Review: Womadelaide 2013

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All Photographs courtesy of Arcade Photo

In recent years Womadelaide has given folkies as much to be excited about as just about any other festival, barring the likes of Bluesfest or Woodford Folk. In previous years we’ve seen high profile acts like First Aid Kit, Luka Bloom, Joanna Newsom, Archie Roach & Angus and Julia Stone but a surprising list of fantastic, relatively unknown international artists which gives the festival a distinct appeal to anyone who approaches the event with an open mind, ready to discover something exotic and amazing.

Womad 2k13 Bands-23One of the great things about Womadelaide to me as an Adelaidian is that it’s a constant. I can rely on it, which sounds trivial but it’s something that almost every other festival can’t live up to. I can rely on the music programming to be insightful, contrasting and varied and the quality of sound to be to the highest standard. I can rely on there being great food, enough water, and adequate toilets. I can rely on the fact that I won’t be abused or harassed by drunken bullies and I won’t get into a situation where I’m going to be cramped or trampled. I can rely on having a good, relaxing weekend shared with friends and for that reason I think it has become sacred to a lot of people. Womadelaide has been running for 21 years now and I suppose they’ve essentially perfected it because for as long as I’ve been attending the festival it’s kept the same site layout, precincts, stages and amenities, which definitely contributes to the comfort levels of repeat attendees.

For the last 3 years (at least) the festival has spanned 4 days to include the Friday night before the weekend and the Adelaide Cup public holiday on the Monday following. The great thing about this is that it’s quite commonplace for artists to have more than one performance during the festival, which allows the flexibility to get around clashing set-times or prior engagements (which is a very real danger during the peak of Adelaide’s mad march festival season).

Womad 2k13 Bands-12The Friday night was the major event of my Womadelaide. Undoubtedly the atmosphere was at its most electrifying and everybody I spoke to was restless with anticipation for The Tallest Man On Earth, aka Swedish folk singer-songwriter Kristian Matsson. The Tallest Man On Earth has been one of my favorite artists ever since I first discovered his debut album Shallow Graves in 2009. That was an exciting time in this generation’s indie-folk revival, and Matsson has been contributing increasingly jaw-dropping works since. I had the enormous pleasure of seeing The Tallest Man On Earth perform last year at Womadelaide’s spin-off festival Earth Station that was held in the Belair National Park. Since that time he’s released a brand new album There’s No Leaving Now, which was largely the focus of his Womadelaide 2013 performance. Here’s what Timber & Steel contributor JDX had to say about the album;

“I was more than just a coward. I was handsome too”. One of the best opening lyrics I’ve ever heard. I was in a doctors’ waiting room; the venue for many of my musical discoveries. Kristian Matsson’s intricate chords, his sweeping melodies, his metaphors, sharp, yet brittle, stole me from the moment, as my favourite folk music always does. Matsson said There’s No Leaving Now was about wanting to deal with your own weaknesses. I felt weak. This album made me feel stronger. I could write reams about imagery, or interpretation, about how “Bright Lanterns” is the world’s best post-colonial protest song, about how this isn’t The Wild Hunt and whether that matters. But then I’d be saying too much.

Powerful right? I think that testimonial is representative of the command Matsson has on an audience. When I turned around to survey behind me from the front of Stage 3 during the set I saw a sea of affected faces- it stole us all for the better part of an hour.

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Matsson enters the stage and starts to play without a hint of ado, without a moment to feed his ego with the applause of an adoring mass as if to break the audience’s shackles with reality, their awareness of their surroundings and prepare them to experience the music and only the music. That’s not to say that his performance lacks humanity. Matsson is constantly, unashamedly, physically affected by his music during his performance, which can appear quite unique and peculiar at first but also allows the audience to feel uninhibited. Sometimes he assumes the famous one-legged stance of Jethro Tull flautist/front man Ian Anderson, and at other times he briskly whips back and forth the front of stage like a flamboyant magician showing the audience his empty hands before performing a trick. As per usual, The Tallest Man On Earth performed all by his lonesome until he was joined by a female vocalist (unknown to me) for a song towards the end of his set. Matsson’s trademark open-tuning, quick finger-picking guitar technique never ceases to amaze me. Among the songs from his latest album such as “1904”, “Wind and Walls”, “Leading Me Now”, and “Revelation Blues”, Matsson delved back into his back catalogue for some of his most moving tunes like “Love Is All”, “King of Spain” and “Like The Wheel” and even further back to tracks like “The Gardener”, “Where Do My Bluebirds Fly” and “I Won’t Be Found” from his debut. Below is a live version of one of my favorite tracks from his latest album for anyone who wants on the bandwagon.

Womad 2k13 Bands-25The next act I saw was the hyped Melbourne soul troupe Clairy Browne & The Bangin’ Rackettes, who I’d seen for the first time nearly exactly a year ago supporting Charles Bradley at Adelaide Festival’s Barrio club in 2012. The energetic horn section and spritely back-up singers gave a fantastic excitement to the show and provide the ideal backdrop for diva-queen Ms. Browne to stun the crowd with her powerful-as-all-hell vocals. You’d have all heard her tune “Love Letter” on the radio at some point, but if her Womadelaide 2013 performance proved anything to me it’s that Clairy’s not just a one trick pony.

Before calling it a night I caught the first part of The Cat Empire’s set. The enormous crowd that had gathered to the main stage was probably the biggest of the festival and really just goes to show that the Melbourne collective still has the pulling power to the “world-music” audience, even if their new tunes aren’t quite taking to “youth-radio” like they used to.

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Unfortunately suffering from heat exhaustion brought on by an ill-fated attempt to play a Saturday morning soccer game in the high 30 degree, humid conditions, I missed out on much of the acts over Womadelaide’s Saturday and Sunday, although made it for at least a couple of hours on both days. If there’s one thing for certain, this Womadelaide was the hottest in recent years, being mid-to-high thirties for the whole weekend. All of the acts that I saw on Saturday I came across by complete accident. I delightfully observed indigenous Arnhem Land act East Journey for a few minutes before finding my way to the Morteton Bay Stage to catch a few tunes from contemporary Scottish folk group LAU. Despite being someone who is less inspired by the trad spectrum of folk music, I was incredibly impressed by the musicianship on display and could easily imagine their performance erupting into an unbridled ruckus in a smaller, enclosed venue.

Before calling it a day I stole a moment with both a genre defying group of Parisian-expats called Moriarty and a beautiful, sparse performance on an ancient discarded instrument, the viola da gamba, from viola guru Jordi Savall.

Despite lingering sickness I decided to head into botanic park on Sunday for two performances that I’d eagerly been anticipating, Mia Dyson and Abigail Washburn. Although Mia Dyson is a very well known Australian Rock/Blues & Roots artist, I think the height of her fame must have fallen slightly before my time. I was familiar with her name but not her work, despite her being widely touted by the Blues & Roots community in Adelaide and her being one of the intensely publicized headliners for last year’s Backwater Blues & Roots Festival in SA. To put it simply, I was stunned by Dyson’s Womadelaide performance. Her voice was just so intense and faultless. It made me wonder why I had never heard her music before? Perhaps her style falls on the “Adult Contemporary” side of blues/rock, rather than the “indie” side that’s considered fair game for mainstream radio… This reminded me of an interview article I read on Fasterlouder with Jen Cloher called “Why we need a Triple J for adults”- an Australian artist who’s probably been pigeonholed in the same way as Dyson. Well worth a read.

I caught Abigail Washburn’s second performance of Womadelaide with her current collaborator Kai Welch and found it equally as enlightening as it was entertaining. I had listened to Washburn’s most recent record only a couple of times. As an amateur banjo picker I’m always interested to listen to how the instrument is being used in new music and Washburn is renowned the world over for the use of that Scruggs-style clawhammer banjo in her music. What I didn’t realize was that Washburn’s obvious Appalachian/bluegrass influences are supplemented by strong ties with Chinese culture. Washburn has spent a lot of time in China writing and playing music, speaks the language fluently and draws from the culture in her music. The blend makes for an intriguing result, but is not at all gimmicky. Washburn and Welch had the crowd singing in Chinese and told stories of their shared time in the country following the ravaging earthquakes. In terms of performance, she and Welch played off each other wonderfully, hitting impossible harmonies without falter. Washburn even felt the energy to get up and clog along to a tune despite her obvious pregnancy. She did a TED talk that I found very interesting. Watch below.

Womad 2k13 Bands-48On Monday I was joined by some old friends so I spent the day less intent on seeing performances and more dedicated to catching up. Throughout the day I managed to catch sets from hearty New Zealand blues duo Swamp Thing and UK fiddle prodigy/trad heart throb  Seth Lakeman. I also had the Timber & Steel photographer playing paparazzi for an photo-article called “Beards of Womadelaide 2013”, which I would sternly urge you all to visit.

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Review: Charles Bradley, Barrio, Adelaide

Image courtesy of Charles Bradley

Charles Bradley with Clairy Browne and the Bangin’ Rackettes
9th March, Barrio (Adelaide Festival),

There’s not much that could make South Australian audiences miss the opening Friday night of the annual Womadelaide festival in the Botanic Park, but going by the sell-out crowd at Adelaide’s newest and quirkiest hot-spot BarrioCharles Bradley is a worthy exception.

Barrio is a late-night, shanty-town maze of restaurants, bars, markets and stages that popped up on the Adelaide Festival Centre Plaza a week or so ago as part of Adelaide Festival. The destination has proved a hit with Adelaide’s mad-March merrymakers, with lines often backed up to North Terrace with eager patrons ready to make an offering to the Barrio ‘shrine’ upon entering (it’s actually a thing). The bizarre space is unlike anything and creates a wild vibe for a performance.

Kicking off the night’s proceedings with otherwordly sass was Melbourne’s Clairy Browne & the Bangin’ Rackettes. The nine piece diva-soul ensemble made a powerful impression with well crafted and catchy original tunes that pay nostalgic homage to the gospels of yesteryear. Whilst Browne’s enormous voice, charisma and presence stole the show, her band do a sterling job and provided some pretty special moments themselves. Her tune “Love Letter” has been recieving some spins on Triple J, and  the outfit were certainly deserved recipients of the honour of warming the stage for the main event- (as he was introduced enthusiastically on the night) “the one and only, the black swan, the screaming eagle of soul, the original victim of love; Charles Bradley“.

For those who don’t know of Charles Bradley it’s best to get this across early; he is a phenomenon. Releasing his debut album No Time for Dreaming in 2011 at the tender age of 63, Bradley took the world by storm with a voice and a collection of songs that are unparalleled in the current era of music. Sure, Bradley draws influence from the likes of James Brown and Otis Redding and obvious comparisons can be made, but Bradley produces a sound and a performance that’s unique and touching.

Bradley almost exclusively explores 2 themes in his music- 1) that the world is full of trouble, pain, heartache and sorrow, and 2) that love and belief is the remedy to it all- and boy does he believe what he preaches. I’ve listened to Bradely’s debut a lot and songs like “The World is Going Up in Flames”, “Golden Rule” and “Trouble in the Land” were some of my favourite tracks to come out of last year, but seeing them performed live and in the flesh with all of Bradley’s raw emotion unashamedly on display added yet another dimension. Check out some of his handywork below.

Second Gum Ball Artist Announcement

Mat. McHugh
Image Courtesy of Mat. McHugh

Can you believe January is almost over? Crazy eh? Before we know it we’ll be longing for long summer days (which have been few and far between this time around), cold beer and music festivals. But don’t lament just yet because the musical good times are still rolling on.

The Gum Ball, held on the 27th and 28th April in the Hunter Valley, NSW, has just announced it’s second round of artists for 2012. Joining the likes of Jinja Safari, Ash Grunwald, Wagons and Kim Churchill will be Mat. McHugh (of The Beautiful Girls, above), Clairy Browne and Bangin’ Rackettes, The Perch Creek Family Jug Band and many more.

The full details and lineup so far check out the official Gum Ball web site. The full list of second round artists is below:

Mat. McHugh
Front End Loader
Clairy Browne and Bangin’ Rackettes
The Delta Riggs
The Tongue
Massy Ferguson
Eucalypso (feat. Gleny Rae)
Two Rivers Blues
The Perch Creek Family Jug Band

Falls Festival Review: In the Beginning

Review by KTBell, photos by Stu B.

What do a Matador, Pirate Princess, Bumble Bee and a Koala have in common? The Falls Festival, Lorne apparently. We arrived late in the afternoon on the first day of the festival only to feel like there was a costume party that no one had told us about. It seems dressing up with your mates is one of the key ingredients in the Falls Festival experience, we saw superheroes, all manner of animals, and too many body suits to mention.

Nouvelle Vague                            Lilikoi Kaos       Melbourne Ska Orchestra

Wednesday was the first afternoon of the 19th annual Falls Festival with the first and second days alternating between the two stages, Wednesday starting the festival off in The Grand Theatre at the top of the hill. The days line up was a bit light on the folk front, but Peter Combe helped wayward 20-30 something’s reclaim their youth complete with “Newspaper Mama” hats for the crowd. Anna’s Go-Go Academy taught the gathered crowd how to Go-Go and it was entertaining to see the whole audience dance in time with moves like the “Yay Titties” and the “Human Nature”. We caught French outfit Nouvelle Vague whose two female vocalists made me feel like I should be flying Pan Am and ordering Singapore Slings. Their take on popular songs were sassy, jazzy and a little bit Bossa Nova. Lilikoi Kaos, a circus and burlesque star, wowed the crowds with hula hoops, high heels, a seductive strip and a whole lotta splits. We rounded our night out with the huge numbers of the Melbourne Ska Orchestra who filled the half capacity theatre tent with cool, attitude, ska and wacky old school dancing. At one point the crowd faced off with the orchestra with the maestro controlling it all, very silly, but oh so fun. The cold got the better of us and we headed off to catch some hopefully warm sleep.

Heel Toe Express by KTBellThursday saw The Valley Stage spring to life while The Grand Theatre took a day off. While the stage opened with some heavier surf rock and grunge, we ambled over to The Village and stumbled across the delightful Melbourne based 5 piece, Heel Toe Express. Delivering exactly what you want from a folk band with a twinge of bluegrass rhythm, the crowds relaxed on the grass and were carried away by lilting fiddle, twanging banjo and plodding double bass. I know it’s a traditional song, but it was great to hear their rendition of “Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms” which I am more accustomed to in The Snowdroppers rockin’ blues style. Heel Toe Express transported me, and the whole crowd, to a completely different time and place away from the Falls Festival, I occasionally thought I should be at a fiddlers convention, barn dance or country show, but in a good way. They don’t restrict themselves performance wise, frequently switching between female and male lead vocals, whipping in some harmonies, harmonica and a bit of a honky-tonk vibe just to mix it all up, exactly the kind of band to relax through the afternoon with. Or perhaps the toe tapping, hoe down kind of wind up to kick off the day.

Clairy Browne and the Bangin Rackettes by Stu BBack at the Valley Stage, Guineafowl had the crowds bopping to their Indietronic, smooth grooves, they made me feel like U2 would be playing the same line up. One of my favorite swinging 60s style souls girl groups, Clairy Browne and the Bangin’ Rackettes hit the stage in their synchronized, mid set set tear away costume changing, take the audience by storm kind of way. Not folk but a whole lot of fun, kind of like a 60s soul singing Amy Winehouse with backup singers. The New York outfit Easy Star All-Stars“Dub side of the Moon” reggae dub performance was great, entertaining and funky to boot.

Missy Higgins at the Falls Festival, Lorne VIC. By Stu BMissy Higgins was a sign that the stakes were raising with the the evening’s lineup stretching tantalisingly ahead of us. Her last releases were way back in 2007 so I was really keen to see what she had been up to in that time and gauge whether there’s anything exciting in the pipeline to get excited about. The crowd went wild as she took to the stage sporting a cute, short, blonde coiffed do. Higgins opened with a sweet rendition of “Secret”, oozing with a funky slow beat and a dash of Aussie soul. It was a gutsy full band sound but with her trademark acoustic guitar at the forefront. Her whole set was thoroughly enjoyed by the crowd, singing along at every opportunity. She later tweeted “Argh wow! Show was so amazing tonight, Nashville guys were blown away by how loud the crowd were singing!! So fun. So good to be back. Xx” and believe me, we are all very happy to see her back!

Beirut by Stu BAfter such a fulfilling performance, I was excited to finally catch Beirut live and they took to the stage with fans screaming. Having not had a chance to familiarise myself with their back catalogue, the accordian and xylophone opening was enchanting and the trumpets brought it all together for a harmony laced scene. I felt like an oom-pa band and folk band had a love child in Beirut, it’s chilled out fantasy kind of stuff! The ukulele made an appearance to many cheers from the audience and Zach’s voice floated liltingly across the huge crowd. While not everyone’s cup of tea, their set to me was like lullabies for adults, instantly calming, comforting and a sense of security. Their set was nothing short of beautiful and the crowd, blissed out across the vast sun drenched hill, were sated with the delicacies Beirut served up.

John Butler Trio by Stu BLater in the evening, after more indie, dance and DJ sets had infused the cold night with happy revellers, the tempo changed and with it, the anticipation increased. The legendary John Butler Trio was greeted with a huge roar from the crowd and they warmed the chilly night with the funk infused roots of “Don’t Wanna See Your Face No More”. The slapping base was phenomenal and could be felt all the way up the hill. As a huge crowd favourite, the trio looked completely at home onThe Valley Stage, I’m sure the entire crowd never wanted it to end. But alas, when their time was up the chill of the night had reallt set in and it was time for me to climb in to a warm sleeping bag for the night. What an amazing first couple of days and we were only half way through.

Check out our feature reviews of Missy Higgins and John Butler Trio, in an attempt to keep this review to a sensible length, we’ve decided to put together some more in depth reviews of our festival highlights.

New Festival Riverboats Announces 2012 Lineup

Lanie Lane
Image Courtesy of Riverboats Music Festival

Victorians are in for something pretty special after the brand new player on the festival scene, the Riverboats Music Festival, announced its inaugural 2012 lineup. Held in Echuca-Moama on the Murray River (two and a half hours from Melbourne) on the 17th to the 19th February, the Riverboats Music Festival lineup includes the likes of Tex Perkins And The Band Of Gold, Colin Hay, The Bamboos, Mark Seymour, Mick Thomas’ Roving Commission, Vika And Linda Bull, Lanie Lane (above), The Audreys, Clairy Browne and The Bangin’ Rackettes, Benny Walker, Ryan Meeking and The Bride Stripped Back. More than a couple Timber and Steel favourites floating amongst that list right?

Tickets for the Riverboats Music Festival are available now from the official web site.

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