Folktastic females

Women of Woodstock (Women in Voice)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Visy Theatre

July 19 – 21

1969 was an eventful year of cultural change marked by the moon landing, New York’s Stonewall riots and of course the now-legendary Woodstock festival. The 3-day, 33-act festival at a dairy farm near Woodstock in New York, which attracted ten times its expected crowd of 40 000 festival-goers, is of course well known as being a pivotal moment in popular music history, as well as the definitive nexus for the larger counterculture generation. So its fiftieth anniversary is certainly appropriate for celebration by Brisbane’s much-loved Women in Voice.

The first song we hear in revisit and reflection on the music of the greats, Joni Mitchell’s contemplative counterculture anthem, ‘Woodstock’ captures the idealistic three days of peace and music mood akin to a spiritual journey where ‘everywhere was a song and a celebration’… until Women in Voice veteran, the always entertaining, Leah Cotterell bursts forth with an infectiously energetic and explosive ‘Somebody to Love’ and the party really gets rockin’.

Depending on their vintage, audience members may not necessarily be familiar with all of the San Francisco-esq psychedelic sound makers, however, numbers like Joe Cocker’s bluesy and emotionally passionate ‘With a Little Help from my Friends’ make up for this and, regardless, there is no denying the talent on stage, both in the live band’s (headed by Jamie Clark) musical support and the show’s vocalists.

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As part of her tribute to Dylan-era guitar singers such as Melanie Safka, Jacqueline Marshall gives a hauntingly melancholic version of the formidable transcendent ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ and Adelina Martinez’s share of Joan Baez’s seemingly-simple ‘Love is Just a Four-Letter Word’ is folksy but also beautifully bird-like. Indeed, there is a tenderness and emotional sincerity to her songs that allows for concentration of their lyrical messages. Hannah Grondin’s angstsy numbers alone are worth the price of admission. In a show highlight, she delivers a gut-wrenchingly powerful, powerhouse number ‘To Love Someone’, with legendary performer Janis Joplin’s familiar fire and then there is her energetic ‘Piece of My Heart’, which has the audience at peak enjoyment.

Women in Voice’s homage to the iconic women who performed at the festival that defined a generation is not just a testament to the power of point-in-politically-tumultuous-time unity, but as it emerges, significant in its highlight of the urgency of its themes of peace and freedom that still exist now. It is also about the lasting power of music and a reminder of some of this city’s outstanding local vocal talent, acknowledged in its deserved standing ovation.

Celebrating sisters

Women in Voice 2018 (Women in Voice)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

October 18 – 20

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 In its second year in the Brisbane Powerhouse’s Powerhouse Theatre space, “Women in Voice” has clearly drawn a capacity crowd of devotees to the female eisteddfod, to use the institution’s label according to the evening’s emcee, Dutch international music therapist Jan van de Stool (Queenie van de Zandt). Feminism is not the show’s main agenda, although, in keeping with the essence of the long-standing franchise it does make appearance during the evening, which sees sets from its line-up of performances with mutual backing-vocals support. Newcomer Hannah Grondin’s Ted-talkish political contextualisation doesn’t take us towards a Helen Reddy roar, but rather an evocative ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ call for hope and determination for something better. The number not only serves as an early highlight, but it works with her beautiful ‘Songbird’ and spunky and soulful ‘Mamma Knows Best’, to showcase her passion and incredible range as a performer.

Just as we are fired up by Grondin’s fierce rip through the crazy-high vocals of the Jessie J anthem, however, it is interval. Indeed, the curation of numbers and sets could perhaps have better managed to build the show’s momentum and audience engagement. This includes emcee comic interludes; there is a fine line between funny and filler and Queenie van de Zandt doesn’t always find it in Act One, drawing an ultimately long show out further with unnecessary en-masse audience participation, even it is does provide a thematic arc to the later show elements. Indeed, things are slow to start musically too, with eclectic song choices from Leah Cotterell starting performer sets with her soulful examination of the psychology of dreams with the Beatles’ tender The White Album lullaby ‘Goodnight’ and A Perfect Circle’s heavy, metaphorically political ‘Pet’. Still, as always, her numbers are an excellent showcase of her powerful, elastic and bluesily-authoritative voice.

Clearly all the performers are talented and love what they do. Anje West’s ‘Lovely Day’ presents a voice in which to bask and rising jazz start Adelina Marinez brings both a comforting warmth and a playful energy to her numbers. Sets ebb and flow in a journey to all range of unexpected places and there is an appealing eccentricity to The Kransky Sisters‘ Christine Johnston’s appearance on stage costumed as a car seat, to show and tell us about the personalities of her family’s automobile history in between share of eclectic but cleverly appropriated numbers like Gary Numan’s ‘Car’ and Barbara Streisand’s ‘Somewhere’. And when her fellow performers join her on stage for ‘Don’t Stop Me Know’, it’s not just her quirky yodelesque vocal style that makes the number memorable.

When the ladies join together in a final ‘You to Me Are Everything’ their harmonies and quite lovely and suit the appealing celebratory atmosphere the epitomises every “Women in Voice” experience. Queenie van de Zandt is very funny in Act Two, especially in ad lib and the band members are all excellent in the show’s range of musical styles, from upbeat rock to smooth Brazilian sounds. The 2018 show not only includes the usual mix of styles and genres, with some interesting arrangements from Musical Director Jamie Clark, but a cross-generational showcase of talent, particularly that of standout star-on-the-rise Hannah Grondin. As such, it still represents a great night out, especially for long-term followers of the franchise, because there is no better time in history to be celebrating sisters than in 2018.

Superlative songstresses

Women in Voice

Judith Wright Centre, Performance Space

November 3 – 12

Brisbane’s iconic cabaret institution “Women in Voice” is about celebrating individuality of entertainers from different musical backgrounds and generations. As such, its performers not only become backup for each other’s numbers, but are left to independently select songs. …. All except Bethan Ellsmore who has stepped in to the show as replacement for Sahara Beck at only 24 hours’ notice. Joining this year’s formidable line up of talented soloists, Alicia Cush, Leah Cotterell and Allison St Ledger, Ellsmore provides a pure-voiced set of songs beginning with a beautiful take of Split Enz’s ‘I Hope I Never’ and soon has the audience swaying along to the sounds of ‘Blue Velvet’. It is a selection that sits well against the night’s eclectic musical line-up.

The show opens with a melodic take on The Church’s signature ‘Under The Milky Way’, as Alicia Cush takes the audience through a musical study of home. Proving her immense talent, she transports listeners through operatic highs and smooth country sounds before finishing with a jazzy Bublé number, inset with her own flute solo.  The soulful Leah Cotterell then roars the audience to intermission in a set that includes a mix of original and well-known numbers… including another Oz-rock classic with The Angels’ ‘Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again’, complete with expletive-laden audience response.

The packed opening night audience, full of ‘girls night out’ groups, loved every minute of music and more. As emcee, Judy Hainsworth entertains in jester role, complete with changing brightly coloured, motley costume, taking the audience on a tongue-in-cheer tour of the year that has been and a musical recap of the life of a performer on tour, amongst other journeys. Transporting audiences to another time or place is part of the magic of live performance and the show’s final set, from “Women in Voice” royalty Alison St Ledger, does exactly this as she takes the audience on a fabulously fun trip down retro-memory lane to Jackson Five and Bee Gee boogie, completed with disco dudette while suit.

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As always, “Women in Voice” is an immensely entertaining musical experience, thanks also to the accomplished live band (under Musical Director Stephen Russell). When the superlative songstresses come together to look towards the good things to come in a concluding Cat Stevens’ ‘Peace Train’ it is a glorious, goosebumpy moment proving that more than just another song concert, “Women in Voice” is a celebration of talent, that, like any good celebration, is best enjoyed when shared with ‘the more the merrier’ as a mantra.