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The Troubles

The Troubles

One of the more exciting and unexpected developments in New Zealand jazz in recent times has been the arrival of The Troubles. Starting out as a trio, the group united the talents of saxophonist and composer Lucien Johnson, recently returned from years living in Paris; with John Rae, a Scottish-born drummer of the highest pedigree and a recent arrival to New Zealand; and stalwart Wellington double bassist Patrick Bleakley.

Taking over a residency at Wellington’s Happy Bar, the trio soon turned into a quintet with the addition of clarinetist Daniel Yeabsley, of Twinset fame, and Nick Van Dijk, New Zealand’s undisputed virtuoso of the jazz trombone. Rae and Johnson turned their attentions to composing for the group, unwilling to turn the gig into a jazz standards occasion, and a large original repertoire was quickly developed.  Soon they were joined by a young string trio consisting of Tristan Carter (violin), Andrew Filmer (viola) and Charley Davenport (cello), all three of whom were very open to delving into unfamiliar territory. Wildcard percussionist Anthony Donaldson brought along his toolkit and anything else besides.

If that sounds a little highbrow for some tastes, the results were often quite the opposite. Led by Rae’s theatrical outbursts, the group took a quasi-anarchic approach to the meticulously composed music they were performing. There was a sense that anything could happen, from the coarse to the sublime, from the emotive to the absurd.

Through word of mouth alone, Happy quickly became the place to be in Wellington on a Sunday night. After a year of developing and honing their music, and at the height of their powers, the nonet recorded one of their extravagant and bombastic evenings. The result is a moment of magic, never to be seen or heard again - except on Rattle.

Band Members

Originally from Scotland, Rae recorded his first album at the age of sixteen with the acclaimed saxophonist Tommy Smith and has subsequently recorded over 30 albums as a leader and sideman, including two BBC Jazz Albums of the Year (2004 and 2003). As a leader Rae has toured internationally and recorded albums such as The Big If Smiles Again, Celtic Feet, Beware the Feet, Magic Feet and Miraculous Meetings.

From 2000-2003, Rae was the drummer for the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra and was awarded a prestigious Herald Angel Award at the 2005 Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Musical Director and composer for a specially commissioned and choreographed modern dance piece commissioned by the national school of dance in Scotland, Dance Base this critically acclaimed production entitled Off Kilter was performed at Edinburgh Festival Theatre and mixed Scottish traditional dancing with modern dance, hip-hop and traditional Indian dance. Part of this piece was performed at the opening ceremony of the Scottish National Parliament and in New York

Rae has been involved with many groundbreaking Scottish groups including the:

  • Giant Stepping Stones: a ground breaking cross-cultural group bringing together modern jazz musicians with traditional Celtic musicians.
  • Power of Scotland Big Band: a 17-piece big band featuring the cream of Scottish jazz musicians
  • John Rae Collective: a seminal 6-piece contemporary jazz group in the 1980s
  • John Rae’s Celtic Feet: A group that morphed from The Giant Stepping Stones concept using traditional Celtic players and modern jazz players
  • Afro-Celtic Jazz Ensemble: contemporary group featuring a mixture of Scottish jazz musicians and Afro/American jazz musicians
  • Magic Feet: 8 piece group featuring traditional Scottish musicians, Hungarian Gypsy musicians and jazz

Rae is also a key member of the Brian Kellock Trio and has performed with Tal Farlow, Joe Lovano, Lee Konitz, Dave Liebman, BBC Radio Big Band, Sheila Jordan, Art Farmer, Jamie Cullum, Red Rodey, Buddy DeFranco and Kenny Wheeler amongst others. A New Zealand resident since 2006, Rae was the New Zealand School of Music composer-in-residence in 2010.


Lucien Johnson is a saxophonist and composer from Wellington, New Zealand.

He graduated from the NZSM with an M.Mus in composition, studying under John Psathas. He has played and recorded in New Zealand with groups such as the Black Seeds, The Yoots, Lord Echo, Jonathan Crayford Quartet, Hollie Smith, Leila Adu, Norman Meehan and Natalia Mann, as well as leading various groups under his own name. He teaches saxophone at the New Zealand School of Music.

Living in Paris from 2003-2009 he performed with many top jazz and creative musicians, such as Alan Silva, Barre Phillips, Marylin Crispell, Lol Coxhill, Itaru Oki, John Betsch, Damo Suzuki and Mario Canonge at festivals and clubs around France, in London, Berlin, Brussels and Amsterdam.

Johnson has led and composed for various ensembles such as The Troubles, Shogun Orchestra, Village of the Idiots, and a collaboration with Brazilian musicians headlining the Savassi Jazz Festival in Belo Horizonte. He has also composed for multi-media projects including Albert Belz’s theatre production “Te Awarua” at the Lille 2004 festival; the French troop “Clowns Sans Frontieres” 2006 tour of India; and in 2009 he traveled to Haiti to compose and perform in “Zannimo Late”, a musical based on Orwell’s “Animal Farm”.


Johnson, Silva, Sato, Pieces of Eight, Hat Hut Records, 2012
Lawrence Arabia, Mike Fabulous, Fabulous Arabia, Economy Records, 2011
The Yoots, Sing along with the Yoots, Economy Records, 2010
Lord Echo, Lord Echo, Economy Records, 2010
Shogun Orchestra, Shogun Orchestra, Economy Records, 2010 (re-released by Jakarta records on vinyl in 2012)
Hollie Smith, Humour and the misfortune of others, Soundsmith Records, 2010
Rhombus, Rhombus, Rhombus Music NZ, 2008
Lucien Johnson and Village of the Idiots, The Night’s Plutonian Shore, Explorer’s Club Recordings, 2008
Norman Meehan Quintet, The Bells, Yellow Eye Discs, 2004Leila Adu, “Dig a Hole”, Space CD’s, 2002


Patrick Bleakley has been one of the most sought after bass players in New Zealand since the 1970s.  His baptism of fire came through meeting iconic musician and actor Bruno Lawrence who soon inducted Bleakley into his band Blerta.  Bleakley was involved in numerous tours, concerts, performances, tv shows and films with this group which combined music making with theatrical and comic elements.  During the 70s he also played with several other well known groups such as Mammal, Rough Justice and Spatz and was for a time in the quartet of leading Australian saxophonist Bernie McGann.

After a spell away from music due to family committements, Bleakley came back to playing bass in the 1990s, touring with Lawrence and pianist Jonathan Crayford in the band Jazzmin.  Subsequently he played in the Jonathan Crayford Trio for many years,  as well as the Razorblades, Sanctus and Village of the Idiots.  With this latter group he reunited with film maker Geoff Murphy, who had directed much of the Blerta work, in Murphy’s last film “Tales of Mystery and Imagination”. 


Daniel Yeabsley is a multi-instrumentalist from Wellington.  Best known for his work as saxophonist in Twinset, a group which has released several albums, he also performs in The Eggs, Shogun Orchestra and as double bassist for The Yoots and the Wellington International Ukelele Orchestra.

Daniel is so in demand as a performer in Wellington that he has never left the country.


Nick van Dijk has performed in festivals, concerts  and in clubs around New Zealand, North America, Asia and the Netherlands with artists such as Steve Lacy, Kenny Wheeler, Robin Eubanks, Bobby Shew, Conti Condoli, Chucho Valdes, Joe La Babara, Jonathan Besser, Nathan Haines and Mike Nock. He also has extensive orchestral experience.

Nick has recorded music in a variety of musical styles, including instrumental jazz with Big Band Den Haag, the Vaughn Roberts Big Band, CLBOB, Norman Meehan, Paul Dyne, and his own CD Oceans Like This for quintet, voice and orchestra. Pop and rock recordings include The Black Seeds and Rhombus, TVNZ and RNZ, and support work for Ray Charles, John Rowles and Kiri Te Kanawa.

He has composed and arranged for groups such as RNZAF band, Vector Wellington Orchestra, Baroque Voices, NZSM orchestras and ensembles. He was also the first jazz musician/composer to be officially invited to teach and perform at the prestigious Shanghai Conservatory of Music in China in April 1997


Anthony Donaldson has been around and about the Wellington creative music scene for over three decades.  In the 80s, as drummer for the likes of the Primitive Art Group, the Six Volts and the Front Lawn, he brought a free-jazz sensibility to the pseudo-cabaret music that pervaded the capital’s nightlife.  Into the 90s and 2000s and leading his own bands now, he moved into the hard edged territory of avant-rock groups such as Can and Magma with his ensembles Village of the Idiots, the Razorblades and the Flower Orphans.

Donaldson has always remained in touch with his jazz roots though, and regularly performs with local as well as visiting international artists of the highest caliber.


Tristan Carter is a violinist and composer based in Wellington, who studied violin at the New Zealand school of Music under Douglas Beilman and composition under the supervision of Jack Body, John Psathas, Michael Norris, and Dugal McKinnon. Local musicians he has written for include the Tasman String Quartet, the NZSM Viola Ensemble, the SMP Ensemble and a variety of Taonga Pūoro players, along with creating music for a number of local theatre productions. He was a composer and performer the 2007 Asia Pacific Festival in Wellington, the Atlas Ensemble Academy in Amsterdam in 2010, and attended the Asian Composers League Conference in Taiwan in 2011 where his string quartet Murmur was featured in the Young Composers Competition.

Tristan has played with and recorded for various bands and ensembles in the Wellington region, including the The Troubles, Justin Firefly Collaboration Project, Mara and the Bushkas, Nikita and the Spooky, Porcelain Toy, Fraser Ross and the Felt Tips, The Boxcar Rattle, Javanese percussion ensemble Gamelan Padang Moncar, and the Balinese percussion ensemble Gamelan Taniwha Jaya in collaboration with New Zealand band Minuit.


Andrew Filmer has a varied career, from musicology to jazz with The Troubles, and from baroque string techniques to new music with the SMP Ensemble. In 2011 he took to the stage as violist in New Zealand, Germany, and the UK, and presented research at the 39th International Viola Congress. Andrew has been published in Strings and the Journal of the American Viola Society (JAVS) in the United States, String Praxis in Australia, and is due to be published in Crescendo in New Zealand. He holds a Master of Music degree in viola performance and two Leadership Recognition Awards from Indiana University, and prizes from the American Viola Society and the Lilburn Trust.

In late 2011, Andrew launched his edition of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 6, published by COMUS in the UK, based on research published in JAVS earlier in the year. In March 2012 he is scheduled to present further research on Mozart at the Sydney Viola Conference. Additionally, he took to the baton, conducting Malaysia's Musica Sinfonietta last November. A native of Southeast Asia, he was previously on the teaching faculty of Mahidol University in Thailand for two years, was twice the viola tutor for the annual Southeast Asian Youth Orchestra, and a soloist with the Chulalongkorn University Viola Ensemble.  He is currently a New Zealand International Doctoral Scholar, pursuing a PhD at the University of Otago.


Charley Davenport made the move to Wellington, New Zealand from Normal, Illinois, USA, where he completed a Bachelor of Music in Performance Cello at Illinois State University in 2001, and later completed BMus (Hons) and Postgraduate Diploma in performance cello and a Master of Music in musicology at Victoria University of Wellington. Charley maintains an eclectic range of projects and has featured on numerous recordings for bands and film soundtracks. He continues performing with a number of Wellington-based artists and ensembles, including the SMP Ensemble, Grayson Gilmour, Justin 'Firefly' Clarke and The Troubles. He has performed cello in a number of festivals including the New Zealand International Jazz Festival, Wellington International Fringe Festival, Wellington International Comedy Festival, Camp A Low Hum and Big Day Out 2011 with Grayson Gilmour. Charley has performed in Gareth Farr's musical The Nero Show and critically-acclaimed children's opera Kia Ora Khalid. Notably, Charley re-recorded 'The Passenger' with punk legend Iggy Pop for an award-winning TV ad created by Curious Films in 2009.



Last Updated on Thursday, 02 July 2015 19:23