original. acoustic. music.

Acoustic Routes

On the 4th Sunday of every month the Wellington Folk Centre gathers for Acoustic Routes, a concert featuring both club members and invited guests.

Last Sunday Darrel and I were invited to play a "floor spot", or short set in support of the main act of the night, singer songwriter Helen Dorothy.

These were untested waters for The Gracious Deviants, we did not know what to expect. We turned up to Toi Poneke, the Wellington Arts Centre, and found our way to an innocuous white concrete room at the back of the building - it was like walking into a tutorial at University - with a small raised stage, rows of seats and a backcloth draped over the back wall.

The room was filling fast and Darrel and I secured ourselves a seat once we had made ourselves known as performers - kind of pointless, the guitar cases gave it away. We didn't know anybody, it was Annie who had spoken with Mary the current president and got us the gig, so we were feeling a little shy.

The evening began with Mary introducing the performers and outlining the night's entertainment. At this point I will have to apologise that I can only remember a few of the performers' names.

After a few hitches, including a drummer somewhere else in the building choosing this of all times to start practising, the first performer launched into his set. He played a skilful finger-style guitar and sang with a rough baritone songs of Celtic and English heritage, the crowd joining a line here, a chorus there.

The most striking thing about the evening for us, even at that early stage, was also the most obvious: Everyone in that room had come to listen. How often have we played to audiences in bars and venues only to come away with the feeling that no-one really heard what we'd played? This audience had turned up to hear music, and sat in respectful silence, nodded their heads or tapped their feet, and were not backwards about showing their appreciation.

As the first performer finished and Darrel and I scuttled off to pick up our guitars I was nervous, worried that we wouldn't fit in, we'd be too "pop". So we get up on stage, are introduced and warmly applauded by an audience keen to hear what we have to play. What was I worrying about? I don't remember...

Folk music is an umbrella term encompassing many styles from as many places as there are folk. The great thing about folk music is that it is the music of people - at its heart are the stories people want to share with one another - the music is as much a method of conveyance as a part of the story itself, as is the performer. When we write songs I like to build characters and situations and tell stories - I think because haven't quite mastered adequate "ooh baby baby, yeah baby baby" (formerly known as "Moon in June") skills. How then, does the music we write differ from folk music? It doesn't. Still trying to remember what it was I was worried about...

We played The Thought of You, Still Got a Hold on You, and Falling, and we folked the house, baby. It was one of our most satisfying performances, completely unplugged in a venue with surprisingly good acoustics. I loved it.

They applauded us on stage, kept going as we walked off stage, and carried on right until we left the room to drop off our guitars. Good golly.

The next act were a double bass, played by Richard Prowse, accompanied by another man on guitar (once again, my apologies for the lack of names!). Richard Prowse is a very talented player, embracing his bass to play high up on the neck - fingers of iron, fist of steel (it's bloody difficult to play high notes on a double bass!) - coaxing extraordinary notes from the woodwork.

The final act before the main event was another soloist on steel and nylon string guitar who played a "muddley" of South American music, then led the crowd on a chorus song about a wayward teenage daughter, her suspicious mother, and dismissive father, before bringing Mr. Prowse and his bass back on stage for a blues number.

After a short break where Darrel and I mixed with the audience over tea and bikkies, Helen Dorothy took to the stage. Instead of attempting to capture her performance here, I urge you to have a listen for yourself - she has a CD out that you can preview here.

Rather than consult a set list, Helen simply introduced each song with a little story, certain details or themes linking loosely with those of the preceding or following songs. She is originally from England with an Australian mother and English father, and has travelled extensively soaking up stories and experiences, some of which she has set to music.

She has a delicate and fluttering, harmonious touch on the guitar, and a soft keening soprano voice to complement her stories. A stand out song for me was Eucalyptus Man, an adaptation of a novel about a eucalyptus plantation and girl unhappy that her husband shall be chosen for her.

The night ended with thunderous applause and the possibility of another gig for us sometime in the near future. What better way to round off a Sunday night!