Tuesday, September 05, 2023

The Music of Joni Mitchell - A Case of You (review from 2016)

The Jade Monkey, Wed 17 Feb

It’s fortunate that Deborah Brennan fell in love with the music of Joni Mitchell as a teenager – that’s allowed her a long time to internalise the soul and spirit of the Canadian folk singer. And she’s done a remarkable job of reproducing her individual and idiosyncratic vocal style. Some might criticise the fact that she stayed so close to the original vocal arrangements, but in concert with her capable backing band it felt like their music and it was quite infectious.
Mastering the vocal techniques required to adequately sing Joni Mitchell is one thing, but being able to convey the emotion embodied within the songs is what made this performance so good. By the time Brennan got to You Turn Me On I’m A Radio I had stopped comparing her to Joni Mitchell and was just moved by her own interpretations and depth of feeling. Beautiful to watch and beautiful to listen to.
The show included many of Mitchell’s better known songs. If I had to select one as the show’s highlight it was probably the title track – A Case Of You.
Deborah Brennan was initially attracted to Mitchell because she sang of the tension between wanting to travel and being homesick when away from home (Urge For Going), and because she sang from the perspective of a woman – a rarity back in the male dominated ‘70s.
Kudos to her for not tugging on the emotional heart strings and not mentioning that Joni Mitchell is currently learning to talk again as a result of a massive stroke. It would have been an easy card to play but they didn’t need it. They focused instead on the impressive body of work of an extraordinary artist, and did a fantastic job of conveying that artistry to a contemporary audience. Really well done.

This review also published in The Clothesline.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Vignettes from Long Ago in Israel

Israel has been in the news again today and again for all the wrong reasons.  Today it voted to give the government the right to cancel decisions made by the Supreme Court so the government can override decisions made by the Supreme Court any time it wants. It’s yet another step away from true democracy and towards darkness …

However - I was talking the other day with a friend about things that I remembered from my time in Israel and I thought I really should write them down.  In fact, I’m actually going to speak them out loud and let Word do the transcribing into text – three little vignettes all to do with war and guns.


I was 21 when I first went to Israel. I certainly had absolutely zero experience of war apart from knowing old people who had probably been to war.  But I never really had conversations with anybody who had been to war I had this kind of suicidal attraction to the idea of war; to know more about it. I was working every day with people who were probably 5-8 years older than me - certainly all younger than 30 - and they'd fought in two wars already: the 1967 and 1973 wars in Israel.  I was also working with Henny, a volunteer from Holland, and Henny was the same as me. She was fascinated about what it was like for these people who were our friends by now and colleagues that we worked with every day, and we continually asked them “what was it like to fight in a war?” But they would never talk about it and always fobbed us off and moved the conversation somewhere else.

But I guess we were persistent - stupidly - and one day - I don't remember whether it was me or
Henny who asked the question again – “tell us what it was like to fight a war?” but this time Gilboa  slammed his coffee cup down on the table, sat forward on his chair and said something to the effect of “OK if you want to hear about war shut up and listen. This is what it's like" and for several minutes he ranted about what he'd seen, what he felt, and it was clear that it was a very traumatic experience for him to talk about it and it was so blunt and brutal that Henny and I felt the power of his anger, his obvious disgust, his unwillingness and shame. He talked about a specific occasion somewhere between Israel and Cairo when they were moving through Egyptian villages taking villages one by one as the Egyptian soldiers retreated and they had been told that there were still soldiers in this village. But when they attacked the village, and it was a full-on onslaught, and when everything was quiet the Israeli soldiers went into the village and found that all the men had long gone and all they'd done is killed and terrorised women and children. It was an occasion in my life where I realised it's very unfair and uncool to ask someone who's been in a war to tell you about what it's like because it's so horrific;  it's so traumatic; they should never have to relive what they've seen and done and felt but the damage was done. Henny and I got to hear what it was like to be a soldier in a war and I think we were ashamed that we'd been so persistent in asking for this story from our colleagues in the chicken houses.


Wherever you go in Israel there are guns. It's a fact of life every time a group of people go anywhere there's always an armed guard with the group. I don't mean like a family group going down to the shop but a school group, or kibbutz group, or a group from a club would always have an armed guard with them and so it was even on Shabbat evenings when no work was done and it was normal for us to have what we called a disco on Friday nights.  The volunteers and young Israelis would gather and dance and drink and have fun.  On one of these nights I had this vision burned into my brain of something that was amazing and beautiful. I think the soldier in this story was actually Kobi. I'd become friendly with Kobi so I knew him as a fellow worker and fellow young person on the kibbutz. This night it must have been Kobi's turn for guard duty. The steps coming down into the cellar where we held our disco on Friday nights were quite steep and I was dancing to the music and I noticed this soldier coming down the stairs - a person in uniform and of course he had a gun (probably an Uzi) and as he reached the bottom step and touched the floor of the disco all in one movement he put his gun up against the wall and danced his way off the bottom step into the people milling around on the on the disco floor in full uniform. I don't know how long he stayed - I'm guessing about 10 minutes - and I watched him wondering how long he would stay and how will he actually disconnect from the dancing crowd but he kind of detached himself from the group and went back on guard duty and without saying a word to anybody.  When the time was up he danced back toward the steps, all in one motion picked up his gun and disappeared up the steps as if he’d never been there.  It was graceful, elegant, and responsible and again it was just one of those moments where I thought ‘this is life in Israel’.



Back then, and I'm talking about 1976, 1979, 1981, hitchhiking was very very common in
Israel. All of the soldiers used hitchhiking to get around from base to home to kibbutz to job and it was more or less understood that that's how soldiers got around. They could catch the bus or they could drive themselves but there were always groups of soldiers at major intersections looking for a ride to their destination and it was quite acceptable for young travellers like me to stand near the soldiers and if a car was going to where I was heading or in the right direction I could hop aboard with the soldiers. This happened one day and I'm I found myself in the back of what's a kind of covered ute - just myself and this one soldier. Again probably about my age or maybe a bit older and he's chatting away – where am I from? which kibbutz am I on? what did I think about Israel? The usual kinds of questions but he sensed that something was bothering me.  What it was is that while he was talking to me he was sitting with his legs apart and with his gun - his Uzi -  just kind of supporting him. He's got both his hands on his gun between his legs while he's facing me so his gun’s between me and him. I wasn't in danger; I didn't feel in danger. I just didn't feel very comfortable talking to someone while this gun was right there. His response, without me saying a word, when he realised this was an issue for me, was to throw that gun towards the back of the vehicle loud enough for the gun to clatter when it hit the floor and then he looked at me and said “OK there's no more gun. It's just you and me. Let's talk. “ And we did, and it was a much better freer conversation. I was amazed at how kind of sensitive he was knowing that that's what was preventing us having a decent conversation, and caring enough to want a proper conversation to ditch the gun. I don't remember anything after that. I just remember him throwing the gun away, looking into my eyes saying OK the guns gone let's talk and it's just another moment burned into my memory that I'll take with me to the grave as another example of ‘this was life in Israel.’

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

The Music of Jeff Beck - Review

CC image courtesy of Takahiro Kyono 

His Majesty’s Theatre, 14 July 2023

Jeff Beck’s name was first in the headlines as part of the British pop invasion of the mid 1960s. He was one of three guitarists who journeyed to the rock pantheon via The Yardbirds. The other two were Jimmy page and Eric Clapton. But it was Beck who was voted the best lead guitarist in Britain in a magazine poll from 1966. From there Beck chose to leave pop music behind and delved into more experimental approaches with The Jeff Beck Group and Beck, Bogert and Appici before going solo around 1975. He maintained his high profile in that solo capacity right up until his recent death.

Beck himself said “The electric guitar seemed to be a totally fascinating plank of wood with knobs and switches on it. I just had to have one.” And it was his willingness to experiment with these knobs and switches (and tremolo arm or whammy bar) that set him apart from the rest. Pop songs were never going to cut it for a guy who wanted to stretch the electric guitar to its technical limits – sustain, distortion, reverb, and feedback were all part of the Beck repertoire.

And true to the Beck legacy, The Music of Jeff Beck is in part about acknowledging the electric guitar as an electricity fuelled machine that is capable of an extraordinary array of sounds. We saw something of this when Hendrix shocked the world with his raw and riveting version of the Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock, but Beck has been doing similar things for decades.

The music is mostly loud, edgy, and innovative. It is perhaps something of a mark of respect for Beck that this show featured no less than four different guitarists, all of whom brought their own individual signatures to Beck’s music, rather than just leave it to one guitar player to take on the Herculean task of reproducing Beck’s prowess. This was a smart move. There were occasions when we had all four guitarists playing together – and it was amazing – but mostly they took turns on stage to share their own interpretations of Beck’s guitar wizardry.

Much of the music seemed very free form and jazz like – Beck was not so interested in catchy lyrical runs that might be repeated in something like a verse or chorus. It’s more like classical music where everything is constantly changing. Licks or chord patterns were rarely played the same way twice. The music is always evolving into a different shade, another effect, or another variation of a chord.

I found some of the pieces a bit harsh. Yes – superbly crafted, fascinating compositions, but the choice of tones often seemed too electric; too extreme. There was a shift to some quieter, warmer tones after the interval and the two pieces with just keyboard and guitar were beautiful.

Paul Mason, a self-confessed ‘Jeff Beck nut’ often played the role of ensemble conductor as well as delivering some superb guitar work. James Muller on stage left treated us to some classic lead guitar breaks. And just in case someone might be thinking that all this electric guitar flaunting may be a bit too male or macho, Kathleen Halloran would enter the stage and offer some blistering guitar work of her own.

The band really enjoyed playing with each other. There were lots of knowing smiles and laughs shared between band members and it didn’t matter what configuration was on stage the chemistry was there and the collaboration tight.

Beck spent decades showcasing his work without the need for vocalists so it was a bit surprising that token vocal spots were sprinkled through the show. It did offer some relief to the full on guitar based instrumentals, and Carla Lippis and Nina Ferro tried their best with a tough hand, but they seemed to be more of an afterthought than something that was actually necessary.

I love the fact that Paul Mason was very honest about his love for Beck and his music, and I think we all appreciated his comment that it’s important to remember just how pivotal lead guitar was in the early days of rock music.

Jeff Beck left this earth in January this year, and this show does a great job of showcasing the extraordinary virtuosic legacy that he’s left future generations. Vale Jeff Beck, and thanks from us all.

This review also published on The Clothesline.

Saturday, June 24, 2023

At What Cost - Review


State Theatre Company (in conjunction with Belvoir St Theatre)

Odeon Theatre, Thu 22 June

With the daily focus in the media around the imminent Voice referendum there has never been a more fertile time for discussion of Aboriginal issues and At What Cost is like a hand grenade being thrown into the mix.

Set in Tasmania, Boyd is a newly appointed elder and has been designated the honour of cremating the remains of a distant relative who is being returned to ancestral lands. Boyd is deeply moved by the trust and respect his people have bestowed upon him and he begins preparations for the ceremony.

Enter a pale-skinned ginger-haired woman, Gracie, from elsewhere in Tasmania who is on local Palawa land conducting research into colonial history.  A chance meeting with Boyd’s cousin appears to lead to a blossoming romance – no real problem here. But it turns out Gracie has another reason for being on this land.

Boyd had earlier made it very clear what he thinks of tick-a-boxers who think they can just fill out a form and proclaim themselves to be of Aboriginal descent, and when faced with an interloper in the days leading up the most Important cultural experience of his life he verily explodes. His impassioned ‘where were you’ plea for integrity around the whole question of Aboriginal identity is confronting and powerful.

Circling above the intriguing narrative of this play is the whole question of belonging, of feeling connected – to ancestors, to land, to culture, to beliefs. Why do people feel this almost desperate need to belong to something with a significant past? And why do they get so upset when those feelings of connection are questioned or threatened?

From the moment this play begins with stars appearing in the sky to the beat of a clapstick you feel the pull of nature, the beauty of country. Indoor conversations take place off to the side. The rest of the stage is outdoors under sky and stars.  The scene of the final ceremony is visually striking – quite beautiful.

Luke Carroll’s high energy performance as Boyd drives this show.  The provocative casting of Alex Malone as Gracie was a brave choice but she did a fine job as a foil for Boyd’s passion.

So many issues to unpack here! Get along and see it for yourself.

Written by Nathan Maynard
Directed by Isaac Drandic
Originally performed at Belvoir St Theatre,

This review also published in The Clothesline.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Goodbye Plaka


Photo courtesy of Liana

Athens felt like home. Plaka felt like home. Over the last few days I've tried to remember all the times and different reasons I came to Greece - which always involved Athens.

The first time was 1976 - on my way to Israel. It was one of at least two occasions when I took the Piraeus - Limassol - Haifa ferry. (It's not possible anymore.) So Greece, Athens, is firmly lodged in my memory as a part of my visits to Israel. And they were always occasions of great joy. So Athens basks in the glow of my memories of Israel.

There were several other visits that had nothing to do with Israel. Peter and I came here on route to our eventual destination of Patmos. Hiske and I on route to Sifnos. With Elizabeth on route to Delphi. And then there were a couple of occasions with the Australian Greek truck drivers out of Arnhem. On all these visits there would have been a visit to Plaka  - that’s where I would have stayed.  Probably on Odos Nikis - it sounded very familiar.

When I stood there on my last night on one of those charming narrow streets in Plaka I felt like I was saying goodbye to a considerable chunk of my life. I doubt I'll be back there.

I shed a tear in a moment of sweet sadness as I took in the sight of Plaka one last time. A bouzouki and guitar duo added to the sentimental moment as I bade farewell to a wonderful part of my life. A part that was young, fancy free, and fearless.

It's difficult at this age farewelling old much loved haunts. You know in all likelihood this goodbye is the last. Plaka will go on drawing in travellers of all ages from across the globe. They’ll continue to sip wine beneath the Acropolis and feel part of something ancient and charming. ‘Efcharisto’
Plaka. I've always enjoyed being here.

Monday, May 08, 2023

Prima Facie ~ A Spotlight on Sexual Assault Cases and the Legal System ~ Theatre Review

State Theatre Company
Space Theatre
Fri 5 May, 2023

Given the subject matter and the likelihood that Prima Facie might be a somewhat harrowing experience for the audience, it begins, wisely perhaps, in quite a light vein. It’s not long before Caroline Craig as barrister Tessa is in full stride demonstrating the tricks of the courtroom; the necessary strategies a barrister must employ to ensure they don’t ‘come second’. It’s all about winning after all. And this message is imparted at day one of law school. Court is about performance, has little to do with actual truth, but everything to do with legal truth. It’s an amusing expose that entertains, instructs, and describes those kinds of situations that seem quite funny until it happens to you.

And it happens to Tessa. All of a sudden the boot is on the other foot and she is having to defend herself from the type of jackals she normally works with. The context is rape, and the circumstances inform Tessa’s ‘legal instinct’ that her case is doomed to fail. But she pushes on: driven for a desire for justice, and to hopefully learn that the legal system she has thus far dedicated her life to might be in this instance an instrument of fair play where the actual truth might be revealed, and rightful justice will prevail.

Via an exceptional performance from Caroline Craig we are left in no doubt as to the horrendous experience any woman who pursues a sexual assault charge must endure. Endless invasive questioning about minute and intimately personal details, all dragged out for an entire courtroom to hear; all premised on an almost implicit prejudice from the defence lawyer that she is somehow delusional and making it all up. And in a cruel ironic twist under our laws the perpetrator doesn’t have to take the witness stand – does not have to say one word – and is therefore not called to account for their actions, while the victim of the sexual assault has to suffer public prosecution over and over again. It appears to be an outrageous imbalance.

This is the grander purpose of this fine piece of writing – that the whole legal process around how sexual assault cases are prosecuted needs to change. It is not right that the alleged victim is forced to endure humiliation at the hands of a highly skilled barrister trained to win at all costs. Our adversarial system where a witness can only respond to the questions put to them by the court is not appropriate. They need to be able to tell their side of the story in their own way, in their own time.

Caroline Craig’s performance is magnificent. Ninety minutes plus of superb execution – of a complex text, multiple perspectives, an intense range of emotions – an extraordinary display of humour, passion, and conviction. With the help of some wonderful unobtrusive direction from David Mealor, and an engaging score from Quincy Grant, Prima Facie is a remarkable work well worth seeing.

Prima Facie was written by Suzie Miller.

This review also published on The Clothesline.

Sunday, May 07, 2023

Crete: Impressions


Image courtesy of Rookuzz

Crete feels a bit like its own country. It's big enough to offer plenty of geographical variety; It's rugged, beautiful and, due to the fact that it has been invaded by multiple neighbouring civilizations, offers the visitor a varied legacy.  Roman, Venetian, Byzantine, and Minoan ruins litter the island, but it is the Minoan civilization that Crete is most famous for. Around 2000 BC the Minoans had developed a progressive and sophisticated culture that was the equal of ancient Egypt. It was in fact at its peak slightly earlier than ancient Egypt.

But evidence of the Minoan civilization, most notably the palace at Knossos, did not come to the attention of modern scholars until the late 19th century. I'm sure there were other factors but I imagine the sheer scale of the pyramids has something to do with how much we know about ancient Egypt. The pyramids were unmissable evidence that an advanced civilization had lived in the neighbourhood.  The Minoan civilization’s legacy was harder to find - it had mostly been destroyed or buried by earthquakes and conquerors. At least one earthquake and perhaps a fire destroyed much of the palaces at Knossos and Phaestos. It was not until 1878 that these remarkable centres were discovered. Modern scholars were shocked to learn that there had been another civilization in the Mediterranean region that was as advanced as the Egyptians. And having spent two days walking around Phaestos and Knossos, and perusing the Minoan artefacts on display in Heraklion's archaeological museum I am in no doubt as to the Minoans’ level of sophistication.

If the remaining buildings are not enough (Phaestos is mostly rubble) the volume and quality of materials on display at the archaeological museum are really impressive. Artistic and cultural pursuits were clearly important - the famous Minoan frescoes reveal a society where music, fashion, jewellery, and handicrafts were all an intrinsic part of daily life. There’s also an obvious love of pageantry and of course the athleticism - they invented bull leaping!

If you look at any of the large decorated pots that were found at Knossos you can assume a good many things:


  1. they had the skills to create these pots (urns)
  2. some would have been charged with teaching these skills to others
  3. these pots are often elaborately decorated – a separate skill from actually making the pots
  4. these pots were stored and labelled in magazines implying order, planning, an organisation
  5. they infer that large quantities of produce were produced or gathered for later use -  implying planning and organisation
  6. a rudimentary writing system was used to label and categorise these pots.
  7. cart like devices would have been required to transport these heavy pots.

Finally, from an archaeologist’s perspective - in the museum today I saw a very large pot, about a metre high, that had been reconstructed from broken pieces of pottery like a jigsaw puzzle. What an immense sense of satisfaction one must get from recreating a fine object that is 3 to 4000 years old.

When you visit Greek islands they are normally small enough to get a sense of the whole island. You can extrapolate from an experience, a view, an atmosphere and more or less safely assume that it represents the island as a whole. Because Crete is so much larger you can’t safely do that. It's a question of scale, diversity, and variety. I was asked if I was smitten by Crete and I couldn't say unreservedly yes. I was smitten by parts of Crete. The Venetian harbour at Chania, the humble ruins of Phaestos, the marvellous Roman aqueduct outside of Heraklion and, and the gorgeous village of Archanes for example.

Heraklion however is on the whole a depressing dump:  much of the bland rectangular architecture on the rocky hillsides is typical of many Mediterranean buildings that are far from inspiring. But there are also dwellings both rural and urban that are quite exquisite.

There was one occasion however that says a lot about Crete. On a Sunday evening around dusk, the pedestrian malls of Heraklion were rocking. Full of people out to socialise, parade, shop - the whole vibe was positive, energetic, and infectious. This will be an enduring memory of Crete and Heraklion. As well, sadly, will be the poverty. Just a few streets back from tourist shops and markets it changes to residential streets where life is clearly a struggle for many. Lots of angry graffiti and a general unkempt appearance I suspect tells the deeper story of what life in Crete is really like in 2023.

The Music of Joni Mitchell - A Case of You (review from 2016)

The Jade Monkey, Wed 17 Feb It’s fortunate that Deborah Brennan fell in love with the music of Joni Mitchell as a teenager – that’s allowed ...