Tony Hillier

Hillier's Hotline

Issue #12 April 2011: Why the Tanks is on top of the world


A good few months have elapsed since the last Hotline. No excuses are offered, save for the fact that this scribe has been busy interviewing some big names for Rhythms magazine’s Byron Bay Bluesfest and WOMADelaide festival editions. Your correspondent was also gainfully employed at the Tanks Arts Centre for three months as acting Events Coordinator.

MoantribeEric Bibb

“Hillier’s gone over to the dark side,” I heard a few local musos mutter under their breath. Well, I can tell them it’s as hot as Hades on the other side of the fence, especially when there are deals to be done. The fruits of my labour are reflected in the Tanks’ roots music program this year. It was wonderfully satisfying to help instigate a new World Music Series, which has already yielded memorable concerts from Chile’s Nano Stern Band, with sterling local support from young guitar sharpshooters The Derringers, and Melbourne’s Barons of Tang supported by Kamerunga. There are a couple more shows to come and they’re both beauties.

Those with an interest in flamenco cannot afford to miss Arte Kanela on Saturday May 14. The flamboyant gypsy/gitano culture of Andalucia has rarely had better representation in Australia than from this Melbourne-based troupe. Until recently, the ensemble’s fame was largely confined to the founding family’s establishment at Fitzroy, Melbourne’s only dedicated restaurant-tapas bar and flamenco venue. But following acclaimed shows at successive Woodford festivals, WOMADelaide and TV appearances on Dancing With The Stars and Spicks ‘n’ Specks, they’re in serious danger of shedding their tag as one of the country’s best-kept secrets. At the heart of Arte Kanela are two brothers. Richard Tedesco is the troupe’s guitar maestro, composer and musical director; Johnny its choreographer and principal dancer. With various compadres, the siblings have been mesmerising audiences thrice weekly at Kanela for some five years with their passion, grace and fire, attracting international visitors like the Cat Empire and Kate Ceberano. Check them out at:

Arte Kanela will be supported by Gerard Mapstone, an outstanding Brisbane-based flamenco guitarist who has studied in Andalucia. He made a huge impression on his far northern debut at last year’s Tablelands Folk Festival. Get there early to see this young maestro and bag a good seat for the troupe. It’ll be one of the shows of the year. Check out Gerard at:

The Tanks’ inaugural World Music Series winds up on Saturday June 10 with Afro Mandinko, the country’s finest pan-African dance band. The 8-piece, which fuses traditional Manding songs with a variety of styles including afrobeat, reggae, highlife, calypso, rumba and salsa, is fronted by two of the most talented and dynamic West African performers to have settled in the antipodes — Gambian master percussionist and singer Ebrima ‘King’ Marong and Senegalese drummer/dancer/singer, Lamine Sonko. King Marong, who founded the group in 2004, is a man on a mission. As he says: “As a cultural keeper, it’s my duty to spread the message”. Sonko comes from a family of griots, the traditional culture keepers in Senegal, and has worked with superstars such as Youssou N’Dour. Afro Mandinko’s show will be preceded by a support spot from the group’s resident kora and kamelngoni (harps) player Bec Matthews, who’s also a fine singer-songwriter. Check her and the band out at:

Another new program at the Tanks this year will see four of Australia’s finest blues band in concert, supported by the cream of local blues musicianship. Between them the Bondi Cigars (July 22), the Mighty Reapers (August 12), Psycho Zydeco (October 7) and Collard, Greens & Gravy (November 18) cover blues of all hues. The Bondi Cigars, who have a huge local following after an 18 years association with Johno’s Blues Bar, helped get the inaugural Cairns Blues Festival off the ground in 2009.

The Cairns Blues Festival reverts to one day this year and goes a week later — Saturday, May 7 — after last year’s perhaps premature expansion to a two-day event. To be staged again at the scandalously underused Fogarty Park soundshell, our local Bluesfest boasts a well-balanced bill, headlined by American acoustic bluesman Eric Bibb and his Swedish offsider Staffan Astner — seen here one of their recent Australian dates: The support bill features a good mix of interstate and local acts, including proven crowd pullers like Chase The Sun, Mason Rack and Claude Hay, and our own beloved Johno’s Blues Band, with frontman Ian “Johno” Johnson mercifully reunited with his long-time right-hand man, Rick Montgomery.

As Blues Festival President Pauline Langley, observes: “For us, creating the festival program is always a lengthy, deliberating and exhilarating process. As in previous years, we’ve aimed to please a wide audience and to create a memorable experience. Performers this year span the era of modern blues in Australia — from Phil Manning, of Chain, and Ian Moss, of Cold Chisel, to a couple of Australia’s youngest emerging bluesmen Shaun Kirk and Jules Boult.”

The future of Aussie blues is assuredly in good hands with youngsters like Melburnians Kirk and Boult drawing on the tradition. The former, who’s approaching his mid-20s, has been playing for little more than half-a-dozen years, but already has a veteran’s gift for story telling and an undeniable rapport with audiences. Boult boasts a colourful background for one still in his 20s — he’s a former truckie, oil-rigger, boxer, engineer, poet and model — but these days he’s making a name for himself as a blues singer and multi-instrumentalist who plays piano, banjo, ukulele and various guitars. With a taste for the arcane, he delivers a nice line in blues and hokum, a la C.W. Stoneking.

The full program for Cairns Bluesfest is available at:

The Cairns Ukulele Festival (July 1-3), in only its second year, has secured a wonderfully diverse and interesting line-up containing some artists that have never showcased in Australia before. The international cast is headed by top-drawer acts from Hawaii (Daniel Ho, Brittni Paiva and Craig Chee), Japan (Sweet Hollywaiians, Iwao Yamaguchi and Shigeto Takahashi) and the USA (Matt “Jumpingflea” Dahlberg and Victoria Vox).

Ukefest is intent on getting into the Guinness Book of Records this year for assembling the largest ukulele ensemble performing a live song. They came close last year and need 851 players to get the new record on Saturday July 3. If you wanna help them put Cairns in the record books, proceed  to More on Ukefest in the next Hotline. Until then, happy concertgoing!

Tony Hillier