henry hugo exeterWho the fuck does Henry Hugo think he is?

Argentinian. Lives in the evil gnome capitalist capital, Zurich. Will only eat meat-lovers pizzas. No poncy vegetables or fruit for this Dark Lord carnivore. Would probably munch on dwarves if he could catch them unawares. One of these sentences is a fib.

And here he is, this Henry Hugo, writing songs like "Cold Night in Warrnambool", "Deep Lead Creek" and a whole host of others inspired by … erm, well. Us. Orstrilians. Strayans.

Well. There’s a lot of people in Australia. Millions born here, born and bred, who are, frankly, so repulsive in themselves they should be taken out to sea, tied to an old fridge and set free…

Henry Hugo is, like several other overseas-born artists, an honorary Australian. He loves Australian culture, the country, the people, how and why we live here. It’s not a political thing. He’s not a potential Swiss immigrant who complains about the cowbells, or a Muslim grumpy because we don’t [fill in the assorted blanks here], nor is he a reffo.

Henry Hugo, Andrew McCubbin and Michael Plater (featuring Nick Spaulding)
Exeter Hotel, Adelaide
Friday, January 13, 2017

Henry Hugo, Nick Spaulding, Andrew McCubbin, Michael Plater, Fergus O’Regan
(and featuring, for a brief moment, Robert Brokenmouth)

Big Awesome House Party Gig Thingy,
Goodwood, Adelaide
Satuday, January 14, 2017

Mandy Tzaras photos

arcadian songs largeHenry Hugo embraces us with enthusiasm and love and we… well, we don’t know the man from Adam. Not really..

Which is to our detriment. "Arcadian Songs" is 11 songs of gorgeous goodness, the tang and twang of the outback sinks its teeth into us, Henry’s warm, misty vocal drawing us in like shivering urchins on a cold night in Warrnambool.. no.

Stop it.

Yeah, you do need to know I know the man. And admire him. But like Bob Quine said about recording the Velvet Underground’s gigs, go often enough to see the band and the artists notice you and make you welcome. So I know Henry because of his music, not because I went to school with him or spent half a life in the front row smashing glasses over each other’s heads on mandies and Tuinol while we bellowed thrash chants.

Hmm. Anyone who’s read my stuff here should know: make a duff record and I will apologise to my friend and decline to review it. If I give a record less than three and a half bottles, it means there’s merit in there worth seeking out. So, yeah, I know these guys.  Andrew I've just met. But that’s irrelevant.

Nick Spaulding, I’ve had the immense pleasure of working with (alienating Black Sabbath cover bands at rehearsal by accidentally making his guitar sound like an unshielded Avon engine warming up - walking in to the practice room I found Nick wearing an expression of immense glee, standing staring down at his guitar which was several feet away and flat on its back. When I went out 10 minutes later the Black Sabbath crew had left in - I assume - disgust).

Andrew McCubbin and Michael Plater, I keep seeing, and will continue to do so because first, I know them to be decent and strong individuals, ridiculously modest who, second, make the kind of music which people are going to be soiling themselves over in twenty years time (unless fame and fortune get them first, as it deserves to).

Despite the scorn, U2 will still sell millions of their next LP. That’s fine, there are fools everywhere, you can’t stop them and they make the economy go around much more swiftly. But I wish some of those U2 fans would listen a little more broadly. Same goes for Nick Cave fans.

See, U2 and Nick Cave really did put a thumbprint on a few things in the '80s and '90s, whether we like it or not, and their long shadow either acts like a closed door … or an open one. In Cave’s case, his unexpected dead-straight appreciation of so many artists scorned by the too-cool-for-school alt-volt-wavers - such as mum’n’dadrock and livingroomslop (Elvis’ Vegas period, Johnny Cash, Nancy and Lee, Tom Jones, Van "The Man" Morrison and on and on), leading to his own explorations in style, content and tone… which was then followed by a large number of the most under-rated and talented musical artists I think I’ve ever witnessed…

Yeah, some of those have found fame and fortune. You know who they are. Good for them.

But those who remain beneath the belly of the underground are making music which, like Leadfinger or Chickenstones, would be storming the upper reaches of the charts 25 years ago, and still deserves to today - if there were charts today worthy of the name.

So, since I received Hugo's and Andrew's CDs and saw these acts more or less at the same time, it follows that they all need to be bundled together. The Barman can put the review in two places, gigs as well as CDs. So there.

Now, readers, you need to get into Henry Hugo. Not cos I say so. Hardly. But try listening to "Arcadian Songs". If it doesn’t immediately grab you that’s fine. But it’s a grower, gets stronger, broader, more interesting the more you play it. Can’t say that about much currently in the charts, frankly.

plater spauldingThe Ex gig started with Michael Plater, mostly solo, with occasional guest bass by Nick, and the last song or two with Henry Hugo.

Readers, I found all these performances over these two nights to be powerful and moving in a way I sometimes have difficulty with... No, none of this is soppy, but strong, purposeful music with a level of poignancy you’d expect from a long-admired artist packing out a joint the size of your local cinema. I had a bit of a manly blub at one point (but I won't say who caused it). Not confrontational, but more ... intimate. Close without confining... releasing, in fact.

Michael had a few new songs, one dedicated to his partner, and as usual his set was as unique as it was familiar. The lighting made the boys look like they were burning in hell, the continual roaming back and forth of wallys on the pull in Rundle Street through the windows behind the ‘stage’ simply added a greater piquancy to the proceedings. Get his music here

Next up was Andrew McCubbin, who I’d only seen the once before, at the "Murder Ballads" evening a couple of years ago in Melbourne, a rather special night for everyone. I have a memory of approaching Andrew and telling him how much I enjoyed his two songs; but I couldn’t recall much of it so I really had no idea what was to come.

Andrew plays guitar, and has with him onstage a laptop and a Korg, and a loop pedal. So it’s essentially a one-man band, and the quality is pretty damn huge. Drawing us in using a variety of rhythms and tones, it’s his songs which affect us. Simply written, understated delivery… in that sense, we’re reminded of the late Cohen, tho that’s a poor comparison.

His new single, "Wait Here for the Sun" is one of those wonderful songs which grabs you first time and gets inside you. Melinda Kay adds an extra, and rather lovely, dimension as she sings with Andrew - the contrast is beautiful. This is a single I think everyone needs to hear. If I must make a comparison - Mick Harvey or Nick Cave (when he was just figuring out how to be quiet) - but as I have already indicated… the journey McCubbin has followed isn’t Nick’s trail, but things you’re familiar with filtered through Nick. Go here

Me? I bought three of his CDs. He used to have an outfit called The Hope Addicts; I’m looking forward to hearing them.

After pacing outside, puffing like a locomotive and alarming the pedestrians and hooray-friday-drinkiepoos, Henry (and Andrew) then took the stage. He must be in a mood tonight, this is the rocking, chest-out, head-down bruiser of lore, quite unlike the Henry of yore… but no, the set changes, shivers and we find ourselves peering into mature, arresting songs of considerable quality. He lets his hair go during his cover of ‘The Singer’: and let me tell you, it’s as much Henry’s song as Cave’s or Cash’s.

house partyThe Big Awesome House Party Gig Thing was organised by Fergus O'Regan, his housemate Em, and another Em, whose response to the question "Do you know anywhere we could play at a house party?" was an excited squeak. I won’t pinpoint the place, but imagine, if you will, a share house in the older style, with an ex-supermarket on the one side, a gravel driveway on the other, the driveway leading to a carpark behind the house and garden, and on the other side of the gravel, a cinema. It was, besides being Awesome, also a Night of Three Ems.

So, no noise complaints. Nick Spaulding should find it a satisfactory abode (and so should his current neighbours. In fact, they’ll probably throw him a going away party).

The lineup was: Fergus, Michael, Andrew, Nick, and Henry.

Things were a bit late getting started because everyone had, erm, imbibed too heavily (except Henry who was horrifyingly sober, the bastard), including me for once. Food dried up rapidly and we realised that perhaps we should’ve been warned to byo visa card and call for pizza as well as byo booze. But no matter. I’ve seen more prone bodies at parties, but that was in the 1970s and very early 8ts (when lawns turned into a thick crust of cigarette butts and bottletops). Some folk, tonight, I have no idea how they remained uprightish … however.

Fergus O’Regan. With a name like that, he must have Inuit ancestry, right?

Really interesting set. He started off with a few tongue-in cheek numbers which had people nice and relaxed, such as "Produc’’, and "Opposite of Special’", laughing genially. Then he moved onwards, his repertoire expanding into more thoughtful and moving songs, such as "Ocean and Moon" - oh, yes, almost all of the set was original. He went down a treat, and was exceptional. I’ll have to see him again, when I’m sober. See his Facebook page for a short dark and blurry excerpt. 

Michael’s set - remember, this is a house party, so there’s no PA., just amps and god-bless - was stronger tonight; Nick was able to take more risks in a couple of the songs I thought, he’s a damn fine accompanist - and they both finished the set with a squall and skronk which was quite magnificent. Tonight and the previous night were the second and first time Nick had played bass in public for some years.

robert vocalsOh, and Michael asked me to come up and sing. I did, vanishing forward into the darkened room among the parishioners and no-one was able to take any pictures. (ED: Wanna bet?) How awful.

Andrew’s set, I caught most of. By god the man is good, no, excellent. In fact, I’d say he’s worth a plane trip to catch: the spectrum he inhabits is very much his own terrain, and it’s very difficult not to be moved by him.

Nick was up next and did two pieces, both more or less off the cuff - his first solo performance. The first one ('I knew I wanted to do something in A minor but aside from that it was all improvised') - the vox here was still too low, partly because the guit amp was up high with, I am told, little gain, which meant that … yeah. A venue problem, we’ve all seen it. Nick’s pedal board is some sort of contraption, and unlike everyone else, he’s using everything for maximum impact.

The second song was vaguely reminiscent of "Frankie Teardrop" which allowed him to bellow and scream. He had fun. We were floored. Did I mention he’s 19..? It shouldn’t matter. But it does, because he’s a better guitarist now than so many I know who’ve been playing for years: he’s better partly because he’s pushing to find out everything he can to control this huge beast better. He ain’t just strumming in time to his beard and deconstructed latte, boys’n’girls.

Henry was up last and, still sober despite apparent corpses all around and reeling semi-upright characters wobbling about the place, played the last set of the night, again with Andrew, with aplomb, grace, guts and glory. God it was moving.

As I type these words, he’s recording a new album in Melbourne, but his current one, "Arcadian Songs" is a killer which sucks you in and holds you right there.

There are a few Melbourne gigs coming up before Henry Hugo leaves Australia until next time. Go here or pester the man for CDs on Facebook or in person at Tago Mago on January 21, with The Moth Body and several others…, or the Tote on January 29… with Mark Steiner, Tex Napalm Trio, Marilyn Rose and the Thorns (featuring Jack Howard)…

"Arcadian Songs" - Henry Hugo (Untuned)
"Wait Here for the Sun" (single) - Andrew McCubbin (andrewmccubbin.com)