“Back To The Old School, Back To My Roots..”

“Back To The Old School, Back To My Roots..”

“Uh, lemme see ya shake in ya boots, come back to the old school back to ya roots” (Johnny L 2005)

I grew up on a dairy farm under the shadow of a beautiful mountain called Taranaki in a little community called Awatuna. Every morning when we opened the curtains in our front room, there the mountain would be. Some days cloaked in a dusting of snow, other days bare and proud, blushing in the hazy glow of the sun as it drifted down below the horizon of the Tasman Sea. Awatuna consisted of the local primary school with two classrooms and only about 25 students, our community hall that also housed the only playcentre for miles (kindergarten), a tiny little wooden church, and the local store that stocked everything from groceries to farming implements and animal feed.

Our farm was situated on the main trunk line between the towns Eltham and Opunake. Early every morning milk tankers that visited the locals farm would come rumbling past at top speed trying to make their collections and deliveries on time. Then at around 8.a.m the local buses that collected all the children from the local communities as far east as the town of Kaponga, would come tearing along the road on their way to our closest high school in Opunake.

Our home had been built by my Grandfather and father, and was a modest white weatherboard house with a black rough tile roof. Growing up I remember thick carpet in varying shades of green, 70’s patterned wallpaper and a window seat that at TV time all four of us kids would line up on. There was a fluorescent strip light on the ceiling above the dining table, and a wheezing, rattling storage heater along the wall blowing out heat for the winter. Later my Dad had a Kent woodburner installed with obligatory 1980’s orange brick surrounding it. Our kitchen served a dairy farm family well. Painted in green, it had large pull out bins full of flour, sugar and bread.

Each morning after milking my Dad would walk up the tanker track carrying the white plastic billy with its red lid, full of steaming, frothing milk, that he would pour straight onto my glucose covered Weetbix.

Living on the farm in Awatuna,  we were a self sufficient family. We had our own vegetable garden that my Mother lovingly tended full of everything from cabbages and tomatoes to more exotic cape gooseberry bushes, a guava tree, and a large walk-in strawberry hutch. Out the back of our house was what we called our orchid, although it was more of a paddock, the grass kept down by sheep, with a lemon tree, pear tree and an assortment of apple trees. There was a chicken coop with free ranging chickens that provided us with eggs, and for a short time I remember behind the milking shed we had a concrete pig Sty with two big pigs that didn’t do much more than eat and lie in the sun.

In the spring, the orchid became the romping grounds for baby lambs and calves, (some which would become pets in the lead up to school ‘calf day’), and in summer it would be converted into a cricket pitch for us kids.  Mum bought boxes of peaches and peeled and bottled them all herself, and in summer we would go berry picking at a farm about half an hour from the town of Hawera. We would take empty ice cream containers and wander the farm for a couple of hours, picking Raspberries, and Boysenberries, and eating our share until it was time to take them to be weighed and paid for. Not long after my sister Marnie, or me, would be vomiting up a berry coloured mess on the side of the road. Blackberries we picked wild from the side of the road, or we would get permission from a neighbour to invade their roving bushes.

One day we had a girls day out picking. My Mum, Marnie, my Auntie Vera and Nana Harvey got on our boots and headed out to pick Blackberries down the back of our neighbours farm. We had a great day, singing and gossiping and picking away, until we got to a point where there was a ditch that needed to be crossed. Mum, Marnie and I backed up for a run up and leapt it rather easily, but my Nana was getting on a bit and there was no way she could physically make the jump.

Auntie Vera came up with the idea that she could put Nana on her back, take a run up and jump across. Back then Auntie Vera was a tall, strong, country woman herself so I guess everyone thought it was possible she could get Nana across. We watched as Auntie Vera heaved Nana up onto her back  and took the first tentative and very wobbly steps towards the ditch. “Careful!, don’t slip!” We called out from the other side, as Auntie Vera went to jump. However she couldn’t get the speed or leverage and instead made a sort of slow motion half step/ half leap before her knees gave way, and though she made it to the other side, she collapsed in a heap with Nana rolling off her back and half into the ditch.

We all gasped and ran to where they both lay sprawled, expecting Nana to be groaning in pain or fright. Her eyes were closed and her body was shuddering as though in tears, “Oh God, Nana are you alright?!” we cried surrounding her, But to our surprise, Nana was lying there shaking with tears of laughter!

We had a tall and very long washing line that stretched between the chicken run and one of the cooking apple trees. It was propped up in the middle with a long wooden beam and we would hang a large load of washing out, prop up the beam and leave it to dry, flapping  in the strong country breeze. There were times when my Mum and I would be in the car, racing along the road to get home before it rained so we could get the washing in.  We would see the washing in the distance jumping animatedly on the line like awkward dancers, as dark clouds gathered on the horizon. As soon as we pulled into the drive I would run out the back gate and pull down the beam (being careful the washing didn’t drag on the ground),  bundle it up in the wicker basket, and tear inside before the sky exhaled and the rain came down. And come down it did.

Some days it felt like it would rain and rain forever. The mountain would be practically non existent, shrouded under low cloud and drizzle. Winters there could also be incredibly frosty, every few years it would snow quite hard and we would wake to a sheet of white that stretched from our front lawn to the very top of the mountain. In contrast the summers felt long and hot, and when we weren’t camping down Opunake beach, we would cool off at our local primary school pool, or frolic in one of the freshwater rivers on our farm.

Out the back of the orchid we had a large hay barn, which in winter was piled high with bales that my brothers Craig and Warrick and their friends would spend hours in, burrowing through the hay and making gaps in the bales, converting it into their den. I was afraid of trying to follow as whenever I started to crawl in after them – the dirty heels of their gumboots disappearing into the darkness – their voices would become muffled and I would quickly become disorientated in the darkness and have to hastily crawl out backwards to the safety of the sunlight and fresh air.

In Spring however, the barn was full of new baby calves. Dad would set up the big steel circular cafeteria, and he and Mum would carry heavy steel buckets full of fresh, steaming frothy milk and pour it in. Then the calves would be let out and they would rush like eager school children at home time, pushing and shoving each other out the way to get to the rubber teats. They would still be sucking even when it was empty, milk bubbles at the side of their mouths, the whites of their eyes showing as they bent their heads lower and lower to try and get the last of the milk.

If it was sunny out, the back door of the barn would be opened and the calves would bounce out into the hay paddock dotted with daffodils. I loved watching this moment. The calves would kick and frolic into the sunshine chasing each other around till they collapsed in the warmth. I would crawl through the hay paddock pushing down the long grass making imaginary corridors and rooms, the sweet smell of crushed stalks beneath my damp knees. The calves would come and sit with me as I sang at the top of my voice, or had a conversation with myself, their greedy mouths trying to suckle at my fingers or the toes of my teat like boots.

My older brothers Craig and Warrick also built wooden platforms that they hoisted up into the tops of the macrocarpa trees and hammered bits of wood into the trunks and boughs to aid in getting up there.  Warrick built a little shack out of four by two and corrugated iron below the platform and divided into teams and often accompanied by some friends – with Craig the oldest up the tree, and Warrick on the ground, they would fire ammunition of seeds and cones and sometimes even shoot BB guns at one another in a mock war.

I thought my brothers to be very brave and ingenious, and wanting to be like them I can remember climbing up into the macrocarpa fort, once with my brothers help, and then trying to do it again on my own when they weren’t around. I got up there slowly and with a huge amount of determination and courage, but as I sat on the platform, the wind slowly rocking me back and forth, I realised I could not get down. I tried backing down the branch but my boots kept slipping and I had to quickly scramble  back up to the safety of the platform before I fell. I climbed trees a lot, I thought I was pretty apt at it, and though I had fallen before, sometimes crashing down through a series of branches and often landing hard on my back or side, I had never been seriously hurt.

This time though, I wasn’t feeling so confident that I would be alright should I hit the ground below, from up on my raft of wood -it was a long way down. I sat up there in tears getting colder, until somewhere in the distance I could hear my Dad whistling as he approached the cowshed. I immediately started to cry out for him and when he yelled back in reply, and began to get closer to where I was stranded, my spirits were lifted. Dad would save me!

“How’d you get up there?” Dad shaded his eyes with his hand as he peered up into the tree.

“I climbed!” I cried, as if stating the perfectly obvious, and wiped my face with as much dignity as I could muster.

“Christ” Dad muttered under his breath pushing branches aside and scratching his head as he worked out the best way to get me down. Rather than try to climb, He came from the side of the tree, coaxing me down a weaker bendy branch that almost touched the ground as I edged along it. Then when Dad was close enough to reach out to me I jumped into his arms, where he delivered me safely to the ground.

There were often many incidents where Dad or Mum had to come to our rescue. They let us run around quite freely learning lessons the hard way, and pulling us out of various scrapes and mishaps when it was needed. One of these days, Mum had gone to town and Dad was out on the farm working. My sister and I were at home by ourselves playing, and Craig and Warrick were down in their huts playing ‘wars’ with their friends.

Suddenly the back door was flung open and I heard footsteps running through the house. Curious, I picked up my Barbie Doll and passed through the hallway, stopping at the bathroom where I saw Warrick shaking and breathing hard, as he looked in the mirror trying to pick a slug gun bullet out of his own forehead with tweezers! At the time I don’t think I even fully clocked what it was he was doing, I just stared at him thinking ‘That’s weird.. What is he doing?’.

It was only when Craig and his friend Neil Holdem came rushing into the house and I heard Neil on the phone to his Mum saying “Warrick’s been shot” did I realise what had happened.

At once it seemed as if Neil’s entire family came to the rescue! His Mum screeched into the driveway in her car, His older brother came blazing in on the farm bike, and his Dad even pulled alongside the road in his tractor! Once it was established it was merely a BB gun pellet that had ricocheted off Warrick’s forehead, rather than the shot gun bullet that everyone had imagined upon hearing the news, it was down to Neil’s Mum Judy to take him to the Doctors. Not wanting to leave me at home, Judy bundled me into the car as well and we headed out along the Eltham Road towards the Doctors. At that moment my Mum came driving towards us, so Judy flashed her lights and Mum stopped, heard the news and took Warrick to the Doctors herself.

I spent a lot of my childhood wandering over the farm alone, content to build dams in the river, or explore for hours on end. I was often accompanied by our family dog a Golden Retriever named Zeeko, and other than talk to him, I talked to myself. It was then that I also really discovered my singing voice. I thought it sounded like I had a strong voice, albeit a bit husky, but I wasn’t aware that I had any real ‘talent’ until I was around 10. All alone I would compose songs, experiment with rhymes, and what it sounded like to sing loudly at the top of my voice.

 I also used to climb up amongst the boughs of the Magnolia tree in our garden and whisper little poems on the wind, or sometimes even conduct imaginary interviews with myself as a future famous singer. I always felt protected and safe amongst its large pink silky petals and flaxen leaves as I could watch visitors come and go and hear my Mum on the telephone in the house, but no one would even know I was there. Camouflaged against the mottled lichen covered trunk of the tree and its ever extending branches that provided the perfect seat, I sat and dreamed of growing up, moving overseas and becoming a singer or a writer.

My parents encouraged me to sing and dance, they themselves loved music and socialising. I thought Mum was very beautiful when I was growing up, as she was very fashionable and wore stylish dresses that she often made herself, and despite being a farmer’s wife always had carefully manicured nails, with long slender fingers adorned with a variety of rings. I would watch her in the evening before her and Dad went out to a party or to dinner, slowly painting her nails, and combing and curling her hair into a shiny bouncy halo, before spraying her wrists and neck with whatever fragrance she had purchased the last time she and Dad went abroad.

 When I was in primary school I remember them going to visit Australia and Bali, Fiji, Singapore and Thailand, while us kids were farmed out to stay with various friends or family members. None of us ever went with them until the one holiday we all took to Australia to visit my Brother Warrick in Queensland, but we didn’t resent them for wanting to travel – we knew they worked hard for it. Besides, they always brought us home presents, their suitcases smelling like distant foreign shores, and full of exciting treasures. Decorated masks and headpieces, fake designer t shirts, my first handheld video game, and a beautiful traditional Thai doll that sat on my dressing table for years.

They also loved to have dinner parties and throw house parties. All their local friends would line their cars up on the side of the road and things would kick off with my Dad pumping out a mixtape he had spent hours lovingly making on the old stereo, or selecting records from down in the cupboard and playing DJ. (Although with one belt driven turntable, his mixing was more stopping and starting!) Back then my parents taste in music was pretty varied. In between ABBA and Meatloaf, Hot Chocolate and Jennifer Rush, there would also be some Fleetwood Mac and The Seekers.

I can remember one particularly lively party when a conga line formed and went out the back door, around the house, across the lawn and back in the front door! Though us kids would be put to bed and expected to stay there, more often than not, we, (or maybe just me) would wake up and want to join the fun. Dancing round the lounge in my nightie, singing at the top of my voice, I would be marched back to my bed with a kiss, and a firm “Don’t get up again” –  But sometimes I didn’t even make it there. Mum loves to tell the story that at one particular party she found me asleep  with my head pressed against the speaker.

Perhaps this early exposure to house parties is why I ended up loving raving and loud music. 🙂

“But then the other elements come into play..”

“But then the other elements come into play..”

“Each single step upon the streets, accompanied by a rapid beat, A soundtrack played out everyday, it influences how I play, It infiltrates the words I say, It picks me up takes me away I really can’t believe that I, without the sound could once get by. I’ve been infected by the vibe, for this break I live and die, its in my blood its in my heart, can be no end without a start. At first its just a wicked tune rolled out by the DJ – But then the other elements come into play”

(Tali – ‘Lyric On My Lip’ Full Cycle Records)

Im trying to remember how I really felt that night. I know inside my stomach it was as if a flock of birds were beating their wings against my ribs as I struggled to breathe with the excitement. I was with my best friend Misi, the year was 2001, and it was the first time either of us had ever been to the infamous club that was Fabric.

Situated in the heart of Farringdon, London, our first glimpse of the place was standing in the huge queue that snaked from around the block up to the front door.  I shivered though it was warm out, I couldn’t hide my anxiety that we may not make it inside the double doors in time. Through that entrance lay one of the biggest opportunities I had ever been given in my music career, and my mind was awash with emotion. Was this really happening? Could I actually even do this?!

Earlier in the day my mobile had rung, and on the other end in a deep quiet voice, DJ Krust had unexpectedly called and asked me if I would like to come to Fabric to MC for him and Die. It was the break I was hoping would come, my first chance to MC since I had arrived in London a couple of months previously. Not since I had joined them on their tour bus after their show a few weeks ago, had I spit any lyrics in front of either of them. My eyes fell on the ground in front of me. I couldn’t mess this up, I wouldn’t. If I wanted to prove to anyone who had ever doubted my abilities and my decision to up sticks from New Zealand to try and make it in the UK; Now was the opportunity.

“Tali we’re almost at the door babe!” Misi gripped my hand and my head jerked up. There in front of us stood the doorman and a woman with a clipboard who was checking off the names on the guest list.

“MC Tali plus one, I’m on Krust and Die’s list” I craned my neck as she turned over the pages lined with all those lucky enough to make the guest list that night, trying to catch a glimpse of my name.

“Ok you plus one, through you go”.

I don’t recall if at that moment she slipped a wrist band on either of us or not, or how we knew in which direction to go, but what I do remember is the adrenaline that started pushing at my veins as it coursed through my body, each step we took down the darkened, ever deepening staircase.

When we pushed through the double doors that led onto the dance floor of room 2, We had entered through the doors to the far left. The DJ booth was ahead of us across the floor and immediately in front of us a mass of moving bodies appeared through the dry ice. In the air, the smell of sweat and cigarettes stung my nose. But it was the sound of the Bass that practically sucked the breath from my throat… Ohh the Bass. It was funky and deep and louder than I had expected, and it rumbled beneath my feet and shook me from the root of my hairs to the very ends.

The DJ had just dropped Shimon and Andy C’s huge dance floor banger “Bodyrock” a tune we were all too familiar with. Misi and I both shouted exclamations of amazement as we pushed our way through the dance floor towards the DJ booth, trying to get there while there was a breakdown in the tune. “Wow!” “Oh my God!” “Its so packed in here!”

Finally we made it, and though It was 10.50 p.m. and there was no sign of Krust or Die up in the booth, or around me, I didn’t dare move from our spot. While I was glad I wasn’t late and I knew I was in the right room, I didn’t want to attempt going to the bar to get a drink or even begin to look for the bathrooms. I couldn’t risk the guys turning up and me not being there right in front of them when they did.

I had said I would come MC and I meant it. I wanted to show them that I was serious, that I wasn’t afraid, lazy or just full of shit, and that I really was the discovery in Drum n Bass they thought they’re made.

“There they are!” I practically leapt at Die as he came through the crowd carrying his record box with Krust close behind.

“Heyyy you made it” HIs grin was big as he hugged me, and then Misi, and signaled for us to follow them up into the booth. The security guard was hesitant to let us up at first, but Krust pointed out we were with them, and feeling both immense pride and a surge of confidence, we climbed up the steps into the small and crowded booth.

I think there was another MC on before me, and it was either Mampi Swift or Ray Keith on the decks I can’t recall. To be honest all I could focus on was the fact that any minute now I would be stepping up to the plate and trying to hold court on mic duties in one of the most well known super clubs in not just London, but the world.

Next thing the mic was in my hand and I swallowed hard as I began. It was hard to hear, (as it always has been in there!) and I knew my over cautiousness meant that I wasn’t flowing as well as I could, but I just tried to vibe off the crowd and go with it. I was intently aware that there were many faces looking up at me screw facing – wondering who the hell I was, but I was also aware that there were also many faces watching my Fabric debut with excited smiles.

Misi was now bobbing around on the dance floor and smiling up at me, and when I yelled ‘Make some noise!” or “D.J Dieeee” The crowd response relaxed me a little. The lights flashed blue in my eyes and I felt my body tense every time I tripped over a syllable. My knuckles ached from gripping the mic and I concentrated hard on the mix so I didn’t run all over it.  I wanted to impress  so much that by the time their set was over, I felt like I had just had a work out at the gym. The crowd was admittedly one of the hardest I’d ever played to, they didn’t seem overly impressed by this unknown girl on the mic.

“Was that okay?” I asked Die anxiously, looking up into his steely blue eyes. Straight away Die got to the point, letting me know what I had done right and done wrong.

“A couple of things you have got to remember right, firstly you didn’t give shout outs to the DJ on before you, you always have to show your respect before you start yeah”

“Oh God yeah of course, I so should have done that” I shook my head in annoyance with myself.

“Secondly watch the mix yeah, yes you want to let the tune breathe but you also have to fill the gaps as well, keep the crowd hyped d’ya know what I mean?”

“yip, yes, okay, sorry yea I know… ah huh” I nodded enthusiastically soaking up every last word he was saying to me. and feeling my stomach sink a little. Yes I had been OK, and yes I had done it, I didn’t suck completely – but I hadn’t been great either.

The boys said they would speak to me soon but had to get going back to Bristol for another gig and with a few handshakes to those still in the booth and the quick packing up of records, they were gone.

I jumped down onto the dance-floor where Misi immediately threw her arms around me. “You were amazing baby, I can’t believe it!” She jumped up and down as she looked into my eyes trying to find some of the previous excitement. “How was it?!”

“Die said I did a few things wrong… I dunno if they liked me ya know..”  I ducked my head and grabbed her by the hand, pulling her through the crowd into the corridor where it was quieter and I could breathe. I needed a drink, it was all too much.

I relayed what Die had said to me, and that it was a lot harder than I had ever expected. Misi being the star she always is acknowledged the reality of the situation while not letting me forget what I had just achieved.

“Babe, of course it was going to be hard, but shit, you did it!, and lots of people were saying who is that? who is that girl? No one from our side of the world has ever done what you just did! The guys set you a challenge and so what if it wasn’t perfect, the fact is, you got up there and you did it!”

I exhaled deeply and took a sip from my glass.. slowly it dawned on me what had just happened.

“Yeah… yeah you’re right, fuck it man, I did all I could do with what experience I have, it was hard but at least this way I can only go up right?”

“Right” Misi took my hand again and gave me a huge grin. “Now lets check this place out and have a boogie!”

There you have it.. My first night ever performing at Fabric, a place that many a DJ and MC dream of playing at. It would not be my last time playing there – and I never got over the thrill of seeing my name on a Fabric flyer. One day I hope to be invited back. 🙂

I start with this story because I want to begin my first ‘official’ blog post with a memory that gives an indication of the the immense pressure I felt to be good and not let my Full Cycle heroes down. How the excitement and anticipation of many of my experiences as an MC were often overshadowed by these feelings of anxiety and wanting to prove I belonged and deserved to be there. Everyone has these feelings and they are completely normal… it’s just that sometimes we experience these feelings in situations that aren’t ‘the norm’!

Ego is a huge driving force in how we react during these times. Our ego wants us to feel that anxiety and anticipation and all the drama that goes along with it. Despite the fact we may want balance and control deep in our hearts, too often we succumb to the voice in our head that overthinks, over feels and over reacts. It would take me many years and many more roller coaster rides of emotions and experiences before I truly understood this and learned to dispel that voice in my head.

T x


Dark Days, High Nights….

So I’ve decided to start a blog. I absolutely love writing and over the last few years I have been writing what I guess is a bit of an autobiography – mainly because I want to be able to remember this crazy life that I have lived so far – and also because during many moments where I have shared my stories in whatever situation, people have suggested I write a book about it.

I guess my life as a Drum n Bass MC, working in a predominatly Male orientated industry has certainly been interesting.  There have been many moments that have helped define and shape the person I am today, moments that I know at times I have been very lucky and privileged to experience, and others that while may not have been of my choosing and hold some regret, still have helped set me on the path I am on today.

Many people are surprised when I tell them about my beginnings, my humble roots so to speak. “So how did you go from there to get here?” is a question I am most often asked. As well as “Did you ever and do you still doubt yourself?” “What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced?” “How and why did you/do you continue?” amongst many others.

So I decided, that perhaps instead of trying to release an autobiography with all its expenses and hesitations over what to actually include, and what people might actually want to read about, I decided maybe a blog would be more practical. I have gained a lot of knowledge and experiences over the years and perhaps amongst this there is some advice or wisdom that might be valuable to people who read it. However, I also just want to share stories and moments that might give a bit more of an insight to who I am as a person.. my hopes and dreams, my insecurities and fears…things I remember from my childhood…I definitely think that there will be times where this may feel more like a book that a blog, (but thats okay cos it’s my blog so I make the rules) 🙂

There will be some things that you may find boring or irrelevant to what or who you think I am, and other things that connect with you and resonate. Whatever you get from this, whatever I get from this – we shall see. Everything in life is a bit of an experiment no?

I do want to add a bit of a disclaimer. There will be times where I change the names and descriptions of certain people, because regardless of weather or not they are painted in a positive or negative light – it is not their choice to be included in this blog and I want to respect them and their privacy. Some people you may know, some of the situations and experiences I talk about you may have also experienced, or have even been there with me. I have no doubt that my mind has been somewhat clouded by the years of travelling, drinking, drugs, and general reckless behaviour of the last 15 or so years working as a professional musician, and so sometimes there will be things I can’t quite recall, or details I may miss. I ask you to forgive me for this, I am not a robot.

What I will try to do is express myself with as much heartfelt honesty as I can. The good bits, the awful bits and lots of things in between. I hope you enjoy reading this blog/book (whatever it may be), and that in some way it helps us – fans, friends, strangers, family… Connect – just that little bit more.