On the second night of AWME (Australasian Worldwide Music Expo), the dimly-lit Ding Dong Lounge opened its doors at 8.30pm to a gathering mass of delegates, industry folk and music lovers.
Kicking off the night were Scottish folk act Ross Ainslie & Jarlath Henderson. The head-banging, foot stomping, award-winning musicians had re-grouped following a four year break, and released their second album Air-Fix ahead of their AWME debut. Performing as part of this year’s Showcase Scotland Expo, the duo was joined onstage by their regular touring pal, Ali Hutton on guitar.
The trio blew the audience away with their rousing Celtic ballads, mixing traditional folklore with rowdy pub rock. Cute Irishman Henderson’s fingers moved at lightning speed on the Uilleann Pipes and the pair took it in turns to play the whistle (with floppy-haired Ainslie eyes closed and lost in the music). Although their music is predominately instrumental, Henderson sings on ‘Over The Hill’, a moving Irish folk song, with his voice Irish-lilted and soaring over the high hum of the penny whistle. Much to the Australian crowds delight, the group ended their set with a rousing pipe-dominated cover of AC/DC classic ‘Thunderstruck’, reveling in the audience’s amusement and awe.
Next up were fellow Scotsmen Finding Albert, a five piece pop-rock band led by 26-year-old singer and keyboards player Robert Shields. The group’s moody pop sound was loud with high, echoey vocals and harmonies over jarring guitar and pounding keys. Shield alternated between dance floor frontman and keyboard duties, piano pummeling a la Tim Rice-Oxley from Keane.
Otherworldly Kiwi troubadour Marlon Williams took to the stage next, armed only with an acoustic guitar and his own sweet, sweet voice. The 6ft plus, two-time New Zealand Music Award winning singer-songwriter had to play to an increasingly restless Ding Dong crowd, but for those of us still listening, Williams’ was his usual, captivating best.
Lanky and dapper in a white shirt and black felt boater hat, he took his hunched stance over to the microphone to play murder ballad fan-favourite ‘The Ballad of Minnie Dean’, showing off his impossibly mature storytelling through his deep and heartfelt Roy Orbison-esque voice. He sung an aching rendition of Feist’s ‘When I Was A Young Girl’ and then his own original ‘This Is Heaven For You (And Prison For Me)’, sticking to his penchant for ‘Folsom Prison Blues’-style music, which complements his Deep South aesthetic.
Then came the long-awaited headline act, Mojo Juju, with her full band in tow. Dressed in a brown jumpsuit, the five-foot-high singer launched at the microphone and straight into the set, her guitar strapped to her front ready for a jiiving solo. She played her funky new track ‘A Heart Is Not A Yo-Yo’ in the middle of the set, showcasing her vocal range with airy high notes, whilst on most other numbers her distinctively deep soulful sound soared over the bluesy-funk of the band.
Inspired by a lot of old Motown tunes, Mojo Juju’s on stage persona is part Andre 3000, part The Sapeurs of the Congo (both huge influences) with her Cuban heels, Flamenco tie, zoot suit and black fedora. Ding Dong became standing room only during Mojo Juju’s set, bopping and grooving to the funk-infused drum beat and warm Fender Telecaster licks.
She teased the crowd with promises of going shirtless by the end of the set (“I might rip my top off and of shirtless… and I might not, so don’t get your hopes up!”) and talked up her AWME support acts. The band was chilled on stage – completely at ease performing – letting the charismatic Mojo Juju do all the talking. Coming on a little late at 11.30pm, the set stretched overtime. I had to leave just before midnight and missed the encore – an apparently gorgeous rendition of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins classic ‘I Put A Spell On You’. Damn.
All four acts at the AWME showcase were incredible, providing the crowd with a delicious and diverse range of music from rousing Celtic humdingers to funk band brigades.
* photos courtesy of Carl Dziunka