★★★★½ A moving lunchtime celebration and fusion of cultures.

City Recital Hall
March 1, 2016

Didgeridoo virtuoso William Barton opened the first of City Recital Hall’s 2016 A Little Lunch Music concerts with a short solo acknowledging the traditional owners of the land. Coaxing the sound of wind, kookaburras and furtive rustling from his instrument, he soon launched into a vibrant pulse of complex rhythms and changing metre. Titled The Journey, this concert was a playful fusion of cultures and musical traditions. Barton’s mother, Aunty Delmae Barton, joined him for the second work, her voice a stirring chant, arms outstretched, while her son’s didgeridoo growled beneath with rising and falling intensity.

Barton switched to guitar for a composition dedicated to his mother, ten years after she collapsed at a bus shelter in Queensland. Barton’s vocals were a wordless howl, and he soon added the rumble of the didgeridoo to his strumming, effortlessly synchronising the two instruments. Barton and his mother shared the stage comfortably, their mutual affection obvious in their music and manner. Delmae Barton’s Dreamtime Opera alternated haunting vocals with spoken-word recitative, musing on the journey of life and the nature of dreams.

Barton’s laid-back stage presence and relaxed banter kept the mood light, chatting to the audience while duct-taping an extension onto his didgeridoo (he explained that a single toilet roll transposes the instrument down a tone). He even invited the audience to participate. Following Barton’s lead, they mimicked brolgas, wild dingoes, a bouncing father, mother and baby kangaroo and the laughter of kookaburras (overcoming their initial shyness, Barton soon had the audience cackling away). The audience also contributed the soft patter of rain to Barton’s musical story in which a baby kangaroo visits The Rave nightclub in Mount Isa, his didgeridoo throbbing in a dead-on imitation of a muffled electronic beat.

Hugh Coffey, who made all of the guitars on stage, joined Barton for a duet, his Spanish-influenced guitar fills feeding off Barton’s rumbles, chirps and kookaburra laughs. Barton quipped that he is very conscious of the time when improvising –“You can get carried away!” Cellist Dave Loew joined Barton in another cross-cultural duet, Bachian cello sparring with hissing, creeping and discordant antagonism from the didgeridoo, their final note resolving to a perfect unison.

All the performers took the stage for a rendition of Neil Murray’s My Island Home, Barton taking vocals and guitar, his mother’s shimmering voice floating above. The Song Company assembled behind the band, alternating red and black, for the finale. Harnessing overtones and clever vocal techniques, the singers became a didgeridoo, Barton taking his place in the centre, chanting over the top.

The Journey was both moving and light-hearted, Barton creating a convivial atmosphere in which to explore family, friendship and the celebration and fusion of different cultures. His versatile musicianship and affable rapport with his fellow musicians made for a heart-warming concert experience, and for $15 well worth the money!

The City Recital Hall’s A Little Lunch Music, curated by Kathryn Selby, continues throughout 2016.