Oh hi there // Paul McLaney

Apparently, Shakespeare is being removed from the NCEA examination curriculum next year, which seems appalling, sad, outrageous. Paul McLaney agrees, and this is part of the reason why he’s set 11 of Shakespeare’s best known soliloquies to music for a one-off show at the Pop-Up Globe this weekend. It’s about accessibility, offering a key that might unlock a world of glorious language for someone out there…

I’m a finger-style guitarist who sings but I’m also a electronica producer, who sings.

My day usually begins with family and ends with music.

Name your favourite places in Auckland to eat, drink and play
Because I spend so much time away from home I can honestly say it’s my favourite place to be.
Golden Dawn is always a great meeting spot and we really do take advantage of exploring Auckland’s diverse coastline.

Tell us something we’d be surprised to know about you
I can quite happily do a Parsva Bakasana

Pick a book and a park you’d like to read it in, anywhere in the world.
‘Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell’ – Hampstead Heath.

Tell us a little bit about Play On
A few years a go I was approached by the venerable Ian Mune with a view to setting some of Shakespeare’s words to music. While this has been attempted with regard to the sonnets, it has never been approached from the point of view of setting his most famous soliloquies/speeches to melody. This conversation began against a social backdrop of more and more schools removing Shakespeare from the syllabus, citing it was too difficult. I think you’d agree that such a move is dangerous. Language is our most powerful tool; anything that helps us master it is vital. I think this quote from Dr Rowan Williams’ recent address at the 2015 Orwell lecture makes the point:

“If we talk and write badly, dishonestly, unanswerably, what we are actually doing is getting ready for war. The habits of mind that make war inevitable are the habits of bad language – that is to say, the habits that grow from uncritical attitudes to power and privilege: contempt towards the powerless, towards minorities, towards the stranger, the longing for an end to human complexity and difference.”

What inspired you to take on this project, what is it about Shakespeare for you?
My ambition in setting these speeches to music is to make them accessible to an audience who might ordinarily think Shakespeare is not for them. But music is such a powerful midwife to thought and my hope is that by performing Shakespeare’s great moments in this context it might foster new understanding.

It just doesn’t get any better for me than the majesty in Shakespeare’s language of the human condition and I’d love to share that; it’s like playing someone River Man for the first time

What’s your favourite Shakespeare play and why?
For me it’s Macbeth; the psychology of it all and the supernatural qualities. It also includes one of my favourite words ‘ incarnadine’

“Whence is that knocking?
How is’t with me, when every noise appalls me?
What hands are here? Hah! They pluck out mine eyes.
Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No; this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red.”

What else are you working on in 2016?
I’m the in-house composer for The Pop Up Globe company, performing with Julia Deans, Sean Donnelly, Robin Kelly and Tom Broome in ‘Both Sides Now‘ – a journey through Joni Mitchell’s songbook for the NZ Arts Festival. I’m composing for the upcoming theatre shows – ‘Venus and Fur’, ‘Voices in My Head’ and ‘Once There Was A Woman’ and I’m all set to record a new album of originals for voice and piano with Raashi Sheehan entitled ‘The Old Traditions‘.

If everyone in the world had a theme song that played when they walked into a room, what would yours be and why?
‘I Just Can’t Get Enough’ Depeche Mode. Or ‘Stolen Dog’ Burial… or ‘River Man’ Nick Drake… or both (because I don’t know if I’m coming or going!

Play On is playing on at the Pop-Up Globe this Sunday. Get tickets >>