• Stretch to perform with five young wahine in 'special' opener for Robbie Williams' Mission Concert

Stretch to perform with five young wahine in 'special' opener for Robbie Williams' Mission Concert

Hawke's Bay artist Stretch is no stranger to the Mission Estate Concert stage.

However, when he performs as an opening act for Robbie Williams' two shows this weekend, he will be joined by five young wahine from Port Ahuriri Kapa Haka group. 

To them, he is 'Mr Stretch' - an Assistant Teacher at Port Ahuriri School, responsible for training the Kapa Haka group. 

"It's a beautiful group of children and I've loved developing this side of my musical life," he tells Hawke's Bay App. "I'm lucky enough to have a role (as Mr Stretch the Assistant Teacher) where my day job and my life as a musician sometimes cross over. Ukulele groups, songwriting with kids, singing, kapa haka (or when I can handle it, bucket drumming)."

Port Ahuriri School students Penny Kerr (left), Isla Renwick, Kaea Chrystal, Sofia Boucher-Taotahi, and Lexie Stewart are set to perform
two waiata with their teacher and musician Stretch at the Mission Estate Winery Concert. 

Stretch, whose real name is Anthony Stretch, began teaching at Port Ahuriri a few years ago. His two worlds have always been separate, that is, up until recently. 

"But in the last year, I brought my band in to play at the school, and the kids started bringing me songs, song lyrics. I guess I really tried to get that message across to them that what I do is what you can do already - you can write down your poems or write your thoughts out and make up songs. It's not a hard thing. So they started bringing me songs and we've made up a song or two with the ukulele players.

"And then in the last few shows that I've played with my band, we've added on Tūtira Mai Ngā Iwi, especially over the last year when it's been hard for Hawke's Bay people, and that's a real local song. So we've sung that at the end of our show. So the two lives have started to combine a bit. It feels natural." 

Stretch grew up in the Dannevirke area, near Norsewood, attending St Joseph's and Dannevirke High School in the early 90s. His musical journey includes playing in bands from as young as 15 before setting out on his own as a one-man band. To date, he has released three albums; Edge of the World, Bury all Horses and Our Dreams are Changing. 

He returned to Napier about seven years ago and has a wife and two children.  

He says his time working with children has "changed him". 

"I think it has changed me deeper than that and then the sound has changed in response. Working with kids enjoying music has just so reset my way of looking at things. I've found a whole nother level of appreciation of what music does.

"I've played all my life and I've played on big stages, but some of my happiest moments are in a group of half a dozen kids, making it possibly not in tune sound on the floor at school. That's really changed me deeper inside. And now when we play as a group I don't stress up or I've let go of a lot of angst or stress about it and just, and we just enjoy ourselves now.

"I think that's the word we most use. We're having fun, we're enjoying ourselves, we're going out to Mission. Nerves isn't a word we use. We just go out to have fun. And I've learned that from the kids, and so our sound sounds better for it."

Framing his voice is the combination of his acoustic guitar and the incredible tone, grace and power of a 300-year-old cello in the hands of Paula Sugden, along with Andrew Gladstone on drums. 

Stretch (middle) will play with Andrew Gladstone (left) on drums and Paula Sugden on cello.

His set will start at 5pm and go for 45 minutes. "I'm combining both sides of my life to bring it together." 

Then in a "very special moment, the year 6 wahine will be standing with him "front of stage representing their whanau, school, the kapa haka group and singing two waiata that mean a lot to them". 

"I've got another teacher standing with them throughout this so they can experience that side of stage bigness, which'll be pretty exciting. They'll come on about that 20 to 6 mark at the end of my set. And I wanted to leave the end of it for them."

Four opening acts are set to perform before Robbie Williams takes the stage at 8pm tomorrow and Sunday night. They are Molly Pawson (2.30pm), Danica Bryant (3.45pm), Stretch (5pm) and Ladyhawke - (6.15pm).