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Exploring The Art Of Great Song Writing: First Event Announced For Aspiring Conversations 2024

Aspiring Conversations, in its vibrant return after a six-year hiatus, proudly announces its first event as part of its 4-day, 14-event programme to be held 4-7 April. A gathering of curious minds with high-calibre speakers, writers, thinkers and artists, the festival is set to ignite discussions on a diverse and fascinating range of subjects and issues of today.

Kicking off the line-up is Tower of Song, featuring esteemed kiwi songwriters Adam McGrath, Julia Deans, and Ebony Lamb and hosted by music reviewer, writer and broadcaster Grant Smithies.

In 1988, Leonard Cohen wrote a famous ballad about the difficulties of songwriting, something he considered a “heroic enterprise.” He imagined himself tied to a table in the Tower of Song, struggling to write lyrics that might resonate long after he was dead. He pictured one of his own musical heroes, country star Hank Williams, marooned in the same lonely place, dealing with identical problems- How do you transform complex emotions into sound? How do you pluck the right words and melodies from the air to make a song worth making?

In this session people can anticipate insights into the early experiences that set Adam McGrath, Ebony Lamb, and Julia Deans on their musical paths to thrive in this strange profession. The discussion will explore the stories behind their most cherished songs offering insights into the magic, inspiration and sometimes toil of creating great songs. Questions of depth, emotion, and the financial realities of being a songwriter in a digital age will be candidly addressed.

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Tower of Song promises a sparkling fusion of conversation and live performances, as these gifted songwriters will not only speak about their craft but also treat the audience to renditions of their favourite compositions. Expect a celebration of the magic that occurs when songs are set free, becoming shared treasures able to evoke buried memories and powerful associations for every listener.

"Songwriters are human barometers compelled to make sense of the world. Some songs take three or four minutes, and some years. Writing music is something I'm compelled to do; it’s a mysterious gift that can be incredibly powerful and even life-changing for the writer and the receiver, I think that's why songwriting is so important.” - Ebony Lamb

Sponsored by Milford

The full programme for Aspiring Conversations will be released Monday 29 January at 7pm. Check it out at

Date: Sunday, April 7, 7:30 pm
Venue: Lake Wānaka Centre
Tickets: $35/$20 Students
Duration: 70 minutes, no interval
Tickets on sale Friday 2 February 8.30am.
For further information and ticket bookings, visit



Ebony Lamb writes with a poetic voice and a vivid, surrealistic intimacy. The New Zealand singer-songwriter and photographer turns the minutiae of everyday life and the defining memories that stay with us into a rich melange of folk, jazz, soul, and ambient pop. The Wellington-based artist spent her formative years as a traveller, mother, and worker of many jobs, eventually co-founding the alt-country band Eb & Sparrow in 2010. Drawing comparisons to Gillian Welch, Cat Power and Neko Case, Ebony released three critically acclaimed albums with the band before embarking on a solo career under her own name. Played and produced with two of New Zealand’s most celebrated modern musicians, Bic Runga and Kody Nielson (Opossom, Silicon, UMO), EBONY LAMB is a watershed work from a genuine talent coming into her own.

Adam McGrath is a folk singer and yarn spinner stationed wherever he can get a key! Described by RNZ as a “National Treasure” and the Herald as “NZ’s toughest minded songwriter”, Adam is more widely known as lead singer and songwriter with one of NZ’s most loved roots/country bands The Eastern. He spends 8 months a year on the road between NZ, Australia, Europe and parts beyond. With The Eastern and solo he has shared stages with and opened for Fleetwood Mac, Steve Earle, Old Crow Medicine Show, Paul Kelly, Jimmy Barnes and many, more. His song Hope and Wire was the inspiration behind Gaylene Preston’s TV series of the same name and he is known for his service orientated approach to music in the years since. Described as “maybe part folk singer, part preacher, part boxer, and part rodeo clown he is however all heart”. Raucous, tender, roof and spirit raising a McGrath show goes straight for the spirit level in all of us, looking deep for the good parts and hoping to reach all the thoughtful bits that matter.

Having first carved a path in local and international musical landscapes as the front woman for early 2000s band Fur Patrol, Julia Deans has since secured her reputation as one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s most celebrated musicians. Following the early success of 00’s Fur Patrol and their critically acclaimed album PET, Deans’s solo albums Modern Fables (2010) and We Light Fire (2018) earned nominations for coveted musical accolades the Taite Music Prize, the APRA Silver Scroll, and the NZ Music Awards. But it’s not just rock n roll. As an engaged, charismatic and artistic collaborator. Deans has been involved in a string of musical projects over the years including collaborations with SJD, Tami Neilson, and Neil Finn. From performing in an impressive array of arts festival shows (Jacques Brel, Joni Mitchell and David Bowie tributes), to musical theatre (Jesus Christ Superstar). Deans has also worked with the Auckland Philharmonia and Christchurch Symphony Orchestras, and even discovered her inner diva with a season with the Hawke's Bay Festival Opera to engaging as the Musical Director of the prestigious Silver Scroll Awards show in 2021. Julia is currently recording a new album, which will see the light of day in 2024.

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