A rising star graces Marrickville with her presence
+ Lady Lyon
The Great Club, Marrickville, NSW
Thursday 29 September 2022
Sitting at my favourite breakfast haunt with the rain hitting its stride, the nearby beach appears to resemble a wild mosh-pit. The mobile phone rings. I decide to answer and then gulp the last of my coffee: it was my mate Vic.
"I saw Grace Cummings last night, and I know you’d like her; you don’t often see a support act get a standing ovation at the Recital Hall."
Vic rarely raves about too many artists, I slurped down my coffee and started to Google. As the rain pelted down, the sounds of Grace’s song "Heaven” blared from my phone.
That voice and what a song.
As the rain continued and I traversed the slippery pavement, finding spots of shelter on the way home. Grace’s voice resonated from the mobile phone in my coat pocket, sounding for all the world like music coming via a treasured transistor radio from years ago.
I returned to the flat and then decided to explore all her music on YouTube, watching any of her videos and any live performance I could find. I liked her Facebook page and watched her and the band gig after gig, night after night, through Croatia and Prague. over to Ireland and then back to the Continent.
I was stunned by her work ethic as the Victorian-bred girl and band clocked up six gigs a week for months.
So I discovered that Grace Cummings and her band were playing The Great Club in Sydney’s inner-west. This was a gig that rain, hail or shine, I was not going to miss.
The Great Club is newish venue in Marrickville with lashings of vibe. It’s a welcome and much needed venue in Sydney, which has sadly become sadly a city of ugly home unit developments with no soul.
Support act Lady Lyon opens the night with the gentle song “Blaze”, working around simple arpeggio and harmonic bass playing. It’s a subtle song with whispers and has a haunting quality thanks to Hayley Lyon.
It is always risky to open with a soft, moody song. The mood uplifts as the band begins to get into full gear. There’s a very strong sense of light and shade with Lady Lyon and the band is intelligent enough to know when not to play and to pull back.
Ross Tipper plays off the lead singer, applying his guitar heroics when need be. He’s no slouch as a guitar slinger, with touching harmonics and forceful lines but never overplays. He even throws out some Pete Townsend wildness and is at ease picking up percussion and working the stage.
The recent single “Texas Golden” is a killer track with an awesome chorus. The bass of Helen Henry and the solid drumming of Reece Grogan creates a solid backbeat, and the band displays varied influences from garage rock to alt-country.
By mid-set, Hayley has abandoned her subtle and sensitive vocalising to become a full rock ‘n’ roll diva with awesome guitar lines accompanying her as she bellows a chorus.
Solid and mature song- writing and clever arrangements charatcerise the ground that Lady Lyon treads. Add a cool stage vibe and banter and they feel like a real rock band with a genuine connection between each member.
Lady Lyon can rock. The evidence is the rip-roaring finale “Surfs Up” with soaring guitars in a song that builds and builds. It’s a nod to garage and a variety of Americano influences; potent lyrics backed up with very effective backing vocals from Helen, Ross and Reece behind Haley, who by now is on her knees in the audience, channelling Angus Young.
Lady Lyon is an intelligent and talented band – that much is proven by their short set tonight.
Grace Cummings. Photo by @thom.a_
After a short time, Grace Cummings and her takes the stage. Blistering with a take no prisoners approach, Grace has developing her craft and writing and gives a nod to Dylan and Tom Waits. She really a student of the song as her debut album “Refuge Cove” of a few years ago demonstrated.
The new songstress was then a student, feeling her way with a collection of songs that yearned to be noticed. It’s a classic move, putting a highly developed solo singer-songwriter in front of a blazing rock ‘n’ roll band. Tonight it is magic. As in 1966 when Dylan pulled out all stops with a band that allowed him to can soar and weave and places previously unexplored. This is place where Grace Cummings has landed.
The first few songs tonight are soaring and delivered with the precision that only playing gig after gig can hone. The rhythm section of bass player Lain Pocock and drummer Tyler Daglish are locked into a solid back beat and as solid as concrete.
After a few songs, Grace announces: “Hey I made a discovery. As I am at the Great Club and they have a baby Grand piano...”
As a hundred of us follow her over to a corner of the venue, Grace has left her soaring rock persona and is now channelling early Waits with her emotive dark song “Matilda”.
The audience becomes deathly silent as she moves to a Gospel rendition of the White Stripes’ “I’m lonely, but I’m not that lonely yet“. Grace owns the song, and takes us to the dark depths of an old raggedy wooden southern church in the hills of Arkansas. We feel the ghosts of broken dreams as she delivers the song with a haunting air.
Grace returns to the stage and after a bit of Sydney vs Melbourne banter, the fire is back in her belly. We’re into solid blues territory with a nip of whisky-soaked vocals. This time it’s a song with venom with Grace bellowing over guitars with a Crazy Horse sound. Looseness and sharp sonics. A break-up song with pure angst.
You just don’t know what you’re missing without me,
You will miss so much that sweet touch
“Storm Queen” is the title track from her new album. It features a guitar work-out from Cahill Kelly. It pounds along like a commuter train, a song that weaves in and out of shadows. It’s also a song of death with the sadness of a Tennessee Williams play. The guitars intertwine as Grace’s vocals move from a whisper to a bellow.
“Heaven” finishes the set with the raggedy, loose brilliance of a bar band. The whole audience is spellbound. Grace’s vocals are powerful as they span angst and tenderness in the space of a few bars, completely uninhibited. She’s an artist who takes you by the throat and does not let go.
You can cite her influences – they’re as diverse as Howling Wolf, Bessie Smith and Janis Joplin – but Cummings brings her own brilliant phrasing that never lets go of her Aussie slang and style and mixes it with her own poetic lyrics.
We walked out a little stunned by what we had witnessed and all determined to be at her next show. It was the sort of live performance that you don’t really expect in a tiny club in a Marrickville on a Thursday night.
Grace is the real deal and a rare talent.