Thursday, 20 December 2012

Comment - Family Brew

Our laundry – a small, darkish, seemingly innocuous room toward the back of the house – is home to a plethora of living things.  Some of these things scuttle, back under the washing machine from whence they came.  Others seem to tap dance across the off-white walls, quickly, back to stringy homes high in corners near the ceiling.  The biggest living thing though, sits next to the water heater and doesn’t move, it doesn’t scuttle or dance, it squats and occasionally bubbles and burps, delimited within its plastic barrel.  Bubbling and burping.

This thing is my child.  It began as a mere twinkle in my eye one night not too long ago and became a reality soon after, born of the contents of a large tin, litres of water, a special sort of sugar, a small packet of yeast.  I’d lovingly sterilised its new home, I’d carefully mixed all the aforementioned ingredients, I’d paid close attention to the temperature and the light and the positioning and now it’s alive.  I’m a proud father.  I plan to take many photos once it’s grown.

Years ago, when I was young, from about the age of six to 14, we would visit my grandparents in Brisbane.  They had an old Queenslander in an outer southern suburb, a house high on stilts with plenty of space underneath to park the car, store tools and the like (my grandfather was good with his hands), and to house their laundry.  It was in this cement floored room, an ancient washer and dryer up against one wall, that my grandfather, Papa, brewed his beer.  It was almost a shrine, and it was from there that my own brewing dreams sprang.

Not at the time of course.  As a six year old, I had no idea what beer was.  Now though, some 26 years later, I’m well aware of what beer is – perhaps a little too aware.  But I digress.  The art of brewing, as a friend of mine calls it, is something that interests me greatly.  Firstly, it’s a good way to have plenty of beer on hand (providing you’ve got a continuous brew happening) without breaking the bank.  Secondly, it’s a way for me to remember Papa, who meticulously handcrafted his beer, bottled it into longnecks, and brought it out once the humidity began to hit 80, the temperature 30, and we all came to visit.  Mum and Dad would sit with him and they’d drink his brew.  I remember that well.

I also remember, more recently, not long before she died when I was in my late 20s, my Gran fondly recalling Papa’s whole process.  Her favourite story was how they’d bottle together, he filling the longnecks to a specific volume, handing them to her to cap and store, quickly turning back to the steady flow, a regular production line.  My Gran told me that story many, many times, usually with a tear in her eye, as she remembered those days, long gone.

When I was 14, Papa died.  He had throat cancer and it got him pretty bad.  I don’t remember too much about it, but talking to my uncle recently, Papa’s son, it wasn’t a good way to go.  It never is.  After his funeral, which I remember all too well, we all gathered at Gran’s house – my mother and her brother and sister sat out the back together for a while, quietly talking about Papa. 

Gran came out with a bottle after a time.  Not just any bottle, but a bottle of Papa’s brew.  Because he’d been so sick, he’d not been able to brew anymore, and so this was the very last one, the final monument to his hobby, his passion, his life.  They drank Papa’s last bottle of beer, on the day of his funeral.  They drank to him.

Drinking, particularly drinking beer, has always had a place in Australian lore, sometimes not always a good place.  But to me, sharing a beer with friends is one of the most complete ways to be.  It’s not about the actual beer per se, the alcohol, it’s about sharing and sitting, talking and thinking.  That’s what Mum and Dad, my uncle and aunt, my Gran and Papa did, and it hits home harder when they were drinking something Papa made himself, something born of patience and care, in an act that brought the family together.

Now his grandson is doing the same.  When this first batch comes out, kicking and screaming no doubt, a robust, full bodied little number, I’ll bottle into longnecks.  I’ll attach a plain white sticker and write Papa’s Brew in black texta, and I’ll take some up to Brisbane, to my aunt’s place when Mum is up just after Christmas, and we’ll drink it together.  We’ll drink it to him, and in his honour, our laundry will always, forevermore, be full of living things.

Samuel J. Fell

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Live Review - Spencer P. Jones & the Nothing Butts

Published in Time Off (Brisbane), Wednesday December 19.

Spencer P. Jones & The Nothing Butts
The Zoo, Friday December 14th

The evening begins, as most good evenings do, at Ric’s in the Mall.  We sit out the front watching the human flotsam gambol by, a tide of flesh and bone seemingly intent on its own boozy demise, which we can’t truly judge, given the jug of beer adorning our table, the ashtray already filling.

The noise here is too much though. The booming ‘80s tunes from next door drown out Benjalu on the tiny stage inside Ric’s and so it’s only one jug before we’re up and wandering, pushing through the surge, around the corner to the relative safety of The Zoo where people seem more calm and sedate, despite what lies ahead.

An extended soundcheck is in progress when we arrive, and so it’s some time before Six Ft. Hick finally begin, but when they do – booming and crunching right outta the gate, both frontmen writhing on the floor within seconds of getting the green light – it’s a sight and sound to behold indeed.

They’re an odd prospect though – the pre-pubescent punk band antics of front-brothers Geoff and Ben Corbett seem at odds with the ‘house in the suburbs, mortgage, wife, two point five kids’ thing guitarist Tony Giacca, bassist Dan Baebler and drummer Fred Noonan have going on.  But it works, as it has done for the better part of two decades, and despite one of the Corbett brothers pulling out some of his own hair and feeding it to an over-zealous punter, all is well.

To the main event – Spencer P. Jones wanders cheekily onto the stage, followed closely by James Baker, Fiona Kitschin and Gareth Liddiard (making two ex-Beasts and a couple of Drones) and without much ado, they begin.

What follows is a tsunami of guitar-based noise, an intense melding of 12 schizophrenic strings which bend and wail any which way they want, riding bareback over the Gibraltic thump and grind of Kitschin and Baker, who hold the whole ungainly thing together whilst Liddiard and Jones go off on their own tangents.

Yeah, there are songs, most culled from the group’s eponymous debut, and it’s rock ‘n’ roll, it’s hard country, but it’s mainly guitars and then more, squalls of feedback emanating from all sides, Liddiard’s guitar strung down to his knees, Jones’ high on his hip, the sound they produce a physical being, naked and vague and high on smack, likely to backhand you across the mouth before falling over and banging it’s head on something sharp which makes it squeal all the more.

It’s actually quite an exhausting set, even though it only goes for a little more than an hour, but it’s one which shakes you to your core, a sonic pistol-whipping from which there was no respite.  Indeed, highly recommended.

Samuel J. Fell

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Feature - Rodrigo Y Gabriela

Published in the December issue of Rhythms magazine.
Excerpt below...

Back To The Future
Rodrigo Y Gabriela take what seems like a backward step, in order to take two forward.

In a figurative sense, the tail end of this Year Of Our Lord, 2012, sees firebrand Mexican guitar duo Rodrigo Y Gabriela, going backwards.  Certainly not as far as skill, talent and sheer instrumental virtuosity are concerned, but more in an exploratory way, going back to how they began, as opposed to how they’ve evolved since.

Indeed, this may seem somewhat of an odd move for this pair, who over the past five or six years, have almost literally scorched their names into the minds of music fans the globe over, such is the ferocity of their twin guitar attack.  Their move from the metal bands of their formative years to the acoustic firestorm they now control is well documented, and since this journey has begun, they’ve basically reinvented how one can play the acoustic guitar.  And yet we now see them eschewing the evolutionary moves they’ve made, and taking it back to basics, as they see it.

Although, perhaps this is a misnomer.  Perhaps what we mean to say here is that after their last album, 2011’s Area 52, Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero have decided to shy away from the sonic explorations that defined that record, and take it back to just the two of them.  Talking to Sanchez ahead of their New Years Eve shows here in Australia (a place which has embraced the pair as fervently as any other country), you almost get the impression he regrets having brought in C.U.B.A (the Cuban orchestra), Anoushka Shankar, John Tempesta and the other collaborators who rounded the project out.

He doesn’t, of course, but it seems he’s more than ready for just him and Quintero, to really get it happening together again, just the two of them.  And of course, within that return to basics, that’s where you find them evolving – it’s like the old adage, you need to spend money to make money.  In this sense though, you’ve got to take it back to its beginnings, in order to grow it further.

“The first shows we did in London (last month), without the band (from Area 52) were great,” Sanchez says.  “It was great to play with the band, but [these shows], it felt like this is where we belong.  Even just talking to the audience, telling them that we were back and are [working towards a new album], you can feel people really embrace that.

“And I was very clear before the album, that this was only a project, it wasn’t a new direction or anything like that.  We wanted to put the album out and do some touring with the band, and we really enjoyed that… our aim was to go to Cuba and meet these amazing musicians, and we had a chance to do it, and we did it and professionally speaking, it was a very good move. Now I feel very happy that we’re back, which was always the original idea.”

Back in the guise they’re most comfortable with then, it’s time to move on.  As Sanchez alluded, there is a new record in the works, and it’s here, now they’ve ‘moved backward’, that they can begin moving forward.  “The good thing about what we do, not being part of any specific genre of music, is that we have the freedom to do whatever we want,” he says.

“[With this new record], we know it’ll be back to the duo format, and probably we’re going to get a little bit of a break from the Latin rhythms, because the rock roots that we really have, they’re kinda coming out again,” Sanchez continues.  “And it’s very challenging and exciting for us to be writing something that is not the old Rod and Gab, like on the first album, ‘Lets come up with something new’.  It is challenging, but we’re very happy with what we’re doing.”

Samuel J. Fell

Live Interviews - Sydney Blues Festival, 2012

Over the last weekend in October, in the historic township of Windsor, about 45 minutes from the Sydney CBD, runs the Sydney Blues Festival.  This year it ran for the fourth time, and despite the fact it's hardly a world-class event in terms of how it's run, it certainly attracted some world-class acts.

During the course of the event, for the first time at this particular festival, Rhythms magazine hosted the Rhythms Garden, a small stage in the garden behind the main ticket office / info centre, where we conducted live interviews with many of the artists on the bill.

Managing Editor Marty Jones came down quite ill over the course of the weekend, and so I took on most of the interviewing, most of which are included below, some as video, some just audio.

SJF Interviews Blues Harmonica Legend, CHARLIE MUSSELWHITE

SJF Interviews Young Guitar Maestro JOE ROBINSON