Reviews of Gordon Bok's Music

Almost Acoustic

     3rd May 2003

This particular night was exceptional for any number of reasons. The appearance of Gordon Bok alone would have been fascinating enough. There was a real buzz in the air with a full house anticipating this legendary's performer's first concert in Sydney. Add Phyl Lobl and that compact package of musical fireworks, Wheelers and Dealers, and you've got a rich night's entertainment.

Phyl was the opener. She sang her own song Blackbird, a song of love and hope, perhaps more important in these times than ever before. She followed that with the Vegemite song with lots of mischief in it and a sticky sort of chorus. Phyl finished with a tribute to the late Shirley Andrews, a leading figure in the traditional dance scene. Phyl's capacity to celebrate history and maintain contemporary relevance makes her a welcome performer any time.

Gordon Bok came on stage and without the sort of local preliminaries you often get, took us straight to the coasts of Maine. His story-telling remained centred on the area and its people, and this writer was able to picture vividly the small boats and bruatl weather he drew with his yarns and song. He kicked off with [Hills of]Isle au Haut, which was known by all and drew a responsive chorus.

Several things were special about Gordon both vocally and instrumentally. He reduced his amplification to the minimum, which called subtly on the crowd to listen, rather than dominating by volume. He sang with the soft warm tones associated with him, again an inviting rather than an imposing performance. His 12-string, made in Maine by one of the locals, was something special. For 12-string fans it had a treble second string - most unusual - which gave his accompaniment a special sparkle. His instrumental work was well worth watching, and again, the low volume ensured that what the audience heard was the innate qualities of the piece of wood, rather than electronics.

When his good lady joined him, called to the stage by the simple and rather moving invitation: "Here's the light of my heart, Carol Rohl," she not only played a harp, but played an Australian harp, locally made by Brandden Lassells. This commentator is reluctant to accompany harp with guitar at any time, so the fact that it worked so well was an accomplishment in itself. In this case, it was a 12-string guitar and harp and it was absolutely and profoundly beautiful, superbly made wooden instruments, superbly played.

After a break we got a dose of Wheelers and Dealers. This was much louder, but that was no problem. That diabolical and mischievous fiddler Tony Pyrzakowski was at his wicked best, a cheeky grin popping out from his most complex passages: Paganini, eat your heart out! Chris Wheeler, a splendid voice and a fiery whistle player, took centre stage. Ged Corbin, slightly more shy in the corner, gave a solid, balanced and accomplished foundation to the work. The highlight of their performance - apart from their excellently fashioned treatment of my own song Murrumbridge Water - was their own latest composition, Freedom [Woomera], protesting the treatment of refugees in Australia. The fierce, simple chorus had the place at full volume.

Then the softer tones returned and we were drawn back to the snowy, weatherbound coasts of Maine by Gordon Bok. He also took us to Ireland, lamenting the loss of myth and legend in a piece of poetry accompanied by Carol on the aching harp. The couple ended up doing two encores.

Truly a night of fire - the fire of the sparkling and sometimes blazing heat of Wheelers and Dealers, contrasted by the softer, kitchen-fire warmth against the snow and wind, of Gordon Bok. I went home contented.

- John Warner