There’s a charismatic bearded man up the front with his guitars resting on the communion table, and a small audience facing: leaning forward from the pews. I’m not usually one for church on a Saturday night, or ever, but I could get used to this.
Jamie Macphail’s Sitting Room Sessions have developed a sort of cult following over the years, but it’s the first time he’s hosted one in the historic Ormond Chapel on Napier Terrace. It was built in 1869 as a school for boys and then moved onto this site some years later. It’s the perfect place for a rainy winter’s night: a glass of port, a morsel or two of cheese and a truly special performance from folk/country singer-songwriter Nigel Wearne.
We’re a small crowd, but we’re enthusiastic, and Nigel indulges us with stories of his Australian rural upbringing in western Victoria, his travels in Canada and his research into some lesser known characters of Australia’s colonial history. As a raconteur he’s easy-going and generous, as a musician he’s in his absolute element. His songs are resolutely autobiographical, with details of love-life, work, travels, home.
His voice is soulful, with a gritty edge, and he alternates between guitar and banjo, regularly adding the harmonica. Songs like Dennis Doherty show Nigel’s obvious curiosity about the historical characters of his country, but it’s the more personal material that hits me straight in the heart.
Autumn Tempest from the album ‘Drawing Circles’ takes us straight to the seaside cottage he wrote it in, with the stormy waves crashing outside as he sorted out his priorities (and eventually quit the job with the soul-crushing boss).
Before he plays Amateur Man, Nigel explains how life can be romanticised through song and through description too. “This was written by a campfire at Lake Louise in Canada,” he tells us. “OK, it was by a campfire pit, in the daytime. We were traveling in Canada. The line, ‘Ooh, we’ve been sleeping in separate beds’ refers to all the backpacker hostels we stayed in, sleeping in bunks to save money”. He finishes with Delicate Bird a gentle, reminiscing song and we’re taken back to his rural adolescence.
The themes of the evening slide from the deeply personal to observational omnipotence; from the working week to the Sunday rest. As a storytelling troubadour Wearne is busting some myths, building others.
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