It was around 2am on a mid autumn evening when I sat next to Al Tuck at the end of the bar in Ducky’s pub in Sackville, NB, enthusiastically pitching the idea of having him come and play a show at a charming little church in the north end of Sydney. Even through the barroom fog I could see it was a good idea. I was sure of it. Sadly, as is the fate of so many ideas spawned over soggy beer coasters, it faded away with last call. Six months later I felt the elements of providence and surprise collide in my brain as I pushed through the doors of St. Patrick’s Museum on the Esplanade, late for a show at which I was scheduled to play only to be greeted by the dirty leather boots of Al Tuck seated casually at the back. “I didn’t expect to see you here” I said, a little lost in the din of 5 days on the road, “I didn’t expect to be here” said Al. And then the band played another song.
On Monday, May 11th, one of Sydney’s underused gems, St. Patrick’s Museum — a 180 year old Catholic Church nestled snugly alongside Sydney Harbour — played host to an evening of music so special that its essence will reside in Sydney’s music scene for years to come. Slated to be a two part event consisting of an early evening all ages affair and a late night adults-only addendum, featuring overlapping, yet slightly different lineups, a double booking (with a chain restaurant staff party) at Bunker’s Pub meant that late night sister show had to be called off. Rather than send anyone away without the opportunity perform, the late night artists were invited to join the early evening crowd at St. Pat’s. The results couldn’t have played themselves out more sweetly. As I settled myself into the cozy confines of the church, Quebec City-based, New Brunswick native, Jane Ehrhardt was already on stage. Supported by a band of multi instrumentalists that included Quebec folk duo Bette & Wallet, Ehrhardt decorated the church with a winsome array of indie lounge folk as the early evening light shone in upon them from the big church windows. Ehrhardt cut her set short to invite Al Tuck (who was unscheduled to play either event that evening) up to play a couple of songs. Al Tuck is the archetypal peer-respected, under-appreciated traveling troubadour, whose history and demeanor are just as interesting as his songs. I’m not sure when he’s last performed in Sydney and I’m not sure if he knows either but the ease and charisma of his performance made it feel like he’s been there playing in that church for the past 180 years. And maybe he has.
Maybe it was the hangover or perhaps the pressure of having to play after Al Tuck or a little bit of both but when it came time for me to play, I had a hard time moving my fingers across the guitar and singing. These are things I’d rather not have to deal with as a solo performer. Despite those setbacks I had and amazing time playing if only for the fact that I got to watch the audience. There was an infant in a dandy of a green jumpsuit crawling here and there, several other kids bouncing around, artists, musicians, parents of musicians, Albert Lionais’ shadowy mustache, folks that I knew very well and folks that I’d never met – each of them with a look on their face that said in one way or another, “I’m having a good time”. My set ended with a hum-along/whistle-along care of the audience, at which point I decided I was also having a good time. Dear audience, thanks for the hums & whistles.
Next Youth Haunts made its public debut. Youth Haunts is local nice guy, Devon Morrison in a bear mask (2 extra points for the bear mask) operating a series of tape machines, pedals, analogue doo-dads — and other things that I don’t understand — in the most melodically-charged, chaotically subdued fashion. Combining sounds of nature with sounds of terror that he would build up and tear down amongst melodic loops, which circled the whole time like musical hurricanes. He calls it Tape Music. I call it the most inventive and exciting music to come out of Sydney right now.
Donald Hinson Calabrese is the merry old soul who is solely responsible for this event having happened and for that, we should give him a key to the city. He, along with drummer Merlin Clarke are also responsible for the post industrial delta dirt ensemble known as Buck & Kinch. Normally a high volume showcase of sweetly toned grit folk, this time Buck & Kinch tinkered with slightly softer sounds more suitable to the serene surroundings. Merlin traded in sticks for brushes and Donnie picked up his steel faced dobro and they twanged and thumped through their repertoire of originals that sound like they were written 40 years ago and covers that you never would have guessed were covers. Buck & Kinch make the kind of music that make you want to stamp out your pocket watch and buy another whisky.
The headlining act was London Ontario’s Olenka & the Autumn Lovers. Having had the opportunity to get to know them, I can promise you that the members of Olenka & the Autumn Lovers are some of the loveliest folks you’ll meet in the music industry (or any other industry for that matter) and their music feels like an extension of their personalities. As they played, the audience was completely silent — under a spell of charm & endearment until it was clear that the song was over at which point they would erupt into longer-than-usual round of applause and foot-stomping. Songwriter, Onlenka Krakus maps out a seamless river of folk and country songs stirred by her Polish background and accentuated by compelling arrangements (on cello, violin, accordion, double bass, guitar, lap steel, mandolin, glockenspiel and drums) compliments of the Autumn Lovers. St. Pat’s was the perfect setting to see them play and I think that was manifested in their performance, which was endlessly captivating. Watch for them taking the world by charm any day now.
The simple joys produced from this show will surely serve as inspiration to put on more shows of a similar nature. And should you suddenly find yourself in attendance at such a show, pat yourself on the back. . . you’re a part of something good.