Review: Mark Wilkinson, High Tea, Sydney

Mark Wilkinson

Mark Wilkinson with Iluka at High Tea
Hibernian House, Sydney, NSW
18th July, 2013

Review by Kat Kinnie

Mark Wilkinson’s voice could melt butter. And everyone who attended a secret pre-album release gig that he did just a week or so ago, got to experience it up close and personal.

From the outside, Surry Hills’ 342 Elizabeth Street is nothing special. In fact, as we navigated the narrow corridors and stairwells, and passed graffiti covered wall after graffiti covered wall, one could have momentarily been mistaken the journey for perhaps choosing a wild goose chase, rather than a night of live music.

However, after following the metaphysical white rabbit, we were rewarded with a wonderland-like venue, offered to us from the lovely people at High Tea. Complete with a tea party, minus the Mad Hatter.

After freshly arriving from a tour of the UK and Germany, Mark entertained us with songs from his upcoming new album Let the River Run. He kicked things off with the captivating “For the First Time in Years”. He also treated us to a very special cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car”. He joked that someone once suggested he cover the song, because he sounds like her. And not knowing whether to take it as a compliment or not, promptly learnt the song, which has fast become a fan favourite.

He was also joined by the beautiful voice of local songstress, Iluka, and they performed two songs together, one by each artist, including Iluka’s “In the Heat”.

It was an enchanting night and a treat to be able to enjoy Mark’s music in such an intimate and magical setting. Surrounded by lanterns hanging from the ceilings and fairy lights draped over furniture. We sat on cushions upon rugs laid over wooden floors, amongst very good company. A group of people with pure love and appreciation for the music that was entertaining them.

Mark closed with “All I Ever Wanted” a song about a desire to be someone, say something, and search for more in life, to know that you feel alive. Mark is definitely living, breathing proof that it is definitely possible to life a life of purpose and fulfillment, doing something that you love. And the Sydney-based singer-songwriter is destined to continue to spread his music far and wide.

Mark Wilkinson’s new studio album Let the River Run will be released on 9th August and will be available to download on iTunes. He will be embarking upon a nationwide tour of Australia for Timber and Steel from Thursday 15th August. To book tickets, go to markwilkinsonmusic.com – the full list of dates are below:

Thursday 15th August – Beav’s Bar, Geelong, VIC
Friday 16th August – The Thornbury Theatre, Melbourne, VIC
Thursday 22nd August – The Brass Monkey, Cronulla, NSW
Friday 23rd August – The Abbey, Canberra, ACT
Saturday 24th August – Mars Hill Cafe, Parramatta, NSW
Friday 30th August – The Heritage Hotel, Bulli, NSW
Saturday 31st August – The Basement, Sydney, NSW
Friday 6th September – The Promethean, Adelaide, SA
Saturday 7th September – The Ellington, Perth, WA
Sunday 8th September – The Ellington, Perth, WA
Wednesday 11th September – The Rails, Byron Bay, NSW
Thursday 12th September – Cafe Le Monde, Noosa, QLD
Friday 13th September – Mandala Organic Arts Cafe, Gold Coast, QLD
Saturday 14th September – Bon Amici Cafe, Toowoomba, QLD
Sunday 15th September – Black Bear Lodge, Brisbane, QLD
Thursday 19th September – Lizotte’s, Newcastle, NSW
Friday 20th September – Lizotte’s, Central Coast, NSW
Saturday 21st September – The Clarendon Guesthouse, Katoomba, NSW

Interview: Brett Winterford

Brett Winterford
Image Courtesy of Brett Winterford

With his debut solo EP Greenthumb delighting fans for the last six months or so and a national tour just wrapped up Sydney singer-songwriter Brett Winterford took some time to chat to Gareth Hugh Evans about discovering the Australian folk scene, his work with Sydney’s High Tea and why he spends a lot of time living and playing in Europe.

Gareth Hugh Evans: So you’ve just wrapped up a national tour – how was that? You’ve played some pretty cool venues and there seems to have been a bit of buzz around the shows as well.

Brett Winterford: It’s been really good. I’ve had some good fun with the bigger, more established venues that I’ve played in the past but this time with a different band. Being at the Basement [in Sydney] was kind of scary but amazing because this new band are probably the best guys I’ve ever played with. Imagine if you got a chance to play with guys you’d seen playing in different bands for five or ten years and you finally got up the courage to say “hey I’m going solo and I’ve already made a record but I want put together the best band possible to play it live”. I always felt like I’d rather be in the audience watching them. And then the smaller gigs have been surprisingly successful, like really successful. What I’m learning is that there’s this scene of folk clubs around a lot of regional places in Australia that I’ve previously missed out on. And I’d never made the right kind of music to fit in there. Like the Upfront Club on the Sunshine Coast [Maleny] and the Candelo Arts Society down in Candelo, NSW. Just glorious venues, great people – really worldly, warm music boffins. I just loved playing for them. It was a different Australia than I remember from playing in pubs when I was younger.

GHE: One of the reasons I started Timber and Steel is because I grew up in the folk club scene and when I started listening to indie music I realised there were bands that could easily crossover. The blog was about celebrating acoustic music no matter what “scene” it belonged to and hopefully nuturing a crossover. It feels like in the last few years that those lines have really blurred.

BW: Spot on. You could say that singer-songwriters are being opportunistic in that some of our traditional avenues might have even closed down. But then you could say the folk club scene is being opportunistic because they’re getting young, fresh, interesting talent to just revitalise their thing. It’s a happy marriage I think. I feel pretty lucky to have had the experience. I used to be a little jaded about touring Australia because I did it so many times and I didn’t make money with a five piece band. Worked hard, everything by the book and missed out on the essential human experience of playing music for people and communicating with them afterwards. I experienced a lot of that in Europe, going back about four years now, but not much in Australia. It’s really so wonderful that, well it was probably always there, but I’ve now discovered it.

GHE: That audience that goes to small folk clubs or holds lounge-room concerts or frequents folk festivals, especially in the country towns, they’re there for the music and it’s not just that they’ve gone down to their local pub and three happens to be a band playing. It’s a night out and they want to connect with the artist after the show and buy their CDs and talk to them.

BW: It’s a different world, a completely different world.

GHE: Now I do have to say, in the lead up to this recent tour, your name has been the one most recommended to me by other artists and people in the music scene. You’ve got a really great network of fans within the music community at the moment – I don’t know if you’re aware of that.

BW: There’s probably a few reasons for it. I’ve been involved with music in Australia for a long time but it’s never paid me dividends like the way it is at the moment. I’ve run a not for profit music venue for a few years now in a Surry Hills warehouse called High Tea – it’s very clear for anyone who plays there that it’s all for the right reasons, that it’s all for the artists. It was a reflection of what I experienced playing in Europe, I felt like Sydney needed that. Unbeknownst to me similar things have popped up in lots of places. It might even extend beyond the music – they might just have some respect for the fact that I give as much as I take.

GHE: The Greenthumb EP has been out for about six months, is that right?

BW: In Australia about six months, yeah. I actually released it in Europe first because I had a five month stint there. So it doesn’t feel as new to me as it does to everyone else.

GHE: Are you still enjoying playing the songs to your audiences here?

BW: Absolutely. I wrote these songs over a number of years so I guess six months wasn’t going to make a difference. They were songs that didn’t work in other projects that I was working with that I kind of felt I needed my own space for, that I needed to create a sound for. I was gagging to play them for, in some cases, two years prior so I’m by no means sick of them. And I also chose these songs because, for the most part, they’re the songs that I enjoy playing live when I play solo. We deliberately made sure the production wasn’t overbearing. These are the songs that for as many years as I do solo gigs I’ll always find them pleasing to play.

GHE: That’s really nice. A lot of artists I talk to, once it comes time to tour an album or an EP, already ready to move onto the next thing because they’ve been living with the songs for so long. But it doesn’t sound like that’s happened to you.

BW: It’s funny. I don’t know know why that is. I think they’re pleasant to sing, they feel good to sing. And they’re generally about things that are universal – I could probably sing them as an old man. I think a lot of the time when musicians say that they’re sick of a song it’s often that they’re sick of what they thought was a relevant thing to write a song about. We grow and change as humans so quickly. We look at photos of ourselves six months ago and think “who is that person?”.

GHE: As you mentioned you’ve spent a bit of time in Europe and I’ve heard you’ll probably head back at some point this year. What is it about Europe that keeps drawing you back?

BW: It’s a little boring I guess but it’s the scale. Germany is where it’s happening for me. It might be partly cultural – Germans are so ready to hear something new and they’re so respectful that you can very easily create an atmosphere in a small venue. Gigs are a two way street – it’s not just the quality of the act, it’s the quality of the audience. And there’s just quality audiences there. I’ve really enjoyed that part of it. And also you can go for five months, as I did, playing six nights a week in a place like Germany, traveling around, and actually survive quite easily. The cities are one hour away from each other and are of a sufficient scale – it’s like having a Wagga or a Mildura or a Byron Bay every hour and we just don’t have that in Australia. And all those places have young people because the college system there is spread out into regional towns rather than concentrated in cities. I’ve played a lot of college bars and college dorms. It’s just set up for this exact style of touring.

GHE: I might leave you there mate – I’ve really enjoyed chatting with you today.

BW: Cheers Gareth!

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