Tag Archives: Australia

Morning Sparkles

I’ve been getting up early this week. It’s felt good. Shame that I can’t keep my eyes open past 9pm. Is it possible to rise with the dawn and go to sleep with it? I think not. Damn.

Morning Sparkles

Rising up in the early morning
Actually feels good
I’d almost say
Natural
The sun has returned
From its jaunt to Australia
And is sparkling on my windowpane
This is a small revelation
It’s true I’ve been here before
But this time
I’m certain
I’ll be back for more

My morning has been extended
Plied gently open to reveal
Bonus time
A pocket of unhurried space
Before the day really begins
Before anyone would dare phone me
To turn on my computer would seem
Disrespectful
A crime against myself
And this calm morning
Full of possibilities

City With No Name – Heather Stewart

Listen and download Heather’s album here

In January 2013, back in Melbourne I was asked to sing backing vocals on Heather Stewart’s latest album. Hearing the record back a few months ago made me smile, the music is beautiful and it takes me back…

Heather's farm

I first met Heather in the middle of a Melbourne Spring. It was not a particularly warm spring in Australian terms but for me it was pretty hot. Some days, busking on the inner city streets the air felt thick and dirty. It was my first taste of humid city living. I met Heather one night at a tram stop just down the road, the tram failed to arrive and she and Leigh
ended up offering Tom and I a lift into the city. As it happened we were going to the very same little jazz gig as them in central Melbourne (see City Synchronicity). Not long after this meeting I found myself at one of her gigs, an afternoon performance at Melbourne University.

As I took my seat amongst the crowd in the cool, dark recital room I wasn’t sure quite what to expect. I remember being immediately struck dumb by Heather’s voice. This woman I’d met by chance on the street had a confident and sublime sound that harked back to another time. Wow. I sat and drank it all in and as I did so I admired the way she interacted with her audience, she appeared confident and at ease in on stage and this mood was infectious. As a singer myself I have had to work on my ability to ‘be on stage’. It’s not the singing that I find difficult but more the second that I emerge from a world of music back into a room full of people who are all looking at me. It’s that moment when my last note ends and I move from my role as musician to that of compare. Speaking naturally can suddenly seem impossible. I felt I could learn something from Heather – she knew how to be on stage. She spoke to her listeners like we were her friends leaving a smile on my face and the faces of those around me of warmth and intimacy.

It was the first time that I’d heard the Heather Stewart Band and many of the songs that they played that day I find hard to recall specifically but one that stuck with me then and continues to resonate with me to this day is City With No Name. This is the title track of her new album and was the opening number on this hot afternoon in the centre of Melbourne. Heather’s heartfelt rendition gave me an insight into another side of this confident city dweller, a side that remained somewhere out in the vast, red, Victorian countryside. Over time as I got to know her and was lucky enough to spend some time on the farm where she grew up I found a deeper connection to the song. These days when I hear it, it fills me with a longing to get away from the city and revisit that broad Australian countryside, to look deep into the wise eyes of that ‘grey old horse back in the country’ and remember that life doesn’t have to move so fast.

Listen and download Heather’s album here

 

The (Aussie) Christmas Song

Back in July I wrote a blurb for a gig that I was booked to play in late December. As it would be the last Friday before Christmas the venue had asked if I would throw in some festive tunes. Summer was just getting started and the idea of xmas songs seemed a bit dull. I know, I thought, I’ll do something really clever and change the songs in some way maybe I’ll re-harmonise them or arrange some interesting medley, I’ve got ages to plan for this gig. I wrote: ‘playing songs from her album and some re-imagined festive fare’. Yeah that sounds cool, I thought. I sent the blurb to the venue’s email address and promptly forgot all about it.

Several months and many an event later on a Tuesday in late December I had a quick look on the venue’s website to plan my route to my now imminent gig. As the page loaded I was presented with a close-up of my face and those long forgotten words ‘re-imagined festive fare’. Oh dear, suddenly the words didn’t seem so clever. How could I live up to these cocky and easily spun words from the summer?

Below is what I came up with. In keeping with the Australian theme of City Synchronicity I wrote some new words to an old favourite and just about managed to memorise the words to for their debut public emergence hours later…

The (Aussie) Christmas Song by Bob Wells and Mel Tormé, lyrics by Julia Turner.

King prawns roasting on the BBQThe Fringe Dec '13
Sun rays burning on your nose
Yuletide carols being sung by a choir
As kids eat ice cream just below

Seems a little strange
Instead of woollen hats and scarves
Folk are dressed in shorts and thongs*
Children sweat as the heat wave kicks in
They’ll find it hard to sleep for long

There’s all the fake snow on display
And though the sun beats down it can’t melt it away
Watch as a kangaroo goes jumping past
You’ll see why Christmas in Australia is a blast

As I’m remembering the sand and sea
Jack Frost’s turning my toes blue
So to all you True Blues with your sun hats askew
Merry Christmas to you!

*those you wear on your feet!

Dear Manager: Back in the Cutlery Shed

When you hired me I was happy
I’d secured a steady job
The food was good and the pay not bad…
But do you have to be such a nob?

Does it please you to be so pompous?
To strut across the floor?
If each sentence wasn’t a put down,
You might enjoy life a bit more.

‘We don’t lean’
‘When we walk, we walk fast’
If you don’t stop spouting rubbish,
This walk her will be our last.

I’m constantly on edge- trying to look busy.
In this police outfit I’m majorly over heating.
Are we trying to stress the diners out?
Or does this getup appeal to a fetish niche?

I’m wearing this smile for you,
It appeared when I pictured my imminent departure.
How many times will you walk these tables,
Leaving misery and anxiety in your wake?

 

DSCF5278

Me in my ridiculous uniform!

I found the above piece when sifting through a box of stuff I’d posted home from Australia. I wrote it after a particularly stressful shift at the restaurant I worked at on my arrival in Melbourne in 2011. The uniform was horrible – I felt like I was heading out on police patrol not to a waitressing job. The trousers are proper traders’ pants so they are really thick and on hot summer days they gave me heat rash. Very impractical.

These shifts inspired the song Cutlery Shed so I can’t be too bitter.

Santa on a Hot Tin Roof

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In a cafe on a hot afternoon in Sydney my eyes are unwillingly drawn to a huge screen showing trashy shows interrupted every five minutes by equally trashy adverts. Fanning myself with the menu I find my mind being invaded by an ad for some Christmas product, the backdrop to which is a sweltering looking lounge room with a log fire crackling in the hearth. Somehow Christmas over here never feels quite right. I’ll become aware of the date on a December morning as I walk to the tram stop in my singlet and thongs (the kind you wear on your feet) and be shocked to remember that it’s not July but nearly New Year. Walking into David Jones I am accosted by festive music. Commercial Christmas songs about the now unimaginable snow, frost and open fires are all the more annoying on a humid Summer’s day.

In the UK this festive season is a necessity. A period filled with parties and cheer to distract us from the ever-shorter days and the daily battle of wills as we exit warm duvets to face the chill dawn. Here the whole thing feels a bit unnecessary. In the midst of the biggest school holiday of the year people just want to get down to the coast, to sun and swim and stoke up the barbie. It’s not uncommon to hear people cursing Christmas for getting in the way of their summer holiday plans. Back at home it is the main event of the school year, a time to batten down the hatches and prepare ourselves for the ongoing winter. Here in Australia at the culmination of the school year and the start of the long summer holidays with piles of yummy seafood, clear blue skies, pavlova, icey poles, sun, sand, surf, barbeques, Santa on a hot tin roof. It’s not quite Christmas as I know it but who cares? I’m heading to the beach.

Melbourne Cup In The Studio

Merry CreekIMG_0998Pikkle Henning’s studio is in North Coburg is just down the creek from my house. I love to start the day with a walk, it’s in the genes. A few months ago I went on a 10k coastline walk from Manly Beach to Spit Bridge in Sydney with my 84 year-old grandmother. Throughout my childhood I always walked to school and as an adult if I can walk, I will. Sometimes the car is unavoidable and it can be really useful but walking is so much nicer. The studio happens to be a 30 minute walk down the creek from my house and strolling alongside the water was not only a really good way to warm up my body but it also cleared my mind and helped me to relax and focus on the day ahead.

When I arrived at the studio Pikkle had all the microphones already set up. He’d also staggered people’s arrivals with the drummer arriving first so that we weren’t all hanging around doing nothing for hours while he tested and adjusted the all mics. This was great –the amount of times I’ve hung about at the start of a recording with nothing to do and by the time you start people’s minds are already on that first coffee break. But at Boyne Street we started full of beans and bang on schedule. During the recording I barely noticed Pikkle was there. If anything needed adjusting it would be done with the minimum fuss and he was always on the ball, ready to do the next take.

We ended up being in the studio over the Melbourne Cup holiday. The weather was not the 32 degrees that it was originally forcast to be and though most of Melbourne felt a bit cheated it was perfect weather for recording – warm enough to be in shorts but not hot. I was a little bit worried that I would be depriving these Melburnians of watching ‘the race that stops the nation’ but they seemed to all be agreed that it was much more fun to be in the studio than out by the racecourse wearing a silly headpiece -especially when the thunderstorm broke 10 minutes before the start of the race…

We spent a couple of days doing live takes with double bass, guitar, drums and vocals. Many of the tunes the other musicians had never seen or heard before and not only did they play them really bloody well but they gauged the mood I was going for too. With each song we played I was giving them more of an insight into the highs and lows of my last year spent in Melbourne. It was an intense journey really. After two days in the studio together I felt like I’d known them for twenty years! I would like to say thank you to Leigh Barker, Sam Lemann and Sam Young for their beautiful music and their positive and warm attitudes without which it would have been much more difficult for me to share the innermost workings of my mind.

Thanks also to Pikkle Henning who I’m really glad to be continuing to work with over the next few weeks!

Here is a little clip from day two. With the main body of music recorded the guys whip up some three-part vocal harmonies –all in a days work!

Neat Sheets

I’m in a constant state of excitement at the moment. In a few days I’ll be making my way to the studio, guitar on back and a wad of arrangements under my arm. Though I won’t be playing guitar myself on most of the tunes, it’s a good aide. I can play each song to the band to give them a feel for it and then they can bring their own imagination and skills to bear creating beauty that can only arise from a group of people playing together.

It’s been an interesting process this song writing malarkey. I’d not really done much of it at all before moving to Melbourne but when I got here my songs almost seemed to write themselves. But composing was just the beginning. Once written I began to look at the pieces not as a writer but as an arranger, imagining tempos, rhythms, instrumentation and harmonies for each song. Sometimes just writing the thing down is like trying to solve some mathematical equation. It’s one thing to be able to hear how you want something to sound in your own head but it’s not always easy to convert this into vocabulary or symbols that you and others consciously understand. But however neat your sheet music it’s really just a guide and it’s important not to cling too tightly to a particular idea. I like to be open in rehearsals and willing to try other people’s suggestions, which might bring something new and wonderful to the arrangement.

The final step before recording is to look at the songs as a performer. How will I, as a singer convey the meaning of the words, the feel of the piece and how, technically can I refine what I’m doing for a better sound? This is the worst bit as it involves me recording myself and constantly listening back to what I really sound like. It’s easy to criticise your own singing, to pick out all the flaws but it’s time consuming to try and correct them. Being a slightly tardy jazz woman I am still working on this step now with just days to go. Oh well, I am looking forward to next week when I can get together with the band and really enjoy the process of recording which I’m sure will be the start of a whole new learning curve. Bring it on!

What’s Cookin’?

Getting a drummer, bassist, guitarist, vocalist and violinist in the same place at the same time is always tricky…But at least we’re now all on the same page (sorry that’s a really poor joke, but I couldn’t resist!)

I am really lucky to have found some great musicians to record with. So I thought I’d introduce them to you now just to give you sniff of what we’re cookin’ with:

Heather Stewart  is a singer, violinist, banjo-mandolinist and violist dedicated to playing old style jazz, blues, cajun, folk, and original music.

Heather will be playing some mean fiddle and adding her sumptuous vocals to the mix. More at:
www.heatherstewart.com.au

 

Leigh Barker is a bassist, composer and band leader. In high demand as a grooving side-man, Leigh also fronts The New Sheiks who play a mix of traditional repertoire and new Australian music.

Find out more at: www.leighbarker.com

 

 


Drawing inspiration from guitarists like Charlie Christian, Barney Kessel, Chet Atkins, Doc Watson and Ry Cooder, Sam Lemann has developed his own tasty, swinging style that sees him in great demand by singers, songwriters and bandleaders of many styles.

Based in Melbourne, Sam co-leads a band with vocalist Hetty Kate. The Irwell Street String Band  have recently released their 2nd CD “1160pm”.
Find out more here:
www.samlemann.com

 

Drummer Sam Young is originally from Canberra and now resides in Melbourne, where he is an essential part of The New Sheiks among other local ensembles. He also leads his own Quintet SYQ.

Hear Sam at: www.myspace.com/samyoungdrums

The Desk Dweller Blues

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/9/91/Bildtelefon_T-View_100.JPG/512px-Bildtelefon_T-View_100.JPGI’ve recently taken on some temp work in an office to raise funds for my upcoming recording session. I really lucked out when a friend found me a flexible position in the office she works in. The deal is that I have to work 3 days but I can change which days I work according to the weather so that I can still go busking. Pretty ideal. The office is nice and the people I work for are lovely. All I’m really doing is updating a mailing list. A very long mailing list. I spend 7 hours calling people and making sure that I have their correct details on the system. As you can imagine even if my desk mate was Bill Bailey this would get boring after a while. Inspired by the old jazz standard Moonlight in Vermont, I started writing Haikus to keep myself sane. Every time I was put on hold I’d jot down a few lines. This is what has materialised…

Driving to the desk
Endless phone calls wait for me
I’ll be there all day

Yesterday was warm
Outside in the sunlit streets
Now I’m stuck inside

Stuck inside with the desk dweller blues
Spinning Haiku
I’ve only been here three days but I’ve got ‘em bad
I’ve got the desk dweller blues

Northern winds catch dust
Lift it to my window pane
Inside it is still

Repetition bores
One call ends, another looms
Sick of this same line

Stuck inside with the desk dweller blues
Spinning Haiku
I’ve only been here three days but I’ve got ‘em bad
I’ve got the desk dweller blues

Feel like a zombie
Always staring at this screen
Makes my vision blur

Ringtones intersperse
Fairground music, put on hold
It’s driving me mad

Stuck inside with the desk dweller blues
Spinning Haiku
I’ve only been here three days but I’ve got ‘em bad
I’ve got the desk dweller blues

Leaving there in haste
With relief I reach the door
Out in the fresh air

My head starts to clear
As I walk along Southbank
The sun is shining

As I walk away those desk dweller blues
All day long I’ve been spinning Haiku
Counting syllables keeps me sane
When I’ve got the desk dweller blues.

Tales of the Tramline

Tram inside

On the number 1 tram to Coburg

I have recently been organising the recording of my upcoming album. I have never embarked on a project of this size before. Unsurprisingly therefore there are elements that I’d never even considered before. In order to pull it off I have been collecting information and wise words from fellow musicians who have done this sort of thing before. Heather and Leigh are two such people. Heather is a violinist and singer and Leigh is a double bassist and both will feature on my album. In fact they have really helped me a lot and I wonder where I’d be if I hadn’t met them by chance at a tram stop.

Tom and I were heading into the city last year. Waiting at the tram stop it soon became apparent that there was not going to be a tram any time soon. We were considering our options when the couple next to us asked if we’d like a lift. They lived nearby and despairing of public transport had decided to drive in. We gladly accepted their offer. Making small talk on the road to the city we discovered that not only were these two both jazz musicians but they were going to the very same gig as us –a basement jazz gig with about 20 other punters. In a city of four million people this seemed ludicrous.

I have had many a coincidental encounter since living in Melbourne. I wrote some months ago about bumping into an old school friend of mine at a local bike workshop (see post). It also happened that the girl that trained me up in my first job here had just moved out of my new house. She’d moved her stuff out of the front bedroom days before I’d moved mine in. Weird.

This song is about these chance meetings in a city so far from home.