Country music – Australian country music, at least – is unique in the amount of opportunities it affords young people to get a musical education and get some experience playing live. The Starmaker and Telstra Road to Tamworth competitions are loaded with talented under-25s, some of whom I was lucky to see play at this year’s festival. Here’s a short round-up:
Caitlin Harnett: The buzz is big for this Sydneysider, who has attended Camerata, the Country Music School. Although she had a cold the day I saw her and wasn’t feeling her best, her lovely voice and engaging stage manner were still evident. She was playing with …
Olivia Hally: I was impressed with this Victorian’s singing and guitar playing (she’s also a Camerata graduate). She had a nicely different take on some country standards, including ‘Jolene’.
Adam James: This Starmaker finalist launched his CD, Messages & Memories, at the Tamworth Hotel. He’s in the Troy Cassar-Daley songwriting vein, which is good – anyone who emulates Troy is good!
Claye Middleton: A quiet performer with a lovely singing voice – great pitch and timbre. I expect to see him back for many years to come.
Chad Shuttleworth: Caught him busking outside Tamworth Shopping World, and his cheeky charm had attracted quite a crowd. He was definitely in the ‘entertainer’ branch of the country music family (where Beccy Cole and Adam Harvey are ‘entertainers’, and Kasey Chambers and Troy Cassar-Daley are ‘singer-songwriters’ – this is a loose division of my own creation, and subsets do occur). I would have paid money to see him, so I put some in his guitar case.
The Tamworth Hotel, 25 January
When he arrived in Tamworth Danny Widdicombe had no idea he was going to play the afternoon slot at the Tamworth Hotel, where he was appearing in Karl Broadie’s band at night. But when the band that had been performing from 2 till 5 had to abandon ship, Widdicombe stepped in and gave everyone present a delightful afternoon of music, all the more special because it had been unexpected.
As rain pelted down on the garden stage, the instruments and equipment were moved into the front bar, allowing everyone to get cosy next to the pool tables. Accompanied by Fiddleboy a.k.a. Luke Moller a.k.a. ‘The Champ’ (for he had won the national bluegrass fiddling championships), Widdicombe plunged into over two hours of songs from his album The Transplant Tapes, as well as Beatles and Neil Young covers; the highlight was a sublime version of ‘Dear Prudence’. Having seen this duo play, and on other occasions seeing Karl Broadie and Johnny Kendall play together without accompaniment, I’ve decided that a guitar-and-fiddle duo is a wondrous thing (of course, you need the right guitarist and the right fiddler, but I’m not ruining a good theory over detail thanksverymuch).
After not even drawing breath for a set break, Widdicombe eventually stepped aside to give The Falls some time at the microphone, then regrouped with The Champ and brought in, separately, Kevin Bennett from The Flood, Michael Roberts from Karl Broadie’s band and the mighty Den Hanrahan – as well as a dude called Dax whose full name I don’t know – for a couple of songs each. It was the best kind of free-form musical love-in and you could tell that the punters felt they’d been treated to something very special. It’s again a mark of the kind of festival Tamworth is, that musicians of this calibre could all be found in one place and with enough time to take up this sort of opportunity and make something unique for everyone in the room. It was like the best kind of Christmas present.
West Tamworth League Club, 25 January
The McClymonts’ first ‘big’ Tamworth show (they have busked and played support for other acts in the past) was in itself a big ticket – it sold out several days in advance. So I was feeling pretty smug – despite some ribbing from others – about taking my place in the audience at Wests. I’d even caught the sisters’ Big W in-store earlier in the day to get in the mood.
As noted elsewhere in this blog, I love the McClymonts. I love it all – the fact that they’re sisters, that they glam it up, that they play instruments, that they have great harmonies. I wasn’t disappointed in the show. It was like reading 10 women’s magazines all at once – it was that satisfying in a pop-cultural way. From squealing small children to overexcited grey nomads to even one Guy Sebastian hanging near the back, this show had oomph. Much to my delight, they played my two favourite tracks from their 2006 EP, as well as almost every track from their long-player, Chaos and Bright Lights. There was no revolutionary musicality going on – it was pure entertainment, of the sort that Australian country music stars do so well. And at 20 bucks a ticket, it was a bargain. I would go again, although perhaps not for a while – they don’t have enough material yet to create a diverse string of shows. But they have stage presence and lovely voices and I’m glad they’re around.
Oh yeah, Morgan Evans and Nick Kingswell supported. Both pretty good. But they weren’t wearing dresses and they weren’t sisters, so I wasn’t really paying attention. Sorry, lads.
The Tamworth Hotel, various dates
I first saw the Scotland-born Broadie playing at the festival in 2005, and fell in love with his music almost straightaway. The first song on his first album, Nowhere Now Here, sealed the deal. Since then I’ve seen him play several times and the lustre has never worn off. Broadie is one of Australia’s greatest singer-songwriters and live performers, and his popularity at the festival increases each year for very good reasons: he’s exceptionally good live, whether he’s playing with a band or on his own (as he appeared with the Like Minded Felons, James Blundell and Nik Phillips, at the Southgate Inn) and, as one fellow punter told me in the ladies’ loo, ‘He’s so entertaining’. Broadie’s on-stage ease makes his audience feel relaxed, so we’re more inclined to settle in for a few sets, knowing we’re in good hands. And, as he is now the proud papa of three full-length albums and an EP, he has more than enough material for a few hours on stage.
Most of Broadie’s 2007 Tamworth band – not his usual touring outfit – were back, and the calibre of their playing only increased the value for punters. Danny Widdicombe from Brisbane took on lead guitar duties with aplomb; Victorian Johnny Kendall added his sublime fiddle skills to the mix. Kendall is perhaps Broadie’s greatest live collaborator – an intuitive, versatile musician who reads between the musical lines of the songs and finds all sorts of delightful nuances (he was also much in demand to play with other acts during the festival). Michael Roberts – who produced Nowhere Now Here – took keyboards and about twenty other instruments; every time I looked he was playing something new and it all added to the layering of the songs. Wrangling all these talents together was the very solid rhythm section of Greg Gillett on drums and Stevie JB (full name unknown). I should also mention that everyone except Stevie contributed to backing vocals. At one time I thought that if anything blew up on the stage Australian music – let alone country music – would never recover from the loss of all these talented folks.
Karl Broadie’s gigs are always a highlight of my Tamworth and it was wonderful to see lots more people this year enjoying this divine music. It is too easy to take a performer like Broadie for granted – he doesn’t demand attention in the way of some ego-challenged musicians; he allows his music to speak for him, and it’s also too easy to take this music for granted when it seems to pour out of him so effortlessly. But it’s harder than it looks, and from some of the comments I overheard it seems like lots of people are starting to appreciate the effort he goes to. It couldn’t happen to a more worthy fellow.
The Family Hotel, 23 January
The Huckleberry Swedes’ gig was my first stop upon arriving in the country music capital. I’d already previewed their music on their MySpace page; they’d also received a recommendation on Wendy’s Choice Picks. So I knew they’d be better than average, but anything can happen at a gig – a bad PA, for example.
The nature of Tamworth is that you can meander around from venue to venue, and there’s so much on that staying for three sets of one band is not always the best use of your time. But once the Huck Swedes started playing, I lost any inclination to go anywhere else. What a seductive sound – delicately balanced instrumentation and vocals, plus great stage get-up (late 19th century–looking britches and caps, shirts and a tie that was literally a bow). Their original songs were beautiful and clever, and they do a few very nice covers, including Patty Griffin’s ‘Making Pies’.
Spending three hours in the company of this Adelaide gang of five was the best possible way to start festival activities. While they’re not strictly country – ‘alt country’ possibly applies, but they cross a lot of genres – they exemplified one of the best things about the festival: categories don’t matter, just music, and if you’re playing music then you’re welcome.
Beccy Cole is one of Australian music’s great entertainers and, as such, highly underrated – I always wonder why she isn’t better known, because she has a wonderful voice and an extraordinary stage presence (yes, the superlatives are flying thick and fast – she deserves them).
Perhaps Live at Lizotte’s will enable more people to understand this live-performance powerhouse, because (unlike some live CDs) it is representative of what a Beccy Cole gig is really like: a range of musical moods and a great deal of genuinely funny on-stage banter – even after several spins round my CD player, I was still holding my sides laughing at some of her lines. It’s also a chance for fans like me to get their hands on some new songs, including ‘Lifeboat’ and ‘Opposite Prayers’, plus some covers – Carole King’s ‘Natural Woman’, Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Say You Love Me’ and 4 Non Blondes’ ‘What’s Up’. There’s also tested Beccy favourites such as ‘Blackwood Hill’, ‘Men Don’t Dance’, the always-funny ‘Sorry I Asked’ and what I think is one the cleverest songs ever written (and she wrote it): ‘Lazy Bones’. Those who have seen Beccy live will know what she does in the coda of this song – recorded on this CD for repeat-play entertainment.
Beccy is joined by Kasey Chambers for a truly lovely rendering of ‘Those Memories of You’ , and by Gina Jefferies and Sara Storer for a cover of John Williamson’s ‘Galleries of Pink Galahs’. The latter is probably the only song that I didn’t out-and-out love but this album really is a worthwhile purchase for Beccy’s existing fans – in true country-music fan-friendly style, she has included enough old and new material to keep them happy. Live at Lizotte’s is also the best possible introduction to the Central Coast songstress for those who have heard the odd song – probably ‘Poster Girl’ – and are wondering whether the rest of her work is any good. It is. She is fabulous, and one of the best assets to the Australian music industry (not just country music). Now – where is her ARIA?
Beccy Cole: Live at Lizotte’s (ABC/Warner Music)