Wednesday, February 27, 2008 longer current...

This blog is no longer current, but I'll keep it around in case you, yes you, stumble across it and find something useful or curious in it - my new blog can be accessed via my website: and go to the RSS feed, or click on BLOG in the menu.
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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Vale Jack Orszaczky

Jack Orszaczky was a significant figure in my musical and personal history. A wonderful bass-player, inspired composer and arranger and and astonishing singer who led the funkiest bands ever to emerge in Sydney, Jack invited me into his fold in the mid-’80s when I sang and played with Jump Back Jack and our weird duo, the Stanmore Groovers. We had an a cappella group called Four Eyes that lasted one gig, but I vividly rember Jack's arrangement and solo on our version of Drown In My Own Tears. Later, I tried to return the favour by inviting Jack and partner the sensational Tina Harrod to perform with the Café of the Gate of Salvation on several occasions – occasions when their combined energy overwhelmed and elevated the choir. I don’t have to tell you how remarkable Jack was. He passed on Sunday February 3, and will be sorely missed.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Cabin Fever

I’m writing this from a caravan park in Nambour, Queensland, where Marianne and I are living until we find more suitable accomodation in the Sunshine Coast area. (Insert your own trailer trash joke here.) Setting up my Logic-based studio is too much of a challenge in these close quarters, so I’m playing guitar and enjoying hearing a bunch of birdsong I’ve not heard before. No internet access except at the claustrophobic and greasy local internet café.

Summer Do, Summersong

I’ve just finished two summer schools back-to-back, the Northland Crafts Trust Summer Do and Summersong. The Summer Do was 8 days’ straight of singing, and I enjoyed my class very much. Kind of a brutal schedule though, 9 - 4.30 every day, so we took a lot of breaks - but in 8 days you can cover a lot of material and still have time to explore any tangential issues, listen to archival recordings and watch some DVDS. Thanks to Claire and Kristin for attention to detail, efficiency and charm.
As always, Summersong was a sensational week-long party: a reunion of old Summersong chums, and the discovery of of new voices, talents and ideas. And space to learn something new: I spent most of my downtime at camp playing guitar, working up some new solo guitar pieces, looking for new chords.
As always, I taught two classes, both exploring a variety of styles, though the morning choir worked on some more challenging songs and the afternoon choir was more improvisatory. I also ran a more informal men’s choir, and we had fun doing some quartet stuff. I also sang a couple of songs (Holy Day, Call Me Elvis) on the staff concert night, backed up by the exquisite duo of Marianne and Heidi McDermott.
The peak moment for me was hearing my vocal arrangement of Born To Be Wild - based on the string quartet arrangement I did for the Lounge Quintet - which exceeded my expectations. It’s so unlike any of the other music I teach or perform, I was apprehensive about teaching it - would the choir like it? would it work? was it singable? but they liked it and sang it brilliantly, and it was a highlight of the week.
Other highlights of the week: Carl Panuzzo’s wacky testifying on his song Cream; Doris, the duo from WA singing their song Deep Waters; Brenda Chapman’s anthemic Facing Facts; hanging out with Kristina, Alison, Catherine McEwan, Heidi, Gentleman Geoff; playing bass for three hours’ straight on the party night with Karl Farren and a succession of drummers: Carl P, Jessiah and Troy, and briefly playing lead guitar with Ivan...thanks to Alison, Kristina, Pam and Troy and everyone.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

a big year...handing over the frothing jug

2007 has been a huge year: the Café of the Gate of Salvation undertook a really successful tour of New Zealand, I had a wonderful time running workshops in Samoa, Paris and Vancouver, I took the Band of Angels to sing in Memphis and Chicago and visited New Orleans for the first time since Hurricane Katrina. I worked with the All Blacks. Turned 60 and sang at Sam Neill and Bryan Brown's 60th. Sold the Bondi flat where we've been happily living for 6 years, and we're heading north this year to become trailer trash in Queensland.

But possibly the biggest change has been quitting the Café of the Gate of Salvation after 21 years of manning the machine. It's time for change and I have no doubt that the choir will go on to bigger and better things. I will still be supplying the choir with songs and arrangements and will do some gigs with them from time to time. I thank the choir for a fabulous 21 years of music and love and learning, for being my family. What's the next song?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Vancouver 2007

After New Orleans I had five days in Vancouver. I spent a happy four hours on the Friday night co-hosting Gospel Train with Marc Lindy on Vancouver Co-op radio, playing old quartet favourites and enjoying the other guests, the Sojourners ( The Sojourners are a gospel ‘quartet’ of three (I can relate to that) with a blend of great richness: Marcus Moseley (a great singer, and director of 80-voice choir the Good Noise Vancouver Gospel Choir - who I first had the pleasure of meeting when I came to Canada back in 1999), Will Sanders and Ron Small - all African Americans with church backgrounds, now living in BC. They generally work with a rhythm section, but to hear them up close and a cappella, swapping solos was a treat.

The Sojourners live-to-air

As in previous years, my Vancouver workshops turned out really well. There were some outstanding improvisations, and some of the workshop group sang with me at the Sunday service at Canadian Peace Memorial Church. Thanks to all the repeat offenders and to the new chums for a profound and joyful weekend, and to Marc and Neil for organising things.
I also got to spend some time with two other Vancouver choral directors/composers: Brian Tate ( who until recently directed the Universal Gospel Choir ( the music minister at Peace Memorial, Neil Weisensel (

New Orleans 2007

Marianne and I went to New Orleans for two to see what’s going on. We stayed with the Director of the New Orleans Film Festival (and ex-Heavenbent member) Ali Duffey, and made contact with music historian Lynn Abbott, gospel singer John Lee, pianist Tom McDermott (all of whom emerged relatively unscathed from Katrina) and other friends. I even heard some music: trombone band Bonerama(
Ali took us on a ‘misery tour’ of the Lower Ninth Ward, one of the most Katrina-devestated areas, which, two years after the event, is still - devastated, bleak and discarded. 2031 Caffin Ave, where Mercy Seat Baptist Church once stood, and where its pastor Rev. Malcolm Collins preached and worked so vitally, is a vacant lot. Some concrete steps remain. Grass has grown where houses once stood. Piles of rubble, the odd trailer home, FEMA codes spray-painted on decrepit houses tell of animals found within and deaths…

Lower ninth ward

I finally caught up with my friend Pam Landrum, gospel singer and member of a distinguished church dynasty. She and her some Rev. Jermaine and her two grandchildren spent three days in the Superdome and were evacuated to Houston. When she returned six weeks later, she trawled through the remains of her house, and fled from an alligator in the bedroom. The house was later demolished, but she’s now back in in New Orleans looking for work and trying to find a school for her grandchildren. Even before Katrina, work was scarce and schools were scarcer. Rents have doubled or tripled, and no help is forthcoming. It’s not over, and the prevailing mood, even in the historically upbeat French Quarter is one of frustration and bitterness.
Read The Great Deluge by Douglas Brinkley for the whole ghastly story.(

Good news: Ebenezer MBC (a church for which I have great fondness - the new pastor is Rev. Jermaine Landrum) is back, rebuilt after being trashed by Katrina:

Chicago 2007

On our first night in Chicago, we went to a rehearsal of the Voices of Power choir, resident at the Greater True Light BC out on Chicago’s west side. As soon as we walked in we knew we’d arrived somewhere. These guys rocked, the singers backed up by members of the Heavenly King Juniors on bass, guitar and drums, with Lakeisha Lockett from the Douglas Singers on keys. Talk about intense. Even their junior choir would strip the rust off your soul.

Voices of Power Junior choir rehearsal

The next night we were encouraged, nay forced to sing at the Evangel Assemblies of God prayer meeting, by the very articulate and smart Pastor Ray Berryhill (Chester’s cousin).
We also took time to visit the Center For Black Music Research at Columbia College (, where we spent a couple of hours watching footage from the ‘60s-’70s TV show Jubilee Showcase: the Davis Sisters, the Caravans, the Dixie Hummingbirds, the Norfleet Brothers, the Highway QCs and so on - excellent. Marianne and I also found time for a performance by Golosi, the University of Chicago Russian Choir, 4 women, 4 men who sounded fantastic singing Russian folksongs in exquisite 4-6 part harmony. (
Saturday Oct 13, we were honoured to attend rehearsals of both the Heavenly King Juniors (website) and the Douglas Singers (, who work together. This mob don’t just go through the motions when rehearsing, it’s not just about the dots, it’s an opportunity to worship once again, and they sing with as much intensity and committment to 13 visitors as if they were singing to a full house. And I guess they’re practicing the preaching and showmanship aspects as well.
These guys can sing. I was gobsmacked by the Heavenly Kings’ Tory Lockett, the lead on Dr Jesus, blessed with a gorgeously rich tenor voice, and guitarist Adrian Wolford, also an intense singer. There are nine members in the group, so each song has a different vocal line-up, while the rhythm section remains constant.

The Heavenly King Juniors

The rhythm section also backs up the Douglas Singers, a solid female ensemble of eight singers whose members also drop in and out depending on the song. Like the classic ensembles like the Caravans, each member seems to be a strong(= awe-inspiring/jaw-dropping/superb etc etc.) soloist.
Sunday we attend the Apostolic Faith Church ( (great choir, immersion baptism, piercing and headache-inducing yelling from the guest preacher, and some overt self-promotion from the pulpit - not what those of us who grew up Anglican expect) and Trinity United Church of Christ, one of the biggest churches in Chicago ( and home church for Delois Barrett Campbell, Mavis Staples and Barack Obama. Trinity has over 9000 members and a 300-voice sanctuary choir - however this very afrocentric church was without its choir on the day, and instead we had their male chorus (100 guys in evening dress) who were comparatively formal. And drowned by the three keyboards.
The final event for the tour was a concert honouring James Baldwin at the beautiful Alice Millar Chapel, Northwestern University, and featuring the university’s gospel choir, the Band of Angels and Walt Whitman’s Soul Children of Chicago ( The acoustics of the chapel favoured the Band of Angels (a cappella) more than the other choirs (big, with drums, bass and keys), and we performed well. However, in spite of messy sound, the Soul Children were…awe-inspiring. Ridiculously precise, stupendously funky, breath-takingly dynamic, etc etc. You can get a taste of them on youtube:
For a finale, director Whitman called the Aussies up to join the Soul Children for Go Tell It On The Mountain (on which he insisted I do a solo) and O Happy Day. Soloing (jamming actually) with the sheer force of the Soul Children and antiopodean interlopers grooving behind me was WILD - you don’t get much higher.

Soul Children of Gospel with WW & TB

At our end-of-tour dinner (at Grand Lux Café) we were joined by old friends Patrick Johnson (author of Appropriating Blackness ( and partner radio journalist Stephen Lewis, Janet Nettors-Austin (gospel and country singer, daughter of Dr James Nettors:, and COTGOS bass Scot Morris who just happened to be in town en route to Nashville. Way to go.
Thanks to Lakeisha Lockett, Jay Grossman, E. Patrick Johnson, Pastor Ray Berryhill, Suzanne Flandreau. And thanks to Rosie and the members of the Band of Angels for their trust and musicality.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Memphis October 2007

For the next two weeks I worked with a small contingent from the WA community choir Band of Angels, who asked me to take them on a tour of Black churches. (
Marianne and I both sang with the choir during the tour - I also got to direct them from time to time, as director Rosie Johnstone had her hands full with her son young Wyndham (who had his first birthday on tour in Chicago).
In Memphis we visited New Philadelphia MBC for their choir rehearsal - which doesn’t seem to be going so well that night - I guess it’s encouraging to know that choirs everywhere have similar issues and vagaries, and that a musical culture to which we look as a model is not immune to musical or organisational problems.
We went down to Helena, Arkansas for an afternoon of the Arkansas Blus Festival, which is OK if you like white guys noodling on electric guitars and mouth-harps. I found most of it pretty tedious (ie. reminds me of my own guitar-noodling), worthy at best, but not especially funky, except for a Black guitarist Li'l Dave Thompson ( who had a kick-ass band, and a young blue-suited busker who had a good groove.

Street guitarist, Arkansas Blues Festival

Barbecue,Helena, Arkansas

Hallelujah hair and fried oreos, Helena, Arkansas

Back in Memphis I met up with my good friend music historian Doug Seroff (Birmingham Boys, The Human Orchestra, Out Of Sight, Ragged But Right,producer of the wonderful Gospel Harmonettes of Demopolis recording - and his daughter Jole for a traditional breakfast (pancakes, grits, hash-browns etc.) at the Arcade Restaurant - we just griped about the decline of the a cappella quartet and acknowledged our own trajectory into curmudgeonlyness, nothing too deep.
A few days later I hooked up with another ring of music historians: Robert Gordon ( Can’t Be Satisfied - The Life and Times of Muddy Waters; It Came From Memphis;, Bruce Nemerov (co-author with Gordon of Lost Delta Found; engineer of the Gospel Harmonettes of Demopolis recording) and my former professor David Evans (Big Road Blues - at Quetzal (best coffee in Memphis, Aboriginal art on the wall). These guys have produced an immense body of great work(books, CDs, films) about blues, gospel and American roots music, and it was a pleasure to spend time with them.
I also met up with Australian chums now living in the USA: Ruth Sandy, currently studying theology in Memphis and the only white in the Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church choir (, and my longtime buddy the gorgeous singer/songwriter Audrey Auld Mezera, now living in Nashville (

Stirling Singers, Bethlehem BC program

The Band of Angels were part of a Saturday evening program organised by my good friend Mae Barnes and held at Bethlehem MBC, October 6. Among the other groups were two great mixed quartets: the Sensational Clouds of Joy and the Stirling Singers. This was a really sweet program, typical of programs in the South - not showy, but humble and generous. The groups don’t have websites and you don’t see this stuff on YouTube.
Something was familiar about one of the Stirlings and it turned out to be Virgie Stirling, a lady I hadn’t seen for 15 years. Virgie and Mae were singing together in the Heavenly Travellers when I studied in Memphis in 1991, and I remembered fondly Virgie’s soulful version of Talk To The Man Upstairs. (In fact there’s a photo of her and Mae on the cover of my Move On Up book.) Then another lady I remembered well turned up to sing solo, the remarkable female baritone Louise Jefferson, who had also sung with the Heavenly Travellers. 13 children and 5 heart-surgeries haven’t slowed her down. To meet up with these ladies again was a treat, I tell you.
The program was wonderful, though as is the case these days, quartets will inevitably get well-intentioned (and sometimes skillful) but generally annoying help from any instrumentalists in the room. Unless a group specifically requests the musicians to “hold the music”, the drummer, organist etc. will ‘help them out’. And typically the instruments are louder than the group. (And due to the traditional layout of the older churches which has the choir in choir stalls beyond the alter, the only place to put the drums is on the floor down the front, where they always drown out the choir).
Sunday was a church marathon, starting with Bethlehem at 11, where again the Australians were asked to sing. After the service, we were given lunch in the church basement, a nice opportunity at last to talk to Mae and the other church folk. Virgie and Louise turned up after their own church services to see us again and I had a sublime moment or two harmonising over the plates of fried chicken and greens with Virgie and her husband on Talk To The Man Upstairs, and You Got to Move. After Bethlehem, we returned to New Philadelphia MBC for a get-together with the choir (Pastor Chester Berryhill, who claimed to not sing, really whipped it out on Just A Closer Walk With Thee), then it was off to MT Vernon BC ( to sing on their evening service, broadcast live. A big church with a showy band(these guys could play anything, and frequently did just that - nary a tune got by unscathed by their virtuoso grand-standing), their pastor is the genial Dr James Nettors, a close friend of Martin Luther King, who had been with Dr King when he was assassinated. There to sing two songs, we were asked for two encores. Even though there’s only 13 of us, we’re making a good sound.
Thanks to Mae Barnes, Pastor Chester Berryhill, Kym Nettors for your help.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

UK - September 2007

Still reeling from the blow of having my runny cheese confiscated by airport security at Charles De Gaulle airport (take note, turophiliac jet-setters) we left London for the Norfolk countryside, where Marianne and I stayed with Jo and Richard Ludbrook - who cajoled us into singing in their choir at you know yet another cute 12th century church, St Johns, Rushford, with the promise of wearing robes. So there we were: the Sunday morning service, wearing red robes - looking unusually sacerdotal - and shuffling through reams of scores. There was barely a moment when we weren't singing: hymns, responses and a beautiful Christopher Tye anthem - until it was time for tea and biscuit with the vicar.
Back in London, I also caught up with two ex-band chums: Mike Fullarton and Steve Hemmens were the drummer and bassist respectively with MAMMAL back in 1970-71, and they're more fun to be with than ever.

Vous devez bougier - Paris, September 22-27

Inbetween cheeses, I ran a couple of workshops in the Paris suburb of Noisiel, under the auspices of the choir Croc Notes, and organised by my good friend Liz Strickland and her husband Albert Lecoanier. Luckily for me and for the 60 participants, I had great translaters (Albert and Alexandra) though I did attempt to make myself understood in French from time to time, and to my surprise, succeeded more or less.

Paris workshop

The participants were really responsive, the cheese was great, the whole Paris experience (once I’d learned how to order a coffee that wasn’t thin and redolent of rancid socks) was a delight.
Hearing a Byrd motet and movements from a Palestrina mass sung by the cathedral choir amid the gothic parallels of the beautiful Saint-Eustache was sublime. That kind of music is made for that kind of space (obviously) and seemed to float in the air, it’s focal point both near yet far beyond us. Choir director Lionel Cloarec was modest about the choir's abilities, but for me it was a heavenly experience.


As well as Albert and Lionel, we made other new friends, like vivacious singer/actor Josephine Varret who acted as our guide on a couple of occasions. Before leaving Australia, I had also made a connection via email with a woman in Paris called Laurie with whom I carried on a correspondance (in French). Laurie came to the workshop, and turned out to be a clothes designer and gospel singer/songwriter from Cameroun - and a great cook as we discovered later when she made us a great African meal at her place. Looking forward to next time in Paris.
Thanks Liz, Albert, Lionel, Alexandra, Laurie and Josephine for all your help.