The Sydney Guitar Festival is certainly something any music fan should experience. Showcasing guitarists from Australia and internationally, it boasts some incredibly talented musicians and celebrates the diversity of this remarkable instrument. So, when you think of talented guitarists either past or present, one of the first names that springs to mind is Jimi Hendrix – hence this celebration couldn’t pass up the opportunity to pay tribute to one of the most iconic guitarists of all time.
Purple Haze: The Jimi Hendrix Tribute has lined up nine Australian guitarists, set to perform what can only be assumed as some of Hendrix’s biggest hits, as well as some of the performers’ favourites. Walking into the venue – The Concourse in Chatswood – we were greeted by friendly and helpful staff who guided us to our seats. It wasn’t a long wait before the first artist graced the stage.
Joel McDonald of Frankie’s House Band, kicked off the night with none other than Foxy Lady, accelerating the audience into the epic night. McDonald made it look easy, grooving along to the well-known song and nailing the solo. Accompanying the guitarists all night were bassist Dario Bortolin and Mick Skelton on drums, who also eased into the first song. Following through with Fire, the night was off to a groovy, psychedelic feel, McDonald’s rendition mirrored those of the live performances from the late 60’s.
Wa Wa Nee’s lead guitarist Steve Williams was next to take his place on stage. Inviting friend, Randall Waller, to assist with vocals, “he’s a great singer” Williams announced to the audience. Plugging in, the pair jammed through Angel and Who Knows with Williams grooving through the solos of each song, as if they were his own, taking the spotlight at the front of the stage.
Jak Housden, the founder of the Badloves and current member of The Whitlams, cheerily walked on stage, waving to the audience. Strumming his guitar, he said, “It works, incredible!” Announcing he’d be playing his favourite and title track of a 1967 album Housden glided into Axis Bold As Love and following through with Up from The Skies from the same album.
Cheers from the audience erupted as Steve Edmonds walked on stage and straight into an engaging solo that looked like a jam session. The Hendrix expert played through possibly the most popular song of the library, All Along the Watchtower before Waller re-emerged to help with a medley saying, “I’m just here for work experience” causing the crowd to laugh. “We’re going to play a lot of Hendrix tunes in a very small amount of” announced Edmund, kicking into Burning Lamp and Manic. Waller departed the stage, Edmonds rounded out his set with Castle Made of Sand and invited the previous guitarist back to the stage.
Before the first half of the night concluded, each of the guitarists had a turn at playing a solo during Rock Me Baby. It was like watching a group of friends play their favorite song together, with all 4 guitarists looking relaxed and seemingly enjoying themselves. As the lights turned off the audience cheered and clapped them off stage before taking some time to get drinks or some popcorn from the available facilities.
During the intermission, there were some changes made to the stage with a display of three guitars brought onto the stage and Bortolin’s amps moved from the audience’s right-hand side to the left.
Founder of the Screaming Jets, Grant Walmsley was the first artist to take to the stage after the break. The soulful guitar of Red House kicked off the second half of The Jimi Hendrix Experience, followed by I Don’t Live Today and they were welcomed by loud cheers and congratulatory claps. Walmsley also took the time to thank the organisers, “thank you Empire Touring for putting this on.” He also went on to thank the two members on the night who remained on stage through each guitarists performance.
On the drums, Mick Skelton of Baby Animals smashed his way through the night. As one of Australia’s leading drummers, Skelton showed his expertise and skill playing through the entirety of the set list, looking like he was thoroughly enjoying the company of the others on stage. Dario Bortolin has worked with some of Australia’s top musicians and the array of Hendrix songs didn’t seem to faze him. Also a current member of Baby Animals, Bortolin looked at home on stage, jamming with the guitarists as they changed over like they were all old friends. Which I guess they are!
Randall Waller made his third appearance on the stage for the night. Bringing his own experience to the stage having worked with Australian legends Rose Tattoo and touring with artist such as Shania Twain, Waller was cheered into the spotlight, again causing the audience to laugh as he continued his joke about only being here for work experience. Waller strummed and sung his way through Stone Free followed by Purple Haze and accepted one excited audience members “yeah Randall!” with a “thanks dad” in response!
The night slowed down for some of Hendrix’s more mellow tunes. Chris Kamzelas made an impact with his captivating cover of Little Wing where he seemed to lose himself in the song’s chord changes and expressive highs and lows. Can You See Me picked up the pace once again. The quick tempo had the audience dancing in their seats, with Kamzelas demonstrating the funky guitar tones and a great way in which string bending can be used.
Brett Williams of The Choir Boys graced the stage. The psychedelic tones of Hendrix’s music came to life, as the pace was slowed down again for Hey Joe and Williams displayed his vocal abilities. Jak Housden returned to the stage as rhythm guitar on Voodoo Child and the two guitarists shared the guitar solos throughout the song. They worked so well together and with the other members on the stage, that you’d think they had been playing together forever.
Last, to walk on stage, guitar player for nearly 50 years, Peter Northcote greeted the stage with a large smile across his face and warned the audience against “the brown acid.” “I was only expecting to see half a dozen of you here” referring to how Hendrix was the last on at Woodstock in 1969 and how much of the crowd had dispersed by his 8:30 am time slot on a Monday morning.
Bringing the crowd back to earth after so much incredible talent was witnessed, Northcote had some issues getting his guitar to play through the amps but was quickly ready to go. He began to play Wind Cries Mary forgetting the beginning lyrics of the song but continued like a true artist as if nothing went wrong. To round out his set, Northcote finished with the sounds of Freedom and encouraged the audience to mimic the guitar sounds and sing them back to him.
To finish up the night, all nine guitarists returned to the stage. It was a sight to see, with all of the plugging in and preparing to break into a medley of Jimi Hendrix. Someone said, “what could possibly go wrong?” With so much going, it seemed like a big jam session, with outbreaks of solos, smiles and laughs shared between the artists on stage, it looked like a lot of fun and surprising didn’t hurt the ears!
Throughout the tribute to one of the worlds most renowned musicians, album covers and/or photos were projected on the back of the stage, creating the feeling of Jimi Hendrix looking over the venue. It was an incredible show to witness, with years upon years of experience filling the room, from some of Australia’s most talented and acclaimed guitarists.
The 2018 Sydney Guitar festival continues until the 19th August at a variety of venues around Sydney.
Review Contributed by Carleigh Ingram