Bob McNeill is a musician based in Wellington, New Zealand who plays with the group Project Feijoa, with fiddle player extraordinaire Gillian Boucher, and the Celtic groups Criu and éist. His latest recording Lost Stars, a collection of songs written and recorded during lockdown in New Zealand, was released on 5 October 2020. It's available to download on Bandcamp free.
Inspired by the classic songwriters and the New Folk wave from the 90s, his particular influences are people like Lori McKenna, Natalie Merchant, Patty Griffin, Jimmy Webb, Tori Amos, Jason Isbell, Lionel Richie, Mark Knopfler, Robert Cray, Jeffrey Foucault, Shane Smith, Bruce Springsteen, Gretchen Peters, Richard Shindell, Jay Farrar, Emmylou Harris, Mike Rosenberg, Neil Finn, Mark Nevin and Bap Kennedy to name but a few.
McNeill began playing in his teens, gravitating at first to Celtic dance music. Playing bouzouki and open tuned guitar, he made most of his mistakes in other people's lineups before releasing a series of solo albums in the 2000's, two of which won Best Folk Album at the New Zealand Music Awards. His three year collaboration with Orcadian fiddler Kenny Ritch, Ben the Hoose, resulted in the album The Little Cascade, which also won Best Folk Album. In 2010 he released the retrospective Me and Mary Ann, and moved on to non-music projects. People thought he'd died.
After an extended sabbatical he returned to music in 2016. A rekindled interest in the guitar took him deeper into the instrument, away from the Celtic rhythm style and open tuning he was known for, and inspired him to record a huge backlog of rediscovered songs, mostly written before Me and Mary Ann but never worked up. He recruited the prodigiously talented Emily Roughton and Rob Henderson for the recordings. The group turned into Project Feijoa, and the recording into their debut album The California Tapes, which was released on 1 September 2019.
Around the same time, and thinking he might be done with Celtic music, he ran into Cape Breton fiddler Gillian Boucher, who had just moved to New Zealand but neglected to bring an accompanist. The two had played together briefly, 10 years before, and soon found the old groove, playing festivals in New Zealand and Australia. They recently recorded their first album Race for the Sun. In 2019, Gillian and Bob played Whare Flat festival in New Zealand, Celtic Colours in Nova Scotia, Yachats Celtic Music Festival in Oregon and toured New England.
It was during the US part of their tour that Bob began writing the songs that became Lost Stars. The west coast of the US is a stunning area he knew well; he fell in love with the northeast on sight. They're both inspiring places, and gave up several of the songs on the album. He was also working on songs started at various stages over the previous two years, in France and back home in New Zealand. A couple of these were slated for Project Feijoa's 2019 release The California Tapes, but never made it. Lost Stars became an album of love songs for places and people we might not see again for a while. Working alone in lockdown, he decided to release the album track by track, as the songs were finished, and make them free to download.
In Wellington - at least in normal times - Bob also plays with the Irish music collective Criu in Wellington, and Celtic band éist. But they only want those old rhythm chops in DADGAD, and one day soon will find somebody cheaper and less fussy.