Tony Hillier

Hillier's Hotline

Issue #1 May 26 2009: Introducing “Hillier’s Hotline”!



As Entertainment Cairns reaches milestones of 100,000 page views and over 2,000 unique visitors in May, we are pleased to present the first of a series of articles by nationally respected music journalist, Tony Hillier.
His first article focuses on the historic and popular Tanks Arts Centre. Future articles will highlight other regional events, artists and venues.

Cairns is singularly fortunate to have the Tanks Arts Centre. It really is a world-class music venue, a truly unique performance space. But don’t just take my word for it. As someone who performs MC duties regularly at Tank 5, and wears several other hats (among them national music reviewer and interviewer, and pretend player!) I can tell you that visiting musicians drool about the place.

Peter Knight, one of Melbourne’s best jazz trumpeters, declared it his favourite venue in the world during a show there in April with his band Way Out West. Just about every musician who has performed in its cylindrical confines, from pop stars like Kate Miller-Heidke and Lior to world music giants such as Mamadou Diabate and Bob Brozman, who criss-cross the planet, has waxed lyrical about the Tanks’ ambience and acoustics.

American expat Carrie Bies, who back in the ‘nineties as cultural officer, convinced the Cairns City Council to convert the WWII complex from council depository to arts centre, should have a plaque there for her vision. Nick Mills, who instigated the MusiCairns program, laid the foundations for the high level of concert-going that Cairns music-lovers currently enjoy. Tara Tucker kept the impetus going, and Stephen Foster, their successor as Events Manager, has taken the Tanks to new heights. It now operates on a similar level to other great council or state government driven venues around the country, such as the Powerhouse in Brisbane and the Arts Centre in Melbourne.

MoantribeMoana and the Tribe
Stephen’s sensible policy of concentrating the programming on the cooler months of the year means that we are about to enter a particularly exciting phase at the Tanks. Having seen their showcase at the inaugural Australasian World Music Expo in Melbourne late last year, I can specially commend the Kiwi act Moana & The Tribe, who play the Tanks on Friday June 5th ( en-route to The Dreaming festival at Woodford. Moana Maniapoto and her troupe deftly fuse Maori taonga puoro (traditional instrumentation), haka and chants with RnB, soul, reggae and even classical elements. Visually striking, they will find the gothic atmosphere of the Tanks perfect.

Moana & The Tribe is not the only top-drawer Kiwi act playing the Tanks in June. Salmonella Dub is locked in for a concert on Saturday the 27th ( They are Aotearoa's, and indeed the southern hemisphere’s, leading exponents of dub, the reggae dance music pioneered in Jamaica by production whizzes like Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and King Tubby. They have also delved into Maori culture Sal Dub’s most recent album, Feel The Seasons Change, marries a selection of songs from their back catalogue with ambient soundscapes, ancient Maori instruments and the majesty of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.

The Tanks’ popular Jazz Up North series continues on Friday June 26th with Oehlers, Grabowsky & Beck — Otherwise known as Lost & Found, the trio truly embrace the jazz ethos of improvisation. Their music, like that of another innovative homegrown act that has played the Tanks, The Necks, is composed on the spot. It couldn’t be in better hands. The project is a collaboration between three of the country’s finest improvisers — multi award-winning saxophonist Jamie Oehlers, acclaimed pianist Paul Grabowsky and rising drumming star David Beck. Oehlers, who convened the band two years ago, describes what he and his comrades-in-arms do as “an improvised adventure through a myriad of shifting harmonic, melodic and rhythmic contours” and uses esoteric expressions such as “reassembling musical atoms” and “creating a new melodic universe” to lace his synopsis. No self-respecting jazzo can afford to miss this concert.

In the wake of Augie March’s concert of May 22nd, Bob Evans will no doubt attract a full house of younger music fans to the Tanks on Saturday, June 6th ( For my money, he’s over-rated and over-exposed, but then I’m over rock music. Looking ahead, Tanks concertgoers can look forward to a couple of veteran Aussie rockers turned singer-songwriters in Cold Chisel’s Don Walker (July 18th) and the Beast of Bourbons’ Tex Perkins (August 28th). Blues fans will welcome a return visit to the Tanks from Sydney’s enduring trio, the Backsliders (July 24th).

Incidentally, this year’s Festival Cairns will kick off at the Tanks on Friday August 21st with an indigenous Arts Fair, which will feature the official launch of Seaman Dan’s farewell album, Sailing Home, and performances by Christine Anu and the band King Kadu. Before that, on Sunday July 19th, globe-trotting Aboriginal roadshow The Black Arm Band, containing the likes of Archie Roach, Ruby Hunter, Emma Donovan, Dan Sultan, Kucha Edwards, Bart Willoughby and Shane Howard, will perform at the Tanks en-route to the UK for a show at WOMAD.

Don’t forget to check out Entertainment Cairns weekly to see what’s happening at the other live music venues scattered around the city and environs. On a personal note, I hope you turn out in droves to see Kamerunga, the headline act at 2009’s first Tanks Unplugged on Friday May 29th ( and Snake Gully, who will be part of the local contingent helping to celebrate Queensland’s 150th birthday at the Q.150 Shed on the Esplanade on Friday June 5th.

Tony Hillier