Woodford in a Nutshell

Photos by Stuart Bucknell, full album on our Facebook page

Timber and Steel loves a good festival, and Woodford is no exception. The premiere Folk Festival is forever growing and developing to highlight and showcase both the beauty of the natural surrounds, and a diverse array of musical greats and emerging artists.

The beauty of Woodford is it’s a week long festival, culminating in a liminal Fire Event timed to usher in the new year rising from the ashes of the old. However, even someone only able to attend for two to three days can still catch a majority of the performers, and be immersed in a whole other world, where music reigns supreme, and almost every interest is catered too.

For the 2018/19 Woodford experience, our intrepid reporters spent a little over 2 days exploring Woodford’s many stages and acts.

Bright and early on the Friday morning of Woodford, our two trepidation reporters trundled in to Woodfordia. It’s been an age since we last visited but it still felt like home. In our brief visit, we caught as many acts as we could, here are our highlights.

Our first stop was to catch the Hussy Hicks and in spite of the early time of day, The Pineapple Lounge was PACKED! Their healthy rhythms kept every foot tapping as the days’ heat began to rise. Their musical passion was on display as Through The Windmill enthralled the throngs and the hot guitar interlude had the crowd cheering. The dynamic duo’s strong connection on stage commanded all attention and ensured rapturous applause. See our photos online.

Mark Lang (of Skipping Girl Vinegar fame)’s only Woodford set had something for everyone, whether you were a fan or new to Lang’s melodic storytelling. With tunes “for our good friend Donald Trump”, to songs about “letting go of all your frustrations”, or just a true reminder of “living in the now, living in the present”, Lang proved time and time again how his music welcomes audiences, connects, and entices them to participate, punching the air hammering home political commentary, or singing along in full voice. See our photos online.

The Strangest Dreamers delivered a dreamy set of layers and stories to entreat and enchant. They had us with a bluesy lament, kept us with a song from the history books of Joe Hill, about The Rebel Girl Elizabeth Gurley Flynn; and delighted us as they trilled through their eclectic set of fun and frivolity. See our photos online.

Scandinavian fiddle trio Fru Skagerrak had the crowd clapping along from the very opening. Their trad style fiddle to warmed up the crowd as we all enjoyed a refreshing brew. Their skill and prowess shone on stage, the sensitivity of every nuance and note had us enraptured, and Scandinavia’s best was truly in fine form for all to see. Though something tells me this may have been their mellow set, for the daytime crowd… See our photos online.

Lindsay Lou gave us a delectable Americana, full of sass treating us to a set full of songs like Sugar with beautiful harmonised backing vocals, mandolin, and just the right amount of funk to give it that tap along beat. Her delightful accent trilled through the lyrics giving them a lively interplay amongst the skilled musicianship of the tight knit group. Stunt Double, written for her brother, gave a deeper, more earthy opening with lyrics and vibe reminiscent of a Missy Higgins style tale. Her cover of Bill Withers’ I Wish You Well showcased that she is sunshine personified on stage. See our photos online.

The Halcyon stage, we could hardly catch a view of The Fergies as they absolutely packed out the place, and the humans filling the space moved as one to their fun, upbeat, frivolity. They were the name on lips around the festival, ‘did you see The Fergies??’ See our photos online.

Tullara seemed like a dark horse, but the beautiful harmonies proved it was a golden set to capture. Joined on stage at times by additional friends, she delivered heartfelt and raw honesty with tales of her life through song. Particularly beautiful and melancholic was the emotive Five Weeks which then lead in to Six Months – a powerful storytelling experience for the audience.

The Loveys were perhaps the most aptly named act, with classic one liners, witty remarks and sensational sense of style teamed with dulcet tones and a European Cabaret vibe. I never thought I would say the words “she is rocking the bassoon” but here I was, saying them out loud to a bassoon solo. Their set had everything from a comedic lament about old age, to a lullaby about dementia Daddy Joined The Circus, and the terrific harmonies in Beautiful Woman dedicated to a French cross dresser.It was a set that caught you off guard at the same time as being completely in tune with the vivacious women. At one point I realised the drummer was playing a tea cup. Literally, rhythm section on a tea cup – and that of course was perfectly normal and in tune. They had the whole audience clapping along, and to no surprise, inspired a standing ovation.

The Cat Empire can always be relied on to bring the party to any hill, dale or amphitheatre, and Woodford was no exception. With an extensive back catalog mixed in with new album songs, their set was utter decadence from start to finish. Their new songs like Killer, and unreleased Anybody, demonstrated the enthusiasm for their infectious brand of music, playing homage to The Cat Empire of old while injecting some of their newer sound and style melding is infinitely danceable, clap-alongable. Steal The Light, written as joyful instead of happy, featured a chorus horn interlude that was spine tingling, and a call to action that the crowd wilfully answered with their cheers and dancing. As always, a world class entertainment.

Les Poules a Colin brought delicate fiddle and mandolin intricately woven with electric instruments in a blanket of sound that wrapped the audience up and drew them closer. Singing songs in native French, the group from Quebec somehow made French sound more musical than English, especially lifted by stunning twin harmonies. A real stand out was a kind of murder story, performed in bi-lingual tandem with haunting banjo, occasional stomp box, and dual vocals telling the tale, punctuated with stunning three part harmonies. By their own admission, their final song was “very danceable” – they weren’t kidding, the dance floor was full within seconds!

We could only stop in briefly by for Hat Fitz and Cara’s Breakfast BBQ, with Sally and the sizzling sausages already well underway! Cara gave us a new song never played live, played with a “we’ll just see how it goes” finesse that charmed the morning crowd.

Irish Mythen, one of our all time favourite performers, delivered yet another powerhouse set on the Woodford Grande stage. Starting out with something a bit political in What If We Built A Wall, it didn’t matter the time of day, or the lack of sunglasses, Irish was on fire with lyrical passion and gutsy guitar filling one of the largest venues, and taking every audience member along for the ride. Mythen has such a powerful voice, and a Capella prowess that makes your spine tingle, inspiring rapturous rounds of applause. Between songs, her wit and banter is so effective, we could mistake her for a stand up comedian. We were transfixed as she effortlessly brought us to tears with 55 Years, elated by a spirited rendition of I Wanna Dance With You, and a moved with the gravitas of Little Bones. As always, Tullamore Blues had the entire crowd singing along enthusiastically, only to be surpassed by a rousing, a Capella rendition of Mercedes Benz that everyone stood and sang along too.

Lucy Wise was the epitome of sweet and pure as her voice descended on the expanding crowd, infused with good humour delivered in earnest. She shared her New Year song, inspired by her mother, accompanied by ukulele. Her set was down to earth and personal, with You Are Here about facing anxiety, Winter Sun about the affects of Melbourne’s weather and accompanied by her sister Rowena, and the heartbreaking Where Did You Go with her other sister Ruth – glorious harmony woven with beautiful sentimentality and sense of loss.

Trad Attack, a blast of energy from Estonia, used archival recordings alongside lead vocals creating the most fascinating soundscapes. Immediately the dance floor is full and enthusiastic. Most of their set was full energy with moment where we simply wondered what next crazy instrument would be brought to the fray. The fact the crowd can sing along with an archival recording how to make butter demonstrated they are clearly the party folk band – reminiscent of Australia’s own Crooked Fiddle Band.

The Spooky Men’s Chorale were the cheeky chaps as we always expect, taking great pleasure in testing the Auslan interpreter with the many abstract concepts in We Are Not A Men’s Group. Ever a popular act, the audience was large, and delighted with the quirks and perks of the Chorale and all their interpretations of everyday life.

The Raglins poured copious harmonies you could drown in with renditions of favourites like The Palmers Song, and The North Country Maid getting everyone in the mood. Song after song delivered in a spellbinding performance. Particular highlights were Robert’s admission that he’d always promised himself he’d never write a love song, that was until he fell in love, inspiring Luna, and the performance of an old Bush Ranger ballad rewritten with new melody and less racism, Ben Halls Gang.

Glenn Cardier and Christian Marsh at Pineapple Lounge had the bluesy goodness rolling forth with licks of harmonica on A Case of Mistaken Identity. Their set was peppered with fun, moving in to rockabilly swamp thing with a raucous jam in Ringmaster Blues, and sliding through mellow, energetic, enchantment and more.

Mel Parsons unleashed a voice and style so mellow, yet steeped in luxury and richness. Opening with some slow songs to warm up the crowd, then picked up the tempo and vibrancy with I Got The Lonely, and a great selection of tracks from her new album, Glass Heart.

Julia Jacklin treated everyone at the Ampitheatre to a spellbinding night of favourites, like Eastwick, Leadlight, and Don’t Let The Kids Win. Her laid back style soothed the audience as the days heat was swiftly replaced with a cool evening chill. Everything about Jacklin is enchanting, her guitar  declared “You Got This!!” on a hand written tape sticker, and she certainly did, the picture of cool, calm and collected. Hay Plain had the crowds transfixed and swaying along in pure bliss, awakened as the intensity pops and Jackson’s vocals oozed over the audience.

The Little Stevies battled adversity as Byl’s voice had gone AWOL and they were down on numbers as Cliff on electric guitar had been too sick to make Woodford. But Beth stepped in to the spotlight and delivered exquisite lead vocals throughout the set, while Byl managed to bring harmonies and jovial, if quiet, banter between. Old favourites like Accidentally and I hold My Breath had everyone delighted, while the new tracks were a fresh and exciting journey to explore. 

The Waifs were much anticipated and the Ampitheatre was alive with energy and enthusiasm. Old favourite Lighthouse struck a note with everyone singing along, while Sun, Dirt, Water gave a sexy and sassy edge. Love Serenade was a bit more lighthearted and playful, while London Still was breathlessly perfect, much to the acclaim of the audience.

Two days at Woodford were glorious, and we couldn’t leave without squeezing just a couple of last acts in the morning of our departure.

The Bushwhackers were a blast with a shanty, a whirl and jig, a sparkly coat and largaphone, a hoedown and everything in between. Leave it in the Ground elicited a positive response from the gathering crowd in spite of the early time. The most amusing highlight was the enthusiastic Auslan interpreter who was literally dancing and sign-singing along with each and every song. Another Trip To Bunnings now comes with its own audience participation thanks to the Auslan sign for Bunnings (bunny ears).

The final set we caught at Woodford was a firm favourite, the Stiff Gins. As always, their music is storytelling and evocative, we could see the east win gently stir the blossoms over the land, their glorious harmonies had us winging our way home with them, and we witnessed the leaves turning in  Narrandera. You know you’re a part of the band when you’re allowed to sing a song, and Lucas on guitar also brought to the stage Chance Meeting. It was a delightful start to the day, and still a wonderful way to end our festival visit.

As always, Woodford Folk Festival delivered diversity, beauty, and glorious memories in a world made perfect by music. If you’ve never been, you really must put it on your bucket list!

Interview: Autumn Gray

Autumn Gray at the Lewisham Livehouse SydneyAutumn Gray at the Lewisham Livehouse, Sydney. Photo by KTBell

We’ve been watching Autumn Gray make their mark on the folk-rock world over the last 12 months, but Timber and Steel‘s KTBell has been watching their development since their very formation through an ongoing friendship with past beau and Autumn Gray pianist Jeff Clementson. In the lead up to this Friday’s album launch come collaborative concert ‘Kinfolk – Indie Symphony’, KT sat down with Jeff and caught up on what’s been happening for Autumn Gray and what’s next.

KT: It’s been a long time between drinks, the last time I saw you was at the Autumn Gray EP launch in Sydney. What’s been happening with the band since then, and did Sydney scar you at all, or will we see you again soon?

Jeff Clementson: We all loved our short Sydney trip back in February, and we’ll definitely be heading back up the Hume in 2012, hopefully with a new release to show off.

Since February we’ve been refining and recording a whole bunch of new songs, testing them out at the odd live show, and putting together our new live album release ‘Live at Fed Square’ (featuring Orchestre Nouveau), which was recorded live late last year. The last three months have been especially hectic, trying to get a lineup and a venue for the launch show. Luckily enough, indie legend Charles Jenkins (Icecream Hands / Mad Turks of Istanbul) was all too happy to jump on board, and the supremely talented Mark Lang (singer-songwriter for Skipping Girl Vinegar) will be opening the night. It’s all part of the wonderful journey of being in a truly independent band.

KT: We dated many years ago now, and Autumn Gray was yet to come together but you were heavily in to your music, writing and composing. At the time you made me a mix CD including some influential songs and acts like You Am I, Augie March, Elliot Smith, and particular favourites The Dandy Warhols. If you and Autumn Gray were to make me a mix CD now, what would it have on it?

JC: Between all 7 of us in AG we’ve got quite an eclectic collective taste. Myself and each of the other band members have all contributed 2 or 3 tracks and this is what we’ve come up with – it’d be a double-cd of course:

Your Past Life As A Blast – Okkervil River
Art of Almost – Wilco
Not Too Amused – Sebadoh
First Breath After Coma – Explosions in the Sky
Red Lights – Holy Fuck
Nightingale – Low
In the Air Tonight – Phil Collins
Vincent O’Brien – M Ward
The Cowshed – Fionn Regan
Done – Built to Spill
The Glenorchy Bunyip – Augie March
Cheese Cake – Dexter Gordon
State of the Art – Gotye
Ritual Union – Little Dragon
I Might – Wilco
Captains of Industry – The Weekend People
46 & 2 – Tool
Cold Feet – Jack Ladder
Visitor – Laura
California Stars – Billy Bragg and Wilco
The Rescuing – Kikuyu
Finer Feelings – Spoon
Eye of the Needle – The Divine Comedy

KT: Speaking of Elliot Smith, I remember hearing the news of his death a few years ago, and I think I text you to share my condolences because I knew you were a fan. What impact did the loss of him and other great musicians over the last few years have on the music of Autumn Gray?

JC: I was very upset by the news of Elliot Smith’s death. I think most of us tend to think of the artists who make all of this music we love in a very abstract fashion – in effect they live in their music and in their clips on Rage. So when someone like that dies, and I remember feeling this acutely when Jeff Buckley died, it brings home the reality that the artist is just a mortal person. Some of us in the band have also lost family members over the last few years, and that sense of loss has definitely played a direct role in some of our newer material.

KT: Autumn Gray is about to do what a few truly great musicians have done, and collaborate with an entire orchestra. Why does this type of collaboration and show work for Autumn Gray’s music and what does it do for your performances?

JC: Most of all it’s a great honour to work with such a great bunch of really great musicians of Orchestre Nouveau, along with the composers and their dynamic young conductor, Zach Tay. I think our music lends itself well to this kind of classical / indie / folk crossover because we have already have a broad dynamic range in our material – for a 7-piece we can keep things quiet and restrained, but similar to an orchestra at the right moments we can make a lot of noise too. The performance with the orchestra last year was honestly one of the major highlights of my life. Standing on stage and hearing the string section kicking in behind me, I found myself almost frozen – I had to quickly remember to keep playing! I can’t wait for this next performance, and this time we’ve got 2 other great Australian songwriters joining us.

KT: Autumn Gray has two singers and a number of you write, what kind of dynamic does that bring to your music?

JC: Having two separate lead vocalists has proven to be most challenging for the music media – one review for our album said that the lead vocalist sounded ‘inconsistent’, not realising that we have 2 of them. I think it works pretty well for us despite the confusion

With the songwriting, we basically have a rule that if you bring a song into the band you need to be willing for it to be potentially torn apart and rearranged, if that’s the road we choose to go down. Most of the time though we get to a pretty swift consensus – there’s only been a couple of occasions where there have been heated words exchanged. The fact that anyone can bring material into the band and have it listened to and taken seriously is a great asset and certainly helps to keep things fresh for us, and hopefully that translates to better releases and more engaging performances for the audience.

KT: Now, I know I’m not the feature of any Autumn Gray song (or am I?) what kind of real life experiences shape and influence Autumn Gray songs? Any juices background stories to songs you care to share?

JC: The main songwriters usually keep their stories quite close to their chest, but you can hear Jim discussing the background of his song ‘Lullaby for the Hunters’ on ‘Live at Fed Square’. Basically he was out late one weekend night, close to closing time at a nightclub, and all of the young men who hadn’t ‘found love’ (Jim’s words) that evening were getting more angry, and starting to pick fights with each other as they got more desperate.

This made Jim want to write a Lullaby to send them all to off sleep when they’d arrived home, alone.

KT: Here at Timber and Steel, we’re always on the look out for new Folky acts to check out, got any suggestions for us to track down?

JC: Some of our recent favourites that can be classed as vaguely Folky are:

Grizzly Jim Lawrie – a great singer-songwriter, one of the most witty lyricists going around.
Lily Parker – she supported us solo a few weeks ago, and I really enjoyed her set. Beautiful vocals and some great piano and guitar work too.
The Winter Migration – their studio is literally 2 metres away from ours – great friends and old world melodies.

Oh, and last year we played a show with a Sydney band, The Dawn Collective, but they’ve broken up. I keep meaning to look into whether the songwriters are in any new bands. Fantastic band, and a pity that I got into them right at the end.

KT: Thanks Jeff, as always great to catch up and see what’s on the horizon and I’m so happy for you and Autumn Gray. All the best for this Friday’s album launch.

JC: Thanks for that KT! Always good talking with you. Oh, might be good to let people know that we’re streaming ‘Live at Fed Square’ in full leading up until the launch at www.liveatfedsquare.com.

Autumn Gray’s new album ‘Live at Fed Square’ recorded with Orchestre Nouveau, will be launched this Friday as a part of Kinfolk – Indie Symphony at Melbourne’s Thornbury Theatre. Tickets are still available for purchase online.

Kinfolk – Indie Symphony Live Music Event Featuring Autumn Gray

Autumn Gray
Image Courtesy of Autumn Gray

Melbourne’s indie folk-rock outfit Autumn Gray and classical ensemble Orchestre Nouveau have announced the release of a brand new live recording project, Live At Federation Square, to be released on the 18th November. The project uniquely intertwines the talents of one of Melbourne’s most exciting folk bands with a classically trained orchestra of young players.

To celebrate the release Autumn Gray, along with Charles Jenkins & The Zhivagos and Mark Lang (Skipping Girl Vinegar), are planning to launch the recording in style at the Kinfolk – Indie Symphony event at the Thornbury Theatre in Melbourne on the 18th November as well. All of the featured artists at Kinfolk – Indie Symphony will be back by the classical stylings of Orchestre Nouveau.

Tickets are a mere $18 (from the Thornbury Theatre website or OzTix) and are on sale now.

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