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A desktop dresser

By day, Steve Rendle is a Masterton District Council spokesperson; by night, he goes by the pseudonym ‘Topdresser’ , plays guitar, and writes his own music.

Steve performed two songs in the Wairarapa Times-Age office as part of its Tiny Desk-style concert series for New Zealand Music Month, 2022.

Growing up, there weren’t many vinyl records around Steve’s home.

“I probably got into rock n’ roll a bit late,” he says.

“I got my first job in Oamaru and had a flat where there were a lot of cool kids with lots of great music.”

“I got into The Clash heavily and then haven’t stopped really.

“There was a lot of punk rock to begin with, and then the Smiths came along and I found them impossible to copy, so it was still pretty much thrashy.”

Steve played “pretty basic stuff” for many years.

It was only when Steve saw Justin Townes Earle live that he realised where he wanted to make his own music.

“[Justin] is an astonishing guitar player and that opened my eyes to what you could do with a guitar,” he said.

“That was relatively recently, so I’ve just tried ditching the pick and playing with my fingers since then.

“Of ongoing passions in my life, that’s the thing that’s lasted since I was young, to now.”

Steve says he’s just “an old geezer playing music”, original songs.

“It’s such a lot of fun.”

“You put yourself out there, you’re a bit vulnerable.

“But on the other hand, you’re completely bulletproof because no one can tell you that you’re playing your own song wrong.

“I think it’s incredibly freeing.”

Steve’s first gig was in a band with friends called ‘Goats in Russian’, where things got pretty rowdy in Oamaru.

“I’d bought a guitar I couldn’t play, then an expensive guitar that I couldn’t play.

“We had a party as a band, and the police turned up and threatened to take our instruments.

“But it’s Oamaru, you know all the cops. Everyone knows everyone, it was a lot of fun.

“I think it is a fantastic thrill when you look up and you see people listening. It doesn’t happen that often.”

Despite the thrill of live performance, Steve says it’s not his main driver.

“I play my guitar every night, my wife will attest to that. It’s just an outlet which is unfettered.

“It’s freedom from everything. I love it.”

This NZ Music Month, local musicians are getting the opportunity to ‘level up’.

Fellow musician and Times-Age chief reporter, Tom Taylor, pulled the events together as well as recording and mixing sound for the region’s up and coming artists.

Steve says there are a lot of musicians in the Wairarapa “far more capable” than himself, but his advice for aspiring muso’s is to “just keep playing”.

“I spend most of my time playing in public…open mic stuff, the one at ConArt,” he says.

“Very laid back, lovely guys and a really supportive environment.

“If you’re playing in places where people are telling you you’re rubbish, don’t play there. Play somewhere else ‘cause there’s no such thing. Just get out there and do it.”

Wairarapa musicians typically have to drive over the Rimutakas to Wellington to showcase their musical talents.

Steve arrived in the Wairarapa after music venue King Street Live had closed.

He has high hopes for a live music venue closer to home.

“It would be great to have a sort of mid-size venue where touring acts could come along,” he says.

“If there were regular outlets for the local musicians and touring people, then it puts it out there as an opportunity and something to build towards.”

Although Goats in Russian will remain back in Steve’s youth, his most recent band was established in Wellington. They called themselves Butterfly P!G.

There are still 200 copies of Butterfly P!G’s CD’s somewhere in Steve’s attic waiting to go to a good home.

public interest journalism

Ellie Franco
Ellie Franco
Ellie Franco is Wairarapa’s Local Focus video journalist. She regularly covers in-depth stories on arts, culture, people, health, and the occasional pup.

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