Thursday, August 06, 2015

Gurrumul

There was a moment at Womadelaide a few years ago when Gurrumul silenced a crowd of several thousand mostly white Australians with songs sung in ‘language’. We had no idea what he was singing about, but we knew somewhere it was about things like hills, stories from the Dreamtime, ancestors – things of antiquity. He was the voice of ancient Australia and he had us in the palm of his hand. It was one of the most profound cultural moments I’ve ever experienced. And this concert was another night of magic with this remarkable singer. Billed as the gospel songs tour, it featured several songs from Gurrumul’s past on Elcho Island that are more like hymns than the gospel sounds one associates with black America.
The show began with safe territory – two of Gurrumul’s better known songs – Wiyathul, and Bapa, a dedication to fathers everywhere, and they set the inspirational tone for the rest of the evening. When long time Gurrumul collaborator Michael Hohnen announced that they were now going to play the religious tunes it seemed a little superfluous, as these songs are deeply spiritual in the effect they can have on an audience.
Nevertheless, local Adelaide choir Women with Latitude joined the band for the religious/gospel part of the set and it’s a match made in heaven. They provided a beautiful soft backdrop to Gurrumul’s timeless vocals, embellishing every note with a restrained ethereal presence. When they did crank up the volume later in the show on a Gurrumul original, while singing in his native Yolngu tongue, the whole effect was superb. It was quite noticeable too that as soon as multiple voices are added to Gurrumul’s songs you can hear the link with the islander music of the Pacific.
There is something intangibly primal about Gurrumul’s ability to cut across Australian cultures with the voice of a songbird that soothes and caresses and delivers you to a place of immense joy and deep satisfaction. He is an extraordinary gift to this land.

Another original song, The Crow, was richly textured and again showed Gurrumul’s ability to portray simple symbols from the world of nature in a way that all Australians can appreciate. A catchy reggae tune closed out the evening. Just the standing ovation was left, which of course Gurrumul can’t see. I hope someone tells him about it. But my guess is he can probably sense it.  

Also published on The Clothesline

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Boomers' Legacy

OK. I’m going to write this rather than talk it. In truth, I wasn’t a big fan of Stairway to Heaven. In fact the song drove me nuts. As a guitarist and busker I was asked hundreds of times if I knew how to play it but I never learned it. But the version of this song in this concert is a stunner. Nor was I a great fan of Led Zeppelin after their early years. Like many bands their best came early on and they never quite reproduced the edge of their early stuff. So the reference to Led Zeppelin being the ‘wind beneath the wings of a generation’ was really using them as a metaphor for all the music that served that function. It could have been The Who, Stones, Beatles, Animals, Hendrix, etc – it was the collective impact of new rock that sustained the cultural change.
What of that change? Yes there were early utopian claims that the Age of Aquarius would herald the age of peace and equality, but it clearly didn’t happen. So what did change? It definitely drove a wedge between mine and my parents’ generation. By the time I was 20 I was living a life that was eons apart from theirs. The outward expression of this gulf was our appearance. We let our hair grow, wore daggy or weird clothes, stopped going to church and moved in to shared houses. Youth embraced a new freedom that was missing in previous decades, and the stifling tyranny of the family unit was broken. And rock music was our music, our mouthpiece. It’s not just the music that did it – it was a mix of many things – but the music was the outward expression of liberty that youth had discovered.
The legacy of this time can still be seen in a myriad of things:
·         It is now for example quite OK to go to a fancy theatre in jeans and a t-shirt. Or the CBD. Or anywhere. This breaking down of a strict uniformity of dress code for all began in the late 60s.
·         It began a globalisation of the world. People like Dylan helped people realise that struggles were the same the world over.
·         Young people started to travel – roaming far away countries for months on end.
·         People began to live together out of wedlock en masse and eventually wore down the importance of the institution of marriage.
·         Mainstream religion suffered a massive downturn in appeal. People began to look elsewhere – Buddhism, meditation, Eastern religions generally – for spiritual sustenance.
·         Communities based on very different values like Nimbin and others on the northern coast of NSW began to spring up all over the world. Many dropped out of a mainstream society that no longer met their needs.
·         Many more people began to take drugs and had their consciousness altered. There were plenty of casualties but no one who takes mind altering drugs can ever look at the world the same way again.
·         It did liberate women to some extent. Divorce became socially acceptable and single parents received social security to enable them to live a life free of abusive partners.
None of these things are final. They are processes of cultural change that are still evolving. It’s interesting to think about whether the Boomers created these changes, or whether they happened to them. It’s probably both. Things were changing rapidly, and they were the agents of change.
The fact is that between 1965 and 1975 the Western world changed dramatically. And behind it was this music, these anthems advertising and extolling another life and other values. The music you listen to in your teens and twenties is typically the music that stays with you forever. It is the music that was playing when you were becoming adult and working out who you were and what you believed, and it is woven into your DNA. It provokes deep emotion whenever you hear it. So I understand too well what Robert Plant was feeling as he listened to his song in that concert. Quite frequently, without warning, I’ll be listening to music of that time and tears will come. Tears for the memories, the intense emotions of love and love lost and youth and freedom and good times, for the people who have gone or who got lost along the way. And because these people who inspired us with their anthems of an incredibly exciting time are dying. Every time I see a musician from that time I am acutely aware that it is probably the last time I’ll see them.

We’re still left with a world of wonder and turmoil.

Perhaps the part of the legacy of the 60s and 70s I value above all else is the fact that I am friends with my adult children in a way that was impossible when I was 20. The world had changed too much and too fast for me and my parents to be anything but polite strangers. They simply had no clue who their children were anymore. So I, and many of my generation (Leigh’s going to tell me something different!) made sure as parents that we would never be strangers to our children; that we would never impose on them values that were not theirs. I am friends with my children, and the generation/cultural gap is small. But that is my life….. J  

Saturday, June 20, 2015

"This Music Won't Last"

Sometime during my teen years I was watching rock/pop music on TV and my mother, a classically trained singer and pianist, assured me this music would never last. It was her way of telling me that she thought the music of little value and that I’d be better off spending my leisure time on other things. We often debated this question. I remember another day when I again was watching TV in the lounge and she came through from the kitchen asking ‘who is that with the beautiful speaking voice’? She was shocked to see a long haired, bearded and bizarre character speaking. It was in fact Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull.
I don’t remember really having any sense of belief at the time that the music I loved would last. As I grew older I learned that the pop/rock music of the 60s and 70s represented a radical change from what had gone before, both in terms of sound – they’re had been nothing like it – and the cultural values held by many of its exponents. Long hair and outrageous appearance and on and off stage behaviour was par for the course. As a teenager and early 20 something I was proud that I was part of a new generation that had at least in some sense changed the world. And it satisfied my natural tendency towards rebellion and rejection of my parents’ and mainstream values.
Last night a Facebook friend (who is incidentally also a good friend in ‘real’ life) posted a link to a video from a memorial concert in honour of the pioneer rock band, Led Zeppelin. The video featured a live performance of Stairway to Heaven by Ann and Nancy Wilson. Complete with choir and orchestra I really enjoyed this superb version of ‘Stairway’. But what moved me more was watching the reaction of three of the original members of Led Zeppelin – Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, and John Paul Jones. Once wild men of rock they were seated in the audience dressed in suits and had it seemed turned into thoroughly respectable old men.
Robert Plant seemed stunned at what he was witnessing. His eyes welled up with tears, and he stared at the performance happening on stage with a kind of ‘what have I done? what did I do?’ expression. But in a positive sense. It was as if he was realising for the first time the beauty and the power of the song he and Jimmy Page had created 44 years earlier. So Stairway to Heaven has lasted and has been enriched and transformed by a new generation of musicians. (John Bonham’s son played drums in this performance.)
My own eyes began to well up as I watched and listened to this wonderful rendition of ‘Stairway’ until I was finally quite simply crying. Crying In support of Robert Plant. As my wife commented I just want to give him a hug. Crying too because I remembered that comment of my mother’s all those years ago and I realised, if I hadn’t before, that the music of my generation has been validated. We weren’t just listening to a passing fad or an aberration in the history of music. We had been part of huge and powerful cultural change that has left an indelible stamp on the world. It did have value.
You could scoff and bemoan the fact I guess that the Led Zap boys are now respectable senior members of the community and wear suits – Robert Plant often performed bare chested for heaven’s sake – but they are no longer wild and provocative young men. They don’t need to be. They, and many of their peers, created music that was the wind beneath the wings of a generation and it is clear now that much of it will outlast them and the generation that is growing old with them.
I felt proud watching this performance that I had made the choices I had, that I had listened to this ‘devil music’ from an early age and I want to believe now that I knew instinctively all those years ago that something huge was happening, and that our music had value. It’s a big call but it felt like it validated much of my life and who I am.
For another example of how another wild man of rock has become part of the musical establishment watch Ian Anderson singing Wondering Aloud with a chamber orchestra.

You were wrong Mum.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Frisky and Mannish - Adelaide Cabaret Festival

Taken by Rosie Collins
What a ride! Roaming spotlights playing over audience and stage at the start of the show suggested we were in for something big! Looking positively glamorous in gold, Frisky and Mannish enter the stage to form a beautiful tableau, and that was about their only serious moment. Everything about this show is over the top. I’m tempted to tag them the greatest hams in the history of show business. But this is a good thing.
Promoting themselves as a bridge between pop and cabaret they set about demolishing everything you may hold dear about either genre in a fast paced, tightly scripted and hilarious send up of a long list of songs and their performers. We learn that most pop singers (except for Katy Perry and her paean to plastic bags) don’t write their own material, and in fact 81% of all popular songs are written by the Bee Gees!! We learn too that Sinead O’Connor wrote way more letters of advice than just the famous one to Miley Cyrus.
There are so many really funny moments. A medley of songs revised for the Internet age inserts Google, tweets, and Facebook into the lyrics of famous songs. “I still haven’t found what I’m googling for.” (U2) A collection of Australian songs reveals their take on the Australian psyche, and a fast and furious trawl through candidates for a feminist anthem is priceless.
And just in case you might think they take themselves seriously, once they’ve finished taking aim at everyone else they turn the blowtorch on themselves.
This superb dismantling of popular culture is all done via bits of well-known songs with altered lyrics, and some of the funniest singing I’ve ever heard. They can make the most beautiful song sound ridiculous, and the most inane pieces sound like works of high art.
Outstanding performers; great writers. They try towards the end to take things seriously again for a minute but it lasts about 30 seconds before their wonderfully weird and demonic selves resume control. They close with a love song to us and all humanity but we know they don’t believe a word of it! Sensational.

(Also published on The Clothesline.)

Sunday, May 31, 2015

WHAT TO DO WITH BIRTHDAYS ON FACEBOOK?

For the last 2 years I have faithfully responded to each and every Facebook birthday greeting received. This year I decided I wouldn’t. I like one friend’s somewhat cynical approach to this issue. The day before their birthday they posted: “To all my FB friends who will inevitably wish me happy birthday tomorrow – thanks in advance!” I contemplated changing my settings so my birthday wasn’t visible but of course I forgot.
On the other side of this FB birthday greeting equation I am unequivocal. I resent FB telling me that some friend or colleague is having a birthday. There’s a momentary pang of guilt as I choose to ignore that person’s birthday ie not send them a greeting. And what about all those I do know quite well, and care about, but if it weren’t for FB’s auto notifications, I would never know it was their birthday - what do I do on their birthdays? I usually ignore them too. And there are those who are really close and whose birthdays I probably know without FB’s help. (My mother used to keep a book for such information – it contained nothing more than a list of people’s birthdays that she wanted to acknowledge.) I might contact some of these close friends/family on their birthdays, or if I only remembered because of FB write something like, “FB tells me it’s your birthday…..” I’m just not comfortable claiming credit for remembering someone’s birthday when I actually didn’t! I know – I should probably get over it. Many others obviously have.
And the thing is I love receiving these greetings from around the world for that 24 hour period once a year. It’s a real buzz, even if most of those greetings would not have been sent if FB hadn’t displayed my birthday in your morning newsfeed. So to all those who did send me birthday greetings - thank you! I appreciate it. However, I have 400 + friends on FB apparently, and received about 70 birthday greetings. So what’s with you other 300?? Don’t care enough about me? Too lazy? Or maybe you’re a bit like me and you resent being prodded like a Pavlovian dog and decide you can handle the guilt of ignoring me, or some distant colleague, or long lost family member. You never needed to know my birthday before (nor I yours), and we all got on fine. And there’s the rub with FB. Where’s the limit? We know so much now about other people’s lives that in times past we never knew. And it was fine that we never knew. Wasn’t it?

Anyway, come May 26th 2016 I hope many of you ignore my reservations about all this and wish me well. And happy birthday to you for whenever yours may be :)

Monday, March 23, 2015

River - Fringe Review

Bakehouse Theatre’s Studio, Mon Feb 23
River is a loner, but she has crafted a busy enough life for herself.  She frequents a quiet caf├ęteria where she can be alone unnoticed. She has become something of a Google expert, specialising in writing “googlet’ poems based on what Google’s auto-complete function provides when you search for things. She sells self-made aluminium shapes at a weekend market. Her job doesn’t require her to talk to anyone, but she gets some joy from the human contact shared with her colleagues over packets of Arnotts cream biscuits. She relates the minutiae of her daily life in a way that is both touching and tedious.
Her luck begins to turn when she makes the acquaintance of Harry, an aged widower who frequents the same caf├ęteria and is looking for company.
Claire Lovering, the writer and performer of this one person show, has obviously spent a lot of time observing the old and lonely. There is a pathos in the details that her character shares with us, as we slowly learn that her whole life is based on masking the fact that she is alone. And Lovering does an excellent job of portraying this not quite sad and quirky character who is self-conscious, unsure, and excited by little things like chip sandwiches. Her friendship with Harry is short lived but he is the link in a chain that ultimately provides her with a new life where her warmth and care for others can be put to good use.
There’s a simplicity and a charm to this production that grows on you. It’s a poignant reminder that there are many who find it difficult to fit in. They want to be with people but they just don’t know how to do it. Happily in this case a lucky break helps a loner find their niche.
Left unsaid is the fact that many who are alone are not so lucky….
Quite moving in the end. It may well bring a tear of joy and/or sadness.

(also published on The Clothesline)

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Meow Meow - Superb Cabaret

Royal Croquet Club’s Menagerie, Sun Feb 22
Meow Meow was a late entry into this year’s Fringe so you won’t find mention of her in the printed program. But do yourself a favour and find you way to The Menagerie at the Royal Croquet Club to see this superstar of cabaret.
I don’t normally borrow catch phrases from the reviews of others but ‘kamikaze cabaret’ is such an apt description of what she does. From the moment she involves the audience in making her opening entrance more spectacular you know you’re in for something different. Nothing is straightforward. Arranging the show as she goes – telling the tech crew to change the lighting, suggesting wardrobe changes for her accompanying pianist and drummer, getting the audience involved in ways you’ve never imagined – contributes to an edge of anticipation that keeps everyone on their toes.
Having played in some of the more prestigious venues around the planet she has a lot of fun making a mockery of ending up ‘in a tent on a roundabout’, and “having to do everything herself”. Like bringing her own dry ice blower! And her stand-in for when she needs a break is pretty impressive too. In short, Meow Meow is hilarious.
And if that isn’t enough she can sing like a bird, like a diva, like a child or a saddened lover… in multiple languages! To boot, most of her songs are her own original material. And she looked fantastic. Meow Meow is the complete package.
Superb comic timing, brilliant audience engagement, wonderful singer – a gifted performer who exemplifies the best of what cabaret can offer.

(also online on The Clothesline)