Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Celtic Tenors

Matthew Gilsenan    James Nelson    Daryl Simpson
The Celtic Tenors – The Irish Songbook Tour.  Presented by Duet Entertainment and Sport at The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, April 17 / 18, 2018.


Matthew Gilsenan    James Nelson    Daryl Simpson

Reviewed by Frank McKone
April 17

The strength of The Celtic Tenors’ performance is not so much in the quality of their singing – which ranges from high opera to pure folk – but in the sense of community they quickly establish with their audience.  They found the level just right for Queanbeyan’s The Q, the locals and the busful from Ulladulla, Moruya and Batemans Bay, silver-hairs among the golden harmonies.  It was not long before everyone was singing the chorus parts – from yodelling in John Denver’s Calypso to aaahing in Nessun Dorma.

In two 50-minute segments, 21 songs from bawdy Irish humour in Finnegan’s Wake (nothing to do with James Joyce!), to sad songs critical of the sending of young men to war (especially Eric Bogle’s All the Fine Young Men) and even of the transportation to Botany Bay of the young Irish farmer, for stealing bread to feed his wife and family in the potato famine (The Fields of Athenry which was written in the 1970s by Pete St. John).

A social conscience is a central concern in The Celtic Tenors’ songbook, about the plight of the homeless or about the crucial role played by carers for those ageing with dementia.  Yet the show is leavened with a sense of humour, often improvised in direct fun with us, and songs of homecoming like Song for Ireland (by English folksingers June and Phil Colclough).

After the expected Nessun Dorma by Puccini to conclude the show, when the audience demanded an encore, came a wonderful highlight – the traditional Danny Boy sung a capella without microphones. 

I’m not so sure about the presenters’ expertise in sport, but Duet certainly provided excellent entertainment, which continues at The Q for one more night before moving on to Tasmania at the Theatre Royal, Hobart, on Saturday April 21, and in Victoria in Traralgon April 22 and Frankston on the 24th to complete their first tour of Australia.

My only disappointment was that though we were told the name of the terrific young pianist / musical director, my silver-haired aural memory is not up to scratch.  I have not been able to find out who he is – he deserves acknowledgement as much as the singers in my view.  Nor could I find details of the technical team, whose lighting and especially sound mixing was equally excellent.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018


The Spooky Men’s Chorale
Wesley Uniting Church, Forrest, 14 April 2018

Reviewed by LEN POWER

Looking like the type of guys you wouldn’t want to have moving in next door to you, twelve men dressed in black wearing quirky hats wandered on to the altar of Wesley Church.  It didn’t look good, but then they started singing a rousing Georgian table song a capella and it was clear that these blokes knew what they were doing.  It was a bit spooky and also intriguing.

Formed in the Blue Mountains of NSW in 2001 by New Zealander, Stephen Taberner, the Spooky Men first attracted wider attention at the National Folk Festival in Canberra in 2004.  They have since performed at festivals in the UK and Europe.  Their popularity in Canberra was clear with every seat in the Wesley Church filled for their concert.

The first half of the show consisted mostly of songs celebrating aspects of the Aussie male that were probably best left unsaid but they were sung in fine arrangements and with clear, confident harmonies, making them even funnier.  Song titles included ‘We Are Men’, ‘My Favourite Body Part’, ‘We Are Not A Men’s Group’ and the unforgettable ‘Don’t Stand Between A Man And His Tool’.

Stephen Taberner, who conducted as well as sang, regaled the audience with deadpan commentary as the concert progressed.  The audience reacted as if they had heard it all before and were waiting for him to say their favourite lines.  As a first timer at one of their concerts, I felt it was getting a bit too indulgent at times and needed tightening up.

The second half of the concert, while still offering enjoyable moments of great silliness, also included some unexpectedly tender songs such as ‘Fiddle and Drum’ by Joni Mitchell, ‘Picture In A Frame’ by Tom Waits and sung beautifully by group member, Warren, and ‘Crossing The Bar’, from the poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson.
This group has a great gimmick going for them but they are also superb musicians who deserve the success they have achieved.

This review was first published in the Canberra City News digital edition of 15 April.

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7’s ‘On Stage’ program on Mondays and Wednesdays from 3.30pm.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Tributary Projects space offers 'Beers' and much more

Emma Beers, Tributary Project room shot
By Caren Florance
If you’re heading out to Fyshwick any weekend, maybe for some Sunday shopping or a sausage at Bunnings, take a small detour and have a look at a gallery that you might not know about: Tributary Projects. It’s up in Molonglo Mall, that strange little concrete complex that sits at the top of the roundabout at Wollongong and Newcastle Streets. There’s always something interesting happening there. A case in point is the most recent show, called ‘NOFEARSEMMABEERS.’
Emma Beer is a young, engaging artist who is just past that stage we call ‘emerging’. She wants to question, through material and process, what painting can be. She is thoroughly grounded in her art: she has been a technical assistant to a number of important contemporary artists, she’s the Technical Officer in the ANU School of Art + Design’s Painting Workshop, where she stretches canvases and wrangles classes, and she is an alumni of that workshop. She’s paid attention to the activities and attitudes around her. The work she makes is strong, abstract, and interesting, full of texture and feeling. People are starting to notice her efforts.
Emma Beers,'sink or swim,' 2018 acrylic on canvas 160x120
Each of her paintings is geometric in its composition, all squares and rectangles, each vertical and horizontal addition overlapping without wiping out the previous layer. The predominant colours in her show were blue and white, and they evoked a sense of looking out of an airplane window, across layers of clouds, through some kind of angular filter. A closer look showed that Beer made no attempt to give you an illusion of flat surface, or that the paint is anything but paint. Some layers are like whipped cream smoothed with a knife, others are thinner, looser, letting the light through. They create sharply delineated veils, crossing themselves. There are touches of red in the some of the canvases, sometimes obvious, other times in subtle places, like the sides of the canvas, leaving a dull glow against the wall.
I always give mental points to interesting titles in artwork, and extra points if the artist doesn’t use the title ‘untitled’. Often a title is what makes an abstract work sing, shifting us from the obvious to something poetic or surreal. Beer’s titles are always good, and they tend to reflect her life as she’s painting rather than what she’s painting, forming an ongoing biographical record. The title of the show stemmed from a surprise present from a friend: a mail package containing a string of wool hung with cardboard cut-out and painted lettering, made to be a banner or bunting, spelling the words N O   F E A R S   E M M A   B E E R S. It’s been hung in her bedroom for ten years as a reminder to be bold and fearless, and judging from her output, it’s been a good strategy.
Emma Beers is just one of many interesting offerings by Tributary Projects, which is an artist-run space in unit 9 of Molonglo Mall. It’s open Thurs–Sunday, 11am to 6pm, but can also be visited by appointment. Fyshwick is one of the last spaces in Canberra that offers small, strange, affordable spaces for artists to try experimental projects. It has a gallery and a performance space, and each month the website releases experimental music mixes called Spirit Theatre as a Sound Program. Everyone involved is a volunteer, and the artists who exhibit are a broad mix of emerging and mid-career. It’s an arts project to get behind, and always worth dropping into once you’ve had your sausage sanga.


Directed by Barbara Jane Gilby
Soloist: Lucy Carrigy-Ryan, viola
High Court of Australia
Sunday April 15, 2018

Reviewed by Len Power

This concert, held at the High Court of Australia, was a celebration of Musica Da Camera string orchestra being part of the Canberra music scene for 40 years.  In fact, we were told that they played the first concert in the building after it opened in 1980.

Musica da Camera was formed in Canberra in 1979 as a small baroque ensemble.  Over the years and under successive musical directors it has grown in size and its repertoire has expanded to embrace chamber music of all styles and periods.

Barbara Jane Gilby, concertmaster of the Canberra Symphony Orchestra, conducted this concert from the first chair.  Six well-chosen short works were played.

Barbara Jane Gilby

The concert commenced with the well-known Concerto for Strings in G ‘alla Rustica’; by Vivaldi.  The orchestra played the three contrasting movements with great energy and clarity.

Hindemith’s Trauermusik was next with soloist Lucy Carrigy-Ryan on viola.  This hauntingly reflective work was very well played by both soloist and orchestra.  It was followed with Elgar’s Serenade for Strings and the orchestra brought out all the warmth and colour of this atmospheric work.
Lucy Carrigy-Ryan

Crisantemi (or Chrysanthemums) by opera composer, Puccini, was next.  This romantic, dramatic work was one of the highlights of the concert, played with great sensitivity by the orchestra.  Another romantic work followed – Waltz for Betz by James Grant.  Lucy Carrigy-Ryan gave a fine performance of the solo part on the viola, nicely supported by the orchestra.

The final work, Whirling Dance, by Australia’s Graeme Koehne, was an excellent showcase for the orchestra’s ability.  They met the challenge of this work very well, making this a dramatic and rousing finale for the afternoon’s concert.  For an encore we were treated to a work by Ennio Morricone, Gabriel’s Oboe, from the movie ‘The Mission’.  It was sweetly played by the orchestra bringing this delightful concert to a close.

Photos by Peter Hislop
Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 in his ‘On Stage’ performing arts program on Monday and Wednesday at 3.30pm.

Sunday, April 15, 2018


Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Eyes Open.

 Artistic Director Ali McGregor Adelaide Festival Centre. June 8 – 23. Bookings or BASS 131 246

Previewed by Peter Wilkins

Ali McGregor. Artistic Director Adelaide Cabaret Festival
I have a confession to make. I am a Cabaret Junkie. So, it is with eager anticipation each year that I await the programme of Australia’s foremost cabaret festival. This year marks the final festival as Artistic Director for celebrated chanteuse and cabaret artist, Ali McGregor. For the past two years she has partnered with Eddie Perfect, but this year, because of Perfect’s other commitments, she has put together another fascinating programme under the theme Eyes Open. This year’s festival will open audiences’ eyes to headline artists for the first time such as Broadway star, Patti LuPone and Old Testament growler, Tom Waits. There will be emerging artists such as Joanne Hartstone with her highly acclaimed show, The Girl Who Jumped Off the Hollywood Sign and indigenous performers Archie Roach and the Tiddas.  Canberrans will be familiar with their own shining talents, Queenie van de Zandt and Mikel Simic of Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen.
Patti LuPone  -Don't Monkey With Broadway

To tell me more, I called Ali McGregor in Melbourne and caught her just in time before she was about to board a flight to London the following day. McGregor has lost none of her passion and enthusiasm for the festival and its unique offering of a veritable smorgasbord of cabaret delicacies. Over three weekends, the Cabaret Festival takes over the venues within the Adelaide Festival Centre. Some artists perform in the intimate Piano Bar. Some take to the larger stage of the 600 seat Dunstan Playhouse while others take their wine glasses to tables in the 300 seat Space. Carla Lippis’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival show, Cast A Dark Shadow will pack audience and performers in on the Festival Centre Stage. For a cocktail of cabaret artists in the opening Variety Gala or at the Closing Gala, audiences will flock to the 2000 seat Festival Theatre. On stages large and small, audiences will be treated to a sumptuous feast of cabaret performances. Some will offer traditional, anarchic cabaret in the intimate atmosphere of the Banquet Room or the Artspace. Others will present a new style of Cabaret that challenges tradition and opens the eye to new influences and experiences. There will be something for everyone and McGregor invites audiences to experience old favourites and new and unexpected discoveries.
Em Rusciano  Difficult Woman

“There are acts that I have tried desperately to get to our shores for years,”McGregor writes in her Welcome “and new discoveries I can’t wait to share” It’s a tantalizing invitation and I ask her to elaborate. She begins with Patti Lu Pone. “I love her on so many different levels.” McGregor says. “Not only is she a fabulous Broadway legend. She’s someone who’s consistently worked in the cabaret format. She has a real intimacy about her. This has been a year when we’ve really had our ears opened to a lot of other people’s stories. Cabaret is great for giving us an insight into what has been going on in other people’s worlds.” McGregor admires the fact that LuPone has never shied away from giving an opinion. She is outspoken but more than that she occupies a valid place in the public eye.
Em Rusciano began her career as a comedienne , performing in a brom closet during the Melbourne Comedy Festival. McGregor is thrilled that she has Australian artists headlining acts on the mainstage of the Festival Theatre during the festival. Rusciano’s show Difficult Woman, with musical director Chong Lim and an eighteen piece orchestra ”brings her powerful vocals and scandalous stand-up comedy to Adelaide Cabaret Festival for one night only in  a riotous celebration of lady bosses that will leave fire in your belly and a strut in your step.”
John Cameron MItchell The Origin of Love

“We have got so many incredible artists in Australia” McGregor says. “That’s the wonderful thing about this festival. It’s a little bit like a dream come true for me. I have had the opportunity to book people to come and perform for me. I don’t even have to go there” From New York comes the multi talented John Cameron Mitchell with his show The Origin of Love – The songs and stories of Hedwig. The co-creator of the Tony Award winning, Golden Globe nominated Hedwig and the Angry Inch Cameron Mitchell regales with anecdotes and sings song from the Rock Musical and subversive cult film . “He has had such a massive influence on people I know. His work is original with a really strong voice.
Amber Martin  Janis:Undead
The Origin of Love will also feature another New Yorker, Amber Martin as a guest artist. Martin is bringing her show Janis: Undead, backed by a full band and mesmerising lighting by The Joshua Light Show. “I’m really excited to bring her out.” says McGregor.” She has this Janis Joplin show which is really incredible and she’s also a very funny comedienne.”
McGregor confesses to being a massive fan of Joey Arias who will recall the Eighties underground cabaret scene at Club 57 in Three Floors of Madness. She has commissioned Arias to create a show about a time that also coincided with the underground, queer cabaret scene in Sydney. “We lost a lot of those artists to the AIDS virus, so many of the stories have never been told. I’m really keen to have someone from that era come to the festival and give an insight into that incredibly rich time in cabaret history.”
Joey Arias  Three Floors of Madness
And then there is the Tom Waits tribute show Tom Waits For No Man. At each of her three festivals, McGregor has sought to feature the work of a great icon of the cabaret scene. In 2016 it was Kurt Weil. Last year it was Jacques Brel and this year it will be a tribute to Tom Waits. Directed by McGregor and with musical direction by Charly Zastrau, the tribute will be hosted by Mikelangelo and will  feature some of the cabaret festival’s amazing artists, such as Queenie van de Zandt.
McGregor’s cabaret festival is not just a showcase of amazing talent. It is a platform for emerging artists to be mentored, so that they may one day advance to their own spot in the festival. Space to Create is a passion project of mine” McGregor says. “This is exactly what I would have loved at the start of my cabaret career. Then we were all just making it up as we went along. I wanted to help artists who could get to that next level.” Four cabaret artists have been invited to a kind of cabaret boot camp. They are hooked up with a mentor who will be one of the artists from the programme and then they have sessions on anything they think they need from writing, designing, marketing and budgeting as well as performance and there’s no pressure for them to have something by the end of the week. “I want to give them a bit of a headstart.”
Mikelangelo Balkan Elvis
Class of Cabaret, introduced by David Campbell during his time as Artistic Director, also provides the perfect training ground for young performers. Twenty young cabaret performers from South Australian secondary schools take to the Space Theatre for two performances on June 23rd. The show is directed by David Lampard and accompanied by Alex Wignall. I have seen previous shows and have ben astounded by the talent on show. The students also receive mentorship, by renowned cabaret artists Amelia Ryan and Michael Griffiths. The students tell their stories in a show that will amaze and inspire.
Another initiative is the First Unsettlers, celebrating the origins of the cabaret genre in the halls of circus and vaudeville by such artists as Roy Rene aka Mo McCackie. Singer and songwriter, Mark Holden will present Mark Holden’s Greatest Show on Earth, recalling his own family’s history with the Holden Bros Circus De Luxe. As part of the First Unsettlers, McGregor also aims to involve indigenous artists. Of the hundreds of submissions, McGregor receives to take part in the cabaret festival she has only ever had one submission from an indigenous group. “Cabaret is seen as a little bit elitist and very white middle class. Archie Roach and Tiddas will present Dancing With My Spirit, and will be involved in discussions about indigenous cabaret artists and how the cabaret festival may generate more of their stories.
Archie Roach and Tiddas Dancing With My Spirit
A glance at the plethora of shows and events on hand over the three weekends in June is enough to lure any cabaret aficionado to the Festival City. But which weekend? “This is like Sophie’s choice.” McGregor says. “I’ve tried to programme that every weekend has a really good cross section of artists. Every week we have a variety gala. It’s good to start with an artist and then the Backstage Club and then go from there. I’ve tried on the website to list categories to help people choose things that they like, for example, one theatre kind of show, one comedy kind of show and then something else. Go with something that is your taste and then something you’ve never heard of.”
Whatever you choose, you know that McGregor’s final cabaret festival will bring you the cream of the cabaret crop and a festival experience  you will never forget and will have you coming back for more.