Coddington's first band Handsome Geoffrey, representing Hamilton Girls High School, won the Smokefree Rockquest in 1998. Alongside her in the line-up was Aidee Walker, who years later turned to acting and directing for theatre and the screen, and directed several music videos for Coddington.
Following a trail well-worn by other Waikato bands (including Cambridge garage rockers The Datsuns, formerly known as Trinket), Handsome Geoffrey began to perform more in Auckland. Playing as often as they could, the band became a fixture on live stages in the following years.
With the addition of Jonny Corker (ex-Rubicon) on drums, the band was renamed Duchess. Late in 2005 they released a self-titled five song EP, recorded by Ed Cake at Platform Studios in Auckland, before Coddington’s talent was recognised and called on by a steady stream of established musicians.
Earlier that year Coddington went on a songwriting road trip with Bic Runga, Shayne Carter and Anika Moa.
Earlier that year Coddington went on a songwriting road trip with Bic Runga, Shayne Carter and Anika Moa. This led to the four, in various formations, sharing backing vocals on albums by Bic Runga (Birds, 2005), Anika Moa (Stolen Hill, 2005) and Shayne Carter’s Dimmer (There My Dear, 2006).
In person she’s both staunch and charming, scholarly and earthy. A keen runner with a black belt in karate, has strong connections to Tūwharetoa (central North Island), and Te Arawa (Rotorua) — and the landscapes there, as well as Auckland’s Western Springs Park. “I like to run around there and just be down there next to the lakes … I find the presence of water very calming, maybe because I grew up by the sea. I find being by a body of water very relaxing.”
Anna Coddington is not a name people expect for a Māori singer-songwriter. “People have been telling me that when I was first starting out, trying to talk me into changing my name. But what do you change your name to? You’ve got to live with it the rest of your career. Occasionally I kinda wish I had, if only to save space on my posters. But I’m very indecisive, I hate naming my songs or my albums, picking a name for myself would be quite an ask.”
Spending time with Coddington — middle name Pinenga — her sense of humour shines. She cites it as one of the bonuses audience get from experiencing her music live. “I think with any artist you get more of a sense of them as a person, physically and also personally. And there’s no trickery with live performance. Anyone can make something sound good in a studio these days. I think a good live performance is what will really separate the wheat from the chaff.”
Coddington also toured with Riki Gooch’s project Eru Dangerspiel and with Barnaby Weir's live musical collaboration Fly My Pretties.
Duchess called it a day in 2007 and Coddington became a solo artist, releasing her acclaimed debut album The Lake in 2008. Recorded at Roundhead studios and Radio New Zealand, players include guitarist Ned Ngatae and drummer Riki Gooch (TrinityRoots), with Steph Brown on keyboards and Chip Matthews on bass.
Then in 2011 came Cat & Bird, recorded at Roundhead, and co-produced with Ned Ngatae. Riki Gooch was a key collaborator and other musicians on the album include bassist Mike Hall (Pluto, Dimmer, The Bads) and keyboard player LA Mitchell. Coddington also toured with Gooch’s project Eru Dangerspiel and with Barnaby Weir's live musical collaboration Fly My Pretties.
Cat & Bird’s ‘Little Islands’ is about feeling like there’s a glass ceiling in New Zealand. “You can see the rest of the world, you’re really aware of what’s going on in the music industry, or whatever industry, but it’s very hard to get out there and be a part of it from here because we’re so far away. It’s also about what’s awesome about living here.”
E rere wairua, e rere / Fly O free spirit, fly
Ki ngā ao o te rangi / to the clouds in the heavens
So begins Anna Coddington's version of 'Purea Nei' (a waiata by Henare Mahanga, modified and popularised by Hirini Melbourne). Coddington appreciates the song’s spiritual dimension. She has beautiful pronunciation, I say. “Kia Ora!” she smiles radiantly, before making a passionate case for all children to learn te reo Māori. “I studied at the AUT night classes, which was really cool. As a linguist, I think language is really precious and it’s a bee in my bonnet that Māori is such an effort to learn in the one country in the world where it’s spoken.”
Coddington and Mina Ripia walked away joint winners for the Best Māori Female Solo Artist award at the 2011 National Waiata Māori Music Awards. “This is the most laughs I’ve ever had at an awards ceremony," said Anna, collecting her prize, "and it is the first award I have received since I have been releasing my own albums.”
2013’s ‘Bird In Hand’, produced by SJD, is about letting go. “It sums up that feeling of watching someone fly away from you, and not really wanting that to happen. The lyrics say: ‘To watch you fly it hurts me, why can’t I be the one with my face to the sun?’ It’s partly about letting someone go without really wanting to but knowing it’s the best thing, and it’s partly about watching somebody else succeed and being happy for them but also feeling a bit left behind.”
Electric Wire Hustle’s Mara TK has dubbed her “Pania of the Streets”. She is into rap, and Home Brew’s Haz produced a hip-hop version of ‘Bird In Hand’.
There’s a spacious, unfastened feel to Coddington’s music. “I like that spacious vibe because it’s a good head space to be in, cluttered anything is not my buzz. I live by the mantra ‘tidy house, tidy mind’. The first thing I do every morning is tidy up and I can’t start working until everything is tidy.”
She is now focusing on singles, such as ‘Make You Mine’ and ‘The Runner’. In June 2014 she told me she was on the verge of having something musically new and exciting. “I’m finding a way to fit making music in around the schedule of an infant.”
One achievement that might surprise about Coddington is that for a time, she was the most played artist on Australian TV soap Home and Away. The music industry’s not easy to live off, but it’s still good. “Totally. And I think if you’re willing to work hard you can make it work. There’s lots of ways to make little bits of money. You’ve just got to try and enjoy it, otherwise go and not enjoy something else and get paid. That’s what it comes down to.”
An enjoyable diversion came early in 2016 when Coddington - while pregnant with her second child - performed at the Auckland Arts Festival in Dust to Dusky, a tribute to Dusty Springfield which also featured Bella Kalolo, Tami Neilson and Colleen Davis. In September 2016, she gave one of the standout performances at the APRA Silver Scrolls, interpreting Rob Ruha’s Maioha award-winning waiata, Kariri.
Shortly afterwards, Coddington released Luck/Time, through Loop: an album of 12 original songs. Graham Reid wrote, “When she couches these songs in all that post-R&B electro-pop can offer, [they] are given gooves that grip, the melodic hooks come to the fore with ear-catching backing vocals and the strings add emotional weight and breadth.”