Reviewers often talk about the music, but not the instruments. This, though, is the story of Fremantle identity, Greg O’Byrne’s, fascination with a Yamaha grand piano, the artists who’d played it and the possibilities. Ah, the possibilities.
“When we were talking about getting a piano in here for a house gig, a few people mentioned Bob Hawker’s piano,” said O’Byrne, “and how many amazing artist had played it.”
For those, like me, not in the know, Hawker is a Fremantle-based piano tuner.
“When Bob sent me a list of the artists that had played it,” O’Byrne continued, “I became intrigued at how old this instrument was. So, I Googled the Yamaha C5 to see when they first started production. Turns out this one is 35 years old!”
As for the artists who’d played it, they include the likes of Stevie Wonder, Liza Minelli, Paul Simon, Bryan Ferry, George Benson, Lionel Richie, Martha Wainwright, Stevie Nicks, Ben Harper, Damon Albarn, Gurrumul, Neil Finn, Nick Cave, Paul Kelly, Sarah Blasko, Tim Minchin, Tina Arena and Wendy Matthews. To name just a few.
His growing reverence for the Yamaha grand brought on a simple idea in O’Byrne. What if he invited a bunch of Perth artists over to his place to play the piano and sing their songs for a small audience of friends and family?
So was born the The Grand Piano Series, soon to be released on double vinyl and featuring a plentitude of Perth and Fremantle musicians playing stripped back versions of their songs on, of course, the piano, sometimes with some mates lending a hand on vocals or strings.
But mostly, it’s about the piano. And the songs. And the artists.
This is a series of moments, collected together into a grand tribute to the past, the present and the future.
You get moments like the opening notes of Freddie Mai’s rendition of ‘Bless Me Father’ where the resonance of the piano feels like it will go on for ever, rich and warm, deep and inviting.
You get the melancholy arpeggios of Grace Newton-Wordsworth’s ‘All I Wanted’ underscoring the aching beauty of her voice. For once you’re able to imagine her still, instead of dancing with wild abandon. The piano grounds the artist and her music beautifully.
You get Jack Davies continuing the tradition of the Australian bush poets on ‘Isolation Blues’, but, of course, with a modern COVID twist.
You can feel the people in the room as each artist plays their music. You can hear them sometimes, too, at the opening of recordings, sometimes part way through, not so much interrupting as joining in. You can hear the stumbles, the mistakes, the out-of-key notes, every single one of which makes the memories the recordings are drawn from all the more real, visible even, through the audio.
This is analogue stuff, you can almost hear the hiss of the needle on the grooves in the rich, black vinyl. It’s as luscious and inviting as the music of the piano that was the centre of this record’s creation.
The artists on this record are part of the future of music. Somewhere here is the next Liza Minelli, Paul Simon, Nick Cave or Stevie Nicks. Maybe without knowing it, they’re paying their dues to the past at this Yamaha grand that O’Byrne gave them to play, and creating the future too. As Cecilia Brandolini asks when her turn comes to sit at the piano, ‘Am I An Adult Yet’?
Oh, yes. Yes, indeed!
The Grand Piano Series is a series of moments captured for ever. If the instrument is the star, the artists who bring it to life in the 14 songs on this album are equally so. Their light shines brightly and, no matter what the future brings, always will.
Check out the Grand Piano Series Kickstarter page for news on the crowdfunding campaign that will make this a release you can add to your very own record collection.
The Grand Piano Series features
1. Intro – Nick Ireland and Sam Banks-smith
2. All I wanted – Grace Newton Wordsworth
3. Validation – Gem Addison
4. Better I leave it alone – Tim Nelson
5. Ethereal – Ash Car-White
6. My Own Sanity – Sgt Hulka
7. Heavy weather – Josh Chan
8. Exist – Nika Mo and Jacob Wylde
9. Love her back to life – Georgina Cramond (Ribs)
10. Bless Me Father – Feddie Mai
11. Wire Fence – Tess Hutchinson
12. No Name – Josiah Padmanabham
13. Am I an Adult Yet – Cecilia Brandolini Miranda and Pippa
14. Isolation Blues – Jack Davies and Hector Morlet
The project was recorded and produced by Elliot Smith at Sundown Studios.