Categories: Music

12 Apr 2013, Comments (3)

Friday Earworm and gig guide

Author: Helen

Throwing this post up late, but Tess and the Shapiros are playing at the Union Hotel in Brunswick, this Saturday night (13th), 9-11.

Tess hasn’t advertised this one, perhaps because it will feature a lot of new material from the Bob sessions at Pure Pop, where, you will recall, <>Tess recreated the Times they Are a’Changin album as part of the Summer of Classic Albums series.

This is one of the songs we’ll be doing.

Tess’s version sounds nothing like this.

This has song has haunted me especially in the days since Thatcher died. Seems downsizing and outsourcing wasn’t invented by the neoliberal 80s but they certainly took that ball and ran with it.

They say in the East that they’re payin too high
They say that your ore ain’t worth diggin
That it’s much cheaper down in South American towns
Where the miners work almost for nothin

Substitute “China” or “Special Economic zones” for “South American towns” (except it wouldn’t scan) and change the miners to people who make things, and nothing’s changed.

…was all the bear could see.

Actually, that song and this one have had equal earworm status since I saw Suzannah Espie play at Port Fairy with the wonderful Liz Stringer and Chris Altman (who wrote Other Side Of the Mountain).

By some kind of coincidence, after returning from three days happily soaking up the goodness at Port Fairy, I’ve been sucked into joining the Lucilles, an alt country outfit featuring Tess McKenna on guitar and the voices of Nina Rousseau and Rosie Gannon.

That will be in addition to Tess McKenna’s own band the Shapiros which will still be getting the occasional outing through the year. That should be fun!

Light blogging appears unlikely to change anytime soon.

3 Feb 2013, Comments (0)

Gig Guide: Tess does Dylan

Author: Helen

Last month, as part of the Pure Pop Summer of classic albums series, Tess performed Bob Dylan’s 1964 album The Times They are a-Changin‘ in it’s entirety. (I didn’t get an outing due to one person who is trying to keep Pure Pop out of the live music business, so no drummers allowed there at present.)

Alt Text here

Text: Tess McKenna performs Bob Dylan’s classic album The times they are a-Changin’ – Featuring the Shapiros, Helen Smart, Karen Rush, Drew Hancock (Native Plants).
Sunday 10 February 5 pm
You know how it is, you go to all that trouble to learn all that material, might as well give it another run. I like the way Tess and Bob are giving each other the side-eye in that poster.

Come along, it’ll be a blast.

4 Aug 2012, Comments (2)

Charlie Watts!

Author: Helen

Charlie Watts rockin a sharp suit!!


No, he hasn’t died. I just point that out because you’re increasingly accustomed to seeing the older music idols trending in twitter or appearing in the news as they drop off, so seeing that post title may have given you a nasty moment.

No, as a friend of mine used to say, he looks like he just stepped out of the pages of Gentleman’s Quarterly. As indeed he has.

Tess McKenna, Helen Smart, Karen Rush and Drew Hancock. Union Hotel, Brunswick Sat May 26, June 9, June 16, 9 pm with Blackeyed Susans

Tess McKenna and the Shapiros (me, Karen Rush and Drew Hancock) are thrilled to be playing at the Union this Saturday, and Saturday 9th and 16th of June.

I’m really looking forward to playing, especially because we’re doing a double bill with the Blackeyed Susans, who are all kinds of wonderful.

We’ll be playing 9-11, instead of the earlier sessions we usually do. It’ll be a bit louder!

Tess McKenna and the Shapiros featuring Helen Smart, Karen Rush, Drew Hancock. Union Hotel Saturday 7 April
From The Union Hotel web page

She’s back! Tess McKenna and the magnificent Shapiros return for an afternoon of stellar electric folk/rock & blues with pitch-perfect harmonies.

If you’re in town over Easter, come along!

(Poster transcript):

Tess McKenna and the Shapiros
Featuring Helen Smart, Karen Rush, Drew Hancock
Union Hotel 109 Union st Brunswick, 93882235

Three of us bundled into the black Mitsu-bashi, leaving the dads with the kids, work and house. We drove East into Gippsland again, past Tinytown, to an even tinier dot on the map in the swampland country on the way to Wilson’s Prom.

I was googling lyrics, and had stumbled on the amazing information that Joe Pug and Henry Wagons would be performing with Jordie Lane at the Meeniyan Town Hall on a November friday night. Did a double-take and googled some more. Yes, this is what they do in Meeniyan (“they” being the Lyrebird Arts council). They’ve had Gillian Welch there and other people of a similar calibre (Steve Earle coming up soon, but don’t bother, it’s sold out already.) It’s a musical phenomenon. Of course, we went.

Meeniyan gigs are run like a cross between a cabaret and a school trivia night; you sit at tables and are expected to bring a picnic dinner as well as BYO alcohol. We managed to get perhaps the last room going at the motel, which is nearly next door; close enough to make it carrying platters of food and eskies of booze, and to stagger back without doing an ankle afterwards.

What an unmitigated blast. And the performers had a blast, too.

The footage above isn’t from that night, but it’s from the same tour and set list. Via Flop eared Mule, who has more vids.

Henry Wagons looked out over the hall, shading his eyes, and remarked how lovely it was to see us all getting slowly, warmly, comfortably shitfaced.

Here’s another account from blogger Mikesaid, with photographs.

And here’s an absolute charmer of a video of Henry Wagons interviewing Joe Pug over a game of pool. I especially like his (Pug’s) comments from around 2:30 about how Melbourne Rules, OK. “People are just into the music. I suppose every town’s different, but this one’s special.” And that should include South Gippsland as well.

Here are a couple more things you need to know about Meeniyan:

In between sellout concerts with first-rate Australian and international musicians, there might be the occasional hiatus with not enough to do. In that case, you need to call Maria.

Industrial bin in a rural setting with "Call Maria" and a phone number on it.

Meeniyan is on the Great Southern Rail Trail, if you feel like a walk, or if you’ve brought your bicycle or horse. If you’re on your bike and you have a dog, you’re encouraged to carry the dog in the bike basket.

Sign on the Great Southern Rail Trail at Meeniyan showing a silouhette image of a person on a bike with a dog in the baskegt.

13 Apr 2011, Comments (0)

Gig Guide: Back to the Union

Author: Helen

Tess McKenna and the Shapiros play the Union Hotel, Union st., Brunswick, Saturday April 16 from 5 to 7.

Review of Tess's latest CD, The New Everything, Martin Jones, Rhythms magazine, Jan 2011

Review of Tess's latest CD, The New Everything, Martin Jones, Rhythms magazine, Jan 2011


Just one of the lapidary compositions of Joe Pug, whose songs are the earwormiest earworms that ever wormed their way into your ear, never to be dislodged.

I was born into a circus
But I ran off to join a home
Oh, they said that I was worthless
That my family died unknown
So it gets and so it goes
That’s what you get I suppose
For wanting somethin more
Than a life of walkin rows

I’m prone to mondegreens and I heard that last line, at first, as a life of walk-in robes. Because I interpret that song as a wry lecture to his former self, when he dropped out of college to go on the road as a singer-songwriter, I assumed it was a bourgeois life he was escaping, rather than the life of rural toil suggested by walkin rows. But I know nothing about his pre-College history, so I am making assumptions. The “you” in the song isn’t necessarily himself at all, either, of course. But I admit I still have a sneaking preference for walk-in robes.

There’s the studio version and other free downloads here. (Warning: more earworms.)

22 Mar 2011, Comments (10)

Port Fairy festival -March 2011

Author: Helen

A lone sock waits eagerly near the campground for the Festival shuttle bus to arrive.

A lone sock waits eagerly near the campground for the Festival shuttle bus to arrive.

Mr Bucket and I went down to Port Fairy on the Shipwreck Coast to sell T shirts at the folk festival. Usually when I head down that way I get rained on and chilled to the bone by the South-westerlies. This time we mostly got classic Victorian autumn: golden sunshine and little wind. Except for one drizzly bit it was a perfect long weekend.

Not having been to the Port Fairy Festival before, I was expecting old guys with fisherman sweaters and mandolins. Not that there’s anything wrong with old guys or mandolins. There were plenty of oldies but they were as likely to be playing blues and roots music or zydeco. It’s really a blues and roots and folk and world and indie festival.

I went to see Joe Pug in more intimate mode in the smaller tent, and a second time in the full-on big venue, because he came highly recommended by the Flop Eared Mule, and hell yeah she’s not wrong.

Pug (Joe Pugliese) did both gigs completely solo, just steel string guitar and harmonica. The smaller tent suited his style better (I was able to wriggle up to the front for that, as well.) The first thing about this man is that he’s exceedingly engaging and friendly, without carefully-cultivated angst. So relaxed on stage, he could be in his kitchen. There was a veritable plague of crickets in Port Fairy that weekend, and he was heard to say “Hey, that was cool. I had to get really quiet in that mid-section there and I could actually hear crickets chirping.”

When it comes to the songs themselves, comparisons with the young Bob Dylan are inevitable. The influence is clear, along with Leonard Cohen and Woody and Arlo Guthrie. “Nation of Heat”, his indie hit from his first EP, reads like a homage to The Times They are a Changin’, echoed in the rhythm. And the similarity doesn’t end there. Some of Joe Pug’s younger fans, like Dylan’s, have been… Shocked! Horrified!!! because -gasp – he uses electric guitars and pedal steel and drums on his latest album, Messenger! It’s 1965 all over again, bless their conservative little hearts.

His songs are studded with wry one-liners – I grew up in a circus, I ran away to a home / If I didn’t own boots I wouldn’t need feet / I call today a disaster, she calls it December the 3rd. He asked the audience to ask him questions and someone asked “do you play any happy songs?” He replied (from memory) that inevitably, loss and sadness happens to all of us, but when he puts it in a song he’s holding it in the hollow of his hand rather than it holding him. I normally find the one-man-with-guitar format hard going, partly because the damn audience is usually talking over the performer, but he held me in the hollow of his hand with beautifully crafted songs and a melodic intelligence to die for. And the audience shut up and let him be heard.

We bought a signed copy of Messenger after the show and Mr Bucket offered him a free shirt. He dropped in the next day for it, but sadly I was away doing something else. Missed by that much.

If Joe Pug was an exemplar of pared-back balladeering, Shakura S’aida and her band were a mighty soul-cleansing blast of sound and movement, bringing the funk, soul, blues and a bit of gospel. Shakura S’aida was born in the US, lived in Switzerland and now in Canada. Her guitarist, Donna Grantis, is a virtuoso who can knock off blistering solos of the kind that get you interviewed in Guitar Player Magazine. I’m not a particular fan of extended guitar solos, but she is certainly made of awesomeness and with so many kids of all ages at the festival, an important sight to see for young gels and boys alike.

S’aida showed her more intimate side in a Blues and Gospel session where she performed solo. Hairs stood up on the backs of our necks. She told a story about her childhood, auditioning for a church choir and being knocked back by the choir leader, who said “I don’t think you’re ever going to be able to sing.” I imagine that woman feels a bit silly these days. You can hear her (S’aida) in intimate mode on this podcast, in another theme concert, A Woman’s Voice.

Representing Australia in my selection of favourites is Fiona Boyes, a Blues shouter and guitarist/songwriter who has bazillions of awards but doesn’t seem to be appreciated enough here.

If there was one thing that these performers had in common it was a sense of complete enjoyment of their time on stage and a disposition to chat with the audience. I’m over angsty performers who see the audience as a bunch of philistines who have to be endured. All of them looked as though they were having a blast at Port Fairy and their enjoyment was contagious.

Honourable mention – Justin Townes Earle. The bad-boy schtick was pretty unrelenting, and some of the remarks he tossed off about his family were kind of snarky and TMI, but dedicating a song to Christchurch (and changing the lyrics accordingly), that was sweet, and he’s a good listen. Just don’t take him home to meet your Mum.

Things I liked about the Port Fairy festival: The weather – mostly warm and gently sunny in the way of Victorian autumn. The tent city at the Showgrounds, which was flat and not in the least muddy (see Weather). The people of the Showgrounds Committee who ran a breakfast mess hall – $5 bacon and eggs brought to you by adorable children, supervised by slightly older adorable children. Buying a cut-down beach chair on impulse in Colac, and finding when I got there that this item is absolutely necessary. Win! Spending time with the old friends who came to help out with the Bucket stall. Having a wrist band with ADULT printed on it. At last!! The diversity of the audience, including all ages from babies to seniors in their eighties…The members of the Folk club, aged 60s and 70s, playing their songs in the main street – I was sad they weren’t in the main enclosure, because after all it’s still called a Folk festival, and they’re locals, and oldies playing the songs they know is what folk is supposed to be all about, but sadly I myself would rather listen to Pug et all, so whaddyagonnado. The children who busked outside the enclosure. The twelve or thirteen year old boy who casually blew Take 5 on his tenor sax. The VCE-age kids who played in the village square.

A new concept for me - the backwards drum pedal technique

A new concept for me - the backwards drum pedal technique

Things I didn’t like so much: The division between the inner sanctum where you had to have a wrist band to get in, and the rest of the town. The townies didn’t seem perturbed, but it made me a little uneasy… People who have turned the Festival experience into a military operation, to the point where it takes higher priority than the music itself. People behind me, do not conduct a loud discussion of where X is going to sit and where Y is going to go afterwards WHILE JUSTIN TOWNES EARLE IS IN THE MIDDLE OF HIS SET OR I MAY CONSIDER YANKING YOUR LIVER OUT. Ahem. And I know the Shebeen is the only venue in the enclosure where you can get a beer, but that does not mean you should be TALKING AWAY AT THE TOP OF YOUR VOICE THE WHOLE TIME while Shakura S’aida or Lisa Miller are playing. Yes, you could even hear the deafening inane chatter over S’aida and Grantis. Respect!… Sound: Having 5 circus-size tents in a small space, each with its own massive sound system, meant that solo acoustic artists like Justin Townes Earle and Joe Pug suffered sound leak from the other tents, which seemed disrespectful to them. But again, I suppose, whaddyagunnado. They’re tents, not brick buildings.

Outside the compound: Busker at Port Fairy

Outside the compound: Busker at Port Fairy

There were a few people I missed who I would have liked to see, but maybe I’ll catch them next year. I’ll definitely be packing my tent. Even if I have to buy my own ticket.