With her publicists, family, friends and fellow sassy songstress Shelley Segal watching on, quirky Tassie singer-songwriter Héloise looked in her element at the launch of her new single ‘This Is Home’.
The electric folkster – immediately recognisable with her flame-red hair and floppy felt hat – mingled with the crowd early on in the night, with many having travelled over from Tasmania to be there.
Opening act Julz Evans and her bassist, however, didn’t receive such a warm welcome. Playing to a handful of people with their backs turned, the dreadlocked acoustic singer struggled to be heard over the loud chatter of The Workers Club band room. With vocals reminiscent of Paramore’s feisty frontman Hayley Williams (only weaker), Evans showed glimpses of gaining the crowd, but was ultimately drowned out.
Next up were Amber Isles. Usually a five-piece, the group was a duo on the night with vocalist and acoustic guitarist Max Fotheringham front and centre, alongside his impressive lead guitarist Adam Heath. Along he didn’t provide back-up of the singing variety, Heath almost outshone Fotheringham with his cool, calm and collected stage manner and piercing Fender Telecaster solos.
The pair mostly played gushing covers of The War On Drugs – Fotheringham’s favourite band – with a few originals (‘Stills’, ‘Broken Banks’) thrown in.
The room slowly but steadily began to fill-up, with the predominately baby-faced crowd giggling in groups as the headline showtime drew near. The band lit incense against a projected illustrated backdrop of skeletons, waves and bark. The indie-folk mood had been set.
Fresh off the back of a VIC Falls Festival appearance and her winning performance at the Melbourne Music Bank finale at the Melbourne Recital Centre, Héloise bounded out with her four-piece band to whistles and cheers from her family and friends. “We are all gonna get high”, she quipped cheekily, pointing to the plumes of smoke billowing from her wooden incense holder by the microphone.
Despite a very clear aesthetic and self-assuredness, Héloise’s genre, voice and style is still a bit of an enigma. She has the mane of Florence Welch, the dress sense of Stevie Nicks and the vocal range of Kate Bush. ‘This Is Home’ was the first song played. Inspired by leaving her hometown of Launceston to move to Melbourne to pursue music (a journey she said was becoming “common, I know”), the song’s intimate musings felt at home in the small space of the band room.
Although the gig was called a ‘video launch’, the clip itself wasn’t played over the projector. Luckily, most of us had already seen it. Directed by acclaimed filmmaker and photographer, Wilk (Sarah Blasko, Ella Hooper), ‘This Is Home’ was set on a picturesque old V-line train in regional Victoria. Héloise and a mysterious, handsome man play a game of hide and seek through the train’s carriages, and this sense of playfulness is something that underlines all of Héloise’s songs.
Next came ‘Gold Tooth Man’, with its vibrato-heavy organ intro. Héloise’s sultry vocals kick in, amplified by by piercing electric guitar licks, as she tells the story of a menacing folklore figure. The rhythm was an unmistakable – but maybe even unintentional – nod to the musical The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd’s number ‘Feeling Good’ made popular by Nina Simone.
Unfortunately, the sense of playfulness carried over a little too much into the rowdy audience. Over boozed and overly loud, it was a night prone to heckling – even in the first few minutes – and although 20 year-old “Elly” (as her friends referred to her) lapped up every comment, a bit of quiet every now and then during the songs would’ve have gone unappreciated. The band (including of Lee Mallinson on guitar and slide guitar, Heidi Maguire on keys and Nic Symons on drums) carried on regardless.
The best song of the night was undoubtedly the kooky, vaudeville style romp ‘Frills Van der Ville’. Evoking definite Kate Bush vocal gymnastics, the song paints a vibrant picture of weird and wonderful circus folk and bygone era carnivals.
A Héloise gig takes you on a quirky journey. You encounter creatures of the forest, mystical weather, bygone eras, cats, murderers, mothers, children and even a rabbit.
The Tassie singer-songwriter played to a rambunctious but adoring crowd on Thursday night. Dreamy but grounded, the Fitzroy gig showcased an artist, a band and a genre with range and potential, yet still finding it’s feet, but in many ways, therein lies its charm…
Héloise is set to release her debut EP later this year.
Official video for ‘This Is Home’ below: