hit wonders is hard, man…”

Kora join a Peak Festival lineup that includes top British act Utah Saints and Ministry of Sound DJ Mark Brown, as well as Kiwi favourites Salmonella Dub, dDub, Six60 and Tahuna Breaks.

The event, which is in its first year, will feature an outdoor main stage and a second stage set up in a marquee.