2017 Blue Mountains Music Festival – The Wrap

Paul Kelly and Charlie Owen doing Funeral Songs

Words and Pictures by Elizabeth Walton

“Can’t wait for this to start – Paul Kelly is Australia’s answer to Bob Dylan.”  So the murmur of the audience flows while revelers wait in the light filled entrance to the Lurline Pavilion at the 2017 Blue Mountains Music Festival.

“Nah mate, Bob Dylan is America’s answer to Paul Kelly,” comes the well whittled retort, a fitting reflection on the loyalty of the Australian pilgrimage to the Blue Mountains Music Festival, where Australia’s tower of song – Paul Kelly – has appeared many times.

The punters flood the moment with favourite festival stories, washed down with a good pint of Guinness. Mustering the strength to move past the thousands to the front of stage where you can really get lost in the experience – that’s what they are pausing at the entrance to do, for this is the festival’s main event – and that’s all part of the show.

Katoomba may be the original decaf soy latte kinda town, but the Blue Mountains Music Festival is still a double ristretto kind of event. Headliners including Kelly and The Waifs may have returned countless times, but you’d wonder why you would want to change something that clearly ain’t broke.

As the rain pours down, the mud slides up. The cafes flow with conversations filled with passionate responses to Gregg Borschmann’s Heartland Conversations, the virtues of six dollar gumboots, and the best fashion statement you can make with a plastic yellow poncho without face planting in the mud.

Paul Kelly hit the stage with his latest project, Death’s Dateless Night, an album of funeral songs recorded with collaborator Charlie Owen on dobro and keys, tenderly harmonized by Kelly’s own clan of daughters, the beautiful Memphis ad Maddie. The audience loved it, but loved it even more when the band eventually visited the song man’s own material. Though Kelly invited the audience to lay him down a pallet on the floor, and to just let it be, the cheers definitely grew louder when “To her Door” finally opened on centre stage.

The festival opened with acts including Caiti Baker, whose vocal style leaves you feeling that she wants to blow the walls of the theatre down, get out into the open where she can feel the  wind moving in her hair. The space seems a little small for her raging sound, verging from lyrical blues to a good decent growl. She tells us on Saturday she’ll be down on the Lurline Pavilion, the main outdoor stage at the show, though she pronounces it less like the colloquial Lur-lign, and more like Lur-Leene, rhyming the venue with Dolly Parton’s Joe-line, and soon has the audience singing along with her to an impromptu bash at Dolly’s favourite tune.

On Saturday night the Big Tent looks like it might fill with water, instead it’s a flood of grey hair and beanies, people moshing around in the mud in their comfy hand-made  knits and sensible weather wear. But if that gives a distinctively silver streaked view of the pilgrims, that’s only because the young ones are moshing at the front of the Main Stage, grooving out to Urthboy with his dub overlays and ultra chill. If you’re lucky this weekend you’ll only have gone through three pairs of water-ready shoes a day, your children won’t have sunk chin-deep in the mud, and you will be very happy with the new era of sounds washed in by Urthboy – where it’s standing room only up near the doof as the crowd gets all up close and personal like, pressed in so close that they leave the rest of the pavilion entirely empty. Up close and personal is the real thing when techo fans assemble to watch a row of straight standing personnel in front of a giant DJ desk, laying down the riffs over a deep sonic tonic.  Meanwhile,  a raft of festival volunteers politely excuse themselves from duty so they can catch the last 15 minutes of boyfilled Urth. This has always been a festival that knew its demographic well, and takes no umbrance with serving up something for everyone. From Blue Grass to Trad Folk, the genres represented expand the very notion of what seems like a 360 degree perpetually evolving spectrum of musical styles.

In a world where festivals are born, reach their peak and quickly fade, this event is now hosting third generation folk who wouldn’t have this gig played out any other way. The audience is right at home with the cabaret style humour of The Loveys, who’ve flown all the way from Mullum, bringing along their jokes about yoga and farmers’ market twee. They clink their way through a set in German,  which slips past their too-red lips and over-stated eyewear, their gentrified hats, and putt great-grandma’s Royal Doulton to a new, unintended use as the china tinkers out a syncopated funk. Midway through the gig one of the ladies asks for LSD – but it turns out she isn’t craving the hallucinatory type, she’s just after a Latte Soy Dandelion. Nailing the piss-take on all things modern circa 2017, from transgender marital departures to personality disorders – even the pursuit of happiness isn’t spared from their material. But they’re not popular just for their good humour, they’re a festival highlight because they’re absolutely gorgeous and very bloody good – especially the well grounded Bass Uke of Madeleine Liddy, who churns out a phat sound reminiscent of McCartney’s Hoffman – a sound others in the same venue struggled to achieve.

Perhaps that’s just down to luck, or it could be technique, but Liddy doesn’t think so. “It’s because it’s preloved,” she says. “And it’s well-worn in,” she adds with a cheeky wink, much like the general spirit of these grand duchies. “Oh, and it hasn’t got any varnish”.  Well that’s definitely it, wouldn’t you think? Some might think it’s just a great attitude shared amongst these ladies, including Janet Swain, who appears clad in a spectacular green velvet robe, reclaimed from some Victorian widow’s wardrobe.  She wears her threads comfortably as she honks and hauls her bassoon like a baritone sax.

A honkin and a yankin in some unintended direction is all par for the course, from the street buskers grooving overdubbed percussive raps on part-filled glass bottles, to Mic Conway’s Junk Band, giving himself an onstage vasectomy with a saw played so nostalgically that the audience asks “who is that woman singing with that distinctive voice”. It’s not a woman singing, it’s Conway’s vitals begging for mercy as he slashes out his aptly nervous and wobbly tune. His side kick is the amazing sousaphone player dubbed “Marjorie Snodgrass” for this line up, who sometimes cameos in the Cope Street Parade.  She spends an hour after the event lavishing praise upon Lewis the Sound Guy for “getting” that she is the bass – whether she’s pumping her sousa, or an impeccably rendered mouth-impro bass jug. They don’t call it a junk band for nothing. The mutual admiration continues until Lewis and most of the band discover they’re all neighbours in Sydney’s eclectic inner west.

Lewis covers the event every year, bringing his own mics to work his room, The Clarendon Theatre, whose plush trim is renowned for delivering a distinctively flat sound that Lewis successfully overcomes without the aid of the high end, crystal clear gear and production values of the main stages. It’s a challenge, but like all Blue Mountains Festival devotees, one which he could perhaps best be described as pathologically drawn to. The rigors of the job are largely performed by the unknown and the unthanked, but the dooers of these unseen tasks are usually destined to return.  Once the festival gets into the blood, it’s a well fixed hooked.

True to form the mountains throws its unaustralian weather – unaustralian because even folk from the Arctic Circle cry that it’s freezing cold. In the Arctic at least when it rains it falls as snow – a dry white dust that easily brushes off. The Blue Mountains offer a unique kind of soak that seeps right into your soul. Then come the complaints from the uninitiated, rain weary after three days trudging around in it. “I’d rather live in Canada than live in this!” Yes, you probably would, but that’s part of the attraction of the mountains, and it’s why all those silver streaks are standing there happily in their sensible outdoor gear. There’s a saying in the mountains – there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear. Get the good gear and you’re right to go.

Yet for the musos actually from the Arctic Circle such as The Jerry Cans, they’ve found their ‘other world’, a far departure from the Australian places they’ve previously played, melting  in the heat, discovering only then that the reason they developed a style of playing so fast was to stop themselves from freezing to death. From Adelaide to Darwin they preserved their organs from overheating on frenetic energy at a gazillion degrees. The weather doesn’t seem to have impeded their throat singing, electrified fiddle and squeeze box filled riot of a style. Here they discover they can finally crank it up and get back to their original pace. And the crowd rises to meet them, foot stomping in the newly created dance pit at the front of the Guinness tent – a welcome inclusion in an event that has always been considered a  ”concert” festival – one where you can expect to be able to sit comfortably in your bucket seats without your view being jiggled into obscurity – now there is room for both kinds of audience – the dancers and the dedicated listeners, and a wonderful world it is that can comfortably accommodate the two.

David Ross Macdonald presents a twangy six strings of metal  guitar that looks as if it could do with a bit of new brass, but it comes across sweet like a classical guitar, using a capo fretted style so soft and light that the end result is not unlike a uke. He invites the audience to join him as he croons upon how badly he craves to be held, and though his guitar looks like it might have seen better days, it’s perfect for such a setting on a night like this, offering a sound that’s subtle yet delivers a surprising level of depth.

The Mission Songs Project brings new life to the voices of the stolen generation and indigenous Australians who were splintered from their cultures when they were made to sing in a foreign language. Today, traditional languages are so far removed from their vernacular that singing in English has become the mainstay, the local languages have become the foreign tongue. Yet everything has its resurgence if you can claim it before it achieves vanishing point. The stories are heartfelt and beautifully sung – perhaps not with the campfire instruments of their natural settings, but the end result is one that adapts well to the contemporary stage and travels to a diverse and broad audience – for The Mission Songs Project, this is mission accomplished, and accomplished incredibly well.

In a festival world where every  outfit seems to have developed the mandatory uke moment, comes the strident yards of  a bush ranging balladeer – uke man William Crighton – nine parts murderer and one part hipster, tantalising the drama enthralled-audience, half of whom are  scared out of their minds that he might wield his tiny stringed box like an axe and murder them on the spot as he thumps between the rows– the other half of whom are hoping to hell that he will! Yet William makes his way back to the stage and continues his conquest to drown you in his jaded and heartbroke view of the world without ever shedding even a drop of blood.

Meanwhile the ground becomes a cup more filled with water-making-mud than one half empty, and the deserted stalls and food courts in the school grounds stand forgotten as no-one can reach them without a plank.

The 2016 Youth Award Winners The Bean Project  pulled off a surprisingly sorrowful set of sadness for ones who’ve yet to spend their youth. The brass section of this mighty duo invokes the gentlest French horn, muted the old fashioned way, with a palm holding back the full force of the sound. It is reserved, civilized, and remains gentlemanly, until Bryce Turcato takes away his hand and builds to a punchy solo, fluid with delicately placed 9ths and unresolved 7ths, while his mate Ben Langdon stares at him earnestly through his horn rimmed glasses, and flicks back his long blonde bob as he deftly states to his departed love, “I’ve never been alone more than I am here in your bed”.  The rays of light reached down and kissed him when she left, he says, before telling us that they cut their teeth in noisy pubs where not even the walls were listening. It’s an unsettling surprise now, here, in this theatre, he tells us, to finally have our attention. After Bryce finishes ripping through his brass staccato, he falls back into a noble style, summoning images of a call to hunt, all regal caps and whips and beagles.

“This next song will be sung in Islamic,” says the singer from My Bubba. This is a duo of damsels, one of whom looks like she’s emerged from legal secretarial school, with her closed-toe cloth pumps and knee length linen black shift, a look finished with a single strand of plastic aqua coloured pearls. They sing with the restraint of those who might be found in the dusty chambers of the law academy, yet the result of all that restraint produces something akin to an angelic ascendance, with soft harmonies beautifully entwined around a heavenly, harp like instrumental style. They look as though they might butterfly kiss each other at any moment with a naked eyelash.  These are the kind of virginal maidens that can maintain their composure and remain incongruously well groomed amidst a sea of people with wet hair and faces flung with splats of rain. If you can imagine the restraint that may invoke in their vocalising, then you’ve grasped the concept.

By Sunday, Stage 6 is dubbed Big Top Lake, and the Tantric Turtle along with all the other venues on the green are pulled.  A quick rethink and the audience and most of the acts are all reshuffled. No-one who has already played misses out. A new program is issued, the details are publicised on social media, and everyone is right to go. According to the seasoned stage crew who have built this mini city countless times and painstakingly pack it all down at festival end, this decision was more to do with the indoor lake and wanting to make sure everyone had a great time than anything else. Though folklore may want it remembered differently, it was less to do with the depth of the mud, which as far as outdoor events go, wasn’t as bad as it might have been. You might say it was deep enough, but not as deep as the festival from somewhere up north, where once upon a time some chick went so far down in the mud that she completely disappeared and has never been seen since, or so the story goes. Perhaps she showed up sometime later in the Manning Bar at Sydney Uni. But this is the Blue Mountains, where you’d have to think she selected her moment of re-emergence to coincide with first beers at the ever popular Boho Bar, run by all the dedicated mums and dads and rank and file members of Katoomba’s P & Cs. The festival is the major fund raiser, and the flush of funds surging through the veins of the schools for the past 21 years has made for a formidable contribution to a cash strapped cultural enclave of a town that couldn’t have achieved this in any other way. It’s an undeniable contribution to the advancement of wellbeing for the local munchkins, but you’ve got to wonder how they get on when the playground is as trashed as this – yet Katoomba is a town with a can-do kind of pride, a place where people are going to make do with whatever they’re handed to make do with. At least there’s no cars bogged in at 3am with volunteers desperately trying to pull them out, in a push-me-pull-you kind of experience never to be forgotten. And never to be repeated, now that parking is banned from the grounds.

The full gamut of natural disasters may have threatened to unleash the doors of doom upon the festival many of times– yet they never have. From deep mud to the high winds that huffed and puffed til they blew Lurline Pav down before opening a few years back, to this year’s  demise of the main indoor venue – Katoomba RSL – which burnt to the ground just a couple of weeks ago, this festival, like Katoomba itself,  is a foot soldier of survival. You can blow her big top down, you can burn her to the ground, but the show will go on, and the founding Festival Co-Directors Bob Charter and Al Ward are well seasoned masters of the quick switch.

Though this year sees the departure of co-founder Al Ward after 21 successful years in production, Bob still managed to pull off the switch and brought the shy wallflower that is the Palais Royale into play while the cinders at the RSL were still hot. Even the most established K-Town aficionados were not yet acquainted with this grand old dame of art deco Katoomba, who willingly submitted her services to the impromptu role of third venue for the festival.  The plush comfort and stately grandeur of the Palais Royale was well admired by all – a venue whose grandiose chandeliers set  the mood for dulcet tones that could woo even the most jaded festival goer.

Reaching out to this venue is a master stroke for the festival, and you can be sure bands and revelers alike will definitely want her back. It’s too good a venue to refuse for a festival that stands proud amongst a battlefield of fallen events. And as the much loved Blue Mountains Music Festival heads towards her quarter century of service, long may she reign.  All hail The Festival, and all she represents.

– Elizabeth Walton is a freelance writer, photographer and musician

First Major Artists Announcement for the 2017 National Folk Festival

Sally Balfour
Image Courtesy of Sally Balfour

The National Folk Festival, held in Canberra over the Easter long weekend, has announced their first official round of artists for 2017 and it’s very very exciting.

As always there’s also a bunch of international acts making their way to Canberra next year including The Bridge Project (TUR/ISR), Daoiri Farrell Trio (IRL), The Galax Bogtrotters (USA), Himmerland (DNK), Les Poules à Colin (CAN), Martha Tilston (UK), Phil Wiggins & Dom Turner (USA) and The Rheingans Sisters (UK).

Joining them will be local artists and Timber and Steel favourites including Ami Williamson, Barry Skipsey, Charm of Finches, The Dead Maggies, Fanny Lumsden, Loren Kate, The Low Down Riders, Sally Balfour (above), The Spooky Men’s Chorale, Stray Hens and many more.

The National Folk Festival is held from the 13th to the 17th April in 2017 – for more information and tickets check out the official site here. The feature states for next year’s National Folk Festival are South Australia and the Northern Territory.

The full lineup so far is below:

Ami Williamson, Andrew Galan with Okinawa Girls, Barry Skipsey, The Bridge Project (TUR/ISR), Charm of Finches, Claymore, Conchillia, Daoiri Farrell Trio (IRL), The Dead Maggies, Desert Child, The Drowsy Maggies, Fanny Lumsden, Forté, The Galax Bogtrotters (USA), Greg Champion, Himmerland (DNK), Les Poules à Colin (CAN), Loren Kate, Low Down Riders, Martha Tilston (UK), Phil Wiggins & Dom Turner (USA), Rheingans Sisters (UK), Rory Faithfield, Sally Balfour, The Spooky Men’s Chorale, Stray Hens, Tracey Bunn and her Band of Handsome Devils, Trioc

WOMADelaide Announces Its Second Round of Artists for 2016

Image Courtesy of Calexico

The second round of artists have just been added to WOMADelaide next year and there’s a lot of Timber and Steel readers to get excited about.

Joining first announcement artists like Marlon Williams and The Violent Femmes are All Our Exes Live in Texas, Calexico (above), Cedric Burnside Project, Hazmat Modine, Husky, Kev Carmody, Mojo Juju, The Once, Spiro, The Spooky Men’s Chorale and many more.

WOMADelaide is held from the 11th to the 14th March in the Botanic Park, Adelaide. The full list of artists announced in the second round is below – for more information check out the official site here.

All Our Exes Live in Texas (Aust)
Alsarah & the Nubatones (Sudan/USA)
Asian Dub Foundation (UK)
Calexico (USA)
Cedric Burnside Project (USA)
Debashish Bhattacharya (India)
Djuki Mala (Aust)
Ester Rada (Ethiopia/Israel)
Hazmat Modine (USA)
Husky (Aust)
Ibeyi (Cuba/France)
Kev Carmody (Aust)
Miles Cleret – DJ (UK)
Mojo Juju (Aust)
Mountain Mocha Kilimanjaro (Japan)
NO ZU (Aust)
The Once (Canada)
Osunlade – DJ (USA)
Quarter Street (Aust)
Radical Son (Tonga/Aust)
Ripley (Aust)
Sadar Bahar – DJ (USA)
Sampa the Great (Zambia/Aust)
Spiro (UK)
The Spooky Men’s Chorale (Aust)
The Strides (Aust)
Surahn (Aust)
Tulegur (China)
Wasted Wanderers (Aust)

Thank Folk It’s Friday – 14th November


This Week in Folk

All the News From The Week That Was

Lisa Mitchell released her video for her new single “Wah Ha”. Details here

– After revealing her new single “Swimming Pool” Emmy The Great has now given us details of her forthcoming EP S. Details here

The Staves announced details of their upcoming Justin Veronon produced album If I Was. Details here

– Brisbane’s Sahara Beck released her new video “Pretender”. Details here

The Decemberists revealed their first new track, “Make You Better”. Details here

José González released his new single “Every Age”. Details here

– Canadian singer-songwriter Dan Mangan released his new single “Mouthpiece”. Details here

– Brisbane’s Brad Butcher released his new video “Believer”. Details here

– The November edition of Bluegrass @ Yulli’s is this Wednesday and will feature Catgut. Details here

– US bluegrass trio The Kruger Brothers will be touring Queensland with The Company from the end of this month. Details here

Rodrigo y Gabriela will perform sideshows in Sydney and Melbourne when they’re in the country next year for Bluesfest. Details here

– Sydney duo Betty & Oswald have released a new single, “Fragile Little Lover”, as well as announcing an east coast tour. Details here

The Spooky Men’s Chorale have a very special gig planned in Canberra next week. Details here

– There will be a new live album from Shane Nicholson released next week, Pitch, Roll & Yaw. Details here


“I’m a man from the 90s, so i grew up listening to all that “grunge” stuff. Eventually I started to break away from that and found great music in the roots of rock and blues, 70s rock, great songwriters that thrill me like Nick Drake, Johnny Cash, Neil Young, Johnny Mitchell, Silvio Rodriguez, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen. Today I listen to all the new folk like Bon Iver, Iron and wine, Jose Gonzalez, Elliot Smith, Bonnie Prince Billie. Saying that, I listen to a great variety of music really different to what I am doing”Pierrot chats to Aiden Quinn

Releases This Week

New Moon
New MoonSarah Humphreys

Timber and Steel Recommends – Go To This Gig

The Wilson Pickers

Wilson Pickers

The Wilson Pickers return with a series of reunion gigs in and around Melbourne this weekend. These guys have been doing the folk revival thing longer than most and are definitely worth checking out in these rare live dates

Friday 14th November – Bridge Hotel, Castlemaine, VIC
Saturday 15th November – Gasometer Hotel, Collingwood, VIC
Sunday 16th November – Caravan Music Club, Oakleigh, VIC

Gigs Next Week

Betty & Oswald
Saturday 15th November – Brighton Up Bar, Sydney, NSW
Friday 21st November – Howlin’ Wolf, Wollongong, NSW

Bluegrass @ Yulli’s feat. Catgut
Wednesday 19th November – Yulli’s, Syndey, NSW

Busby Marou
Friday 14th November – SSA Club, Albury, NSW
Saturday 15th November – Unbridled Festival, Canberra, ACT (Full Band)
Thursday 20th November – The Bridge, Castlemaine, VIC
Friday 21st November – Caravan Club, Oakleigh, VIC

Cat Canteri
Friday 14th November – The Singing Gallery, McLaren Vale, SA
Saturday 15th November – The Wheatsheaf, Adelaide, SA

C.W. Stoneking
Friday 14th November – Metro Theatre, Sydney, NSW
Saturday 15th November – Forum Theatre, Melbourne, VIC
Friday 21st November – The Gov, Adelaide, SA

Daniel Lee Kendall
Friday 14th November – The Shebeen Bandroom, Melbourne, VIC

Davidson Brothers
Sunday 16th November – The B-East, Melbourne, VIC
Monday 17th November – Northcote Social Club, Melbourne, VIC

Eddie Boyd and The Phatapillars
Saturday 15th November – The Earl of Spencer Hotel, Albany, WA
Sunday 16th November – The Indi Bar, Scarborough, WA
Friday 21st November – The Boatshed, Manly, NSW

Festival of Small Halls feat. Andy Brown, The Mae Trio
Friday 14th November – St George, QLD
Saturday 15th November – Texas, QLD
Sunday 16th November – Nerang, QLD
Thursday 20th November – Mullum Music Festival, Mullumbimby, NSW
Friday 21st November – Mullum Music Festival, Mullumbimby, NSW

Fred Smith
Saturday 15th November – MAD Gallery, Lancefield, VIC
Friday 21st November – Hornsby Folk Club, Hornsby, NSW

Georgia Fair
Friday 14th November – Easy Tiger, Sydney, NSW
Saturday 15th November – John Curtin Hotel, Melbourne, VIC

Hat Fitz and Cara
Friday 14th November – Brass Monkey, Cronulla, NSW
Saturday 15th November – Katoomba RSL Club, Katoomba, NSW
Sunday 16th November – The Vanguard, Newtown, NSW

Friday 14th November – Small Ballroom, Newcastle, NSW
Saturday 15th November – Transit Bar, Canberra, ACT
Sunday 16th November – Brass Monkey, Cronulla, NSW
Friday 21st November – Spotted Cow, Toowoomba, QLD

Jack Carty
Friday 14th November – The Commons, Newcastle, NSW
Sunday 16th November – Flow Espresso Bar, Old Bar, NSW
Thursday 20th November – The Pier, Port Macquarie, NSW
Friday 21st November – 5 Church Street, Bellingen, NSW

Jep and Dep
Friday 14th  November – Lass O’Gowrie, Newcastle, NSW

Josh Pyke
Thursday 20th November – Theatre Royal, Castlemaine, VIC
Friday 21st November – Karova Lounge, Ballarat, VIC

Katie Noonan, Angie Hart, Melody Pool, Sam Buckingham
Friday 14th November – The Basement, Sydney, NSW
Saturday 15th November – The Basement, Sydney, NSW
Sunday 16th November – Lizotte’s Restaurant, Newcastle, NSW
Friday 21st November – The Byron Theatre, Byron Bay, NSW

Lachlan Bryan and Harmony James
Friday 14th November – Parkes Services Club, Parkes, NSW
Sunday 16th November – Camelot Lounge, Marrickville, Sydney, NSW
Wednesday 19th November – Hotel Imperial, Mount Victoria, NSW
Friday 21st November – The Pub, Tamworth, NSW

Lanie Lane
Saturday 15th November – The Hi Fi Bar, Brisbane, QLD

Little May
Sunday 16th November – Rad Bar, Wollongong, NSW
Friday 21st November – Northcote Social Club, Melbourne, VIC

Liz Stringer
Friday 14th November – Thornbury Theatre, Melbourne, VIC
Saturday 15th November – Healesville Festival, Healesville, VIC
Sunday 16th November – Saints & Sailors, Portarlington, VIC
Friday 21st to Sunday 23rd November – Mullum Music Festival, Mullumbimby, NSW

Mark Moldre
Saturday 15th November – Unbridled Festival, Canberra, ACT
Sunday 16th November – Smith’s Alternative Bookstore, Canberra, ACT

Mark Wilkinson
Friday 14th November – Jive, Adelaide, SA
Saturday 15th November – Ellington Jazz Club, Perth, WA
Sunday 16th November – Ellington Jazz Club, Perth, WA

Mullum Music Festival
Thursday 20th to Sunday 23rd November – Mullumbimby, NSW

One Up, Two Down and Dan Parsons
Friday 14th to Sunday 16th November – MountainGrass Fest, Harrietville, VIC
Wednesday 19th November – Jasmine’s House, Newstead, VIC
Thursday 20th November – The Front Gallery, Canberra, ACT

Sahara Beck
Friday 14th November – Babushka Bar, Ballarat, VIC
Sunday 16th November – The Triffid, Brisbane, QLD

Sarah Humphreys
Sunday 16th November – The Cheese Factory, Adelaide, SA
Thursday 20th November – The Wesley Anne, Melbourne, VIC

Steve Smyth
Friday 14th November – No.5 Church St, Bellingen, NSW
Saturday 15th November – The Bean Bar Cafe, Taree, NSW
Wednesday 19th November – Four5Nine, Perth, WA
Thursday 20th November – Prince Of Wales Hotel, Bunbury, WA
Friday 21st November – Redcliffe On The Murray, Pinjarra, WA

The Acfields
Friday 14th November – Acoustic Picnic (The Music Lounge), Sydney, NSW
Saturday 15th November – House Concert, Sutherland, NSW

The Pierce Brothers
Friday 14th November – Westernport Hotel, San Remo, VIC
Saturday 15th November – AWME, Melbourne, VIC

The Tiger & Me
Saturday 15th November – The Toff, Melbourne, VIC

The Wilson Pickers
Friday 14th November – Bridge Hotel, Castlemaine, VIC
Saturday 15th November – Gasometer Hotel, Collingwood, VIC
Sunday 16th November – Caravan Music Club, Oakleigh, VIC

The Spooky Men’s Chorale
Thursday 20th November – Camelot Lounge, Sydney, NSW
Friday 21st November – Milton Theatre, South Coast, NSW

The Stetson Family
Sunday 16th November – Yarra Hotel, Melbourne, VIC

Saturday 15th November – AWME, Ding Dong Lounge, Melbourne, VIC

Upstairs and Underground feat. Bears with Guns, Liam Gale & the Ponytails, Aether Beach
Saturday 15th November – The Gaelic Club, Sydney, NSW

Friday Folk Flashback

“Trellick Tower” – Emmy The Great

The thing I love most about Emmy The Great’s songwriting is her ability to be both metaphorical and autobiographical at the same time. “Trellick Tower” is the final track from her 2011 album Virtue and documents the breakdown of her relationship after her finance became a born-again Christian. Beautiful stuff.

The Spooky Men’s Chorale Announce Very Special Canberra Show

Image Courtesy of The Spooky Men’s Chorale

The Fitters’ Workshop in Canberra is a building known for it’s amazingly clear, resonant acoustics and they’re opening their doors to The Spooky Men’s Chorale next week, inviting in folk music for the first time. The Spooky Men’s Chorale will be “undertaking a full scale acoustic evaluation” of the venue with their very special brand of deadpan a cappella music that has delighted fans around the world.

The show will take place on Saturday 22nd November at The Fitters’ Workshop in Canberra and will kick off at 2pm – for more details check out the official Facebook event here. The Spooky Men’s Chorale also have a couple of New South Wales shows planned in the lead up to their Canberra gig. The full list of dates are below:

Thursday 20th November – Camelot Lounge, Sydney, NSW
Friday 21st November – Milton Theatre, South Coast, NSW
Saturday 22nd November – The Fitters’ Workshop, Canberra, ACT

Review: Wales at Cecil Sharp House, London UK

DSC_0588Review and photos by KT Bell

The joys of social media, a couple of weeks ago I stumbled across an unassuming Facebook event for ‘Wales @ Cecil Sharp House’. I’ve been to Wales and liked it, and I live in London, so it seemed a good combination to investigate.

I headed along a little later than planned and came to discover the absolute delight that was a whole day, indoor festival celebrating some of the best folk music currently coming out of Wales. It was also super conveniently close to my home and was housed in the intriguing Cecil Sharp House, the home of the English Folk Dance and Song Society. It had never occurred to me that such a place existed but it does and houses a wealth of exciting folky opportunities! But I digress.

Wales at Cecil Sharp House - Mabon

I arrived in time to catch the second half of Jamie Smith’s Mabon. One of the things that continues to excite me about folk music is the increase in young people both appreciating and playing it. Now, the audience here were mostly older than myself but many of the acts were my age or younger, and the verve and vitality they put in to their music is incredibly infectious. This quintet was in no way short of energy, character and mischief. The phrase that came to mind, conjured by their energetic folk tunes, was harmonised chaos, but in the enthralling, completely immersed, ‘got to hear more’ kind of way. Described as ‘high-energy interceltic musical mastery’ they deftly switched between toe-tapping jigs to haunting ballads and took a few swift turns through traditional Welsh and Celtic folk tunes switching between instrumental numbers and both English and newly introduced Welsh lyrics, I was left clamouring for more. So much so that I bought their album instantly and have had it on loop every day at work since. It’s that delightful mix of energy and celtic folk that can carry you comfortably through the day and reminds me of the likes of the Crooked Fiddle Band and the Barons of Tang. Happily they will be back in London on the 19th April and I shall see what I can do about heading along to get another live dose – seriously addictive. If you’re

Wales at London - Parti Cut LloiGiven the event was in one hall, with smaller rooms downstairs to hold other, more intimate performances and even a family Twmpath/ Ceilidh (don’t worry if you struggle to pronounce those, think country dancing, much like a good old barn dance), I milled around a bit in the main hall and waited for the next act which was intriguingly called Parti Cut Lloi. I’m always a bit dubious of an all male choir, often you hope it will be a Spooky Men’s Chorale or Man Choir type of performance but can often be left wanting. I was very pleasantly surprised to discover the harmonies and a Capella sorry, plygain delivery of their all Welsh repertoire of traditional songs from the middle of Wales (I looked it up, they really are from the middle of Wales!) was absolutely enchanting! And their name means “The Calf Shed Party” which makes mostly sense given their numbers were halved for this performance because the others were all tending to their farms as it’s mid lambing season. I met a few of them in the bar a bit later, cheeky and down to earth blokes all round.

Wales at Cecil Sharp House - DnAWhile the main hall was setting up for the next act, I headed down to one of the smaller rooms to take in DnA, a mother and daughter duo on Harp and fiddle. The connection between the two of them while performing is visceral and intense but in a way they focuses your attention on the skill and harmonies they create. I even learned a bit of Celtic Harp history, the trick of placing a 10 shilling note between the strings to help create the thrumming chorded harmonies in a tune I swiftly forgot the name of. But all in all, their set was quite easy to lose yourself in.

Wales at Cecil Sharp House - Rag FoundationI headed back upstairs to the main hall in a lulled sense of peace only to be awakened again by the Rag Foundation in full swing. An incredibly polished and professional 5 piece, they deliver a more urban folk with an edgy and powerful tone that marked the change from day to night and the energy from mellow and toe tapping, to surging rhythms. From the South of Wales, their verve had a different quality and an energy of it’s own which had the heart pumping and the audience entranced.

Wales at Cecil Sharp House - Cerdd CeginFor a reprieve after the sheer energy of Rag Foundation, I headed back downstairs to catch Cerdd Cegin, an intriguing combination of one Canadian come Welsh Harpist and two fiddle players. Positioned to face in towards each other, it felt a little like voyeurism to be drawn in to the world they expertly created with their entwining melodies and harmonies. Described as “a secret music, a quiet music, music for kitchens and friends”, the trio did not disappoint with an incredibly intimate yet short set – Ceri Owen-Jones, Harpist, needs to learn to either talk quicker or make his stories shorter. However, their last piece was breathtaking. Ceri introduced the song by explaining the time and place that inspired the composition, he went for a walk in the west of Wales and discovered himself caught on the side of a mountain with a storm baring down on him and a very slippery, frantic scramble back down to safety, and every ounce of anxiety, adventure and sheer relief was captured and conveyed by the trio. Fascinating!

Wales at Cecil Sharp House - AlawThe knot of onlookers, once the set was over, all flooded back up to the main hall to catch the fresh, new collaboration that is Alaw. Boasting the violi player and accordion player from Mabon (Oliver and James Smith himself respectively), the mix of their folk with the crisp guitar addition make for a new dynamic and a different energy around the music they deliver. A beautiful mix of enchanting melodies and moody ballads and an among delivery of on stage banter that they were still ‘ironing out’ and making mental notes of what did and didn’t work, much to the audiences’ amusement, made of a friendly and warming set.

Wales at Cecil Sharp House - CalanThe final act for the night was a youthful and vivacious Calan, a 5 piece of energetic folk complete with some crazy Welsh instruments. They have stolen hearts across Wales and seem to be a driving force for rekindling Welsh folk in the broader UK landscape. It helps that they’re young and good looking. They reminded me of Wales’ answer to Skipping Girl Vinegar only they also whipped out clog/ step dance off between main vocalist Bethan and her Father which we all eagerly crowded around to witness. It was a clap/ cheer off and apparently her dad always wins… and did again. The vitality of Calan had the hall buzzing with enjoyment. I can see they will go far and the Welsh will be proud of the way they are being represented.

Altogether a fabulous day out and more Welsh spoken than I have ever heard! (Not that I’ve heard much Welsh, but you get the drift) And big props to Cecil Sharp House and the English Folk Dance and Song Society for providing a space for the Arts Council of Wales and Folk Development for Wales government initiative produce such a showcase of Wales to the rest of the UK, and hopefully, the world!

Interview: Fred Smith – Gigging with a Few Spooky Men and Special Guest Liz Frencham

Fred Smith
Photo by Gerard Hudson

Fred Smith has been forging an impressive reputation and body of work for many years in Canberra, nationally and overseas, drawing on some fairly disparate experiences. From personal stories about soldiers in war-torn Afghanistan, to the minutiae of how to fill in the time as a Washington house-husband, Fred does it all with a trademark laconic style and some wonderful collaborations.

Ahead of a couple of gigs in Sydney and Canberra, Fred took some time out from his government day job on a cool wintry Canberra day to chat over lunch, battling plane noises and kamikaze magpies to share some thoughts on albums, touring and the upcoming gigs.

Bill Quinn: Fred Smith, the last time I interviewed you, it was about the time you’d just released Texas. That would put it at about two thousand and … nine?

Fred Smith: Eight.

BQ: 2008. Wow. It’s fair to say a fair bit’s gone under the bridge since then?

FS: Yeah, well, there’s been the urban sea shanties extravaganza.

BQ: Tell us how that all came about, the collaboration with The Spooky Men’s Chorale.

FS: Well, it was the National Folk Festival in 2008. They were there. I was there. Me and (Stephen) Taberner had been watching each other for a while, and identified a like-mindedness. We were having a drink in the Session Bar and said, “Let’s play a gig”, so we organised a gig for the following night in the [Merry] Muse tent. Taberner got us together about an hour beforehand, we rehearsed with the guys, we went on stage with a lot of nervous energy and just sort of went off.

BQ: And it struck a chord.

FS: Yeah, it was chockers and people just went off. And I said to Stephen, “Let’s make an album”. We really tried to jam it out for the next year. And it was an intense year between there [the Budawang gig at the National in 2009] and then [the release of the album].

The project earned the collaborators a richly-deserved award as winners of the National Film and Sound Archives National Folk Recording Award 2009.

BQ: Not that it’s the ultimate test of how successful you are, but how many CDs did you sell after that gig?

FS: I don’t know, but we sold about 450 across the whole festival.

BQ: So while that was going on you’d only just recently released Texas. Do you find that happens, that you’ve just released something and you’re getting into something else?

FS: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. There’s always the promotional stuff is the hard work, and the next project is the fun stuff. I find I have to sustain myself doing both, in a sense. Maybe I should just take it easy and do one thing first. I probably underdo the promotional stuff. I mean, I’ve toured the shit out of [Dust of] Uruzgan. I’m still touring the album here and there, but I’m writing again.

BQ: With the Dust of Uruzgan, which came out last year, it came out to great critical acclaim. Were you surprised how much notice it got in the mainstream?

FS: Uuuuuaaaarrrrrggggggghhhhh!

(That’s the sound of a singer-songwriter having a magpie swoop in for a landing in the DFAT building courtyard and only missing the top of his head by millimetres.)

FS: Well, I’m happy that it’s a really good record. Secondly, it’s a record that expresses a deep and intense experience. The other thing about it is that Afghanistan is interesting to the press, which opened up a whole bunch of doors in terms of media responses. Normally my albums get good reviews but this opened up to the mainstream because they’re fascinated with Afghanistan.

BQ: Does that lead to any other opportunities with the Australian Defence Force taking any interest in it?

FS: Ah, no. Which is annoying.

BQ: So you’re still touring with the album. How has touring gone in the last little while?

FS: Well, there was the autumn festival season, and the album got me into most of those festivals: Port Fairy, Blue Mountains, the National. Since then I’ve just been doing bits and pieces. For example, I went out to Young, Yass and Goulburn last weekend, which was cool. I’m starting to go out to these smaller towns, because playing in these smaller communities galvanises around a gig. Because they’re not always much else going on and they appreciate me coming to town. Then Canberra and Sydney this weekend. And apart from that I’m trying to turn out a theatre show and tour that to regional theatres.

BQ: When you go to a small town, like Yass for instance, do you find that sometimes your reputation’s gone before you and they’re aware of you, or that it’s a case of, “There’s someone coming to town; I’ll go and see him”?

FS: Yeah, absolutely. Radio National gets listened to a lot in the country towns. Radio National has been a great supporter of my stuff all along. So I have these pockets of support out there. And also people in small towns don’t always go to the festivals. So for instance, at Yass there must have been 20-25 people who knew my stuff fairly well and a whole bunch of people who had no idea! It’s delightful, because you get the support from the people who know you, and the people who don’t know you are watching them to get their cues.

BQ: How does it go, between the big festivals and packing out a couple of thousand seats to being at the top of an artist’s studio with 30/40/50 people?

FS: Oh, I don’t mind that at all. I cut my teeth doing small theatre shows in Canberra, you know, friends doing theatre and doing opening gigs for their shows. Sometimes you might three, four people. And it is harder to play to three or four people because there’s nowhere to hide! So small doesn’t scare me. And these old country towns usually have lovely wooden floorboards, and older venues with high ceilings, so acoustically and atmospherically it’s always nice.

BQ: So you’ve got the gigs coming up in Sydney and Canberra. Saturday 11th August in Canberra at The Lobby.

FS: Yeah, we’ve been meaning to have a go at The Lobby for a while. Shortis and Simpson have played there and say it’s great. It’s my first time there, so a bit of an experiment. I’ve always liked the room – it’s very central.

BQ: There’s a lot of glass there; it’ll be interesting acoustically.

FS: We’ll damp that down; we’ve got some blacks to put up. We’re doing all the production ourselves, so it should be alright.

BQ: And who’s on the bill? Who’s playing?

FS: Me, Liz Frencham, and a Few Good Spooky Men. With the Spooks, the business of wheeling out 20-25 of them proved to be impractical, but there’s a core of them who are very enthusiastic about doing this stuff who don’t mind travelling. So a smaller elite squad has formed called A Few Good Spooky Men – eight, nine, ten of them. So we’ll do these gigs this weekend, then in October we’ve got the Blue Mountains and Canowindra.

BQ: When you’re doing a gig that incorporates lots of elements: Frencham/Smith, Fred Smith, The Spooky Men, and some of your themed stuff – are there issues sifting and shifting through that material?

FS: Hmmmm. Good question. We’ll find out, hey?!

BQ: That’s an answer!

FS: We may invent some spurious segues between various songs.

If you’re in Newtown or Canberra on the following dates, you can get to see what all of this will look like.

Fred Smith & A Few Good Spooky Men (with special guest Liz Frencham)
Friday 10th August – Notes, Newtown, Sydney, NSW – Tickets
Saturday 11th August – The Lobby, Parkes, Canberra, ACT – Tickets

Be Part of Tasmania’s Biggest Ever Choir

The Spooky Men's Chorale
Image Courtesy of The Spooky Men’s Chorale

July will see choirs from around the country will be descending on Hobart to take part in the annual Festival of Voices – a five day event specifically designed to showcase vocal groups with a series of performances, workshops and concerts. Held from the 7th – 11th July, the event attracts more than 10,000 people each year.

Smack bang in the middle of the festival , and arguably the most popular event, is the The Festival of Voices Bonfire and Big Sing on the 10th July. The Big Sing will feature the FOV 936 Flashmob Choir conducted by Stephen Taberner of The Spooky Men’s Chorale which you can join. If you’re feeling in fine voice head to the 936 ABC Hobart web site to download your part. You’ll also be able to stream the event live online.

For more information on the Festival of Voices and the Bonfire and Big Sing head to the official web site.

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