Sunday, May 20, 2018


I've been a fan of Kate Miller-Heidke since I heard her debut single, appropriately named Words. And yet, I have never seen her live. The planets just never aligned until the other night.

She did a one night only at The Spiegeltent in Civic Park and I purchased a solo ticket figuring someone I knew would be there!

And there were, many.

I met friends for drinks prior and we made our way out to the tent. The sun was setting, fairy lights were twinkling, and anticipation was in the air...along with quite the breeze!

The tent filled up fast but we got seats to the right of stage on the back row (there is lucky to be 8 rows in The Spiegeltent -basically meaning all seats are great seats).

We didn't have long to wait and out she popped with her husband, as always, on guitar, and this time a string quartet and a back up singer, a lovely indigenous girl with a beautiful operatic voice.

Kate herself was stunning, in a one of her amazing headpieces and quirky stage outfits. She has such a presence on stage, mostly with that amazing voice, but also in her presentation. 

Her songs are unique and tell the most amazing stories, with pure pop, a little classical, and a lot on operatic tone. 

She sung almost everything you could think of, including the fabulous, You've Underestimated Me Dude, and Caught in the Crowd, which will always bring a tear to my eye. Both such clever commentaries on life.

Also added was the operatic climax to The Rabbits, an opera about white settlement, which she wrote the music to with Keir, her husband. Her back up singer, was the lead in the show.

She also showcased one of the Muriel's Wedding songs, which was wonderful, funny and poignant. She truly was the most perfect person to write that stage soundtrack.

She even did a wonderful pulled back version of I Want to Dance With Somebody.

Towards the end of the show, she brought out the wonderful William Barton on Didgeridoo, the result was pure magic.

I was overcome many times during the show, a lyric, a note, she knows how to get in and pull those emotional strings genuinely, and I do not mind a moment!

The Last Day on Earth was her encore, my favourite song, a truly beautiful one. I sobbed like a child I don't mind saying, and I just wanted more.

But the almost 90 minutes we got was sheer perfection, I'll be back for more next time.

Friday, May 4, 2018


I always rave about Newcastle Writers Festival and always with reason!

I don't impress easily, and it never fails to impress me, which is a great thing.

As a music lover I am not keen on Musical Festivals, too much to choose from, too many people, too hot or too wet.

But a Writers Festival, well that's another thing all together. What fun! Always well attended but never feels like too many people, and often too much to choose from, but for whatever reason, I am addicted!

Books were always my first love, and as a Librarian it is my duty to get out there and check things out. I always do my own thing, make my own agenda for the program, and go solo. It's just easier that way, plus you always run into loads of people you know. And that is actually one of the best things about Newcastle Writers Festival, sooo many people to chat to.

This year I haven't been well, so had to pace myself and didn't get to as many sessions as I would have liked to, but I was really pleased with everything I saw.

I was up early to score a good park (always a drama), and get breakfast before things start. It was a beautiful day and Olive Tree markets were in Civic Park which is central to the festival. I had a little shop, wander, and breakfast before getting out of the sun to the main bookshop of the festival. Ran into heaps of people there before my first session.

Too Much Rock 'n' Roll: a life in music
Phillip McIntyre in conversation with Mark Tinson

This was a wonderfully engaging and informative chat with local music identity Mark Tinson. I know Mark from his now defunct Friday Music Show with Carol Duncan on ABC radio. Mark knows everyone, has worked with everyone, and is a self-deprecating and humble figure. He has written a book about his long career in music, mostly based in Newcastle. The conversation went through highlights and lowlights of his career, which is expansive. From playing in numerous bands, producing Silverchair, teaching, and much more.

The second half was fascinating, as he gave tips for succeeding in the music industry and remaining in Newcastle as opposed to moving to Sydney. His best advice was "if you're not good enough at your instrument to teach, then you need to find another job". And "Collaborate. Practice. Listen to good music. Listen to live music. Observe." 

The Long and Winding Way to the Top
Felicity Biggins in conversation with Andrew P. Street

Street has written a great book about 50 songs that made Australia. I read this some months back and thoroughly enjoyed it, even if I didn't agree with all the choices. And how do you reduce all Australian music to 50 songs, he spoke at length about that. He started with 278 songs, and then consulted colleagues and friends, and the list stretched to 1000, and then he had to bring it back. He had parameters, a spread of genres, a spread of eras, not to double up too much, and the earliest song would be The Wild One. He admitted there were few female artists within his list. And era clusters, where there were so many amazing songs it was hard to choose a few.

Felicity choose a sample of songs from the book, played part of each one, then they discussed the song. They discussed The Carnival is Over, I am Woman, You Just Like Me Coz I'm Good in Bed, Long Way to the Top, Down Under, True Blue, Tomorrow, You're the Voice. All the songs had great little anecdotes. My favourite was about Long Way to the Top, AC/DC have never played it live since Bon died, which is quite amazing.

Mini Break

Normally I do sessions back to back but pacing myself and a little break before my next one, so I had what I call early lunch, with a yummy French Crepe from Kid and Cat, who were part of Olive Tree. I caught up with more friends and then headed to City Hall for my next session.

The Deep Time Project
Gionni Di Gravio, Ann Hardy, Craig Williams, Marguerite Johnson (host)

This was a fascinating session about the artifacts found at the former Palais site. Newcastle University managed to get the items to look after and catalogue for this project. A number of students are working on the project with the archival team, they are photographing and detailing the pieces with natural history illustrators, adding detail to the cataloguing with illustrations of each artifact.

The site was a tool making site, a modern day Bunnings if you will.

They have also been 3D scanning the pieces and the site which is quite remarkable, and one of a kind. Indigenous Cultures present in a non-linear way and most archivists categorise in the original Greek and Italian linear way of archaeology. This causes a few issues in capturing the items authentically, but the team are finding ways to work around that.

I know I am not selling this project well, but it is brilliant, all the work is ground breaking for Australia and indeed the world in some aspects, the people working on it are passionate and knowledgeable, and it is indeed a thing of beauty.

Lunch Break

I headed to Foghorn for a piece of pizza and a bit of downtime to gather my thoughts on my day so far, and then a gelato at Popolo as I meandered back to the festival. I headed back to the Harold Lobb Hall for my two remaining sessions.

The Music That Changed Me
Felicity Biggins in conversation with Eddie Ayres and Christopher Lawrence

I had read a brief review of Danger Music by Eddie Ayres and it was on my list to read. I decided on the double act interview to get more bang for my buck rather than the singular one with Eddie only. Earlier in the day I was in the festival bookshop and was looking at his books and noticed next to it Cadence by Emma Ayres, which I own. Oh, I thought to myself, his sister, then I looked closer and thought maybe they are twins, but something didn't feel right. It wasn't until I was at lunch I googled Eddie and Emma and found out they were one and the same. D'uh!

So now, I was truly fascinated. I remembered Emma from on air and Eddie is as lovely...of course! 

Both spoke about their upbringing and exposure to music, especially classical music. And their journeys to the ABC DJing, and so forth. Listening to their joy and delight about music, and classical music and it was absolutely glorious. If you have listened to either Eddie (Emma) or Christopher on ABC Classical, you will know how amazing this chat is. And now, I cannot wait to read Eddie's book.

( note, cause it has taken me so long to write this blog, I have indeed read Hunger Music and it is truly wonderful!)

Writing the Past
Gretel Killeen hosting Richard Fidler

Front row, middle, thanks to my lovely friend Athena! I had been waiting for this all day. I adore Richard Fidler, always have, he was my favourite All Star. He also was part of the very first NWF, and we had the opportunity to meet him. In fact we had drinks with him after the final show on the Sunday evening, thanks to our lovely friend and brilliant author, Anita Heiss, and not only that, but I drove him (and others) home to his hotel. sigh...
This was a great chat, as Gretel mentioned very early on, she was interviewing Australia's greatest interviewer, but she did great, and Richard was as affable and fascinating as you can imagine.

They covered both his books, Ghost Empire, which I have read and loved, and Sagaland, which I am yet to start. What I love about Richard is his attention to detail, his extreme understanding and knowledge of almost every subject under the sun, and of course he absolute sweetness, humour, and general decency. And this was all on show this evening. Such an intellect, such a wonderful storyteller. 

After I got him to sign my copy of Ghost Empire and reminded him of that other NWF and he remembered, he said he was envious of Anita's posse, which is what she called us, her friends. I kinda skipped all the way to my car and smiled all the way home.


A Fine Balance
Ed Wright in conversation with Robert Dessaix

I am currently reading The Pleasure of Leisure by the wonderful Robert Dessaix, so I had to see him, my only Sunday session. I have loved his writing for a long time, he has a beautiful way with words, erudite and sassy, and totally brilliant.

Robert was exactly as you would imagine in person, dry and witty, naughty and sweet. He spoke a lot about the important of pleasure, as that is his book.

I tried to write a lot of his snappy one-liners, but sitting in the middle front row possibly made me stand out and at one point he made a derogatory comment about phones and their dumbing down of people and I put my phone away. And I just cannot remember the wit well enough.

He had Ed on the run a few times, which made for interesting watching.

He spoke about religion, 'Jesus did not have fun, but Shiva did.' He prefers eastern religion.

Also travel, and how travelling is an act of friendship.

And how he likes to write about what he does not understand, although I cannot imagine him not understanding anything. His intelligence seems so large and broad.

He also spoke about what he enjoyed as a child, including Enid Blyton, she made him the man he is today...this made me smile, what a delight.

He mostly spoke about sex and his dalliances (isn't that a great word, we need to use it more!!!), this is his most favourite example of pleasure. He was quite bawdy, but in the most eloquent and classy way.

I think everyone walked away with a wry smile and feeling better about life and what it has to offer.

I chatted with him after as he was signing my books, and he was kind and sweet.

And so ended my 2018 NWF weekend, not as many sessions as previous year, but every single one this year was amazing. I choose well, but with a program so well put together, it's pretty hard not to have a great time.