theatre / “Brett and Wendy: a love story bound by art”, Sydney Festival, Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, until January 27. Reviewed by HELEN MUSA.
WE know about a “smoking gun”, but probably not a smoking pen, but that’s an image happily adopted by Tasmanian singer-songwriter Claire Anne Taylor here for the National Folk Festival at Exhibition Park over Easter.
Although she’s recently moved close to Hobart, Taylor is from the Huon Valley, and says: “I was brought up in the Tarkine rainforest, it’s so beautiful.”
There’s even an apocryphal story that her raspy singing style came from listening to Tasmanian devils growling beneath the floorboards.
“The north-west has a special character,” Taylor says.
“I like to think of it as a bit more rugged, with an honest kind of people living there who have no kind of pretence; what you see is what you get.”
She hopes that’s reflected in her own songs.
It’s been a strong 12 months for Taylor as she’s made her way around the country, including a stint with BighART and Project O’s “Colourathon”. Now she’s been engaged for the autumn tour of the Festival of Small Halls, an initiative of Woodford and Mullum festivals where musicians travel around performing in tiny venues.
“It’s a very special project for me, coming from a small bush place to the city.
“Often the audiences really appreciate it because music doesn’t come into the towns very often.”
When Taylor speaks to “CityNews” she’s about to meet her fellow musician Dave Gunning, from Nova Scotia in Canada, and says: “I get the feeling it’s going to be harmonious. Dave’s style and sound is different from mine, but there is honesty in our songwriting that is very similar.”
Taylor’s voice is the stuff of musical legend; “wrapped in the smoke and gravel of her voice, there’s also a wonderful warmth,” one critic enthused.
“When I was young, kids at school would say: “You sound as if you have a cold” and even my speaking voice is a bit husky,” she says.
“I always had a weird voice.”
In primary school, story writing was her favourite thing.
“When I was young, I thought: ‘What do I know?’ But I would never tell anyone that now… many writers create characters from their imaginations, so you’re never too young,” she says.
At age 16, she sang in front of the school for the first time, attracting those comments. Now she knows why.
“I found something interesting recently,” she says.
“I have a peculiar shaped larynx. I can’t eliminate a lot of the breathiness in my voice because of the way my throat is shaped. Knowing that gave me real freedom.”
As for the smoking pen, Taylor says: “I actually thought it up – that’s a reference to ‘Words, Your Weapons’, one of the songs on my debut album, ‘Elemental’ – about the power of the pen as opposed to the gun… look at the smoke, it goes in the shape of an ‘e’, like ‘elemental’.”
Last year Claire launched a crowdfunding project to support her second album and raised $19,985, but broke a key guitar-playing finger while playing backyard football. That put her out of action for about three months but led to the realisation that “if your fingers are one of the tools of your trade, you’d better look after them”.
Now aged 27 years, she’s left her teenage angst behind and now, she says, “my touch is a bit lighter.”
Taylor is not just representative of Tasmania but she is a perfect example of the top-class female musical power at “The National” this year.
In light of Triple J’s recent report that female representation at the Splendour in the Grass and Falls Festival had fallen while others were at the usual dismal level, National Folk Festival director Pam Merrigan reports a more positive situation in Canberra.
“I think we have a good mix and a good percentage of female performers, especially this year,” she says.
“We have about 25 per cent of key acts that are just all-female.”
Other examples of top female performers at the National are Mount Coot-tha cellist Monique Clare; young Tamworth Country Music Festival star, Matilda Rose; a cappella songstresses Co-cheòl and Chrysoula Kechagioglou’s Purpura from Greece.
“I think females do better in folk because there is greater diversity of styles and genres and more opportunity for them to forge independent careers than in the pop/rock sphere, which can be hard to break into if you don’t fit the parameters,” says Merrigan.
National Folk Festival, Exhibition Park, March 29-April 2. Bookings and program details to folkfestival.org.au