Thank Folk It’s Friday – 13th March


This Week in Folk

All the News From The Week That Was

– The Top Half Folk Festival in Central Australia have announce Fanny Lumsden as their 2015 headliner this June. Details here

Jack Carty released his new single “If I Am A Candle, Then You Are A Spark” as he tours around Australia. Details here

– Sydney folk duo Elwood Myre have headed out on a huge East Coast tour. Details here

– The Bluegrass @ Yulli’s jam night returns to Sydney next week featuring George Jackson and Daniel Watkins of One Up, Two Down. Details here

– The St Patrick’s Day celebrations starts early with a bunch of gigs planned at The Gaelic Club in Sydney from tonight featuring Sásta, The Bottlers, ZeoN, Ross Ainslie & Jarlath Henderson and more. Details here

– Adelaide singer-songwriter Tom West released his new video “Easy, Love”. Details here

Roland Kay-Smith kicked off his album launch tour this week. Details here

Releases This Week

Music Now
MusicNOW – 10 Years – Various

NannaXavier Rudd & The United Nations

Timber and Steel Recommends – Go To This Gig

The Gaelic Club Sydney St Patricks Day


It’s St Patrick’s Day week and The Gaelic Club in Sydney have so much amazing music on from the likes of Sásta, The Bottlers, ZeoN, Ross Ainslie and Jarlath Henderson and many more. Get some Irish music into you!

Friday 13th March – The Gaelic Club, Sydney, NSW (Sásta)
Saturday 14th March – The Gaelic Club, Sydney, NSW (The Bottlers)
Sunday 15th March – The Gaelic Club, Sydney, NSW (ZeoN)
Monday 16th March – The Gaelic Club, Sydney, NSW (Ross Ainslie and Jarlath Henderson)
Tuesday 17th March – The Gaelic Club, Sydney, NSW

Gigs Next Week

Andrew Swift
Thursday 19th March – The Retreat, Melbourne, VIC
Friday 20th March – Crown + Anchor, Adelaide, SA

April Maze
Friday 13th March – The Music Lounge, Acoustic Picnic, Manly, NSW
Wednesday 18th March – Wooloweyah Hall, Yamba, NSW

Blue Mountains Music Festival
Friday 13th to Sunday 15th March – Katoomba, NSW

Bluegrass @ Yulli’s feat. George Jackson & Daniel Watkins (One Up, Two Down)
Wednesday 18th March – Yulli’s, Sydney, NSW

Brunswick Music Festival
Sunday 1st to Sunday 15th March – Brunswick, VIC

Bunker Bluegrass
Thursday 19th March – Coogee Diggers, Sydney, NSW

Darren Hanlon
Friday 20th to Sunday 22nd March – Yackandandah Folk Festival, VIC

Davey Craddock
Thursday 19th March – Defectors Bar, Perth, WA

Elwood Myre
Sunday 15th March – Charity Event, Warilla, NSW
Friday 20th March – Vic on the Park, Sydney, NSW

Festival of Small Halls feat. Gordie MacKeeman and His Rhythm Boys, Siskin River
Tuesday 17th March – Orange Showground Pavillion, Orange, NSW
Wednesday 18th March – The Simpson Pavillion, Grenfell, NSW
Thursday 19th March – The Rand School of Arts, Rand, NSW
Friday 20th March – Girgarre Town Hall, Girgarre, VIC

Heartstring Quartet
Saturday 14th to Sunday 15th March – Blue Mountains Music Festival, Katoomba, NSW
Tuesday 17th March – Frankston Arts Centre, Melbourne, VIC
Thursday 19th March – Warragul PAC, Warragul, VIC

Jack Carty
Friday 13th March – The New Globe Theatre, Brisbane, QLD

Jess Locke
Friday 13th March – The End, Brisbane, QLD
Sunday 15th March – House Show, Brisbane, QLD
Thursday 19th March – The Old Bar, Melbourne, VIC

Joel Barker
Wednesday 18th March – Settlers Tavern, Margret River, WA

John Flanagan
Saturday 14th March – House Concert, Melbourne, VIC
Thursday 19th March – Django bar, Sydney, NSW
Friday 20th March – Illawarra Folk Club, City Diggers, Wollongong, NSW

Jordie Lane
Friday 13th to Sunday 15th March – Blue Mountains Music Festival, Katoomba, NSW

Josh Rennie-Hynes, Liam Gerner, Caitlin Harnett
Friday 13th March – Currumbin Creek Tavern, Gold Coast, QLD
Wednesday 18th March – The Vanguard, Sydney, NSW
Thursday 19th March – Bleach Festival, Gold Coast, QLD
Friday 20th March – Smiths Alternative, Canberra, ACT

Kim Richey
Friday 13th March – Mountain Mumma, Sheffield TAS
Sunday 15th March – Lake St Clair Lodge, Lake St Clair TAS

Lucy Wise Trio
Thursday 19th March – Northcote Uniting Church, Melbourne, VIC

Nuala Kennedy
Friday 13th to Sunday 15th March – Blue Mountains Music Festival, Katoomba, NSW
Tuesday 17th March – Newcastle University, Newcastle, NSW
Thursday 19th March – TBC, Newcastle, NSW

Roland Kay-Smith
Friday 13th March – The Pier, Port Macquarie, NSW
Friday 20th March – Illawarra Brewery, Wollongong, NSW

Ross Ainslie and Jarlath Henderson
Monday 16th March – The Gaelic Club, Sydney, NSW

Rowena Wise
Friday 13th to Sunday 15th March – Blue Mountains Music Festival, Katoomba, NSW

Sam Buckingham
Friday 20th March – Wheatsheaf Hotel, Thebarton, SA

Friday 13th March – The Gaelic Club, Sydney, NSW

Skyscraper Stan And The Commission Flats
Friday 13th March – The Pier, Port Macquarie, NSW
Saturday 14th March – Lazy Bones Lounge, Sydney, NSW
Friday 20th March – The Illawarra Brewery, Wollongong, NSW

Steve Smyth
Saturday 14th March – Elsewhere Festival, Newcastle, NSW

The Bottlers
Saturday 14th March – The Gaelic Club, Sydney, NSW

The Melbourne Folk Club feat. Breabach, Stray Hens
Wednesday 18th March – Bella Union, Melbourne, VIC

Saturday 14th March – The Northern, Byron Bay, NSW
Friday 20th March – Brighton Up Bar, Sydney, NSW

Vance Joy
Friday 13th March – Palais Theatre, Melbourne, VIC
Saturday 14th March – Regent Cinema Theatre, Ballarat, VIC
Friday 20th March – Astor Theatre, Perth, WA

Saturday 14th March – Wrangler, Melbourne, VIC
Saturday 14th March – Shebeen Bandroom, Melbourne, VIC
Thursday 19th March – Moonshine, Manly, NSW

Xavier Rudd & The United Nations
Thursday 19th March – The Forum Theatre, Melbourne, VIC

Yackandandah Folk Festival
Friday 20th to Sunday 22nd March – Yackandandah, VIC

Sunday 15th March – The Gaelic Club, Sydney NSW

Friday Folk Flashback

“Wintersmith” – Steeleye Span

To honour the passing of Terry Pratchett we thought we’d celebrate with “Wintersmith”, the track written specifically for Terry Pratchett’s book series by Steeleye Span.

The Top Half Folk Festival Announces Headliner for 2015

Fanny Lumsden
Image Courtesy of Fanny Lumsden

If you venture to Alice Springs over the Queens Birthday long weekend this year (the 5th to 8th June) you’ll be greeted at the airport with an interesting juxtaposition. Collecting their bags and swags from the baggage carrousel will be Australia’s off-road motor sport enthusiest, in town for the Finke Desert Race – two days of bikes and buggies roaring through the desert at breakneck speeds. But dotted amongst the rev-heads will be the odd banjo and fiddle case, fisherman cap and bearded faces as folkies flock to the red centre for the 2015 Top Half Folk Festival.

Held on alternate years in Mary River near Darwin and Glen Helen, 130kms west of Alice Springs, the Top Half Folk Festival is one of the best small, community run festivals in the country. As mentioned it’s Central Australia’s turn this year and the venue couldn’t be more stunning – the beautiful Glen Helen gorge on the banks of the Finke River (the same river that gives its name to the motor race – although thankfully the revs of engines and the twangs of folkies are separated by hundreds of kilometres and won’t disturb each other.

Glen Helen

This is the Top Half Folk Festival’s 45th year and they’ve announced a very special headliner in Sydney alt-country singer-songwriter Fanny Lumsden along with as many of her Thrillseekers she can drag north. The rest of the lineup this year is still being finalised (and the organisers are still taking expressions of interest from musician’s willing to donate their talents) and there will be a focus on youth performers with many of the town’s ex-pat folkies making the trip home especially. Yours truly included.

For more information on the Top Half Folk Festival including how to get your hands on tickets and accommodation check out the Central Australia Folk Society web site here.

The Joy of Small Folk Festivals

Top Half
Photo of The Top Half Folk Festival by Barry Skipsey

By Guest Contributor Peter Logue*, repurposed political journalist, festival tragic and accordion pest

It’s probably safe to assume that almost all readers of Timber and Steel have been to a music festival: most will have been to a large folk festival e.g. Woodford, Port Fairy, Blue Mountains or The National in Canberra.

Here’s a question, though: how many have been to a small regional folk festival? By small, I’m talking about the likes of Fleurieu in South Australia, Cygnet in Tasmania, Maldon in Victoria, Gulgong in NSW, The Top Half in NT (above), or the one I’m now involved in after eight years on the Board of the National – Cobargo, in the glorious Bega Valley on the NSW Far South Coast.

(There are many, many more small festivals, most of which are listed here)

I ask this because I believe it is important for the folk movement that people younger than me – which is lot of people – get involved in the smaller festivals, either through volunteering, applying to perform, just turning up and doing a blackboard, or paying the usually small amount to attend.

Why? Well, firstly they are just great fun, full of surprises and creators of those special memories that stay with you until you’re dribbling.

Take as an example the Cobargo Festival, in its 20th year this year.

For the pittance you pay, the program is just outstanding, musically diverse, challenging at times, international in flavour and inclusive.

That last word “inclusive” is the key to the success of the smaller festivals. Unlike some of the larger events (I exclude The National because of (a) the session bar and (b) its focus on learning and participation), smaller festivals are family, along with crazy uncles who play the banjo, daft grannies who play the one row button box, and the multi-talented kids who seem to be, and are, much better musicians than were around when I was their age.

Artists are approachable, usually do more than they’re asked to do, the sessions are diverse and sometimes really hot, and most people retire late at night to playing around a campfire, or sometimes a LED lamp.

At Cobargo this year you can meet the cream of Irish musicians, like Arty McGlynn and his wife Nollaig Casey, part of the Heart Strings Quartet. Arty started off playing covers in Showbands and spent many years as Van Morrison’s lead guitarist. (He must be a very patient man).

He wrote the book on guitar accompaniment for Irish music, though Paul Brady reckons – half jokingly – he taught has old friend Arty everything he knows.

Nollaig is an outstanding fiddler, her sister Maire NiChathasaigh is a world class harpist, and if you haven’t seen Chris Newman flat pick a guitar, you’re missing one of life’s big treats.
Cobargo will be their first festival in Eastern Australia, but you will never get as close to them as you will at this festival.

This excellent clip recorded by ABC Radio National on their short visit last year gives you a taste:

That’s the thing about small festivals; international and top level local performers love them, not because they pay well (they don’t) but because it gives them a chance to warm up before the big gigs, to perfect new material, and to see parts of the country they wouldn’t normally see.

Small festivals are also places for new or relatively inexperienced soloists or bands to get noticed. There is a formal and an informal network on the folk scene of promoters, staff and organisers from the big and small festivals and “wise heads” who spread reputations by word of mouth.

That’s how bands like The Waifs, Riogh and The Lurkers and countless others got noticed and built a name.

All of the many small festivals I go to each year have workshops, sessions, spoken word, blackboards and dancing as well as concerts.

Most have good food on site and a bar for relaxing in or singing or playing tunes.

All of them have major local involvement. In the case of Cobargo – which I’ve attended for 14 years – the community engagement is extensive.

Small festivals also build the folk community. Those locals who volunteer without any real knowledge of the folk scene, get the bug. They like that a few thousand people can get together for two or three days, have a rip roaring time, get maggotted, laugh sing and dance, and not a bad word is spoken or a punch thrown.

And they suddenly hear the quality of the music that they would never hear on their local commercial radio station or even on the ABC.

Small festivals are the modern day meeting places for our diverse folk tribes. They are also places of great learning. Ask anyone involved in the running and programming of any of our large folk festivals where they learned their skills and you’ll find a vast majority started with the small festivals.

If you haven’t been, try Cobargo from February 27th to March 1st.

As well as the Heart Strings Quartet, you can see class acts like Archie Roach, Shellie Morris, Steeleye Span’s Ken Nichol, Chaika, Daniel Champagne, Ami Williamson, Nick Charles, Fiona Boyes and dozens more, all in a geographical setting that will take your breath away. And you can join or meet a very special family.

*Peter Logue is a member of the Cobargo Folk Festival organising committee

Thank Folk It’s Friday – 21st June


This Week in Folk

All the News From The Week That Was

– Wes Carr’s Buffalo Tales project hits the road this Friday for Timber and Steel with dates planned in NSW, VIC and SA. Details here

– Before she heads out on tour supporting Whitley, Esther Holt has a brand new video for the track “Rock Me Through The Night”. Details here

JamGrass announced their second artist lineup including Mustered Courage, Davidson Brothers, Bill Jackson Band, The Rusty Datsuns, Appalachian Heaven String Band, Jimi Hocking’s Blue Mandolin and The Morrisons. Details here

– South Australian singer-songwriter Sam Brittain has announced a national tour through July and August. Details here

– Sydney five-piece Castlecomer are heading out on tour in August and September to support their new EP Lone Survivor. Details here

– Melbourne singer-songwriter Vance Joy has announced a headline tour this August. Details here

Okkervil River have announced plans to release their new album The Silver Gymnasium this September and have already revealed the first single “It Was My Season”. Details here

– Justin Vernon’s side project, Volcano Choir, has a new single out called “Bygone”. Details here

– Sydney’s Little Features night has announced it’s June lineup including Matt De, Liam Gale, Baby Lips and The Silhouettes, Charlie Gradon and Fanny Lumsden and the Thrillseekers. Details here

– Brother-sister duo Dan & Hannah Acfield are touring the east coast from the end of the month. Details here

Timber and Steel was lucky enough to be treated to the exclusive first viewing of Sam Buckingham’s new video “Follow You”. Details here

Thelma Plum has released a really sweet video for her latest single “Dollar”. Details here

– Check out the new video from the latest Communion Records signing Nick Mulvey. Details here


“We all fell in love with country music at different moments in our lives but I think the main attraction was the potential for some sweet, sweet harmonies. The song titles get us too – my personal favourite is “I Don’t Know Whether to Kill Myself or Go Bowling”.”Katie Wighton from All Our Texas Live In Texas chats to Gareth Hugh Evans. Interview here

“The last couple of shows I’ve played have been truly beautiful experiences. I think I got up on the stage and realised that these people have come to this place to hear something that I get to create. That’s a crazy thing to do, to put yourself out there, to play your songs for a bunch of people. That conceptually, at its fundamental level, is incredible”Matt Corby chats to Gareth Hugh Evans. Interview here


“I was really made to feel at home and sensed that everyone wanted me to give my best and this made my job so much easier. Unless you are a slightly awkward singer songwriter who has felt the nakedness of revealing your inner thoughts and feelings on stage before an educated and critical audience, you may not know what I’m talking about but a welcoming feeling and friendly atmosphere at a festival goes a long way towards bringing out the best in me”Hugh McDonald talks through his experiences at this year’s Top Half Folk Festival. Blog here



“The history of Timber and Steel is so closely intertwined with the career of UK singer-songwriter Laura Marling there was no way we were going to pass up the opportunity to review her latest masterpiece Once I Was An Eagle. And because Marling is so special to us we thought we’d try something a little unique for the review – four Timber and Steel reviewers take on four songs from Once I Was An Eagle as well as giving you some insight into their relationship with the singer” – The Timber and Steel team review Laura Marling’s album Once I Was An Eagle. Review here


“The one thing about the Top Half Folk Festival that always makes it a standout for me is the singing. That might seem a strange thing to say, when folk festivals are traditionally full of singing. But these days that singing is more about performers singing to audiences, not ordinary people singing their lungs out with performers” – Jeff Corfield reviews The Top Half Folk Festival. Review here

Releases This Week

Roadtrip Confessions
Roadtrip ConfessionsBuffalo Tales

Fever to the Form
Fever to the FormNick Mulvey
Communion Shop


Timber and Steel Presents

Anne of the Wolves
Anne of the Wolves with Wayward Breed, James Kenyon
Sunday 23rd June – The Workers Club, Melbourne, VIC
Tickets on the Door

Buffalo Tales
Buffalo Tales
Friday 21st June – Bucket List, Bondi, NSW
Wednesday 26th June – Folk Club, The Soda Factory, Sydney, NSW
Thursday 27th June – Brass Monkey, Cronulla, NSW

Official Site

Jep and Dep
Jep and Dep
Saturday 22nd June – FBi Social, Kings Cross, NSW
Wednesday 26th June – City Conversations, Sydney Town Hall, Sydney, NSW
Thursday 27th June – Green Room, Enmore, NSW

Facebook Event

Gigs Next Week

Dan & Hannah Acfield
Thursday 27th June – Treehouse On Belongil, Byron Bay, NSW
Friday 28th June – The Loft Chevron Island, Gold Coast, QLD

Folk Club feat. Buffalo Tales, Lily So & The Bellows, Jacob Pearson
Wednesday 26th June – The Soda Factory, Sydney, NSW

Grizzly Jim Lawrie w/ Canary, Tin Lion, Yeo, Money For Rope DJs
Wednesday 26th June – The Old Bar, Melbourne, VIC

Imogen Clark
Sunday 23rd June – The Toxteth Hotel, Sydney, NSW

Martha Wainwright
Saturday 22nd June – Astor Theatre, Perth WA

Matt Walters
Saturday 22nd June – The Newsagency, Sydney, NSW
Sunday 23rd June – Dowse Bar, Brisbane, QLD

Mustered Courage
Wednesday 26th June – Yinnar Pub, Yinnar, VIC
Friday 28th June – Molly Malones, Devonport, TAS

Perch Creek Family Jugband
Friday 28th June – Bangalow Bowling Club, Bangalow, NSW

Texture Like Sun, Ella Hooper
Tuesday 25th June – The Toff in Town, Melbourne, VIC

The Stillsons
Friday 21st June – Grace Darling, Melbourne, VIC

Friday 21st June – Solbar, Maroochydore, QLD
Saturday 22nd June – Spotted Cow, Toowoomba, QLD
Friday 28th June – The Weatsheaf, Adelaide, SA

Saturday 22nd June – The Corner Hotel, Melbourne, VIC

Friday Folk Flashback

“More Than Boys” – Luke Jackson

Sometimes you just hear a song that blows your head back. “More Than Boys” turned up on a podcast I was listening to this week and I just had to seek it out online to listen to again and again and again. Really great stuff from the English singer-songwriter.

A Small Festival in the Top Half of Australia

Hugh McDonald
Written by Hugh McDonald. Photos By Gordon Young

I flew into Alice Springs from Melbourne to perform at the Top Half Folk festival with my two guitars, an overnight bag and my usual mixture of anticipation and apprehension.

I was excited to be the “headline” act for the first time in my solo career. I’d experienced this many times previously as a member of Redgum, both in the ’80’s and more recently with our new band, the “Vagabond Crew”, but this was different, I was on my own and felt considerable pressure to deliver the goods.

No sooner than I had touched down my apprehension magically began to dissipate. First with the warm “Territory” bear hug I received from my old friend, local singer-songwriter, Barry Skipsey then with each subsequent friendly gesture from other performers and audience members at the festival. I was really made to feel at home and sensed that everyone wanted me to give my best and this made my job so much easier. Unless you are a slightly awkward singer songwriter who has felt the nakedness of revealing your inner thoughts and feelings on stage before an educated and critical audience, you may not know what I’m talking about but a welcoming feeling and friendly atmosphere at a festival goes a long way towards bringing out the best in me.

I experienced that at the Top Half Festival before I took the stage and as a consequence, I think I gave my best.

The audience was receptive and engaged with my music and when I spoke with people later, it was clear they had listened carefully and understood everything I was trying to express through my lyrics. They even laughed at my jokes!

I’m sure that the other performers would feel the same way because the audience seemed to distribute their generosity evenly amongst all of us.
The highlights for me were the informal unaccompanied sing-along’s in the dining area. Men and women from all over the country with massive voices, singing the songs they’d sung for years, improvising harmonies and bass parts, filled the room with effusive music . A rousing rendition of “Wild Mountain Thyme” abruptly segued into a risqué parody of the same by a tall Liverpudlian and was met with belly laughs from all. That was early in the night! Then followed two hours of humorous poems, sea shanties and bush ballads with everyone joining in.

Ted Egan I will treasure the experience of seeing one of our living treasures, Ted Egan, at 80 years young, singing his ballads of the outback accompanied only by his fingers on a beer carton and metronomic, tapping foot, the aforesaid carton kept perfectly in tune by the removal and consumption of excess cans of VB. I couldn’t quite figure out his tuning system but I did notice that his performance got better the more he “tuned” his instrument!

Listening to Ted’s observations of outback Australia, drawn from long experience, a sharp intellect and his glowing humanity was a real privilege.

The festival is held at a beautiful spot on the banks of the Finke River in the shelter of an ancient, iron-red rock escarpment and while I was standing transfixed by the rock wall someone quipped: “Don’t tell Gina Reinhardt or she’ll dig it up and sell it”. Unfortunately it’s all too true. Not enough of us value the natural beauty which surrounds us. At night you can lie back under Lawson’s “crystal chandelier” and take in the heavens. By day, you can take bush walks or watch waterfowls, egrets and cranes in the river or hawks gliding through the unbroken blue sky.

The Top Half Festival is unique. Its friendliness, abundance of talent and stunning location make it one of the best I’ve ever performed at.
Thank you to the festival organisers for inviting me; it was an honour and a privilege. A small festival? Not small, “boutique”!

Hugh McDonald

Review: 43rd Top Half Folk Festival, Alice Springs

Top Half

Review by Jeff Corfield. All photos by Gordon Young

Just like good old Cooper’s Sparkling Ale it was cloudy but fine when we pulled into Glen Helen for our first ever Top Half Folk Festival in the spectacular McDonnell Ranges west of Alice Springs. It’s been a long time between Top Half drinks for me – 9 years in fact – and the last time Mary River 2004 I supplied the bloody drinks, at my Wort’s and All home brew workshop that year. Since then distance, work and commitments to our own local Palm Creek Folk Festival (held the same weekend) have conspired to keep us away from a festival which was once an annual event for us. We made a last minute decision to come this year – and we weren’t disappointed.

Top Half Folk Festivals have been all about meeting up with mates from all across the north and beyond, sharing good music, poetry, craic and the odd drink, over three days and (very late) nights. The 43rd Top Half was no exception, though perhaps the nights weren’t quite as late this year – for me at least! Given the aging Top Half demographic – many “Top Halfs” are less hirsute and several (not 50) shades greyer these days – I did wonder about the financial wisdom of providing senior’s concessions. Perhaps under 30s concessions might be more profitable, but the Top Half Folk Festival has never been about profit – it’s about folk. In the old days these folk would take a week or so to drive to the annual Top Half as it rotated between Darwin, Alice and Mount Isa. Time seemed to matter less back then and flying was still expensive. It’s different these days, though I was surprised at just how many folk drove from all around Australia on their Top Half pilgrimage to Glen Helen this year.

However, enough of this reflection stuff and on with the festival review. After a 9 year absence I was thrilled to see and hear such a well-balanced mixture of old and new, local and interstate, young and not so young performers in the concert program. At one end of the age scale we had the unsinkable 80 years young Ted Egan, a national treasure and Top Half stalwart, still singing his heart out and enthralling us with songs about the real Australia. At the other end there was 11 year old Josh Gray and his support act father, Phil, who sang us other songs of Australia, from the pen of earlier writers such as Don Henderson and Edward Sorenson.

The concert program featured a diverse range of music genres from Klezmer and Gypsy music of Europe (courtesy of Rusty and the Infidels from Alice and The Weeping Angels from Adelaide) through to traditional Celtic and Australian ballads and contemporary compositions from the world over. Nevertheless it flowed seamlessly and I enjoyed all of it – and that’s saying something, given I’m used to doing stuff at festivals rather than sitting on my bum listening.

Katie HarderThe concerts also featured an impressive array of singer-songwriters, including Top Half favorites Barry Skipsey, Dave Oakes, Dave Clark and others, and importantly several new young performers. I was especially impressed by Jeanette Wormald and Katie Harder (left), both part of a strong Alice Springs contingent of younger performers, including Sally Balfour, which bodes well for the future. Singer-songwriters have always been the lifeblood of folk traditions, including the folk revival, as Phil Beck illustrated so eloquently in his workshop. More on that later.

There were two other aspects of the concert program that stood out for me. First and foremost was the chance to see former Redgum performer Hugh McDonald (right) in concert – twice in one weekend! Our kids cut their musical teeth on Redgum and I don’t think we have a single album that wasn’t worn out long ago. I’ve long been an admirer of Hugh’s powerful songwriting, from the time of “Diamantina Drover” to his more recent “Spirit of the Land”. However I didn’t appreciate just what a fine musician he is – a true guitar virtuoso across such a range of styles. His stage presence was easy and unaffected, as was his singing style and audience engagement. While he expressed some initial trepidation at being the “headline act” at a festival he’d barely heard of, I think he genuinely enjoyed performing to such an appreciative and knowledgeable audience at Top Half 2013 – and he said as much in a note to festival organisers.

Hugh McDonaldOf course the high standard of guitar playing didn’t stop with Hugh McDonald. I don’t think I’ve been to a regional festival which displayed such finger picking talent from so many performers, including Top Half stalwarts Phil Beck, Bob Sharp, Don (the) Bruce, Chris Pemberton and more recent Top Half convert Dave (Mojo) Mullen from Townsville. It was indeed sweet music to the ears – and an incentive to practice more in my retirement!

Juxtaposed to this was the wonderful unaccompanied singing of Australian folk revival legend Margaret Walters, who is fast becoming a Top Half regular. When Margaret starts singing you never quite know whether you will be graced with a sensitive rendition of a serious traditional ballad or a humorous or bawdy ditty, such is her style. She gave us that and more at Glen Helen.

Workshops have traditionally been a feature of Top Half Folk Festivals and this one was no exception – despite the absence of a Paul Stewart “entertainment” this year. Nevertheless we were well and truly entertained – and informed – by two fine workshops. On Saturday morning Phil Gray and the Tabby Knackers Choir and Ensemble presented insights into the life and works of Henry Lawson to mark his 146th birthday. Many of Lawson’s poems have been set to music by performers such as Pricilla Herdman, Chris Kempster and Hugh McDonald and we were treated to many fine renditions from the assembled cast.

On Sunday morning we were treated to A Potted History of the British Folk Revival (50s, 60, 70s) by Phil Beck and friends, with Paul Stewart as the principle narrator (can’t keep him out of the action). Stewie informed me that he’d already cut Phil’s narrative down by two thirds, yet the intro was still nearly 15 minutes long. However quality will always win out and that’s what we received in Phil’s insightful analysis of the British folk revival, punctuated by lovely renditions of songs like “Lord Franklin”, “The Sun is Burning” and others by Scotty Balfour, Phil Beck and others, which had me channeling my old mate Geoff Illif back at the Governor Broome Folk Club in Perth in the early 70s. The workshop ended with a fine rendition of a Top Half favorite “They Don’t Write ‘em Like That Anymore” and once again I was channeling another old mate – Paul Lawler, back in the Gun Turret days of the Top End Folk Club. I’m sure other Top Enders were doing the same for “Lawls”, who is not well at present. The audience left both workshops well entertained and better informed, which is what happens at all Top Half Folk Festivals.

Folk Quiz

The now-famous Folk Quiz (above), organised by Dave Evans and Scotty Balfour was another highlight for me. Based loosely on Spics and Specs, it aimed to test the ageing grey matter of the festival’s finest folk minds – and test them it did! Thankfully it was programmed for Saturday afternoon, before too many late nights and the odd alcoholic beverages took their toll. With teams comprising Paul Stewart, Margaret Walters and Barry Skipsey on one side and Phil Beck, Bob Sharp and Nerys Evans on the other, it was bound to be riotous, if nothing else. The scoring system soon became more indecipherable than an Egyptian hieroglyph, as the judges struggled to keep up with the pace. I’m not sure the declared winners deserved their victory, though Barry Skipsey’s failure to recognize his own song (just because it was played in a completely different style and beat) certainly cruelled it for his team. In the end the real winners were the audience, who were well entertained – and better informed yet again.

Poet’s breakfasts have become a feature of many folk and country music festivals around the country, but these days it’s hard for the average Joe Blow spruiker or poet to get a look in. Not so at the Top Half Folk Festival, under the guidance of the inimitable Jim Smith, another Top Half stalwart from southern climes. Anyone who had a poem or two is encouraged to chip in – and they did, with a wonderful array of humorous and more serious verse from old hands and new comers alike. More power to you and your arm Jim.

Two other important events took place at this year’s Top Half. First was the launch of Scotty Balfour’s new album Motherland at lunchtime on Saturday. I’ve always loved listening to Scotty’s easy singing style and fine interpretation of traditional and contemporary song. I think his voice, like fine wine, keeps maturing with age. The second event was the launch, at lunchtime on Sunday, of Peter Bate’s history of the Top Half Folk Festival. Peter, himself a Top Half “first fleeter” has long been a custodian festival and folk club memorabilia and his little book is a invaluable record of the wonderful history of a folk festival that has outlived so many others to become an icon of Australia’s folk revival. Well done Peter.

Finally, the one thing about the Top Half Folk Festival that always makes it a standout for me is the singing. That might seem a strange thing to say, when folk festivals are traditionally full of singing. But these days that singing is more about performers singing to audiences, not ordinary people singing their lungs out with performers. Again not so at the Top Half – and it’s not just at the famous late night sessions, so much a part of Top Half tradition. It’s at the concerts too, and the workshops. Top Half folk, be they performers or audience, love to sing, and love to join in. At Top Half Folk Festivals there are fewer barriers between performer and audience – and it shows. Hugh McDonald saw it and was blown away by it, as are other “southerners” who venture north to discover what those who live in the Top Half have always known. It’s something I really miss, but I know where to find it. Long may it remain part of the Top Half Folk Festival – that unique little single-venue long weekend event which Hugh McDonald so aptly described as “boutique”. Now I’m not sure my old Top Half mates Stewie, or Batey, or Evans or Beccy would like to be labeled “boutique”. On the other hand perhaps they are a bit like the boutique beers I like to drink – better than the average, different and interesting and full of character – as is the Top Half Folk Festival. Just don’t tell too many people, or they’ll all want some! Then again, the rest of Australia could do with a little of what the Top Half offers, so why not let them in on the secret!

Thank Folk It’s Friday – 10th May


This Week in Folk

All the News From The Week That Was

Gregory Alan Isakov has revealed plans to release a new album in July and is streaming its first single “Saint Valentine”. Details here

– Our “home” festival, The Top Half Folk Festival at Glen Helen near Alice Springs has announced Hugh McDonald (Redgum) as the headliner for 2013. Details here

– The first of the folk-orientated artists from the Splendour line up to announce side shows is Of Monsters And Men. Details here

– And next up on the Splendour sideshow front is UK trio Daughter with shows in Sydney and Melbourne. Details here

– The monthly Country Roads night in Sydney has revealed its May lineup and it’s looking pretty special – Fanny Lumsden & the Thrillseekers, Lucky Luke & His Shooting Stars and Andy Golledge. Details here

Tigertown have announced plans for a national tour this June with The Starry Field in support. Details here

– Speaking of The Starry Field, Mark Myers is heading out on a stripped back solo tour this week. Details here

– More details have emerged about the upcoming self-titled album from Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros including Australian release date, cover art and track listing. Details here

Mustered Courage have released their new video “Standing By Your Side” ahead of their album launch tonight. Details here

– The promised video for Arbori’s track “Polar Bear Swim” has debuted online – and it’s stunning. Details here


“Happy 3rd Birthday Timber and Steel!” – Blog here


Track by Track

“I wrote “Reckless” when I was 18 or 19, it’s the oldest song on the record. Looking back I was in the midst of a transformation from my teenage self into my adult self and was struggling with some difficult emotions”Kathryn Rollins takes us through her EP Reckless. Track by Track here

“When I listen to the EP, it feels like this [Burn Away] is almost the turning point in the mood. It’s a very simple song but again we wanted to create a build up in sound and production, this time in a more gentle way”Patrick James takes us through his EP All About to Change. Track By Track here

Releases This Week

Heart of Nowhere
Heart Of NowhereNoah and the Whale

Volume 3
Volume 3She & Him

Timber and Steel Presents

Sal Kimber
Sal Kimber & The Rollin’ Wheel with Dan Parsons
Sunday 12th May – The Workers Club, Melbourne, VIC
Tickets on the Door

Gigs Next Week

Achoo! Bless You and The Mountains
Friday 10th May – The Junkyard Hotel, Maitland, NSW
Saturday 11th May – The Aztec, Forster, NSW
Sunday 12th May – The Bellevue Hotel, Tuncurry, NSW
Wednesday 15th May – STRO Armidale Uni, Armidale, NSW
Thursday 16th May – Dowse Bar, Brisbane, QLD
Friday 17th May – Woody’s Surf Shack, Byron Bay, NSW

Beth Orton
Friday 10th May – St John’s Cathedral, Brisbane, QLD
Tuesday 14th May – St Stephen’s Uniting Church, Sydney, NSW

Bob Evans
Friday 10th May – Oxford Art Factory, Sydney, NSW
Saturday 11th May – Zierholz @ UC, Canberra, ACT
Sunday 12th May – Heritage Hotel, Wollongong, NSW
Thursday 16th May – Yarra Hotel Geelong, VIC
Friday 17th May – Corner Hotel, Melbourne, VIC

Country Roads feat. Fanny Lumsden & The Thrillseekers, Lucky Luke & His Shooting Stars, Andy Golledge
Thursday 16th May – Oxford Art Factory, Sydney, NSW

Josh Pyke
Friday 10th May – Southside Tea Room, Brisbane, QLD
Saturday 11th May – Camelot Lounge, Sydney, NSW

MoFo feat. Chris Gillespie and Nick Street
Friday 10th May – The Gaelic Club, Sydney, NSW

Mustered Courage with The Nymphs
Friday 10th May – Northcote Social Club, Melbourne, VIC
Friday 17th May – Coogee Diggers, Coogee, NSW

The Starry Field (solo)
Wednesday 15th May – Black Bear Lodge, Brisbane, QLD
Thursday 16th May – Dowse Bar, Paddington, QLD
Friday 17th May – Jet Black Cat Records, West End, QLD

Friday Folk Flashback

“Diamantina Drover” – Hugh McDonald

We were pretty stoked to see that Redgum legend Hugh McDonald will be headlining the Top Half Folk Festival this year so we thought we’d share a version of probably his most famous song.

Top Half Folk Festival Announces Headliner and Details of 2013 Event

Hugh McDonald
Image Courtesy of Hugh McDonald

The Top Half Folk Festival is pretty much Timber and Steel’s “home” festival and we love it. Held alternately near Darwin and Alice Springs each year on the June long weekend, The Top Half Folk Festival is a gem in a packed festival calendar – intimate, local and full of amazing folk music.

This year the Top Half Folk Festival rotates to Central Australia and is once again set to take place at the Glen Helen Resort, 130kms west of Alice Springs. Set on the banks of mighty Finke River, with spectacular views of the MacDonnell Ranges, the festival will kick off on the 7th June and wind its way through to the 9th June. Weekend tickets are $60 early bird, $70 after the 15th of May and concession and day tickets are available. Accommodation for the festival is organised directly with the Glen Helen Resort with numerous options available.

The headliner for the Top Half Folk Festival this year is none other than Hugh McDonald of Redgum fame. McDonald is probably best known for his song The Diamantina Drover, which has been recorded by a variety of artists including Lee Kernigan, John Williamson and Christy Moore. Joining Hugh McDonald will be the “usual crowd” of Northern Territorian musicians along with performers from around the country.

If you’re keen to get to Alice Springs for the June long weekend this year and fancy attending the Top Half Folk Festival you can get more information from the Central Australian Folk Society here.

Review: The 42nd Top Half Folk Festival, Mary River, NT

Scott Balfour
Scott Balfour

The following review was written by Dave Evans. Evans is a regular performer at The Top Half Folk Festival, is one of the organisers of the Alice Springs leg of the festival and is also our Editor in Chief’s father.

“Tell me Dad, what is a Top Half Folk Festival?”

“Well son, it’s like this: a group of like minded musicians and friends from all over the Territory get together with another group of musicians and friends from all over Australia and they play music, and they drink, and they talk, and they recite poetry, and they play music, and they drink, and they talk, and they recite poetry, and occasionally they eat and sleep.”

“And they have been doing this for 42 years?!?!?!”

“They have, and I suspect that, livers willing, they might be doing it for some time to come.”

“Now that I have found my very first lagerphone that you made me all those years ago, can I go to the next one?”

“Only if you promise to play music, drink, talk, recite poetry, occasionally eat and sleep, and burn the lagerphone!!! Meanwhile let me tell you all about the 42nd Top Half Festival.”

The Top Half Folk Festival is held alternately in Central Australia (Glen Helen) and the Top End (Mary River) over The Queen’s Birthday weekend each June, and this year it was Darwin’s turn to be the host. The Mary River Park, roughly halfway between Darwin and Kakadu National Park, was the setting, and what a perfect place for a weekend of music and fun. I remember, with a touch of nostalgia, some of the earlier Top Half’s, which were held in local schools, with classrooms cleared so we could throw our swags down, and concerts held in vast concrete assembly halls. Good days, but there is no denying that the majestic ranges of Glen Helen in Central Australia and the likewise beautiful setting of the Mary River out of Darwin lend themselves more readily to one of Australia’s best small folk festivals.

This festival included as always some of the best musicians from the Territory, together with some musical mates from interstate, and guest artists, Danny Spooner and Dave Alleway with Di Gaylard. The weekend programme consisted of concerts, workshops, presentations, poetry, a folk quiz, impromptu sessions, and activities for the younger visitors. (“How to burn a lagerphone without starting a bushfire” was a suggested activity, but too many people turned up and the bushfires council wouldn’t allow it).

As is often the case with festivals, even the smaller ones, I wasn’t able to see everything, however, here are my thoughts on what I did get to, starting with some of the presentations.

Danny Spooner

Danny Spooner’s presentation on the life and music of Hamish Henderson, ably assisted by Dave Alleway and Di Gaylard, was an absolute ripper. Henderson, was a Scottish poet, a songwriter, a soldier, an intellectual, and a collector (along with American Alan Lomax) of folk songs. In many ways he was responsible for the folk revival in Scotland in the 50s and 60s and he also started a people’s festival in Edinburgh in the early 50s, where Scottish traditional music was played, a fore-runner I guess to the Edinburgh fringe festival of today. Danny sang a collection of great songs, with the standouts for me being “The D Day Dodgers” and “Banks Of Sicily” interspersed with insights into Henderson’s life. Great stuff.

A Tribute to Dave Meyers was presented by The Shiny Bum Singers and Friends. The Shiny Bums are well known in Canberra circles and have performed at the National Folk Festival down there. Dave Meyers performed with The Shiny Bums until his untimely death in 2010. A frequent visitor and performer at Top Half Festivals, this was a chance for his friends to pay tribute to his song writing skills and to remember a good man. Parodies galore about the public service, and his special song about the $5 sausage written after a memorable festival meal a few years ago. Good fun all round, a nice tribute to a nice person. Thank you to Pat and Arminel Ryan for making it happen. We’ll miss him.

Woody Guthrie: Ramblin’ Radical was presented on the Sunday by Paul Stewart and his usual cricket team of musicians. I must confess to being biased about this presentation as I was part of it, however, talking to people afterwards it was plain that it was not just me that thought this was one of Paul’s best yet. Months of research into the complicated man that was Woody Guthrie paid off, with Paul able to share insights into his life from all the research he had done, as well as using quotes, and the 20 plus songs, sung by the cricket team. Everything linked together beautifully, and although by all accounts he wasn’t a particularly nice man, his songs stand the test of time. Too many songs to mention them all, but “Do Re Me” “The Reuben James” and “Deportees” are worth following up on if you want to sample a bit of Woody Guthrie.

The folk quiz has become an integral part of Top Half’s in recent years, two panels of three face off against each other in a battle of wit(s) overseen by an irreverent MC (your’s truly) with the much sought after “winners are grinners” trophy being the ultimate prize. Musical knowhow is somehow lost amongst the mayhem that ensues, and the ultimate winners I guess are the audience, who seem to love the format, (a cross between Spicks & Specks and Rockwiz) and the humorous sparring between the panels and the MC. Judging from the comments afterwards many consider it a highlight of the weekend. Who am I to argue!!

I managed to see one of the afternoon concerts (Sat) sleep deprivation winning out on Sunday. I remember leaving at the end thinking how much I enjoyed it. There was a nice cross-section of music with The Randoms (Jabiru) Ian Kitney (Ex Katherine now Maryborough) Josh and Phil Gray (Perth) Karien, Ian and Jayne (Everywhere) and Last Minute (Darwin). There was something for everyone with both traditional and contemporary songs, tunes, and a cappella. Great to see young Josh (10 yrs. old?) upstage his Dad, together with some lovely harmonica playing. A nice version also by Last Minute (with Tony Suttor) of the Dave Oakes song “Uluru”.

The Saturday evening concert started in fine style with The Darwin Ceili Band. They are old hands at this, having been around for a long time, and they didn’t disappoint, a very polished performance.

Phil Gray from Perth minus his mates from Loaded Dog is a fine singer and song writer and it was good to see a solo performance from him. Chris Pemberton is a favourite of mine, his choice of songs, his guitar playing, and with a voice that is easy to listen to, he always comes up trumps.. Add in Tony Suttor on voice and squeezebox and you have a wonderful sound. Love it. Barry Skipsey from Alice Springs has been singing and writing great songs for many years now. It’s always a delight to see him perform and his newest song “The Green Box” about the plight facing many Aboriginal people in and around Alice Springs is both powerful and emotive. The Three Beans from Margaret River (Karien, Jenny, and George.) also played a great set, nice musical accompaniment with Jenny’s voice a stand out. What can one say about Danny Spooner that hasn’t already been said? A long time favourite of mine, a true professional on stage, a great selection of songs, “Harry was a Champion” and “The Lasses Who Dance” two standouts. A wonderful singer and musician, he is indeed a living treasure.

Ted and Caroline Burns
Ted and Caroline Burns and Dave

The Sunday concert was another great show, with some more of my favourite artists. Don Bruce from Tanunda, great voice, a beautiful guitar picking style: quality. Phil Beck from Perth, likewise a great guitar player, with a voice to match, an ability to choose good songs, and a nice easy stage presence. Ted and Caroline Burns were joined on stage by their friend Dave and his guitar playing added another level to this popular duos set. The best I have heard them sing. Top Stuff. My old mate Scotty Balfour never disappoints. I believe he is singing better now than ever, he’s comfortable on stage, his choice of songs compliments his voice, and it’s about bloody time he put out a cd. A harp and Scottish small pipes are perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea but give them to Dave Alleway and Diane Gaylord and the result can only be a selection of wonderful Celtic and English songs and tunes. “The Pearl/Jamie Raeburn” and “Drummer Question/Beeswing” were great examples of this.

So there you have it, another wonderful weekend of quality music and spoken word with friends and new acquaintances. As I said I didn’t get to everything, but talking to Jim Smith who ran the poets breakfasts whilst I slept, these were as popular as ever and a wide range of material was covered. I am contemplating writing a workshop titled “workshops I have missed” there’s plenty of material to be had. As you can imagine there were some terrific sessions, on the Friday night, and after the evening concerts on Sat. and Sun., out on the balcony of the main building, as well as another session going on each night around the campfire with Kevin McCarthy.

As a final note, I would like to congratulate the Mary River Park hosts, Rogan and Bronwyn, who provided terrific food and ensured that enough beverages were available to keep everyone happy. They even organised a special delivery of Guinness when stocks got dangerously low. My kind of people. My thanks also to the dedicated band of Top End folkies who organised the weekend’s festivities. The meaning of life is 42 and this was the 42nd Top Half Folk Festival. It couldn’t fail really could it!!?

I’m off to give my liver a rest, until the next one that is.

Dave Alloway
Dave Alleway

This Year’s Top Half Folk Festival Program

Danny Spooner
Image Courtesy of Danny Spooner

We’ve been to a lot of different folk, blues, roots, bluegrass, world, indie and country festivals over the years and while each and every one is special in its own way it’s the small regional events we love the most. And the festival which steals our heart every year is the Top Half Folk Festival.

ALternately held near Alice Springs (Glen Helen) and Darwin (Mary River) – it’s Darwin’s turn this year – the Top Half is everything you want in a small folk festival: a single stage, intimate performances, community atmosphere and a real sense of family.

The Top Half Folk Festival this year takes place over the Queen’s Birthday Long Weekend – the 8th to the 11th June – in Mary River, 150km east of Darwin and is the perfect excuse to escape the Southern winter. The lineup is a mixture of locals (and by locals we mean Territorians), regulars and legends including Danny Spooner, David Alleway and Diane Gaylard, Paul Stewart (presenting his 100th anniversary to Woodie Guthrie), Kevin McCarthy, Dave Evans and Scotty Balfour, Jim Smith, Ian Kitney, a couple of Shiny Bum Singers and many many more.

Tickets are a mere $85 for the entire weekend and there is a children’s program as well. For more information contact the Top End Folk Club.

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