Psychedelic Band Bio

It began as an adventure; young manic songwriter Tommy Benefield, after a tumultuous two years of training in spirit and recovery from chemical dependance and juvenile delinquency, had set off on a South Island tour with Te Rakau hua o te wao tapu nui a tane, a Maori theatre group that ran workshops with teenage rebels after performing an urban musical to the local high school five days a week. Te Rakau consisted of four Maori, a swarthy gambling Greek, two blonde Kelly’s and Tommy, and was under the brilliant and rambunctious chieftainship of Jim Moriarty.

While traveling through Dunedin Tommy reconnected with his longtime soul mate Kate Moody who invited him into a wood smoke underground of travelers and gypsies passing through the dark of the Dunedin winter and creating wistful communities to facilitate solstice celebrations, vigorous animated conversations about spirit, and moonlit concerts through the parks and coffee houses before retiring to fire and candle lit lounges of patchwork quilts and cushions on which to drink dandelion coffee and be introduced to a veritable plethora of vegan delicacies from Piko Organics in town.

It was here Tommy met West coast Celtic minstrel Finn and Maori shaman and alchemist Jesse Gubb, unbeknownst to him at that time, these two fortuitous acquaintances were going to be instrumental in the formation of the entity that was never really to find any name other than his own.
Two months later and Te Rakau had worked its way up to the hot windy plains of Canterbury, and more specifically the transitorily vibrant city of Christchurch. It was here that Finn, while passing through one weekend, introduced Tommy to a host of local trippers and circus freaks who spent their time drumming, fire dancing, intimately feasting and hosting extra-terrestrially ordained open-mic nights.

One of the many memorable participants, a lion-chested, dexterously agile, dreadlocked drummer named AJ became quickly accustomed to being called up on to the various makeshift stages to accompany this ringleted vagabond called Tommy who performed songs of such intensity that they would cause winos and derelicts, businessman and punk-rockers alike to walk in off the street and howl to the rhythm.
Tommy, whose solo shows had long been referred to as a one man folk orchestra on crack, was now being met beat for beat by this senior statesman of the Christchurch sub culture, whose scientist brother Iain was always nearby while working his way into senior management at a store that sold psychedelic toys for adults called Cosmic Corner and left him enough time to play lots of guitar, run riverside drumming nights and consider buying a bass guitar…

The school season ended and Te Rakau then spent another 3 months in Christchurch working 16 hour days in a youth prison and performing with them every night for a month. The performance started with a 45 minute sweat-drenched haka as the patrons walked single file through the metal detectors and security guards into the maximum security youth facility. Te Rakau and the inmates would then perform a uplifting multi-dimensional performance chronicling the invariable tragedy of their early lives and the crimes that lead to their incarceration before leading onto their hopes and dreams and the internal physis, spirit and love that the bars and beatings could never quell.

Tommy left a memorable poroporoaki at 100 miles an hour with Jesse Gubb behind the wheel. Jesse had borrowed someone’s car (he always could), maybe it was AJ’s?, and they were now on their way to Nelson to orchestrate the celestial New Year’s ceremony to welcome the first sun of the new millennium. Tommy liked the idea of such a sacred journey and the girl who he was rapidly writing the bulk of the 4000 Years album for happened to be in the heart of it.

The rain-soaked performance on Takaka hill came and went and so did his unrequited lover Jules, in fact so did January and February, and Tommy found himself back in his hometown making salads for yuppies and trying to form his band.
He had enlisted the master keyboardship of Paul Pascoe, a classmate from the infamously liberal Onslow College which Tommy had attended after being expelled from the even more infamous, even more liberal Wellington High. Though Tommy only managed to keep from being expelled from his new school for 3 months it was just long enough to meet Kate Moody and plant the seeds of the future musical collaboration with Paul.

Tommy had never actually heard Paul play piano, he just knew that he could and that he played guitar real good. Paul had enthusiastically signed on and Tommy was half waiting for AJ to arrive in Wellington to start the band, but those late night conversation by the fire about ‘what might happen when…’ have a way of not always eventuating. But then sometimes they do.

AJ arrived and rang Tommy to ask when practice started and where could he put his drums? Tommy found a derailed air force base by the sea (the size of a primary school, this is just little old New Zealand) where artists had taken over the offices and barracks. Tommy leased the first room to be occupied by a band, this base was soon to become a Mecca for musicians and the rooms highly valued prizes among local bands. AJ also had two ideas for bass player, his brother Iain who’d been relocated to set up the Wellington Cosmic Corner and had now bought that bass, and his longtime friend Mike D who was a beautiful guy who was drinking way too much.

Tommy chose Iain on the strength of his vivaciousness and magnetism and the band was complete. At the first practice they created a simple ritual to begin every concert and practice. At the heart of Tommy’s desire to make music was 1) a belief that it was his primary spiritual gift and therefore the act of highest service to spirit and the global community and 2) the belief that music had more power to influence and affect positive change than any other medium available to him, firstly through the messages song lyrics contain and secondly for the power they have to unite people and generate huge sums of money for charity.

Tommy told them that it would be great if they thought of a name sometime soon and that he’d booked them a gig in 6 weeks time. He said he wanted to play 20 songs that he’d written that summer and they started working their arses off trying to learn them all.

Tommy haphazardly took on the roles of chief songwriter, lead singer, band leader and manger all at once and at times confused these rolls shambolically. The laidback ethos of the Hickling brothers jarred glaringly with the ‘beyond driven’ work ethic Tommy had adopted from Jim Moriarty and led to a tension and passion that is truly rock and roll. Paul served as a wonderful neutral territory and by and large the conflict and ego, so common among vibrant youth, was overshadowed by the love, comradeship and joy in music that the four shared. By the way, they never came up with a name and from the first show on were simply known as TOMMY.

Tours were times of 9 hour drives and philosophical conversations, playing on the ferry to get free passage to the South Island, midnight swims in Wanaka lakes with the audience, lively debates about politics and religion, the unconventionally eductaed Tommy endlessly pumping Paul for knowledge about world history, AJ for knowledge about music theory, recording and production and Iain for knowledge about chemistry, physics and pretty much everything else.
Also Tommy’s knack for eliciting that which normally remains most secret and private, would often lead to conversations that would oscillate between being deeply intimate and personal and flamboyantly hilarious and profane.
Tommy, whose level of stress at keeping to deadlines and learning how to in essence run a business, would eventually end up breaking and swearing at AJ once or twice a year and AJ, a master of the easy going composure, would smile softly and yet strangely victoriously as Tommy would slowly simmer down and apologise for bringing in un-useful energy.

The differences for the most part lead to vibrant diversity and made for interesting dynamics, musically, socially and even within the growing and fiercely devoted fan base that TOMMY were attracting.

TOMMY’s live shows were something different to the other reggae acts flooding the New Zealand scene. On one level this was to do with the fact that Tommy were integrating folk rock, pop, hip hop and emotional ballads into their bouncy high energy dance set, and on another level this was to do with the overt acknowledgement the group gave to spirit and intimacy.
Tommy as a front man seemed to spend as much time talking to the audience as he did singing and with messages and song lyrics infused with political and ethical themes and littered with kaleidoscopic spiritual imagery his presence was mesmerising. The rest of the band’s contagious energy and nonverbal communication had a different effect but with equal impact, enticing the crowd into their celestial world with smiles, eye contact, passion, enthusiasm, movement, raw emotion and love, Tommy and the band had a capacity to captivate far beyond their music.
On top of this Tommy and Iain had a way of talking shit with each other that was one part the history channel, one part flight of the concords and one part the family guy and for those cynics and urban folks who couldn’t care less about ghosts and rainbows these regular interludes kept the dancehall firmly grounded in the human experience and the street.

Two years of tours, festivals, top ten spots on student radio nationwide, and a limited edition tour CD later (under the name Pakeha) and TOMMY had attracted the interest of innovative Wellington label LOOP records, specifically LOOP CEO Mikee Tucker. Renowned for his brilliant ideas, his amazing ability to get things done for free, and his shady bar-room antics, the baby-faced, black-eyed Mikee Tucker secured TOMMY’s first album. Tommy, following his mentor in recovery Bede’s advice signed on production legend Mike Gibson as co-producer and engineer.

By now Tommy’s part time counselling studies, paid for by a trust that had also paid for his final rehab and set up by the family of one of Tommy’s closest friends, John Savage, had lead him out of the various kitchens where he baked and prepped food and into fulltime employment working with adolescents with drug problems.
The time required in managing the band was becoming less a labour of love and more an overwhelming necessity, Tommy was keen to find management like his friends in the Black Seeds and the Phoenix Foundation had done to huge benefit. Unfortunately for Tommy the only offers forthcoming were from folks well intentioned but chemically and energetically misaligned with Tommy and his music and so Tommy forged on, sometimes passionately and with enthusiasm and sometimes with a growing chip.

Speaking moments earlier of John Savage it’s important to note that this enigmatic Rocker, world gallivanter, philanderer and reformed confidence man had initially thought about forming a band with Tommy when he first left rehab. However John had international experience playing in Psycho-Billy, New Wave and Punk bands and found Tommy’s inexperience and constant string breaking a nightmare, so he decided to support him professionally and see what happened…

What happened was Tommy, just before recording 4000 Years felt like his comrades in TOMMY weren’t as committed to music as him, wanting less practices and caring less for cleaning up their rough edges and working within tight song structures. Also stylistically Tommy had stopped writing so much hip hop, reggae and soul and was writing more like the new bands he was being introduced to and the old bands he’d always worshipped.

Its funny how a guy hooked on 60’s psychedelia and 70’s singer songwriters ever ended up writing reggae in the first place, but after discovering a whole internet full of artists that touched him as deeply and profoundly as Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, Tommy was letting go of his The Congo’s and Junior Marvin infused dub jams and was returning to his folk rock roots. Ryan Adams, Iron and Wine, The Jayhawks, The National, Songs:ohia, The Red House Painters, Bonnie Prince Billy etc were now joining The Grateful Dead, Crosby, Stills and Nash and Bob Dylan in his elaborate halls of Vinyl and he felt that with a second band he could cover this territory exclusively.

Along with brother in arms John Savage, Tommy enlisted bass playing, whiskey drinking, all-of-Tommy’s-first-posters-designing, son of NZ legend Wayne Mason, Sam Mason and the three of them set about being Tommy’s side project, always on the back burner, never playing shows just having Tommy turn up and whisper them sweet nothings about “after the album’s released…”, it ended up being a lot longer than that, but we’ll return to them shortly. They called themselves SAVAGE MASONFIELD, initially.

Back to about a year later, the first TOMMY album was released, and the first videos too, to an enthusiastic to-the-point-of-zealous, fan base and some brilliant reviews. The first video got good play, the first truly national tour had good attendance and made money, which surprised the other band members who were increasingly vocal with their diverging opinions about Tommy’s ethos of spend absolutely everything now, reap the rewards later. Iain in particular thought Tommy’s promotional budget was insane and the band in general was doubtful that the decision to sign with a record label was a financially sound one, which it totally wasn’t.
Tommy however didn’t care at all about any of this; his only concern was getting the music to as many people as possible at whatever price.

In order to maximise their audience impact Tommy decided to enlist a guitarist who he’d recently re-met somewhere in the city. Stewart Clark remembered Tommy well from Wellington High School but Tommy, who was permanently stoned for those three years, only had a vague memory of him. Stu, however, told him that they’d even briefly played in a band together, all Tommy knew was that Stu kicked ass on guitar in hard rock and metal and so thought that with a little guidance could learn all about reggae and folk-rock within a few weeks. This more or less turned out to be true and Stu’s generosity, warmth, laid-backness and spiritual curiosity ensured his place on the Tommy tour just weeks before take off.

Interestingly about this time another Ian was added to the TOMMY musical family this time for the Savage band. Ian was about 40 which meant the band had two 24 year olds, Tommy and Sam, and two 40 year olds, John and Ian. Tommy’s music was always considered timeless and his audiences always had a huge diversity in terms of age, race, sub-cultures and even musical tastes. This diversity in ages was a cool dynamic, energetically as well as visually. Tommy and the Fallen Horses was born, a more laid back, talking by the fire, grown-up kind of band and Ian was a more laid back, talking by the fire, grown-up kind of guy.

Tommy, due to fatigue, had shifted into a pretty closed down emotional space during the completion of the album and booking of the tour and despite his long term relationship with the lovely gypsy Karaena and her irrepressibly delightful daughter Tui, Tommy was feeling kind of lost.

At around 2 am after the first show of the tour, down in dark old Dunedin where they stayed with Jesse Gubb, Jesse and Tommy went for one of their notorious late night walks. As they connected and laughed and hypothesised all over the Dunedin hillside under the comforting shadows of Volco community Jesse reawakened in Tommy some of his most ancient memories and some of his most primary beliefs.

Revitalised and reinvigorated Tommy’s whole approach to the band, the press and touring instantly transformed, and a band that was exhausted and considering parting ways, started playing the most inspirational and exciting shows of their lives. As you do at times like that, they decided to record one last album straight after the completion of the 2004/05 festival scene.

In a rustic transformed logging mill in the far North Island, at one of their concerts they met a ruggedly good looking enigmatic mountain man named Steve who had recently been an advertising legend but had left that cutthroat industry and his multi-million-dollar company to focus on spirit and making films. An instant connection sparked between Tommy and Steve at a candle lit table as they talked about alt-country bands, and just before Tommy left for karakia with the band before performing, Steve told Tommy that he had a perfect location for them to record their next album and that he would film the whole thing. Well that’s what Tommy thought he said…

Three months and many concerts later Tommy rings Steve and says “we want to record that album next month, does that work for you?”
Steve seemed a little perplexed but quickly became enthusiastic and said “yeah lets do it! One month huh?”

With the, now four, other band members all juggling various careers, lovers and commitments Tommy and Iain drove up alone to Bethells Beach, a small town on the west coast of Auckland where neither Iain or Tommy had ever been. They expected they’d be recording and playing in an old cow shed in some farmer’s paddock in the middle of nowhere.

Arriving at midnight on a highway through a valley of dense native bush before opening up on to a beach of intoxicating mystic splendor and then winding up a dusty country road onto a starlit field overlooking the sea, surrounded by forest and with a building of such spectral magnificence as to warrant the name “ the multi spherical plexidom’ Tommy and Iain assumed they were at the wrong place. Steve stepped out of the wooden spa bath where he was drinking blackberry wine with John, a full bearded alchemist and expert whimsical converser of all topics, who looks after the land with his wife Trudy Bethell, who is a new age queen and mother of lost souls. Steve wrapped a towel round himself and introduced the boys to their new home including the two cottages (straight out of a fairytale, including thatched straw roofs, rambling rose vines over the walls and wild flowerbeds) where they’d be staying for the two weeks of initial recording.

Steve went to get dressed and Tommy and Iain locked arms and skipped around the main field in the starlight, dancing for joy at the good fortune they’d stumbled upon.

The next day instead of Steve following them round with a handy cam, a fully professional five man production crew rolled up and all of a sudden the hesitation in Steve’s voice about starting in a month made sense. Steve was no amateur, he was the real deal, this film was going to be of the highest professional standard, a full scale production.

There are novels and novels in every hour of every mans life and in this two week period perhaps even more. Much of it is documented in Steves film, may it see the light of day soon…

Tommy and Steve became quick friends and spent whole nights discussing the human spirit and heart. The setting was perfect for beautiful recordings and the band’s differences didn’t inhibit great music, great connections or wonderful memories though they did become more and more obviously un-conducive to a solid band with a cohesive set of goals and a clear direction forward.

It took a year before the album would be released and when it was the band had been dropped from, and then resigned by, LOOP. The entire band except Tommy had left and Tommy’s side project, Tommy and the Fallen Horses, had turned into a Tommy covers band except by then even Sam had left and been replaced by a bass playing clinical psychologist called Vince who happened to love both TOMMY and the demos that Tommy had recorded with the Fallen Horses.

Also by now the Fallen Horses were halfway through recording their first album with Nick McGowan in Island Bay in a crazy old concrete church that master engineer Nick had learned how to tune like a drum. Again that’s kind of another whole story that merits its own elaborate mention somewhere, but not here… so somewhere else.

Vince had the admirable qualities of being both very much his own man with his own tastes and preferences and so securely so that he was able to understand and work within the parameters that Tommy was slowly becoming more competent in expressing to new musicians and people involved with his music.
Where TOMMY had been a democracy with Tommy sometimes thinking he was in charge and sometimes thinking he was being usurped, Tommy and the Fallen Horses was much more of a benevolent dictatorship.
With Tommy’s autonomy and freedom assured in this paradigm the actual creative freedom, collaboration and input that Tommy required of his band mates seemed to exponentially increase.
It seemed as though Tommy had always been aware of his own strengths and limits but was unable to maximise either without creative control. In the new framework Tommy was freed up to make the calls he needed to in managing the band and in realising his creative vision and became far less concerned with micro details and far more interested in utilising everybody’s strengths.

The tour for the final album Tomorrow I Might Go was even more promotionally audacious with TOMMY having to beg, borrow and… sneakily borrow, to be able to afford it all. Yet the tour was an unparalleled success, with huge turn outs and amazing performances.
The only downside was that lots of the towns they played in only had one retail chain, SOUNDS, and in the face of the collapsing music industry the SOUNDS chain were another fatality of bad management by multinationals too slow to respond to their market. The SOUNDS stores hadn’t paid LOOP for months and so LOOP wouldn’t give them any stock, including the new TOMMY record.

Tommy’s record company were also in a state of flux with staff coming and going and the head of the beast, Mikee, out of the country. LOOP secured next to no interviews or articles to promote the album and spent less than half their promotional budget as they too were feeling the financial pinch of the shifts in the industry.

The album sold poorly, despite some glowing reviews and huge audience attendance. Apart from the already converted, no one heard about it. They failed to even get Steve’s brilliant film aired, despite two major networks wanting to run it.

Tommy decided the old fashioned approach of “if you keep touring, eventually you’ll get there” was bullshit and after a brief trip to LA, New York and London where he played some awesome festivals and shows and met two influential producers who fell in love with him and gave him free studio time, Tommy decided to finish the
Fallen Horses album himself as producer, and to work with Steve on a comprehensive plan full of intricate innovative strategies to launch his band to an international community.

Most of the following year was spent researching the major shifts, turbulent changes, and mostly ineffectual responses on the part of the major labels, within the music industry.

The Fallen Horses album was completed at home with Tommy’s brother in recovery the steady- handed, tirelessly patient Tim Ransom, and then mixed with New Zealand legend studio wizard, Dr Lee Prebble.

Tommy and Steve spent a year discussing the Management ideas and fleshing them out and Steve in particular spent months coming up with well researched innovative marketing and networking ideas.
At the end of a week of intensively finishing their manifesto, and the day before their presentation to aquire funding, a brief discussion led to Steve reconsidering his whole purpose and vision for the future. The presentation was put on indefinite hold and Steve returned to his home city on the far side of the island.
Tommy who had pretty much suspended band management activities as well as touring for that whole year suddenly realised he’d put too many eggs in one basket, and felt like all was lost.
Musicians out there will know the absolute dread and impending doom that you experience after a bad gig; the darkness is menacing. Well imagine that multiplied by all your dreams sailing down the plug whole and you’ll get an impression of how much effort it took not to break down and give up. After four months on the precipice of despair and the brink of giving up for good, Tommy got back on the horse, booked the summer tour, started handing out the album to some nice local labels, redesigned the presentation, started making demos of his top 173 unrecorded songs and with the help of the unilaterally talented Charlotte Hannah started creating a website and a way forward.

Ultimately Tommy feels that his music will be judged not on by how well it was received but on how true he was to it.

Now the Fallen Horses have lost keyboardist Ian to family and work commitments, and Paul, who’s been overseas for a year, says if he doesn’t get this job in Paris he’ll come back to promote the new album, also the first Iain, Iain Hickling, is returning from 2 years overseas and says he’d love to get involved in Tommy’s music again too.

Maybe some bad decisions were made and some plans didn’t turn out like they might have, maybe bad communication on the front end led to major problems on the back end, maybe not being true to their beliefs and their intuition lead them to challenges and conflict that slowed things down, maybe they’re not now where they’d hoped they would be by now when they started out.

The good thing about Tommy and the musicians and friends he’s attracted is that they look at the things they create and learn from them. The music’s gotten better, the audience is getting bigger, the opportunities are changing, and Tommy’s becoming more informed about how to seize them and navigate a path through a turbulent, changing industry.

Perhaps more importantly; the mistakes turned into lessons that taught and expanded them, that grew the vision of the band and gave them skills that will serve them later at much more important crossroads. The times when corners were cut and shortcuts were taken always lead the boys back to knowing that it’s spirit before form and integrity before gain.

Dreams of being able to support Africa like Geldof in the 80’s or change people’s thoughts like Dylan in the 60s are beautiful dreams, and in this game of life why not have a profound dream? Why not live like you have the potential to save the world? Ultimately though music has to be its own reward and if you can live a life of joy and love, of passion and excitement striving to ‘make it’, then do that. But if after a while it wears you down, then maybe your approach or your reasons need to change.

And like Tommy said last year to the woman of his dreams Nicola Bell
“…you know, my whole life the most important thing to me above all else, beyond everything, has been to ‘make it’ in music and music’s still the only thing I truly feel called to do. But if in 3 years time it’s still not able to make me a living and through it I can’t create the life I desire… Then fuck music, It’s not gonna’ stop me having my children.”

And maybe that’s a powerful place to pause.