Interview With Dana Parkhill
By Neill Gordon
The wired and wonderful romp of a band that is Ish are in many ways a group that captures the spirit of 2021 – they're positively infectious.
Their raucous caravan of wild global folk music is the perfect vehicle to transport your heart to far-off lands and your feet to the dance floor.
Playing one night only at Toitoi in Hastings on Labour Day Monday, October 25, these six Hawke's Bay musicians are offering a global tour without leaving town.
Ish's instigator, Dana Parkhill, is herself representative of the band's startling eclecticism. A classical flautist who has bellydanced her way through Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco, Ish is the band she has dreamed of for years.
Their repertoire takes in Bulgaria, Sweden, Moldova, Ireland, Brittany, Barcelona and beyond, layered with exuberant Klezmer and cool Latin Cumbia.
“It is a hotch-potch,” Dana readily admits, but thanks to the wordless, beautiful musicianship of the Ish whanau, it works.
The band are fearless fiddle player Louise Ward, the multitalented Phill Jones of Tukituki Instruments, bass-playing wunderkind Chris Beernink, Dana's husband Johnny Goodhind with his guitar, bouzouki, mandolin and saxophone, percussionist extraordinaire Joe Dobson and Dana on flute.
“I've thought about this for so long, having a band to make these kind of sounds,” Dana says.
“I wanted people dancing and to hear these tunes and songs from around the world, live, right here.
“Folk music is meant for the people and that's the thing I love, that it resonates in the bones of the whole community. It's music people of the world have had at their weddings or down at the pub, at a procession in the street, at a funeral, in family groups or whatever. This music is part of people's daily lives.
“Some folk songs from some cultures are so plaintive and heart-wrenching. Music is a language you don't need to understand – you just feel it. You feel the joy or the sadness, just feel it. You don't need to have a degree in music or come from the culture to understand it, it's more visceral.”
Dana's dream band finally came together for last year's Fringe in the 'Stings.
She'd had some tentative conversations with likely suspects but it was when her mum died she thought “what am I waiting for?” and got on with making it happen.
“I was stepping out of my comfort zone. Classical music? I could do that. This was stepping into something a little bit unknown and I wasn't really confident approaching people.”
Several people had told her Phill Jones would be great so Dana just emailed him: “Hi, I'm a flute player, you don't know me . . . do you want to play some world music?”
“He came over and stayed for seven hours and we just jammed. It was so good. It was then that I knew it was going to work. It was just John, Phill and I and we went round some tunes, a Breton tune we'd been playing, and took turns going in and out of it, improvising and then someone would take the melody . . . It was wordless communication and just so musical and beautiful. Phill plays several exotic instruments in the group and it's always exciting to see how we can blend them into our music."
John, another talented multi-instrumentalist, has been extremely supportive and enthusiastic about the whole project. He and Dana had been playing Irish music together since 2010 in The Bold Deceivers and both had a desire to expand into other folk music.
Louise Ward joined the Irish band six years ago. Her musical resume includes playing with a Ukrainian dance band in England and touring the Ukraine as a 16-year-old.
“She had a thing for this kind of music and plays by ear really well, picks things up really quickly,” Dana says.
“It's always a joy to play and sing with Lou because she's also fearless and that's great.”
Chris Beernink, a sought-after performer in the Wellington music scene, is a music lecturer at EIT and is a “phenomenal bass player”.
“He's the youngest one – the baby of our group – but musically he's amazing.”
Dana describes Joe Dobson as “an exceptionally creative and generous man and one of the most musically sensitive drummers I've heard."
Ish performed to a wild and whooping sell-out crowd at last year's Fringe, have been rehearsing weekly since and if you want to hear them, they're only available live.
There are snippets of rehearsals on their Facebook page (@AbandCalledIsh) but you won't find them on YouTube or Spotify.
“The band is still growing musically so before we put anything out there we want to make sure our voice is a bit clearer and we have more original compositions. We're all quite capable of writing them, we just need the time.”
At October 25's gig among the 20 to 25 pieces will be some written for Ish by Hawke's Bay multi-instrumentalist and composer Anton Wuts.
Anton's pieces are “wild and lovely, contemporary but folkish,” Dana says.
The show is about more than just the music. The venue will be designed to take people out of themselves and away, to sing and dance the world back into being.
“The whole show, the idea is to transport people. It will be set up so as soon as you enter, you're somewhere exotic – not a specific place, just somewhere that's not Hastings, New Zealand.”
October 25, 8pm
Toitoi Festival Hub, Hastings