Maldon Folk Festival 2022 Reviewed
Maldon Folk Festival 2022
28 to 31 October
Images by Jim Jacob
Words by Rob Dickens
The Welcome to Country and Smoking Ceremony at the Old Bank Corner of this beautiful, historic and gloriously non-symmetric town was a fitting gateway into this, our first visit to the former goldfields town. What followed was an official festival opening at Edge Galleries with delicious local foods and a generous selection of tasty wines from nearby Welshmans Reef Vineyard.
Then about a short block away to the Progress Hall for one of the first shows, Gallie. This consumate story-teller was born in Dublin, has travelled the world showcasing his songs in just about every imaginable place and manner, and has settled in Australia for eleven years. Seeing him again for me was particularly enjoyable given that I had happily seen him play at a local-to-my-home venue twice between Melbourne’s horrendous run of six lockdowns, not an easy feat of logistics but a welcome coincidence that had my mind buzzing back both to those COVID dark days – the soothing balme of those pair of Gallie gigs opened up my heart at the time.
And so again tonight. Gallie tried out some new songs, a test run that I suspect he’d be happy with and, whenever he is supported by the bass player extraordinaire Tristan Courtney, there’s a chemistry that is so delectable.
Next was a two-block saunter up to the Troubador Wine Bar/Tent to see the animated, amusing and accomplished Sarah and Silas who we almost crossed paths with at the Australian Folk Music Awards two days earlier.
A pretty weird and unfortunate thing happened during their set. The pair had referenced a few sharp insights into the impacts of COVID setting the scene about some critical events leading to songs including the death of Silas’s father. I was extreme left of stage when a woman brushed past me and leaned toward the pair and complained that the year they quoted was wrong. The unnecessary interruption, however, took little momentum from the set and they picked the tempo and fun up very quickly. Topics such as the difficulties of gardening, contract tracers, COVID quarantines, mask wearing were entertaining and the talented pair’s future looks beaming, like their stage persona.
The same tent filled up with the next act Michael Waugh who is on a career roll at the moment. Significant accolades and two strong recent album releases back that up. Tonight was an extra treat with a crack band in tow – Jacob McGuffie (guitar), John Bedggood (mandolin, fiddle), Craig Kelly (bass) and John Olsen (drummer). The set was perfectly executed and received well by the Troubadour crowd.
I must admit that I find Michael’s material emotionally intense (I choked up a couple of times) but a little too sentimental for me. This is course could be my error in not allowing myself to open up sufficiently and I may well be against the flow here. Interestingly, a couple I was talking to the next day said they loved his set so much but did not want to see him again because they did not want to be again exposed to that emotional rawness.
(For the record, the day news of the death of Jerry Lee Lewis‘s passing was revealed.)
An early arrival at Maldon (we were staying twenty minutes away in Campbell’s Creek) saw the best option to be observing some workshops at the RSL Hall. Bek Chapman (of Rich Davies’s Low Road fame) was brilliantly engaging and encouraging, leading a music and dance for kids workshop. This was followed by astute journeyman songwriter and humourist Greg Champion‘s songwriters’ workshop, prior to which we had to explain the reason for Jim and I being there was to observe, rather than participate as we both had the songwriting talent of gnats. He dubbed us members of the United Nations to his workshop group and gleefully to anyone who would listen every time he saw us again over the weekend. Greg had the group moving along as they worked on expanding on potential song titles.
The weather was better this morning, more peeping sun and warmth on our bodies (it didn’t last) as we again marched up the hill for the Troubadour and were totally unprepared for how-good-are The Humbuckin’ Pickups.
Winner of the Burke and Wills Winery Troubadour’s Foundation Award Prize (which helped fund their latest album), the band was a revelation (one ill member was subbed by the Low Road’s violinist Stirling Gill-Chambers) with delightful songs such as “Just Like Winter”, “Sugar and Tea” and a chilling tale about a hit-and-run. Lead singer Ewan Cloonan has got that John Schumann-deep and totally Australian-broad baritone and the songs are deeply entrenched in the Australian bush ballad genre with highly poetic lyrics. Totally recommended.
Earnest and wide-eyed, Kaurna (pronounced ‘Garner’) Cronin followed, with Lucinda Grace adding some depth on cello. I particularly like his closing song “Don’t You Wonder Why”. An interesting addition to the Maldon bill was Glaswegian comic and storyteller Eric Purdie who entertained the tent with some sharp gags and some old faithfuls, using humour to cope with the difficulties of the hard life in industrial Scotland. Eric’s a winner of the Port Fairy Folk Festival Pat Glover Storyteller Award.
The late afternoon cold was descending in, so we high-tailed for the bulk of the rest of the day to the warmth (relatively!) of the Anglican Church where Harpers Bizarre provided a totally fresh, string symphonic experience. A regular act at Maldon, this well-established thirteen-piece Irish harp group is led by maestro Andy Rigby and we were treated to a wonderful selection of their repertoire sounding glorious in the church with tunes from Celtic and Latin countries, as well as originals.
Award-winning vocalist Fiona Ross is Glasgow-born and now an Australian resident and devotee of traditional Scottish music. Two years ago she teamed with one of Australia’s finest guitarists (acoustic or electric) and producer Shane O’Mara on the sublime album Sunwise Turn (read our review) which won Music Victoria‘s Best Folk Album award and was a finalist for Traditional Album of the Year in the Australian Folk Music Awards. I have been itching to see the pair live and what better place for their magic than in this beautiful church setting and I was not disappointed. Rivetting.
There’s no mistaking Sadie Mustoe‘s talent. A sweetly-pitched voice that works on many levels, an easy smile and unshakeable stage presence, brave enough and good enough to pull off a Joni Mitchell cover with aplomb (“A Case Of You”). She’s now trying her hand at musical comedy to add to her growing musical quiver. Watch out for this highly-talented young performer.
Despite all the happenings over the past two days, this turned out to be the best day.
The only American act at the festival was the Award-winning Smith Allen Peterson (Beverly Smith, Kellie Allen and Pete Peterson) hailing from North Carolina and Pennsylvania and providing a quality set of old-time music at the Progress Hall. Hot fiddling, banjo picking, vocal harmonies, new songs and covers of The Carter Family and Charlie Poole – overall as they said, “songs both sacred and profane”. Delightful. See them in Australia if you can as they are touring here until the end of November.
Rich Davies & The Low Road ripped it up at the Troubadour. Davies (the extra hole in his guitar tells part of the story) is always a spirited and totally entertaining performer and his band is ideally suited to his style – Kat Ogilvie (accordion), Bek Chapman (assorted percussion), Craig Kelly (double bass) and Stirling Gill-Chambers (fiddle). Driving celtic rhythms, stirring harmonies and earthy subjects, all were received with great appreciation by the crowded tent audience.
A visit to the Vintage Machinery Museum was an interesting aside, a quiet oasis where the Victorian Folk Music Club Billabong Band were transforming poems into songs.
Just in time to catch Claymore, back at the Progress Hall. Hearing electric guitar and a full rock sound provided another welcome musical turn for me at the festival. William Hutton provides a striking figure as the front man of the band and Michael Doyle‘s fender was ringing. Hard to pigeon hole this outfit – Celtic rock with a Metallica cover, raging bagpipes, a strident take on (The Bonnie Banks O’) “Loch Lomond” and a guest appearance by Fiona Ross – but therein lies the charm. Claymore is a winner.
A fortuitous bump into and catch up with the multi-Award winning The Weeping Willows as Jim and I trundled back up to the Troubadour was another plus for the day, as was meeting Khristian Mizzi as we discussed the Australian Folk Music Awards and other things music just before the next set.
Enda Kenny has been a Maldon favourite since the 1990’s and, with Carmen O’Brien on fiddle and mandolinist Greg Hunt, it was another joyful performance. Kenny’s songs were colourful and flecked with warm humour, the topics ranging from the oh-so lighthearted to the near tragic – a consumate balladeer.
The final set for us was another genre upending. Mick Coates & The Shallow Gravediggers gave us a hefty taste of authentic, classic country and western swing with Coates’s voice lower than a snake’s belly. Tales of the last man hanged in Australia (Ronald Ryan) and the fatal impacts of asbestos were particularly striking for this intriguing outfit and a fitting way to close for us.
Our first trip to the Maldon Folk Festival was a marvellous experience. While the weather was a long way off the halcyon spring climate you might expect, it was so easy to move around the various venues and stay dry and warm. Maldon is steeped in gold history and the town has been wonderfully preserved, the traditions and rich history predominant everywhere. The acoustics for all the sets I caught were spot on, it was never too crowded to get to a preferred vantage point, the venues and the line-up were assembled and paired carefully. A warm and welcoming town from all angles.
Wine (delicious local varietals) was $6 per glass, T-shirts only $25 (Melbourne take note!) and the bakery provided me with the best baguette I’ve had in who-know’s-when. Above all, the critical music programming was crafted extremely well.
Special thanks to Pam Lyons, Festival Director for her untiring efforts and looking after us so well.
Signing off, your erstwhile observation team from the United Nations.
More Music Adventures Await!
Maldon Folk Festival 2022 Reviewed