Making Baby Float

Making Baby Float

Meehan | Manhire | Griffin





MP3 $15 BUY


View/download album booklet


Double-disc set
Live in Concert CD and DVD

Hannah Griffin (vocals)
Colin Hemmingsen (reeds)
Bill Manhire (words, readings on DVD only)
Wade Reeve (guitar, backing vocals)
Nick Tipping (bass, backing vocals)
Ruth Armishaw (backing vocals)
Mara Simpson (backing vocals)

Choir on Across the Water
Katie Merryweather (backing vocals)
Chrissie Hart (backing vocals)
Nikki Aitkin (backing vocals)
Andrew Matheson (backing vocals)


On one level, Making Baby Float is the follow-up album to Norman Meehan and Bill Manhire's Buddhist Rain, but it is much more than this. Hannah Griffin is once again on vocals, but this time she shares equal billing with Norman and Bill as a primary author of the new work. As with Buddhist Rain (and Sun Moon Stars Rain before it), her contribution is pivotal to the tone, texture, and emotional weight of the recording, and she takes ownership of the compositions in a way that only the very best interpreters can. 

But Making Baby Float is also a concert album, a single performance that captures the natural essence of the material, and the vital energy of a live musical event. More than that, it is a film. Keith Hill’s In Concert is a beautifully shot and edited 68-minute document of the concert, which includes tracks additional to those selected for the CD.


Music reviewer Simon Sweetman attended the concert, and this is what he wrote about the evening on his blog:

Recently I went to one of the best shows I have seen in some time. It left such a mark on me that I'm thinking about it still. I go to so many shows that I instantly want to forget, and many that don’t come close to being memorable, but here I witnessed something special; something profound, something beautiful. I felt privileged to be there, to be part of something: an event, a happening.

The concert featured poems by Bill Manhire that had been sculpted into song by Norman Meehan. Bringing this work from the page to the stage were Meehan at the piano with support from Colin Hemmingsen (reeds), Wade Reeves (guitar and backing vocals), Nick Tipping (bass and backing vocals), Mara Simpson and Ruth Armishaw (backing vocals), and Hannah Griffin, who was amazing throughout the nearly two-hour show, on vocals. Hannah commanded the audience's attention and managed to inhabit every song, living out the various roles cast by the words.

At various intervals throughout the show, Bill would narrate one of his poems. Following each recitation, Hannah and the group would interpret it as a lyric. This was part of the special privilege of the concert - hearing two versions of the material, before and after. Without interrupting the flow of the concert, this devise of seeing and hearing two versions of the work cast a subtle questioning light on the nature of the creative process. One can only wonder how much time Bill took to craft a piece such as his poem 1950s. His delivery is a triumph of words, rhythm, and memories, and just as we're thinking of the cutting-room floor and what he might have rejected, Norman and his small ensemble kick into a sultry, moody, after-hours jazz feel and Hannah turns this incredible list-poem into a jazz lyric.

The supporting musicians were never out of step. They were tasteful, wise, and perfectly restrained as they played to their brief as accompanists. But it was the principal performers, Norman, Bill and Hannah, who made this collaboration really work, because all three are at the top of their game - the best they have been.

I particularly enjoyed the sense that these new song-versions of Bill’s poems/lyrics weren’t a million miles away from the work of Leonard Cohen, that wry humour, that slightly wicked wink, and the verbal rhythms. This impression has stayed with me since the performance, and I just wanted to tell you how special it was.

Go to Simon Sweetman's Blog on the Tracks


Norman Meehan on Making Baby Float

Taking Bill’s words and using them to write songs for Hannah to sing has probably been the most enjoyable musical project of my life. These poems are outstanding, and what Hannah does with them still amazes me. For me, some of the best moments in this work have been when Hannah and I have sat down at the piano to sing them through for the first time. It feels like a kind of alchemy when she takes the words off the page and finds the music in them. There have been a couple of times when, on that very first run through of a song, she has captured that musical sadness which makes life worth living. I remember saying to Bill – about ‘The Black Road’ I think – that it was a very sad poem. Bill replied, “I do very good sadness.” When Hannah sings Bill’s words accompanied by this group of musicians, something very true comes through – sometimes ‘very good sadness’; but sometimes a sense of mystery; or beauty; sometimes wonder; longing – and I remember why I fell in love with music.

Norman Meehan, October 2011

RAT-D030 (November, 2011)
This project was made possible with support from Victoria University and the New Zealand School of Music

Production: Norman Meehan, Steve Garden
Recording: Neil Maddevar (Sounds Unlimited, Wellington)
Live Sound: Richard Caigou
Mixing and mastering: Steve Garden (Garden Shed Music Studio, Auckland)
Design: UnkleFranc

DVD produced and directed by Keith Hill (an Attar Films Production)
Lighting by Phil Burchell
Camera by Phil Burchell, Keith Hill, Mark Jackson, Hamish McIntyre and Richard Mekalick
Jimmy jib arm operated by Richard Mekalick
Edited by Keith Hill


Thanks to Professor Neil Quigley, David and Chris at CameraWorks, Dave at Rocker Rentals, Wellington, Mark at the NZ Film School, Leonie at Portsmouth, and Alan Drandfield.

Recorded live in concert at the Hunter Council Chamber, Victoria University of Wellington (NZ), as part of the New Zealand School of Music 2011 Hunter Series coordinated by Stephen Gibbs, except for Across the Water recorded at St Andrew’s on the Terrace (Wellington, NZ).


   Making Baby Float
   Norman Meehan | Bill Manhire | Hannah Griffin

   Rehearsing the Choir  (5:26)
   Bad Man  (4:47)
   Making Baby Float  (4:03)
   The Hawk  (4:18)
   Coming to the Rescue  (3:51)
   The Wrong Crowd  (3:34)
   1950s  (4:21)
   Kevin  (4:02)
   Poem Beginning with a Line by Ralph Hotere  (4:15)
   Wingatui  (2:48)
   Voices | Angels  (5:27)
   Across the Water  (2:56)

   In Concert
  A film by Keith Hill © 2011 
   An Attar Films Production 

   Coming to the Rescue
   The Wrong Crowd
   The Hawk
   The Black Road
   Rehearsing the Choir 
   Without Form
   Voices | Angels
   Bad Man
   Making Baby Float

   Music © Norman Meehan 2011
   Lyrics © ill Manhire 2011



Review of Nelson Arts Festival concert by Judith Paviell, Nelson Mail

Transformative is how poet Bill Manhire describes what happens when Norman Meehan sets his poems to music and Hannah Griffin sings them. Transformative also best describes how that process affected this audience.

To hear Manhire recite a poem, complete and absorbing in itself, then hear it become a song with individual timing, rhythm and mood captured and expressed by Griffin's pure, powerful voice, with Meehan on piano ... well ... more than the poem was transformed.

This emotional exchange between artists and patrons was palpable at times, filling the spaces between with longing, love, melancholy, darkness, or quiet fun, as in 1950s, a whimsical response to Manhire's grandson's question: "Are you from the olden times?" In an upbeat boogie rhythm, the piece runs through an eclectic list from knucklebones to Aunt Daisy and more.

Meehan's technically brilliant treatment of each composition seemed an intuitive interpretation.

Some had a country touch, some threads of gospel, some anthems, though never overdone, always sensitive to the singing and mood, but never cloying. Griffin's interpretation of each piece was equally intuitive, her smooth delivery and superb diction magnified and enhanced the lines, a stunning double-dip.

She effortlessly gave the poems more wings, turning ones like The Hawk, with references to Central Otago and the Christchurch earthquakes into a spine-tingling moment.

Some were deeply touching, even spiritual, like Erebus Voices, and Hone Tuwhare's Rain, accompanied by the extra treat of taonga puoro icon Richard Nunns on koauau, or small bone flute. There was the slow, low beauty of Poem, the jazzy, the funky grooves of Bad Man that highlighted rapport between the musicians, the evocative Buddhist Rain, capped off by a mesmerising Making Baby Float, and more.

A glorious collaboration giving new meaning to easy listening.

Go to Nelson Mail website