Dunstan Playhouse, Fri 22 Jun.
Twenty years ago Archie Roach and three baby-faced young women collaborated to create a demo. Jen Anderson produced the recording and from that demo several reworked and re-recorded songs would later appear on Roach’s much acclaimed 1997 release, Looking For Butterboy. Those original recordings, however, were not forgotten and remained close to both Roach and Anderson. Unearthing those recordings became even more extraordinary with the synchronistic fortune in presenting the talents of the artists live on stage. Sally Dastey, Lou Bennett and Amy Saunders (collectively known as Tiddas) formed in the early ‘90s, and quickly gained a reputation equally for their harmonious vocals, as well as their unrehearsed, relaxed stage banter. It’s been a very long wait to hear the sounds and feel the warmth of this pairing again but it has been oh so worth it!
Integral to the commencement of this unique event was Jack Kanya Buckskin, who extended a heartfelt welcome and acknowledgement of country, both in English and Indigenous language spoken by the Kaurna people from the Adelaide Plains. Already there was a sense in the air that this would be a special evening.
Anderson spoke first, setting the scene of the album’s journey. Then she introduced one of Australia’s living legends, the incomparable Archie Roach. With that distinct, hushed velvet voice Roach gently and humbly acknowledged his applause and in turn graciously introduced the irreverent and vibrant women of Tiddas as they launched into the album’s title track, Dancing With My Spirit.
So much love could be felt already from the appreciative audience, and once those harmonies hit – wow! The richness of tone and myriad of voice permutations possible with Tiddas allowed each song to layer into an aural euphoria. There was not an ounce of doubt of the love and respect shared between Roach and Tiddas, each member interacting, smiling and embracing every moment on stage together. It was as if an orb of warmth found its way around the heart of everyone present.
Roach’s songs and stories are captivating, emotional journeys, full of humour and humanity, and each introduction by Roach a reminder of the unbreakable thread of connection to land and each other. There’s an indefinable magic witnessing the ease and cheekiness of rapport between Tiddas and Roach. My Grandmother Speaks To Me, with all it’s stirring emotion, ended with unintentional humour as Roach missed the final cue. Casually, and with a wry smile, Roach stated “I just like listening to Tiddas”, to which Saunders retorted “Yeah, nice cover up, Arch!”
Hardships and losses are no strangers to Roach but there is also an ever-present, impervious humour. As part of The Stolen Generation both Roach and his beloved soul-mate, Ruby Hunter, understood the importance of country, ancestry and caring for community. Most of the songs on Dancing With My Spirit are medium tempo, country-esque arrangements perfectly suited to Roach’s now seasoned slow vibrato. The final number in the band set Can You Feel It kicked up the tempo and allowed a perfect opportunity to introduce the band: Bruce Haymes (keyboard), Ruben Shannon (bass), Barb Waters & Craig Pilkington (guitars), Jen Anderson (mandolin, violin, ukulele).
Having brought levels to a climax, all members of the band exited the stage to leave only three – Tiddas!! With gusto Saunders exclaimed, “18 years and no rehearsal – here we go!” and Bennett launched into a simple three-chord progression, instantly recognisable as the title track to their 1994 EP Inside My Kitchen. It was as if no time had passed at all. Glorious!
Tiddas are three distinctly unique personas: Saunders’ humour is infectious and an absolute crack-up, Bennett’s stage-presence is centred and commanding, Dastey’s heart exudes passion, and then of course there’s that mighty, mighty voice! Unpredictability and mischievous fun are part and parcel of a Tiddas performance, and so it was that Don’t Sing Me Your Anthem morphed into a rousing, stomping version of Queen’s We Will Rock You before eventually resuming course.
Dastey invited Roach back to join her in a stirring rendition of The Wild Mountain Thyme, and all returned to close the show with the funky Dancing Shoes. As Tiddas exited the stage they sang the traditional children’s song Inanay off microphone, leaving the audience singing together. What a magical evening of song and heart from four vastly different individuals, unified together to immerse a wash of harmony and healing.
Special mention must be made to Jill Shelton in coordinating the tour and her link in the family chain as Roach’s manager, and previous manager of Tiddas. Family embraces many forms, ever purveying the thread of community. To paraphrase Roach, “The veins and arteries that lie within us are the rivers that nourish us, and all people are grains of sand, which together support the vastness of the oceans.” Such themes are embedded within Dancing With My Spirit: look after each other and care for the land, for they are indistinguishable from each other, and do so with an outstretched, compassionate heart.
Archie Roach And Tiddas: Dancing With My Spirit continues at Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre, from 5.30pm until Sat 23 Jun.
Book at BASS on 131 246 and bass.net.au. Click HERE to purchase your tickets.
Image courtesy of Phil Nitchie