Maurocco Magic at the Midland

May 2, 2022 - 9:15 am 2 Comments


It was one of those days: colder than it has been lately and mostly overcast. But it was also the first Sunday of the month, which means, my friends, jazz and jubilation at the Maurocco Bar!

Bernard Boulton and Pip Avent kicked off the afternoon with Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag”—Bernard on keyboard and Pip on tuba.  A delightful beginning.

Cathy Boerema then headed up an impromptu band which contained Brian Paulusz on guitar, Bill  Thomson  on drums,  Don Calvert on bass guitar and Bernard on keyboard. They eased their audience into a bossa nova—that uniquely Brazilian genre based on the samba, which was developed in the 1950s, early 1960s. . .a lovely, languorous sound. Next they launched into an upbeat, swing version of “Nature Boy” with Cathy supplying vocals and fiddle and Bernard and Brian doing some fine improvisation on their instruments. “One Note Samba” was their third offering, played very fast, yet the singer missed not one single syllable of the song. It was a bit of a shock to learn afterwards that Cathy has had COVID. She was complaining of breathlessness this afternoon, yet none of this was apparent to us, her audience. She sang beautifully today. I don’t think I’ve ever heard her perform better!

Julian Harrison and company were next with “Blue Bossa”: Lee Benewith  playing trumpet, Chris Imfeld on guitar, Bernard on keyboard, Gerard on drums and Julian on flute. Very spacey, very cool. The Van Morrison song, “Moondance” followed with a lovely keyboard introduction and Julian playing the melody. Lee played the next solo with a bit of flutey flutter-tongue from Julian in the background. Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Corcovado” or “Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars” started with a pristine trumpet solo from Lee which was as pure as white moonlight, followed by Julian’s meditative flute. This peace was sustained until Brian’s more assertive guitar solo which picked up the tempo. Lee’s muted trumpet produced such a sweet sound in its upper register it was as mellifluous as Julian’s flute-playing. They are an excellent combination.

The Maine Course was the next band, with Jaz Stutley doing the vocals, Bill on drums, Brian on guitar and Don, bass guitar. They started with “Desafinado” (a lot of South American influence today) and Jaz telling us that “like the bossa nova love should swing. . .” They then launched into “Mad About the Boy” which Noel Coward apparently wrote about Rudolf Valentino. Now while I love Noel Coward for writing that song, the poor old darling could never have sung it as Jaz did today, with those sultry low notes, her signature vibrato and just the right amount of passion and regret. I’ve not heard a better version than this. “Besame Mucho,” their last song, showcased  Brian’s guitar solo. “Each time I cling to your kiss I hear music divine. . .”  a good, strong ending to an excellent set.

But there was more to come.

Pip produced his tuba and he also produced his voice, singing “I’m Confessing That  I Love You.” With Brian again on guitar, Don on bass guitar, Andrew Dunne on drums and Bronwyn Algate on keyboard, there was a lovely contrast of sound, Bronwyn playing cheeky honky-tonk to accompany Pip’s deep-throated tuba. “Without my walking stick I’d go insane,” then opined Pip, reviving the wonderful Louis Armstrong song with Brian and Bronwyn providing some glorious solos. Drummer Andrew then sang “All of Me” to conclude the set.

The last band to perform today before Julian’s multi-faceted jam, was called Running With Scissors. This band name I particularly like because it is redolent of the edginess—if not the actual terror—of playing live with a bunch of musos you may never have played with before and you may not see again until next month—if then. This time, bass player Don sang “You Took Advantage of Me,” the Rogers and Hart song. Bronwyn sang a lusty version of Duke Ellington’s “Got Nothing But the Blues” as she played keyboard and Don sang the 1927 song, “Indeed I Do” with Bronwyn and Bill accompanying him.

Now the actual jazz jam started some time after 4 o’clock. There was a brief interval of hustling for vocalists as a couple had gone home, then Siobhan, the mellow-toned lead singer of a group called Blue Diamonds launched into “It’s Almost Like Being in Love,” from Guys and Dolls. Once again, there was Bill on drums. Julian on flute, Lee on trumpet, Don on bass, Bronwyn on keyboard and Frances on violin, but Bernard was this time on trombone. They followed with the instrumental, “Cute”, then “Paper Moon” with Cathy and Siobhan providing the vocals. “Taking a Chance on Love” and “On the Sunny Side of the Street” completed the jam.

It was a wonderful afternoon and a high-energy offering. Everyone took risks with their performances today and the risks paid off, creating that unique atmosphere that the best impromptu jazz brings, the kind of tension and aftermath that a competently-written crime thriller will give you (am I mixing my metaphors too much?): tension, resolution and release. . .  

And as the man said, “Isn’t that what jazz is all about?”


“Open Mic” at the Taproom.

April 30, 2022 - 3:19 pm No Comments

Thursday nights are Open Mic nights at The Taproom, which is part of the Shedshaker Brewing Company. This is a boutique pub specialising in craft beers. You can find it on 9 Walker Street at the entrance to Castlemaine’s Mill, roughly behind Das Kaffeehaus. It’s on the other side of the road from Castlemaine’s Botanic Gardens.

The Taproom is a good venue. The staff is always welcoming and the beer and pizzas, delicious. You can count on at least one good musical turn of a Thursday night, but this last one—April 28—offered an excellent line-up.

It was a late start because a Book Club talk was on before the Open Mic and apparently the customers there just didn’t want to leave. But finally a trickle of punters made it out through the glass doors and we shiverers in the garden claimed their still-warm seats.

Scott Sanders started the proceedings with a few of his own interpretations and then handed over to the Lorettas. These two ladies have lately been making quite the favourable impression on the ‘Maine. They pleased the crowd at an art opening  at Lot 19 a couple of Sundays ago with Nic Lyons accompanying them on his  bass ukulele. Then, as on this evening, they played Stevie Nicks and that song for our age written by the wonderful Lanie Lane, “What Do I Do?”

Angela from the band called “Angela and the Doc” sang solo tonight, accompanying herself on guitar. She produced a lovely folksy sound with “Grandma’s Hands” and “I Go back.”

Stefan Brown also sang solo with guitar accompaniment. He performed “I Dreamed of Your Green Hills in Winter” a song he said he would have liked to have performed on ANZAC Day just gone. “Ninety Miles an Hour Down a Dead-end Street,” the Bob Dylan song, was next and then “Red Guitar” by Loudon Wainwright the Third, about a guy who smashes up his instrument in a fit of pique. It was a confident and accomplished performance and very enjoyable.

A surprise awaited us in the form of a young gentleman called Rowan Nichol. He normally works behind the bar but Thursday night also got up on stage and performed for us. He did well.

However I have to say that the highlight for me was “Judy and the Upright Gentlemen.”

This is a group whose music I have enjoyed before at the Guildford Hotel (which apparently doesn’t offer live music any more—a new-management decision I find utterly astounding and rather self-destructive) and various events organised by the Grumpies’ Car Club.

Judy—Jude Warren—is the vocalist who also plays guitar. The “Upright Gentlemen” are two fine guitarists, Steve Cole on lead and Russell Mackenzie on bass.

They started with the J.J. Cale song, “Sensitive Kind,” Steve vocally harmonising at the beginning of the song and then providing some bluesy riffs with Russell for the rest of it. Jude introduced the next song as “a little ditty about dementia based on the Dr Seuss book.” 

This is pure, unadulterated charm. Called “Waltzing with Bears” it was performed with a very pronounced 1—2—3 waltz beat and contains such lines as “I’m sure Uncle Walter’s been waltzing with bears. . .” and “There’s nothing Uncle Walter won’t do so he can go waltzing, waltzing with bears.”

Their third item was “Open Up Your Heart” by G. Wayne Thomas, an upbeat, feel-good song. “It’s a start, open up your heart. Try not to hide what you feel inside.” 

Judy articulates clearly when she sings so you hear her every word. Her “Upright Gentlemen” did great credit to her with their lush, equally beautifully-articulated accompaniment.

Looking forward to their next gig.


Django Lingo at the Northern Arts Hotel

April 24, 2022 - 1:28 pm 4 Comments

So back to the New Northern on Saturday night (23/04) for a sumptuous feast of some of the best live music I’ve ever heard!  DJANGO LINGO, named for Django Reinhardt of course, the guitarist with the gypsy soul who made a gift of it to a world so very much in need of it at the time. 

Django Lingo. . . rolls off the tongue, hinting at Romany magic realism wrapped in  exotic language made flesh by the supreme competence of its communicators who are: Gillian Eastoe, vocalist and percussion and Terry Murray, Howard Malkin and Nic Lyon, guitarists extraordinaire.

So the gig begins with Cole Porter’s “Night and Day,” upbeat, Django-ised and featuring the three brilliant guitar soloists. This followed by George Shearing’s beautiful “Lullaby of Birdland” explicated in Gillian’s smoky-bourbon voice. “I’ll See you in My Dreams” with more virtuosic guitar and then a light-hearted Billy Holiday as Gillian singing “Nothing Can Be Done”, Terry imitating the patter of rain at her words, “comes a rainstorm.”

We were then given a very high-energy version of “Concrete and Clay” (“My feet begin to crumble”) and then the gaspingly glorious rendering of the Beatles song, “Norwegian Wood.” Nic’s haunting bass guitar was accompanied by what seemed like celestial bells from Terry’s lead. Pure magic. Transporting.

Tonight I realised “There’ll Never Be Another You” is actually “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square”—or they’re so close it doesn’t matter. I’m open to debate on this one, of course. This was pure Django and pure Howard. Terry started playing mandolin on his guitar, while chatting—musically of course—to the rest of the gang. Was it Satchmo who said that jazz was a form of gossip? Well I heard a fair bit of gossip going on in this number, an intimate conversation between friends. This, it suddenly occurred to me, is what Django Lingo is all about. It is  perfectly named.

The Stevie Wonder song, “Isn’t She Lovely?” gave us more of Gillian’s wonderful voice, plus an explanation of just what the song meant to her. Then, after a short break, Howard started the conversation again. This time Nic was on Double Bass—well it has been said that Nic can play any musical instrument he wraps his hands around—with Terry offering Hawaiian-style riffs. Once again Django Lingo made it seem so effortless, so e-a-s-y.

“Bossa Derado” had Howard playing up such a storm he could easily have been given a standing ovation, but we were all so besotted with the music no one wanted to interrupt it. Gillian gave us a gutsy rendition of “You Don’t Know Me”, her feistiness making it all her own song and then the boys launched into Duke Ellington’s “Stompin’ at the Savoy.” It was simply the best version I have ever heard.

But then Gillian offered her sweetly agonised “Cry Me a River” which would no doubt have left other chanteuses known for this song themselves weeping—or fulminating—and once again, Howard’s solo was amazing.

“Fascinating Rhythm” was sheer virtuosity and then “Heaven, I’m in Heaven” revealed a new Gillian, exuding happiness with Terry offering a cheeky wolf whistle on his guitar at the mention of  kissing.

The next number apparently came from a French jazz band and Howard carried this one with some more musical commentary from his friends. “Honeysuckle Rose” completed the set.

And what a set! It was exceptional concordance of brilliant musicianship and generosity which would have absolutely thrilled their beloved Django—as it did indeed thrill us.


Great Gig at the New Northern

April 9, 2022 - 9:20 pm No Comments

Castlemaine is blessed with two extraordinary jazz venues—the Maurocco Room in the Midland Hotel (about which I have been known to wax lyrical) and the New Northern Hotel at the top end of Barker Street, near where Johhny Baker used to hang out.

So what is it about these two brilliant venues which never seem to fail to get the creative juices flowing for a lot of locals and out-of-towners? 

For a start they’re warm, welcoming spaces with great decor reflective of the sophisticated, eclectic tastes of the proprietors. Next, I guess, it is the sort of people they attract—musicians, artists, writers—the kind of people who pursue the Muse rather than the moolah—and those who support them. 

It has been said that if you want a decent Chinese meal, go to a restaurant where the clientele is mostly Chinese, since they’d know much more about their own cuisine than anyone else. The same can be said about live music. Last night at the New Northern was a classic example. 

The Anticlinal Fold was performing. This is a group of very accomplished local musicians. In the audience, however, were quite a few other accomplished musos. I won’t mention any names but I can recall at least three amazing pianists—or keyboard players if you like—in the audience, a virtuoso violinist who can apparently play anything else he puts his hands around, plus diverse guitarists, singers and  wind players. 

After some lush sound testing, the opening song was “I Love Paris,” delivered by the Fold’s chanteuse, Kate Vigo, accompanied by Nigel McLean on electric fiddle, Jeremy Challenor on piano and Dan Bendrups, the leader from Thompson’s Foundry Band—who usually plays trombone—on drums. Kate then told us that they were missing their double bass player  because he had to run someone to hospital and their usual drummer couldn’t make it because his babysitter hadn’t turned up. A terrifying prospect for some, yet these musicians seemed to take this difficult situation on board with an equanimity which appeared to me almost Zen-like.

An electrified violin tremolo with a slow, primal drumbeat then took us into “Autumn Leaves” —an unearthly sound with Frank Veldze’s installation of pulsating jellyfish gloriously gyrating across the screen behind the musicians, adding to the overall effect. Nigel then used his violin to create a double bass accompaniment, which, combined with Dan’s trombone solo and Jem’s free-wheeling piano, became, in the best possible way, a haunting.

But there were many more delights to come. Like Kate’s easy, relaxed delivery of every song she sang.  She was the torch singer in ”At Last” and “Lover Man” and appropriately accompanied by explosions of flowers opening  on the screen behind her in “Love for Sale.” There was the gorgeous instrumental rendition of “If you Go Away” plus a lot of thrilling solos, riffing and extemporisation throughout.

Though The Anticlinal Fold thought it had finished its performance at the end of “Love for Sale,” the audience wouldn’t have it. Therefore it graciously launched into that oldie but goodie and jazz standard “Honeysuckle Rose.”

As the very happy audience filed out of the doors of the New Northern, the fiddle player from Malmsbury smiled contentedly and said, “That was real jazz tonight. That is what jazz is all about.”

And believe me, that’s a bloke who knows what he is talking about.


Jazzin’ and Jammin’ at the Maurocco Room

March 12, 2022 - 4:53 pm 2 Comments

What a joy it was to be back for some edgy, brilliant jazz at the Maurocco Room in the Midland Hotel last Sunday!

Great to see Cathy Boerema first up on the stage. She cheekily introduced her set as “Cathy and. . . God Knows.” No doubt this was a comment about the many displacements band members have felt since lockdowns and the damn virus have taken so many musos away from where they belong—up on the stage. Mind you, she was doing rather well on Sunday with the amazing Bernard Boulton on keyboard, Don Calvert on bass guitar, Peter White on sax, Ken Cook on lead guitar and Bill Thomson on drums. All very accomplished musicians and a good combination. Cathy did a rendition of “I Didn’t Know What Time it Was” and an upbeat version of “Dark Eyes” sung in French and English, then invited her sister Kirsten from the audience  to sing Satchmo’s “What A Wonderful World” with her. Very pretty.

MINING COLE was up next with Valerie Colyer on keyboard, Brian  Paulusz on lead guitar, Chris Imfeld on bass, Andrew Dunn on drums and Wallace White, vocals. They did a wonderful version of Fats Waller’s “Aint Misbehavin’,” the singer reminding me of Al Bowley, Not that I am old enough to have been around when the crooner was, but I’ve seen a lot of film footage because Al’s was a style I always liked. An instrumental, “Alice in Wonderland,” followed, then Helen Dewhurst sang Jerome Kern’s “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man” from Showboat and  Duke Ellington’s “Satin Doll” with some nice keyboard work from Valerie.  All great stuff.

A highlight for me is always THE MAINE COURSE, with vocalist Jaz Stutley, lead guitarist Brian Paulusz, Don on bass, Bill on drums and Lee Benewith on trumpet. They delivered “When I Get Low I Get High” with great pizzazz then switched to the gentle melancholy of “Smile” that was apparently written by Charlie Chaplin. Don’s contemplative bass and Lee’s meditative trumpet solos gave a beautiful depth to this number and the thing about Jaz’s voice is that she articulates so beautifully—you can hear her every word. Added to this is often a mellow vibrato over which she seems to have full control. Their last item, “You’re Drivin’ Me Crazy” started off quietly enough but became very upbeat, as THE MAINE COURSE is delightfully wont to do. 

THE PHILIP CHEEK QUARTET gave us “The Gentle Rain” with a Bossa Nova beat. I think it was written by the Brazilian composer, Luiz Bonfa.  Phil on tenor sax and  Peter  on alto seemed to be having a conversation as first one and then the other took over the melody. They were accompanied by Don on bass and Bill on drums. (These two gentlemen did a lot of work today, stepping up for a couple of players who usually join us at this time and place.) “Soul Eyes,” no doubt written by Johnny Coltrane, followed, a slow, haunting ballad, then “Nostalgia in Times Square”, a Big Band item courtesy of Charlie Mingus.

More instrumental music followed with DBQ. A seductively sonorous solo trombone played grace notes that were so light and deft you wondered if you’d actually heard them. But yes, they were there, I’m sure of it. The other thing that astounded this member of the audience was Dave Tolputt’s pianissimo. How do you get a trombone to whisper so intimately while you’re hearing every note with absolute clarity? Dave’s versions of  “Blue Moon” and “When I Fall in Love” were meditations par excellence. But I forget myself. Dave was accompanied by Bernard on keyboard, Pip Avent on tuba, Don on bass and Bill on drums. Sheer pleasure, gentlemen, you excelled yourselves.

MIDNIGHT MANTRA was the last, but certainly not the least band to perform before the jazz jam. With Mel Traves doing vocals, Ken Cook on lead guitar, Bill on drums and Don on bass, MIDNIGHT MANTRA  launched into the Billie Holliday song, “You’ve Changed.” This was followed by the Cole Porter number, “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To.” All quality stuff showcasing Ken’s virtuosic guitar-playing and Mel’s vocal gymnastic feats which were especially apparent in “Round Midnight”, the last song in the set.

Now it’s a well-known fact that in your actual jazz jam at the Maurocco Room, anything can happen. Julian Harrison gathered at least a dozen musos for the jam to extemporise on the melody lines of a few tunes.. But this lot can do extraordinary things with such a small amount of musical information. And they did.

Julian, who is probably the best jazz flautist I’ve heard performing live, did play his flute but he also sang and he has a very powerful voice. He was joined by a lady called Ange, who has an equally powerful voice. Starting with “Stormy Monday,” they then  brought us “Watermelon Man,” Jerome Kern’s “Yesterday” and “Mustang Sally.” Accompanying them was Bernard on keyboard, Dave on trombone, Phil on sax, Lee on trumpet, Frances on violin, Mel on drums, Chris on guitar, Henry on flugelhorn, Don on bass, Trevor on guitar,  Wayne on sax and Peter on alto sax.. If I’ve missed anyone, I apologise. Mea culpa and all that. You can add your name and comments to this post.

At one stage, Dave muted his trombone with what looked like a plastic cereal bowl, but as I said, anything can happen at a jam. It’s always a glorious conclusion to a great afternoon. The only false note in the event this Sunday was that we missed Alan Richards, one of our drummers, who usually comes all the way from Melbourne with his lovely wife June, to join us. We hope to see you two again in April.

Many thanks once more to our host and hostess, Mauro and Ann, who’ve been providing us with such a beautiful venue on the first Sunday of each month at two o’clock. The jazz is scintillating and the jam will blow your mind.



Castlemaine’s Jazz Jam

July 4, 2021 - 10:04 pm 5 Comments

The Maurocco Bar at the Midland Hotel would have to be one of my favourite places in all of Castlemaine, Victoria.  Not that I’m much of a drinker. . . but what I am is a live music tragic and this venue presents some magnificent live music on the first Sunday of the month at 2.00pm. 

Also known as the Castlemaine Jazz Jam, it is a gathering of fine musicians who perform together in bands or who come together singly from the local area or from Bendigo, Ballarat and even Melbourne just for the afternoon.

Currently the Midland is undergoing a bit of refurbishment. There’s scaffolding around the outside of the building. But inside, in the Maurocco room, it’s like you just stepped into Rick’s bar in the film Casablanca. 

Last month, because of Lockdown in Victoria, the jazz jam was cancelled. This Sunday, July 4, it was restored to its usual standard of excellence. There were 9 bands or sets  playing three numbers each.

First up was the edgily named Running with Scissors— the moniker adopted as a tribute to muso Russell James who coined it, but who passed away some eighteen months ago. Don Calvert sang “The Way You look Tonight “ and played bass guitar, with Bronwen Algate on keyboard and Brian Paulusz on lead guitar. Bronwen sang the heartrending “I’ve Got a Right to Sing the Blues” and added flute to their third number, “Samba d’Orfeo.” A great start to the afternoon.

Next was Norm Gray who sang and played trumpet with Bronwen again supplying the keyboard accompaniment, Bill Thomson on drums and Rene Rulin, the double bass. They performed a sweet version of “A Foggy Day in London Town,” “I Remember You” and “The Lady is a Tramp.”

Maine Course followed with Jaz Stutley doing the vocals, Bill Thomson on drums, Brian Paulusz on lead guitar, and Don Calvert, bass. Starting with “Young at Heart”, they played the gently meditative “Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars,” and then the delightful—if little-known—Billie Holiday song, “My Mother’s Son-in-Law.” Jaz always comes up with just the right song for her voice and relaxed, cheeky presentation. I always look forward to her performances and am never disappointed.

Number 4 on the bill was Blue Tango. Singer Lynne Gough was accompanied by Dave Richard on guitar and Pip Avent on tuba.  Some of the audience couldn’t resist joining in their version of “Shine on Harvest Moon” before they presented a 1910 ragtime number called “The Oceana Roll” which was featured in a film made in 1952. From here they invited more audience participation in a song from that Hillbilly Shakespeare Hank Williams, called “Mind Your Own Business.” It was really good fun.

Mining Cole came next and no, there is no misspelling of an environmental anachronism here, for this band was mining Cole Porter. They sang “I’ve Got You under My Skin,” “I Love Paris” and “Just One of Those Things.”

Vida Jazz, featuring singer Tania Petrini, Bruce Millar on bass and Bronwen again on keyboard, had three more excellent musicians with them today: Leigh Benewith on trumpet, Julian Harrison on flute and Bill Thomson on drums. They performed “Indeed I Do,” “All or Nothing at All” and the deceptively difficult but beautifully presented “One Note Samba.”

Philip Cheek and his tenor sax were next, accompanied by Bronwen on keyboard, Bill on drums and Bruce on bass. They played “Infant Eyes,” the Charlie Mingus number “Nostalgia in Times Square,” followed by Horace Silver’s song, “Nica’s Dream.” Phil is another muso who will stretch the limits of your musical knowledge with his choices of material and will often surprise you.

The Maggie Jackson Quartet may have been one musician down today but they played with their usual seamless style and savoir faire, Maggie singing and on keyboard, Bill Thomson on drums (yet again) and Rene Rulin on double bass. Maggie sang “I Get a Kick Out of You” then switched to vibraphone to play “In a Sentimental Mood” which had to be one of the highlights of the whole afternoon because the three players were in perfect sympathy with each other. They finished off with “Pennies From Heaven” before inviting the ninth act today, Steve Howard, to join them. Steve ended a wonderful gig with “My Baby Just Cares For Me,” “Around the World” and “All of Me.”

Since the depredations of COVID-19 are still being felt even in Castlemaine, we were missing a few of our regular musicians today. So many thanks to those musos who filled in for the people who couldn’t be with us. Bill Thomson was our only drummer—we usually have at least three—and he did a sterling job playing for anyone who needed him. Likewise Don, Bronwen, Brian and Rene stepped up to the mark and helped out other players. Thank you too, you were all wonderful!


The 3-Chord Club

June 26, 2021 - 4:31 pm 1 Comment


 John Hannah started the 3-Chord Club in October of last year with the help of Rob Williams, Peter Marples and his partner, Gwynn James. Considering the range and variety of talent  presented last Sunday, June 20, 2021, at the Guildford Hotel, it’s going from strength to strength.

First up, Sean Kenan, who usually dazzles us with his fiddle, banjo or dobro playing, surprised us all with a charming little shadow play, a kind of silent movie he operated solo behind a screen.  

Next was Dean Richards who presents his own material—often tales of perfidy and love-gone-wrong set to some techno wizardry which brought to my mind that virtuosic Japanese electronic music man, Isao Tomita.

Charlie Steel followed with On the Breadline  —‘I don’t need the kind of things that shiny money brings.’ Charlie too, writes a lot of his own material which is evocative and poignant. (Remember his gorgeous song about travelling through the dark on the V-line train?) “Down the Lost Highway” and “I Don’t Want to Die with Dirty Hands” were his offerings on Sunday.

Richard Weis, the next act, is new to the 3-Chord Club, but a consummate musician on chromatic harmonica, all the same. He had some really funny patter, too. He verbally offered us a whole range of musical styles he was prepared to play us, including Holocaust music—which, he pointed out to us, kind of puts the Lockdown and the COVID-19 pandemic—at least in Australia—into perspective.

Banjo Baz, aka Barry Fitzpatrick, was number 5. After his turn on stage he told us he was nervous, showing us still-trembling hands, yet he put in a wonderfully professional performance of banjo picking, from the very lyrical “Tennessee Waltz” to Barry and Robin Gibb’s  “You Don’t Know What It’s Like to Love Somebody,” then had us all lustily singing “Country Road” with him. 

Next were a couple of delightful out-of-towners (from Melbourne) who played us some World Music that had everyone stamping their feet in time with the music and ‘encore!’-ing. Jonathan Hicks played banjo mandolin and fiddle and Sue Ferguson piano accordion. They were accompanied by our Bill Thompson on drums. Starting  with a heavily rhythmic Russian folksong, they ended with an Italian partisan song. Stirring stuff. 

Sugar and Spice was in the 7th slot. These ladies—Vanessa Craven and Z’dene Schwanmeier—have appeared several times before at the 3-Chord Club. This Sunday I was charmed by “We’re Still Friends”—an original work—and “You’re Leaving” sung and played on a Dobro or Resophonic guitar accompanied by ukulele bass.

Jude Warren usually plays with Steve Cole and Russell McKenzie but this Sunday Steve was unable to attend. Jude sang “Once in a Blue Moon” and the Jo Stafford hit, “You Belong to Me.”  Her style this time was more intimate and restrained, a gentle contrast to what was to follow.

The last item was some rowdy, rollicking Old Time Chicago Blues and didn’t we lap it up? The performers, Darryl Pyers and Kez come from the lovely town of Dunnolly. Tall, slim Kez with long blonde hair under a black cowboy hat, mini-skirt and boots, managed to look kind of enigmatic until she got down to the business of playing her guitar—when she wowed us. Darryl’s gravelly voice was perfect for the genre though I didn’t catch too many of his words. But these guys ended this gig on a very high note and we hope they’ll find their way back around these parts sometime very soon. 

The 3-Chord Club, an Open Mic event,  happens on the 3rd Sunday of the month at the Guildford, starting at 2.00pm. You have to book but it’s still only 5 bucks to get in—which has to be some kind of miracle considering the quality of the music.


Sunday, June 6 2021: A Truly Memorable Gig

June 8, 2021 - 8:47 am 4 Comments

So we’re just out of Lockdown in rural Victoria. It’s been cold, but when a friend mentions Mel (Melinda) Traves will be performing at the Taproom in Castlemaine, I immediately phone my partner. He says of course we should go, failing to mention that his footy team, the Blues, are playing at the same time. I only twig this when we are driving to the venue. The radio is on and somebody either has or has not kicked a goal. Not sure which. Look, I’d be feeling really guilty about this if it was anyone other than Mel performing tonight.
At the Taproom we learn that we should have booked. I say the people who told me about the gig tonight would have booked us in with them. We sign in, the masked lady behind the bar checks the list and our names are not on it. She says we can stay—it is early and my partner has just ordered pizza and Ginger Kids—until the people whose table we are sitting at arrive to claim it. They’re always lovely at the Taproom.
Anyway the legitimately-booked people do arrive into about the third song Mel is singing with an amazing young guitarist whose name is Charlie Bedford and they graciously invite us to stay at their table. We move down a bit, encroaching on another table where the people are equally kind. We count heads in the Taproom. We’re just under the prescribed limit. Just.
Long, slim Charlie with silky blonde hair that keeps falling over his face, is the other part of Mel’s band, The Great Unknown, here tonight. The other three are in Lockdown in Melbourne. My partner leans closer to me and says, “This kid is incredible and I don’t think he’s even started shaving yet!” Somebody at the next table reckons he looks 14. I would’ve said 17 but he must have been learning to play that guitar in utero to have reached the standard he’s offering tonight. Charlie also maintains a confident patter with Mel between songs and when he sings he enunciates so clearly you hear every word.
Mel of course is Mel. Fabulous voice with a range of between two and a half and three octaves and always the consummate performer. They do an adorable version of “Aint Nobody Here But Us Chickens” and “Little By Little (I’m Losing You)” with just the right amount of pathos, when I notice that the Taproom that is usually abuzz with background chatter is listening intently. This is particularly gratifying to me. When I go to a gig it’s always to hear the music.
It’s when Mel invites Joe Polidoro onto the stage that something happens that can only be explained as the juju born of brilliant musicianship and an intelligent, appreciative audience. Joe’s softer acoustic guitar sound is equally virtuosic. The two guitars now become interactive, ending each song with extended riffing that suddenly seems to make the memory of those duelling banjos somewhat effete. Mel is laughing, shaking her head at the two of them but the audience is electrified, urging on this glorious misbehaviour on the stage. Joe is smiling, perspiring, Charlie is offering another challenge, Joe rises to it, offers another.
Suddenly the gig ends and the audience members are almost as exhausted as the musicians, but aware that they’d just been part of something that they really couldn’t have been expecting on this cold night in downtown Castlemaine. They may be wondering what just happened, but feeling as I do, that they’ve been transformed into gladder, even wiser versions of themselves. If The Great Unknown minus 3, plus 1, is as amazing as this, what’s it like when the complete band gets together?


Serendipity in finding the Best Show on Television: Professor T

October 11, 2017 - 11:08 pm 30 Comments


My father used to like the word “serendipity,” which means of course, the faculty for making fortunate discoveries by accident. It was apparently coined by Horace Walpole in The Three Princes of Serendip. (No prizes for guessing the heroes of this tale were lucky chaps). Dad used to derive double pleasure from his serendipity: the revelation or treasure-trove itself, and the chance to tell everybody about it using one of his favourite words.

So now I must tell you about my serendipity. I’m still reeling from the great good fortune of trawling through the many and varied offerings of the On Demand feature of our excellent Special Broadcasting Service—or simply SBS to the connoisseur—to discover the funny, witty, stylish example of the crime genre from Belgium, Professor T. Since I don’t own a television set, absolutely loathe the commercial television channels (haven’t watched one in years) I hadn’t heard or seen anything about Professor T. But I read the On Demand program blurb, saw the first show in the first series on my computer, and was so completely, irrevocably hooked, it was as if I’d been sucking it up intravenously for years.

Professor T is good. In fact it is the best television crime series I think I have ever seen. And when you recall programs like Cracker or those excellent Lynda La Plante creations such as Prime Suspect or Widows, you have to admit that over the years there has been a lot of competition. Since I’ve written a few crime novels myself, all of which have won minor literary prizes or commendations, I believe I am in a position to comment on the genre.

Crime writers know that their chief protagonist should be flawed. Phillip Marlowe, for instance was a drunk who tended to fall for the wrong gal. Professor T, Jasper Teerlinck, is a brilliant psychology and criminology lecturer who is a double blessing at Antwerp University because he can impart his knowledge to his students—he can actually teach! Yet he has a slew of neurological disorders—among them mysophobia, a pathological fear of germs and contamination by same. (Yes, I know Hercule Poirot and Adrian Monk had that problem, but Prof T does it better). The manifestations of these problems alienate him from many of the people he encounters in his work, yet—and this is another big plus—throughout the series his character is seen to grow. We learn more and more about the man as the series progresses. The same is true of the other leading characters. Don’t we get fed up with  those television series where the characters are the same at the end of their run as they were at the beginning! Even worse are the ones whose characters are not fleshed out at all but appear as mere stereotypes, as in “cosy” crime stories like those penned by Agatha Christie. (Though she’s great to read in hospital when you are in pain because you can always easily predict whodunnit—unless you’ve given up caring after the first page). Midsummer Murders is another such example: watching paint dry is probably a tad less boring.

The result of character development is empathy. Sabatini said “to understand is to love” in his novel Scaramouche. We viewers love those characters we think we understand, warts and all. Empathy is a big feature of Professor T. The police in the Antwerp P.D. actually seem to like and look out for each other. What a refreshing change from those hard-bitten a- – -holes who are constantly competing and marking their territory rather than cooperating! I’m pretty certain cooperation gets quicker and better results. Even the perpetrators of some of the crimes are treated with empathy. There is less of the good guy vs bad guy mentality and more of the frail human being who is capable of making some bad decisions.

Another gold star for Professor T is the almost palpable sexual tension between the Prof and Christina Flamant, the Police Commissioner with whom Jasper had an affair many years ago. She is approximately his age, an intelligent, attractive middle-aged woman rather than a vacuous twenty-year-old sex bomb.

Now I don’t want to give away any more about these two excellent series. No spoilers. Have a look at them yourselves and prepare to be beguiled, as I was. Am. The acting is excellent. Koen de Bouw as the Professor is wonderful as is Goele Derick who plays Ingrid Sneyers, the long-suffering faculty secretary. The young Inspectors, Annelies Donckers (Ella Leyers) and Daan de Winter (Bart Hollanders) are as decorative as they are convincing in their roles. Then there is the city of Antwerp itself: elegant, stylish, sophisticated. Professor T is a veritable feast for the senses.


Day 3 BWF 2017

August 15, 2017 - 10:30 am 4 Comments

She Followed Her Heart was the title of the session featuring Marie Munkara, a survivor of the Stolen Generation.  Since it was staged in the lecture room of the La Trobe Art Institute—another excellent venue—this much more intimate atmosphere allowed the audience to interact with the author and her story. Karin Altmann struck just the right note as the convenor of the session, enabling a fascinating story to unfold and the audience members to feel they were part of the unfolding.

In 1963, the author was taken from her full-blood Aboriginal mother. She was three years old. The rationale for this bureaucratic act was  that  having a Chinese father, Marie was considered to be too white to be brought up by her natural mum. She was adopted by a white couple who were strict Catholics—though apparently not so when it came to their own behaviour, for, from a very early age, Marie was sexually abused by her white father. His wife, knowing that this was happening, merely averted her gaze. When she was 28, Munkara discovered her Aboriginal origins and set out to find her birth family. This is where the humour of the book, Of Ashes and Rivers that Run to the Sea, is generated: a rebellious young First World woman is suddenly thrust into the Third World, and she’s not going quietly. Shamefully, third world conditions still exist in Aboriginal communities today, a point which Marie Munkara makes very clear in this book. It is part of its humour, which is  irreverent and subversive enough to compel the reader to  follow Marie’s search for her Aboriginal identity. However any fair-minded reader would understand the anger that it thinly veils.  Without the humour this story could be very hard going, for this is a subject which many white readers would find too confrontational to be starkly enunciated.


Poetic State was the last session for me at this year’s BWF. There were others that I would like to have attended, but couldn’t do so since they were held at the same time as those I did attend. The Moral Tightrope was another I would like to have caught, but it was rather late in the day for my friend and I, who had to return home. So I am reiterating my hope that the organisers of the BWF recorded the sessions. Many would make excellent radio programs—for the community FM or RPH stations if not the ABC. Just a thought.

Three of the four editors of the new Contemporary Australian Poetry anthology were the speakers at Poetic State. They were David Musgrave, Judy Johnson and Martin Langford. The fourth, absent member of the editorial committee, was Judith Beveridge. Simon Patton competently convened the session.

Poetry is the poor relation of the other writing forms. The economy doesn’t like it much, therefore there are relatively few publications around. Schools—unless individual teachers are passionate about it—don’t seem to bother teaching it much any more and it has  disappeared as a subject of serious study from many universities. However, if you were to ask some elders in our community if they liked poetry, they would probably give you a verse or two of  “I Love a Sunburnt Country” or “The Man From Snowy River,” for example, poems they learned at school, even though they may have completely forgotten what they did last Friday.

Contemporary poetry is harder to negotiate for readers than the traditional, narrative forms, however, and as the poetry in the anthology comes from the last 25 years of Australian writing, it is contemporary. Judy Johnson said that each poem in the anthology has a cultural voice, which defines it as Australian, as well as the poet’s personal voice. Martin Langford said that there is a “sense of space” in Australian poetry, and that it has a “groundedness”  to it. Scientific observations, for instance, are  reflected in colloquial language.  Simon Patton believes that Australian poets project a sense of estrangement from the environment. (Is this a clue as to why we allow so many abuses to our environment?)

The introduction to Contemporary Australian Poetry points out that publishers such as A&R, OUP, Penguin and Heinemann, have stopped publishing individual collections, yet small, independent publications have been proliferating. It also says “there are more people writing poetry of publishable standard than ever in this country” so clearly, many Australians love their poetry.

For me this was an interesting session, giving me much to ponder. In fact, the  BWF  as a whole was a very valuable three and a half days.

Though this may seem a statement of the obvious, the best Writing Festivals are not just Wordfests, they are also Thinkfests. Ultimately they become Talkfests. Of course, they are equally an opportunity for writers to be introduced to their reading public and to sell their books. Bendigo, once again you’ve created a splendid environment to facilitate such activities and you’ve got a lot of tongues wagging about important issues. Well done! Now, dear readers, you can see why I so love the month of August.