Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Jen Cloher live (2/2)

At the bar Downstairs at Newtown Social Club I recognised Jen Sholakis, said hello, and knowing I'd done the trip over to see the band, she said it was nice to put a name to the face.  Just like Courtney, Jen's a pleasure to meet and say hello to. Jen's a tousled hair girl, fresh faced, sporting jeans and t-shirt.

Upstairs, there's a small stage with just a dark curtain backdrop, two rows of steps around one back and side of the room. 

The steps were already filling up, so found a spot to the right.  One lady had plonked herself and a handbag in front of the stage. During the support act, a grizzle faced Aussie in his 60s was jigging around, cricket sweater slopped around his shoulders. 

I had an Aussie man, probably 40 or so, to my left, telling me about the gig last night, Ellie Hooper.  And then AfroMan came in. Probably 6'2"" with another six inches of hair on top.  AussieMan to my my left said he was there last night, and basically stands at the front all gig.

So yes, he stood right at the front and in my way even when standing on the second step.  On a trip to the bar I asked if he might take two steps to the right and he said "probably not".  

At the merch stall I picked up three copies of Jen's new single, a double a-side of Stone Age Brain, a duet with another Aussie Tim Rogers, plus a cover of Dark Sad Eyes, another Aussie classic I didn't know. Spotting a couple of tour posters on the wall, I unpinned one for later, and later bagged the other one too. 

After the support act, at last the band appeared.  J-Clo centre stage, skinny jeans and a flowery blouse, CB to the left, Bones to the right, and Slolaki at the back. 

And this was one of those gigs.  Every opening note or warm up chord to an In Blood Memory track, I knew what was coming.  Jen played all of IBM, the two songs from the new ep, and the Numbers duet with Courtney.  

The band really clicked together.  I think they'd had a couple of days rehearsal, and it all came together so well. Bones had a standing come back to Jen's chat with "we'll talk about that later Jen", Courtney took a real backstage supporting guitarist to Jen's vocals and lead guitar. Sholaki on drums was really enjoying herself, often breaking into little grins whilst playing. At points, Jen turned her back to the audience for a mid gig jam with Courtney and Sholaki, shredding for fun.  

Gig Highlights...
David Bowie Eyes. On the album there is a slightly cheesy slide guitar loud in the mix , but live it was perfect.
Name In Lights.  The album version finishes with Jen "there's nothing I can't do, so I get over you, ooh hooooh" but live Jen howls in anguish.

Bones - his mum and dad had driven several hundred miles down the coast to see him play.

At the start of the gig Jen's guitar strap came unclipped and she said she needed a new strap on. To a mainly female audience this went down a storm. 

Introducing the band, Jen said to the audience, "you've probably all heard of Courtney who's been touring the world, so she's fucked my career"

Towards the end of the gig, Jen thanked venue manager Emily Ferris and it was a real What The Fuck moment. (Courtney's first ep is called "I've got a friend called Emily Ferris' and I'd assumed it was a pals in joke, someone so six degrees of separation remote you'd never know who she was.

Possibly Jen's stand-out emotional track is Hold My Hand, which she introduces by telling of her parents talking in the kitchen over a sandwich, and her mother forgetting what she'd been talking about by the end of the conversation.   At the first gig it was a BLT sandwich, and the second a ham sandwich - whether it was just the spontaneity of retelling the story or perhaps a little in-joke to change the ingredients each time she tells it.

The second night I saw the band at their hometown gig at the Shebeen in Melbourne.  This is a community food and music venue, with 10% of beer proceeds going to the country of the producers.

There was support from a couple DarkFair, a dark haired singer and blonde haired drummer.

Also East Brunswick All Girls Choir.   These are label mates on Milk! records, primarily Marcus on guitar and vocals, and Rie on bass, with Sholaki on drums.   Apparently they've been through seven drummers, hence the name of their current album.

Again, some quiet banter with the crowd, presumably with lots of friends in the audience.  I spotted Courtney's drummer Dave Mudie.   Again, to a female audience, there was a joke that the area they lived in called Reservoir, should be renamed Lezzervoir.

Apparently there had been a few problems with moving the equipment from Sydney to Melbourne, but a panic drive back to the airport I think for a cymbal and all was resolved.

Highlight of the second night was Name In Lights, and perhaps the perfect end to it was Jen Sholaki's quiet "woah" after the crashing finish to acknowledge the performance.

And remember I'd organised this trip to get the fourth signature on the record sleeve?  Well I left it at home in the last minute packing for the airport.  Luckily Jen appreciated my epic travel, and gave me another copy, this time I did get all four signatures, together with set lists, lyrics for a new song, and signed gig posters.

I left the band and their friends to the post gig disco and later saw pictures on social media of the band dancing beneath the mirror ball.

All in all, the furthest I've ever travelled to a gig.   But worth it.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Jen Cloher live (1/2)

It's a strange route from Guildford UK, to a small upstairs gig in a bar in hipster district Newtown, in Sydney. 

So here goes:-
Jen Cloher crowd-funded $15,000 AUD to record her third album, and in Summer 2013, a week long live recording session with fellow Melbourne artistes Courney Barnett (slide guitar), Bones Sloane (bass), and Jen Sholakis (drums) resulted in In Blood Memory.  Sholaki has played with Jen before, and Courtney had recorded a duet, Numbers, with Jen. 

They played a couple of album release gigs in Autumn 2013, a double a-side with Courtney was released at the gigs. And then in October, Courtney went for world exposure with her self penned double ep, A Sea of Split Peas. 

I heard the single Avant Gardner on BBC6 music, ordered it on import, and was struck by the combination of slacker garage rock music, and story telling lyrics. Courtney's record label Milk has four other artists, The Finks, Royston Vasie, Fraser A Gorman, and Jen Cloher.  Seeing that Courtney played on In Blood Memory, I ordered this on a whim to see if the same magic was there.  

It was, and more. Whereas Courtney's two eps are the tales of a 26 year old budding musician, Jen's is from a few more year old's perspective, after a four year music break and tells of love and relationships, and losing her parents the year before. It's a bluesy rocked out album, just seven tracks, but none a filler. 

One advantage of the new digital age is that often when you order physical CDs or vinyl, you get a free download, and in this case with Milk Records,  a free Bandcamp app of the album.  I refuse to buy anything on iTunes due to their tax arrangements and poor return to the artist, So my mp3player has just Jen's three albums, and Courtney's double ep.  

Courtney hit New York in October for a short visit of sold out gigs at a music festival, a pair of solo gigs in an upstairs bar in London supporting young Scottish drum and guitar duo Honeyblood, before returning to the UK in February 2014. 

I'd had my house redecorated at this time, and lost my Walkman which has hundred of albums, and so on long train journeys for football, and walks to work, all I had was my iPhone and those 3 Jen albums and 1 CB ep.   In modern digital times you can shuffle and skip, but I had just these four, so for the first time in years I was relistening to albums again and again. 

I'd bagged a ticket for the first Courtney Barnett show at the Sebright Arms, London, in February, an NME promoted gig.   This was her first UK date with her band with Bones on bass, and drummer Dave Mudie. One thing soon becomes apparent and that is Courtney is hell bent on making it. She says she reads books to pass the time, but it seems even on days off for the rest of the band, she'll do a solo appearance at a record store or a radio session. Occasionally she'll do a cover version, but primarily it's her own songs that she plays. She'll also reply to almost every fan's twitter interaction, again building the links between artist and the listener. 

March and April she's off to New York and Europe before a May return to the UK. I caught one sold out gig at the Horn in StAlbans. As I was driving, I took my vinyl copies of the double ep, and In Blood Memory (pre-signed by Jen) for signing post gig. Courtney is the perfect artist, waiting for fans to chat and sign. Bones and Dave hang around outside for a cigarette, and I corner Bones for a signature too on IBM.  He tells me how proud he is of the final mixed album and I mention my standout track is the rock out epic Name in Lights with it's quiet building start, mid song riff break, and screaming rock out finish. 

I tweet a picture of the signed album to say thanks and then CB replies that I just need Sholaki to sign for the complete set.  

Jen tweets a photo from Primavera festival in Spain, and I wonder if they might do a gig with 3/4 of the band in Europe, but without Sholaki, it's not happening.

A few weeks pass, and then Milk email to tell of a short whole band tour to Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne in July. Go for it I think, I've not had a day off for six months, so why not?  

The gigs get released, a Friday in Sydney and a Saturday in Melbourne, plus a couple of other dates. I decide to do a week in Sydney, and then a couple of days in Melbourne.  

CB keeps on touring, including Glastonbury with two stage gigs and a six Music session. 

Finally in July the band fly back from North America and Canada to Melbourne.  Jen's Saturday Melbourne show is a sell out so they add a school night Wednesday show, whilst CB squeezes in a a radio session in front of a subscribers audience for RRR rock radio.

So I've been in Sydney a week, seen Lorde, and Aussie favourites Something For Kate. It's a short train ride to Newtown, a big change from the Central Business district, Newton is all two story buildings, small restaurants and shops. 

I found the Newtown Social Club a few minutes from the station. Downstairs it's a typical Aussie bar, a few stools, pedestal tables, and sit downs for people eating. A nice retro touch was the pinball machine, so I spent ten minutes playing that. And then upstairs for the gig.