INTERVIEW: Mikelangelo & The Black Sea Gentlemen

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A SHOCKWAVE OF MODERN MULTICULTURALISM

With a brand new album based on the Snowy Hydro-Electric Scheme, Mikelangelo talks with Chris Familton about the genesis and process of the project and how it relates to contemporary Australia.

Many musicians might be loathe to admit to making concept albums but basing your album around one of the largest engineering projects of the 20th century must surely make it just that? “Every album I work on has some degree of being a concept album, whether it is covert or overt. There’s always something that links the songs together, some subterranean narrative or overarching arc,” Mikelangelo reveals.

“This one is interesting because it came about when myself and The Black Sea Gentlemen met with an arts company called Big hART who have been around for over 20 years and who work with communities to tell interesting yet invisible stories. We’ve been interested in doing an album based on stories about the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme because it was such an explosion of mid-20th century European-ness when 200,000 men came out post-World War II Europe to work on the scheme. This little town [Cooma] changed irrevocably and it started this shockwave of modern multiculturalism around Australia,” explains Mikelangelo.

“My dad came out from Croatia as a migrant worker and worked on the scheme so it had always been of interest to me and a key to understanding more about him as he’d never opened up much about it,” Mikelangelo confides. That personal connection makes it more than just a history-meets-music exercise yet the project can also be viewed as a commentary on the current political climate around the issue of immigration.

“Big hART were interested in how the story stacked up as a positive refugee migrant story that has been accepted into the Australian identity and how that might reflect on our current inability to deal with immigration. All these people were moving around the world trying to find places to live, similar to now. If there is any message that comes through on a base emotional level it is acceptance. I think that’s a very simple concept that many governments peddle the opposite stance. Their narratives are so weak and thin that they’re coming apart. You can only lie for so long.”

This was the first time all the Gentleman wrote for an album,” says Mikelangelo of the songwriting process for the album. “They’re all vibrant songwriters with their own projects. They’ve always loved my songs but it’s evolved into me writing half the songs and the others writing the rest. Working with Big hART we got this creative residency time – a house in Cooma or a work space like an old church and so we could work for days on end together. It meant we could work on our songs and then bring them back into the group and we haven’t really had an opportunity to work like that in the past,” he enthuses. “That was an exciting way to work. My songs really came out of being interested in the men working in the tunnels and their trials and tribulations. That was my way of thinking about how my father’s life would have been then. Some of the other Gentlemen took quite different angles which makes the album really interesting.”

Working with arts companies, funding bodies and local councils means dealing with vested interests and expectations, yet at the end of the day, like the scheme itself, everyone seems to be very happy with the finished product. Mikelangelo recalls meeting with the local Cooma Council who “wanted a certain thing out of it” before adding with another bout of healthy laughter, “They appreciated us but they probably wanted a bit more Man From Snowy River and a bit less wog!”

ALBUM REVIEW: Mikelangelo & The Black Sea Gentlemen – After The Flood

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Rating8Inspired by the dramatic stories of the 100,000 men who travelled from across Europe after the war to work on the Snowy Scheme, Mikelangelo and his band of accomplices mix humour, Weimar cabaret, Gypsy music, dark folk and jazz on this intriguing album. There are clear nods to the theatrical side of Tom Waits, the exotic flavours of C.W. Stoneking and the drunken, swaying shanties of The Pogues yet they’ve created their own singular sound around this concept album. The music is melodically rich, the playing evocative and the subject matter both local and universal in nature. Mikelangelo has led his gentlemen down a fine and entertaining path on After The Flood.

Chris Familton

 

LIVE REVIEW: JAMIE HUTCHINGS @ Annandale 16/11/08

JAMIE HUTCHINGS

The host of the evening’s entertainment was the prolific Jamie Hutchings and his Imaginary Choir who form the bulk of the current musicians behind Hutchings’ solo work.  As the heart and soul of Bluebottle Kiss he has released 6 albums, all of a consistently high standard, plus numerous EPs and singles.  His first solo record, The Golden Coach, received positive reviews and showcased the less intense side of his songwriting.  Its follow-up, His Imaginary Choir, is due for release early in 2009.

In support were Mark Moldre, The Shipwrecked, The Maladies and Loene Carmen.  The Maladies are a raucous bunch delivering swinging gothic blues with conviction who seem to get better each time I see them.  Loene Carmen continues to deliver her sultry Americana tales of love won and lost.  Her success is how she marries loose and ragged guitars with her cooing vocals to conjure up that dark hazy atmosphere.

A Sunday night at the Annandale is always a nice way to prolong the weekend and postpone thoughts of Monday morning and Hutchings brought a family feel to the evening with his sister Sophie on keys and backing vocals, wife Erin also on backing vocals plus brother Scott on drums.  The setlist showcased a range of tracks from the upcoming His Imaginary Choir and 2002’s The Golden Coach as well as the tour only EP After The Flood.

The sound of Hutchings solo work is not a million miles from Bluebottle Kiss but the key difference lies in the tonality of the songs and their structure.  Absent is the dissonance and note bending swagger of BBK’s live shows and replacing it is a more steady and measured approach.  Sophie’s keys in particular lent a delicate touch and her vocal harmonies with Erin Hutchings really did work well both with and against Jamie’s earthier voice.

New songs such as ‘Flame Thrower’ and ‘I’m Going To Have To Ask You To Leave’ highlight his sombre melodic sensibilities which have always been one of the strongest assets to his craft and can be traced from earlier songs such as ‘User Friendly’ to the newer songs he played.

As the backing band, His Imaginary Choir, the musicians put on a solid performance, if a little tentative at times.  The songs themselves could easily exist and succeed as just voice and guitar in a live setting so the arrangements and their live delivery benefited from the band providing colour, light and shade to the songs, enabling them to breathe rather than suffocating their essence.

As one of Australia’s great songwriters, Hutchings continues to deliver great performances and convince us of his art.  One senses that with the release of the new solo album and more shows under their belt, the band will further settle in and develop as Hutchings’ live Imaginary Choir.

NEWS: JAMIE HUTCHINGS NEW E.P

Jamie Hutchings of Bluebottle Kiss fame is releasing a new e.p today.  This comes ahead of the release of his new solo record ‘His Imaginary Choir’ which is due out early in 2009.
The ‘After the Flood’  e.p is available from http://www.trashthestage.com for only $10, through itunes and on the shelves at Red Eye Records as well. It’s a six track e.p with five tracks unavailable anywhere but this e.p. You can hear the title track at http://www.myspace.com/jamiehutchings. All CD’s are signed and numbered in very limited quantities.

In support of the ep Jamie is playing some live shows through late Oct and Nov:
Newcastle Sat 25 Oct- Cambridge Hotel (sophie and jamie only)
Newcastle Thur 6 Nov -Newcastle Uni ( jamie solo lunchtime show)
Brisbane   Sat 15 Nov- the Troubadour http://www.thetroubadour.com.au EP LAUNCH
+ tim steward band + ben salter (the gin club)
Sydney  Sun 16 Nov- Annandale Hotel  http://www.annandalehotel.com EP LAUNCH
+ Loene Carmen + the Maladies + Mark Moldre + more
Melbourne Sat 22 Nov – Empress Hotel http://www.theempresshotel.com.au EP LAUNCH
+ Princess 1.5 + Mark Moldre
Melbourne Sun 22 Nov – the Retreat Hotel s/ Spencer P Jones and the Escape Commitee
Wollongong Wed 26 Nov – Oxford Tavern (jamie only)

UPDATE:

THE RUNNING TIMES FOR THIS SUNDAY’S ANNANDALE GIG ARE:

Start Finish

8.15pm 9.15pm
Jamie Hutchings and his Imaginary Choir

7.30pm 8.00pm
Loene Carmen (rear)

6.40pm 7.25pm
The Maladies

6.05pm 6.35pm
The Shipwrecked (rear)

5.30pm 6.00pm
Mark Moldre