Thomas Coffey

FRIDAY 3rd January - 12 - 1pm - Art Beat

Every musician can probably recall a poignant moment in their life when everything just fell into place. For Christchurch songwriter Thomas Coffey it was the 2009 Silver Scrolls, which were held in Christchurch.

“I introduced myself to Jordan Luck in the intermission,” Coffey says. “I gifted him one of my Dominos bracelets and thanked him for playing a benefit gig in Ashburton, for the murder of Kirsty Bentley. I explained that Kirsty was my ex-fiancé's best friend and she really appreciated the effort his band made at this time."

“Jordan said nothing, turned and stepped a few paces away then once he was composed again about-turned and gave me a hug. This brought a tear to my eye. He broke into song tell me what ... ever happened to (blank)’. He left the name blank and sang the line from his famous hit song again and this time I joined in out loud. When I jumped to the third harmony exactly the same time he did, it was a 'snap' moment."

“Jordan remarked you can really sing’. To hear that from one of my heroes was amazing. Later, after the awards ceremony, there was an after-party at Fat Eddies in SOL square. I put my name down on the blackboard to perform and I was the last to go on stage. To my amazement, Jordan joined on stage on drums and this is when I caught the eye of TeMatera Smith from Triple A records.”

The meeting evolved into a recording contract with Triple A but that hasn’t stopped Coffey from hitting the pavements around Christchurch where he feels almost more comfortable busking than playing live with his band the Grinders.
“The audience is always fresh every night,” says Coffey who once busked 14-hours straight in Queenstown on a New Years Eve. “They are honest. You have to earn their respect. You don’t have your mates all around you telling you how good you are. People will walk past and if they think you are crap, they’ll just tell it straight to your face. It helped me build a lot of confidence performing my original songs. If people like what you did they’ll stop, listen and maybe offer you a drink and bring the party to you.”

Coffey, who recently released his debut album Dominos with his band The Grinders, has seen the best and worst of life on the pavement. One of the lowlights and highlights, in a roundabout way, occurred several years ago when a friend stopped by to hear him play.
“Someone came along and tried to steal her bike,” Coffey says. “An altercation happened and I stepped in and ended up punching him. I was scared he was going to punch me. When he was on the ground I apologised and tried to tell him that I didn’t mean to hit him. He jumped up, ran to my guitar, smashed it and hightailed down the street. It was a moment of absolute horror and disbelief. I had borrowed the guitar from a good friend and I had to explain to him what happened. I worked it off until I had saved enough money to pay for a new guitar.”
It’s those kind of life experiences that inform the lyrics of Coffey’s songs.

“Song writing is my visual diary, my family photo album, a timeline capturing my life lessons, tears and laughter,” he says. “It's a way of asking universal questions beyond my reach. Each song I write is designed to share insight and hopefully in turn receive some back one day from my audience.”

As a youngster living in St Albans, Coffey might have pursued his love of sport instead of music, if not for his mum Maree.
“I loved sport and I tried to fit it in as well but my mum was quite adamant,” Coffey says. “She told me you don’t find boys who want to do both equally as much. So she decided for me and I took recorder and piano lessons. I then graduated to the French horn, which is one of the hardest instruments to play (he mastered it and was in the New Zealand Secondary Schools Symphony Orchestra for three years), and then guitar in my late teens.”
In 1999, while in his last year at Burnside High School, Coffey decided to enter the Canterbury heats of Rockquest.
“I had been playing guitar for about three months,” he says. “Zaine Harding, my guitarist in the Grinders had been in a band with my younger cousin. I was desperate to be on stage and thought Rockquest would be a great experience because they let anyone on stage.”
Seventy bands entered.

“A lot of my friends, who were in rock bands had entered that year and they tried to talk me out of it,” Coffey says. “Zaine and I wrote a song called Don’t Quit and we got third. I thought, I’ve been doing this for only three months, imagine what I could do if I really put my mind to it’.
“The top 20 got to play at the Christchurch Town Hall and it became apparent that my cheap $200 first guitar really wasn’t up to it. We didn’t get any further. Zaine and I made a pact that we would keep going until we had a No 1. We are still working on that.”
Buoyed by the experience, Coffey started busking and hosting open mic nights in and around Christchurch. In 2005, he recorded an EP Tell Your Friends, which, ironically, bought him full circle with the choice his mum had made for him – sport or music.
“The EP features an earlier version of When You’re On, which I’ve recorded for Dominos and a song called Look To The Sky,” Coffey says. “Scotty Stevenson (Sumo), who worked as a promotions manager for Kiwi FM saw the music video I made (for first single A Memory Of You) at the time and when he moved to the Sky sports production team rang me up and asked if I could do him a favour.
“He wanted me to play for 90 seconds before the kickoff of the Super 14 final between the Crusaders and Blues. I said ‘what’s the conditions’. And he said, ‘there’s only one condition, you play my favourite song Look To The Sky.”

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