Clancy’s Fish Pub Fremantle
Sunday, 21 March
Photos and review By Brett Leigh Dicks
Featured image Frank’s Fish Tank
If there was one take home message from Sunday’s inaugural Western Saloon Americana extravaganza at Clancy’s Fish Pub Fremantle it’s that, when it comes to guitar-driven roots music, Perth has a lot to offer. Across two stages and over six hours of continuous live music, a diverse array of local bands shone a spotlight upon the breadth and scope of the genre’s west coast presence.
Getting the event underway was local alternative-country rockers, Wayward Johnson and the Adjustment. The seven-piece squeezed itself onto the outside stage to deliver an infectious serving of countrified roots rock. Underpinning frontman Phil Barry’s gravelly vocal delivery brews an enchanting soundscape peppered with electric guitar, mandolin, keyboards, acoustic guitar, and a sprinkle of banjo. Amongst the highlights of a fast-paced set were two songs from the band’s latest release – The Triphammer’s Crash – “Two Song Rule” and “Ducks in a Row.”
Attention then turned to the indoor stage where the electric guitar and violin of Frank’s Fish Tank offered an enticing serving of melancholic folk. It was just the right measure of lament for a sunny Sunday afternoon before The Holy Smoke took to the outside stage (complete with head-height pot plants dangling at the front of the stage) to present their sublime fusion of soul, gospel folk and country. With a sound constructed around two acoustic guitars, a keyboard, and soaring three-part harmonies, the trio delivered gorgeous renditions of their single, “Cross That River,” and Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.”
True to the band’s Vaudevilleleanings, The Justin Walshe Folk Machine was advertised as a trio and took to the indoor stage as a quartet before morphing into a quintet before our very eyes. Led by Walshe’s iconic tomfoolery, the collective threw forth an animated set flavoured by both its unique brand of Australiana and tales of contemporary and colonial escape.
By now a precedence had been well and truly established with the festivities on one stage quickly being succeeded by the proceedings on the other with patrons migrating accordingly.
The Little Lord Street Band were next up outside. Driving the band’s countrified yearnings are the delightful harmonies of Natasha Shanks and James Rogers and enough country twang to justify twice as many hay bales at the foot of the stage. The rustic rhythmic shuffle and soaring violin of the Shanks-led “It’s You, It’s Me, It’s We, It’s Just Us” is without doubt one of the most infectious servings of crescendoing Americana music Fremantle has witnessed.
One of the highlights of the Western Saloon was the prominence of female artists on the bill, something that Polly Medlen’s set beautifully reinforced. It’s a brave artist that covers a Kathleen Edwards song but the local country veteran’s (Medlen has been winning WAM Awards since 2006) rendition of “Six O’clock News” from the Canadian’s 2003 debut album, Failer, was as enchanting as it was fearless.
Having undertaken a national pre-Covid “Back to the Garden Tour,” it was now a pot plantless stage that ironically greeted Pete Byfield as he serenaded the setting sun with a lyrical poignancy that runs as deep as his voice before Albert Loss gathered inside for a set of character-driven grandiose American country.
As the crowd then flowed back onto the patio Siobhan Cotchin quickly took command of the outside stage with her shimmering rhythms and radiant melodies.
Bradley Hall’s soulful croon, set against a classic country soundscape, was one of the highlights of the night. “My Heart, My Land” is seminal piece of Australian songwriting, as rich in place as it is in poignancy. Not to be out done, “I See You” is a striking country-tinged ballad of loss and longing that Hall and his band touchingly delivered with passion and poise before Lincoln Mackinnon and The Wrecking Train closed out the outdoor stage with a lively blast of its saxophone infused clap-along country.
Prior to Tom Fisher and the Layabouts rounding out the evening’s proceedings, The Helen Townsend Band gave the late stayers an enticing tease of her forthcoming release, Love, Lies ‘n’ Leaving. “If You Were Real” is a sultry duet with electric guitarist Shannon Smith that was beautifully embellished with some elegant pedal steel courtesy of Ben Franz who sat in the band for the night while “Drinking All Over Again” – from her Little Lover album – ramped up the feist while maintaining the zest.
With a dozen acts spread across two stages of non-stop music, the only question the Western Saloon raised about Americana music on Australia’s west coast was when will there be another?