Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Winter is Blue.

Piha Beach lies 30 kilometres west of Auckland but it feels much further away. It is remarkable for its black sand, the remnants of a 16 million year old volcano. Perhaps you remember Jane Campion’s gothic masterpiece The Piano? Piha was the star of that film. The dangerous, unforgiving canvas where Holly Hunter arrives on a Maori canoe with her beloved piano to begin a new life.

I’ve been struggling lately, with a lot of things. I don’t have a clue how most people do this thing called life. I get so caught up in it, analysing everything to make sense of it all, but really I have no idea. I’m constantly rushing around doing a million things as though one day I will finish a task and go ‘there, finally sorted this life thing out – cup of tea?’ I try to live in the moment. I’ve heard the moment is where it’s at, but somehow I get caught up in the future or start thumbing back through the past.

There are small glorious moments in life when I lose myself.

Tom and I packed the car full of guitars and food and headed out to Piha Beach for the week. We spent the mornings drinking coffee, cooking big breakfasts and listening to our favourite albums. After a long walk we spent the afternoons playing guitar and singing.

At night we watched movies. I saw Rosemary’s Baby for the first time!! How good is that film? Can you imagine Polanski pitching it to the producers? “OK, so I have this great idea for a movie, just hear me out…”

Rosemary (Mia Farrow) moves into a Manhattan apartment block with her husband (John Cassavetes) a struggling actor. There they meet an older couple, Roman and Minnie Castavet, who seem a little eccentric sure, but nice enough. After a couple of dinners at the Castavet’s things start to get a little crazy. One night Rosemary feels woozy after one of Minnie’s chocolate mousses. She goes to bed early, passes out and hallucinates she is the sacrificial sex object of a strange group ritual lead by a naked Roman Castavet.

She dreams she has sex with a horned beast only to wake up in the morning next to her husband, a little hungover and covered in claw marks. ‘Sorry!’ says hubby, we just got a little randy last night… Rosemary falls pregnant and becomes anaemic and withdrawn - OK, I won’t spoil the story in case you haven’t seen it yet, but let’s just say Scrabble boards, people going blind and a coven of retiree witches start to feature heavily in the plot line. And all there, happening right under your nose, in New York City!

I digress.

Life is complex and random, a little like the plot line of Rosemary’s Baby. It’s often passionate, wild and beautiful like The Piano. But most of the time it’s just doing the drill, ‘pressing on regardless’ as my Dad says. Moments of joy, grief and mystery amongst the laundry and the paying of bills.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

The Last Record Store

On Saturday the 14th of May 2011, a Melbourne institution will close its doors. Perhaps aptly named in these changing times, The Last Record Store, there was a collective sadness felt by many of Melbourne's independent musicians when the words 'Closing Down Sale' appeared on the window a couple of weeks ago.

Alex Morton and his wife Helen started The Last Record Store on Smith St in Collingwood 18 years ago. Over that time they built a reputation as one of Australia's finest, truly independent record stores. They supported the music they loved and had a loyal patronage that would buy local artists' albums based on Al's word. I've run into a couple of people who've told me they bought my album based on "Al's word". How cool is that?

Alex and Helen are retiring. They want to slow down and enjoy life, travel a bit, buy some new musical instruments, get out to see more live music. They are selling up and are happy with the deal they walk away with. This is a great thing, because they truly deserve to walk away with something after everything they have given to the Melbourne music scene. Of course the ever declining sale of music at retail stores didn't make things any easier for them in the last few years, everyone knows that records, CD's whatever you want to call them, just aren't selling anymore.

I'm mourning what the Last Record Store represented. It was a hub of local community, an oasis where you could stop by on your daily errands and be reminded of how magic music is. A shrine to some of our country's finest. CW Stoneking's Hokum Blues sits proudly on the shelf next to a signed poster from Jimmy Little. On the counter is a little box full of latest releases, predominantly Australian artists, independently and lovingly rendered in home studios on tight budgets. On the Last Record Stores website (set up by their daughter Hannah) there are three categories of music you can choose from; Independents, Aboriginal and Old Timey.

The Last Record Store was never about trends or what was cool, which is what made it so cool. It was about two beautiful people, who loved music so much they built their own shrine to it and welcomed us all in.

"I'll be hanging out with Alex at The Last Record Store." - Van Walker, The Last Record Store.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Letter to my 12 year old Self.

I recently took part in Women of Letters at Bella Union Trades Hall in Melbourne. The premise as constructed by curators Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire is that 5 women each read out a letter on the same topic to an audience. My panel consisted of Mia Timpano, Laura Jean McKay, Shalini Akhil and Virginia Trioli. It was an amazing experience and a revealing topic...

Dear 12 Year Old Me,

It’s 1986, Adelaide. An only child, you’ve spent most of your life at Loreto Ladies Convent, a rather stuffy Catholic girls school. Your look would best be described as androgynous. When not dressed in school uniform you frequently get mistaken for a boy. In fact, you have a pinball playing alter ego who passes at the local take-away as John until your Mum walks in one day and yells – “Jennifer! Come home at once!”

You’re a colourful creative individual drawn to the arts like a magnet. You even get to play the lead role of Jesus in the end of year drama production. Desperate to fit in you’re a student representative for your class year, head of the debating team and a consistent B grade student. From the outside things look OK.

But secretly you hate it here. Here in this prison of scary old nuns, academic achievement and regulation blue underwear.

Don’t worry in a year’s time everything will have changed. You’ll have been expelled from Loreto Convent, smoked your first bucket bong and changed up from Ra Ra skirts and Duran Duran to 12 hole Doc Martins and The Dead Kennedy’s. But let’s address your current situation…

You are in love. Absolutely, positively besotted with Caroline Clark - a bronzed goddess with piercing blue eyes and perfect caramel curls that cascade effortlessly down her neck. Caroline is the definition of natural beauty - a country border at Loreto with exceptional athletic ability. Over the course of year eight you strike up a friendship and when mid term holidays arrive you spend it at her farm in Mildura. Here you learn how to drive a car, go to your first bush dance, sleep out in the caravan and smoke Escort Reds. You long to kiss Caroline but know such a move would be unwise, humiliating even! and so you set in motion many years of unrequited crushes – your secret heart.

1986 is the year of Halley’s Comet. The year like the comet is a bit of a fizzer. It’s the year Farnesy releases his career-defining album Whispering Jack but your listening to the Boys Next Door. The girl responsible for this change in your musical palate is Danielle Henderson a mousy, quiet, unassuming soul. She arrives at Loreto in a shroud of mystery. Rumour’s fly that she was expelled from her last school although no one seems to know the reason why. You are immediately drawn to her.

1986 is the year Richard Lowenstein releases Dogs in Space starring Michael Hutchence but it’s the soundtrack to the film that captivates you. This is your first life-changing long player and you listen to it every night. For the first time you hear Nick Cave singing Roland S Howard’s timeless heartbreaker Shivers. You also love Iggy Pop’s The Endless Sea. You think he’s singing The Embassy in reference to a secret spy agency but he’s actually talking about shooting smack. You’ll use the song title to name your band 18 years later. That’s Jen Cloher & The Endless Sea, not The Embassy. Cheers Iggy!

Danielle Henderson is just a friend. There’s no chemistry, which is just as well! She’s like the gateway drug to your rebellion and opens the door to a brand new world. You meet her gothic pals, drink goon on Rundle Mall, listen to the Birthday Party and dream of somehow escaping the drab confines of Catholic girls school. Thirteen is fast approaching and year nine will bring with it a whirlwind of change. You’ll get into a lot of trouble at school and start a secret life your parents never really find out about.

It’s scary now, looking at the kind of danger you’re about to put yourself in. At the same time, I thank you for breaking free, for being an individual, for not fitting in. That spirit will cause you a lot of problems in life but also keep you moving forward and taking risks.

I recently found out that your year 8 crush Caroline Clark committed suicide last year, just weeks before she was to be married. It made me feel very sad. I wonder how she really felt at 12 years old? And what of Danielle Henderson the inspiration to your teen rebellion? She’s now a qualified nurse, married with two beautiful boys living in Adelaide. You still see her from time to time for a cuppa and everything seems just fine.

In fact Twelve Year Old Me that’s the main thing I want to tell you. Don’t worry, life will work itself out, you will fit in one day. Sure it’ll take another 18 years of feeling like a square peg in a round hole but you’ll figure it out. Writing to you twenty-four years on, I wish I could somehow reach into your little heart, a whisper from the future and give you the confidence to put yourself out there. To pursue the ones you love rather than shrinking away in fear. To be a colourful creative and trust you will make a living from it. To let you know you are already enough, that you don’t have to be anything more for anyone else. That you are beautiful even though you can’t yet see it.

But if I wasn’t you then, I wouldn’t be me now. And that’s all that matters - now.

Monday, July 26, 2010

U S of A

America - big cars, big food, big dogs. Nice people.

I just spent the last 5 weeks traveling about the States - L.A, San Fran, NYC and Texas.

I stopped in L.A where I spent some time with Mia Dyson. We wrote a duet together, which was rather curious, not what you might expect from us. We ended up recording a demo of the song at a chap called Pete McNeal's studio. I met Pete in January this year when he was over drumming for Toni Childs. Pete also plays with Norah Jones and Brett Dennen and was in the band Cake for quite a few years. We recorded live onto his tape machine - he had to push play and then run around behind his kit and start drumming!

This is a photo of Mia with a fake mullet! GOLD!!

We also caught up with Ben Lee and his wife Ione and met his ADORABLE baby girl Goldie. She is so cute it hurts.

Hmmmmm.... what other rock star tales can I tell you? Well I got to meet Dave Stewart of Eurythmics fame and check out his office in Hollywood which was very lush. He has a John Lennon inspired white recording studio set up there where we listened to some new Mia Dyson mixes. Dave was very quietly spoken, the ultimate rockstar with his dark glasses and suit jacket/bling. Eurythmics sold 300 million albums back in the day! Ahhhhhhh the days when people actually sold records, remember them?

I also met Joan Wasser of Joan As Police Woman by chance in NYC. She was very sweet and put me onto some good guitar shops... where I ended up buying the most beautiful Santa Cruz acoustic guitar. I love my new guitar so much, it almost brings tears to my eyes when I pull it out of the case.

My friend Rebekah took this shot on a hot New York day. It was my Sex in the City sitting on a stoop moment. I had just scored the dress for $30 so I was happy.

I'm about to start writing for a new record, some ideas are starting to flow in. I want to thank you all for coming out to the May tour with Jordie. We sold out nearly every room we played which was a huge success for us and proof that YOU are out there and listening. Allelujah!


Saturday, March 13, 2010


On Sunday the 7th of March I experienced the most moving concert of my life. Sitting side of stage in the dark, I watched Archie Roach perform a raw and heart-wrenching tribute to the life of his partner and musical soul mate Ruby Hunter.

Archie had been named as the Port Fairy Folk Festival ‘Artist of the Year’. The program noted that this would be his official Live CD launch, a celebration of his enormous contribution to Australian music culture. When the program was printed no-one expected that he would be in mourning, having only just buried his wife the Friday before.

This was Archie’s first performance since Ruby’s death, he hadn’t made the scheduled performance the day before and there was speculation as to whether he would make today’s show. No-one expected him to, not so soon after Ruby’s passing - it would be too hard.

At 3pm, an hour before his CD launch, an announcement went out through the festival that Archie would be performing at 4pm. Fitting then, that the concert was held only miles from where he was born in Framlingham, his traditional lands in South Western Victoria.

All weekend, reports came in about the massive storms tearing their way through Melbourne. Whilst the nightly news showed unbelievable images of flooded streets in the heart of the city, people phoned relatives and friends back home concerned about hail damage.

Port Fairy had only seen a few showers over the weekend but Sunday afternoon held that sense of foreboding. Heavy storm clouds gathered in the sky as a brisk change came off the ocean. People crowded into the huge tent at Stage One, where perhaps two thousand or more waited in sombre anticipation for Archie Roach to appear. There was a strange electricity in the air and the big question – How was Archie going to make it through the show?

What was to follow was the most honest, courageous display of humanity I have ever witnessed in a public arena. For just over an hour, Archie Roach spoke and sang about his love for Ruby and his enormous grief, sharing tales of their rich life together. He wept openly, asked the audience to carry him through with their strength, acknowledged that all of us had had our personal challenges and survived.

I have heard great leaders speak, stood side of stage during an address from the Dalai Lama and watched extraordinary performers at the height of their careers, but Archie Roach offered something more – permission to grieve, to fall apart, to be human.

Next to him a spotlight fell upon an empty chair and microphone, honouring the place Ruby had always taken by his side since their humble beginnings in the Altogether’s.

I had come to the festival as a performer, sharing personal songs about my mother Dorothy’s Alzheimer’s disease - something I have often wondered whether to share. Was it too personal? Too much? Too self indulgent? Watching Archie answered my question. No. Music can heal. Sharing real experiences has a unifying effect. Our stories are at once personal and universal, with their power residing not only in their words but in their context.

Archie shared that losing Ruby didn’t leave one huge hole in his life but many small ones. Only earlier that day he said it had struck him that he would never eat another meal prepared by her.

In the damp darkness, the acrid smell of wet trodden grass mixed with human heat rose above the tent. A solitary cricket chirped in the wings. I could see the audience from where I sat – transfixed. A real man, unafraid to show the depth of his sorrow, Archie Roach allowed us to sing Ruby Hunter home.

Back to their mother
Back to their father
Back to their sister
Back to their brother
Back to their people
Back to their land
All the children come back
They come back.
Yes I came back.

Archie Roach - Took the Children Away.

Thursday, December 24, 2009


I’ve been reading everyone else’s top ten albums of the year and stumbled across Paste magazines top 100 albums of the decade. It got me thinking - what were the top ten albums of the last decade for me?

I thought it would be hard. So many great albums, how would I fit them all in? But it was actually much easier than I thought. Sure there were some amazing albums released in the last decade, a lot of them not here on my list. But I realised that for me, the top ten albums are the ones that take me back to a moment in my life - as corny as it sounds – the soundtrack to that time in my life.

We all have them, the records you put on and the memories flood back. The images might be of a house you lived in, or someone you loved, or a day you took a drive and listened to the album and had a good cry. I'm a big fan of driving and crying.

As I compiled my list I had a sudden sense of how much had come to pass in my life in the last decade. I felt a good dose of nostalgia as I thought about these albums. I realised how much I LOVED these albums and still do.

My list isn’t about covering all of the genres of music, I’m no expert when it comes to hip hop for example. Nor am I a music editor who needs to assert how musically brilliant or edgy a release was in order to uphold their reputation. I don’t even listen to a whole heap of music, there would be hundreds of albums that I might have liked better than the ones below, that I’ve simply never heard.

For whatever reason these are the records that found me and owned me. My list.

I encourage you to take the time to do the same. It feels bloody marvellous.

1.Time (the Revelator) – Gillian Welch (2001)

2. Fox Confessor Brings the Flood – Neko Case (2006)

3. Yankee Foxtrot Hotel – Wilco (2002)

4. Seachange – Beck (2002)

5. Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea – PJ Harvey (2000)

6. Sunset Studies – Augie March (2000)

7. The Covers Record/ You are Free – Cat Power (2000/2003)

8. Abattoir Blues/ The Lyre of Orpheus - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds (2004)

9. Essence - Lucinda Williams (2000)

10. Wires – Art of Fighting (2001) & Future Suture - Ned Collette (2007)

Monday, September 07, 2009


The flight to Perth is like going to New Zealand or Asia. You get a good old fashioned proper meal with wine and beer if you so desire - none of this snack pack rubbish with more packaging than actual food. Then a B grade movie and an icecream. Before you know it - four hours have passed and you are safe and sound in Perth.

Some facts: Perth like Melbourne is flat. The Short Macc cafe in Fremantle has the BEST fruit and muesli EVER. Felicity Groom & The Black Black Smoke are an excellent band. Bunbury hasn't changed since we last visited in 2006.

In fact the SAME football team were staying at the Prince of Wales this time around but instead of bursting into our bedroom in the middle of the night (like last time) they chose Alex, Matt & Andrew's (Black Black Smoke) room instead! The boys awoke to find a young nubile footy player standing naked at the end of their beds at 3am... A different take on the virginal offering.

On our drive back from Bunbury to Fremantle we took a little detour to the Ferguson Valley. It was reminiscent of some of the lusher parts of NZ or Tassie. We went with the sole purpose of visiting Gnomesville and weren't disappointed,. Thousands of gnomes were planted there from all over the world, fulfilling their destinies in purpose built houses and living the dream. Geoff considered taking one of the gnomes but I reminded him that such an act would bring him seven years of badness.

Our show at Mojo's in Fremantle was a good one. Despite being our first ever headline show in W.A a nice big crowd turned up and filled the room. It was an interesting mix of people of all different ages and backgrounds - I like this, it means you aren't a fashion band.

We'll be heading back to W.A next year for the Nannup festival and will definitely play another show of our own in Perth.

Next stop Adelaide!