15 March 2007

Port Fairy 2007

Another Port Fairy Folk Festival under our belts, and we emerged achy, dirty and sunburned, but inspired. So the tradition of having at least one camping disaster was continued this year (when the air bed went down and I slept on the ground one night), there were no episodes of flooding, no sleeping in the car, no vital pieces of equipment left home. I count that a success. Here I offer some random impressions.

A billboard ad spotted on the highway somewhere after Colac: “We get chickens pregnant!”

The shower truck was a step above the usual Army style canvas partitions, which was a nice surprise. I think this might have made an impression on the men, who were better behaved as a result. Usually I’m reminded of a nature documentary with Rhinos at the waterhole, belching and farting. This time I didn’t mind showering with other men so much.

Joe Camilleri and the Black Sorrows - sounded at times like Van Morrison some time in the late 70s, but I miss that big sound the band had in its best days.

Jeff Lang - There are good guitar players, and very good guitar players, and then there’s outer space. Jeff Lang orbits somewhere around Saturn.

Live, he is intense and wound very tight. Concentration and bursts of energy. He plays a very dark folk blues, with distinct Australian accents, like the murder ballad which began with the sunset from the Westgate Bridge and ended with a dark deed in an inner city terrace. There is paradoxically nothing showy about him (apart from the snappy three piece suit). The virtuosity always follows the peaks and troughs of the song. He has a pianistic finger picking style, which comes in and around a chord instead of simply stating it outright, so the harmonies suggest themselves impressionistically, like a Coltrane solo.

His approach is the opposite of traditionalist. He is restless and experimental, extending the sonic possibilities of the guitar, playing the top notes, tapping the bridge pickup, non-Western scales. At one point in a song he describes the Indian Pacific railway by singing into the sound hole, his voice through the pickup sounding like it’s coming out of a cave.

He uses a sampler ‘live’ – that is, he appears to sample while playing, then plays the sample back without interrupting the song and plays over the top of it. I have seen this attempted before, but rarely with this artistry.


He looks like a Mississippi river boat card sharp in a three piece suit, with a very impressive beard.

Lisa Miller – smooth, soulful pop sound. Her voice is likeable and light, but with enough of an edge to make it interesting and affecting. Songs are often the sort of things you might overhear coming out of a window and they hold you until they’re done.

Duck Musique – Boisterous swing, like Django and Grappelli and the Quintet of the Hot Club of France. Great to hear real gypsy guitar.

Chris Wilson – The master of sharp, rhythmic blues harmonica, playing in a couple of different settings during the festival. I went to his workshop and was thrilled when a frail Jim Conway rolled up to the stage in his wheelchair. A few hefty blokes got him up on the stage of the Port Fairy Cricket Club house, and what followed was a short hour tutorial from two of the best in the business.

Mick Thomas and the Sure Thing – Idiosyncratic songs from experience. Every song had a story. ‘Tommy didn’t want you’ was a song to Mick’s guitar. He explained that he got it cheap from the Maton factory after it had been built for Tommy Emmanuel and he didn’t like it. Very Irish, the Gaelic never far away.

Lil’ Fi – Easy to disparage after she comes on like k. d. laing in her early days, with purple hair, but she plays a rollocking barrelhouse blues style. I was quite surprised when I attended a Sunday morning gospel session and she revealed a beautiful, soulful voice that isn’t really in evidence in her usual act. She should bring it out more.

Fiona Boyes – Joyful, hearty blues, with a great finger picked electric guitar style. Not exactly subtle. I’ve seen her several times before, but never with a band, and it made for a nice change, with other aspects of her musical personality to the forefront.

Bamada, featuring Habib Koite – Long, modal West African explorations in unorthodox time signatures. Several members play guitar and bass upside down, one left-handed with the strings the ‘wrong’ way up, the other right-handed with strings the same way. Open, pentatonic tunings. The bass player had decorated his instrument with African motifs in black insulation tape.

Eric Bibb – Doesn’t sound like he’s quoting anybody, but has this way of playing and singing that makes you believe him, like it’s coming from the source. With Danny Thompson’s lovely melodic double bass.

Nick Charles – I went to a workshop with him on fingerpicking. He is an inspiring teacher, very generous. Played his fantastic arrangement for solo guitar of ‘I Get a Kick Out of You’.

Scared Weird Little Guys – Very funny as always. Best bits were their musical mash-ups, of which the highlight was ‘Waltzing Matilda’ as sung by Eminem.

1 comment:

I am the Queen of F*%&ING EVERYTHNG...OK!! said...

You WENT!!!!!! I hate you now :(