Shaking Off The Rust

Benjiandsss copy

Ben Fowler, recently returned from the Solomon Islands (photo supplied by artist)

Elizabeth Walton chats to Benji and the Saltwater Sound System

After a song is written you sometimes need to shelve it, forget it for a while, let the dust settle on the shine of a new idea. A good holding period offers time for ideas to go through some mystical metamorphosis which an artist can’t plan or contrive. That’s when that extra dynamic clicks in, that missing factor which takes a project from being just another element of a body of work to being something really interesting. When the artist returns to the shelf to dust off their work, then it can truly come to life.

For Benny Fowler, shelving his work in the sea has meant an accumulation of rust rather than dust, and it’s not just his material but his entire presence that’s been immersed in the salt. An extended break in the Solomons has allowed his material to mature, and infused his unique mix of chilled reggae/ska/funk with even more islander influences than before.

The time has now come to shake off the rust, to scrub and polish his songs, and reveal the metal beneath the surface. The job is well timed with appearances at both The National and Cobargo festivals coming up, as well as a return to the studio with the present lineup and a crowd sourced album due for recording later this month.

To get the show going, Benji and the Salt Water Sound System have announced a small halls tour of the South Coast of New South Wales. The tour kicked off in December with a gig at Murrah Hall on the Tathra-Bermagui highway down the far south coast, and a weekend of seaside events is planned for late February.

Murrah Hall is a classic old time Aussie bush hall. It’s a hand-hewn timber structure set in a tall dense forest, well away from houses or cranky neighbours with their noise complaints. It’s a place that feels quiet and chilled even when the band gets going. The only road in to the venue meanders from beach to beach, delving inland through lush farms and forests, darting back towards the coast now and then, drifting over a series of wooden bridges that span sandy streams and low tide islands.

The small halls revival returns music to the people at their grass roots – taking live events out of the hands of commercial promoters and placing it at the feet of the community. Along with good tunes, local homemade food is shared for a small price, and people bring their own drinks – and often chairs – to share around the campfire. Dogs, kids, locals and groupies are all part of the blend. The result is an atmosphere that can’t be bought, with a house concert feel extended to reach a wider range of fans.

As always Benji and the Salt Water Sound System have their flock of devotees who seem to follow every event across the land, people who have stayed for the journey as the band evolved out of Ben’s earlier project Southerly Change into the current lineup. The band still has the same feel and a lot of the same personnel, though the tracking of life is leaving the trace of its touch on the face of the band.

“We seem to have a really broad span of ages in our lineup,” Ben says, reflecting on the current sound. Steve “Nello” Russenello still wraps his blues harp around every solo, and missing on this particular evening brass section favourite Mick Elderfield on sax, who is at home facing the challenges of holding a bedside vigil for an ageing relative. “He’s where he needs to be, it’s a good thing,” Nello says, perhaps reflecting on the mindset of musicians younger than Elderfield, now in his 30s, who may feel the music is the more important gig. Sitting in on kit is Alex Dumbrell from Caravana Sun, and Ben’s right hand guitar man, Jonathan Dallimore, whose lead riffs arrive at a relaxed perfection at the height of each tune.

As the life of a long standing band evolves and morphs into a new project, it’s naturally going to mark out the progression of your own time. The dates for the small halls tour are carefully scheduled around the imminent birth of Ben’s first child, with his faithful partner still showing up at every gig despite being rather beautifully overdue. Everyone at this gig is welcomed as a member of the extended saltwater family.

The small halls tour was created to allow the band to dust off the cobwebs, or as they say themselves, to shake off the rust, get back into the groove and give the new tunes a good airing before the band starts recording. If the Murrah Hall event is anything to go by, Benji and the Salt Water Sound System will be lifting the roof off in Canberra at The National.

The full list of upcoming shows are below. Tickets for the small halls shows are available from or

Friday 23rd February – Joyce Wheatley Community Centre, Kiama, NSW
Saturday 24th February – Bega Funhouse, Bega, NSW
Sunday 25th February – Tomerong Hall, Tomerong, NSW
Friday 2nd to Sunday 4th March – Cobargo Folk Festival, Cobargo, NSW
Thursday 29th March to Monday 2nd April – National Folk Festival, Canberra, ACT

Shaking Off the Rust Poster Logo Web

When The Blues Slide Back To Town

backsliders kit
Words and Pictures by Elizabeth Walton. Interview at Narooma Golf Club, Narooma, NSW

When God made good musicians he sent them to church on Sundays. When he made really great ones, he sent them to the mouth of the Mississippi, to drink from the unholy waters of the delta blues. For even God could tell the devil was onto something there. Something driven and raw, something eternal that surpassed all sense of time, something that could get the people onto their feet, now, then, and always. And so it was that The Backsliders began, and no matter how much they drank, their cup remained full, as they continued flooding the dance floors of the nation for over 30 years.

That’s the way the story goes with legendary outfits, those who capture the sound of an era, but capture it in a way that isn’t gimmicky or contrived, isn’t hemmed into a stylistic paddock that is quickly overgrown, all weeds and useless stems that can’t be whittled or chewed. The Backsliders’ unique form of blues isn’t a style that the crowd comes to like then quickly forgets, like moths chasing the light around the next contemporary sound. This is a style that has easily stood the test of time.

When the best music has been on the scene in a continuously evolving format for an entire generation it becomes a backdrop for our times. A great song can track a moment in time as freshly as a scent, a taste, a remembrance of an old friend or even your favourite dog. But when a project has continued to be there in the landscape of the culture for as long as The Backsliders, it becomes something even more significant than just one song that throws you back to year dot.

You hear the sound at the festivals down south, up north, in the city, all around the country, and the songs become the aural licks for the great Australian drama of our times. You hear it in the Tim Winton screen adaptations of the dirty Australian ballads of the outback, that sound. That vision is there when you hear this very Australian form of blues. And it’s there in every other epic Australian drama of our times as well, from the softer cliched stories of Sea Change, to the harsher scenes of Underbelly, those tales that trace the seedier side of the national narrative and our love of the outsider, the lost larrikin, the dangerously compelling stories of the evil who walk among us. For The Backsliders aren’t just hot performers, their themes are there on the screen too.

These are the songs that fit so snugly into the storyline it’s as though the music was an extension of the scenery, a backdrop, and the song itself has become the dialogue, the lyric.

hirst and turnerSo goes the story of The Backsliders, a band put together a generation ago by Australia’s favourite bluesman Dom Turner, with his iconic high voice reminiscent perhaps of the growling plantation gospel singer Pops Staples. The outfit was joined in its adolescence by searing hot rock drummer Rob Hirst who may now be pushing into his mid 60’s, but he looks like he’s been bathing all these years  in the fountain of youth. Turner and Hirst both do.

The Backsliders are an outfit with not just national but international respect. And despite 30 years in action, the music is as fresh and relevant today as it ever was. There is not a quiver of energy held back from Rob Hirst’s intensely delivered searing hot rhythm, yet he plays this particular set straight off the tarmac from a world tour with Midnight Oil.

fast sticksDespite his own hot blooded performance, Dom Turner maintains a cool hand, barely breaking a bead of sweat. “It’s easy to maintain our momentum,” Turner says, “because we have always had the understanding that working on our other projects gets you coming back with something fresh”. Working with a rotating line of three harp players – this set featuring Joe Glover – also brings an individuality to every performance, something Turner is keen to capture, which is the basis for the decision to stick with the simple three part lineup – one string man, one harp man, and one percussion man, front and centre.

“Playing as a trio gives us the freedom to pursue that grittiness as an art form – we can seek out the imperfections and impurities of early acoustic blues, and our material can have its own unique structure, so we’re not limited to a 12 bar blues format. It’s highly improvised, based on that very African style emanating from the North of the Mississippi.”

“If we used a bass player we would all have to move at the same time, but this way we can follow those African and also at times South East Asian beats more fluidly,” he says.


Turner creates his sound calling on the subtle timbre of a glass slide, searching for that gliding sustain and the sweetness of the glasswork over the frets. When he moves to a metal slide he leans towards a heavier chrome style that produces less friction and a leaner sound. For this tour he uses three guitars and a mandola, selecting each for its sonic differences, rather than just the economy of time in altering the tunings, which for the most part remain tuned to various open chords.

With improvisation at its core. communication for the band is essential, so the men prefer their stage lineup positioned for optimum line of sight, an important departure from the standard setup of kit in back, strings out front. It certainly allows for a highly visual experience of Hirsts’ high energy infectious playing. The drum kit is a somewhat sentimental assemblage of an old marching band drum, an ice bell, piccolo, two snares and hand made cymbals that serve as clanky hi hats, finished with a high tech Dyson fan to help the rhythm man bring down the heat.

When the band kicked off back in the 80’s the iconoclastic sound was nudged along by a washboard and a reinforced hatbox fitted with a mic inside. The collaboration with Hirst has seen a move to a more tribal sound, which is created in part by writing songs separately, then working on them together in the studio, for the continuing roll of recordings the band produces. The next installation is due for sketches, directions and ideas in the coming months, but the album won’t reach its zenith until the band gets together within the sanctum of the studio.


The Backsliders put an unmistakably Aussie spin on the deep traditions of the delta blues, an art form arising from the darkest sorrows of the downtrodden, the forgotten, the ripped off oppressed and poverty stricken. It’s a style that originated from the starving disenfranchised blacks of the American south, whose fight against oppression overreached the Civil War’s success in remaining impossibly inhumane long after the war was won. These conditions still impose the questionable will of powerful men during times of the greatest hardship and suffering, often when a helping hand is needed the most. It’s a suffering that still goes on today, long after the storms of Hurricane Katrina have passed on into legend, not just for the way she lashed at the heart of New Orleans, but for the way the powers that be gave very little warning, with next to no planning, and the way the then President barely turned his head while America’s greatest roots tradition drowned alongside the most mighty songsmen of the South, like so many disregarded notes and souls.

So the world has come to treat its roots musicians, a forgotten underclass, amongst whom those most talented are those most likely to be found in a burger joint, flipping refried beans or taking out the trash. And this is the sound The Backsliders have summoned from the murky swamp to translate into an endless realm of Australian anthems, distilling the essence of the troubles of the South, in all its desolation and heathen ways. Their delivery is a sound that defers to the Australian wide open landscape for its meaning, rendering an antipodean condition to their interpretation of Cajun influenced blues, with their ditties of moving on, getting away from it all, getting your bags packed and getting lost, losing all sense of that purpose which once flashed before you, before your dreams got flushed away.

viewThe Backsliders have a long history touring the far south coast of New South Wales, playing the blues festival at Narooma that finished when its saviour hung up his saddle a few seasons back. No one has taken up the mantle, and the old festival office remains For Lease, fronting the road as the Pacific Highway heads up the hill and meanders around the town. Yet the band still returns to the scene, creating their own scene now, where old mates put on the big party at the biggest venue in town, and easily fill the Narooma Golf Club on a lazy Sunday evening. The festival scene may have been the birthplace of the romance with the coast, but the story has outlived the event. After all, nothing speaks summer in a more sultry seawater way than the Mississippi blues, especially in its local incarnation, hollered out so loud by The Backsliders.

Upcoming live dates for The Backsliders are below:

Sunday 28th January – Waterfront Cafe Church Point, Sydney, NSW
Saturday 3rd February – Lizottes, Newcastle, NSW
Saturday 3rd March – Girrakool Blues and BBQ Festival, Central Coast, NSW
Friday 16th to Sunday 18th March – Blue Mountains Music Festival, Katoomba, NSW
Saturday 19th to Sunday 20th May – Blues on Broadbeach, Broadbeach, QLD

Interview: The East Pointers

The East Pointers
Image Courtesy of The East Pointers

Canadian celtic trio The East Pointers have taken their sound to the next level with the release of their highly anticipated new album What We Leave Behind.

With an Australian tour on the horizon we sat down with Jake Charron from the band to chat about the album and what Australian audiences can expect when they hit our shores.

Gareth Hugh Evans: You released “82 Fires / Tanglewood” as a double A side a few months ago as a taster of the new album What We Leave Behind.

Jake Charron: That’s right. We’ve got a new album, released worldwide September 29th, called What We Leave Behind. The first two tracks we released are a sneak preview of the album – one instrumental track called “Tanglewood” and one song which we’ve been using as a single called “82 Fires”

GHE: From listening to both tracks, but I guess particularly “82 Fires”, it does sound like you have gone for a more epic sound than on your last album Sweet Victory. It sounds like there’s a lot more production behind it. Is that right?

JC: That’s definitely fair to say. There’s more production. I think “82 Fires” might be the most epic sounding song on the record but the whole thing is a bit more produced. One thing we wanted to maintain was to create tracks that we’d be able to replicate live as a trio. With the exception of a few layers here and there we should be able to get through most of it live.

GHE: I was going to ask about that. You guys have a pretty unique set up live where you’re using effects and percussion to build out your sound. How does the stage set up work to get such a big sound from just the three of you and acoustic instruments?

JC: We’re always trying to grow our sound, trying to find new ways to help us get a bigger sound. Tim (Chaisson) plays the fiddle and has a bit of foot percussion going on with the stomp box and tambourine. Koady (Chaisson) plays the banjo but also does a bit of pedal work with some effects, some bass stuff with his feet. I’ve mostly played guitar over the past couple of years but I play keyboard as well and we’ve been slowly bringing that into the show as well. We just try to see what we come up with.

GHE: I always assumed the bass lines were coming from you. I didn’t realise they were coming from Koady.

JC: You’re right – most of the bass has been coming from my guitar. I forgot to mention that! I have an octave effect on my guitar which gives it the bass lines. But some of the new album effects are triggered with Koady’s feet which we haven’t been touring live much yet. That’s part of new sound.

GHE: Going back to “82 Fires” – it’s true that song was inspired by Australia? It’s from a story you guys heard down in Tasmania, is that right?

JC: Totally. We were down in Tasmania, I guess it would be a year and a half ago now, touring with Liz Stringer who’s one of our favourite people and favourite singer-songwriters from down your way. We played a show in Chudleigh that was nearly called off because of the fires that were happening. It was pretty extreme – I think it was the most they’d seen in a while and a gentleman was telling us that there was 82 fires on the loose that night. We had a day off and we put that song together.

GHE: Over the last couple of years you’ve spent an inordinate amount of time in Australia. Is there something about the place that keeps you coming back and touring extensively?

JC: We love it. A big part of it was the first impression. As a band it was one of the first tours we did, coming down to Australia, and I think because of that it’s always going to be close to us – some of the amazing festivals we got the opportunity to play just as the band was getting up and running. We’ll come back any time we can.

GHE: You’ve also built a solid fan base here as well. You sell out a lot of shows and your sets are always hard to get into at festival. It must be lovely to come halfway across the world and have a fanbase here.

JC: It’s been really nice. We’re grateful that people have welcomed us and accepted our music and just come out to dance. Australian’s seem really up for dancing and having a good time and that helps us put on a show. It’s such a great place to tour and a nice festival scene. And the weather’s great too!

GHE: I do like the fact that you don’t just stick to the traditional folk festivals when you come out. Like this time around you’ll be playing the Mullum Music Festival and the Queenscliff Music Festival which are both festivals that, while they do have a lot of folk and acoustic artists, they’re not just folk festivals. And by playing these festivals it opens you up to people who aren’t folk or trad purists but are instead just music lovers.

JC: We’re looking forward to branching out a bit this tour. We all grew up loving trad music and listening to a lot of the traditional stuff and thinking “I don’t know why more people don’t know about this music”. A lot of times they just don’t have a chance to see it. If you don’t grow up in the scene where the folk music happens it’s hard to discover certain things. It’ll be nice to play for people who don’t know what we do. And I think the new album branches out a bit too, which is maybe a nice thing as we’re doing the same circuit down there.

GHE: Is the new album mainly instrumental like Sweet Victory or is there a lot more songs this time?

JC: There’s a few more songs. I think the split is five songs, six instrumental tracks. At the core of it all we’re still an acoustic trio that’s tried to beef up our sound a little bit. There’s some new ideas, a few new influences but at the root of it is that celtic folk that we play.

GHE: I’m also getting Americana influences, in “82 Fires” in particular

JC: That’s totally fair to say. We listen to a lot of stuff that’s coming out of America. The album was recorded down in Nashville – not sure if that effected the sound much. We worked with one of our heroes Gordie Sampson who’s an amazing songwriter and producer living down in Nashville. It was dream to work with him. He has his own input to the sound as well.

GHE: Well I’m loving the album and I’m super excited about the tour. Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me today.

JC: Thanks for making this happen.

What We Leave Behind, the new album from The East Pointers is available now. The full list of dates for their upcoming Australian tour are below:

Thursday 16th to Sunday 19th November – Mullum Music Festival, Mullumbimby, NSW
Thursday 23rd to Sunday 26th November – Queenscliff Music Festival, Queenscliff, VIC
Thursday 30th November – Caravan Music Club, Oakleigh, VIC
Sunday 3rd December – Toff in Town, Melbourne, VIC
Wednesday 6th December – Sepulchre, Hobart, TAS
Thursday 7th December – Ainslie and Gorman Arts Centre, Canberra, ACT
Friday 8th December – Theatre Royal, Castlemaine, VIC
Saturday 9th December – Metropole, Katoomba, NSW
Thursday 14th December – Jive, Adelaide, SA
Friday 15th December – Darwin Railway Club, Darwin, NT
Saturday 16th December – Albany Entertainment Centre, Albany, WA
Sunday 17th Dec – Fremantle Arts Centre, Fremantle, WA
Wednesday 27th December to Monday 1st January – Woodford Folk Festival, Woodford, QLD
Thursday 4th January – Sol Bar, Sunshine Coast, QLD
Friday 5th January – Old Museum, Brisbane, QLD
Saturday 6th January – The Factory Theatre, Sydney, NSW
Sunday 7th January – Lizotte’s, Newcastle, NSW

Liz Stringer and the Candelo flair

Liz Stringer
Image Courtesy of Liz Stringer. Photo by Taiette O’Halloran

Standing under a tree, strumming on a tram, standing solid, landing her ground.  Liz Stringer is the song maiden of Australian soils whose ballads of heartbreak and sorrow thump rejection as readily as they pump the lifeblood of the free and the most fiercely independent of spirits. Her music, like her lyrics tell it, lilt to soaring highs while she lifts herself up and puts herself back together again, and again and again. Music, for Liz Stringer, like us too, always was reserved for the brave and for the free….

And no, love might not be any healer, but Liz Stringer’s musical offerings certainly harbour a salve deep within each measure.

It’s always been hard to tell – is she a songwriter, is she a perfect lyricist? Is she a singer, is she one Australia’s best musicians?

The real answer? Stringer just is.

She’s an artist, in the truest of senses. Though she would tell you she didn’t care what you thought anyway.

Her husky vocal overtones are matched with songs about cheap casks of wine.  Her voice emerges during a downward glance set on a serious face – darkly framed by a close clipped concave bob, a flapper-inspired style that points towards a place that leaves convention behind – the original devil may care expression of independence and un-ownable style. This is a chick for whom the night sky truly could conceivably be the original jewelry store window, with a heart that imagines life and conceives the way things might go, she who can weave that shoestring of a song on two triads that rip a chord around your heart so snug that it will never let go. Jimmy hurt her, don’t you remember, and you should close the drapes less that devil drops by after the night calls curtains on the day. But you know once you’ve heard her lucid drawl you’re never going to forget it.

“God she sounds like Joni Mitchell,” the audience says.

Chrissie Hynde,” say the reviews.

Nope, it’s Stringer.

“Is that Bonnie Raitt?” , no, and that’s all for now, so tune your guitar down low and croon along if you want any hope of keeping up with Stringer’s evolving style.

From Germany to Canada, Nashville and most recently to Candelo where we caught up, the Stringer model for musical success is born of hard work, commitment, focus and pure musical drive. On the day we meet she has travelled over 600 kilometres from the Hunter Valley, with another 6 hour drive ahead to Melbourne after the show.

Where other artists have remained strident individualists, Stringer hasn’t held back from whatever it is this musical journey has in mind – leaving her own story behind plenty of times to join up with other bands.

Collaborating with other legends of the stage – and the road – has definitely broadened her style, her range and her appeal.

The experience brings her back to the road with her latest album All The Bridges after a round of soul searching that found the songstress feeling perhaps she had given the journey all she had to give. Somehow she found her way to foreign shores, recording at Type Foundry Studio in Portland, Oregon, USA, in the same space where Fleet Foxes recorded, producing a very different sound with a very different crew.

“The new album is definitely the most rock and roll sounding album of all my work,” Stringer says, after playing to a full house at the 2017 Candelo Village Festival. “The lead sound I’m getting now is definitely much more developed than when I was playing acoustic”.

Where once the entire entourage was just Liz and her besty, Adam May, these days, the full crew consists of a four piece band.

“These musicians are amazing and I’m lucky to have them on board, considering how busy they are with their own stuff,” Stringer says.

Her current roomy from Prestons in Victoria, Alice Williams, features on rhythm, taking a break from her solo shows. Renowned drummer David Williams of Augie March is on the kit, and phenomenal bass player Timothy Nelson of Western Australia’s Kill Devil Hills is onboard for the journey too.

“He’s a killer songwriter,” Stringer says.  “He’s opening the shows for us in Victoria this weekend.”

It’s a solid lineup capable of delivering a smashingly tight, clear-sounding irresistible package, that even dips into the Australian classics.

“What was that song was that – was that Australian Crawl?” asks someone in the crowd.

“Nah mate wasn’t that – The Flowers. Ice House. Great Southern Land.”

“Great Southern Land”.  A song that reinvented video trends with helicopter footage and grand cinematography, unusual for its day, a song that broke budgets when it crashed onto the scene and into the minds of the 80’s generation. The kind of iconic Australian ballad Stringer is drawn to reproduce live on stage.

“I chose Great Southern Land because I’ve always loved the song. I love it’s “Australian-ness” and its poetic political and social statements about Australia. Alice and I often jam on that song late at night. So we wanted to try it with the full band,” she says.

Onstage Stringer’s gaze is still cast downwards, or sometimes askance when she clicks eyes with Alice as these patrons of groove birth a grueling 90 minute set of pure rock. Stringer peels off one perfectly crafted lead after another, mopping up with her Fender Mustang fluently as though it was an extension of her psyche. It’s an extension of our psyche now, the kind of music that really sinks in.

Travelling with their own sound crew also helps perfect the sound. “It’s a different experience to travelling solo,” Liz says. “I definitely don’t get to call in on friends as much as I used to when I was touring, but the comraderieof the band is definitely very energising.”

Though Stringer has largely packed away her loop machines and harmonica, instead wielding her Fender mustang like she was born wearing it, the full band sound isn’t more than it was before – with a strong four part harmony synching every verse, her acoustic sound isn’t lost – you can hear one within the other. Her musical concepts are so completely laid down that one – the full band or the paired back solo – implies the other.

You could always hear the harmonies even before they were there. The lyrical parts – the bass lines, the backing vocals, perhaps a djangly piano absent from recordings past, are oddly present now in these arrangements, like her ear was always tuned to both the vibed up and the vibed back versions of her tunes.  But the gaze is always introspective. And it’s not that she is looking down at the neck of her guitar, prepping to step the next pedal – it’s because she’s playing to an inner narrative, and that’s where her gaze has gone –  there’s a fire in his belly and a baby in mine, the narrative of the solo mind tracking the thoughts of the balladeer.

Meanwhile the flock of blue birds fly off her guitar strap and over her shoulder to make a nest at her next gig.

And so the road takes her, one day this town, the next day that, travelling, always travelling, for more than a decade, the life of the modern day troubadour. “It is hard,” Liz says, “but it’s what I want more than anything else. I might get three months of the year at home in Melbourne – but not all in one hit”.

A devotion, a calling, a road that doesn’t end. A journey into a town less known, in a place over the hill, somewhere far down the coast, the sapphire coast of New South Wales, where all the oceans are crystal blue.

And over the hill we travel to a mythical landscape, where the heavens cascade down over the high peaks at the foothills of the Snowy Mountains, to a land quenched each equinox by the crisp clear waters of the snow melt in Spring. Green meadows and rivers meander through the view, with a lane punctuated by roadside stalls selling pumpkins.

The Candelo Arts Association ran an event that at one stage was more of a sprawling marquee affair. This year, with less volunteers available to pitch tents in the park, the experience was paired back, to everyone’s satisfaction. With some slick advertising and contemporary talk, half of the tickets were sold online, the other half, take your chances on the day – with a rambling drive over meadows and pastures to the little town of Candelo.

Hey, if there were no tickets left, it would be fun anyway.

The revived festival now has a simple structure – anything in the town hall is ticketed, the rest is open for all to enjoy for free.

The festival presents a well developed program which offers something for all tastes, featuring the pivotal jazz impro sounds of Kapture –Australia’s leading improvisers Sandy Evans, Bobby Singh, Brett Hirst and Greg Sheehan sitting in on the kit. Vince Jones appeared on Saturday night, and local talent Melanie Horsnell opened the show on the Friday. Rounded out with arts, literature, and even a ragtime parlour, the town put together a great event, with a street humming with happy punters for a whole weekend.

The festival organisers run events at the hall throughout the year, which has a little burger popup bar, where you can get the best pulled pork in town for just seven bucks.

This is a town where the word “inclusive” is redundant. Thinning grey dreds seem part of the civic uniform, and the grand fathers of town are in town with their adult kids and their own babies and they’re all hanging out in the street. The chicks in the café open the door for a guy circling round in his wheelchair, motioning with his chin which way the prams and dogs should go. It’s all ok here, safe for all kinds, even the guy wheezing away on a torn squeeze box on the blackboard stage who can’t quite remember his lyrics – it’s ok Steve, give it another go, we all know how the song goes anyway. It’s a loyal and attentive crowd, and they love Steve no matter what. As long as he sings another tune about Ned Kelly, preferably written by Paul Kelly, without ever mentioning a Kelly at all.  Local writers’ books are for sale at coffee tables, including a tome of poetry by  Phil Mac. The dogs are fed and watered, the entire stratosphere is on offer here. And you ALL are welcome. There’s even a piano parlour in the street. 

The local store was transformed two years ago, into a café and a swishy general store, well patronised by locals who come here to stock up on bread, milk, peanut butter, hand made baskets and all the local produce the town can supply.

Sometimes you wonder why each town needs its own festival – when surely a lineup of music, food and local eccentrics is on offer at every one.  Yet the answer to that question is redundant too – each town offers something completely new in the sense of regional style and flavor. And Candelo has ticked that box in every sense. It is a lovely relaxed affair with strangers mingling and chatting in the street.

Phil “This is how I think” Mac and his grandson Spencer Frank Burton Taylor swirl around, dancing to one of Steve’s blackboard strung tunes.  Phil himself is a poet whose work is collected in a recent edition. He is prepping for his 2UP calls at Merimbula RSL on Anzac Day. “Who are you writing for?”, Phil quizzes me. “Timber and Steel,” I say. “Ah Timber and Steel – I see, wood and metal,” before he meanders off down the main street. Young Spencer is the latest addition to a long line of farmers from the region, whose family are now producing chinook hops cones on old dairy country for micro breweries at Ryefield Hops, Bemboka, near the seaside town of Merimbula.

It’s a festival of honesty, integrity, and feel good low-fi values.Values that would appear to resonate with Liz Stringer and her crew.  After a long drive, quick sound check and a very long set, she’s out front and friendly selling all her own merch as soon as she’s off stage, looking quite at home at the side of the boho style bar.

Stringer’s broad Australian accent is never shied away from or apologised for –it’s part of what gives you the sense that she’s with us for many decades yet – holding back, with sincerity, is something she does best. She’s someone who has your measure and shrugs off success – all the awards, accolades and CD sales in the world don’t seem as though they appeal to her anyway.

In a final ballad about friendship – she calls to anyone. Doing it solo for years on the road has earned her the stripes, as she glides now on the wings of her full band. With the front of stage floor occupied with eager musicians listening as attentively as Stringer is delivering – from MelanieHorsnell and her kids to former Lime Spiders drummer Richard Lawson (and some girl from a band named Honey) – she’s definitely a musician’s musician – but one who has wide appeal as shown by the sell-out tours and packed out stadiums of the global music circuit. Paying solid attention to the slick rock sound, she’s still a serious insect – who pays homage to inspiration drawn from the Great Southern Land and the Great Ocean Road alike, with an apparently red wine inspired flourish of nail polish on just the one guitar stubbled pinky.

“She sounds like Christine McVie”, the audience muses.

“Hmmmm, or maybe…?”

Her dark 1920s bob is bleached out now and neatly twisted at the sides with a couple of bobby pins. Stringer’s appearance never seemed as important to the soul of her work as the coil of tightly wound emotion she creates– highlighted now as a rousing sway of crashes is played out on Williams’ Zildjians– emblazoned by a snatch of cymbal bait on his sticks, sounding as though there’s not just a full choir of backup singers up there, but that they’re tambourine tapping too – but no, it’s just the four of them, seasoned pros, and that’s just as well because the stage is already crowded.

“It’s a wonder there was room for you at all she muses”, perhaps thinking of growing up with her music teacher dad, her absent mum, and now, her now dad’s partner, down on the Great Ocean Road, that great crashing bastion of the Australian landscape  – indelibly cast as the fierce anchor at the foot of the Australian mood – where the wild seas stir up whispers and storms from the frozen wastelands of the Antarctic.

“We can live on love” she sings.  “We CAN live on love” – like an anthem, a mantra, singing it to us with a “hey, yeah!” smile while she repeats it to herself.

We can be big observers of the fates of hearts, the heart doesn’t have to surrender when love comes to town.

We can, draw breath – we can inhale that chilling breeze blowing straight up the guts of the Southern Ocean, we can survive it, everything – the whole lot life has to throw at us. It doesn’t have to crush us, we can merge love with happiness – we can have it all.

We can drink that hopeful tune, and still launch one of the greatest melancholic balladeers this country has ever produced – heart in tact, off the sleeve of the album, and off into the world. Farewell Liz, go well on this tour, until next time you come back home, with ever more musical maturity spunk and style.

But never, please, never be a stranger to this land.

The Gum Ball Interview: Kim Churchill

Photo by Lester Jones

Today is the day that Kim Churchill’s latest single, Breakneck Speed, is released and the start of his Australian Tour. We’re looking forward to catching Kim at The Gum Ball next weekend for the official unveiling of his new live show.

So, we thought we’d catch up with Kim in the lead up to his tour.

Your music journey has certainly been epic – from living out of your van and gigging around Australia to now travelling the world most of the year. What’s the biggest difference for you between the early days for you and your lifestyle now? 

Honestly not a lot. I still spend a lot of time in the back of my van. I still surf everyday. I still play music everyday. It’s rad and it works. I am probably a bit more focussed and I dunno what you’d call it – ‘professional’ perhaps. I mean I guess that equates to ‘I drink less beer now’ haha. 

You’ve been a regular at so many Australian festivals like BluesFest and The Gum Ball – what kind of festival do you prefer – the big festivals with international guests, or the small, predominantly local act festivals, and why?

Well this is a cop-out answer but both. Big international festivals are exciting and inspiring and you get to see large scale bands play enormous shows. Smaller festivals have all your friends and they play just as brilliantly and are just as inspiring. I couldn’t do without either. 

Where is home now? Where do you find yourself longing to return to and spend most of your time?

Newcastle. The junkyard. Between the two I’m pretty much at home. I love that crew and I love the beach in Newy. If I’m away I really so find myself longing to get back. One day I might live there. 

What’s your biggest dream for your music? Where are you hoping your journey to take you?

Everywhere! Coffee houses In Turkey, stadiums in South America, beach bars in French Polynesia. I dunno I wanna see it all and be the soundtrack to a million different scenes. 

You’ve performed at The Gum Ball a few times now, how have you seen the festival grow and change? And what advice would you give to a first time Gum Ball attendee?

It’s one of my favourite festivals because it has maintained its integrity as it has grown. It’s still got all the beautiful vibes, people, trees, tents, beers and loving connection that it had back when I first went. I know it’s getting bigger and bigger but they really have their heads screwed on and I think it will be something I want to go to for most of my life 🙂 

Kim Churchill plays on Saturday 22nd April at The Gum Ball (Dashville, Belford, Hunter Valley NSW).

Tickets are still available to buy online.

Kim Churchill’s remaining tour dates are:

Thursday 20th April – Astor Hotel, Goulburn NSW
Friday 21st April – Shoalhaven Heads Bowling Club, Shoalhaven Heads NSW
Thursday 18th May – Old Museum, Brisbane QLD
Friday 19th May – Meat Market, Melbourne VIC
Saturday 20th May – Verbruggen Hall, Sydney NSW
Saturday 3rd June – Fremantle Town Hall, Perth WA

National Folk Festival Interview: Aoife Scott

Aoife Scott
Image Courtesy of Aoife Scott

Irish folk singer Aoife Scott and her band have spent the last month touring Australia and wowing audiences everywhere they go. They finish up their tour this weekend with a performance at The National Folk Festival so we sat down with Aoife Scott to get the low down on her first visit to our shores.

Gareth Hugh Evans: You’ve been in Australia over the last month or so, at peak folk festival time. How have you enjoyed your first tour here?

Aoife Scott: It’s been incredible. We landed the first week in March, and have been on the road since. Our first stop was Adelaide and we made it all along the coast as far north up to Mooloolaba in QLD. We’re just returning from a week in Byron Bay. What a place! The whole trip was incredible – we don’t want to go home! We’ve made some incredible friends, and were treated like family everywhere we went.

GHE: What can audiences expect from your sets are The National Folk Festival?

AS: Well I guess I’m a folk/traditional singer and songwriter but we also play traditional tunes – I ask people to dance if they want to, and get a dance competition going! The best dancer wins the grand prize of our CD! You’d be surprised how competitive the Australians have been getting [laughs] – they are incredible dancers! But I tell a lot of stories with the songs, I explain why they were written or why I sing them which gives a bit of a background to the songs, I feel like the audience understand where I’m coming from and can connect more with the songs.

GHE: How do you find festivals compared with gigs you’re headlining yourself? Are the audiences different? Is there a different atmosphere?

AS: Festivals are brilliant! People are less inhibited and are there to listen, but also to enjoy themselves. They are not afraid to get up and dance and hopefully at The National Folk Festival it will be the same! You get a chance to perform for people who may not ever hear about you, or see you, so the opportunity to meet all the lovely audience members is incredible. The atmosphere is definitely more sparkly – like a fizz in the air. It’s my favourite place to play.

GHE: It’s been a year since you released your debut album Carry the Day. How are you feeling one year on? Are you still in love with the album or are you ready to get back into the studio?

AS: I am just about still in love with my songs – if I didn’t love them, I wouldn’t sing them! It’s like a relationship, if you don’t have the love you have to leave it behind! I have a lot of love for my songs (I’m not sure how my lovely band members feel about them though after touring for a year with them!) – Although I am itching to get back. I find writing on tour difficult, it needs some time and space, but being on tour just doesn’t give me the chance to write. So I’m looking forward to getting home and getting new songs.

GHE: I’m always fascinated to know, when talking to artists who play and sing traditional music, is how you choose what songs and tunes to bring to the stage or record and what to leave at the sessions? What is it about a song or tune that inspires you to polish it up and perform it in a concert setting?

AS: Gosh, that’s a hard one! I can only give you what way I do when I pick traditional songs. I guess they have to speak to me somehow. When I hear a song, and I know and read it’s background and history and meaning, and if it sings to my heart then I need to sing it. So the rule is: If i hear a song, and I’m still singing it 4 days later then I need to sing it. Thats a general rule I have! If my heart is still in it and if I’m thinking of it days later then that’s the connection made. I also like the songs to have background stories, as I’m such a storyteller. Ones that connect with my life in some way. Thats really important. One of the songs I do is a song that my gran taught me so I like to tell that story to the audience, hoping they don’t get bored!

GHE: What’s next on your plate after you wrap up in Australia?

Ah, we don’t want to go home! Well after The National Folk Festival we head to to New Zealand for two weeks so that will be amazing! We’re threatening to do a band skydive, band bungee, or get a band tattoo (I think the tattoo is not going to happen!). After then we have shows in Dublin, Sligo and all around Ireland for the next few months. I’m hoping to get into the studio and see if I can make an EP (Although if it takes as long as the last album, it won’t be released until 2019). And then in the summer, we go to the USA for two months! So a busy time coming next, we’re really looking forward to it, but we can’t wait to come back to Oz!

The Aoife Scott Band are performing at The National Folk Festival this weekend. Check out their dates below:

Thursday 13th to Monday 17th April – National Folk Festival, Canberra, ACT
– Friday 8:00pm – Marquee
– Saturday 5:40pm – Buddawang
– Sunday 11:00pm – Buddawang

National Folk Festival Interview: Charm of Finches

Charm of Finches
Image Courtesy of Charm of Finches

Melbourne based dream-folk sister duo Charm of Finches have had a massive year so far, launching their album Staring at the Starry Ceiling and picking up some high profile support slots around the country. We sat down with one half of the band, Mabel Windred-Wornes, before they head to Canberra this weekend for The National Folk Festival.

Gareth Hugh Evans: You describe your music as “dream folk” – what can audiences at The National expect from your shows?

Mabel Windred-Wornes: Well, it’s dreamy sounding music I guess – it’s full of harmonies. My sister Ivy creates beautiful and sometimes surprising vocal harmonies. We’ve been told our voices together sound like one voice singing two notes, yet our voices individually are quite different. Also, our album has a lot of cello and violin, which we played ourselves, which gives it a bit of a chamber sound. We are bringing Alice Hurwood up to The National with us to play cello. She’s 14 and she’s an amazing cellist.

GHE: You’ve been playing a lot of shows lately – how do festival audiences differ from audiences at a regular gig ?

MW-W: We love festival audiences. Really, they are there for the music and respect musicians. They are there to listen, and they pay attention to the lyrics and love hearing the stories about the songs. Also, a festival audience is usually really relaxed – why wouldn’t they be. They are spending a whole weekend listening to music.

GHE: To those outside of the folk scene, folk music is not considered a “young persons” genre. What is it about this music that’s attracted you at such a young age?

MW-W: It’s common for people to wonder why we are attracted to folk music in the traditional sense, but we know heaps of young bands and singer songwriters you would classify as folk – like The Mae Trio, who we have always loved a lot, and Rowena Wise. They are writing songs about their lives, playing instruments usually associated with folk music like guitar, uke, banjo and fiddle. The definition of folk music as you would hear it at a folk festival today is very very broad. Our influences definitely include traditional folk music, old-time Appalachian songs, Old English and Celtic folk songs and Celtic fiddle music (we love going to Celtic fiddle camps) as well as classical music which we have been playing on our cello and violin since we were little. Our Dad filled our home with Bob Dylan from an early age, but we are also influenced by Americana artists like Gillian Welch and we love Sufjan Stevens so much, who is essentially a folk artist who uses unconventional instruments (even electronic sounds) on his albums.

GHE: You released your debut album Staring at the Starry Ceiling in the middle of last year. How was the reception when it first came out? And are you feeling about it six months on?

MW-W: We were thrilled people really loved our album when it was released last year. People were contacting us after hearing a song on Radio National. Words like “unique” and “beguiling harmonies” were used, which of course made us feel very pleased. We had an amazing experience working with producer Nick Huggins. It was quite a magical experience and being by the ocean in Point Lonsdale (Victoria) really influenced the album. We felt expansive, a bit spellbound and open to ideas. We couldn’t listen to it after we finished it for a while- we needed some distance after recording. Not long ago we were driving home from Port Fairy Folk Festival listening to the new albums we had gathered from the various artists we had seen. We got curious to listen to our own album, and we felt really proud and kind of amazing at what we had created. It felt really good.

GHE: What’s next for Charm of Finches after The National?

MW-W: Well, to be honest, I’m quite keen to take some time to get some homework done! I’m in Year 11 now and love the subjects I’ve chosen – theatre, music, art and sound production! Of course, we will be playing shows in and around Melbourne, as well as house concerts, which we love as much as playing festivals. We also have a whole bunch of half-finished songs that are begging to be finished. We love writing new songs so we’ll be making time for that! And then, I guess we’ll record a new album some time!

Charm of Finches are performing at The National Folk Festival this weekend. Check out their dates below:

Thursday 13th to Monday 17th April – National Folk Festival, Canberra, ACT
– Friday 1:30pm – Central Park
– Saturday 12:40pm – Flute ‘n’ Fiddle
– Sunday 10:00am – Borderland
– Monday 12:40pm – Flute ‘n’ Fiddle

National Folk Festival Interview: Sally Balfour

Sally Balfour
Image Courtesy of Sally Balfour

Sally Balfour is singer-songwriter who grew up immersed in the Alice Springs folk scene before heading north to settle in steamy Darwin. 2017 see’s Balfour’s official debut on The National Folk Festival program having wowed crowds with her blackboard sets last year.

We sat down with Sally Balfour to talk about growing up in the NT and what we can look forward to from her shows at The National.

Gareth Hugh Evans: I caught your blackboard set at The National Folk Festival last year. How does it feel to be officially on the bill this time around, especially with the NT as one of the feature states?

Sally Balfour: It really is a mixture of emotion – it is so daunting but also so exciting! I feel so honoured to be representing the NT alongside such amazing musicians. I am really looking forward to the weekend, I had such a blast last year and I can’t wait to see what new music I discover at the festival this year.

GHE: You’ve described your music as “deeply personal, acoustic guitar driven songs”. What can festival goers expect from your appearance at The National?

SB: I am fortunate to know a couple of really great musicians who will be joining me on stage. They have an amazing ability to know what sound I want to create without me having to ask, and because of this they compliment my style and create space and depth to my writing. We will be performing my own material with traditional and contemporary folk music, giving the audience a glimpse into who I am and what influences me. For something a little different we are also doing a kids set on the Friday morning, which is for the big kids as well as the little and sure to get you up and dancing!

GHE: You grew up in the folk scene in Alice Springs – what was it like to be part of folk clubs and festivals so far away from the east coast “hub”?

SB: I feel really lucky to have grown up in Alice Springs. I love the isolation of the place and the beauty it brings out in people as well as the amazing opportunities. The community is a very supportive one, and I felt that early on. Mum and Dad were heavily involved in the folk club and we were always encouraged to be a part of the music. Some of my favourite childhood memories are of nights out watching/listening to live music. I spent many folk nights falling asleep under the mixing desk at my mums feet.

GHE: How would you rate the folk and general music scene in the NT now? Are there any festivals or events that music lovers should be making the trip for?

SB: There is a really diverse music scene in the Territory – and I think every year it is growing stronger and stronger. There are lots of small and unique festivals in the NT – The Top End Folk Festival (in Mary River and Glen Helen) and The Mandorah Ukulele Folk Festival (MUFF) are probably the two main folk festivals. There are also other really amazing festivals that encompass folk music like Barunga, Nightliffe Seabreeze Festival and Darwin Festival. All of these are worth the trip!!!

GHE: It’s been a while since you released your gorgeous single and video “Through the Night”. Are there any plans to record and release more music? What’s next for Sally Balfour?

SB: I am always writing, and so I am on my way to making an album. I would like to say I will have something out by the end of 2017 but 2018 is much more realistic!

Sally Balfour is performing in Sydney at FolkSwagon on Wednesday night before heading to The National Folk Festival. Check out her dates below:

Wednesday 12th April – FolkSwagon, Cafe Lounge, Sydney, NSW
Thursday 13th to Monday 17th April – National Folk Festival, Canberra, ACT
– Friday 11:30am – Carnival (Kidsfest)
– Friday 5:00pm – Flute and Fiddle
– Saturday 12:40pm – Scrumpy
– Sunday 10:00pm – Spiegel

The Gum Ball Interview: Irish Mythen

Photo by Stuart Bucknell, taken for Timber and Steel at Bluesfest 2016

We fell in love and got all fan-girly over Irish Mythen when we met her at Bluesfest last year (and we’ll see her again at Bluesfest this year), so we’re really looking forward to seeing Irish at one of the most intimate festivals in Australia, The Gum Ball!

We caught up with Irish to see what she loves and what she’s looking forward too.

When did you first visit Australia and how did it make you feel? How do Australian audiences respond to your style of music? 

I actually first arrived in Australia in 2000! Went to Perth and never left until 2005. Had a ball and met the most amazing people. Never came to the east though so when I first started touring the east in 2015 it felt like the first time. It’s just such a bloody amazing country. The Australian audience is unlike any other. They get behind a new artist like their one of their own and I’ve been shown incredible support. They learn the songs, buy the merch, follow you to all the shows. Incredible stuff

How do Festivals like BluesFest compare to your experiences back home and overseas?

The calibre of artists at a festival like Bluesfest speaks for itself so that and Woodford are unlike any other in the world. You just have to go because words don’t do them justice. The other Aussie festivals I’ve played are a little different from the rest in that people feel a real connection with the festival…they take over the space and it’s their home for the day, weekend or week. They are all so well run and so many volunteers. You turn around and there’s someone there asking if you need anything. I love the way every artist at any level is treated like the headliner. On ya Straya!

 What’s your favourite kind of show to play, venue gigs or festivals?

Well they’re completely different animals but I think festivals would sneak it but only because I get to see so much music myself at festivals so I get to also GEEK OUT!

What’s your favourite thing about your previous visits to Australia and what are you looking forward to most this trip?

Food, people, wine, weather (even the rain), crowds. Answer number two see first answer 😉

Do you find there are customs, jokes or themes that don’t translate for Australian audiences? Or perhaps that really do resonate more than expected?

I think due to the amount of world travel that goes on there’s not much of a difference BUT I surprise some Aussie audiences when I throw in a Kath and Kim reference or The Twelfth Man …hahaha can’t get enough of his Richie Benaud

What are you looking forward to about performing at The Gum Ball?

Ah look just getting back there. I was there for their other festival, Dashville Skyline, and I mean ye can’t get a more beautiful setting truly. And the people who run it, volunteers etc well they are brilliant. I also met some real characters in the crowd who’ve promised they’re all coming back so hope to see them all!

Irish Mythen plays on Friday 21st April at The Gum Ball (Dashville, Belford, Hunter Valley NSW).

Tickets are available to buy online.

Irish Mythen’s remaining tour dates are below:

Friday 7th April – The Heritage, Bulli, NSW
Saturday 8th April – Revamp The Amp, Kuranda, QLD
Thursday 13th to Monday 17th April – Bluesfest, Byron Bay, NSW
Friday 21st April – The Gum Ball Festival, Dashville, NSW

The Gum Ball Interview: Felix Riebl

Photo by Stuart Bucknell

We’re getting ready for a big Easter period full of exciting festivals and we’re really looking forward to heading back to The Gum Ball! We chatted with Felix Riebl about his solo work, how the Cat Empire has paved the way for his song writing and, of course, The Gum Ball!

What’s your favourite thing about embarking on your solo work and touring?

The atmosphere in both the studio and on stage for Paper Doors has been new and exciting. The Cat Empire generates a lot of its energy from the contrasts within the band, both stylistically and in terms of the personalities, whereas working on this album has more of a flow to it. It’s not to say one is better than the other, it’s just a different more intimate space.

How has your Cat Empire time influenced your new solo works?

The Cat Empire has offered me bright stages, vast audiences, and near delirious moments of exuberance. That’s a great place to write from – those recollections have a lot of power for me – and it’s been interesting writing music with more room in terms of the notes, but with that incendiary spirit still in there.

Do your Cat Empire mates come to your shows and heckle you? (kidding about the heckling) How does your solo career fit in to your grand musical plan?

I wouldn’t put heckling past them… but really, we’re all musicians at the end of the day, and we’ve all got our various projects. I don’t have a grand plan at the moment, maybe it’ll come to me soon… or maybe plans are better recognised in hindsight. I think I’m trying to let the songs lead the way, and hopefully to be surprised occasionally. I try not to get too concerned about the categories of my career (solo vs tce), if the experience is genuine – writing, in the studio, or on stage – then I’m able to keep the hounds at bay.

How do you see yourself now compared to back in the early 2000s when The Cat Empire was first rising to prominence?

I’m still chasing the same illusive thing, whatever it is that keeps me awake at an instrument. When I was starting out I relied more on boundless energy, now days I tend to rely on experience a bit more, which is probably to say I’m not as blindly convinced about every idea I have anymore. In terms of song writing, I used to try and explain things more than I should, and now I think I’m trying to create a genuine echo in things I don’t understand so much.

You’ve played festivals all around the world, of all sizes and shapes. What’s your favourite thing about playing at festivals? What’s your favourite overseas festival? (and do we dare ask what your favourite Australian festival is?) And what advice would you give to a first time festival goer?

My favourite thing about festivals, aside from the colour and chaos, is that people go to discover music, which is a fantastic space for musicians to be in. This is going to sound strange, but I don’t have a favourite festival here or overseas, just as I don’t have a favourite venue, theatre or stage… When a show’s going well, you’re on every stage you’ve ever played and the audience is part of that collective moment, at least it’s something like that, and I enjoy that placeless sensation a lot. Advice for festivals… go with a group of your best friends, make an adventure of getting there if you can.

What are you most looking forward to about The Gum Ball?

I’ve never played there! I can’t wait. The line up looks fantastic. Everyone I’ve spoken to about it says it’s a really special one. I’ll have a chance to check it out and immerse myself in it, and hopefully have a great show.

Felix Riebl plays on Friday 21st April at The Gum Ball (Dashville, Belford, Hunter Valley NSW)

Tickets are still available to buy online.

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