I took the scenic route from the Gold Coast via Numinbah to the little northern rivers town of Mullumbimby, and enjoyed a decent coffee at NV cafe as I drove between the escarpments and national parks either side of the valley.
My first thought on exiting the vehicle in Mullum, however;
“Oh my. The heat. Bugger. I’m going to need a hat.”
The first expedition was to get ticketed and procure said headwear for a sunsafe festival experience. Picked up a beige hat that made me look like all I needed was a butterfly net to pass as a visiting lepidopterologist and snuck into the workers club for a $9 rump and chips, adjacent Festival Patron Harry Angus’ makeshift jazz club, where he was performing for the lunch slot. Many know Harry for his antics fronting The Cat Empire but his solo style was very folky, and as I walked into the room he was finishing up a surprisingly unique rendition of Waltzing Matilda. He continued with a great little story about an alleged murder, a pig, the police and young couple called Matt and Josie, that had the males in the crowd nodding in endorsement.
A hot walk to the high school, past some enterprising young ladies selling cups of lime flavoured water (a secret recipe, I was told, and well worth the $3, so they said), led me to Tinpan Orange. The lady with the Joe Cocker hands was an engaging host, even at one point bantering with her toddler son who was quite a keen fan. Tinpan Orange have been busy this year recording a new album and several new tunes were delivered, including one that involved three Mullumbimby High School students, who joined the band on stage towards the end of the set.
The Magic Bus of Mullum is an experience in itself and I hailed it to avoid the walk back to town, heading over to hear the enchanting Jenn Grant at St Martins, the local Anglican Church community hall. A little ditty about the “pain of a secret love” was delighting punters as I arrived. Jenn and her husband Dan formed an impressive two-piece, Jenn doing most the talking and Dan’s facial expressions leading the crowd to giggles at times. A highlight was a lovely tune called Barcelona, which was apparently not actually about Barcelona, but led to some clever banter about sweating so much in the Mullum heat it would justify excessive consumption of White Russians over Christmas, “cause that’s that’s how we Canadians celebrate Christmas”. A possibly confused but amused crowd were ultimately distracted by a haunting version of Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger which wins my prize for cover of the day.
Th air conditioned comfort of Harry’s “Village Vanguard” jazz club had some appeal in the heat of the afternoon, and the unexpected talent of the Festival was thrust upon me. Ms Ofa, of Tongan heritage, led 7piece Jazz & Funk outfit Captain Dreamboat from Brisbane’s West End admirably and had guests dancing and tapping their feet. Unassuming, and almost sounding croaky in the song breaks while she sipped a beer, Ofa’s voice knocked my socks off. Wow. Just wow.
Gold Coaster Scotty French and his mates the Cheap Fakes rocked the Bowls Club next up, with their ska party sounds, and I made it my business to sit front row. In only minutes my front row became the edge of the dance floor though and the Fakes’ charismatic lead singer had ladies and men alike cutting a rug to their tunes. I snuck out a fraction early to hear Loren Kate at St Martins, and caught the honourable mention cover of the day, as she played a rendition of Shane Howard’s Solid Rock made famous as a 1982 Goanna classic.
US imports Allensworth kicked off just after sunset, and their uptempo blues rock saw the crowd grow and pack out the courthouse hotel. Seeing Scotty back up on stage again, and also Tracey Stephens who plays bass with local stalwarts Hussy Hicks, made me a bit proud to be a Gold Coaster. Allensworth were definitely not the underdog tonight, and even mixed in a little Frere Jacques on that popular song. Altercation was a highlight, and the band were clearly a winner with the Mullum festival crowd.
Bang on 830pm, the distinctly recognisable vocals of Gomez lead singer, Ben Ottewell, playing solo in marquee venue Civic Hall echoed out onto the Mullumbimby streets, opening up his set singing of salvation and redemption. He persevered through a malfunctioning fire alarm, and hypnotised the crowd with that familiar voice signing songs of love and loss.
As much as I had hoped to retain enough energy to make it all the way to midnight to see the female fourpiece whose exes all live in Texas, I finished my night back in the St Martins church hall to hear Irish Mythen, of Woodford’s Festival of Small Halls fame. She was spectacular. Her voice was fantastic, and her storytelling compelling, as she sang of Tullamore Dew, the late Ron Hinds, marriages of 55 years, and the Blower’s Daughter. The last scheduled song of the set, about Jesus being reasonable about lesbians (which I expect he is), was a collaboration with Mullumbimby locals Starboard Cannons, and brought the house down, inspiring an excellent solo encore of The Auld Triangle. They’re both going to be worth the GC gig ticket on December 4th or 20th. Don’t be shy.
Mullum’s first day down, and by all reports I heard and clearly including this one, the day was a phenomenal success. Big crowds and special performances endorse it’s claim as the best little music festival in Australia.
Here’s my picks of the day:
Best musical act: Captain Dreamboat (Honorable mention to Allensworth)
Best Cover: Jenn Grant (Eye of the Tiger – Survivor)
Best feed: Chorizo sub with hot sauce (Civic Hall)
Best drink: Lime infused thirst quencher (girls on pathway to High School)
Best Dancefloor: Cheap Fakes at the Bowls Club
Best banter from stage: Irish Mythen
Best banter from floor: the kid of Tinpan Orange cheering for his mum