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BWW Review: WOMADELAIDE 2018: DAY 2 at Botanic Park

BWW Review: WOMADELAIDE 2018: DAY 2 at Botanic ParkReviewed by Ray Smith, Saturday 10th March 2018.

Deborah Conway has come a long way from her days with Do Re Mi in the 1980s. Her collaboration with Willy Zygier saw a very tight and slick ensemble take to the Foundation Stage at WOMADelaide this afternoon. I didn't stay for the whole performance because I was keen to get a good position at the Moreton Bay Stage to see the Scottish folk outfit, Elephant Sessions.

I managed to position myself directly in front of the stage and as close to it as is possible. In hindsight that may have been a bad idea for someone of my vintage because, within minutes, I was completely trapped in a sea of dancers.

The five-piece band consists of Mark Bruce on a Fender Jazzmaster guitar, Alastair Taylor on a tiny Mid Missouri Mandolin, Euan Smillie on violin, Seth Tinsley on bass and keyboards, and Greg Barry on drums. I managed to have a chat with them after their show.

From the first bar of music the energy leapt up to a dizzying height and stayed there for the full hour of their performance, much to the delight of the mainly young and very enthusiastic crowd. The band communicated brilliantly with their audience, driving the energy higher and higher with rocked up traditional sounding tunes played at breakneck speed over electronic percussion and looped samples.

The onstage communication was solid too, with band members constantly making eye contact with each other to signal tune changes and breakdowns, all the while grinning from ear to ear. They were having as much fun as their audience. The band's first gig in Australia was an outstanding success and epitomised for me the very nature of the WOMADelaide Festival.

It's fairly easy to get a crowd to dance for the myriad of fusion bands who cavort in the evenings on the Foundation Stage shouting "YO ADELAIDE" to the audience through a smoke machine induced haze, while their banks of drum machines take care of the rest with an occasional stab from a brass section. Elephant Sessions had the biggest crowd I've ever seen at the Moreton Bay Stage, dancing in the afternoon in 35-degree heat for an hour, by playing folk music live, on acoustic instruments, with a rock/funk backdrop.

These five young musicians met as students at the Newcastle University studying towards the Folk and Traditional Music BA and one imagines that their lecturers are quite pleased with the results of their efforts. All the music is written and arranged by the band members themselves and though very Celtic in feel, often displays Reggae and Bluegrass hints amongst the rock-solid foundations laid down by Bruce, Tinsley, and Barry.

I asked about their unusual name, imagining it was derived from memories of a spiritual journey into India, or a trek through Africa but I was wrong. The name refers to a track on an album by Celtic Fusion Band, Croft Number 5.

The Elephant Sessions album, All We Have is Now, won the 2017 Scots Trad Music Award for Album of the Year and for my money they have also won Band of the Year, WOMADelaide 2018. Of course, I bought the album.

The young singer/songwriter, Diddiri, appeared on the Novatech Stage and his set contained some interesting and thought-provoking material. He had great stories to tell and an excellent voice with which to tell them, but his jangling guitar style turned me away before the end.

Since I was in that distant part of the extensive WOMADelaide site, I decided to catch part of the Taste the World session that was being presented by the Tao Dance Theatre.

WOMADelaide offers more than just music and dance. Speakers Corner and Taste the World offer a wonderful respite for weary ears after several hours of music, and today was no exception. The audience was led through the complex preparation and cooking of the southern Chinese dish, Braised Spare Ribs in Brown Sauce, while the chef gave us some insights into running the Tao Dance Theatre. Fascinating stuff.

On Stage 3, the tireless Front of House engineer Dave Usher, was wrestling with the 28 voice choir, Dusty Esky. The male voice choir from New South Wales sang workers songs in Russian and Ukrainian, though none of them actually speak the languages. With exaggerated Russian accents and playful on stage humour they were enormously entertaining and sang the songs convincingly and brilliantly, in a similar vein to the Spooky Men's Chorale, but focussed firmly on the songs of the Russian working class.

Although hailing from Mullumbimby these men are more Russian than Vladimir Putin's horse and their presentation was mesmerising and, at times, hilarious. Introducing the last song, one of the members told the audience, "We look forward to meeting your womens and livestock, after performance."


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