Words By: Matt Norman
In the sleepy den of an almost-empty Mojos, with a brown bottle of Matso’s shifting in the candlelight on the little round table in front of me, Helen Shanahan and band treated the sound tech and I to a preview performance of ‘Finding Gold’ an hour before the night’s gig was due to start. I hadn’t been paying attention – they’d been hitting the same drums and playing the same two chords for ten minutes to get each instrument sounding just right, while I scrolled idly through Facebook. When the song began, I dropped my phone straight away. Her voice filled the bar on its own, cutting confidently through warm stream of music and alighting on the other side fresh and untouched. They sounded ‘mint’, as the scraggly old sound tech let them know, and so they packed up and stepped out for a while before the show began. I ducked next door to grab a burger, still in a daze – but I managed to shoot off a Snapchat call to arms to a few friends. “Unwind. Mojos. Get here.”
Unwind was a gig in support of mental health awareness, put on with the help of beyondblue and Music Feedback. You’ve probably heard of beyondblue already, as a fantastic mental health resource for anything you want to know about depression and anxiety. You may not have heard of Music Feedback (I hadn’t), but it’s also really cool. Run by the Youth Affairs Council of WA, they distribute CDs and run workshops that use music and popular culture to encourage help seeking behaviour and reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues. Their slogan is “Music talks about mental health. So can you.” That’s exactly what was put into practice with Unwind. Five artists took to the stage and shared their own stories through music, as a statement to young people especially that conversations about mental health are conversations worth having.
First up was Mossy Fogg, an enigma of a performer whose musical style seems to span several centuries, let alone genres. With only an acoustic guitar and a majestic beard, he was able to conjure everything from gentle folksy melodies to fitful blues-rock, his voice slipping effortlessly from a deep growl to an Alt-J-esque twang. Stepping up next to keep the ball rolling was Tashi: multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and something of a local hero. The squeals of friends and fans announced her presence on-stage, but everyone was making noise by the time she was done. She delivered a strong set of jangly goodness with a solid lyrical core, complimented by vocals that flit around like birdsong.
After Tashi, Helen Shanahan took to the stage once more. Another popular local, her music sounds like a hearty winter meal with a gentle country twang. For a time I forgot I was sitting in a bar in North Freo, letting myself get swept up in big stories of adventure and little stories of home. For the second time in a few hours I fell in love with ‘Finding Gold’, from this year’s EP of the same name, and it broke my heart to see her and her band step down and rejoin the punters when their 40 minutes was up. I soon recovered, though, when Riley Pearce and co replaced them. Pearce has a sound that won’t be contained in by the boundaries of Perth for much longer – a particular brand of folk-pop with an international swagger to it that begs for taller stages and bigger crowds. I felt compelled to listen very carefully to each and every song, as though I wouldn’t have many chances to hear them again (at least not just down the road for only $15). Rhythmically driven and soothing at once, Pearce is poised to be another of Perth’s best exports.
Last but certainly not least, headliner Morgan Bain closed out the night with a powerhouse set covering much of his short but prolific career. Taking a soulful turn away from the more folk-influenced sound that had prevailed earlier, Bain’s alternative bluesy tunes captivated his audience. From earlier work like ‘I Think I’ve Got You’ to recent release ‘Why Don’t You Stay’, you could hear the impact of other Australian artists on his work, whether it be John Butler or Chet Faker. Full of emotional upswells and expressive flourishes, the dynamics of Bain’s music were the most exciting element of his riveting performance.
As the night came to a close and patrons began to spill out onto the cold street, I saw the beyondblue and Music Feedback teams counting the money from the donation bins on their table to the side of the stage. Throughout the night guests had been stepping over to throw in some spare change and chat to these dedicated volunteers about their work and about mental health – conversations that wouldn’t happen without events like these. Unwind was a great success both as a night of music and as a promotional event for mental health awareness. Here’s hoping there’ll be more to come.