Rory McLeod, The Folkus Room, Sunday 13 April

by Shelley Clarke

Is there any such thing as “too much bang for your buck?’

I wouldn”t have thought so before my recent night at The Folkus Room in Mawson. Now I”m not so sure. I have no complaint mind you but here”s a rundown of the range of treats that awaited this unsuspecting punter.

First up were two fabulously talented locals, DJ Gosper (on vocals and blues harp) and Christo Carlsen (on vocals and guitar) from The KarismaKatz, who performed four very tasty songs: Rodriguez”s Crucify Your Mind; Cool Me (a striking original written by a sixteen year-old DJ); Cohen”s gorgeous Dance Me to the End of Love with lashings of harp; and another excellent original to finish, Animal, a DJ/Christo collaboration.

This set was a bit of an appetiser for DJ”s upcoming Folkus Room show, DJ Gosper”s Glory Box with The Blues Cowgirls and the KarismaKatz on Friday 9 May. Well worth a look (and listen).Then Tonchi Macintosh, dressed in denim jeans, a black T-shirt and thongs, hit the stage and announced that he would be entertaining us for the next half an hour, with the help of MC Jaezed (Jonno Zissler). Tonchi, a singer and guitarist who comes from Bourke and grew up on the Darling River, started his set solo with a lovely, quiet and gentle song written for his grandmothers called Darling River Lilly.

From there this Melbourne-based artist shifted gears when beatboxer/rapper Jaezed joined him in performing Give It All Away (Che), a song for Fred Hollows. I”d be surprised if The Folkus Room has ever seen anyone like Jaezed with his camouflage cargo pants, Jurassic 5 T-shirt, baseball cap, sneakers and tatts. Seems this venue”s definition of “folk” music is impressively broad. As the website says, All music is folk music. I ain’t never heard no horse sing a song.

With only a guitar and two voices between them these two guys managed to achieve a remarkably layered sound throughout their set, particularly on Jackie Owen, a song about an indigenous Australian who discovered gold in the little town of Nymadgee. Their next song, inspired by Cindy Sheehan”s protest outside President Bush’s ranch over her son”s Iraq death, Mum”s Are Never Wrong, lamented the current lack of maternal wisdom in world politics. Run No More/Fade Away featured percussive guitar combined with freestyle rap and was followed by some very pretty guitar work on Gallipoli, a song sung to Tonchi by his grandfather. Tonchi and Jaezed were in fine form. I suspect travelling around the country performing with Rory McLeod and doing a little busking along the way, has helped to polish their performances to a very professional level.

Next to grab the stage-light was Owen Campbell, a “man in black” who impressed with his great voice, high energy, amazing versatility and natural chat. Campbell”s set started off with Nashville High Rollers “ended up with the arse out of my pants in Nashville – this is a beat about that” with unusual lap slide guitar often bordering on the psychedelic. The Psycho Warden, a sequel to a song he wrote about Abu Graib, showcased a clear voice of great depth and shade.

Changing to electric guitar for the laid back and bluesy A Masterpiece With You, “This next one”s a bit of a love song”, only confirmed the brilliance of his vocals and their natural reverb. Trumpet player Cameron Smith helped out on the growler Bobby the Leper (a reference to Campbell”s eczema) with it”s moments of spoken word and touches of “rock god” groove.

Another beautiful love song, The Begging Ground, followed but this time it was “not about the love you have ” it”s about the love you can”t have” and on this one Campbell added a little blues harp to his guitar. Springsteen”s I”m On Fire, “I think it was written the year I was born”, was thrown in to shift the mood of the evening because “too much bleeding heart can kill a crowd”. Another guitar change (back to acoustic) was needed for the belter Flower in the Gulags, which reminded me of the wondrous Steve Earle, then it was a swift change to electric for Townes Van Zandt”s “simple song”, I”ll Be Here in the Morning. While changing guitars (again!) for his last song, Mice on the Wheel, Campbell exclaimed he was “not used to a listening audience” and “the silence between songs”. This guy has rhythm in truckloads, assured precision in his playing and mega passion in his voice. He sings like he means it. And at 23, he looks like he is truly on his way.

All this before we finally get to the evening”s headliner, London-born and Orkney Islands-based singer songwriter Rory McLeod, who started his set by meandering through the audience playing his harmonica until he finally arrived on the stage. His first offering was Baksheesh Dance, “a little gift”, played on the harp and schooner glass, producing a surprisingly sensational sound, whilst he gave his amplified stomp board a serious workout.

Rory introduced the rest of his show with “I”ve got lots of songs for you ” songs for my family, travelling songs, work songs, songs about not working, songs that don”t work.” But they all work. He”s a great songwriter and a great story teller. The Dreams We Breathe Through tells a tale of divorce and blending families, Huge Sky is about a Kurd who, after being denied refuge in Germany, leapt to his death during a press conference rather than go home to face prison and torture, The Joy of Living is for departed friends, When My Mum and Daddy Made Me, is a fun and funny “conception song”, The Emperor”s New Clothes explores the concept of propaganda “always been spin, especially around elections and war”, Back to Donegal is an upbeat song about travelling, drinking and eventually leaving mates behind, When You Were Born is an absolute tear-jerker that tells the story of a teenage mum abandoning her baby in a park, No More Blood For Oil comments on oil, war in the Middle East and “friendly fire”, Ballad of Spitalfield Fruit Market tells the tale of a worker at the 400 year-old market before it is moved from its long-occupied site, The Wind Is Getting Stronger is a dance song written for his ageing Russian-born grandmother, What Would Jesus Do? explores religion and fundamentalism as well as citing numerous political activists who, just like Jesus, were killed for their beliefs, and Hug You Like A Mountain is a slow song about the pain of love, life and loneliness. We heard all these stories and, would you believe, many more in one evening.

All the while, this one-man band whistled, stomped his tap shoes, played spoons, guitar, (brilliant) harmonica and trombone (his “space kazoo”), and used his voice not only to sing lyrics but as another choice amongst his wandering minstrel”s assortment of instruments. Rory”s songs revealed a warm, thoughtful, well-travelled and incredibly genuine human with a massive social conscience. For the final song of the night, Rory, joined by his travelling mates Tonchi and Jaezed, encouraged all assembled to sing the chorus for a communal finale and the evening”s entertainment was finally over.

It had been HUGE. But was it too much??? Never.

Pics: Fred Mitchell

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