Rose Turtle Ertler and the KarismaKatz

The Folkus Room, 12 October 2008

by Shelley Clarke

DJ and The Karizmacats @ Folkus

Maybe it was the glorious Spring day, or the end of Floriade, or even the last day of the VIVID photography festival that had worn them out…who knows? Whatever the cause, The Folkus Room crowd was pretty sparse that night and, sadly, it was to be a shortened evening’s entertainment in the candlelit room.

First up was the DJ Gosper and Christo Carlsen duo version of the KarismaKatz. DJ admitted to some fatigue as they had played that afternoon at the Tulip Top Gardens in Sutton, just outside Canberra, but it wasn’t evident in their performance, which was, as usual, quite wonderful.

Starting with Cohen’s sublime Dance Me, the Katz presented a diverse set, which included some brilliant original songs from their new CD, Spirit On The Rise. There was Cool Me, with its glorious harp, My Mother Was Right, featuring two beautiful guitars, Animal (Take Me Home), which came with Christo’s warning ‘I’m gonna really belt the be-Jesus out of this instrument’ as well as DJ’s theatrical vocal effects.

DJ and The Karizmacats @ Folkus

Then there were some great covers like Phoebe Snow’s Wish I Was A Willow, showcasing some lovely scat from DJ. We were also treated to Cruising In The Fast Lane, apparently written by Christo a while ago on the back of a soggy beer coaster at Kingston’s famous/infamous Boot and Flogger, and Yeah, Yeah, written by Bungendore’s Danny Velnaar, complete with wild speculation re the meaning of the somewhat trippy lyrics.

Apart from being a ‘gun’ guitarist, Christo does an especially nice line in backing vocals. From the floor, Mischievous Mitch called for ‘some bluegrass’ so the Katz obligingly met him half-way – with a memorable interpretation of Mystery Train that required an emergency dash backstage for DJ’s ‘long’ harp. That was followed by their final song of the evening, Bonnie Raitt’s haunting Tangled And Dark, complete with Christo’s guitar funk and DJ producing something close to the sounds of a didge from her blues harp. An impressive set.

I could, however, have done without most of the audience loudly chatting right through the whole of the KarismaKatz set. I know they were ‘just’ the support act but it’s not usually that kind of venue and I thought it was a pretty rude way to treat them.

Speaking of chatting, I had a bit of a chat with Jimmy, who has recently taken over the club’s kitchen. Seems he has some new menu ideas and high hopes. Let’s wish him well and hope for some excellent food to accompany some excellent shows. BTW Jimmy promises to properly cater for vegetarians.

With a shortened program, there was to be no break so Bill introduced Michael Simic (of Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen fame) who then introduced Rose Turtle Ertler with great wit and humour.

Rose Turtle Ertler @ Folkus

Rose once said, ‘I am not so interested in playing the novelty songs that the ukulele is often known for, but prefer to write kind of ‘wonky folk/pop’ songs’. (from TRAD & NOW, August 2007 edition). Wonky is a great word to describe her offerings but I’d have to add ‘quirky’ to the description, a word that frequently arose in my mind as her set progressed from Crick Of The Creek, a gentle, folky song about Melbourne’s Merry Creek, with its plugged in ukulele, past the first of her own interjections, which ended with ‘Oh no I’ve forgotten the words and put myself off!’, on to the song, Welcome, with its quirky ‘live’ fadeout.

I guess you would have to describe Rose’s songs as alternative, both in their tunes and their lyrics. Many of them also hold great poignancy as does her versatile voice. And as far as her ukulele playing goes, Rose explained that she had initially played her ukulele like a guitar when she started to play some eight years ago. Knowing that, it’s no surprise that she still uses lots of effects pedals, including echo and feedback, to make her music sound at times like something Jimmy Page or Hendrix would deliver. I was half-expecting her to break into a squealing version of The Star Spangled Banner.

I had come to this gig with a muso friend who has recently taken up ukulele and then met another ukulele playing friend when I was there. What is it with ukuleles? I was puzzled so before the gig, I asked Rose about the apparent resurgence of the ukulele and was amazed to discover there is actually a ukulele club in Canberra! Who knew? Both of my ukulele friends said they did and Rose said she had conducted workshops for them. Evidently, I’m just not up to speed on the ukulele playing community. According to Rose, Tiny Tim did a LOT of damage but the ukulele is now making a big comeback. Have to say, I’m a huge fan of Seaman Dan and he plays some sensational uke.

But back to the set. Next Rose sang a song about fairies in a particularly high voice and played her ukulele with an echoing, repeater effect, that sounded like we were all underwater. The Rubber Band Song was delightfully quirky as was witnessing Rose pretending to be a Theremin. (It was a pretty good imitation too). Oh, and did I mention it included some fine yodelling? ‘That’s my silly song’, she confided. So, what was Save The Mexican Wave? Her sensible song? ‘We are the secret society of the Mexican wave.’ Her next song was a very pretty one. It started off with a long instrumental intro and ended with some extra fast strumming. I’m no real judge and I admit to limited experience of ukulele playing but Rose seems to be able to get an incredibly large range of sounds from her instrument.

She seemed particularly excited about the gorgeous We Must Be Kinder, which is destined to appear on her new album (soon to be recorded) complete with a primary school choir accompanying Rose on vocals. Then there was the wonderful sing-along bop of Too Many Things In This World, which had ‘to end on a major chord, so there’s hope’. That provoked an enthusiastic call for an encore, which Rose happily provided in the shape of her own special arrangement of Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. So if you are after some ‘alternative, experimental folk’, get along to see and hear Rose. She certainly delivers. And on top of that you’ll also get a large, bonus serve of ‘quirky’.

Check out her MySpace for a taste.

Shelley Clarke

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