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Posted Tuesday, May 17, 2005
Those of us who were at the Loaded Dog on 16 April for the double bill night can now die happy having heard Triantan and Us Not Them in that wonderful acoustic space. We will have to kick on a bit longer to hear a Chloe Roweth/Anthony Woolcott duet, which was a secret part of the cunning plot, but needed more time for them to get together first. However the joint finale by all voices in both groups, plus Len Neary, is still ringing in my ears, and probably theirs.
Triantan ('triangle') are the vocal trio Judy Pinder, Miguel Heatwole and Anthony Woolcott, doing mostly traditional Celtic songs some in Gaelic, with strong voices, harmonies and rhythm, nicely judged bodhran accompaniment, and strong visually with the two men in magnificent plaids flanking Judy in black.
Us Not Them are Jason and Chloe Roweth, featuring Chloe's voice, but Jason also singing beautifully, presenting carefully researched historical Australian songs, in simple, often mesmerising accompaniments on Jason's grounding guitar work, with Chloe's drifting mandolin phrases.
Both groups are assured performers, well in control of their material and style, and with an easy manner that relaxes the audience. The double bill format worked, with the groups alternating their different styles and materials. The close interest they took in each others' brackets added to the warmth and focus of the evening.
Both are groups I follow around festivals, but I had not caught up with Us Not Them's Horseless Rider songs from the First World War. Right now we might feel saturated by media coverage of those events. These songs were fresh, varied, skilfully introduced by Jason, and brought the real individual experiences straight in through the rib-cage. They deserve a national audience for this work.
Triantan are a wake-up call for anyone who thinks Celtic music is misty stuff sung by over-dubbed females who look and sound as though shamrock is a narcotic. Triantan's robust material ranges from fun slip-jigs and tragic love to warrior-stuff that would make a Haka quail.
I thought Triantan must be Gaelic for 'ventriloquist', til I worked out that the low voice comes from the wee lass in the middle, and the high voice from the big bloke on the end. The combination of voices is unusual and effective, and their clarity and discipline drive difficult tour-de-force pieces like King Billy.
In any Dog concert, a dominant but hidden instrument is the room itself. Performing there is like being shrunk and invited to sing inside a grand piano. The natural fold-back to the 'X' sweet spot practically makes you duck. However, it has particular characteristics. On that night it seemed to favour the upper tones in voices and instruments, in a way not apparent to the performers. An intelligent and versatile singer like Miguel changes his range and tone, and was clear using a more penetrating tone or higher register in solos. But using a lower pitch or mellower tone in supporting harmonies he sometimes disappeared.
The main acts were well-supported by the floor spots, but these demonstrated the same thing. Lol Osborne's guitar and voice with plenty of top-end tones came across very clear, and his easy experienced delivery set the tone for the evening. Jane Faulkner doesn't appear to project strongly, but I heard every word in her song and poem. Jane's poems seem to put our own experiences into words. We know that Rosie McDonald is a lovely performer, and I have enjoyed her singing many times. But this time her mellower voice disappeared behind the guitar, though she looked as though it was sounding fine where she was.
Maybe even in a lively acoustic space like the Dog, some form of sound-check is still wise.
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