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.

Preparing for The Gum Ball

The Gum Ball 2011The Gum Ball 2011 by KTBell

After last year’s taste of The Gum Ball, we are very keen to be heading back to Belford for what is sure to be a folkin’ great weekend away. We’re making plans to catch as much of the weekend as possible by packing the car on ANZAC day so we can get the jump on the traffic on Friday afternoon. We’ve got our gumboots at the ready, just in case of rain, and we’ve been going over the playing times and are hanging out to see the newly reformed The Bakery, TnS fave Kim Churchill, the country swagger of Wagons, raw roots power of Ash Grunwald with Vika and Linda and can’t wait to see where Jinja Safari are taking their tunes too. And they’re only the ones we’re familiar with, with the Perch Creek Family Jug Band opening Saturday’s bill and a raft of our faves from other genres, this is going to be an exciting festival in the perfect setting!

With less than a week to go, and with a spate of struggling festivals cancelling across media headlines for months, it’s dishearteneing to see a news story this past week about the struggle the event is experiencing with lower than anticipated ticket sales and the bureaucratic red tape faced every year. The most inspirational part to come out of the struggles is that the festival still manages to support Beyond Blue, The National Depression Initiative.

In an effort to make the Bedford location more accessible for all, The Gum Ball have announced on their facebook page that they will run a shuttle service from Newcastle on Friday with a return service at 10am Sunday, all accessible by train from Sydney. Bookings for all are essential for all services info@thegumball.com.au.

The Gum Ball 2011

That’s all well and good if you live near-by, but this festival is really the perfect escape for any Sydney-sider but it’s like Sydney just haven’t grasped that yet. Perhaps The Gum Ball needs to be compared to something a little more familiar. Stu and I have been looking forward to the Gum Ball for a year, and I’ve been contemplating why. The Gum Ball has the crowd participation and pleasure of The Falls Festival (Falls is like the Op Shop Bop on steroids), the atmosphere and idyllic setting of Peats Ridge Festival and the community spirit and village vibe of Woodford Folk Festival, it just doesn’t have the sense of occassion of New Years Eve.

Perhaps the problem is the comfort zone – the big, established festivals are a given and punters will make the trek. It’s boutique festivals like The Gum Ball, tucked away in the most divine bush setting, that are an unkown quantity, but music lovers should bite the bullet and make the effort because what awaits you is a spectacular and unique experience. Still not convinced? Check out their blog for details of the Op Shop Bop, Sid’s Circus Playground, Yoga, Tai Chi and Hula Hoop workshops, the Silent Disco for all those night owls that want to rage in to the early hours of the morning. If you’re worried about camping and food – the festival food on site is guaranteed to be great once again – we’re not planning to pack anything to eat! However, it is a BYO festival (no glass!), so no queues at the bar and no disappointment at having to choose from drinks you don’t like.

In reality – this is the kind of festival punters have been crying out for for years after over-regulation of the large scale events have placed more rules and regulations on the festival experience. This is the chance to get back to great music and a brilliant music festival experience. With tickets still available for only $120 for Saturday or $165 for the whole weekend, plus a tank of petrol split between some friends – this is the perfect way to spend a cheeky weekend away with mates.

The Gum Ball 2011

Not coming this year means you might not get another chance if numbers don’t rise. So come and support Australian music and a family run festival. They’re welcoming you on to their property, we guarantee you’ll welcome them in to your hearts.

Vale Jimmy Little


Image courtesy of The Australian.

Reports are flooding in that Australian icon, Jimmy Little, has passed away in his sleep aged 75. We’re not the first, and we won’t be the last to acknowledge what a loss to the music industry this is. Jimmy Little made such a huge contribution in so many ways to country, folk and indigenous music and to the fabric that makes up the Australian way.

Diagnosed in 2004 with Kidney failure and receiving a life-saving kidney transplant two years later, Jimmy went on to set up the Jimmy Little Foundation in 2006, in order to bring a healthier future to indigenous Australians.

Inducted in to the Aria Hall of fame, winner at The Deadly’s and influential across the music industry, Jimmy Little will be missed. As the first indigenous Australian to achieve mainstream success in music with his 1963 number one hit Royal Telephone, it seems only appropriate to remember where he started, and reflect on his life’s achievements.

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