Every September, Brisbane’s infamous party zone the Fortitude Valley, scene of nightly drunken revelry set to balmy Queensland conditions plays host to Australia’s premiere music industry conference and showcase event, Big Sound, now in it’s twelth year. For the better part of a week, the usual sea of mini-dresses, and discarded pizza slice trays are outnumbered by one other presence on the mall, the country’s best and brightest emerging musical talents and minds.
Prior to perusing the Big Sound 2013 program, I’d never encountered Gold Coast native and worthy caretaker of traditional Blues & Roots Karl S Williams. If his name evokes, like it does for yours truly, a deceased Melbourne gangland figure returned via Tupac-esque hologram, neither of us could be more delightfully mistaken.
A rake of a man wrapped in a skin-hugging vintage suit and sporting a wide-brimmed leather hat to frame his wild beard, Williams began on the first of three instruments he would display mastery on throughout the course of his half-hour set, a well-loved acoustic guitar named Ida Belle.
From the opening chords, which William’s finger-picked with that charismatic imperfection unique to the Blues that surely takes years of playing correctly to succumb to, he emanated timeless, heart-achingly personal tales that lyrically ran the gamut of traditional Blues fare; unrequited love, anti-establishment and the temptations of Beelzebub.
Mid-set saw Williams move to the piano and the performance elevated to an even higher level yet. On the ivory, Williams traded the Blues for what could be best-described as love songs, oft delivered in a surprisingly sweet falsetto that elicited a volley of wolf-like bays and hand-whistles from an audience hanging on his every effortlessly quavered note, demonstrated no better than on the utterly divine ‘Is This Love?’.
In a musical program punctuated by buzz bands and hyped-up haircut acts, Williams’ brought tradition and class to the table. His talents had a musically leveling effect on gig hoppers, a reminder that great music is due not to the latest plugin or shotgun marriage of disparate genres but is primarily caused by great songwriting and profound delivery, two abilities that Karl S Williams is in no short supply of.