March in Europe – rain, wind, freezing temperatures, more rain. March in Perth, Western Australia’s capital city, is a little different.
It is to this corner of the globe that those of a bluesy or rootsy bent head to from far and wide for the two-day jambouree that is the West Coast Blues’n’Roots Festival.
The historic port town of Fremantle is to Perth as Brighton is to London. Arty, chic and a place where culture oozes from the sidewalk cafes and late night bars.
Early on Saturday afternoon, local sibling act Angus And Julia Stone are best described as Nora Jones and her brother doing an acoustic The White Stripes. Their exquisite ballads float across the esplanade site with ease and are received by a warm and welcoming home crowd and it shouldn’t be too long before they are making waves across less remote spots on the planet. While dusted off rock numbers are churned out by The Cruel Sea on the main stage, delta blues sensation Keb Mo is wowing a modest crowd of onlookers with his sincere charm.
Don Mclean was surely put on the bill to prove you can make a 30 year career out of one six verse song. The anticipation for American Pie was evident throughout his set, with the seminal number being dragged on for at least twice as long as the original.
Back on the main stage, KT Tunstall is rapturously welcomed by the Perth crowd, perhaps its because of her shiny silver dress, or maybe even her radio friendly tunes like Other Side Of The World. Most likely, it’s because of her willingness to engage with the crowd, even getting them to pull body popping moves with names like the teapot and the pregnant belly. Only at a festival or a wedding are such shenanigans social acceptable activities.
Following an Aboriginal elder’s ceremonial ‘Welcome to Country’, Xavier Rudd steps behind his plethora of didgeridoos and drums to execute a set of true roots music, complete with dancing accompaniment from Aboriginal troupe Common Ground. The mid afternoon spectacle simply steals the show, and confirms it’s not necessarily Prime Minister Kevin who’s the Mr Rudd playing Australia’s perfect ambassador.
Things are heating up on the Big Top stage as the highly anticipated, and criminally under-billed Ian Brown arrives on stage with a beaming smile to footy chants of his name. With a ten minute technical delay out of the way, and his vocals suitably drowned in reverb, it’s not long before sing along classics like Dolphins Were Monkeys are lighting up the tent, and the air is thick with smoke of a thicker than normal consistency. With a faultless back catalogue from Time is My Everything to Stone Roses classics like Waterfall, the current British music scene no doubt owes a lot to this lad from Warrington.
Weed is also alluded to by a significantly mellowed Sinead O’Connor, who remains an intriguing curiosity. A decade ago, she was the skinhead that many loved to hate. But the since ordained mother of four seems to have managed to entwine her politically charged tirades into her lyrics, as demonstrated by the mesmerising Fire in Babylon.
With an impressive band, and still faultless voice, the anti war chimes of tunes like If You Had a Vineyard are received almost as eagerly as the predictable rendition of Nothing Compares 2 U, proving that while she is viewed as eccentric by many; there’s no denying her gift.
The same cannot be said for the mostly drab and underwhelming ex-Kinks frontman Ray Davies who either suffers from delusions of grandeur or appears to have no grasp on reality. The past hits like Lola and Waterloo Sunset are executed brilliantly, but the stream of more recent (mostly insipid) material leaves his audience dwindling, poached by a man by a man almost a decade his senior who is showing the youngsters how it’s really done.
There is no one like Buddy Guy. It’s rumoured that Jimi Hendrix used to cancel gigs to be able to go and take notes on his showmanship and electric performances. With a wailing distorted guitar, Buddy has the crowd like putty in his hand even before dropping classics like I Just Wanna Make Love to You or Back Door Man. She Was Only Nineteen features a duet with Keb Mo, and the sweaty tent doesn’t slow until the close of the hour long set, with this tracksuit sporting titan who first met the blues well over fifty years ago looking like he’ll be playing for many more yet.
West Coast Blues’n’Roots Festival 2008 Day 1 @ Esplanade Reserve, Fremantle