Band criticised for scattering ashes of late bassist on stage at awards show

Headless Chickens caused offence to Māori attendees with tribute to Grant Fell at the Taite Music Awards

New Zealand band Headless Chickens have been criticised for scattering the ashes of their late bassist onto the stage at an awards show this week.

Late musician Grant Fell (pictured above) passed away in January this year after a three-year battle with cancer, with his band choosing to pay tribute at the country’s Taite Music Awards in Auckland on Tuesday night (April 17).

“I think Grant probably always wanted to play on this stage,” Fell’s bandmate Chris Matthews said while accepting the Classic Record Award for their 1987 album ‘Stunt Clown’, scattering a vail of Fell’s ashes before performing a song live. You can watch footage in the news report below.

“I felt like he was there with us and it was a total magic moment for me,” Headless Chickens member Rupert E Taylor told Radio New Zealand of the stunt. “I waved his ashes into my face and all over my Workshop suit. It was a surprise and it should happened, he should have been there with us.”

“Don’t be upset by it, it was pure and a gorgeous moment, and we loved Grant Fell so much. So it was lovely to have his wife do that for us on this important night.”

The group’s actions were swiftly criticised, with attendees of Māori heritage said to have been among those offended. Newshub notes that Māori tradition regards a person’s dead body as a remaining physical manifestation of the human soul.

Musician TEEKS, who was nominated for the Taite Music Prize on the night, also tweeted that it was the “first time I’m glad I didn’t win an award” and that he “wouldn’t have gotten on stage with those ashes under my feet”.

“I was raised in a culture where that shit isn’t ok,” he said.

“I’m sure no offence was intended, totally understand the sentiment behind it and why they thought it might have been a good idea.” the musician added. “I guess the thing we need to realise is that we live in two different worlds.”

The Taite Music Prize eventually went to Aldous Harding for her album ‘Party’.

Fell’s widow Rachael Churchward defended the band’s actions in a statement, pointing out that Fell was proud of his own Ngāpuhi heritage.

“We were not setting out to shock or offend anyone, but Grant wanted his ashes scattered in places he loved — and he loved being on stage playing music,” she said. “I understand it’s not in line with tikanga [Māori tradition], but we all come from different places and we don’t adhere to every tradition. Music is a big part of our identity too.”