Monday, July 17, 2006


When you go to a folk concert, you can never be quite sure what you're going to get. You could find yourself lumbered with skinny ferals in handmade hats, playing those bloody drums of theirs, and irritable, lank-haired girls with cheap guitars struggling to find a word that rhymes with 'Halliburton'.

But on Friday night, when I went to see Chloe Hall at the Wannaroo Folk Club on the recommendation of a friend, I had the other side of folk; middle-aged suburban dwellers, mostly with European accents and beards, singing traditional songs about dark-eyed gypsy girls, drinking, doomed love affairs and the intricacies of the feudal system.

I'd been expecting something fairly low key, and I wasn't disappointed. The Folk Club meets in a community hall in one of the interchangable northern suburbs, full of dark 70s brick and noticeboards covered in health program flyers. The crowd, when they'd all eventually arrived, only totalled about twenty five, but they were participants, not an audience. They included a garrulous old man with a white beard who played the bagpipes and tin whistle, a George Lucas doppelganger who played the guitar and sang loudly and lustily, a man who only felt comfortable singing in a hobbit-like waistcoat while holding a pewter ale mug, and a couple of softly spoken women who sang eerie songs centuries older than our city or our nation.

The Club's special guest was Chloe Hall, a Melbourne musician on a nomadic tour around the country playing odd little venues and promoting her most recent album. She was accompanied by cellist James Hazelton, and together they were, frankly, enchanting. The three levels of sound - the deep cello, Chloe's guitar and her high, soft, sweet voice - worked perfectly together. Her songs covered the universal topics of being in love, being out of love, missing absent friends, being together and being alone. I liked it so much I bought two copies of her album in the interval.

The funny thing is that although I'm enjoying the album very much, it's not quite as engaging as the experience of her and James performing, without any sound equipment, in an accoustically-undistinguished community hall. Perhaps this is because of the nature of simple, self-made music. Folk music is, literally, about folk. It is music designed for participation, not consumption. All of the music in that evening, from Chloe and James and from the Club members, was a refreshing tonic from the commercial, mass-produced, slick world beyond the community hall (which appropriately enough shared a car park with a multiplex and a McDonalds). Chloe's album is produced, but the live performance is created. It's special because it can never be recaptured.

It's at times like this that I feel sort of hollow because I can't play an instrument.


Blogger MC Etcher said...

I don't play an instrument either, and I feel the same way.

8:25 PM  

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