Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Orphans: Coming into the light

No matter how many – or how few – gigs you see in a life, very few of them will move you to tears. At The Orphans’ show in Parramatta last Saturday night, the 22nd of March, I cried twice, in two different songs. Both songs were about grief, so there was a natural sniffle-inducing narrative framework, but that wasn’t the reason – it was the way the songs were played and sung.

I often think it’s the test of a songwriter’s mettle to have songs played acoustically – there’s really nowhere to hide when it’s just a guitar and a voice. On that measure, Lyn Taylor and Nick Payne of The Orphans have plenty to be proud of. These are simple songs – there are no fancy time signatures or key changes. Perhaps both songwriters know that it’s best to leave strong emotions and words unadorned, so the listener can appreciate them better. It certainly worked for me and everyone else in the audience.

At the first show for the Orphanage Sessions, in February, The Orphans were joined by pedal steel virtuoso Mike Kirkley. Clearly they’d all been rehearsing together since, for Kirkley was a seamless addition to the set for this show and really enhanced the whole experience. Ultimately, though, what made this show special was the band’s connection to their songs and to the audience. The setting made that possible – the space at the Mars Hills CafĂ© is ideal for an acoustic gig – but it also seemed as though the band members wanted to sing straight to their audience, and that meant we were all involved in making it a good show.

At one point in the night Nick said that The Orphans have paid their dues in dingy pubs across Sydney, playing to one drunk old man in the back bar or something like that. Now that they have a better venue they also deserve a bigger audience, so make sure you get along to the next show in the Orphanage Sessions (these shows are a great initiative on the part of the band and the venue). As my band buddy said on the night, ‘I don’t like many country gigs, but I REALLY liked that one.’

The Orphanage Sessions are on for the next handful of months. Details at