Woodford might’ve ended a few days before, but with The Basement hosting a few of its notable acts on Friday, (soloists such as Andy Brown, Jodi Martin, and Dave Gunning, and the headlining duo Folk Uke), us Sydneysiders were treated to our own mini-folk festival.
The night began with Andy Brown performing – even though he’d only been asked to do so a few hours before. The amicable Canadian bantered easily with the crowd, joking about everything from losing his passport to the cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” he would whip out (’This is something I wrote on the plane on the way over’). As expected, that wonderful cover was the highlight of his set. The next best song was one of his own: the title track for his upcoming album Tinman. Here, he incorporated the first of what would be many audience sing-alongs during the night. While its key phrase ‘Too damn young to feel this old’ may be somewhat cliché, it’s the sort of thing that resonates widely with listeners — as demonstrated by how loudly the audience sung.
Next up was the Aussie songstress Jodi Martin, who began her set with the most unique piece of the night: a moving song about conflict between cultures in our world today, with only body percussion to support her voice. The audience was captivated, and remained so for every second she was on stage. After sharing with the audience that her brother had passed away last year, she dedicated a beautiful cover of Garth Brooks’ “The Cowboy Song” to him, and raised the emotional intensity of the room tenfold. Her own music spanned a variety of topics, including everyday discrimination on the school playground, her own private musings, and the state of our environment — none of which lacked the passion her powerful voice possesses. She also has a new album in the works, and judging by the quality of music she played, it’s one you really don’t want to miss.
The last of the support acts was Dave Gunning, whose performance felt less like a formal event and more like a group of friends catching up over dinner. Gunning’s famed practice of incorporating storytelling into his set was a treat, as it allowed the audience to connect very strongly to his music: every song in his set was introduced with the tale of what had inspired it. We laughed at how his music video for “Here She Comes A-Running” finally ended up on TV, and were moved by the heartbreaking meaning behind “Saltwater Hearts” — both of which were two of the favourites of the night. His set was impeccable, and the energy he drew from the audience went straight into his performance; he was constantly in motion, whether it was strumming his guitar softly as he spoke, or stamping his foot while he played. We were charmed.
Finally, it was time for our headliners: Folk Uke. You can ignore anybody who dismisses their appeal as trickle-down celebrity from their notable family — that opinion is just laziness on their part. Cathy and Amy are talented if peculiar artists, who successfully combine the subversive humour of a good comedian with the gentleness of the folk genre. No topic was off-limits, whether it was addressing the issue of domestic abuse (‘Treat me like I was your wife’) or a personal relationship (‘I wondered why you were here / and now I know / shit makes the flowers grow’). Their upbeat instrumentals and simple but deceptively cutting lyrics created a very light-hearted atmosphere, with the audience laughing at every snarky song. As indicated in their band name, these women were not there to be nice to us — but we loved every second of it.
While the audience was predominantly middle-aged, the large turn-out indicated that the folk scene in Sydney is still there, if somewhat rather underground. If venues such as The Basement continue to host nights like this, we should be able to keep it alive and around for all to enjoy.