Amongst a bevy of hipsters and Hawthorn footballers, a sun-kissed Tim Wheatley emerged. Showing skin, tats and a tan obviously acquired overseas, the son of a Masters Apprentice brought a taste of Spring to a chilly Sunday arvo at The Grace Darling Hotel.
He kicked off with ‘The Heathen’ from his brand new album, Cast of Yesterday. “Loose lips sink ships and when I’m drinking – fuck!” he roared in the second verse, encouraging a wave of chuckles throughout the crowd. With one foot on a stomp-box and two hands on an acoustic guitar, the one-man-band look was complete.
Wearing a loose black Beatles singlet and beige Akubra hat, the 31-year-old looked every inch the travelling troubadour. Having mixed the new album in his adopted home of Hollywood, it was refreshing to see he had left all types of expected L.A glamour at the airport. Fairy dust had been replaced with dirt upon his return, and Wheatley conversed candidly and with larrikin charm with his adoring fans.
“This hair!” he mock moaned, flicking back his tousled dirty-blonde locks to a collective crowd swoon, “it’s a health hazard!”. Navigating the obstacle with a tut-tut, he strapped on his harmonica harness and unleashed a quivering mouth organ crescendo. He described taking to the stage without a beer as a “cardinal sin”, and his long-time guitarist Michael Badger was quick to pass over a glass and right a wrong.
He debuted two brand new and unreleased tracks, ‘Skipper’s Daughter’ and ‘Pillar To Post’, the former talking cheekily of blue jeans that don’t stay on for long. Cast of Yesterday’s ’78 Benz’ and ‘Hot For August’ spoke of his L.A dwelling, conjuring up images akin to route 66 and the big ole’ open road.
With its alt-folk and indie template, Cast Of Yesterday is packed with memorable melodies and signature smooth vocals. Written about a range of people from the past – friends, heroes and villains – the songwriting is a grounded, and often humorous exploration, into Wheatley’s personal and professional life, with the odd ode thrown in for good measure.
Lead single ‘Valerie’ – inspired by Valerie Lea, the matriarch of the Darryl lea Chocolate empire – came midway through the slow-burner set. The moorish number proved a favourite with fans, and I spied a few phones timidly raised and recording beneath the throng of cross-legged bodies. The soaring slide guitar notes painted a nostalgic picture, with Wheatley’s understated lyrics and smooth Australiana-tinged tone shining through.
He invited rousing country-blues support Little Georgia (Justin Carter & Ashleigh Mannix) back up on stage for a couple of tracks, merging vigorous vocals with Mannix on Gillian Welch’s ‘Miss Ohio’. Wheatley joked that it was ok to sing ‘The Other Woman’ because his girlfriend was back home in the US, and guitarist Badger joined him to finish off the set.
Floppy haired over a rich red Gibson electric, Badger cut through the country & western edge with alt-rock audacity, and much to my surprise, the ethereal subtle solo notes of his guitar complemented Wheatley’s harmonica-acoustic combo.
‘Burning The Midnight Oil’ spoke of Wheatley’s hard work and weariness to get him to this very point, while ‘Man In Waiting’ left things on a lingering note. Honest, charming, cheeky and laid-back come to mind when Tim Wheatley is on stage. Talented too.