Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Feature - Lloyd Spiegel

Published in the July/August issue of Rhythms magazine. Excerpt below.

Lloyd Spiegel Is Celebrating Twenty-Five Years In Blues With A Career Defining Live Record
by Samuel J. Fell

The blues is our mother / Don’t forget it brother / It’s been having sex with the world for a long time…
- ‘The Blues Had A Baby’ (Brownie McGhee), Lloyd Spiegel Live, 2001


Time has a way of slipping by. And yet it doesn’t seem that long ago, a few months spent on a cold mountain in that odd year of our lord, two thousand and three, fuelled by cheap bourbon and cheaper smokes – me, working bars looking for money and a sense of self, him playing music looking for much the same, just different ways of going about it.

We became friends that year. I bought a CD, he signed it for me. He called me The Enemy, just starting out in the music writing game as I was. I called him Lloyd. He would have been around twenty-four then, a year or so older than I but with a wealth more experience, a wider world view, his metaphorical tote bag, after only a quarter century of use, already frayed around the edges, full to bursting with the flotsam from a life lived on the road, immersed deep within the hallowed confines of the blues.

Lloyd Spiegel was, to borrow from one of his song titles, a long way from heaven at that point in his life and career. By then, he’d been a musician, amateur and professional, for some fourteen years, and despite the fact his nightly shows, tucked over in the corner of the Buller Bar atop that cold mountain, were raucous and bawdy, I thought he seemed jaded. I wasn’t sure how one could be jaded at such a young age, and so I suppose I just pushed that thought out of my head and filled up on beer and just dug what he was throwing down, what I’d seen him throw down in various venues around Melbourne prior to our stint up that hill.

The CD I bought was his 2001 live record, Lloyd Spiegel Live, recorded at the now defunct Continental in Melbourne in early October, 2000. When I asked him to sign it, I was vaguely embarrassed, but he was happy to do it.

He wrote, in his scrawly handwriting: Sam, blues is truth, keep the faith, and signed it, an unintelligible scribble. Then he smiled and turned back to the bar where Joe would have been making audacious cocktails and probably ordered another bourbon before ambling back to the tiny stage in the tiny corner to sing his gargantuan blues in his gargantuan voice like he had no other choice.

And to be honest, at that point in time, he probably didn’t. And yet he knew it was the truth, and so the faith was just an extension of that, doing the only thing he knew, regardless of time and place. It really doesn’t seem that long ago.


This road’s no friends of mine / I spend all my money and waste a lot of time / Driving my car straight into the ground / I don’t think she’s gonna make it, but I can’t turn ‘round / It’s a long way from happiness / I’m a long way from tears / A long way from heaven, now / And there ain’t no angels in here…
- ‘Long Way From Heaven’, (Spiegel) Timber & Steel, 2006


Almost exactly twelve years later, we’re sitting in the sun on the balcony of my hotel room in Broadbeach, a few clicks south of Surfers Paradise in south east Queensland. We’re seven floors up, so the traffic drifting languidly along the Gold Coast Highway below is relatively muted. The occasional tram glides by. Jupiters Casino is clearly visible across the way.

I’m still smoking cheap cigarettes and drinking even cheaper coffee. Lloyd is sipping on a can of Coke and isn’t feeling well, but he’s happy, the happiest I’ve seen him in a long time. And he’s been here a long time. There can’t be many musicians around who, at 35 years old (36 by the time you read this), are celebrating 25 years in music. For that’s where Spiegel is at, and it’s not something that’s lost on him.

“I do, I do,” he says with a smile, when I ask if this is something he thinks about. “I don’t remember not being in it. The transition from amateur to professional, or kid blues player to adult blues player, was so gradual. I still kinda feel… because the people I grew up watching are still around, and they’re my peers now. But I don’t feel that way. I still feel like a little kid around them.”

“So I think there’s a sense of Peter Pan about the whole thing,” he goes on with a laugh. “I still get up on stage with Chris Wilson or Geoff Achison and feel like a little kid. So I do think it’s been a long time, but I still don’t feel like I’ve entirely made that grade of adult blues player.”

He smiles again. “Until the youngsters come and call me Mr. Spiegel. That’s when I start to realise this has been a long time, and I’m fortunate to have done [it].”

There have been times, over the past 25 years, where Lloyd hasn’t wanted to do it. This is no surprise, everyone has slumps, everyone feels flat from time to time. I mention to him how I thought he seemed jaded back on the hill, and we talk about the years prior to that, his formative years, the times which formed this man, sitting in front of me, short hair and black t-shirt, into the highly regarded player he is today.

“The unique position it put me in was I got to see how jaded musicians can be, from a very influential place and time in my life,” he muses. “So it was something I swore I wouldn’t do, [but] I’ve had moments where I’ve done that, I’ve become that jaded artist.”

Friday, 24 July 2015

Record Review - The Revelers

Published in the Shortlist section of The Sydney Morning Herald, Friday July 24.

The Revelers
Get Ready

Louisiana swamp-pop outfit The Revelers return with their second record in only a few years, obviously buoyed by the positive reaction to their 2012 eponymous debut. And it picks up where they left off – accordion-led, sweaty roots tunes, a swinging, swampy party from beginning to end.

Where The Revelers shine is in their ability to meld a variety of genres, without diluting the end product. Lashings of zydeco, creole and Cajun influence permeate more traditional blues, jazz and bluegrass sounds to create a buzzing paean to what American roots music has become.

Sung in both French and English, Get Ready sees the band add a bit more punch to their sound, although some tracks (‘Outta Sight’ for example’) come across as a little too accessible – their strength is in the traditional, and so to water things down seems beneath them. The majority is solid though, as you’d expect from players of this calibre – if you’re a true roots music fan, this one is worth checking out.

Samuel J. Fell

Friday, 17 July 2015

Record Review - The Mid North

Published in the Shortlist section of The Sydney Morning Herald, Friday July 17.

The Mid North
Tales From A Mountain

You would be forgiven for thinking that the lush and downhome country sounds emanating from The Mid North’s second LP come straight from a small studio somewhere in East Nashville, such is the strength and obvious understanding of this typically American music.

And yet it’s Bellingen in the state’s mid-north from which Tales From A Mountain comes, the product of one of the finer country bluegrass acts Australia offers. To see them live is to see all five members huddled around the one mic, stepping closer when their part comes up, leaning in as one so’s to capture the five-way harmonies they’ve mastered.

The album captures this all and then some. From the rollicking banjo and fiddle-led tunes like ‘Corn Liquor’ and ‘Delta Mae’ to the slower numbers like ‘Undertaker’ (breathtaking in its quiet beauty) and ‘Storm Cloud’, this is a masterful interpretation of bluegrass and Americana, delivered in a way which seems so simple and easy, and yet carries with it so much depth.

Samuel J. Fell

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Fat Belly Kaf

Published in The Good Life section of The Echo (Byron Shire).

In a place like Byron Shire, with its proliferation of small villages and hamlets, along with its history of social kinship and political solidarity, community plays a large part in day to day life. The coming together of likeminded people is ingrained in the way we operate, which is something not lost on Brunswick Heads restaurant Fat Belly Kaf.

Run by husband and wife team Jake and Danie Davidson, the latter of whom was head chef when the place was known as Fat Belly Kat (the Davidsons took it over four years ago, having also run the restaurant at the Bangalow Bowlo), this Greek and modern Mediterranean eatery is all about fostering a sense of community, people coming together to share food and conversation, whether they live in the Shire or not.

“Every single culture shares their food at a family table,” says Danie Davidson on the Kaf’s community ethos, highlighted by a Wednesday night ‘locals’ night, each week featuring a different cultural banquet theme.

“We’re looking to reach a clientele… like families, older people, we want to cater to all those people… we wanted to come up with something for that approachable price for families, or for couples to come in and have their date night on a Wednesday instead of a Friday.”

The locals nights, which have been running for a few months now, have proven to be a resounding success, filling the place out midweek in anticipation of Iranian, Portuguese, French, Irish, Indian and, most recently, Canadian fare. As Davidson says, it gives her apprentices the chance to try a wide range of new dishes away from the restaurant’s usual Greek, although if it doesn’t work, “What I tell my chefs when they come up with dishes and they’re not quite right is, you haven’t Fat Belly Kaf’d it,” she laughs.

A dish being properly Fat Belly Kaf’d means “[giving] every dish that edge of freshness, a point of conversation.” A point of conversation indeed – we’ve not yet stopped talking about the Canadian slow braised short ribs, crab cakes and pumpkin pie cheesecake. Or, having stepped away from the banquet menu, the lamb shawarma, which people travel interstate for.

Jake Davidson runs the floor with a casual and cheery aplomb, his friendliness solidifying even more the community vibe that emanates from all corners of this bright and airy restaurant, which truly is a shining light in a Shire now known for its food.

Samuel J. Fell

Fat Belly Kaf
Fully licensed (free BYO on Wednesday nights)
Phone: 6685 1100
Address: 27 Tweed Street, Brunswick Heads

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Pizza In Paradise At Suffolk Park

Published in The Good Life section of The Echo (Byron Shire).

Tucked away in Suffolk Park’s small cluster of shops and businesses on Clifford Street sits Pizza Paradiso, casually and cheerfully peddling a modern take on what can be a tired and stale Australian version of basic Italian fare.

And yet this little eatery is anything but tired and stale – whether you’re wont to drop in for a quick takeaway, or dine in and enjoy their large array of artisan pizza, pasta, tapas and desserts, Pizza Paradiso isn’t merely ‘another pizza joint’.

As proprietor Doug Blackstock says, since they opened six years ago (to the week), the aim has been to create more of a hub, somewhere locals can come to eat, but also to relax and take ownership of a space in an area dominated, and in large part defined, by its transient tourist population.
“We’re aiming to make it a cultural focus point for Suffolk Park,” he confirms. “More so in the past 12 months it’s become a very big thing, our last poetry night was packed. So yeah, we are trying to create a scene of some sort.”

Boasting live music most nights, the odd poetry reading, a solid wine-list and an impressive array of craft beers and ciders in addition to its food, Pizza Paradiso delivers on Blackstock’s ideal. Its relatively small size also fosters an intimate, comfortable environment, nicely removed from the bustle of Byron, just up the road.

Blackstock goes on to say that they’re looking to start a film club at some stage in the near future too, no doubt furthering the restaurant’s cultural cause – it’s certainly not just about the food.

What is in sharp focus is the beer list, very much about craft beer, which has enjoyed a large resurgence in the past half decade. Boasting at least 30 different brews from which to choose, there’s something for every serious (and not so) hops head. Pale Ales from WA and SA; IPAs and American IPAs from WA and Victoria; Wheat Beers from Tasmania; Ales from the UK and Byron Bay; Golden Ales, Amber Ales, Lagers, Pilsners and Porters, not to mention a couple of mango and lychee flavoured numbers.

“It’s a bit hard to explain without sounding like a hipster,” Blackstock says with a laugh on his craft beer obsession. “These are beers that are made with real care and love, they’re not a mass-produced beer, so there tends to be more depth in flavour, and also in range.”

For a chilly winter’s eve, the Holgate Temptress Chocolate Porter does wonders in warming up a shivering, thirsty diner. There are also plans to add in a number of craft gins and tequila.

The food itself stands as solid fare – locally named pizzas like Magic Mullumbimby and Broken Head (toped with pesto, bacon, mushrooms, red onion and rocket) make the grade and then some, along with pasta traditional and in-house. Pizza Paradiso seems to be a slow build, but it’s certainly a warm and inviting place, a little gem amongst the dross.

Samuel J. Fell