By Brian Wise. A brilliant gathering of some of Melbourne’s finest for a great cause!
A CONCERT FOR ROSS HANNAFORD
Memo Music Hall, St Kilda – Saturday July 18 & Sunday July 19, 2015
It might have been a benefit for one of most loved musicians but it was also a gathering of some of the city’s greatest musical talent from across the past five decades.
When lists are published of the world’s greatest guitarists appear there are few Australians to make it, apart from AC/DC’s Angus Young but many would argue that the name of Ross Hannaford deserves to appear there (but probably never will).
Considered in his home country as one of its ten greatest ever guitarists and constantly appearing near the top of Australian lists, it is probably only Hannaford’s reticent personality, his renowned humility and his sporadic casual solo recording career that does not propel a higher profile.
The regard in which Hannaford is held in the local community can be seen by the fact that 800 tickets were sold for two concerts at the Memo Music Hall held to benefit the ailing guitarist who has battled severe health issues this year.
Hannaford is an ARIA Hall of Fame member as a founding member of Daddy Cool. His unforgettable guitar line decorates the song ‘Eagle Rock,’ the band’s biggest hit and also voted as the second greatest Australian single of all time (just behind the Easybeats’ ‘Friday On My Mind’). His association with the group’s co-founder and lead singer Ross Wilson goes back to the mid-60s when they formed the Pink Finks and enjoyed a Top 20 hit with a cover of ‘Louie Louie’ which was on the charts exactly 50 years ago this week.
Hannaford’s name appears on literally hundreds of albums, many of them considered classics and he also played for many years behind local soul diva Renee Geyer. In recent years he could be seen in his trademark orange overalls busking at various markets with indigenous musician Bart Willoughby of No Fixed Address fame.
But the best testament to Hannaford’s abilities comes from his time with his pub band Dianna Kiss that held down an 11-year Monday night residency at St Kilda’s Esplanade Hotel featuring a shifting cast of some of the city’s best musicians.
The story goes that one night in April 1992 Bob Dylan was appearing across the road at The Palais Theatre. Afterwards, some of the members of his band walked across to have a drink and watch Dianna Kiss, who often did sensational versions of Dylan songs. After a while one of the band members was heard to remark, ‘It’s lucky that Bob didn’t come over to watch otherwise he would have sacked us on the spot and hired this band!’
Apocryphal or not, it is a story that rings true and it was recounted by Brian Nankervis, RockWiz co-host and the splendid MC for the shows here, to introduce this spectacular benefit for one of the city’s most loved musicians.
The most surprising appearance of the event was, in fact, not any of Australian rock’s big names but that of Hannaford himself, perky on Saturday night but in his own words, ‘not so sparky’ on Sunday afternoon. He appeared genuinely touched by the support he had received and maybe even a little overwhelmed.
On both occasions he performed three numbers with the help of percussionist Ray Pereira with the first show also featuring Russell Smith. On Saturday he played ‘The Rainbow Song’ and the reggae-infused ‘The Critter.’ On the second show he started the second tentatively with ‘I Survive,’ which could almost be his theme then on the other selections you could also hear the strong reggae influence that has been a trademark of his career.
The Ross Hannaford All Stars then took the stage, led by multi-instrumentalist James Black and consisting of other RockWiz colleagues bassist Mark Ferrie and drummer Peter Luscombe as well Pereira and keyboardists Russell Smith and Bruce Haymes. Later they were joined by guitarist Kerryn Tolhurst. They continued the reggae theme with Dave and Ansell Collins ‘Double Barrel.’
Linda Bull channeled Irma Thomas for a beautiful version of Allen Toussaint’s ‘Ruler Of My Heart.’ Steve Hoy gave an enthusiastic reading of one of his own songs ‘Get Lucky’ and showed that he is also a fine guitarist as well as songwriter.
Hannaford’s connection to the indigenous community was underlined by Bunna Lawrie’s welcome to country and the appearance of drummer Bart Willoughby.
Former Daddy Cool drummer Gary Young was joined by his old band mate bassist Wayne Duncan for ‘Matchbox’ and ‘Walking The Dog’ on Saturday while his Sunday appearance saw the latter song then a version of ‘One Night,’ a Daddy Cool live favourite.
As Saturday’s gig was originally slated as a Black Sorrows performance until the need for the benefit superseded it, Joe Camilleri and his band (with Ed Bates sitting in on pedal steel guitar) were given the prime spot. Camilleri added own unique energy to the evening with epic versions of old Jo Jo Zep & The Falcons hits ‘’Hit and Run’ and ‘The Shape I’m In,’ along with some of the songs from the latest album Endless Sleep.
Emma Donovan & The Putbacks followed with a powerful performance of some of the songs from their album Dawn, including ‘Over Under Away’ and ‘Black Woman.’ It was an impressive cameo showing the strength of the local soul scene.
Veteran Mike Rudd conducted a crowd sing along for his classic ‘I’ll Be Gone,’ The Dusty Millers (Lisa, Tracey and Loretta) combined for Brian Wilson’s ‘In My Room’ and Russell Smith provided the Willie Dixon classic ‘I Love The Life I Love.’
Margot Barratt offered another Hannaford connection with a beautiful version of his song ‘Weeping In My Joy’ and the reggae-fied ‘Close To You,’ with drummer Geoff Hassle who was also in Lucky Dog.
Finally, Ross Wilson, Hannaford’s longest serving musical friend, closed the evening (and next day) with a bracket that started with ‘Louie Louie,’ and Jerry Reed’s ‘Something On My Mind’ before an encore of Spencer Jones’ wonderful song ‘The World’s Got Everything In It.
Sunday afternoon’s show followed a similar format and trajectory with a slightly altered line-up. Paul Kelly performing a stunning version of Dylan’s ‘Most Of The Time.’ (Record it please Paul, immediately!). Danny Robinson and Les Stacpool with ‘Fanny Mae’ and the Wild Cherries’ hit ‘That’s Life.’
Paul Madigan played several acoustic songs, included Peter Lillee’s ‘Suburban Blonde’ and reminisced. Bunna Lawrie and Bart Willoughby combined and several songs including Lawrie’s ‘Face Into The Light.’ Joe Creighton, who worked with Hannaford on numerous occasions, including Billy T, brought on an expanded band for Sonny Boy Williamson’s ‘Help Me.’
Pat Wilson, who has known Hannaford since the 60s, brought on her former partner Ross Wilson for ‘Bop Girl’ and later Ross closed the show again with the same bracket as Saturday.
Both concerts were an overwhelming endorsement of the love that Melbourne’s music community has for one of its finest and also proof, if it was still needed, of the strength and considerable heritage of the local music scene. To be able pull this sort of event together at short notice also has to be a tribute to the organisers.
A lot has been said of Ross Hannaford’s guitar playing and I have been lucky enough to have seen him since his Daddy Cool days back in 1971! When I think of ‘Hanna’ I also think of someone like David Lindley, who began his career with a relatively high profile playing on some great West Coast albums by the likes of Jackson Browne and others but who now quietly pursues his own solo career and is probably even more eccentric than Hannaford. Like Lindley, Hannaford never plays the same solo twice and when you watch him perform it is almost as if he becomes part of the song. Long may he play and, hopefully, the weekend benefits will enable him to do so.