Country In The Convict Capital

With Gareth Hipwell.

At the outset of this quarter’s Convict Capital, I would have the record reflect only that, at 31 years of age, I am resigned to just two things: balding, and never being able to afford a bona fide Nudie Suit.

Where have all the skinny cowboys gone? (Did they ever exist?) Like so many country tragics before me, I have spent the last several years cultivating a not-altogether-healthy obsession with embroidered rodeo suits, shirts, and other accoutrements. Yet the unmistakable click of a pearl snap; the no-nonsense pattern of gunfighter sleeves, the inviting grin of smiley pockets – all of these things have long had a tendency to plunge your columnist into a bitter cloud of chagrin. Because the world of country-western couture, it seems, has never been equipped to outfit a stunted Australian desk-worker whose muscle mass can scarcely sustain a case of beer for the 200-metre shuffle from the bottle-o, much less manhandle a steer. H Bar C, Scully, the misleadingly named Panhandle Slim – all seem intent on tailoring their wares to the mythical Marlboro Man of yore. Or Midland. Or else the members of Sydney’s Cruisin’ Deuces, whose eye for mid-century period detail is beyond compare on the local scene.

It’s not getting any easier, either, now that my midline has begun to expand at the urging of so many chicken wings and schooners, while my biceps atrophy ever further with disuse. None of which is to say that I have been completely unsuccessful in my quest for a suitable shirt. There are a few compassionate souls out there who make it their business to re-size secondhand rodeo shirts for persons of slight stature, and I have been fortunate enough to chance upon some such prizes over the years. Better still is Newcastle’s incomparable Bippy Jean, whose spectacular custom shirts cater to would-be Buck Owens stand-ins of all sizes.

But when it comes to vintage western wear, the variety of properly fitting embroidered rodeo shirts available to a man of my dimensions is, nonetheless, severely truncated. So that, whereas I would like to regard myself as a “pistols, skulls, and wolves / eagles / stallions” kind of dude, I am all too often reduced to the ignominy of sporting a design of faded, threadbare flowers instead. There is no consolation in the notion that these might serve to bring out the colour of my eyes, either, since nothing brings out the hidden depths of dishwater.

All that remains is to plan for the day I can afford a custom chain-stitched rodeo suit blazoned with the design of my choosing. Recent work by America’s best and brightest tailors – from Fort Lonesome to the jaw-droppingly creative Union Western – only goes to show that, when the time comes, the sky is well and truly the limit. From Joshua Hedley’s puma- and- heron-embroidered get-up, to the astronauts and stars of Robert Ellis’ stage suit…to the t-bone steaks that festoon the jacket and pants of Ellis’ Traveller bandmate Jonny Fritz, the new crop of country innovators has an undeniably impressive head start. At least my hat fits well enough.

Whatever your sartorial tastes, the coming months have plenty of stellar live entertainment on offer. The world beating The Brothers Comatose (USA) are at the Bunker at Coogee Diggers on 21 March, as are Gordie MacKeeman and His Rhythm Boys (Canada) on 22 March.

Globetrotting bluesman Eugene Hideaway Bridges is at Leadbelly Newtown on 9 March, before Ramblin’ Nights sees the incomparable The Brothers Comatose (USA) take to the venue on 22 March, with support from Andy Golledge Band. Also at Leadbelly are Hat Fitz and Cara on 26 April, Australian country’s foremost husband and wife duo Brooke McClymont and Adam Eckersley on 27 April, and Nashville-via-Western Australia’s own alt. country trailblazer Ruby Boots on 5 May.

Superstar Darius Rucker plays the Enmore Theatre on 21 March, before enduring Convict Capital favourites Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit call into the venue on 25 March, with support from Deer Tick. Rounding out a phenomenal lineup at the Enmore are Kip Moore and Lee Brice on 22 April.

Out west, Rooty Hill RSL hosts the very special Travellin’ Still: The Songs of Slim Dusty on 3 March, featuring Pete Denahy and Slim’s own Travelling Country Band – including long-time Slim Dusty cohorts Rod Coe, Mike Kerin, and Jeff Mercer. Also at Rooty Hill is Australian-born, Canadian-raised ex-pat Gord Bamford, who calls into the Club on 23 March.

Cronulla’s Brass Monkey hosts The Eagles Show: The Heart of the Matter on 3 March, before English pickers Flats and Sharps (UK) take to the venue on 20 March, with support from Scotland’s The Frank Burkitt Band. Also at the Monkey are Eugene Hideaway Bridges (US) on 23 March, and the unstoppable Adam Eckersley and Brooke McClymont on 26 April.

Gordie MacKeeman and His Rhythm Boys (Canada) play Camelot Lounge in Marrickville on 23 March, before the venue hosts The Songs and Tales of Angry Old Men on 23 June, featuring the songs of Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan and others. Meanwhile, Jordie Lane performs at Camelot sister venue Django Bar on 7 April, before The Eagles Show: The Heart of the Matter on 13 April.

Up North, Lizotte’s hosts Travellin’ Still: The Songs of Slim Dusty on 4 March, Gordie MacKeeman and His Rhythm Boys (Canada) on 18 March, Lazy Sunday Lunch with Mike McClellan also on 18 March, Gord Bamford (Canada) on 22 March, Harry Manx (Canada) on 14 April, Angry Old Men on 5 May, The Eagles Show on 1 June, and Amber Lawrence on 22 June. And one for the advance calendar: Lizotte’s also hosts Jason Owens Sings John Denver on 18 August.

Not forgetting Canterbury Hurlstone Park RSL’s regular Canterbury Country fixture on the first Thursday of every month.

And be sure to keep a close eye on the lineup at the Union Hotel in Newtown, Staves Brewery’s Malt Room, Marrickville’s Gasoline Pony, and the George Hotel in Waterloo for the best country and alt. country offerings for the tail end of summer.

As ever, if you have a gig to plug or an axe to grind, please feel free to get in touch with the writer at gdhipwell@gmail.com.