Campbell McKellar is living the musician’s dream with his guitarist role in the New Zealand Army Band, the foundations of which were laid years earlier when he moved to Invercargill to enrol at Southern Institute of Technology (SIT) and completed the first double degree in a Bachelor of Music and Bachelor of Audio Production.
Completing the two degrees in 2010, Campbell has done his qualification proud, he revels in the fact he has a career as a musician in New Zealand – a point not lost on him is the rarity of opportunities presented to musicians who want to make a living from their craft within Aotearoa.
After graduating Campbell worked for a couple of years at SIT, teaching music and audio papers, then in 2013 he seized the opportunity to audition for the NZ Army Band, and was successful in obtaining the coveted role.
“There are only two full-time salaried guitar positions in New Zealand... it is hard to get in, there’s no basic training when you get there – from day one you’re expected to perform and need to be capable of hitting the ground running”, he said.
The years at SIT prepared Campbell well for the job, he learned the practices and processes of forming bands, playing with other musicians, stage performances, and developing professionalism - all skills essential to his success - and ones he’s utilised many times over in his seven and a half years with the band.
“And having the right equipment really helped – the quality gear that’s made available to SIT students makes a difference”.
Campbell loves his job and appreciates the position he has. He said “It was always the goal – to be a full-time professional musician...if I’m honest I didn’t know if it would work out, it’s hard to make a living in NZ as a musician”.
He said he’s had some pretty cool experiences while being in the band, it’s quite a diverse role, providing a variety of events to perform at every year.
“It’s an awesome job – the stuff we get to do, you wouldn’t get to do in any other role”.
Some of the stand-out highlights include singing the national anthem at Gallipoli for the 100-year commemorations of World War 1, and to a capacity crowd of 100,000 people at the MCG on ANZAC day.
The band also did a private performance for the Queen and Prince Phillip, the royals were sitting on deck chairs in the grounds of their residence at Windsor Castle.
One of the big draw cards of the job was the international travel. On average, there’s two international trips per year for up to six weeks at a time. They were meant to be in the UK for two months last year, but that was cancelled due to the pandemic, they’re all hopeful next year’s trip
will go ahead - they have plans to be based in Basil, Switzerland and Edinburgh, Scotland for a couple of months.
“Every couple of weeks there’s a trip to somewhere in New Zealand, there are 2-week trips once or twice a year to play in schools, then there’s the evening concert tours, and of course all the defence force work – parades and ceremonies”.
The band is also broken up into versatile, smaller groups which can play different genres at different events. They have a jazz band and a covers/party band and they play events like the Hokitika Wild Foods Festival.
When asked whether the lifestyle was exhausting or invigorating, he laughed, “It’s a bit of both”, he said. He was looking forward to the southern dates on the current tour because for the first time the band would be visiting and playing on Stewart Island, which made it pretty special.
Campbell’s advice to up-and-coming musicians touches on skills he started perfecting years ago at SIT: “Learn how to read music really well – it’s an absolutely essential skill and it meant I got a job. Heaps of guitarists can play well, but not read music to the same level”.
NZ Army Band is playing at the Civic Theatre in Invercargill on Wednesday April 14th at 7pm, in its touring concert series, ‘New Zealand in Concert’. They’re also playing a public concert on Stewart Island at the Community Centre on April 18th.
Watch their cover of ‘Time Warp’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4lwBnGG_NzU