Review: The Falls Festival, Marion Bay, Tasmania

Ponchos are the latest fashionPhotos by Stu B.

So now to the fun bit, the music!

Day 2, Monday 30th December, rolled around and as we planned our day, we were a bit excited about some unknowns and some stalwart festival acts, it was going to be a great day.

First up, on the Field Stage, at a very reasonable lunch hour was local Foster a Band competition winner Lulu an The Paige Turners. Knowing little but what I gleaned from the Falls Festival App description, I was hopeful for something interesting, lo and behold, the Paige-Turners turned out to be a bigger than expected group of young men, resplendent in white dress shirts, black suspenders and bowties complete with drums, cello, banjo, acoustic guitar, keyboard and who knows what else! Lulu herself stepped on to stage looking like she stepped out of an old timey movie in a frilled lavender dress that would either float beautifully or become her own personal parachute in the windy conditions. Obviously a lot of friends were in the crowd, or at least local and loyal fans, as many shouts of encouragement met them before they even played a note.

Lulu and The Paige Turners Opening with ‘Begin-agains’ from their EP Bookends and Begin-again delivered a strong, strummy guitar intro, quivering vocals, subtle backing harmonies and touches of a soul pitch to her vocals. It’s a very indie pop style but very easy to lose yourself in. To follow up their opening, the slower track, ‘The Mean Reds’ also from the EP mellowed out the audience, becoming solemn at times. With a strong banjo melody and sweet, hushed tones of the harmonies, it was more like the lullaby style we’ve seen from a number of singer/songwriters but with a surprise build with drum and electric bass almost reminiscent of a Mumford and Sons hoedown.

The rest of her set was equally diverse with bluesy bass lines, cool vibes, raspy, rolling, gravely gutsy verses, sentiments stripped down to a Capella accompanied by clicks and whistling, and of course, many a banjo solo from probably the happiest Banjo player I’ve seen of late.

It’s a wonderful mix on stage, of piano intros, rhythm on a snare drum played by Lulu, tales of a broken heart, dischordant harmonies to really set the tone, not to be out done by angsty, angry, passionate vocals. Lulu is a multi-instrumentalist playing percussion, guitar and violin, but also delivering vocals reminiscent of Kate Miller Heidke or Tori Amos. All of this she achieves while also performing with a cold that would likely render her voiceless after her set.

Well in with the audience, they brought out a brand new song, ‘Bright Eyes’, a song she was not sure what it was actually about but “sometimes the universe gives you a song for a reason”. Beautiful lightly treated, stripped back sound with just the simplest of accompaniment graced the enraptured field. Their musicianship was all about the lyric weaving it’s way across the melody, and the 3 piece harmonies by the Paige-Turners with room for an instrumental break and some epic violin by Lulu, like she and it had a private dance to complete. ‘A Little Secret’ changed the mood, with a very country feel to the full instrumental sound and beat yet cleverly walked the fine line mixing between full sound and stripped back line “little secret”. Amusingly, keyboard and the banjo had almost a russian dance off mid song.

Their final song was full of thanks and appreciation for the crowds support, and delivered their first single release, a definite favourite, ‘The Music Box’. A stuccato piano intro, great harmony based vocals  and full band sound behind string and catchy melody had us all nodding to the beat. There was even an instrumental break showcasing the cello and of course a huge violin presence Lulu in breaks. I found it really catchy and could easily hum it all day with it’s killer vocals, Lulu’s passionate stage presence, it all makes for a warning: keep an eye out, Lulu and the Paige-Turners should take stages by storm.

Big Scary at Falls Festival Marion BayWe popped over to the Valley stage to check out Big Scary with their big piano and drum sound and 2 part harmonies. They’re certainly genre-defying and on the Falls stage, combining their slow piano stylings with heavy base and drums, created an ethereal quality to their set and sound. A really pleasant poppy, chill out band for the setting and time.

Paper Kites at the Falls Festival Marion BayWe headed back to the Field stage to catch The Paper Kites and watching their band tune a banjo, it struck me that I wanted to renaming this stage the Banjo Stage! It’s always promising when a banjo is sound checked, almost guaranteed a good hoedown. The five piece, opened with a strong drum beat/line and mellow guitar over the top and calm vocals wafting on the breeze. The crowd grew quickly, attracted to their ethereal indie quality. Their set saw great cohesion of vocal and instruments, working as one, blending when needed, separating when wanted.

They played “Young”, a more synth based track with finger plucking strings over the top. There was a steady crowd dancing up the front, from within, someone releases glitter across the top of the crowd and it floated over them much like the lyrics and vocals. A very mellow set with a solid under current of instrumental indie cool.

At times their set is airy, with floaty piano intros and breathy yet strong vocals. Other times, like when playing “Bloom”, an older song that the crowd can sing along too, a more plucky vibe sets the the crowd screaming and intensifies the atmosphere while still delivering beautiful harmonies that even a crowd can carry. Then they effortlessly add drums and banjo to truly catchy effect. I love the whistling break, crowd tried to whistle along and ended up sounding like drunk birds.

Their new song, “Cold Kind Hand”, is a more indie rock vibe with the femanine vocals playing beautifully off the big earthy drums beats. Staying true to their sound, their new stuff is as equally welcome as their old stuff. Take that Regurgitator.

James Vincent McMorrow at Falls Festival Marion BayI’m a complete novice when it comes to  James Vincent McMorrow, so when we headed to the Valley stage to catch his set, I was delighted to see a crowd had already formed, eagerly anticipating his set. Walking on stage to a rousing welcome from the audience, McMorrow opened with his breathtaking falsetto, reminiscent of early Matt Corby ethereal vocals, over simple piano chords, building to a faster speed with clapping, percussion and backing vocals. I saw in an instant the appeal and why so many are clamouring for his music. The crowd continued to stream in to the field as overall sound, now filled with bass to round out the effect, rolled up the ampitheatre. His voice delivers tones of Bon Iver but devled deeper within himself, ultimately creating an earthy, grounded effect.

His set celivered variety, with synth beat under harmonised vocals, the simplicity and stripped back nature of which was mezmerising. He is skilled at gently bringing new instruments in to the tracks, I didn’t even notice the piano build in to one song, and yet it ended solely on a tight vocal/piano harmony. He claimed nervousness as it had been a year and a half since his last big performance. He merely hoped his nerves were endearing, but to everyone present, not a nervous moment had been witnessed. Launching back in to his moody and soft, almost tentative vocals and delicious piano, echoing drum beats herald crowd favourites and everyone is lost in the performance.

London Grammar at Falls Festival Marion BayI’m one of those people who has heard of London Grammar, and has probably even heard their hits, but having been a bit of a musical hermit of late, I was keen to catch them in full swing on the Valley stage. The haunting intro and her voice flowing off the stage accompanied by keyboard and little else told me I was in for a wonderful show. “Hey Now” had a hypnotic effect on every member of the audience, ending in the kind of silence where you can hear a pin drop. And then there was the rapturous applause.

I can see why Hannah has been compared to Florence Welsh and Kate Bush, her voice dominates over the bass, electric guitar and djembe. But, not just a beautiful voice, she can take on the keys, build a melody that emerges alone only to wend through her soulful, lilting lyrics. She is a statuesque leading lady, yet manages stillness, poise, focus and delivers pitch perfect, stunning vocals that had the audience entranced. Whether they need to engage the audience with more in the way of stage presence is debatable, what they don’t have in presence, they make up for with atmosphere and sheer soundscape.

Hannah was experiencing the worst hayfever she has ever had because there is a unique type of grass in Tasmania and nowhere else in the world. With that revelation, it was amazing her vocals weren’t affected. Their wildly popular cover of Kavinsky’s “Nightcall” was to be expected, a popular choice with the crowd with it’s keys opening making way for the whining, stripped back electric guitar, reminiscent of The xx’s sparse production style.

With the crowd thoroughly in the mood, a staffer comes on stage with a giant birthday cake to celebrate Hannah’s birthday, for which the crowd sang happy birthday and she was incredibly excited as the cake was gluten free meaning she could actually enjoy eating it after their set. Fittingly, they celebrated the moment with a song the crowd could all sing along to, “Caught in the Middle”. To wrap up, they delighted the audience with “Metal and Dust” with it’s midway upbeat synth beats and keys which created a wall of sound crawling up the hill from the valley stage.

Violent Femmes at Falls Festival Marion BayI am of the age to have just been alive when their first, and arguably most famous, album was released, but I sure as hell knew about them and have danced in to many a late night with Blister In The Sun blaring. So needless to say, I was at the Valley stage for the Violent Femmes set. Just walking on stage they received a huge welcome from the crowd. And with out any ado at all, they cracked straight in to it with “Blister in the Sun”. They played like their album release was last year, like they do it all the time, and most of the crowd was up and dancing without a second thought. Naturally, with their time in the industry and their experience, they could play each track with a kind of laid back delivery, but full of cheer and that cool swagger attitude. Effortless in fact. They dubbed themselves the Grandfathers of folk-punk and to be blunt, they’re dead right on that call. And of course, they are one of those acts that can play their album from start to finish and hold every person in the palm of their hands for every single track, in spite of us all knowing what would come next. “Kiss Off” went off, the big slappy bass tones of “Please Do Not Go” had the crowd going crazy,  “Add It Up” had everyone singing every word at the top of their voice, and I was having a bit of a Reality Bites flashback. It was a glorious set, they sounded almost exactly like they did the day it was released and they were such a joy to watch, clearly having a great time on stage.

The Cat Empire at Falls Festival Marion BayOur final folky act of the night was our name sake and one of our favourite acts, The Cat Empire. I wanted to make notes and recall all they played, highlight the nuances of their set, but in true Cat Empire style, they just nailed it. They have this ability to cheer a crowd as soon as they walk on stage, talk to us all like we’re personal friends just jamming at their place, and have us all singing, dancing, grooving and jumping along to every track. They played a great selection of their back catalogue interspersed with tracks from Steal The Light and they generally got the party really pumping. We, as a crowd moved and grooved as one, loving every second. They, as always, nailed it. I read a Faster Louder review of the Marion Bay Falls  that put the Cat Empire down to a “pale imitation of The Roots” due to their scheduling, but clearly the reviewer was at an alternate universe version of the same gig, because we saw nothing of that. In fact, The Roots were a disappointment to us, nothing like we expected, so much so, that we left half way through their set and headed to bed. We must have missed the good bit.

Finally the penultimate day rolled around. Day 3, Tuesday 31st December - New Years Eve and the reason we were all there.

Gossling at Falls Festival Marion BayAfter a lazy lie-in, we headed to the Field stage to see one of our favourites, Gossling who we enjoyed seeing back in 2011. What a difference 2 years makes, from opening spot on the main stage at Lorne to a modest crowd, to a mid afternoon Marion Bay Field Stage spot absolutely packed with punters. Having not yet caught the latest offering from Gossling, I wasn’t quite that sure what to expect but bouyed by her unassuming start and complete skipping of any kind of chattering intro, Helen and band kicked straight in to the set with glee and abandon. Her set was heartfelt yet forthright, pulling tracks predominantly from the new album Harvest of Gold. The intimate setting allowed Helen to tell the stories behind the songs; the  love song about a couple who had been together a long time, whose spark was there in the beginning but is no longer there and the resulting mutual break up; her early experiences with social media as an artist and that anyone can say anything they want online and she just has to stop being a little pussy; and the day to day observations and experiences of life. Particular highlights included “Songs of Summer” (co-written with Steve Parkin) and that lamentable opening line “On a  Friday night, a thousand weeks ago” replete with male vocals (by Alexander Burnett of Sparkadia on the record) as well as the sheer frustration meets pop sensibilities of “Challenge” and it’s social media mayhem. All in all, another delightful afternoon spent with Gossling.

The John Steel Singers at Falls Festival Marion BayHustling from one stage to the next meant we could get a glimpse of The John Steel Singers on the Valley stage and their dedicated fans clamouring to tyhe front of the stage. Their set was upbeat and at times delivered a psychedelic vibe to the over all indie sound. I’ve heard a bit about the group, especially because TnS contributor Haz is a bit of a fan boy, but I was truly delighted by their tight harmonies and elegant guitar work. An oldie but a goodie, “Strawberry Wine” was a particular favourite with the crowd and as we made our way to our next stop, the set was in full swing, crowd singing and dancing along and glimpses of harmonised spleandour taunted us.

Later in the day we found ourselves back at the Field stage to catch complete unknowns, Bombino. Within an instant, our reaction was “They’re so cool!” Rocking traditional garb albeit of shiny material, and sporting electric guitars, this was an outfit set to impress. Opening rocky riffs drew an instant crowd to dance along. Singing in their native language, inspite of having no clue what was being said, their music translated with a sense of storytelling that spoke directly to the soul each member of the audience.

Bombino at Falls Festival Marion BayThe easiest way to describe their sound is a kind of a meeting of world music and indie stylings. Band members hail from West Africa, Niger, so it’s desert music that they play with touches of a Reggae feel to their beat. Bombino delivered a consistent energy and tempo throughout their set, holding the crowd in their groove through to the end, with a huge cheer from the audience to thank them for the performance. This is the kind of group I think Ash Grunwald would love to jam with!

Emma Louise at Falls Festival Marion BayRecovering from Bombino, we were set put to catch Emma Louise at the Field stage. Having missed a lot locally for the last 18months, I was curious to see just how far from folk Emma Louise had moved. With a heady mix of synth keyboard, acoustic guitar and stripped back drum kit, it was hard to predict just what would arrive. She walked out on stage looking super slick, breathy backing vocals began and she strapped on her acoustic guitar, much to the appreciation of the volminous audience. Stunning, breathy harmonised vocals wafted over the crowd creating a haunting and still opening. She has really matured and grasped the ethereal indie sound that Matt Corby toyed with a few years ago but delivers it with strength, confidence and delicate handling of the style.

“Toys”  gave a clever meld of synth, guitar and those evocative vocals, smooth as butter and just as addictive. Her stage presence has come leaps and bounds since I last saw her at Falls in Lorne, a true professional graces the stage now and captures the audience, holding them with every lick of a lyric.

The crowd, as one, responded to each synth-laden ethereal moment creating a sense of anticipation. “Tessalate” erupted from a mournful synth opening, trilling guitar and tantalising snare that broke in to a solid bass drum rhythm. Emma Louise’s Florence-esque vocals wound their way through the soundscape, met with harmonised backing, building to a beautiful crescendo before a delicate ending.

The set was peppered with new and old tracks including the strong keyboard, drum rhythms and intertwined angelic vocals of “Atlasize” and the rolling intimacy of “Keep Me Warm” allowed her great vocal range to tip in to and out of melancholic, interlocking harmonies to create an incredible, dreamlike atmosphere. And naturally, she ended with that favourite and original hit, “Jungle” which had the already large crowd heaving with enthusiasm and joy.

Crystal Fighters at Falls Festival Marion BayWhen we headed to the Valley stage for the Crystal Fighters, we had no real idea what to expect except that their bio included the word folktronica, so of course, I was there. The crowd were very excited for them and as they entered the stage they made an amazing visual impact as they were all dressed for the occassion. It seems this is what happens when a strange mix of percussion, glittery costumes and acoustic meets electric cohesion. No matter their cross-genre mix, the crowd were instantly dancing.

It all got a bit folkalicious when their txalaparta came into it’s fore (for those playing along, it’s like a giant xylophone played by two people at once), it was almost tribal in nature, matched with a thumping drum rhythm in an altogether stripped backing style to the vocals before the synth and full ensemble sound built in to a massive presence with crowd jumping and dancing feverishly. Did I mention they manage to include a ukelele in their dance music ensemble?

Love is all I’ve got for this act. Infectiously fun and impossible not to enjoy! I mean, you’ve got to love a bit of electric, hyper ukelele. They managed the crowd beautifully, taking us musically down to the beach (the real beach we could see from our vantage point), down through a
mellow, strummy intro in to the calyspo feel backing and harmonised vocals of “Plage”, where the synth builds before a big electric guitar line joins the party. I also adored the epic cow bell that features in “I Love London”. I think this is one of my favourite, highlight acts from the whole festival, a must see and a must to track down some of their back catalogue!

Grizzly Bear at Falls Festival Marion BayComing down from such a high energy set, we stayed at the Valley stage to catch Grizzly Bear
It was their second New Year’s Eve in Tassie and they seemed quite happy with their lot. Their opening number, “Speak in Rounds” brought with it the haunting quality of their vocals and the woozy atmospherics their sets are renowned for. They moved from one set to the next with such grace and ease that at times you’d forgotten that one song ended and another begun. The inextricably mellow and chilled resonance segued effortlessly in to echoey lament only to give way occasionally to a bluesy rock beat or to a revel in synthesizer gait.

Their performance is one of those truly enrapturing experiences, where their dreamy set can transport you to another reality, parrallel to the often frenetic energy of Marion Bay on a special occasion.

Neil Finn at Falls Festival Marion BayThe final folkishly influenced act on the Valley stage that night was the irrepressible, Neil Finn. We saw Finn take the stage back in Lorne and while that was a fun set, there was something more this time around. Whether the vibe of the Marion Bay festival or the hubbub of New Year’s Eve, either way, in that inimitable personality and presence, the audience was putty in Finn’s hands.

He crafted together a set filled with nostalgia, of hits and favourites as well as braw new works from recent album Dizzy Heights. Of the old songs, there was once voice as the crowd sang in unison, word for word, proving just how timeless Crowded House and Split Enz are. Of the new works, my favourite was the transidental temporary insantiy of “Pony Ride”, or that could just have been Finn’s explanation for the song and somehow we were all suddenly riding rainbows on unicorns with him, likely in hysterics. Title track “Dizzy Heights” and “Flying in the Face of Love” also were received well, but it was moments like Kirin J Callinan jumping in for a guitar solo on the Crowded House track “Locked Out” that made the set memorable. The spine tingling closer, one man on his knees and one guitar with no amped sound while crew changed over behind him for the next set, the thousands strong crowd with just the utterance of it’s opening  had us off singing “Better Be Home Soon” and claimed the defining moment of the night.

I don’t recall much of the actual New Year, with MGMT running over time, a quick countdown before kissing and hugging your nearest and dearest, or the random crowd members beside you, and then finally The Wombats hitting us with an onslaught of hits and subsequent dancing frenzy, it all just blurs together to be an energy filled night of frivolity with a matching hangover the next morning.

But, if you’re going to wake up with a hangover anywhere in the world, Falls Festival Marion Bay just moved up my list of acceptable places to do so.

Review: The Falls Festival, The Marion Bay Vibe

IMG_8801 - Version 2Photos by Stu B.

The Falls Festival is a funny beast – you have to choose between 3 states to attend, each with a slightly different line up. We chose Marion Bay, Tasmania for it’s chilled out, family friendly atmosphere, it’s absolutely stunning natural setting and because well, we haven’t been to Tassie for many years.

Having been to Lorne back in 2011/12, we had a few expectations about it’s little sister, Marion Bay, but what we discovered is that each site has it’s own unique style, pace and feel. With Lorne and Byron Bay selling out in the ever expected blink of an eye, we wondered whether the addition of Byron Bay as a third location (popular holiday destination and no stranger to big festivals) would be detrimental to the further afield, Marion Bay. Ticket sales were down but we found there was much more than just ticket sales to measure a festival by.

We made a real trip of it, flying in to Launceston for a night, driving down the East Coast in a hire car for two days (we even got to pat a Tassie Devil!), and spending a couple of nights either side of the festival in Hobart really appreciating the produce of Tasmania all on offer at the conveniently timed Taste of Tasmania which is definitely worth the visit. In short, before we arrived at Marion Bay, we were already in love with the place. Getting to the Marion Bay site is a bit tricky if you’re not a local driving there, however there is a very well organised bus system which we took, and where you kind of feel like you’re on a school trip, complete with that nervous energy buzzing round the passengers.

Marion Bay is the only Falls Festival which allows under 18s to attend, which I think is a really good option for the festival. In the lead up to the entry gates, and before your car is checked top to bottom for contraband alcohol (which if confiscated is given to the volunteers to drink at the after party – so it does go to a good cause), there is an alcohol amnesty, a lock up where you can store your grog instead of trying to sneak it in and simply collect it on your way out of the festival. We did see a number of cars stop and take up that option. In all, the festival has a much more relaxed and chilled out feeling. Some say that because there are children around, there is a natural reaction for the adults to behave a bit more and not go overboard on the alcohol. Other anecdotes told of those who successfully smuggled alcohol in who would head back to camp to drink their contraband and be so intoxicated that they never made it back in to the festival of an evening to see the big name bands… such a waste. But, it did mean we experienced one of the best festival crowds ever, complete with a bunch of little kids clad with epic ear muffs.

Tepee Village by Tepee LifeWe decided that since we were having one hell of a holiday away, that we would splurge on our accommodation for the festival. As with all of the Falls Festival sites, camping is included with your ticket. If you don’t want to haul your own camping gear, you can buy a gimme shelter ticket which will kit you out with a pop up tent and something to sleep on, already set up for your arrival. We went with the mother of all options and booked a Tepee for the full festival. These things are cool and environmentally friendly – made of recycled vinyl banners and bamboo poles, it’s a tent you can stand in, with space to sleep from 2-6 people. If being able to stand up in your tent isn’t the only appealing option for you, the tepee village also boasts a chill out, lounge room style common area with couches, coffee tables, power to charge your gadgets, shade cloths, funky night time lighting and some really cool people running the place. The only down side to being located in the centre of the festival was that it was away from toilets and showers and right next to the Village which is one of the late night venues. But, who needs a full night’s sleep anyway? On the plus side we were right in between the Field and Valley Stages meaning you could constantly drop in to your tent to drop off or pick up anything you needed. Tasmania, even in the middle of summer, can be bitterly cold and whips a wickedly chilly breeze straight through your bones while the sun blazes to hellishly hot temperatures any time the wind dies down. Being able to stop in for a quick layer or clothing change on the way between stages was indeed heaven.

The site itself had far more room than Lorne, with a full stretch of markets in the field between the two stage areas (where the Gimme Shelter and Tepee camping were as well as The Village) which made ducking between acts and stages a bit more energetic. The Field stage was a great little space, intimate even for a small crowd, and absolutely brimming with energy when a big crowd turns up (for Violent Soho or Solange for example). The Valley Stage, while sloping toward the stage isn’t quite the impressive ampitheatre that Lorne has, however it completely trumps Lorne by having the most spectacular view for any festival I’ve been to. I could sit on the rise and watch the sea and it’s hilly backdrop change colours from brilliant blues and emerald greens to a moody shifting between slate grey, cobalt blue and the kind of green you could only expect at the bottom of the ocean. It’s probably one of the most calming backdrops to set the scene for a festival like this.

View of Marion Bay and camping areas at Falls Festival 2013

Set over three nights, the first night saw only The Field Stage running to host the traditional opening night of any Falls Festival, Boogie Nights. Dressing up in theme is thoroughly encouraged, especially this year with the intergalactic theme that saw one couple lucky enough to win the opportunity to dance on stage with MGMT. We saw many, MANY wild and kooky costumes and it was clear Tasmania was going to be nothing to sniff at. Our favourite and most nerdy costume we thought should have won, was a young lass dressed, rather convincingly, as a Dalek. There were aluminium wrapped people, neon coloured fluffy outfits and event an amazing effort as a Sesame Street martian (yip yip yip!). We enjoyed Boogie Nights and it’s exemplary collection of boogie, funk, soul and groovy acts, none of which are in any way folky so don’t really warrant a review, but it’s one hell of a way to start a party. Our highlights were the incredibly silly antics and games of Legs Akimbo, amazing beat boxing by Tom Thum, the crazy outfit and intense energy, whole set dancing of The Correspondents and of course the excellent choices decade upon decade of Hot Dub Time Machine.

The next few days were filled with so many acts, that we decided to try and really pick out the folk influenced ones to review, and all that will all be revealed in part 2 very soon!

Entry to The Village at Falls Festival Marion BayBut to wrap up this piece, looking at the whole vibe and experience of Marion Bay, we couldn’t fault it. Great atmosphere, some fantastic site specific art throughout the site, a fantastic array of food and market stalls, plus the sheer room to move made the place really comfortable to spend a good few days. The vibe was amazing, relaxed, but still with a really positive energy, so much so, that it seems everyone on site was happy, all the time. That is no mean feat! But finally, we really loved the family friendly aspect of Marion Bay. We don’t have kids, but it’s a really pleasant place even without kids. It’s not over run with little ones, but they are an ever present, incredibly well behaved addition to the audience mix. There was plenty of activities for them to participate in, including the Festival Parade that saw a couple of hundred people build and create crazy costumes in the village throughout the festival all in time for the New Years Eve parade to the Valley Stage. Filled with punters young and old, headed by a golf cart, it was a superb representation of Love in all it’s forms.

If Woodford is too far away for you, or a little too folk heavy for your liking, then Falls Festival Marion Bay is a perfect alternative which still gives you a lot of similar experiences yet has a personality and style all of it’s own. Or, if they’ve got a great line up and that’s all you’re keen on, come for the space, the easy access to the beach, the pleasant weather and temperature and the awesome excuse for a getaway.

The New Year Conundrum

Every year as the calendar days roll by, friends and family start asking the inevitable questions about what you are doing for Christmas and New Year. In the past, there has been a good range of folk friendly festivals stretching up and down the East Coast of Australia for eager punters to choose from, but with the demise of both Pyramid Rock Festival and Peats Ridge Festival, it shrinks the obvious choices down to Woodford Folk Festival and The Falls Festival (which has conveniently added a new venue/ location for the 2013/14 event).

But, what if you’re not after a big and busy festival for your New Year’s celebrations? Well, let’s take a look at what’s on offer, both the big guns and the ones you might not have come across yet.

Woodford Folk Festival – Woodford, QLD

Woodford Cart

Undeniably one of the largest festivals in Australia, it has been repeatedly nominated for all kinds of awards in the events and tourism industries and remains one of my favourite festivals of all time, even if only for a 35 hour experience, I’d love to go back (but sadly, not this year). Based on their own site (Woodfordia, about one hour north of Brisbane), The Queensland Folk Federation have delivered outstanding line ups year after year and offer a range of musical acts and arts activities for all ages making this festival easy for the whole family to attend. While this year’s line up hasn’t yet been announced, we would put money on it being another outstanding list of great musicians from around the world, a quick glance through the 2012/13 programme book will attest to that.

Tickets and camping are still available at pre-festival web prices up until Christmas Eve, or if you’re feeling the pinch, they are always looking for willing volunteers who gain free entry in return for their help before, during or after the festival. Highlights of Woodford, apart from the amazing line up (in which we would name almost ever artist we’ve covered on  Timber and Steel if we were to list past festival performers), includes the huge range of workshops, crafts and activities for all ages to participate in, the exciting range of food and stalls available on site, the breathtaking lantern parade and the penultimate fire event bringing in the New Year. Completely safe for the whole family with plenty for the young and young at heart, if you haven’t been to Woodford, it is probably the festival I would tell everyone to go to no matter what their musical leaning. Don’t believe me? Check out their latest promo video:

The Falls Festival – Lorne Vic, Marion Bay Tas and Byron Bay NSW

Falls Festival, Lorne, 2008, Music Festival

Now, before I get you all excited, tickets for two of the three sites have sold out, tickets are now only available for Marion Bay in Tasmania. So, for those of you already with tickets to Lorne or Byron Bay, I’m only going to be reaffirming your excellent choice in festival for the New Year period. I went along for the 2011/12 festival in Lorne Vic and discovered an experience I had not anticipated, it was so big it required multiple small reviews, no single post could encapsulate it all. 2013 is the first year they’ve expanded to Byron Bay (which has successfully hosted Splendor in the Grass and nearby is the home of Bluesfest) so there is no hesitation that a New Year’s festival will have any trouble in such esteemed company.

Just like Woodford, The Falls Festival is not just a music festival, it has a vast array of arts workshops and experiences to keep every punter engaged no matter their hangover or musical interests, from themed days and fiesta’s through to art attacks. For those thinking still and wondering about Marion Bay, we can confirm it is a kid friendly event meaning, like Woodford, the whole family can come along and enjoy the line up.

Speaking of line ups, since The Falls Festival is not exclusively a folk festival, it means the artists cover a range of styles but still features some of our favourites including Emma Louise, Gossling, Grizzly Bear, Neil Finn, The Cat Empire, The Paper Kites, The Preachers and a whole lot more that we’d love to check out live. For the full line up, visit the listing on their website.

If you’re heading to the Byron Bay site and haven’t decided whether to camp, glamp or swag it, all the accomodation options are available on the Falls Festival travel page including the incredibly groovy Tepee Life village (Tepee Life also available in Marion Bay).

And if the idea of heading to Tasmania isn’t immediately appealing, just pause for a moment to consider the great adventure you could embark on. Not only do you get to head to one of the most pristine and beautiful forest areas within Australia and see some of the best acts around (including voting by Oct 31 in the Foster A Band competition to choose a local band to grace the stage), you can also take advantage of the 29 December start date to have an adventure around Hobart and broader Tasmania before bringing in the New Year!

If you’re struggling to decide, or wish you’d got a ticket to Lorne or Byron Bay, don’t despair, there are a few more options including applying for an Art Camp at any of the three sites to create the artistic heart and soul of the festival, and includes a coveted ticket to the festival. If you’re not so artistically inclined, but don’t mind a bit of work, volunteer applications are still open for Marion Bay.

Now, I move out of my comfort zone to two festival’s I’ve never been to!

Gulgong Folk Festival - Gulgong NSW

Dancing Gulgong Folk Festival by Flickr member farmgrovePhoto courtesy of Flickr member farmgrove

Technically not actually a New Year’s festival, the Gulgong Festival (which Gareth enjoyed earlier this year) takes place over the weekend immediately prior, 28 and 29 December 2013, making it a good option for those who have to work those pesky week days between the public holidays – if you’re in NSW and can manage a drive out to Gulgong that is. However, it’s also a great option for people that want a folky fix AND their big city New Year’s party as you could manage both pretty easily. If a nice jaunt out to Mudgee isn’t tempting enough, what if I told you tickets were free? I kid you not.

There’s no obvious camping options unless you seek out a camping ground but their website does list a number of motels and accommodation options, and really who doesn’t like a trip out in to the countryside and a good B&B to see you through?

Again, their line up is not announced yet, but with past acts like Jack Carty, The Falls, Mustered Courage, April Maze, we’re pretty confident it will be an impressive selection. A little birdy has shared some inside information that Daniel Champagne, Melanie Horsnell, Alan Caswell, Big Erle and Matt Southon may well make appearances *nudge, nudge, wink, wink*

Nariel-Creek Folk Festival – Nariel Creek Vic

Vendulka performing at the Nariel-Creek Folk FestivalVendulka on stage. Photo courtesy of Nariel-Creek Folk Festival

A beaut little festival in regional Victoria (North East for those playing at home) which looks to be the kind of scale of The Gum Ball or Corinbank and equally delightful feel for all the family. They went simple in their online presence – a facebook page only, having pulled down their website earlier in the year. Tickets are cheap at $20 a head and available at the door, camping is an incredibly low $5/ night and you can turn up early and stay late if you really want. No idea who is on their bill, but in honesty, it just looks like an amazing and relaxed way to spend a New Year’s, especially if you want to avoid the crowds! Plus there is ample opportunity to dress up for the fun of it with plenty of great shots of their past New Year’s Even cocktail parties on their facebook page.

Gum Ball Crowd

An honourable mention goes to The Gum Ball, who last month put the call out online to see who might be inclined to turn up at their Dashville property for a New Year’s Gum Ball-esque event. Unfortunately they didn’t get enough interest to make anything happen this year, but if you’re keen to see a New Year festival in the Hunter Valley for future years, we think heading to the 2014 Gum Ball and making noises at the organisers might help them decide to go ahead in 2014.

So, where are you spending New Year’s? We’re still considering the conundrum ourselves!

Review: Bushstock 2013, Shepherds Bush, London UK

Bushstock titleReview and photos by KT Bell

When you live in London and you like Folk music, Communion is the Mecca of your music world. The fact that Communion is going strong in Australia and had a huge influence on the very beginnings of Timber and Steel, well, it just makes any Communion experience all that much more special.

The Communion brains trust built Bushstock, a multi-venue local folk extravaganza complete with outdoor beer gardens, sets in Churches and pubs crammed full with music lovers and musicians. In typical London fashion, I’d managed to double book myself and could only hit up the festival for a few hours in the afternoon missing all the big name attractions, which might have been a blessing in disguise as it meant I could focus on checking out the newer, upcoming acts on the UK scene.

The average music festival in Australia is an outdoor affair taking full advantage of our glorious weather and usually a bit of a trek to a venue that can hold the volume of people likely to attend. Bushstock is exactly the opposite, a selection of venues within short walk of each other in London’s increasingly trendy Shepherd’s Bush. Of the four venues for the festival, only two were operating early in the day so I found myself shifting regularly between a church and a pub, opposite ends of the venue spectrum mentally.

Bushstock 1I arrived at the church in time to catch the last song by George Ezra. A young and relaxed performer, his distinct voice of mellow, treacle like tones was more than fitting for a church setting. Humble in his stage presence, George would be an interesting act to catch again and soon.

Then was the first Hike to the Defectors Weld, the pub venue a 5min walk away.

DSC_0651The pub had a tiny stage set between a door and the main seating area and the bar itself. happily, being so early in the day, the room was open enough to find a comfortable spot to watch Sam Fender. He was young and full of soul expressed through an acoustic guitar and the agony of being a teenager with his set littered with songs from puberty. He has raw talent and the passion and intensity of Kim Churchill at times, complete with intelligent lyrics for someone so young. Sam is quite clearly in the it’s of the Communion chaps so keep an eye out for his rise on the scene.

Bushstock 3Then it was time to hot tail it back to the Church to catch Annie Eve. She was not quite what I had expected, but then I didn’t know what to expect from any of the acts. She was much more reserved and introspected than the previous act and in a completely different, serene setting. Her voice reminds me of a cross between Lisa Mitchell and Julia Stone with a very distinct sound and style to her singing, melancholic and lamentably solemn. While it didn’t get my juices flowing, she had great orchestration and flowing musicality to her entire set. It will be interesting to see where her music goes and how it further develops.

Bushstock 4And if course, it was the time to return to the Defectors’ Weld for Young War. A deceptive name, this act was a solo guy layering guitar and voice over each other in loops to create his own backing. He strikes me as the guy who mucks around with music in his room honing the technical only to surprise us on stage with actual talent and strong technical backing. I could only tell he was nervous by his shaking hand programming his guitar tuner. He was more like acoustic soul tending to r&b but not this shit pop r&b hip hop meld bullshit, the real rhythm and blues in acoustic guSivuitar and real ingenuity. He has great potential once he explores more songwriting outlets and finds more of his voice.

Bushstock 5I hustled back to church for Sivu (pronounced see-voo) Which was one of the main acts I was aware of before the festival. Sivu was a complete band with string section and reminiscent of skipping girl vinegar but with less of the happy band vibe and a more indie grunge with orchestration feel. Their only song I was familiar has an awesome film clip filmed in MRI and happily their performance was just as good live as in the video clip. Tending more toward the indie spectrum, they have a good cross section of fans to see them have a steady interest and gigs.

Bushstock 6My last trek before heading off to my double booking, saw me back at the Defectors Weld to catch a guy going by the name The Lake Poets. another act that was a single guy and an acoustic guitar, young and simplistic but in a positive way that was not overly fussy or ostentatious, just plain and to the point. His set was calm and measured framing his pleasant voice and affable charm through a smooth collection of heartfelt tracks.

In all, it was a great festival but certainly one you’d be likely to pick one venue to stay at for an extended time rather than back and forwards like I did. Each venue had food and drinks available, it felt a little sacrilegious to be drinking alcohol in a church but no other Londoners seemed put off, must be a Shepherd’s Bush thing. I would have liked to stay and see the other two venues and their headline acts, but at the same time, it was great to see new emerging acts being attended by what became huge crowds. After the first set at the Defector’s Weld, it became more and more difficult to find a spot to see the acts short of standing right at the front of the small stage crammed in with every other punter. And the Church, well, it probably hasn’t seen such overflowing pews and aisles filled with worshippers before, but it brought it’s own energy and vibe to the event which no doubt fed in to the mood and ambience of each act in such a glorious setting.

In short, if you are ever in London while Bushstock in on, make sure you get there and experience this unique festival. The only thing even close to like it that I’ve been too would the the Snowy Mountains of Music simply because it’s held at the snow and must be inside, but otherwise it has a completely different style and feel in spite of hosting similar style acts. But then anything by Communion is a not to be missed experience, so here’s to many more years of Bushstock!

Review: Paper Aeroplanes at Bush Hall, London UK

DSC_0176Paper Aeroplanes with Farrow and Joseinne Clark at Bush Hall,
Shepherds Bush, London UK
22 May, 2013

Living in London, you’re a bit spoiled for choice for good music and venues, but it also means you’re flat out trying to fit it all in. The Paper Aeroplanes zoomed on to my radar and I managed to make it to their London gig as part of their Little Letters album launch tour.

I had been to Bush Hall the previous weekend for a different event, but the elegant surrounds of such a period room managed to be large enough to host a good crowd, yet intimate enough to experience a show and see the musicians well with a raised stage bedecked in red velvet playing their host. The luxury of space and ability to cleverly use lighting created instant atmosphere which could shift mood with the music.

In Sydney, you’d be forgiven, if not expected to arrive late to a gig. Unforeseen circumstances meant I arrived in Farrowthe middle of the second support act, Farrow, and found the venue was already packed with an enthusiastic audience. Seems these Londoners take door times seriously. The night had started with Josienne Clarke (who incidentally just dropped an EP with Ben Walker today), who I briefly listened to online before the event and who piqued me interest. I bought her earlier EP and have listened to it so much that I’m now desperate to get my hands on her new collaborative effort.

I did catch the last few songs from Farrow, a duo of two hipster chic gals who delivered a united sultry soliloquy of harmony. While they didn’t rock my boat, they did create a tranquil vibe and were a good set up for the main act.

Paper Aeroplanes took the stage as a 4 piece complete with bassist and drummer As an addition to their usual duo. The beauty of this set up is that the support musicians do appear on the new album and fill out the live sound to create an honest reproduction of their recorded sound on stage.

The Welsh duo only too two of their earlier songs to warm crowd up and capture our attention, then they had the audience hooked as they had us all Singing to Elvis, an up beat number creating a noticeable tendency for the crowd to sway and/or jig along. I might have been guilty and I definitely learned the chorus quickly too.

DSC_0164As the ploughed straight in to their next track, it occurred to me they their sound had the hallmarks of Ella Hooper and sounded like what I had hoped the Verses would have produced if they had taken the more Folk direction rather than pop. There’s something about the sound of her voice and the layering of vocals and chords that made me want to claim the Paper Aeroplanes as home grown Aussie, they’re from Wales, maybe we can tempt the to New South Wales…

Amazingly, there was a One direction moment, but not in a bad pop kind of way. while introducing their next song, they explained that it was THE most downloaded song of theirs from iTunes, it wasn’t a single or anything, which confused them. It turns out that One Direction also have a song called Same Mistake. We all enjoyed imagining throngs if 12 year olds being comforted by folk stories of love, life and experience.Paper Aeroplanes and drum

Album title song, Little Letters, lifted the room and carried everyone along on strength and potency of the piece. It was the song that left the gig with me and has the ability to recreate the space and feeling for me every time I listen.

In an effort to keep the energy created by Little Letters, Red Rover was a really powerful, enigmatic piece that seemed to channel a Florence + The Machine moment with lead singer Sarah playing side drum instead of her usual guitar and passionately smashing out the staccato beat.

When we’d arrived, we were surprised there was a grand piano in front of the stage, and towards the end of the set, Paper Aeroplanes invited a close friend to accompany them for a couple of songs. since the piano was set on the floor, Sarah stepped down on to a chair to be closer to both the piano and the crowd. The next few songs were incredibly intimate with a particular stand out, Best I Can Be, the most heartfelt ballad I have heard in a long time. Paper Aeroplanes and pianoSo stunning and so beautiful, the audience was absolutely silent, engaged, entranced and hung on every word of the lyrics. Intensely personal and obviously emotionally raw, Sarah took a private moment to steady herself having been overcome with tears clearly moved by the truth and meaning within the song, the audience only cheered louder. A truly beautiful moment of honesty.

Approaching the end of their set, they introduced At the Altar with a story that had perplexed them. A couple had contacted them asking to have it at their wedding, seemed an odd choice because the song is not about happy marriage, but they thought “stuff it, have it at a wedding, why not” and proceeded to play it for us too.

The night ended with a rousing rendition of Circus, but the crowd were demanding and an encore was almost immediate. Their encore was a couple of older songs, complete with audience sing along and helping out with the oohhs of the chorus “so winter won’t come”.

After this gig, Paper Aeroplanes became a regular feature of my daily playlist. Their album Little Letters is a more folk deviation from their indie pop past which they delivery honestly and convincingly. Such a brilliant introduction to their musical world really promises big things from Paper Aeroplanes. They are exactly the kind if act I would expect to see gracing Australian shores for some of our most esteemed Folk Festival. I’ll be crossing my fingers for a visit from them soon.

Spotlight On: Paper Aeroplanes

Paper AeroplanesPhoto courtesy of Paper Aeroplanes

I have a confession to make, I’ve had the Paper Aeroplanes on my radar for a while (no pun intended) but I’m only just realising just what a tragedy it is to not have shared them with you earlier! This is some serious ear candy. But let me start at the beginning.

As with all good heart-rending, deep and emotionally layered music, the story begins with vocalist Sarah Howells experiencing a great personal loss and her subsequent journey leading her to meet guitarist Richard Lewellyn leading them to begin working together from as early as 2005. It wasn’t until 2009 that the Paper Aeroplanes actually formed as their musical journey brought them into the folk-tinged spectrum and since then, they have released 2 albums and 3 EPs. However their third album Little Letters just came out on both iTunes and Amazon – so something tells me I have a whole lot of back catalog to track down.

Cue their live performances. They are currently wrapping up a tour of the UK and I managed to catch them in London last week (review to come) but I can share that they have a repertoire that will create an engaging and at times theatrical experience for any audience member. They can move from the familiarity of the folk-pop end through sometimes country-esque sounds and in to true ballads and laments and back out the other side to an indie-folk crescendo. Their maturity of sound shows evidence that they’re inspired by the likes of Laura Veirs, Bjork, Jeff Buckley, Gillian Welch, Everything but the Girl and Lucinda Williams.

With their evident evolution through each recording, the Paper Aeroplanes are are duo (currently touring with band) that should definitely be watched. They are the kind of act that would be at home in an intimate venue as well as on a main stage of a large summer festival.

Country of Origin: Wales, UK
File Under: Indie-Folk or Folk-pop
Sounds Like: The Verses meets Lisa Mitchell and the Cranberries
Facebook: facebook.com/paperaeroplanesmusic
Website: www.paperaeroplanesmusic.com
Soundcloud: soundcloud.com/paper-aeroplanes

Spotlight On: Winter Mountain

Winter MountainImage courtesy of Winter Mountain

An Englishman and an Irishman walk in to a bar… well not quite, but pretty close. This duo met by complete chance having boarded the same Memphis bound train in Chicago, IL. Clearly they shared a lot in common, neither of them had a penny to their names, both had a love of singing and songwriting, keen folk stylings and apparent insomnia as they sat talking to the wee hours of the morning of musical influences and passions.

By the time they arrived at their destination they had named themselves Winter Mountain and decided to travel together, jamming, playing and storytelling as a duo. Some more famous unions that have occurred on the spur of the moonlight moment in the USA *cough*Brittany Spears*cough* have lasted a blink of an eye and delivered about as much talent, but Winter Mountain is definitely a keeper. Good thing they got home from the USA still talking to each other and headed straight to Ireland for two weeks of intense songwriting. Serendipity landed them a spot on a Battle of the Bands line up, which they won, and consequently saw them booked to open for one of Ireland’s favourites, Cara Dillon. Upon hearing the duo, Cara promptly signed them to her record label Charcoal Records which she runs with her husband and producer, Sam Lakeman.

That fateful train ride has since resulted in their debut EP, Find, Follow, which is set to release on iTunes this coming Monday, 20th May. I’ve had the privilege of having an early listen and I can’t find any reason not to pick up or even pre-order this little gem, it’s been on repeat for days delighting me with each spin. Featuring three tracks, it spans their folky range, from the more countryesque Shed a Little Light, through the upbeat yet lamentably lovestruck Sarah (which I find myself constantly humming), and wrapping up with a sweet, lilting ballad of Whenever You Lay Your Head Down.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen a solid male duo on the scene. With boots to fill of the likes of Simon & Garfunkel, these two manage to blend their voices in delicious harmonies, complementing their emotive melodies quite simply but effectively, while still retaining their young and contemporary vibe. It’s kind of like Indie-folk without actually stepping in to the indie realm.

In short, they’ve got great people behind them, swags of natural talent and a clear road laying ahead of them.

Country of Origin: Donegal, Ireland and West Cornwall, UK.
File Under: Contemporary Folk
Sounds Like: Simon and Garfunkel and Fleet Foxes on summer holiday.
Facebook: facebook.com/wintermountain
Website: www.wintermountain.co.uk
Myspace: new.myspace.com/winter-mountain

Review: Wales at Cecil Sharp House, London UK

DSC_0588Review and photos by KT Bell

The joys of social media, a couple of weeks ago I stumbled across an unassuming Facebook event for ‘Wales @ Cecil Sharp House’. I’ve been to Wales and liked it, and I live in London, so it seemed a good combination to investigate.

I headed along a little later than planned and came to discover the absolute delight that was a whole day, indoor festival celebrating some of the best folk music currently coming out of Wales. It was also super conveniently close to my home and was housed in the intriguing Cecil Sharp House, the home of the English Folk Dance and Song Society. It had never occurred to me that such a place existed but it does and houses a wealth of exciting folky opportunities! But I digress.

Wales at Cecil Sharp House - Mabon

I arrived in time to catch the second half of Jamie Smith’s Mabon. One of the things that continues to excite me about folk music is the increase in young people both appreciating and playing it. Now, the audience here were mostly older than myself but many of the acts were my age or younger, and the verve and vitality they put in to their music is incredibly infectious. This quintet was in no way short of energy, character and mischief. The phrase that came to mind, conjured by their energetic folk tunes, was harmonised chaos, but in the enthralling, completely immersed, ‘got to hear more’ kind of way. Described as ‘high-energy interceltic musical mastery’ they deftly switched between toe-tapping jigs to haunting ballads and took a few swift turns through traditional Welsh and Celtic folk tunes switching between instrumental numbers and both English and newly introduced Welsh lyrics, I was left clamouring for more. So much so that I bought their album instantly and have had it on loop every day at work since. It’s that delightful mix of energy and celtic folk that can carry you comfortably through the day and reminds me of the likes of the Crooked Fiddle Band and the Barons of Tang. Happily they will be back in London on the 19th April and I shall see what I can do about heading along to get another live dose – seriously addictive. If you’re

Wales at London - Parti Cut LloiGiven the event was in one hall, with smaller rooms downstairs to hold other, more intimate performances and even a family Twmpath/ Ceilidh (don’t worry if you struggle to pronounce those, think country dancing, much like a good old barn dance), I milled around a bit in the main hall and waited for the next act which was intriguingly called Parti Cut Lloi. I’m always a bit dubious of an all male choir, often you hope it will be a Spooky Men’s Chorale or Man Choir type of performance but can often be left wanting. I was very pleasantly surprised to discover the harmonies and a Capella sorry, plygain delivery of their all Welsh repertoire of traditional songs from the middle of Wales (I looked it up, they really are from the middle of Wales!) was absolutely enchanting! And their name means “The Calf Shed Party” which makes mostly sense given their numbers were halved for this performance because the others were all tending to their farms as it’s mid lambing season. I met a few of them in the bar a bit later, cheeky and down to earth blokes all round.

Wales at Cecil Sharp House - DnAWhile the main hall was setting up for the next act, I headed down to one of the smaller rooms to take in DnA, a mother and daughter duo on Harp and fiddle. The connection between the two of them while performing is visceral and intense but in a way they focuses your attention on the skill and harmonies they create. I even learned a bit of Celtic Harp history, the trick of placing a 10 shilling note between the strings to help create the thrumming chorded harmonies in a tune I swiftly forgot the name of. But all in all, their set was quite easy to lose yourself in.

Wales at Cecil Sharp House - Rag FoundationI headed back upstairs to the main hall in a lulled sense of peace only to be awakened again by the Rag Foundation in full swing. An incredibly polished and professional 5 piece, they deliver a more urban folk with an edgy and powerful tone that marked the change from day to night and the energy from mellow and toe tapping, to surging rhythms. From the South of Wales, their verve had a different quality and an energy of it’s own which had the heart pumping and the audience entranced.

Wales at Cecil Sharp House - Cerdd CeginFor a reprieve after the sheer energy of Rag Foundation, I headed back downstairs to catch Cerdd Cegin, an intriguing combination of one Canadian come Welsh Harpist and two fiddle players. Positioned to face in towards each other, it felt a little like voyeurism to be drawn in to the world they expertly created with their entwining melodies and harmonies. Described as “a secret music, a quiet music, music for kitchens and friends”, the trio did not disappoint with an incredibly intimate yet short set – Ceri Owen-Jones, Harpist, needs to learn to either talk quicker or make his stories shorter. However, their last piece was breathtaking. Ceri introduced the song by explaining the time and place that inspired the composition, he went for a walk in the west of Wales and discovered himself caught on the side of a mountain with a storm baring down on him and a very slippery, frantic scramble back down to safety, and every ounce of anxiety, adventure and sheer relief was captured and conveyed by the trio. Fascinating!

Wales at Cecil Sharp House - AlawThe knot of onlookers, once the set was over, all flooded back up to the main hall to catch the fresh, new collaboration that is Alaw. Boasting the violi player and accordion player from Mabon (Oliver and James Smith himself respectively), the mix of their folk with the crisp guitar addition make for a new dynamic and a different energy around the music they deliver. A beautiful mix of enchanting melodies and moody ballads and an among delivery of on stage banter that they were still ‘ironing out’ and making mental notes of what did and didn’t work, much to the audiences’ amusement, made of a friendly and warming set.

Wales at Cecil Sharp House - CalanThe final act for the night was a youthful and vivacious Calan, a 5 piece of energetic folk complete with some crazy Welsh instruments. They have stolen hearts across Wales and seem to be a driving force for rekindling Welsh folk in the broader UK landscape. It helps that they’re young and good looking. They reminded me of Wales’ answer to Skipping Girl Vinegar only they also whipped out clog/ step dance off between main vocalist Bethan and her Father which we all eagerly crowded around to witness. It was a clap/ cheer off and apparently her dad always wins… and did again. The vitality of Calan had the hall buzzing with enjoyment. I can see they will go far and the Welsh will be proud of the way they are being represented.

Altogether a fabulous day out and more Welsh spoken than I have ever heard! (Not that I’ve heard much Welsh, but you get the drift) And big props to Cecil Sharp House and the English Folk Dance and Song Society for providing a space for the Arts Council of Wales and Folk Development for Wales government initiative produce such a showcase of Wales to the rest of the UK, and hopefully, the world!

Timber and Steel UK Correspondent

It’s been a busy two years here at Timber and Steel and we could not have covered as much as we have without our contributors. Today we say bon voyage to a contributor who has been with us nearly from the very beginning, photographer and reviewer KT Bell who is taking off “in a big jet plane” today bound for the United Kingdom for a 12 month sabbatical.

Lucky for us, she’s keen to keep writing for Timber and Steel even from the other side of the world! So we’ve created a new email address for all those bands and festivals in or heading to the UK or Europe in 2012/13 who might want a bit of TnS love from KT, she can be contacted on timberandsteeluk@gmail.com.

In the mean time we hope she finds enough time in between her travels to see a few gigs and write a few articles!

Review: The Gum Ball 2012

Review by KT Bell, photos by Stu B.

In spite of all our good efforts, enthusiasm and eager anticipation following last year’s fantastic Gum Ball, Stu and I found ourselves behind schedule driving in to the darkness from Sydney, desperate to get to Lower Bedford for the 2012 Gum Ball and it’s stellar line up. We arrived at 9pm, just in the nick of time before the gates closed for the night. In the headlights of the car we set up our modest camping facilities only a few hundred meters from the main festival area with the roaring set of The Tongue as our soundtrack.

To my delight, we managed to catch the last act of the night, the newly reformed The Bakery. While not really folk, they’re worth checking out in their new format. After an extended period of absence, the band took on a new line up for the 2011 Woodford Folk Festival and their act has been going from strength to funky strength ever since. As the festival’s sound system fell silent, the crowd migrated to the silent disco to revel on in to the early morning. Amusingly to those watching from the outside, it looked like a silent, shuffling human zoo exhibit with the occasional rousing group rendition of some classic chorus. As the silent disco serenaded us with another round of “they paved paradise to put up a parking lot, ooooh, bop bop bop…” we headed to bed in readiness for a huge Saturday to come.

In the morning light, we rose to discover the sprawling tent city nestled among the gum trees and the impressive set up of the seasoned gum-ballers surrounding us. Complex lounge room style common areas complete with couches, tarps stretched over cars, vans and tents, lean to’s and all manner of camping comfort and conveniences. We stumbled off to the festival arena in search of coffee and breakfast, passing impromptu camp kitchens, gas cookers perched on tow bars and the likes with eggs, bacon and all manner of delicious smelling DIY breakfasts taunting and tempting us the whole way. Eating your breakfast in the very grounds of the festival watching the place slowly waking up as the morning fog burns off certainly starts that excited feeling that only this kind of festival can inspire.

Just prior to 10am, Stu and I positioned our camping chairs just to one side of the sound mix tent where we had an excellent view of the side by side stages, ready and comfortable for a long day of The Gum Ball. To start off the day and brighten up the morning for some rather dusty heads, the Perch Creek Family Jug Band bounded on to stage not dissimilar to the endless enthusiasm of the Brady Bunch or Partridge Family, and we’re bedecked in much the same garb. A 5 piece family outfit saw the stage awash with banjo, washboard and jug, acoustic guitar, harmonica and double bass all blending together in a wholesome family vibe. They produced great rhythm and a great way to start the morning. Recently turned 17, Christi has become the bad boy of the family, proving his status with a cover of Justin Townes Earl’s “If you ain’t glad I’m leaving, girl you know you ought to be”. The crowd quickly grew as daughter Eileen delivered a sultry cover of “Minnie the Moocher”. A bit kitsch but a whole lot of fun, their onstage family banter must have been what it was like for our Evan Hughes growing up in a folk family, as the kids all complain to mother Camilla that, in spite of her Train Whistle opening, they “don’t do the ready stances anymore”. But after some ‘gentle’ motherly advice and encouragement from the crowd (would I do a thing like that? *looks innocent*) they struck their very silly and quasi rock star poses and launched in to a bit of honky tonk, country tinged, bluegrass. It was all very cheesy, but in the right way for that time of the morning. I had to question whether there is anything this family don’t do? They are all multi-instrumentalists, Eileen tap dances with a mini banjo, the vocal harmonies while all the time sharing the spotlight and the instruments equally. And to round things out they finally brought out the jug in time for Christi to accompany the jug playing a saw in a lullaby style number. Family nights at their place must be amazing.

A little later in the morning we were treated to the Irish lilt of Roesy. A modest chap, he thanked his family, saying he wouldn’t be here without them. Performing solo with just his acoustic guitar, full voice and genuine story telling style, Roesy told tales and drew the audience in to his melody of worlds. Enjoying his set, I often felt like we may not have been at a festival but relaxing in Roesy‘s backyard while he told us tales of the songs his Dad used to sing.

Benjalu is a name I have heard but not a band I have followed so I was interested to see what they had to offer. From the outset, it was clear they were on fire, sounding really tight with an excellent mix of acoustic guitar and electric. Their indie sound is heavily grounded in roots with a dash of rock and a touch of folk to round out their style. With their subtle harmonies and great energy, they had the crowd up and dancing instantly and it’s no surprise their infectious sound had the audience in raptures. I really enjoyed their song about being hungover complete with bongos for that pounding headache feel with strummy acoustic guitar and harmonized melody to sooth the soul. We’d seen him lurking at the back of stage but it was a great delight to see a cameo performance on their last song by none other than tour buddy Kim Churchill. It was clear that they had great rapport which delivers an excellent collaboration, they worked well together on stage and brought their set to a crescendo finish. Benjalu was an utter highlight and I shall be watching them like a hawk.

You all know that we here at TnS love Kim Churchill and we’re always very happy to see him on a festival line up. He took to the stage in his one man band style as we’re so used to seeing him. He opened with echos of “Waltzing Matilda” woven throughout “Loving Home” which attracted a big crowd to his set, it was clear people were drawn to him and his sound. In such a picturesque setting, it was easy to appreciate such musical layers all produced live by one person! Currently touring with Benjalu, it was clear they are all very good friends. He told the story of how Benjalu‘s van had broken down 2 days ago, that they have been saving every cent from every EP sold to record a new album and that he would hate to see that money to go to a van. During his next song, “Revolution”, donation buckets were going around collecting donations to help fix the van. Using his ethereal loop echo to advantage his passionate performance in songs both new and old, (like his LA song, telling how he dislikes the big cities), Kim’s raw performance energy is apparent. Close up, you can see him tremble as he performs, hands as they strum, face as he plays harmonica. Title track from his new album “Detail in Distance” is very reflective, he has learned over the years that sometimes distance is the thing that helps you see clearly. Kim likes to tell stories between songs, of how they came about. By far the most compelling was about a song written in French Polynesia while on tour, “Bathed in Black”, and how on a bad day he chose to change his own mindset and outlook. How a man in his early 20s could be so wise is beyond me, but I am grateful Kim Churchill is such a keen and regular performer who can bring this wisdom to us all through his enthusiasm and music.

Wagons wasted no time getting deep in to the bluesy country goodness as they burst forth onto the stage. In the between song banter, Henry Wagons dedicate a song to all those bad choices made at festivals, and “I Blew It” rang around the festival arena. Jovial with the crowd, Wagons was not shy of dedicating the next song to all there, especially a woman in the crowd looking at him skeptically who he was determined to win her over in one song. A deep, pounding rendition of “Love Me Like I Love You” may well have succeeded. An emphatic “Willie Nelson” had the crowd singing along and Si the Philanthropist’s hip hop gave Henry a moment to wipe his brow and take to the drum kit. Wagons whirled through their set getting the crowd totally involved for an energy filled finale that left the gum trees ringing.

Mat McHugh had quite the following gathered at front of stage well before his set began. His solo set up included an acoustic guitar and laptop to provide a variety of additional backing sounds as he launched in to “My Mind is an Echo Chamber”. I thought to myself that he sounded like a stripped back Jack Johnson or Xavier Rudd. I looked him up on The Gum Ball site and realised he is the lead singer and songwriter of The Beautiful Girls. Cue the moment of feeling really ignorant, no wonder he sounded familiar. After touring solo in support of John Butler Trio, Matt discovered his new stripped back solo career and the Gum Ball audience seemed impressed with his new solo exploits.

I’ve been a fan of Ash Grunwald for a while and enjoyed interviewing him at Bluesfest last year, but Stu had hardly even heard of him and looked at me dubiously as I enthused about his upcoming set with Vika and Linda Bull. As Stu stood in the audience ready to photograph the set, he casually chatted to the crowd who not only echoed my sentiments, but got Stu intrigued and pumped for the set. Ash delivered a powerhouse opening, engaging the crowd with thumping kick drum, strumming rhythm guitar and wailing vocals, brought down to a cool, bluesy lament. With notes like gospel howls, Ash’s voice took over the Gum Ball arena and the crowd was transfixed. He then welcome Vika and Linda to the stage and using a loop recorded in Melbourne of Linda, which according to her “sounds like my grandpa” brought a whole new dynamic of sound to the festival. Ash sang and delivered running commentary throughout the set, nothing phases him. He explained that the chorus of his next song was inspired by The Hangover II, the tattoo faced “Demon in Me” from his new release Trouble’s Door. A diverse set, the next song built from a slow start into a speedy intro for “Shake that Thing”. With out hesitation he slid in to a cover of “Sail”. Ash’s voice carried over everything, electronic backing track, the swagger of the guitar and sultry backing vocals by Vika and Linda. An a Capella with a gospel style changed the feel of the set but still had the audience clapping and singing along. A grungy recorded backing loop accompanied “Raw” which true to it’s name has a raw sound and heavy dirty beat. At the end of the set, he thanked good friends Vika and Linda as this was their last performance together in the collaborative format for some time as Ash moves forward with promotions and tour for his new album Trouble’s Door. After the set had finished, Stu returned to our spot, grinning. Turns out Ash Grunwald had been awesome.

We had munched on some terrific festival food including the Wagons‘ endorsed wood-fired pizzas, and enjoyed dutch poffertjes for dessert and then it was time for the dessert finale of Jinja Safari. Their excitement was evident as they took to the stage, full of energy and life. Without hesitation they delivered their ethereal, tribal drum soaked intro, layered with harmonies and rich melodies oozing forth over the crowd with everyone swaying in time. Their set was smooth and sweet like treacle and the perfect ending to a rolling, rollicking, eclectic day of music. The keyboard was fanciful and lyrical and they all danced with their instruments while they performed, the bongos energetically shooting between phrases of songs.

We collapsed in to our camp beds exhausted but very satisfied by a fantastic festival with a well considered and varied line up to cater to a wide range of audience tastes. It’s hard to believe that The Gum Ball has been going for 8 years and hasn’t yet exploded in size or grown too big for it’s earthy and natural soaked site. We arrived home just after lunch and were really impressed to have fit a trip out of Sydney and so much music in to one weekend and still have time to relax before the working week started. Clearly the folks at Lower Belford and the surrounding Hunter Valley know how to put on a truly inclusive and inviting gig and the locals have discovered what a gem it is, now the Sydney-siders and Central Coast people just need to clue on and The Gum Ball will soon become a sell out success year after year. This year some punters had traveled form Canberra just to see headline act Custard and they wouldn’t have been disappointed with their set as well as the whole event. So it’s a sure thing that next year’s Gum Ball will have just as brilliant a line up and hopefully, as they note in their wrap-up blog post, a whole lot more people will come and enjoy the festival alongside the regulars.

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