Monday, November 16, 2009


Monday, December 17, 2007 
Laterra Cafe, Johnson St. Collingwood

Intended to be the first of many more festivals of this kind, The Laterra Festival is a series of acoustic performers setting up in the middle of a cafe and doing their thing in a very appropriately back-to-basics way. Running from 2-9PM over two days, it's a grassroots effort like the Undercover Music Lover group simultaneously begun by organiser Peter Uhlenbruch whereby performers help each other overcome geography with reciprocal assistance when organising gigs. Given the minimal changeover times and the closeness of the performers to the punters, unlike other festivals there is little time to actually chat to pals or be too distracted by the many artworks and ramshackled make up of this place.

As for the festival itself, it's easy to imagine being in a post-Woodstock San Francisco cafe with dapper intellectuals, endearingly eccentric service and good coffee, particular if you're watching James and Paul from The Tea Leaves who channel early 70s singer-songwriter sounds and songs like you couldn't believe possible. Deft harmonies, plaintive honesty and a penchant for story-telling songs show these guys as masters of their humble craft, especially on songs like Slowly Fading Portrait and new track The Little Ones. Should James Taylor be planning a comeback, these guys should be writing his songs.

Fee Brown follows and makes the afternoon feel like late evening with her sultry, breathy voice and low-slung strumming. Her song Closer concerning an owl visiting her in dreams showcases her skewered lyrics and fluid guitar well while her other songs may work well with a band, it seems she's not all here today and a brave take on Cohen's Hallelujah reveals that once she gets out of husky range Brown's voice is really quite something.

From Geelong come The Boy Who Spoke Clouds who play more sacred music than folk music and provide a change of pace. With a drum, clarinet, banjo, guitar TBWSC succeed wonderfully in creating an atmosphere of soporific splendour. That singer Adam Casey is blessed with an affecting baritone and an infectious choking laugh sends their off-kilter paenes that seem to mainly concern physical decay and transcendence, into unthreatening but vaguely disturbing territory, particularly on A Hammer Hung To Hit Us and An Ending. A real find, especially if you like the soundtrack to The Wicker Man.

Owls Of The Swamp, AKA organiser Peter Uhlenbruch, plays a wonderfully languid and evocative set, with lyrics full of images of Iceland and stories between the songs giving us their context. Gorgeous versions of Meet Me At The BSI and a vocal and piano backed Heart Of The Mountain are highlights. The good-natured and chatty troubadour is on form, no question.

Chris Seagull is up next and in a league of his own from the off. Lyrics, rambling left hand on the guitar, trapped right hand, strong Ozzie accent and lyrics that twist and turn. "I don't feel bad for the city / Because bright flowers bloom from the burning ash". Droning chords, urbane couplets and a unfaltering honesty are his strong suits. "Do you want to hear a song about putting out the washing or the end of the world?" inquires Seagull of the people sitting near him. Luckily we get both. Closing with the apocalyptic End Could Come (sample lyric: "20 minute showers / I love the sound of falling bells and towers") he is a true maverick and could only be in the here and now.

Here and now is where you have to remind yourself you are when watching recent J-award nominee and Missy Higgins-showcased 'Next Big Thing' Leroy Lee. A formidably talented guitarist and songwriter, sounding and writing at least twice his years, with his Levi-ad looks and gentle Elliot Smith-esque voice and lyrics like "Time hung like an open chord," it all seems a bit too good to be true. On Her Way, Them Bad Apples and the closing Drawing Slow and Night Night, both with their skillful and minimal use of the delay pedal show that this is one guy who 2008 is likely to be very kind to and who radio is sure to love.

"Man, it blew me away when I walked in here." Says Young Werther "Everyone was good, and they all probably live around the corner.' Young Werther soon adds to this trend with his richly detailed pictures of people in nature and alone. Come On Here and Cornish Green show the tug between mind and land wonderfully, and the bell-voiced guitar backs it well.

Closing act of the evening, Jona Byron of The Boats is a man who is well versed in how to make an epic of the ordinary. His lengthy songs and lyrically evocative tales swell slowly and captivate what should be a drained audience, but we all listen rapt. The New Sad Song ("Fill my cup with sand / You'll bury my eyes / I won't see you my friend / Turn blood to water") shows a mind keen at work and with the upbeat closing All My Days Are Mad a broad pallet is proven and another talented individual joins the fold of Laterra. Here's to many more.

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