Devon Sproule @ Smith’s

Devon Sproule @ Smith’s Alternative, Wed 20th April, 2016
by Abbey

Devon Sproule shares with her audience unfaltering beauty and integrity. An earthy, pure appearance – arising from having known the vastness of the world and the human condition – an unimposing strength and wisdom. Tales of childhood, life and loved ones told between songs, each word carefully articulated to eliminate risk of inaccurate portrayal. Gorgeous lyrics of nature, colour, texture and family shared atop a raw yet faultless, clear and ranging vocal. Her guitar or a cappella snapping and stomping accompaniments adding seamlessly to the already rich layers of story and imagery. There are no gimmicks, loop machines, makeup or ego here, just pure and raw beauty and integrity.

Mother Jack @ Smith’s

Mother Jack @ Smith’s, 15th Dec, 2015
by James Kent

After a self-imposed sojourn from the glitz and glamour of the music review industry I should have known it was only a matter of time before she lured me back with her siren song. In this particular instance though, the siren was Mother Jack conducting a pre-set sound check, and I steered myself to the nearest couch (which was decidedly unrocky) so that I could write a Homerically epic review. First though, Fossil Rabbit hippity-hopped his way onto the stage for a short set of atmospheric guitar looping. Now, reviewing instrumental atmospherics and not sounding like a twat is rather difficult, but if soaring loops and musical journeys in a similar vein to Ruben Ingall or The Books is your thing, then Fossil Rabbit is your guy.

After a somewhat intriguing sound check I was looking forward to Mother Jack; and they certainly didn’t disappoint. Clearly influenced by the likes of Björk and Emiliana Torrini, Mother Jack practically ooze Scandinavian cool, with vocal gymnastics that would put Björk to shame and a unique mix of loops and vocal effects creating a remarkably full sound for two musicians and a loop pedal well worth a download.

Ghosts in the Scheme

Ghosts of the Scheme. Canberra Theatre. Written and directed by Scott Rankin, starring Lex Marinos, Bruce Myles, Anne Grigg with music by Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen. Review by Stephen Harrison.


1) A large scale systematic plan or arrangement for attaining some particular object or putting an idea into effect.

2) Make plans, especially in a devious way or with intent to do something illegal or wrong.

Cooma has always been seen, for some people of Canberra, as a weird and very cold place- it’s isolation making it even weirder and colder. You just know something strange is happening in some houses there. In some ways this is quite close to how it is, but within that there are the people that call Cooma home, who are as varied and mixed and strange and nice and nasty and cranky and problematic and loving and smiling as humans can be.

Ghosts of the Scheme is set historically, the backdrop being the Snowy Mountains Scheme of the 50’s and 60’s, and personally, focussing on three Cooma residents who happen to be friends and lovers: a kind of triangle of entanglement.

It is a play essentially about Memory, of time passing- the set enhancing this beautifully: veils and overlays of screens with dappled films projected in the fore and backgrounds. A few Beckett-like snow gums and multi-levelled walkways further enriching the interweaving of the personal and historical. Cooma is one of those places that tragedy seems to go hand-in-hand with everyday life. Or so it seems- It’s also a place where things happen slowly, and that passage of time, of memories and half remembered loves and lovers and car crashes and absent fathers and addictions and selfish mothers and all the things that make up our lives, are all here, in Ghosts in the Scheme.

Theatre is an art form that uses all the arts in great combination, from writing to sculpture and installation, light and shade, acting etc. But it is the sound of this play that really sets the ongoing mournful mood of the work: the disconnected echoing soundscape of voices and effects, coupled with the brilliant melancholic songs and music. Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen are maestros; these guys are seasoned performers, each one comfortable, confident, having a profound affinity with their instruments. They are a joy to listen to anytime, and the theatre experience is tailor-made for their skills.

Scott Rankin has skilfully combined visuals and sound with fantastic performances from the cast: it can’t have been easy to distil what was close to two years of research into a coherent and enjoyable experience for viewers. Sometimes research and story-gathering can shift the original intentions of what the production was meant to be, and transform it into another beast altogether. Harnessing this beast and asserting a theatre ascetic is the Directors task, and Ghosts in the Scheme fully delivers. The actors do a fine job, combining humour and playfulness with the tragedies and miscommunications that befall them. This is powerful, because all the things that happen to these three characters have happened to us, and the play becomes a Humanist play.

BighART theatre does a great job in bringing art closer to ordinary people. They work in communities to talk and engage, to listen, learn and adapt the stories that come from these people and transform the narratives into powerful theatre works. I think grass-roots projects such as these are wonderful, and should be awarded ongoing funding- they really can transform lives. Especially in weird and cold places like Cooma.


OXJAM at The Polo. Friday 21st, Polish White Eagle Club
by Little Dove

Once again The Canberra Musicians Club and The Polo pool their talents and create a party with a cracking line-up of musos. And this one was indeed extra special. OXJAM gigs were organised around Australia during August to raise funds for (duh) Oxfam and their fight against world poverty. Canberra represented well. The crowd were, as is my experience of the CMC/Polo combo, culturally and age diverse. And refreshingly, so was the music.

The programme kicked off with some Canberra stalwarts of indo-jazz who have combined in recent years to become Mohona. It was a pleasure to enter the room to the Bengali sounds of multi instrumentalists Nitya, Andrew and Robin. And they played to an attentive audience. My friend mentioned that Mohona sometimes cover The Face of Love by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Eddie Vedder. Sure enough after they announced their last song, they began that tune and led the room to that place of blissful listening where you feel a crescendo build in your belly before the rise of the sound. It was beautiful only…. Mr McRae cut them off just a few minutes in and they were unable to complete the song. I saw him enter the room, walk on stage and whisper in Robin’s ear, and I was like No, no, Nigel please don’t, there’s magic happening here. But he did. And they stopped. I’ll be keeping ears pricked for the chance to hear the song in its entirety. Of course, Nigel was just making necessary space for the many other acts to follow.

The evening seemed to flow well and conversation flourished in the moments between musical highlights.

The MC was late, his enthusiasm was low and he lacked his usual pizazz. He was actually the main reason that I attended so this was disappointing. But I guess everyone has off days.

Our first information about the Oxjam cause actually came from The Blue Angel and Dr Wiedemann who spoke knowledgeably at the start of their set. The pair brought their usual quirky presence. I really appreciate the risks that these two take in creating something truly unique. The commitment to their dark clown Weimar characters is a refreshing injection into any program. The vocals in each song are drawn and lengthy however, and as someone that struggles to listen to words for too long, I find this challenging. I would like to hear more space between words. But I certainly can’t get enough of the Blue Angel tap dancing.

The Cyrenes Choir of Women was committed in their performance and evidently passionate for the cause.  “We are who we are because of each other – spread that secret” was a lovely sentiment spoken by their leader. That general feeling of love and respect seemed to carry through their set and the room. Plus they did a sing-a-long with the crowd, which is always a winner. Generally a fan of thoughtful costuming, I liked the addition of the blue scarves they each wore.

CHOIR were sensational with their harmonies and enthusiasm. It was great to see a boy girl mix on the stage and everyone carrying their own unique style. I loved their Stiff Gins cover and the sharing of personal stories. Like how the following day a choir member was getting married and that they would all sing at the wedding. It was sweet, and showed the special unity that is essential in a good choir.

Teddy Conrick brought us home with super cool guitar slapping and soulful acoustic stylings. His gravelly vocals were gorgeous afloat his original songs. I really enjoyed hearing this dude for the first time.

The People I Love brought the fresh flavor of a New Orleans kinda Dixieland sound. With a groove and a swagger like carefree days on the Mississippi, Emma Dryden was a Diva O’naturale. And what would a major event in the Berra be, without the musical accompaniment of Mr Cam Smith on trumpet. The whole band was sensational and prepped us well for the finale.

Zambezi Sound System got the whole crowd jumping. If anyone else was lacking enthusiasm, these guys made up for it. Their big smiles, expansive hearts, reggae beats and killer vocals were a perfect fit for Oxjam.

What a combo. What a night. I love how this town bands together (excuse the pun). Yay Oxjam.

Art For Charity

Art for Charity, Polish Club, Canberra. Sat 22nd Aug, 2015

Dear Editor,

The following is my ‘graft’ review of the Art for Charity event at the Polish Club held on Saturday the 22nd of August.

Being a visitor to Canberra, I was unacquainted with the local arts & music scene, so I attended the Art for Charity event at ‘the Polo’ with great interest.

The poetry portion of the night was beginning when I arrived. The first performer, Zoe Anderson, seemed unassuming when she first stood up, but when she spoke her words flowed with a way of drawing you in to the narrative that she was creating.

Judging from his introduction Andrew Galan, who followed, is a local scene institution. The highlights of his set were his riff piece on carpets and the emotionally engaging ‘Enjoying rides in police cars’.

Melinda Smith and Alison Plevey’s poetry and dance collaboration was an interesting combination which I felt gelled together best with the final piece, ‘Red Language’. The use of a parallel dance vocabulary to the lyric content of the poem created something that was greater than the sum of its parts.

The presentation and documentary about the Cisarua learning centre brought to light the work being done by some compassionate people and it was uplifting to hear their story, which was aptly described as “humans helping humans” by Owen Campbell who took the stage afterward. Looking every bit the part, he laid down a slide guitar groove that sounded like there was more than just one player up there.

It was an impressive performance that had a small group at the front of the hall up and dancing along. For me his east/west fusion track ‘Hindu Blues’ stood out among a set full of enjoyable songs, enough so that I was moved to buy one his CDs on my way out.

If this collection of performers is an indication of what Canberra has to offer I will eagerly check out what else I can next time I am in town. Especially if they are at this venue, because that Polish beer was pretty good too.

Tarquin Carlin

Mikelangelo, Cave – Waits – Cohen

Mikelangelo, Cave –  Waits – Cohen. Polish White Eagle, Sunday 16th Aug, 2015
by Stephen Harrison

I’m always in awe of performers. The ability and confidence to get up in front of a crowd of people and belt out songs, not knowing how the audience is going to react, I find extraordinary. Mikelangelo is one such performer: absolutely extraordinary.

To start off: he looks good, snappy suit (reminiscent of Elvis on black and white TV), coif like a wave, and a great mover. Then there’s the voice. I must admit I’m partial to the deep voices from male singers- not a big fan of falsettos. Mikel’s is a deep, rich, chocolaty baritone. The songs he was singing at the Polish club were a great medley of Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, and Australian Nick Cave. Three of my favourite acts – I never miss the chance to see Mr. Cave, in all his incantations from Bad Seeds to Grinderman and solo stuff, it’s all good. I’d jump at the chance to see the others, too – especially Tom Waits, who hasn’t been to Australia since the seventies (I hear). And Waits has a wonderful version of our Waltzing Matilda, referencing our blood and whisky soaked past, inspired by his visit here: so he should come back.

Like Mikelangelo, these men are brilliant performers, and consummate song writers. It’s so good to hear old tunes like Sad Waters by Cave again – these melancholy old songs really endure. Like an idiot, I didn’t bring a pen and paper to note more songs down, but suffice it to say a nice balance of heartfelt and up beat songs were sung. There’s been a few tragic deaths of artists of late, and Mikelangelo made reference to them, tying them into songs, and giving them added poignancy.

Musicians such as Mikelangelo are who we have in our midst, and we should be way supportive of this world-class act. When you see him, buy a CD, or a vinyl: this ensures we’ll get to see him again. Altogether a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining evening.

State of the Local Music Venues Report 2015

Fifteen years of participating in the local music scene has been a frequently dispiriting vocation, with decent venues coming and going with a frequency quite unseemly and bands leaving for greener pastures with depressing regularity. So it is a rare and great pleasure to relate that, in my humble opinion, the local music scene has seldom been in ruder health, at least in terms of number and diversity of venues to play in.

The City

The Phoenix, which has always been my personal favourite, has been having a rough patch what with the fire and all, but has maintained its status as Canberra’s best and most interesting small venue and will soon redouble itself with the promise of expanding their program of entertainment to far more than the current three nights of music, a weekly quiz and monthly poetry slam. Natural tendency: non-judgemental (28) (booking policy)

Transit Bar, after trying and failing to be a decent venue for many years, finally put some effort into a well proportioned stage and ameliorating some of the extraordinary echoes a concrete cavern will commonly produce and now makes the list. Good on them, though I still hear complaints from musos and punters alike about less than perfect, more than ear splitting sorta mixes. Still, some local bands are playing there and having an alright time so long may they continue. Natural tendency: JJJ (22)

Magpies has been a thing about to happen for a long time but now seems to be achieving the regularity of activity and consistency of organisation and promotion required to make the grade. Joel Cabban is doing well at the helm and has a good pair of ears which helps a lot. Magpies may well become that mid-to-large size room Canberra has been lacking for quite a while. Natural tendency: heavy (23)

Smith’s? Well we’ll see. Hopefully it’ll fill an important niche in the boutique cafe/venue/hotbed of revolution space. Natural tendency: Cabaret Voltaire (35)

Hippo Bar is tiny and doesn’t really prioritise live music but is doing regular jazz gigs on Wednesdays these days. Natural tendency: pretentious (25)

The ANU Food Co-op is what a sound guy would kindly call a ‘difficult room’, but the dozens of scruffy cross-legged pastafarian naifs that crowd in monthly for a bowl of vegie soup and an eclectic Acoustic Soup line-up don’t seem to mind. Natural tendency: flour power (19)

ANU Bar has been a good venue in the past and is useful for some large touring gigs, but it’s value to the local scene has been low to zero for many years. Recently introduced, however, is Groovin’ the ANU (actually on tonight), a monthly local music night where the bar (and erstwhile Greenroom proprietor Garry Peadon) waive all fees, entry is free, beers are $3 and four local acts can play for nothing. Better than nuthin’ I guess. Natural tendency: various (?)

The Inner North

With the demise of Tilley’s as a venue, the Front has been the only commercial venue of note in the inner north for a while, and that only by the skin of its tooth, it being tiny, cramped and with barely adequate audio reinforcement. Now supplying real food, it’s got character, lots of comfortable lounges and a nice sunny veranda. Natural tendency: quinoa (29)

For many years a bikie blues bar, the Old Canberra Inn has recently changed hands and the new owners are taking steps to relaunch the joint for a broader demographic. Where will all the bogans go now? I heard a rumour they’re going to soundproof the games room and equip it for bands which makes sense. Another birdy told me they were quite happy to pay reasonable money for bands and production at their relaunch a few weeks ago, which went very well by all accounts. Natural tendency: we shall see (?)

In Turner, through the agency of the CMC, there are the four members of the Westbank Cultural Precinct:

*The newly re-opened Polish Club, about to crank out regular Friday nights for locals and touring acts. Natural tendency: Zywiec! (32)

*The Croatian Club available for acts able to fill a 500+ room. Natural tendency: beer barn

*Le Alliance Francaise, which is almost always overlooked but is quite a nice room for a small show: Natural tendency: BCBG

*The Turner Bowls is still open to gigs if bands want to use it. A good 150 room with a noisy kitchen behind the stage but soon to be remodelled. Natural tendency: rugger bugger

The inner north is also blessed by our house which hosts regular Backanalias, Bang! Bang! Bangs! and house concerts throughout the year. Natural tendency: boozy (33)

And in the near future, inner northians will be able to see what a couple of million in renovations has produced at the recently dubbed Music Hub at the Ainslie Arts Centre. With renovations of the Ralph Wilson and Bogong Theatres also nearly complete, AGAC, as it’s becoming affectionately known, could, just maybe, become a useful venue for local music. Natural tendency: hopefully not snooty


Belco now has two venues, with a possible third on the horizon. The Basement, long the natural habitat of the heavy/metal/punk end of Canberra’s music jungle, has had a fairly recent change of management and may be attempting a transition of clientele, a la the OCI. I do hear they’ve put thought and energy into making it a better venue with appropriate p.a. equipment and a second more intimate band room. Natural tendency: in transition (29)

And self-described ‘cocktail bar’ La De Da seems to have successfully staked a claim on Emu Bank, putting on fairly regular nights with a few bands/dj’s and attracting a presumably local crowd of young things. Natural tendency: aspirational (22)

The recent acquisition of the Pot Belly Bar by a quartet of youngish Canberran professionals lends itself to Belconnen having an almost unprecedented (at least in this century) three music venues at the one time. Personally I think they should give the place a good once over, lighten it up, reduce the size of the bar and forty or so other things I thought of while considering whether to buy the Pot. Natural tendency: TBA

Northside also has The Abbey, of which I have written recently, and whose hopes of being a useful part of the local venue scene lie chiefly with the chance of the tramline going right past, in which case, whole new ballgame. Natural tendency: wedding bells


Beyond Q is an odd but loveable little venue in a 2nd hand bookshop in a basement under the Curtin Shops. Approximately 12 people can squeeze into its ornate little music room. They seem to have something on most Saturdays and Sundays at various times of the day and night and have a cafe, often with liquor permit. Natural tendency: intimate

The Harmonie German Club in Narrabundah might be the Southside’s Polish Club (capacity 300/65). Home to the Blues Society’s monthly jam, they have regular Friday gigs, with a strong tendency towards country and blues, and a smattering of other events, Oktobfest of course, a choir and market day (not unlike the Polo’s Polish Sausage Sale).

A Bite to Eat is largely just a suburban eatery but they used to regularly run a Sunday afternoon (5-7) gig every week for quite a few years (a bit intermittent at present) and it seemed to draw a reasonable crowd. I believe bands had to bring and operate their own p.a. Natural tendency: family outing

Ojo’s Cafe at the Hyperdome seems to do music occasionally. I have no real data.

PJ’s Tuggeranong finally got rid of the bikies but has yet to live up to the occasional promise of it becoming a venue of any note. The main infrastructure, excluding a ready audience, is in place however.

So in total we are talking 20+ venues throughout town, each with their own character, each sprinkling their particular ordure into Canberra’s collective musical cesspit. We may have overlooked some places. Apologies if so. Please let us know if there’s a venue for original contemporary music we’re unaware of.

The Constellation of Mikelangelo

MIKELANGELO – The Balkan Elvis – Live and Intimate Tour. Polish Club, Saturday 9th May, 2015
by Little Dove 

Mikelangelo's Balkan Elvis

Mikelangelo’s Balkan Elvis. Image by a Lizard’s View

If you like music and you live in Canberra, chances are you know the slick black quiff, hip shaking, heavy breath and deep croon that signify our very own multi talented Mikelangelo. Though he has not been a local for sometime, his consistent gigs here are a tribute to his love of the capital “Canberra, you are beautiful. You’ve got it all going on.” Ever the inventor, tonight he introduces us to Eastern Bloc Rock from his alter ego Johnny Presley AKA The Balkan Elvis. This is the first music gig at the Polish Club since reopening it’s doors after an 18 month hiatus. And it does not disappoint.

In this intimate cabaret style show, Johnny regales tales majestic of a meagre adolescence in Eastern Europe, and his rise to fame in the shadow of his “twin from the Americas”. He and a bunch of friends first saw Elvis when they snuck across town to peek through a window to look at some crazy thing they had heard about – the television. Johnny was hooked on King Creole from the moment he saw him thrusting on the tiny screen.

Mikelangelo cleverly interweaves local references within the stories, and we feel special to be noted. He is funny and self deprecating. One moment when looking theatrically lost as to why we were all laughing, he began a fake laugh, saying in his thick Dubrovnic drawl “I hear you laughing now. And I am laughing too. So I am laughing with you”. It was sweet and funny.

The way he looks is extraordinary, and I often find myself a little star struck in his very large presence and arching eyebrows. From his shiny stripey suit, to his intense stare, to his red suede shoes, this man bedazzles.

And then there’s the music. For the first twenty minutes I can barely move my eyes off his guitar and it’s wielding hands. I am generally entranced and astounded by any musician when they play well. The rolling, tapping, plucking, banging, blowing. It’s frickin amazing. Mikelangelo’s guitar swings and sways in unison like a body part as he moves in ownership of the stage.

His clever reinterpretations of Elvis songs are full of humour and they connect appropriately with the story. His delivery is consistently strong and the air is thick with attention to the breath dense and at times almost operatic strain. Whilst paying respect to The King, Mikelangelo brings his own unique flavour. His rendition of ‘Love Me Tender’ on the squeezebox is beautiful.

Midway through the show he is joined on stage for ‘Viva Dubrovnic’! by some of the talented crew from local bands Brass Knuckle and Moochers Inc. John Gosling on trombone; Thomas Manley on sax; Tim bowyer and Cameron Smith on trumpet; David Abkiewicz on sousaphone; Mark Levers on drums. Their synchronicity is impressive and their sounds bombastic. Man do these guys get around. They play all over town ALL THE TIME and are relentless in their commitment to not only making their own music, but to supporting others. Without rehearsal, they and our serenader are seamless in their collaboration. Mikelangelo is generous in his support as well, shimmying his way around the stage to allow the band their own attention. And we gave it eagerly.

The show ends with a sing-along to ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’ followed by a foot stomping encore of ‘Hound Dog’. And finally a kiss good night for every audience member from Mikelangelo upon exit.

“I’m gonna become a big star. I’m gonna become a constellation”. Indeed.

The Kristabelle’s Review

Kristabelle and The Southern Jubilee Ringers @ Turner Bowls. 6th Mar, 2015
by Chenoeh Miller

Her smooth deep vocals are highlighted by a killer ensemble and a knock out pair of boots, but the crowd is small and the sound is low.

The Turner Bowls club is a favourite local venue. No, really, what’s not to like? There’s a pool table, cheap drinks, a dollhouse stage, the gorgeous CMC welcoming committee and a regular line up of some of the best bands in town. So I was stunned on this particular evening upon my 9pm arrival, to find a mere 23 people scattered around the rounded tables. Perhaps there was another party that night that I didn’t know of. But I wasn’t about to let the vacant space deter me from enjoying a rare parenting free night, toe tapping to one of my favourite recent musical finds. As self nominated die hard fans, my friends and I quickly nicknamed them ‘The Kristabelle’s’.

Within minutes they arrive on stage, each with a sunshine gaze and singin’ of springtime on the range today. I am instantly reminded of the UK band Kitty, Daisy and Lewis. Only these folk are less dirty, less rockabilly and more the pure country sound that I love. Like Patsy Cline and Dolly Parton.

Cary Grant and Beatie Bow on guitars, Clint Eastwood (circa 1965) on double bass and the divine sunshine that is Alice in Wonderland* on violin and banjo with her enviable blue boots. Alice and Beatie wear classic country matchy dresses. They are all heart and poise; their harmony and teeth exquisite in every way.

Cary is smooth with his supportive and constant presence. His winning smile tells me that he loves being here. And his upward facing steel string clangs superb as he expertly manoeuvres central focus from himself to his adoring Belles.

Clint’s relentless energy keeps us enthralled despite the empty space in the room. His legitimate banditry reaches lovely peaks when he tells inter song tales with Beatie.

I want to hear them more. Alas the sound is low. My friend and I discuss who will ask the sound guy to turn it up. She does, to not much avail. The instruments and vocals remain low. The few of us there would have taken a cue from the volume to dance but the softness kept us in our seats.

I first saw this group at a Backyard Bachanalia some weeks before when their energy was much bigger – perhaps incurred by the bigger crowd. Evidently these still sitting few were given a lesser joy on this round.

I love this group, but I crave their possibility and a more consistent energy. Still, they are my favourite local band at the moment and I can’t wait to see them again.

*names changed for no particular reason.
They are in fact: Cary – Kevin Bradley; Beatie – Jacqueline Bradley; Clint – Ed Radclyffe
And Alice – Krista Schmeling
Together they are Kristabelle and the Southern Jubilee Ringers

CMC Wednesday @ Smiths, 12 Nov 2014

Obscura Hail, Tom Woodward, Rueben Ingall
by James Kent

As one of only a few electronic artists in Canberra, and the only one I see playing around the traps regularly, Reuben Ingall is a lone wolf, both in the Canberra music scene and on stage. Producing an intriguing mix of shoegazing soundscapes, pensive beats, and experimental electronic glitch guitar, Ingall’s music isn’t for everyone; but sitting there I couldn’t help but be enveloped by the wall of sound coming from the host of electronic toys he had up on stage; one of which I should add, was a hot pink hello kitty themed electric guitar. To my mind at least, Ingall seems to be aiming for the genre of synth looping electronica brought to the edges of mainstream by American bands like the Books, or locally by Sydney producers like Seekae and Stackhat. This is a venture not entirely without success, particularly if you’re listening along on Bandcamp. In person however, I can’t help but feel there’s something missing, whether it’s an extra layer of sound, an accompanying band member, or even just the confidence to make full use of his voice, which is undeniably suited to the genre he calls home.

After a somewhat sombre beginning to the evening, there was a mild sense of auditory whiplash as Tom Woodward took to the stage, bringing his unique brand of swampy white guy roots with him. Rumoured to make his living purely off the back of gigs and busking, Tom is clearly a talented musician, with a dextrously plucky style of guitar and a personal charm that had me hooked from the get go, easily pulling the audience out of their electronica induced funk and into a frame of mind where boot tapping was a compulsory pleasure.

When Obscura Hail first took to the stage, clad from head to toe in black and with a mop of hair that lent him more than a passing resemblance to Cousin Itt of the Adams family, he cut an incongruously gothic figure. And I Say incongruous, because he turned out to sing almost Ben Lee-esque saccharine folk, complete with a love song dedicated to his mum, and, in a final act of mindfuckery, a cover of Kiss Me, by Sixpence None the Richer. Despite the fact that he disappeared behind a curtain of hair barely two songs into his set, Hail was an unexpected pleasure, with a bountiful set list of tracks and a vibe that reminded me strongly of The Shins.

Smith’s Alternative – 8th Oct, 2014

CMC Wednesday @ Smith’s – Darling Mermaid Darlings, Dylan Hekimian,  Alex and Joel
by James Kent

I always feel sorry for the bands that play Smiths on acoustic soup night, because for one night a month the food coop is turned into a veritable black hole that sucks in all the bearded hipster types for miles around, leaving venues like Smiths sadly bereft of both punters and ironically moustachioed arguments over which Jack Kerouac poem is the best (trick question! The answer is always Howl). This is most unfortunate because it means little heard gems like Darling Mermaid Darlings remain hidden. A side project of Pocket Fox lead vocalist Luciana Harrison, DMD heads in a more sultry direction than pocket fox, with songs like On the Prowl and Like a Woman positively dripping with sex appeal and demonstrating vocal and musical talent which can sometimes be lost amongst the Pocket Fox hubhub.

Ever the judgemental type, when Dylan Hekimian took to the stage after DMD in all his dreadlocked and industrially pierced glory I pegged him as one of those barefooted john butler rip-offs who corners you at a party and won’t (for the love of god) shut up about their life changing acid trip and burning man last year. Fortunately for all of us, this was a judgement proven wrong fairly quickly, not leastwise because he was wearing shoes. Dylan is easily the most talented percussive guitarist I’ve seen live, with a unique voice and style that’s well suited to the musical direction he’s heading in. My only possible bone to pick is that sometimes the percussive element can distract from the fact that he is clearly an excellent guitarist of the regular variety as well, and certainly one I’d be happy to see again.

The final act of the evening was the ever understated Alex and Joel, a creatively named local guitar/cello duo who, while not making a name for themselves in a literal sense, certainly seem to be doing so in a figurative sense, with a flawless combination of cello and Xavier Rudd style guitar, which definitely isn’t harmed by the fact that they could also be joint mayors of Babe-town (Disclaimer: not a real town). Try as I might, I can’t find a bad thing to say about these guys, because apparently distractingly good looking doesn’t count, and I sure as hell can’t fault their music, with their song I’ll be Fine one of my favourites in particular. With an EP release date set for the 21st of November this year, this is definitely a band worth checking out.

Devon Sproule et al @ Smiths

Devon Sproule, The Burley Griffin, Dirt Baby @ Smiths, Wed 17th Sep, 2014
by James Kent

I watched Dirt Baby Feat. The Blue Angel take to the Smiths stage with interest, as half (yes only half) were dressed in a way that implied Mojo Juju/Amanda Palmer style cabaret was about to get underway, much to the confusion of the megadeth wearing metal head playing guitar up the back. Occasionally lyrically interesting, and with glimpses of stage presence from the corseted top hat wearing leading lady, this is a band that could go places if only they tightened their sound and got the front woman a less ridiculous moniker/found her the gravitas to pull it off.

After a somewhat lacklustre start to the evening, I was quite looking forward to the Burley Griffin; a local Canberra band I can only hope is named after a muscular mythical creature. Having had the pleasure of seeing them on a few occasions before, its with only the smallest smidgeon of shame that I confess that the Burley Griffin are to blame for my now regular bouts of ‘”loud enough to get judgemental stares at intersections” car singing. While the performance itself seemed a little rushed (did someone forget to pee before going on stage?), generally speaking, the Burley Griffin are hard not to enjoy, with a strong clear vocals, excellent musicianship, and lyrics that hit you right in the feels. A must have for any Darren Hanlon fans and folkwits in general.

Finishing the night on a high note, it is perhaps apt that Devon Sproule’s first song was dedicated to all the people she had met who were effortlessly successful, because this is a label easily applicable to Sproule herself; in the midst of an international tour off the back of a successful stint in Europe that included a spot performing on Jools Holland. Raised in Virginia and currently based in Texas, there’s an occasional hint of country drawl that combines well with Sproule’s unique ability to express vulnerability while still clearly having an iron gripped control over every waver. When the country sounds fade, what’s left is a sweet and pure voice that cuts to the core.

Little Stevies Come to Town

The Little Stevies and Pocket Fox @ Smiths Alternative, Sat 30th Aug, 2014
by James Kent

Born out of the drunken backyard jam sessions of summers past, it will no doubt be a source of much boasting to my grandchildren that I was there for Pocket Fox’s first ever gig at the Pot Belly, back before it was a frogurt stand/bakery/thai massage parlour, or whatever its new form will be.

I can honestly say its been a thrill watching Pocket Fox develop from lecherous backyard drunkards who would get the police called on them for disturbing the adjacent yuppie apartments, to lecherous backyard drunkards who now play on stages and hardly ever get the police called on them. The irrepressibly fun spirit of the pocket fox sound makes listening to their music and not dancing a task not dissimilar in difficulty level to that of sitting still after one has discovered an angry scorpion nesting in ones trousers (a difficult task I assure you). Their tight musical ability is combined with an aesthetic brand of lyricism that makes them compulsory viewing for any Canberra folkheads, and excellent company for the night’s main attraction, the Little Stevies

After arriving (fashionably?) late, I was surprised to find Smiths Alternative packed tight with people who, clearly having heard the Little Stevies previously, were all far cooler than I am. Within the first minute of the Little Stevies’ set I knew I was in a spot of bother, because it’s virtually impossible for me to enjoy a band as much as I enjoyed the Little Stevies, without saddling up my metaphorical horse and galloping full pelt towards cliché town and its adjoining neighbour, boring-high-profile-comparison…ville. Musically excellent, and with vocal harmonies so perfect some sort of spooky sisterly psychic link seems likely, it was impossible not to sing along (which was awkward, because I didn’t know any of the words). The Little Stevies are a truly addictive listening experience that had this reviewer transfixed until it was time to cheer for an encore. I can only say to look them up and thank me later.

Zambezi Sounds @ Smiths

Zambezi Sounds @ Smiths Alternative, Friday 11th July, 2014
by Jacqui Symonds

Let’s just say the Zimbabwean boys and their young drummer (who grimaced somewhat humorously when the gents out front lamented that they were getting old) delivered one hell of a dance fest. Given the energy of the performers, ‘old’ was the last impression they gave! A real mixed crowd were there, many Africans of course, to see the three gents and their toe-tapping blend of Zimbabwean sounds that got everyone dancing. Despite their percussionist turning up late, prompting some rather amusing African-style fables to fill the time, the performance was a feel good rhythmic adventure.  Us Aussies naturally can’t dance, but we sure gave it a good shot. I’ll be going to their next show for sure.

Gender Blender Ball

Gender Blender Ball, Turner Bowlo, Fri 23rd May, 2014
by L Beau

A night of fun and ambiguities that almost hit the mark. It wasn’t clear why Prom put on a cross-dressing concert but they did, and it was a refreshing and adventurous splash on the CMC calendar. It was an interesting and relaxing exercise to look around the room and not be sure who was what gender. It made for a feeling of candid fun in the crowd. I only wish the bands had connected with the audience as well as we connected with each other. Here they are in reverse order…

Danny Wild closed the night with a DJ set full of pumping danceable tunes. Great song selection and tight mixing, but he looked like he didn’t enjoy being on stage. It’s possible the small crowd wasn’t enough fuel to get him fired up, but it still would’ve been nice to see him enjoy himself.

Prom is made up of some of Canberra’s best musicians. Each individually respected and ridiculously talented. And the music they make together is tight, punchy and passionate. But there was something missing. And that was a connection between the lead singer (Nick Delatovic) and the audience. He spent most of the time staring intensely into the distance and striking thought-out poses, instead of looking at us and sharing himself and the music. It felt like there was some intention to the music that we weren’t getting. A through-story or premise that went over our heads. Maybe if we listened to every lyric we could decode it, but if that’s a necessity then you’ve lost most of your audience. Delatovic is a jaw-droopingly good lyricist, but his considered cleverness can get in the way of catchiness and connection.

Pocket Fox are adorable. And over the last couple of years they’ve added to their adorable-ness a big heaping of musical excellent-ness. Their sweet music has become more complex and varied, and in this set their new slick licks wafted over us with feeling and fidelity. But sadly with no connection. They’ve been doing this long enough now to get over any shyness, so there’s no excuse to not be engaging with their audiences. Rarely did they look excited and connected to the music they were playing, and at times they even looked bored on stage.

Chris Endrey was the opposite. He is the king of audience connection. So much so that sometimes you want to say “Okay enough! Switch the wit off and get on with it!”. But when he and the audience are on the same page it’s magic. This particular evening gave us a little bit of both. Always one to risk trying new things on stage, he used his time not only to make music but also to try to make people think about gender. Kudos.

This night would have been perfectly pitched if Endrey had given us a touch more music and less connection. And if the others had done the opposite. (Dear Chris, please run Audience Engagement workshops for musicians.) But it was a fun night that deserved bigger crowds, and I’d go see all those bands again. I just hope next time they see us too.