Fremantle Arts Centre
Wednesday, November 23, 2016
Mick Harvey is a much revered figure of the Australian post-punk scene. He is best known for his pivotal role with Boys Next Door, Birthday Party and Nick Cave, as well as a solo artist in his own right. The Sonic Sessions follows a format where Lucky Oceans asks questions of the songwriters about their lives and the circumstances that they songs came from. With five decades in the music industry to draw from, Harvey had a wealth of experiences to be mined.
Harvey took his place in a chair on centre stage, flanked by Oceans and multi-instrumentalist JP Shilo. Setting the tone for the evening, Harvey started with Ballad For Jay Givens, a tune about his father’’s friend from Bendigo who went out into a field and unexpectedly blew his brains out. Oceans then coerced Harvey through a fractured conversation about the roots of how the long time family secret became a song.
Whilst at times a reluctant conversationalist, Harvey showed no such reticence when it came to interpreting songs that he had not originally been the voice for. With JP Shilo moving from violin to bass, the makeshift trio offered up a charismatic version of the song that Harvey described as ridiculous – Release The Bats. Havey’s role as principal arranger and producer (and makeshift manager) of The Bad Seeds was highlighted with his baritone suiting the co-write of Tupelo yet fell well flat on a brave whilst misguided attempt at The Mercy Seat. The accompanying conversation about who wrote Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds most recognisable tune wasn’t particularly warm. The result being that an essay for the upcoming ‘best of’ release will outline the debate more clearly than Harvey did.
Possibly as a result of his upbringing via a clergyman, Harvey is a man of unique perspective. He is one of the rare people on the planet that would have thought to interpret the songs of Serge Gainbourg into English. With over 500 songs to choose from, there is no shortage of inspiration for Harvey, and as such he is about to release his fourth album of Gainsbourg tunes. Harvey conceded that this latest effort would be the last before delving back to 1995 with his take on Bonnie and Clyde from Intoxicated Man.
Many of the solo albums of Mick Harvey are littered with the country Victorian interpreting tunes from many an artist. Guy Clark was paid tribute to with a version of Hank Williams Said It Best, which was the most winsome song of the night. Whilst not the most charismatic chap going around, Harvey still has some experiences to share. There was brief discussion about how the jaunty pop number Out Of Time made its way onto the pilot of Breaking Bad, before the long time producer and band member for PJ Harvey played The Colour Of The Earth from her award winning record Let England Shake.
The gothic reputation was upheld with Harvey singing songs about death in his tribute to fallen friend Roland S Howard in the form of October Boy and a heartfelt Sad Waters. As Sonic Sessions go, this one is likely to be remembered for some uncomfortable and stilted conversation, but it was this dynamic that also added to the weight of the Harvey songs. The Sonic Sessions is a great concept that rarely disappoint.