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Great Gig at the New Northern

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.

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