How a soundman to Michael Jackson and other stars ended up opening a cafe in Taihape

Rob Henry spent 30 years travelling the globe as an audio engineer for stars such as Michael Jackson, Prince, Elton John, Paul McCartney and Phil Collins along the way.

While it’s unlikely any of those names have set foot in Taihape, that’s exactly where he has set up shop, opening the Coffee Plus+ cafe.

Taihape is where Henry’s wife was born and raised, and the couple have called the town home for the past five years.

Their son is completing training to be a baker and Henry said he bought the cafe with that in mind.

He had “just been offered a two-year scholarship to continue on and do chefing, so he’s gone back to school and Mum and Dad are left with the shop,” Henry said.

“We were trying to live the quiet life, but customers just keep walking through the door.”

Henry’s career in the music industry began in Brisbane in the early 1980s when he worked as part of the loading crew at Festival Hall.

He was part of the crew that hosted Elton John in 1982, and three years later he joined the touring party of another big name British musician.

“Phil Collins was in town but I wasn’t working that show,” Henry said.

“I wanted to go to it, so I put a black T shirt and a pair of jeans on and stood outside the loading dock at Festival hall.

“A car pulls up and a big Texan guy jumps out and tells me to grab a road case and put it in his office.

“I do as I’m told and he says ‘I’m gonna need you in Sydney tomorrow’.

“The next thing I know I’m doing Collins’ No Jacket Required tour.”

The tour included dates at the Philadelphia and London dates of Live Aid.

“We were lucky enough to do the Yankee Stadium/Wembley Stadium thing by Concorde,” Henry said.

“I think we did America in the morning, jumped on the plane, and did London that night.

“The moral of the story is you can be whatever you want to be, really. That’s what I tried to teach my kids.

“Sooner or later it’ll happen.”

One of Henry’s next big gigs was Michael Jackson’s 1987-1989 Bad world tour.

“I was working for a guy called Kevin Jacobson at the time, and we’d just done Walt Disney’s World On Ice I think,” Henry said.

“Kevin said ‘I’ve got a surprise for you, but you’ll have to come to LA with me next week to find out was it is’.

“We got there and he still hadn’t told me what was going on. The next minute Frank DiLeo and Sal Bonafede appear in the foyer of the hotel and we’re signing a $10 million deal with DeLeo to bring Michael Jackson over for two weeks.

“The rest is history, really.”

Henry maintained a connection with Jackson up to the singer’s death in 2009, even staying at the Neverland ranch on a couple of occasions.

He was about to fly to London to take part in the 50 show “This Is It” concert residency at Wembley Arena when he heard the news Jackson had died.

“Rehearsals were just starting and we were packed up ready to go,” Henry said.

“I turned the TV on one morning and he was gone.”

Henry said he hoped to bring some of the bigger names he had worked with over the years to Coffee Plus+.

“At some point we are going to try and get a Dave Grohl or a Phil Collins.

“Someone I’ve worked with who will be kind enough to want to see the river and the mountain, stay a couple of days, and sing a couple of songs.

“Let’s see what we can do. There is room for a back line in there as well, so at some point we’ll do a big heavy metal night. Why? Because we can.

“Maybe I can get Slayer to pop in at some point.”

Whatever happens, Henry will be manning the coffee machine at Coffee Plus+ for the forseeable future – or at least until his son finishes his chef scholarship.

“At the moment we’re trying to keep it small and manageable. The easiest way to do that is just close on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.”

As well as buying a coffee machine, Henry has installed a pool table and now provides fresh cabinet food.

“People have suggested that we offer full meals and things, but the last thing we want is a restaurant,” Henry said.

“Who’s going to cook the food? Who’s going to do the dishes?.

“Our idea is to have a place where people can come in and stretch their legs, have a cup of coffee and a pie, and not feel in any rush to get out again.”

The cafe also has a small stage, and while it’s a far cry from the arenas and stadiums Henry is used to, it does offer him the chance to bring performers to Taihape who might never have considered it before.

The Lady Killers (Tina Cross, Suzanne Lynch and Jackie Clarke) are set to perform there on July 31 and Dave Dobbyn will also make an appearance before the end of the year.

“We are very lucky, it’s about an 100 capacity, and 10 people in the shop makes it work.

“I’m going to try and get the acts that are on the touring circuit, but I’m also hunting down people that aren’t touring – the ones who will just play in Taihape and that’s it.

“Hopefully we can get one big one a month, and back to the smaller acts in between.”

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