Trucker Slim’s Best Fairy Bread

My Top 10 acts from Port Fairy Folk Festival (March 2014)

As our dirt caked Honda Odyssey glided through Colac, down the smallish hill past Memorial Square and east along Princes Highway, over Barongarook Creek and up past the Otway Gate Motel, which one review, giving it 4 stars, remarks “From the moment I walked in the door I felt comfortable and as if I was old friends with Beryl in reception” I closed my eyes and drifted into moments of fun and revelry from the weekend at the Port Fairy Folk Festival (PFFF) we had left behind.

This is our seventh or eighth PFFF, which means we are still relative newcomers to one of the longest running music festivals in Australia. We know enough after a few visits to know not to rush. You can’t possibly see everything so take your time and see what you want and what you can. Enjoy the town as much as the main compound where the six or so Stages are set up and definitively get a coffee (or green tea) before each day kicks off.

I don’t know how many acts perform at PFFF over the Labour Day long-weekend but its well past the vicinity of lots. How many acts? I didn’t see any of ten acts cited as outstanding across three reviews I read. Not a one. So, for what it’s worth, of the 25 acts I did see, here are my ten outstanding acts from the 2014 PFFF.

10. Love Over Gold: Two performers, US Pieta Brown and Aussie Lucie Thorne don’t so much as kick up a storm as let sunlight stream between the falling autumn leaves sounds of their whispering guitars, leaning on delicate melodies. The mood intensifies when they turn to face each other, guitars forming the bridge to the next verse. It becomes very intimate, sensitive, and almost secretive. Lovely way to begin a mild Saturday morning.

9. David Bridie and The Pills: Bridie’s limping and in pain from a cricket injury and doesn’t look very happy about things. He explains the injury and someone shouts out, “did you win”. From the stage Bridie answers as if he’s talking to a mate at the bar. Then heads into another song, its atmospheric tone alone is worth savouring. Songs like The Deserters sit comfortably with new album, Wake, songs including Shortest Day of the Year and Treason. However 15 Nuns Lie Floating in the South Pacific Sea is my highlight. It is savage and sweet in equal measure. By midway through this set Bridie seems to have forgotten his pain and is shuffling to the beat and getting his buzz on, trading riffs with his new band The Pills. DB with another incarnation and his balance of rock and mood continues to work wonders.

8. Shane Nicholson: The last time I saw SN perform he played as if the shadow of his famous partner was more burden than shade. This time ‘round he’s more relaxed. Playing on Stage One, which must hold over 1000 punters, the set still feels as intimate as a pub, and, at times, a camp-fire. We are way up the back. In fact, we are outside the tent and yet not disconnected. Songs from Rattlin’ Bones hold up the strongest (House That Never Was and the title track, c’mon) but Shane is now a confident performer and this shows on songs like Bad Machines.

 

7. Damian Howard and his Band of Brothers: We caught this act at the Reardon Theatre on Bank St for their CD launch. If you like country rock with an indelible Australian flavour, you’ll love this band. DH’s voice is an instrument in itself, whether taking lead on Neil Young’s Comes A Time or part of the fray on the Eureka inspired, Stand Together As One. This audience member’s tears welled listening to Brand New Start, the Depression era tale of love and footy. The band is tight yet flairy. They are a polished unit but I reckon they’d be even better letting it all hang out.

6. Antonio Serrano: Yes, a harmonica player was one of the highlights. In his hands the humble mouth organ took us into unexpected and electrifying musical dimensions. With keyboards and percussion loops as backing (band?) Serrano delighted us with the length and breadth of this seemingly simple instrument in many different genres. Harmonious is the name of the show (and album) and it was.

5. The Flying Emus: Reformed after 30 years or something, TFE had been a very successful Australian country band from an era just prior to when the genre was commandeered by alt-country. That is, their sound, themes and lyrics are yee-hah, thigh slapping country. And I loved it. This is a band bursting with talent. There was so much talent on that stage that you wondered where it went and why it went away. John Kane, band-leader, explained that they were on extended hiatus. And that was it. Then they launched into hit song after hit. Something Somewhere, Diamond Creek, Auctioneer, Darling Street and This Town (a fav), sounded fresh and as if they were written this year. Fiddle, mandolin and banjo (Ian Simpson and Mike Kerin, what talent) vying for attention and sweeping in and out of each other’s breaks, then stepping back for golden harmonies to take lead.

4. Pokey Lafarge: When they finished their show I declared somewhat ambitiously that I had seen the best of the weekend. As it turns out there was still more to see. But Pokey was good, real good. They aim at a mannered ‘30s swing, ragtime and country style and hit bullseye. Barely in his 30s, dressed impeccably and sounding even better, Pokey and band took us on an eclectic journey of old time sounds, from Goodbye Barcelona to Kentucky Mae and In The Graveyard Now to his theme song, Central Time. However, when he crooned When Did You Leave Heaven I really felt goose bumps.

3. Archie Roach: Where meaning hits the highway. Archie is possibly Australia’s best singer, certainly our best voice. Even while it’s taken its knocks and is showing wear and tear Mr Roach’s voice carries the song and tune and melody in a manner that has you tapping your foot, while wiping a tear while wondering how the hell we could stuff up so royally and for so long. The chorus of Down City Streets (written by Ruby Hunter, Archie’s wife, now sadly departed) makes the point better than I can: “Down city streets I would roam, I had no bed, I had no home, there was nothing that I owned, used my fingers as a comb”. That is social commentary. But like Wilfred Owen’s observations of WW1, it is poetry. Archie’s voice lifts the poetry to a philosophical level. Many performers observed International Women’s Day but nobody came close to making the point of its seriousness as Archie singing Walking Into Doors. I was lucky to hear my fav song from Archie’s latest album, Into The Bloodstream, called Little By Little. It is a soul lifter of a song and when Archie sings “ain’t nobody gunna tear this building down” I swear he nails the definition of the phrase ‘gunna’ like nobody can.

2. Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen: There were two highlights in seeing JC & AMG. First, that I have finally seen him. (I know, I can’t believe it myself). Ian Collard was telling me that he saw Jon Cleary playing solo, many years ago, at the Limerick Arms in South Melbourne. Now that I have seen him play I understand what a highlight that would have been. He is a piano player par excellence. He’s New Orleans through and through. His band is a monster of a unit (and one player was missing, due to illness – god knows how much bigger they would or could have sounded). Oh, and he’s a pom. This “combo R&B is as broad, deep and roiling as the Mississippi River” (as they have been reviewed by Rolling Stone writer, David Frickle) and they were. It was the last act we saw to end the weekend and what a high to go home with. I had funk and soul rhythms kicking around in my head for a few hours following the show.

1. Hanggai: A Chinese/Mongolian punk/folk band! I’ll say it again. A Chinese/Mongolian punk/folk band! There were several moments when they out Pogued The Pogues. Particularly on the drinking song that just got faster and faster as it went on. For an hour we danced and cheered to songs sung in a different tongue (and sometimes as throat singing). The lead singer, wearing a frontless leather jacket, looked imposing as he growled/sung and the band blended rock music instruments with traditional instruments like the morin khuur and tobushuur. As well as sounding same, same, different this also enlarged the sound. You could almost hear Celtic melodies in these (mainly) traditional Mongolian folk songs played as knee slapping dance tunes. Port Fairy has a habit of throwing up surprise acts and this was the biggest surprise of the weekend.

 

 

Comments

  1. Thanks Rick. I often marvel at how you and Sir Les could have such great taste in music, and such appalling taste in footy teams.
    If only Port Fairy coincided with the first week of AFL it would make for a great reason to visit Victoria (thanks to your Sheffield Shield cricket team by the way).
    Archie Roach is on high rotation on my earphones on my way to work. “Down City Streets” is such an uplifting melody with such desperate lyrics.
    I really like the sound of Damian Howard and his band – anyone who plays ‘Comes a Time’ has my ear. Will watch out for them to come to Perth.
    Thanks for the ears up.

  2. Rick, couldn’t agree about Archie: he is without doubt Australia’s finest singer. On his body of work, I mostly find the production a little wanting, but I recently came across some stripped back stuff on RN. It was just Archie and someone playing a mangy guitar. I was driving at the time and had to pull over to savour it. It was totally absorbing and as beautiful a fusion of voice and instrument as I’ve heard.

  3. Dave Nadel says

    Good review Rick. I agreed with much but not all of it. You must have seen something that I missed in Love Over Gold. Their melodies are quite good but there were many women with more interesting voices performing at Port Fairy last week. Their diction is appalling so that I found it hard to catch their words and when I did they were banal and not worth the effort.

    In terms of international acts I was very impressed by Breabach, the Scottish band with the Gaelic singing fiddler. Locally, the reunion of The Flying Emus was great but so was the reunion of Chris Wilson’s Crown of Thorns. I also enjoyed the performance of Deborah Conway and Willie Zygier.

    oh and this weekend I would much rather write about music than footy although I only realised that on Friday night.

  4. Well done Slim. I felt like I was there. How i wish I had been.

  5. Luke Reynolds says

    Great stuff Rick. Will check out the few acts in your top 10 I’m not familiar with. David Bridie is a star, his “Wake” album is superb.
    Beryl from the Otway Gate Motel is a very nice lady.

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