James Vincent McMorrow: “It definitely took me by surprise in the most wonderful way possible”

james vincent mcmorrow

JAMES Vincent McMorrow’s music is tailor-made to fill big spaces, metaphorically and literally. Luckily for him – and us – an upcoming show at QPAC and two nights at the Sydney Opera House will allow it to do just that.

“I want [the show] to be something that’s not just song, gap, song, gap,” he says. “I want it to be something that flows and gets bigger as the set goes along. We’ve got this really expansive lighting rig that we’re bringing; it’s kind of the fifth person on-stage. Hopefully we’ll bring a booming big set.”

The 31 year-old Irishman is no stranger to Australia, having been here as recently as five months ago, but he admits the sudden demand for tickets caught him off guard, in a good way.

“I don’t really pay attention to what’s going on in particular countries unless I’m there,” he says. “We were [in Australia] in January and the reaction was brilliant. When we talked about doing these shows, the idea was to do them way later, then all of a sudden I was told things are really good here. About a week after they put them on sale, I got a call saying that the Sydney Opera House was sold out and they were adding second dates. It definitely took me by surprise in the most wonderful way possible. I mean, I’m pretty ambitious and I want to play places like that, but I didn’t expect it to happen this quickly in somewhere as far away as Australia. But then, you can’t predict everything; sometimes things just work. We just finished the US tour, and it was very much big venue to small venue to big venue, depending on which city we were in. I don’t feel any different if we go from 1600 people one night to 600 people the following; I still feel the same. Obviously Sydney Opera House is a special place; it’s like the Royal Albert Hall or Carnegie Hall or somewhere like that. There’s a resonance that goes beyond it being just another show, perhaps. I’ve looked at all the other Australian venues and they are all stunning and look amazing, so I won’t think about them any differently, and they’re all equally important.”

Released in January, Post Tropical is McMorrow’s second album, and sees his sound moving further away from his folk roots in a more soulful direction.

“This record was made for people to live with for a while,” he says. “I didn’t expect it to give itself away to people incredibly quickly. It’s been interesting going from territory to territory and seeing people’s reactions. The first record did very well in Europe, and when we played shows there we could see people starting to wrap their heads around the new sounds and new ideas. By the end of the shows we could really see people understanding it. When we went to the US, people were really into it intensely, and we could hear people singing every word. It was very soon for that for me; with the first record I spent two years working away before people really heard anything. The response to the new record was really quite compelling and drove me onwards to play the songs better and better every night. The response has been how I hoped. I never expect it; I just hope for it when I do these things.”

The first single is ‘Cavalier’, which McMorrow explains is the most accurate representation of what Post Tropical has to offer.

“I chose it because I thought it was the best song on the record, in the sense of letting people know what’s coming,” he says. “I wanted it to be a song that draws a line in the sand, or plants my flag in the ground or whatever you want to call it. It’s a definitive sound; there could have been songs that show where the last record was and where the next one is going, before we deliver something like ‘Cavalier’ further down the line, but I didn’t want to do that. I think people are smart, and I’m not in the business of trying to convince people; you either like it or you don’t, and that’s totally fine. With ‘Cavalier’, I thought people will hear it and either be in or be out. If they hear it and understand what I’m doing and what I’m going for, musically and stylistically, then they’ll like it. I don’t want to waste people’s time putting out songs that might be a little bit like something they might’ve heard before, then when they go to the record it’s different.”


Interview: Melanie Safka

melanie safka

NEW YORK-BORN Melanie Safka – better known simply as Melanie – is true singer-songwriter royalty. Having been thrust into the spotlight as a relatively unknown 22 year-old folk singer by an appearance at the now legendary Woodstock Music Festival in 1969, she has gone on to make a long career out of music and songwriting. An upcoming tour of Australia will allow fans the chance to hear classic songs ‘Brand New Key’, ‘Ruby Tuesday’ and ‘Lay Down (Candles In The Rain)’.

What can fans expect from your shows on your upcoming tour?

They can expect me to do some of my new ones and some of my old ones. They do not have to fear that I will do a jazz version of ‘Brand New Key’ or something. Some people get older and think it will be very clever to do jazz versions of their songs, but I won’t be doing that. It’ll be a good cross section of hits and things that were maybe not even released. Usually I’m really in touch and I’ll often decide at the very last minute what I’m going to do, but I don’t want to disappoint people so I’ll do songs that people know. Honestly, I’ve sometimes got real die-hard Melanie people who don’t want to hear ‘Brand New Key’ and want to hear the newer or more obscure things. There will be something for them too.

How much new material do you have?

I write all the time and I have a new album, which was quasi-released. I’ll be bringing some CDs with me to have at the shows; it’ll be like Melanie’s garage sale. The new album is called Ever Since You Never Heard Of Me. My son and I write together and he just produced a new single called ‘Make It Work For Me’. I’m thinking that we live in a world where people just download a song they like, so I decided to do it that way. But of course, for those people who want a concept album, we’ve been working on an orchestrated Melanie piece. My son is a real composer and has toured all over the world as a solo concert guitarist, and he’ll be with me as well as an Australian contingent. It should be a lot of fun.

Could your new material be called classic Melanie material, in terms of style?

I don’t know; I’ve never really identified myself. When you really think about it, my hits were all over the place; a pretty eclectic mix. One record was a gospel hit, with 46 gospel singers and the next was a little whimsical thing and the next was ‘Beautiful People’, or however chronologically it goes; I know they’re all in there somewhere. I’m always a little all over the map, so is there such a thing as a ‘classic’ Melanie song? They’re all me, I guess.

You’ll probably forever be associated with Woodstock and the hippy movement. What are your main memories of the festival?

I remember everything; I could take three days to talk about it. When I arrived I was totally not an experienced performer. I didn’t have any hit records, just one recording that was being played on underground radio, and if even one percent of that audience had ever heard it, it would have been amazing. I was terrified, and on top of that I was really an introvert – and still really am, but I’ve learned how to handle it. The terror mounted all day long. I went to the festival with my mother, as I was working on a film score in England where my husband was producing and we had been working together. I almost thought that maybe I shouldn’t do this Woodstock thing, but decided that I suppose I should go. I thought it was going to be like a little picnic in a field with arts and crafts, and families with picnic blankets; I had no clue. Communications then were so different; the hype hadn’t hit England and at the last minute my mother picked me up and we drove to Woodstock. We hit some traffic and I thought there was maybe an accident or something, and when I finally got to a phone booth and got someone on the phone, we realised the traffic had something to do with this festival thing; it wasn’t just weekend traffic or anything like that. Then I began to shake, and when we got to the rendezvous place someone told me to go to a helicopter, and I’d never been in a helicopter and asked them why we can’t just go in a car like everybody else. My mother and I went towards the helicopter and somebody stopped us and said ‘Who’s she?’ I replied ‘It’s my mom,’ and they told us she couldn’t come; it was bands and managers only. So I got into the helicopter alone, having said goodbye to my mother, and I get brought to this field where I didn’t even know what this ‘stuff’ was underneath me. I asked the pilot what it was, and he said ‘It’s people!’ I’d never seen anything like it; it was incredible. I was led to a tent where I didn’t have even as much as a backstage pass, so if I wandered too far from the backstage area, Hell’s Angels types would pick me up and bring me back out to the crowd. I would have to say ‘No, no, I’m an artist, I’m supposed to sing!’ and I would sing a line from ‘Beautiful People’ or something, and they took me back. By night time it began to rain and I thought everyone would surely go home, and the announcer made a statement saying that someone was passing out thousands of candles and some inspirational little note. Then someone came in and said ‘You’re on next’. I really, really thought I was going to die; I can’t even say how terrified I was. All day long I was waiting, and people had been telling me all day that I was on next before postponing it, and this time I was waiting for the postponement, but it didn’t come. I went on and had an out-of-body experience and rejoined myself somewhere during ‘Beautiful People’. The thing was, because it started to rain and the announcer was talking about the candles being passed out, I’m forever linked with the lighting of things at festivals even before the song ‘Candles In The Rain’. It was an amazing camaraderie that everyone wanted to continue, and then I wrote that song and bringing something that lit to a Melanie show became the thing to do.

At what point did you realise you’d been part of such an iconic cultural phenomenon?

Maybe when we started doing reunions I realised it was such a monumental thing. I mean, it was a festival and then I did every festival; I became like a festival queen. Every time there was a big festival, Melanie had to be there. I guess the [idea] of me at Woodstock was that I went onto the stage as an unknown and came off as a celebrity. I think that was part of the mystique; after all, there were lots of other people at Woodstock, but I’m so linked to it because of that.

What are your plans for the rest of the year and beyond?

I’ve written a musical based on the life of my husband and I. My husband passed away three years ago; he was my manager and producer for all my albums as well as being the father of our children. So it’s a whole new universe, and from the day he passed away I started thinking of this incredible story. He always wanted me to write my journal and memoirs as an autobiography, and I always said I don’t know what to write or that I didn’t have a lot of pictures as I was always so shy that I would run from the photo op. I just don’t think I’m a person who should have a book. On our last road trip he gave me a leather-bound journal and told me to just write. He said it doesn’t matter where you start; at the middle or about single events that happened in my life, or from singing at the United Nations general assembly or different situations and moments. When he passed, I looked at this empty journal and started to write. My first line was ‘Sometimes you don’t know it’s a story until it has an end’. Then I wrote our story, which is really a strange one. We were married for over forty years, working in a business that is relentless and at the same time we were totally opposite [types of] people. I was very young and he just swooped me up, you know? I looked at it from the perspective of forty-three years later against the backdrop of historic events like the war in Vietnam and it all came together as a musical, with some old songs and some new. We did it once, and I’m still looking to do it; it’s a really amazing show. Maybe we’ll get some theatre people in Australia involved.


Adelaide Cabaret Festival, SA – Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide
Saturday, 7 June 2014, Sunday, 8 June 2014 and Monday, 9 June 2014
Tickets available from http://www.bass.net.au and 131 246

Brisbane Powerhouse, Brisbane, Qld – Thursday, 12 June 2014
Tickets available from http://www.brisbanepowerhouse.org and 07 3358 8600

Star Court Theatre, Lismore, NSW – Saturday, 14 June 2014
Tickets available from http://www.starcourttheatre.com.au and 02 6622 5005

The Clarendon, Katoomba, NSW – Wednesday, 18 June, 2014
Tickets available from http://www.clarendonguesthouse.com.au/whats_on.html and 02 4782 1322

Record review: The Rusty Datsuns – Riverbank (2013 LP)

This long-awaited debut album from The Rusty Datsuns has roots in the 2011 floods, when the Brisbane trio played tunes to keep their spirits up as the rising water lapped at the door of their Queenslander. Deeply rooted in traditional bluegrass and folk, but with a delicately jaunty modern vibe, Riverbank is a homely and engaging collection of songs put together by members of local acts Bessy-Lou, These Dirty Bones and Chocolate Strings. The circumstances of the band’s formation is telling in tracks like galloping instrumental ‘Let It Rain’ and the excellent title track, and the vocal harmonies on ‘Pastis’ and
playful piano tinkling on ‘Porcelain’ are more than impressive, while closer ‘Billy Bob’ injects a dose of stomp into proceedings. The overall positive approach to song-writing gives the album a warm and welcoming feel, making this the type of stuff best enjoyed with a dark oak ale in your hand and a piece of straw hanging from your grinning mouth.

Interview: Old Man Luedecke

old man lued

At 37, Chris ‘Old Man’ Luedecke isn’t exactly old. He is, however, a Juno Award-winning singer, songwriter and banjo player from Nova Scotia who will tour Australia throughout November in support of Jordie Lane.

At what age did you start playing music, and how did you settle on the banjo as your instrument of choice?

Pretty early. My parents had me in a program called Kinder Musik in Toronto at four or so. We played glockenspiels and sang nursery rhymes. I played and loved the clarinet and piano through grade school and high school. I gave up music, I thought, when I did a lit degree but I was playing banjo and writing songs two months after graduation. I don’t remember singing until I met my wife. We had an early date where we drove a borrowed ’60s Chevy pick-up on the Top Of The World highway to Alaska from Dawson City one night and I sang her every song I knew.

What can Australian fans expect from an Old Man Luedecke show in 2013?

Great stories and tunes. Thumping foot and rhythm with sparkling banjo, catchy melodies and thought-provoking lyrics.

Recording your new album Tender Is The Night took just four days in Nashville. How intentional was that?

I’ve always worked pretty quickly in the studio because I tend to arrive with finished songs that I can already play myself. Nashville wasn’t much different, but the cats were really heavy and I was able to get comfortable quickly. I really like the live sound of my records. They’re not over-thought, they just sound like people making music with my tunes.

Your songs reveal your fondness for language and literature. What literary influences went into this album?

Well, off the top of my head there’s Melville, Tom Paine, the Bible, Aesop’s Fables, John Prine, Robert Service, Walt Whitman, Ginsberg…