Image Courtesy of The Maple Trail
The Maple Trail with Hot Spoke and Eirwen Skye
3rd May 2012, The Vanguard
The first time I saw Aiden Roberts, AKA The Maple Trail, it was in the tiny upstairs room at The Hive Bar in Erskineville as part of Shut The Folk Up. For that performance Roberts was in solo acoustic mode as was befitting the room. 18 months later and I find myself at The Vanguard to see The Maple Trail, this time in full band mode, launching his amazing new album Cable Mountain Warning and I can’t believe how far he’s come.
But before we get to the main act some words have to be dedicated to the opening acts.
The beginning of the night saw the welcome return to the Sydney stage of folk pixie Eirwen Skye. Fresh from a plane from Germany and complaining of (but not exhibiting) jet lag Skye dug deep into her impressive bag of musical tricks turning the stage into her own personal play ground. The loop pedal has become a staple for the singer-songwriter of late with everyone from Matt Corby to Josh Pyke dabbling in sampling but Eirwen Skye has it down to an art, creating an orchestra of sounds – with vocal, percusive, ukulele and recorder – to create wonderfuly quirky folk songs. We’re so happy to have her back – make sure you get out to see Skye at one of her upcoming dates.
Hot Spoke are not a band I am admittedly familiar with and as a lover of new live music I was anxious to see what they were like. A departure from the one-woman-band that is Eirwen Skye the Sydney four piece entertained the audience with their brand of folk-inspired rock. For those who have never seen Hot Spoke before I think the best comparison I could make is Fleetwood Mac with lead singer Vanessa Jade channeling Stevie Nicks both in dress and in voice. One thing I wish there was more of was between song banter. Despite delivering an energetic performance during the songs the lack any engagement with the audience between songs along with the only time they mentioned their name being a mumbled comment right at the end of the set (I had to look up The Vanguard web site to make sure I’d caught it correctly) meant I felt disconnected and ultimately unsatisfied with the set. Hopefully this can be a lesson to other bands in support slots – make sure the audience at least knows who you are.
The Maple Trail, on this night a revolving cast of musicians with Aiden Roberts front and centre, began their (his?) set with a Jimmy-Page style bowed guitar and steady folk-rock jam. Taking queues from American and celtic folk as well as rock and pop The Maple Trail diligently made their way through the material on Cable Mountain Warning proving that it’s just as wonderful live as it is recorded. I did wish Roberts’ voice was a little more front and centre in the mix on the night because his Nick Drake-like delivery on the album is easily one of favourite things about it – but this is such a minor quibble and I enjoyed the performance immensely.
Cable Mountain Warning features so many amazing artists on guest duties and The Maple Trail were able to wrangle a number of these for the performance last Thursday night – both Caitlin Park and Brian Campeau (who I suspect lives at The Vanguard, I see him perform there so often) stepped up for vocal duties and Robert’s long time collaborator John Kaldor was on hand for most of the set. There was also a guest appearance from Bayden Hine (Packwood) on the final song, matching his five string banjo with the six string version played by The Maple Trail’s resident plucker as well as a viola player whose name escaped me but who added such a richness to the traditional Gaelic piece Roberts performed halfway through the set.
The influences on The Maple Trail’s music are obviously very diverse but his love of celtic music really shone through during the set. Whether it be the aforementioned song in Gaelic, the melodies of songs like “Sailors Voice” or the fact that a bodhran featured heavily towards the end of the night, Roberts wears his love of trad on his sleeve. Not to say the night was an all-Celtic affair – there was just as much (if not more) rock and roll emanating from the stage throughout the set.
Towards the end of show Aiden Roberts announced that we were “not going to see this again for some time” hinting that The Maple Trail would be put to bed while he focused on other projects. I feel blessed to have caught one of the only performances The Maple Trail have given to support Cable Mountain Warning and I encourage anyone who didn’t manage to catch him (them?) live to pick up this amazing CD. I loved The Maple Trail as a solo act when I first saw them but having the full band just took the music to another level – I can’t wait to see where else Roberts goes next on his musical journey.