To borrow a line from Mental as Anything – the gigs are getting bigger. I played the National Folk Festival over the Easter weekend. There must have been 60,000 or more through the site over the four days and the music was wonderful. It was my first National in several decades, since well before it found a permanent home in Canberra. I had played many when it was rotated from state to state and have many fond memories of festivals in Melbourne, Sydney and particularly Alice Springs.
Among a host of great performers Battlefield Band were brilliant, as was April Verch. But the highlights for me were Harry Manx and my old friend Glenn Cardier. Harry was mesmerizing. He makes music that is deeply rooted in the blues with an eastern influence that at once seems both ancient yet contemporary. He had a wonderful young keyboard player with him who’s choice of sounds and solos were a perfect compliment to Harry’s playing, singing and writing. In addition he’s a consummate interpreter of other people’s songs. I walked out of the concert immensely satisfied.
Glenn Cardier is a very special talent. I saw him twice and each time came away deeply moved by the depth and clarity of his writing. He may well be the best lyricist currently writing in Australia. His songs, even when he takes a lighthearted approach, are insightful and illuminating. His humour, which is never far from the surface, is warm and beguiling and when he chooses to let go he can be powerfully energetic both in his writing and delivery.
I remember hearing an early song of his called Until the Fire Dies back in the 70s and thinking, “that’s a great song”. There are new songs now that surpass even the best of those he wrote back then and only hint at what is yet to come. If you get the chance go and see him work. You won’t be disappointed. He’s quite unique and one of the most remarkable talents this country has produced. He deserves to be heard by a wide audience.
I played three concerts, held a song writing workshop and did an interview for the national archives – and had a great time. The audience responses took my breath away. I had gone with some trepidation and came away feeling deeply humbled by the warmth with which I had been received. Many came up to me as I was signing CDs after the concerts and asked “where have you been?” – one bloke even said “someone told me you had died”. (I think he left reassured that I was still very much alive.) We sold virtually every CD I took with me after the first two concerts (I was kicking myself that I had seriously underestimated how many I would sell) and hearing a thousand or more people sing lustily when given the opportunity was heartwarming.
The sheer diversity of this festival is remarkable. The modern definition of a “folk festival” is infinitely more progressive than it used to be and there is something for almost everyone to enjoy – Lady Gaga fans and heavy metal freaks mightn’t find it to their taste.
A number of programmers and artistic directors from other festivals around the country came to Canberra (The Folk Alliance had it’s AGM there) and I have been approached about my availability for several over the next 12 months. It just gets better.