It may not be the most likely place for celebrity interviews, but from a small study in a Washington Valley home and surrounded by records, CDs and 45s Grant Smithies picks up his phone and talks to some of the world’s most famous musicians – from the Rolling Stones to the Spice Girls.
In fact, he conducted those two interviews within the space of 24 hours just last week.
Grant is New Zealand’s top music columnist, reviewer and critic. Writing for the national Sunday Star Times and reviewing music on Radio Live. He lives and breathes music and says he’s lost count of the number of international acts he’s spoken to from his Nelson home.
“It becomes something that you just have to do each week, like talking to one of your mates except you have to do a bit of research. Sometimes calls get cocked up and you’ll come home to an answer phone message, like one recently from Graham Norton [the British host who hosts a TV show on TV3] saying ‘hello there, I missed your call’.”
But Grant doesn’t just share his passion through newsprint and radio waves, the former DJ also hosts dance parties three or four times a year and they’ve become something of a Nelson institution.
So popular are the parties that it always sells out and Grant often gets disappointed fans that have missed out on tickets or who didn’t know when the next party was.
“They’re really fun and we always get a great turn out,” he says.
Grant’s next party will be held at Deville Café in central Nelson on Saturday December 21, and he says it may just be more popular than usual. “This time of year everyone gets sick to death of Christmas carols and Christmas music, so this will be a good chance to come along, listen to something different and enjoy a great night away from Christmas music.”
And the music will be different. Grant says he loves anything with a strong bass line but is particularly fond of soul, Jamaican, salsa and funk music and people can expect something which they perhaps haven’t heard before.
“I think people like the diversity of it and the excuse to get out there and bust out these alarming dance moves that you haven’t done for years – you get to see all that kind of stuff from the turntables.”
Grants’ range of music will come from his vast vinyl collection, along with some CDs, 45s and even the odd downloaded song. He says some of the music will be stuff he’s loved for decades and some will be from CDs he’s been sent in the past few weeks to review.
“I think there’s a bigger audience of people who want to go out and dance. People from any age from 20 to 60 are keen to go out to something that doesn’t start at midnight and go until three in the morning. Where you’re going to hear a range of music, I think they’ve taken off for that reason. Because I have so much music and it just accumulates as part of my job, I can just play great dance music from all different eras from all over the world.”
Grant says the DJ gigs are “heaps of fun” and the perfect way to round out his job as a music writer. “One thing that’s great is being able to turn something you’re really into, into your job. And I was really into writing and music and I just kind of mashed the two together. Now I get to write about music, talk about music and go and play music to people a couple of times a year really loud. And I get to do it in the town I want to live in as well. So I’m happy and I feel a lot of gratitude that it’s all turned out that way.”
So from prodding the likes of Ronnie Wood and Mel C last week, Grant will turn his attention to the dance floor of Deville’s next weekend and promises a “great time”.
“This is a chance to go out to hear fresh music, decently loud and crystal clear. I won’t be playing Snoopy’s Christmas so people can rest assured.”
Tickets are $20 from Deville Cafe and it will sell out.