There are few places more serendipitously appropriate to find oneself post-delivery of Budget 2014 (See ya later, Disability Commission! Catch ya round, free healthcare for the poorest! ) than The Melbourne Folk Club in iconic Trades Hall Building on Lygon Street in Carlton. You can see the ghosts of John Wren and the 8-hour work day haunting the streets surrounding its icy whiteness.
As my friend and I arrived at the Trades Hall, one end of the giant building was bursting with young socialist alliance types waging class war (on themselves, mostly). I applaud their enthusiasm. At the other, the entry to Bella Union – an intimate old school hall-type arrangement hung with Union flags. It felt like the kind of venue I frequented as a teenager doing bellydancing classes in the chilly Dandenong Ranges : reader, I felt quite at home.
I’m a veteran of folk festivals: Port Fairy? Dunnit. Saw Tiddas there. The Dandenong Ranges Folk Festival (short-lived, rained-out and magnificent)? Yus. Queenscliff Music Festival? Yeah, you saw me at that. Folk and me are old friends. The Melbourne Folk Club, then, is a wonderful thing – two sweet and simple sets on a weeknight, promising to break your heart with acoustic goodness before sending you home for a nap by 10:30pm. There’s more weeks of this Folk Club for you to enjoy, so visit their Facebook page and pop along.
We were lucky to see Mick Thomas ( inset below, of Weddings Parties Anything and his-own-brand fame), singing songs of both Northcote Plaza and the witchy-shenaningans of Elizabeth Jones and Lily O’Grady and the Castleford Ladies’ Magic Circle. You can see its writer, Jack Thackray, singing that little gem here. Mick was followed by the deeply moving Suzannah Espie (above), whose sweet and strong voice allows her lyrics cut to the heart of our common failures and successes. She sung a delicate tale called Rosedale (so named for a town just outside of Sale in country Victoria) about a woman returning home for the wedding of her best friend to the man she had always loved (but never revealed her ardour). Oh, I cried.
Tears can’t last for long, though, when there’s a giant-sized photo of our dear leader Gough Whitlam to pucker up to. It was intermission, and time to explore the Trades Hall building (and pose with The Big Man himself). Thank-you for the education you offered to everybody, Goughie-boy. Without that opportunity, the generation of baby-boomer migrants who are broadly-speaking our parents wouldn’t have integrated as well as they had. I am a direct beneficiary of his tertiary-education-for-all policy.
A discomforting-yet-angelic cross of Hank Williams/Nick Cave/Jeff Buckley, Marlon Williams finished a fine evening of folk to an appreciative audience with his distinctive brand of storytelling gallows music from another time, another place. Influenced by both music sacred and profane, Williams’ sound is truly standalone. I’m reading a book at the moment – The Inheritance of Ivorie Hammer – and Williams’ songs of fallen women, state institutions and dustbowl dying towns seems to be a perfect soundtrack to its lonely elegance. Beautiful to behold in more ways than one, should you have the opportunity to see Marlon Williams play – take it.