Upon entering the Judith Wright Centre, it quickly becomes clear to me that the stylish Fortitude Valley venue is packed to the rafters with a host of prominent Queensland musical figures. I catch sight of Seja Vogel, at least two members of The Medics, and various Go-Betweens band members; and that’s only in the short time it takes me to buy a drink. It’s great to see so many top musicians turning out to support the Grant McLennan Memorial Fellowship.
Established in 2007 in honour of the late Queensland singer-songwriter Grant McLennan, the $25,000 Grant McLennan Memorial Fellowship offers the recipient an opportunity to travel to New York, London or Berlin for up to 2 months and use the experience of being immersed in a foreign and vibrant musical culture to further develop their own artistic skills. Previous winners have included Scott Spark, Helen Franzmann, and Greg Charles, and this year’s finalists consist of Edward Guglielmino, Kellie Lloyd, Laneway, and Sue Ray.
The lights dim in the main theatre and Sally McLennan (sister of the late Go-Between leader) steps onto the stage and begins the night‘s entertainment, backed by Adele Pickvance on bass and vocals, and Powderfinger’s Ian Haug on guitar. After finishing her song, she takes some time to talk about her brother, thank everyone for coming, and show her gratitude to Arts Queensland for putting on the event. She speaks about Grant with love and fondness, setting a precedent that continues throughout the entire evening. Official host Haug then says a few words, stating his surprise at being allowed back to host the event given it’s “not his forté”.
At this point last year’s fellowship winner Scott Spark is introduced, who takes a seat behind his grand piano and turns to speak to the audience. He expresses his gratitude to the McLennan family and the Go-Betweens, who are sitting in the front row, before going on to tell stories about his time spent in New York after winning last year. He says the trip helped reinforce to him that continuing to write songs for piano was the way to go, and not to try to go off on a musical tangent with synthesizers or anything different from what he knows. He then plays three of his own songs which are well received by the audience.
It is at this point that the winner of this year’s fellowship is announced; a strange format for an award ceremony to have, given we haven’t yet been introduced to any of the competitors. Haug and Pickvance announce the winner as the Gold Coast’s Laneway, the folk duo of Louise O'Reilly & Paul Hannan, who come up to the stage, and clearly emotional and a little overwhelmed, proceed to give their thanks to everyone involved, and say how they have “never felt more supported”. Having just released a new album in Turn Your Love Up, this award has come at a great time for the couple.
Laneway leave the stage to massive applause, and in a strange turn of events, Brisbane’s former Screamfeeder bassist Kellie Lloyd takes the stage to play her set, having just found out she hasn’t won. Despite being quite obviously disappointed, and suffering technical problems with the amps, her professionalism shines through. With Branko Cosic (lately of Tape/Off fame) making drumming look like the easiest task in the world, she plays three tunes showcasing her excellent voice and dark song writing.
It’s then Edward Guglielmino’s turn to take the stage. Being introduced as from The Gap, before jokingly exclaiming he’s from the classier suburb of New Farm, Guglielmino doesn’t come across as someone who just missed out on a possibly life-changing award; instead deciding to joke with the audience about “shitting himself” to be playing in front of the Go-Betweens and being “shaking because I’m nervous, not drunk” despite making headway into some Jameson whisky before the show. He plays two songs with his three-piece band, and one by himself, and unquestionably steals the show.
Next up is Sue Ray from Toowoomba, whose country guitar plucking and powerful voice instantly captivates the audience. In between telling stories of her father’s guitar shop which recently burned to the ground, and turning out beautiful tunes like a powerhouse Emmy Lou Harris, she shows herself to be completely unfazed by the occasion and puts in a classy and memorable performance.
Finally, it’s the turn of the 2012 Grant McLennan Fellowship winners Laneway to close the show with a fantastic sounding mix of folk and country. The pair have relaxed somewhat after the initial announcement, and their four-piece band has an impressive sound; certainly the loudest of the night. They play new song ‘Bleeding Heart’, which includes some impressive guitar twangs from Paul Hannan along with Louise O’Reilly’s appealing voice, before they play Go-Betweens favourite ‘Bachelor Kisses’, followed by their own ‘Love Is A Devil’. The band gets a rapturous applause, and heads off stage, probably to decide/argue whether their choice of destination will be New York or Berlin, where they will hope to grow and develop as musicians, in the spirit that the Fellowship is intended.
Laneway are deserving winners, but each of the four contenders was equally impressive on the night, only further highlighting the excellent state of song-writing and the music scene in Queensland. More events like this please, Mr. Arts Minister.
Paul McBride - AAA Backstage