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Petrol-head latchkey kid they called a drumming robot

06 December 2018 - By Jock Anderson

As a little kid from the “wrong side of the tracks” Kevin Smith cut his teeth on rock and roll and the blues.

A jazz and a cappella singer and accomplished drummer, Kevin’s musical career spans more than 30 years with numerous bands – including the forerunners to The Waratahs as a roadie – and a number of recording albums.

Making music is what he does when he’s not at his day job as an in-house prosecutor for the Department of Conservation in Hamilton.

Name Kevin Gerard (Kevin) Smith (affiliates to Ngapuhi)
Born Morrinsville
Age 58
Entry to law Graduated LLB from Waikato University in 1998 as a mature student. Admitted in 1998.
Workplace In-house lawyer at Department of Conservation, Hamilton.
Speciality area Prosecutions

“I have been a singer and drummer for many years. I sang from when I was four and cut my teeth on rock and roll and blues.”

Kevin Smith

With a two and half octave baritone/tenor vocal range, Kevin is diverse and versatile in what he sings and can “belt out a few songs that are sung by people like Freddie Mercury”.

“I also do a cappella singing, which I did in my 20s then got right into it in Hawke’s Bay.

“I hatched a cunning plan of singing a cappella jazz standards. My friend Kim Earl and I would hit the streets dressed in art deco clobber and use a pitch pipe for our pitch, singing old jazz standards.

“I sang a lot of Tony Bennett stuff and fell in love with him. I have a lot of his early recordings, dvds and latest albums.

“I appreciate the man on several levels. He marched with Martin Luther King. I find him an incredible man and way beyond his years in his world view, which sits comfortably with me.”

The latchkey kid

With no other lawyers in the family, he describes himself as a little kid from the wrong side of the tracks, growing up in a working-class family.

Both his parents died in the 1980s. His father worked in the post office in Morrinsville and his mother was a homemaker.

The baby of five children, the “latchkey kid” and with one surviving older brother, Kevin lost brothers Brian and Owen and his sister Alexis prematurely to cancer, nursing Alexis while he was at law school in 1997. “It’s been an interesting journey.”

Kevin graduated as a mature student in 1998 and is on the Crown category of Level 3 plus for prosecutions.

He handled a lot of prosecutions for the Ministry of Primary Industries while on secondment for a year in 2017, but says there has not been much court work for DoC in the last four or five years because a lot of prosecutions going to a judge alone trial are often resolved beforehand. He expects to do an advanced police prosecutors course in April 2019.

He joined DoC in 2003 after a few years working in private practice, initially working as what was called a conservancy solicitor, based in Hawke’s Bay, before moving back to Hamilton.

“I am gay and don’t have a current relationship. My late partner Bevan and I, who I met in Hawke’s Bay when I moved there in 2003, were together for seven years, then we separated in 2012.

“Unfortunately, Bevan had a stroke then a year or two after that was diagnosed with bowel cancer and passed away last October. We remained good friends and I would visit him regularly.

“I was involved in the Art Deco Trust when I was in Hawke’s Bay and the Triangle Trust - which is a housing project in Hamilton for people with HIV and Aids.

“I’ve done a lot of voluntary work with the Aids Foundation, I’m an adult literacy tutor and volunteer cook at the hospice in Hastings.

“Before law I was a jack of all trades and master of none. And a rebel at school, a bit like the Rain Man.

“When I did school certificate - and because too many people passed - they downgraded everyone across the board, which left me despondent.

“I bombed out of school and got a job in the post office as a telegram boy then a postie.”

The Tigers

Moving to Hamilton, Kevin joined a touring band called The Tigers as a roadie for a few months, humping all the gear around over summer. The Tigers went on to become The Waratahs.

“I was a singer at that time but couldn’t find a drummer to keep good time.

“My father had been a jazz drummer in the 1930s, so I bought my first drum kit at 21 and then went straight to the music shop and started buying up a magazine called Modern Drummer (founded in 1977 by Ron Spagnardi).

Kevin Smith playing the drums

“Top end American drummers were writing articles for it. I learned the left foot drumming principle and became my own metronome. As I progressed I became known as The Robot because of my timing.”

Kevin played in his first band in 1982, when he lived with musicians in a big old house in Hamilton. “They noticed that I was getting better and we formed a band called The Break, playing 1980s stuff such as Duran Duran and Ultravox.

“I joined another band called Kix and toured with them. I had left my job as a furniture finisher. It was the time of Rob Muldoon’s sinking lid policy, small businesses were under threat and the family business I worked for could not afford to keep me on.

“I toured with Kix then got a bigger break and replaced the drummer in The Bronx, who were well known in Hamilton in the 80s and toured the North Island extensively.”

He cut his first album as a drummer with The Bronx – called Outrageous Boys – “which had reasonably good commercial success, a lot of airplay and raves on Radio with Pictures.

He then joined legendary Hamilton blues band the Velvet Bulldozer for two or three years, had a break for a few years then moved to join DoC in Napier, where he renewed his interest in singing.

“I had my first brush with death in 2011 when I had a cyst developing inside my body and was hours away from death. I went straight to hospital and got it out - all a success. So, on that experience, I decided to put a bucket list together.”

Undaunted, he entered New Zealand’s Got Talent on a whim, getting as far as the director’s cut.

“The person who separated wheat from chaff was Suzanne Donaldson from The Chicks. I turned up in a suit and cowboy hat. She thought I was a country and western singer but I sang Tony Bennett’s version of Hank Williams’ Cold Cold Heart.

He sang a version of Tim Finn’s I Hope I Never. “She said I had one of the most remarkable male voices she had ever heard, which stunned me. So I went through to the director’s cut but that was as far as I got.”

Moving back to Hamilton he caught up with old muso mates from Velvet Bulldozer, Phil Walsh and singer Kim Earl, cutting an album which was available worldwide on Spotify and YouTube. They produced another album in 2016 called Never Stop Dreaming under the name of Prophecy - their old band from Morrinsville.

“It has been getting a lot of hits around the world in bizarre places like China and the Ukraine.”

This was followed be a reunion of the original Velvet Bulldozer lineup, rehearsals in 2017 and then to the Hamilton Blues Club, and the Tauranga jazz and blues festival last April.

“We got a great reception and a lot of people remembered us from 25 years ago.” Since then the band has played at several blues events and fundraisers around Waikato.

The self-confessed office clown

“I had this attraction to go to the law, but in private practice I didn’t really like it – it didn’t fit my personality. I felt I was doing a lot of work dealing with clients but didn’t feel I was doing a lot of work in the law.

“I had a think about it and thought working for the government would a great way to work with a lot of law. There is one client ultimately and everyone by delegation under that.”

Kevin found his job at DoC and spoke to one of the senior partners in the firm he was with about switching.

“They offered me more money to stay but I had made up my mind. It was the best decision I ever made in my career.

“It is a fascinating journey because our client is the Minister and all those down the line, and we are actually working with the law all the time. I’ve probably learnt more in this role then I ever learnt in private practice. Law school was simply getting the ticket to go through the gate.

“I love comedy and am a bit of an office clown, I’m known for jokes at work. Humour is one of the best ways to lighten people up and make their day a better event.

“I like Robin Williams but prefer British humour to American - John Cleese, Rowan Atkinson, Blackadder and Miriam Margolyes - the puritanical aunty Lady Whiteadder with the crucifixes sticking out all over. A friend and I met her when she was doing a one-woman world show and she came through New Zealand doing Shakespeare.

“I will read anything, and have read Ken Follett and Len Deighton extensively – my Dad introduced me to their books. In my 20s I read a lot of Stephen King, Robert Heinlen, Frank Herbert and Isaac Asimov.”

“I am a petrolhead. Is there a prohibition on gay people liking fast cars?

“I have a 2009 Nissan SpecR racing Nissan Maxima – a factory racing machine. All in black, leather, tinted windows, big thick leather seats and lowered by about 300/400mms, 19 inch wheels, megaphone exhaust, a racing chip. And goes from 0 – 100kph in 5.5 secs.”

Hawaii and Boston

“I used to have dogs and a cat, but not anymore because I live on my own and travel a bit with work.

“I’ve been all over New Zealand and large chunks of Australia numerous times. Vanuatu and Rarotonga, where I sang at a friend’s wedding. I went to Hawaii in 2015 and fell in love with it. I got to drive a Ford Mustang black droptop around, which was very satisfying.

“I would like to go to Boston, because my mother was born there in 1919 and returned to Ireland when she was six. She later met my Dad, who is Ngapuhi Scots. He was in the 24th Battalion in World War II, a prisoner of war, and met Mum in London.

“Anywhere in Northland, where my iwi is, is my favourite holiday spot. I also like Hawke’s Bay and the Coromandel.

“I recognise all of my ancestry, which is Irish, Scots and Māori. I do not speak fluent Te Reo but make a point of pronouncing Māori words correctly, and I am slowly but surely getting to the stage I can cobble a few words together. It’s becoming more of a deep interest for me.”

As someone who loves to drive – “I don’t care what it is” – Kevin says life as a professional driver would have been good. “My Dad was an exceptionally good driver and when I was in my late teens I wanted to join the government service as a limousine driver.

“I made two expressions of interest over the years to go to the district court bench but was unsuccessful and haven’t pursued that any further.

“The other thing I consider is that I don’t really want to retire so I would also pursue something even after I walk away from paid employment as a lawyer. I would look at doing things like Community Law centre work.

“I am now a qualified mediator and always had an interest in mediation-type work for resolving disputes because I enjoy dispute resolution. I love the concept of getting people around a table to resolve issues and disputes rather than let the courts do it. There’s a better way to do this.”

He rates the successful 2009/2010 prosecution of Greenvale Forests, in Southland, as a notable moment.

The Christchurch company was convicted and fined a total of $70,000 for breaching the Conservation Act after it built a vehicle access track partially on Southland conservation land without consent.

It constructed a vehicle access track – one and a half kilometres of which was on conservation land - without authority, installed culverts on a conservation marginal strip, undertook earthworks on conservation land, and took plants from a conservation area.

“That was my big case.” says Kevin.

Last updated on the 6th December 2018