A welcome stranger in a room full of friends…

Last Wednesday, as I did the riding equivalent of ambling towards home, I heard the poetic musings of a local musician spilling onto the streets. The style was right up my alley – an electrified acoustic guitar, strummed and plucked by a folk singing lad with a milky voice and thoughtful lyrics. I hitched my steed to a post and wandered in, taking a seat on the floor near the front of this cosy room and settled into the music and a quiet ale. Given life’s recent goings-on, I truly felt that the music was the metaphorical equivalent of a breath of fresh air in a room full of sullied socks and undies, reminding me of the many happy nights I’d passed in the confines of the Troubadour in times now past. After duly noting the name of the musician (for a subsequent myspace search) and chatting to a elderly groupie after the set (the mother of a flatmate apparently) I made my way home, ready to spruik the follow up set the coming week to all and sundry.

Fast forward a week and with the same amount of interest as third grader’s Dollarmite account, I decided I would wander back in solo and enjoy the free musical offerings once more (one friend did appear for part and was pleasantly surprised). The main room of the Joynt hotel, which was in size little larger than an average living room, was completely packed on this second occasion as Timothy Carroll‘s September residency was to draw to a close. It seemed that everybody in attendance was familiar to everyone else in some capacity or other, with friends, acquaintances, workmates (a number of those present, including musicians and sound tech, are in the employ of the Troubadour) and hangers on crowding the room in the most civilized of ways. Indeed, a glance from one of the musicians in my direction appeared to reflect a mental parsing of degrees of separation in an attempt to figure out where I fit into the picture, unaware that a stranger had wandered into this room full of friends.

Tim’s warm up act for the evening was Cameron Elliot, another local musician who I’d had the pleasure of hearing around 2 years ago at a Nick Drake tribute night at the Troubs. Storm and I had seen him at his own gig shortly after and purchased his EP, which to this day gets quite a few plays around washing up and Sunday quiz time. Cameron had been out of the circuit for a while and while it showed a little in terms of his crispness of plucking and memory of lyrics it was a veritable pleasure to see him perform once more. As a cursory listen to his tracks on the web will attest to, his voice is mellow, deep and surprisingly agile, an enviable piece of property in a musician’s universe.

Timothy Carroll was next, playing a similar set to the one I’d been privvy to the week before. The songs ‘Something Else’ and ‘What she gave away’ were personal favourites and the etchings he’d created with voice and guitar were given wonderful colour and hue through the addition of cello, clarinet and female harmony. Tom Cooney‘s cameo appearance was a brief yet enticing entree to his newly recorded (and independently released) material before Ben Salter of Gin Club fame rounded out the evening with his powerful vocals, characteristically not-quite-in-tune guitar, and advertised (but thankfully not evidenced) weak bladder. It struck me that Ben was the epitome of a musician for whom precision and perfection is an unnecessary pursuit/distraction when an emotive, charismatic and charged performance can leave the audience with just as much.

So as I sat in this room, amongst a plethora of chatty friends of friends, downing cheap bottles of beer, in ear- and eye-shot of two potential lovers in that stage of feeling out affections and consequences, I was heartened to think that the Brisbane folk scene is so strong. That talented young men and women can get up and play and sing much as they sound recorded, with few of the hum drum, whizzbang production effects that now comprise the norm. That if Banjo Patterson were in attendance, it’s not a stretch to believe that he would appreciate their poetry (and company) and perhaps wish that he too could stitch lyric to melody in such ways. And that despite the lack of commercial backing for a folk scene such as Brisbane’s, musicians such as Timothy Carroll, Cam Elliott, Tom Cooney, Ben Salter, Luke Foran, Loren, Jackie Marshall, Jacob S Harris and countless others continue to pursue it with fervor, passion and the loving support of a room full of friends.

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