Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Bordertown

Holden Street Theatres – The Studio, Fri 5 Apr.
Bordertown is a convenient half way marker on road trips between Adelaide and Melbourne. Apparently Bob Hawke was also born there. He spent most of his childhood in Perth but a trip back to the town as an adult and a chance visit to a local hairdresser was enough to generate the urban myth that Bob’s silver bodgie hairstyle was born in Bordertown.
This is important to Patricia Barnes, the local hairdresser. In fact hair in general is important. It has to be or she has nothing. She complements her empty life with the inane trivia of celebrities because they matter. They’re successful. And she decides that her daughter must escape to Hollywood where people find success.
Chris Asimos as Emilio Sanchez bursts on to the stage and regales us with his charisma and de rigeur larger than life star behaviour. He’s funny, and genuine, and he falls completely for that girl from somewhere near the border. The scene where he and Felicity (Kim Fox) flirt with each other on first meeting is beautifully choreographed and exudes romantic chemistry.
Dennis the taxi driver doesn’t really go for this celebrity stuff. Although he has a tendency to fall under the thumb of the women in his life, in his own yokel way he’s become his own man. His quirky manner provides a glimpse of the Australian psyche that provides a telling contrast to the Hollywood way. It’s a lovely and endearing performance from Brendan Cooney.
Bordertown is an entertaining and funny show, with strong and convincing performances all round. Katie O’Reilly’s portrayal of Patricia is wonderful. But beneath the humour is the sad fact that many of us seem to need this link with the lives of celebrities to make our own lives more palatable. People’s lives become more important if they’ve had a chance meeting with a celebrity, or they know someone who is a cousin of a famous actor, etc etc. It’s really quite pathetic.
But that is Patricia’s reality. You have to find that connection with fame, and it matters not if it’s true or otherwise. What matters is that people believe it happened, that you’ll be remembered and talked about for years after, because you knew someone famous. And you cared about your hair!

(This review also published on The Clothesline.)

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

What then, are our responsibilities, as elders, in this world which carries the scent and spoor of our youthful enthusiasms?


A colleague on the TALO email list (yes there are some still) posed this question in regard to our collective role in promoting use of the internet before it all went wrong. I felt compelled to answer: 

I don’t know if this was a serious question but I’m going to assume it was. Because this has been on my mind. Where the Internet and social media has led us has me worried. And when Tim Berners-Lee says much the same I feel my concerns are well founded.
I’m trying to reconcile my own part in all of this. Like many on this list I was an enthusiastic advocate for teaching and learning online. I don’t know if I was an advocate of the Internet in particular. I was certainly fascinated by its potential, and what it might do to our lives. But I don’t think I was an advocate per se in the way that people like Mark Pesce may have been. I remember Pesce boasting unashamedly that ‘the Internet is coming and I am a pusher!”
I still stand by the Internet’s potential to improve education, in the hands of experienced and wise facilitators. But there are still so few of them. But after 22 years of watching its impact I am worried about what the internet and mobile technologies have done to our lives.
I am feeling a sense of professional embarrassment. How can I/we not have seen this coming? For me it’s connected with the election of Trump. That stunned me. I was one of those who thought it would never happen. Don’t laugh, but I thought humanity was evolving to a point where trogladytes like Trump would be left behind.  It was as if his election snapped me out of a na├»ve dream.
Similarly I knew the potential of social media to spread evil, but like all good fairytales I thought good would prevail. And it still might. But with all the good it has done, it has connected all those with a message of hate and division. It fosters unrest based on lies and misinformation in Ukraine, genocide in Myanmar, subverts democratic processes, and provides a platform for murderers, racists and child pornographers to peddle their wares.
And I do think it’s time to call a spade a spade and declare as T Bone Burnett has done that it is stealing our culture on the basis of some flimsy pretext like ‘all knowledge wants to be free’.
So I do feel like making a public apology quite honestly, where I can admit that I was naive about a lot of things. That may absolve my conscience but do I/we who were at the vanguard of the changes have a responsibility to try now and fix up the mess and redress some of the mistakes?

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Laraaji


RCC Fringe – Elder Hall, Sun 17 Mar.

Like many, I was introduced to the concept of ambient music via Brian Eno’s Music For Airports in the late ‘70s. LARAAJI was ‘discovered’ by Eno around that time. Ambient music is about space and silence as much as it is about sound. LARAAJI’s single composition 90 minute concert began slowly with lots of space and silence. Gradually the sonic voids are filled as he builds a wall of soothing sounds using an array of instruments (zither, kalimba – the African thumb piano, gong, brushes, bells and other assorted percussion) and boxes of effects with sounds of nature and multiple looping possibilities.
Musical events like these tend to challenge preconceptions and can lead to fascinating ‘what is music?’ discussions. It’s interesting that in the contemporary and related unsound movement the performer(s) is barely even visible at live events, and there was a similar sense of that here too. It’s meditative music where the agent or performer is of less consequence than normally is the case but it was intriguing to see the orange clad LARAAJI play the various parts of musician, composer, technician, and percussionist. The ‘kid in a candy shop’ analogy came to mind!
It was largely instrumental with some occasional spoken sounds of affirmation – ‘light is everywhere,’ ‘I am consciousness,’ ‘pulsation’ – and vocalised effects that were looped back into mesmerising chants.
Ambient music has the potential to bore or exhilarate – it’s your state of mind that dictates how you receive it. After a period of adjustment I settled in and just let it all wash over me. A unique experience – literally. I’m sure LARAAJI’s live compositions are never played the same way twice.

(This review also published on The Clothesline.)

Friday, March 29, 2019

Ukulele Death Squad – “Fifty Shades of Uke”

Regal Theatre, Sat, March 16th
Arriving on stage looking like the Blues Brothers’ ukulele cousins the Ukulele Death Squad don’t waste any time launching into their peculiar brand of musical freneticism. Three ukes and a saxophone is the line up as they attack their original songs with a dramatic and physical style that exudes and creates energy.
The three ukulele players may be playing little instruments that look like ukes, but such is contemporary sound technology that much of the time they sound equivalent to the standard bass, rhythm and lead guitar line-up of many groups. They do play songs where they actually sound like they’re playing ukulele, but often they occupy this curious space that crosses the lines of many musical boundaries – think Dan Hicks, or Pokey LaFarge. It’s a blend of jazz, swing, gypsy, flamenco and a fast paced shuffle. But whatever it is they’re playing they play it really well. Julian Ferguson on baritone and Ben Roberts are almost in the virtuoso class such is the speed of their playing – all the while hamming it up with comic movement like Split Enz used to do. It’s no mean feat, compelling to watch, and must be totally exhausting to play.
Lots of comic banter spills out between songs – Eamonn Burke on bass and Reuben Legge on sax seems to cop most of it, but they also give plenty of it back. A deliberately out of key sax solo played with great feeling was a really funny moment. Everyone shares responsibility for vocals and many songs feature all four voices in harmony.
The Ukulele Death Squad has created something special and the big crowd was testament to their appeal. They’ve cannily exploited the incredible recent rise in popularity of the ukulele. Someone wrote that the Death Squad may just make the ukulele cool again. Well it’s mission accomplished! I think I might just go and buy one.

(This review also published in The Clothesline.)

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Ralph McTell - Church Of The Trinity (14 March, 2019)

Streets Of London is 50 years old this year, and both the song and its composer are aging gracefully.
Ralph McTell is a Londoner born and bred but learned to play guitar by listening to black American blues and ragtime players like Big Bill Broonzy and Blind Blake, so there’s a lot more in his musical repertoire than just standard folk. Indeed, the breadth and scope of his original material covering several decades is just awesome.
In a wonderful concert he played songs about his childhood (Barges, Mr Connaughton), a mate he met on a building site (the beautiful From Clare To Here), his affinity for Australia – a song written for Billy Connolly (In The Dreamtime), a paean to the poetry of Dylan Thomas, and a dedication to the black musicians he is indebted to in what was my favourite of the night – The Ghost of Robert Johnson. Inevitably there was reference to those who have gone, and After Rain was dedicated to his old friend and musical collaborator Maartin Alcock (ex-Fairport Convention and Jethro Tull). McTell suggests “tears refresh the soul.”
Every song comes with an interesting tale – told many times I’m sure – but still told again with sincerity and enthusiasm for us as if he were telling it for the first time. And the music aside, that has always been one of McTell’s strengths as a performer. He just has that knack of effortlessly bringing you into his world – two hours of chat and songs just flew by.
I could be picky and say I noticed a few occasions where he didn’t quite hit the melody as purely as he might have decades back, but his voice is still strong, deep and rich. His songs are also rich in metaphor (Peppers And Tomatoes), and frequently come with a tinge of melancholy but it’s more the pensive type of melancholy that comes from an acceptance of what life brings rather than sadness. An evening with Ralph McTell is in fact quite life affirming. He certainly refreshed my soul.

(This review also published on The Clothesline.)

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Tim Ferguson – A Fast Life On Wheels

The National Wine Centre – Exhibition Hall, Tue 12 Feb.

Tim Ferguson is fortunate enough to have had a glittering career, and much of it is on film, so this show is peppered with filmed highlights and funny stories of his rise and fall. The fall in Ferguson’s case is, of course, quite literal – it happened when he got out of bed one day and couldn’t stand up.
He begins with tales of his journalist father and his dedication to sedition when covering the Vietnam War, and places much of what he himself has done over the years in that same ‘tradition of sedition’. He’s a natural born story teller, and has lost none of his hard edge. That outrageous politically incorrect bravado from the days of the Doug Anthony Allstars (DAAS) is still there. Among tonight’s unfortunate targets were millennials – maybe it explains why there weren’t many in the audience – and the ABC.
His old mates from the Allstars, especially the now very hairy Paul McDermott also get to be the butt of many good jokes, but it’s important to reflect on just how big those guys were. They even had their own show on British television! Ferguson is older now and acknowledges that he too was once a stupid millennial, and he has the poetry to prove it!
Of course the MS elephant in the room has to be addressed at some stage so frank descriptions and incredibly candid footage lays it all bare for the world to see. Then we move on… just as Tim Ferguson has done. His personality, his track record, his network, and his talent will always ensure that he has satisfying options to distract him from his MS, and he capitalises on them to the max and leads a remarkably full life.
Thoroughly entertaining, irreverent as ever, funny, sad, intelligent – Tim Ferguson is still very much a star.

(This review also posted on The Clothesline.)

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

WOMADelaide 2019 ~ Day 3 Musings

Botanic Park/Tainmuntilla, Sun 10 Mar.
Sona Jobarteh
No music was scheduled until 2pm but hundreds of early birds took advantage of the free yoga sessions and performed mindful stretching routines in front of two of the small stages. I thought I’d check out the new expanded Planet Talks venue. There was a talk advertised on the Magic of Mushrooms! I was pretty sure it was not going to be about tripping around in the Adelaide Hills but I was curious. It was in fact about a ‘mycelial path to save the planet.’ I now know that there are people working to use fungi as a substitute for plastics in the making of construction materials. Fungi can also apparently eat plastics, absorb radiation, and treat illnesses. Who knew? WOMADelaide is not just about music…
But that is why most of us go there, and down on Stage 3 Sona Jobarteh was about to start playing her kora. The 21-stringed African harp is associated with some of the finest WOMADelaide moments over the years and this performance didn’t disappoint. Perhaps the most photogenic performer that has ever graced a WOMADelaide stage, Jobarteh has a soulful husky voice and soon had the audience singing along with her in a west African language. And in what is always a good sign, her band were clearly having a great time playing together.
Sometimes WOMADelaide challenges you with really hard choices. Back at The Planet Talks The First Dog On The Moon was talking about how to survive the impending apocalypse, and the Silk Road Ensemble were on the main stage at the same time. Decisions, decisions… I chose Silk Road. Silk Road are like a travelling promotion for WOMADelaide festivals. A collective of about 60 musicians from all continents, it was established by cellist Yo Yo Ma. This performance featured about 10 members of the collective. It began with a duel between Galician bagpipes and a traditional Chinese horn called the suona. A curious 3 person hand percussion piece followed, and then an eclectic melange of instruments and styles from everywhere and anywhere. This is truly world music.
Two ethnic communities that have had huge impact on the fabric of Australian life have been strangely absent from WOMADelaide over the years – Greeks and Italians – but happily not this year. The Italians were forcefully present in the form of Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino. With no looping or other electronic interference in sight they generated tons of excitement with high energy, high speed playing with accordion, guitar, traditional pipes, bouzouki, and tammorra (like the Irish bodhran). Exhilarating.
Greece was represented by Rembetien, exponents of Rembetika. Rembetika is sometimes referred to as Greek blues. It certainly has a moody feel that one could associate with blues, but the music of Rembetien is more deft and delicate. Nothing too raw here. Lead vocals were shared around, and the impromptu dance group off to the side of the stage grew as the pace got quicker. Soulful and soothing. I started to wander off to the Greek Islands….
Earlier Sharon Shannon (ex-Waterboys) and her band from Ireland entertained a big Foundation stage crowd with largely instrumental music based around the accordion. Her countryman, Alan Kelly, introduced WOMADelaide audiences to this delightful form of Celtic music several WOMADelaides back. But this wasn’t just Celtic music. Some of it was, but much of it had a more modern feel in what the program described as “genre-defying music”. It is hard to place. But strong insistent melodies were a feature in a thoroughly enjoyable set. A cameo performance of Janis Joplin’s Piece Of My Heart from a guest female vocalist was a knockout!
The honour of performing the sundown concert on stage 2 this year went to Morocco’s Maalem Hamid El Kasri. El Kasri’s featured instrument is the guembri, a traditional 3 string bass instrument. Languages spoken by peoples across adjoining borders often sound quite similar. And so it is with music. Tinariwen are another north African group that have played WOMADelaide and their style of ‘desert blues’ sounds very reminiscent of El Kasri and group. Driving bass undercurrents and repetitive rhythms create a hypnotic feel for the chanting vocals to float across. And his percussionists looked wonderful in their robes and dreadlock caps.
It was a shame to leave before the headline act of the day, Angelique Kidjo, but I’d had my fill. In terms of the weather you couldn’t have ordered better for a day at WOMADelaide – just a gentle breeze, overcast, no rain and about mid-twenties. And I found enough of ‘old WOMAD’ to keep me interested all day – ethnic music that stayed close to its roots.
WOMADElaide has changed a great deal – many more Australian acts, and many more amorphous global funk acts save money and attract a different and younger crowd. But as mentioned earlier, it’s not just about music. WOMADelaide is an experience. It’s just as much about ideas – whether in The Planet Talks program, the agitprop stalls that dot the park, or in the informal conversations that take place under the trees and in the bars. There’s the hugely popular Taste The World program and the ever expanding range of food options. It’s about kids playing safely, and enjoying activities just for them; the healing village, the market stalls, and it’s one of the few places where all generations gather to celebrate being alive. It’s still a remarkable event.

(This review also posted on The Clothesline.)