DEEP DOWN SOUTH – MELBOURNE COUNTRY

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With Lachlan Bryan

It’s fair to say I felt quite at home at Tamworth this year. That’s not surprising I suppose, given it was the sixth consecutive festival visit for my band and I since we started making the annual pilgrimage in January 2010. But I have to say things felt extra familiar this time round, almost definitely thanks to the number of Victorians I stumbled into on stages, on the streets and in bars around town. Numbers may have been a little down for the festival overall, but Victorian numbers were undoubtedly up. For this edition of the column, I’m going to introduce you to a bunch of the Victorians you might have seen at Tamworth if you were there. If you weren’t there of course, these introductions are doubly important, as they’ll hopefully encourage you to check out these fine singer-songwriters online and when they come to your town.

I’ll start with a girl who grew up in the border regions of Victoria, and may already be a little familiar to you thanks to her performances in the 2015 Star Maker competition and 2013 Telstra Road to Discovery.  Gretta Ziller, like most of the artists I’m profiling here, fits comfortably into the ‘alt’ country category, and her debut EP Hell’s Half Acre (produced by Matt Fell) is a very fine contribution to the genre. What I like about most about Gretta is the emotional force behind her writing and performance – when Gretta sings, we are left in no doubt that she means it. Her EP and live show are both compelling, and I highly recommend checking her out.

Second cab off the rank is Dan Waters – the inner Melbourne troubadour with the slight southern drawl (courtesy of seven or eight years spent living and working in South Carolina). There’s an enormous warmth to Dan, which makes itself evident in person, on stage and via your stereo speakers – whilst his lyrics are funny, philosophical and occasionally surreal. The good news about Dan is that he’s getting into the touring lifestyle, so NSW and Queensland fans should get more chance to see him than in previous years. Definitely recommended for fans of John Prine or Tod Snider.

Those same fans might also be interested in checking out Tom Dockray. Tom’s fairly new to my ears, but he’s been making some waves around the inner Melbourne scene for a couple of years now. His EP, titled Iron Suit, was recorded in Nashville in 2013 and his impassioned vocal style hints at a Tom Waits influence.

Similarly new on the scene is Jemma Nicole, a South-Australian ex-pat who’s found herself at home in Melbourne and, by all accounts, felt pretty at home in Tamworth too. Jemma is influenced by some of the heavyweights of Americana music, including Gillian Welch, Lucinda Williams and Sarah Jarosz and her dark, introspective songwriting style reflects a strong connection to the Gothic-Roots aesthetic. Jemma has an EP out called Kill your Ghost and you’ll find her smoky vocals translate well in a live setting too.

Whilst I’ve sung the praises of The Weeping Willows in this column before, special mention should be made of their contribution to the burgeoning Australian alt-country scene from their Melbourne base. Previously, Andy and Laura had ventured to Tamworth as part of The Wildes, but this year they made their first Willows-focused Tamworth voyage. It’s fair to say they made plenty of new friends with their performances around town, including a stand-out spot at the Country Cares concert in the Town Hall and a mainstage appearance at Americana in the Park (a terrific event which The Weeping Willows hosted). I’ll always stand by my assertion that Andy is one of the finest guitar pickers in the country, but it is in combination with Laura that he truly shines. I’m thrilled (and a little proud) to see The Weeping Willows not only traveling the country, but also starting to make an impression in the USA (where they’ve now completed two short tours).

Henry Wagons also needs no introduction for readers of this column. Whilst many Australian country fans see Henry as a ‘new act’, he’s actually been plying his trade for a while. In fact, I worked out recently that a Henry Wagons gig was the first ever country music show I attended. It was at a pub called the Marquis of Lorne about twelve or so years ago in, you guessed it, the inner suburbs of Melbourne. Henry’s solo ticketed show in Tamworth this year was a great success and I hope it means that we’ll see more of him in country music circles in the coming years. Henry’s kind of a celebrity in Melbourne, and his presence in the country music world is a refreshing breath of fresh air. If you haven’t heard him yet, think ‘outlaw country’ with a certain rock n roll swagger. It’s good stuff.

Of course, there were many more Victorian artists in in Tamworth this year – ranging from the well-known, like Mustered Courage and The Davidson Brothers to the many southerners busking on Peel Street. Of course, even the festival’s biggest drawcard this year Paul Kelly is (essentially) a Melbournian (and he brought a whole bunch of other great Melbourne folk with him). It’s always been my belief that Melbourne has a strong claim to the title of ‘unofficial’ country music capital, and the quality and influence of my fellow Victorian acts in Tamworth this year would seem to back up this claim.

Back home I’m getting excited about two Victorian Country Music Festivals – The Kilmore CMF on March the 1st and The Kingston Harvest Festival on May 9th – both of which feature not only my band, but a bunch of my favourite country acts from all over Australia.  Yes folks, this music is alive and well – thriving in fact – in and around my hometown. If you’re a Victorian, get off the couch and get amongst it. If you’re from interstate, make Melbourne the destination for your next country music holiday.