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.
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.
We 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.
We 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.
I’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.
I’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.
I 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.
Our 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.
After 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.
Hustling 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.
The 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!
Recovering 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.
When 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!
Coming 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.
The 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.