Reviewed by Phil Beck
The Irish Scene WA
The recent Nannup Festival was a substantial affair with all sorts of music on offer to cater for all tastes; in particular the Irish were out in force.
On the Friday evening after self and her-indoors had settled into our sumptuous lodgings, a secluded log cabin on the banks of the Blackwood River about 10 clicks from town, we headed in to see what was happening. One of the first acts we saw was Eric Bogle and John Munroe in the marquee on the village green, bloody good they were too and a pretty good way to kickstart the weekend. However that night we couldn’t hang around Nannup for too long cos we knew that Fred Rea had organised a session out at the Donnelly River cottages, so, after a quick look round the village to get the hang of what was where, we headed out for the craic at Donnelly River. he cottages are in the forest about 25ks East of Nannup off the Bridgetown Road, and some of the old timber in the area is pretty impressive; it must have been an awesome sight down there a century ago before the loggers took the heart from the old growth, I’d love to have seen it then (although I suppose I’d be getting on a bit now if I had). Anyway, the session was in full swing when we arrived and Fred was in his element organising things and generally ordering people around. He likes doing that, especially Sean Roche.
As well as Fred and Rochey there were plenty of other chanters prepared to give a song or two, Paddy Connolly and Colin Smiley, Enda Condron and myself included. As well as the various singers there was a load of the Comhaltas musicians of all ages playing the old diddly-ay stuff. Briilliant! Comhaltas in its natural environment. I like it when there’s a mix twixt the songs and the tunes, that’s where a good organiser is invaluable. Well done Fred!
Curiously Fred was loaded down with a delicious species of black pudding. I don’t know why but I naturally helped myself to a liberal helping. Thanks for that Fred. I’ve never mixed red wine Guinness and black pud’n before but am always game to try and sample the new experiences life has to offer.
There were probably around 60 to 70 people there; and a good time was had by all as they say in the clichés, lots of good songs and fine tunes. Personally I reckon it was the best thing that happened at the whole festival. As an aside I have to say that it amazes me that Festival organisers don’t plan for much more interactive session stuff, real music that is, and much preferable to any concert. But they don’t and the festival scene is sadly the poorer for it. Anyway I thoroughly enjoyed meself, I did, and didn’t really want to leave. However, given that Donnelly River is about 25ks one side of Nannup and we were staying about 10ks the other side it was deemed prudent to leave earlyish, about 12.30, so as to get a decent night’s rest to prepare for the rest of the weekend. No sense burning oneself out on the first night eh?? Someone with more sense than me must have suggested that.
The drive back to the log cabin was fairly interesting. There must have been about fifty enormous white owls at various points along the road through the forest; it looked like a Harry Potter film set at one point. What with them and the roos it made for some tense driving, but we seemed to manage OK.
Back in the village on Saturday and Shep Woolley was doing his stuff on the Village Green. Shep is a singer of funny songs (his own mostly) and he’s a bit of a comedian to boot, but he was really struggling to get through to the crowd. It might have had something to do with the distance of the stage from most of the audience, it’s much easier to communicate when you’re up close and personal rather than being in the middle distance, but he eventually won them over. He does some good stuff without setting the world on fire, a pleasant enough way to start the morning.
After Shep Woolley, Colum Sands was on, and he too struggled to connect with the audience, who really must have been hard to please cos Colum is a great entertainer. Perhaps everyone had been out to Donnelly River the night before and not played Captain Sensible like I did and got a good night’s sleep. I spent the rest of the day generally wandering around having a look at the stalls and dropping into the various venues and the Nannup Hotel to see who was playing what, dipping my toes in the water here and there as it were, a fine way to spend a lazy Saturday. Eric Bogle was on in the Town Hall for a special presentation at one stage, which in hindsight to the organisers must, I hope, look like a daft place to have scheduled someone of the calibre of Eric Bogle. The Town Hall holds about 300 people and it looked like about 3000 wanted to see him.
The crowd were packed in like sardines anyway. Sunday saw another two great shows (well I thought so anyway) namely Colin Smiley’s workshop on Micky MacConnell and Fred Rea and Liam Barry’s presentation on James Kearny. They were both on in the garden of the Templemore Tearooms come restaurant and a lovely little venue it is too. Colum Sands was persuaded by the irrepressible Smiley to do a song and a half in his show so that was a bit of a buzz. Shank’s Pony were also playing at the Hotel and that was a good enough excuse to head back for some more black stuff. A few of us headed off for a meal at one of the restaurants on Sunday evening and it was a really excellent spread, as good as is on offer anywhere in Perth. Hugely impressed I was, until Eric Bogle managed to send my lovely red wine flying that is. Now if he’d only done that to the stuff Fred usually drinks nobody would have minded.
After the meal we thought we’d go back down town for a cleansing ale, but guess what?? The pub had closed early!!!! Unbelievable. I can’t believe a country pub would shut early on the busiest weekend of the year. And the pub closing early didn’t do much for the humour of Sean Roche I can tell you. Highly put out he was; heated words were exchanged, it looked at one stage as if pistols at dawn might be called for. However the pub was shut and that was that so over we went to see Bernard Carney’s Beatles song sing-along session. Another show in the 300 seat Town Hall with a potential audience of many times more than that.
Now this Beatles session is hugely popular anyway: couple this with the fact that it was on late on Sunday night when there was nothing else happening, and it seems like nothing short of madness to stick a show like that (as with Bogle) in a venue that is full at 300.
Oh well what do I know? But it was a nice evening and the Village Green was vacant and a thousand people could be accommodated there. Anyway, after getting fed up with watching the back of peoples’ necks in the Town Hall we ventured back onto the streets intending to head for home.
It was around midnight by now and the fates seemed to be conspiring to send me to bed early again. But as we were making our way to the car we tripped over several bodies blocking the gutter opposite the pub, it was the sorry remains of the aforementioned Shank’s Pony (a group I’ve seen and enjoyed many’s the time in Fenians). Now it appeared that this motley crew had somehow managed to miss the last bus home, and as they were staying at the Donnolly River cottages 25ks away they were in something of a predicament. I was all for leaving them where they were — quite humorous it struck me as actually. I remember saying said that with a name like Shank’s Pony they ought to walk it home, but strangely they didn’t see the joke, no sense of humour some people. Luckily for them my conscience, in the form of Anne my better half, insisted on driving them home so we had a 45 minute James Taylor retrospective all the way out to Donnelly River where we dropped them off safe and sound. That’s all right lads we’ll look after you.
Well that was about it. Overall the festival was excellent and I’ll definitely head down there again next year. And thankfully the weather was kinder than has been known in Nannup at that time of the year. It used to be about 60C in the water bag down there from what I remember. Many’s the Nannup Festival that’s seen me burnt to a crisp: and I used to spend most of my time in the pub!!! Must be all this climate change we’ve been getting so much of lately.
On the downside I was disappointed with the fact that there was some considerable leakage of sound between the some of the venues, for example, on the Saturday when Shep and Colum, both quiet acts, were on in the Marquee there was a rock band in the Town Hall next door. The Town Hall is only a small venue and isn’t suitable for some heavy metal outfit; well that’s what it sounded like volume wise. It all seemed a bit unwise to me. It would probably have made more sense to have the acoustic singers in the small indoor venue, and the loud band in the huge outside one, and preferably schedule them not to clash.
Oh well what do I know? Also, as I said before there, was not enough session stuff arranged, nor any venue to cater for them. The pub isn’t really suitable because apart from the fact that the publican doesn’t seem to give a toss about catering for the folkies, it’s the only licensed place in town and consequently it’s just too busy (or shut).
The Paddy’s day bash at the Fenians was a roaring success with the biggest breakfast crowd for several years booked in to get the day off to a flying start. When I arrived at about 7.45am there were already plenty of people there. One of them of course was wee Tommy Graham, ex jockey extraordinaire. Now Tommy, who’s something of a fixture at Fenians (I think he’s included on the inventory) was more than a trifle polluted even at that early stage, apparently he’d been up all night helping to decorate the place, and of course one has to keep one’s whistle wet when working and Tommy never slouches on that front. So in short, at about 8.00 in the morning, Tommy, not to put too fine a point on it, was what’s commonly referred to as ‘steaming’. By lunchtime he was practically incoherent and in fairness did well to make it that far. In a bid to save himself for the evenings revelry he betook himself to bed to sleep it off for a few hours – Tommy always books in to the hotel on Paddy’s Day. Imagine his horror when he awoke in his room and discovered that it was 7.00 the next morning and he’d missed all the fun. Tommy, poor little chap, was devastated. When he’d recovered somewhat he thought he might as well check out early and go and have some breakfast at his favourite caff in Vic Park. So he duly packed up his gear, handed back the keys to his room, got his car from the car park and drove off for breakfast. As he was crossing the Causeway he began to wonder why it was that the day wasn’t getting lighter; why it was getting darker. About then it dawned on Tommy that it wasn’t dawn, that he’d only slept for the afternoon and he’d left the pub just as things were revving up for the night. By then though he’d given up his room and wouldn’t be able to get it back, ditto his hotel car bay, and there was a queue a mile long to get back into the pub to boot. Tommy cut his losses went home and did sleep til dawn.
The Fairbridge festival came and went recently, a major festival which like Nannup doesn’t cater at all for those amongst us who like to engage in real music rather than watch the World version on a massive stage. Having said that there were some great acts at Fairbridge and if it hadn’t been for the 6 feet of rain that fell out of the sky on Sunday (the day I was there) I might have seen some of them. As it was I was marooned in the beer tent where those of us similarly stranded contrived to have a singing session of sorts. After a while Bernard Carney came in and we got round to singing Beatles stuff again. I reckon we sang the lot at least twice. Well I can think of lots of worse ways to spend a wet Sunday afternoon.