Sometimes you go to a concert or music show at a stadium, or at a theatre, or a club. Or sometimes you get to go to one in someone’s house on a farm in Oakdale in a place so random you need Google maps to find your way there.
Such is the flavour of Mark Wilkinson’s current tour, ‘The Road Home’, which has been taking place since May, from North America to across Australia and New Zealand, on farms, in people’s homes and random venues. It’s the epitome of up close and personal. And isn’t it lovely?
We’d come prepared for an outdoor event, on an evening with serious bite, with jackets and beanies, three layers and a rug. We even brought directors chairs. But luckily we didn’t need any of those because instead we were inside in a shed that had been transformed by our enthusiastic hosts, the warm and welcoming Joe and Kim, into a fine venue created just for the evening.
What had been a shell of a building had been fitted out with walls, a roof, then rows of seats, heaters and even a choice of comfy lounges at the back and front (they had to buy new ones for inside to replace them), with a stage lit softly at the front. Our hosts even put on an unexpected and generous dinner spread, enough to feed an army. I think that’s because they’re Italian and the relies were invited. That’s what they do. We brought wine but they offered us more. We felt we were among friends.
The stage was a simple affair—a mic, two speakers and a trio of central bulbs casting soft light upwards, and fine stranfs of fairy lights strung loosely around the perimeter, and a lit M & W set at the back either side of lettering spelling out the name of the tour. It was all that was needed. And then entered a small-framed performer with a guitar and a serious demeanour, with a calm but powerful presence, who stills the rooms and lets you into his world.
It was an intimate affair, only 60 or so people in the room, some new to this grounded artist who seems to fly somewhat under the radar, and some dedicated followers. One’s so dedicated she follows him from venue to venue, even state to state. An evening of beautiful melodies, lyrics that pierce your soul, and a voice that resonates and pulses with emotion, with a morsel of vibrato in all the right places to elevate it to the heavens. It’s a gifted voice and just a snippet of it – whether you heard it in a coffee ad on television years ago (me) or wafting down the streets of the Rocks as Mark performs as a busker (the hosts) – can stop you in your tracks, and cause you to track down its owner.
An acoustic guitar is the only accompaniment, a trusted friend to help tell the stories, with signature and unapologetic squeaks as fingers slide from one fret to the next along the way. This from a singer whose face grimaces from emotion from time to time as he experiences the songs himself, and pulls away from the mic as if in exquisite pain to finish the notes with fervour but never force.
From the front lounge to the side, Joe the host erupts in praise after the third song. ‘That was brilliant. Just brilliant. That was brilliant that song.’ And everyone laughs. The faces of the family dogs appear occasionally at the glass window behind the performer, and even they bark their approval occasionally during the breaks to be part of the event. It seemed apt.
All my favourites are played, and there are many, and then more. It’s beautiful music, laid back, soulful, pretty beyond aesthetics. ‘Love High’ came early —’our song’, the one we dance to when it comes on at home, the one which will farewell us at our funerals, but we can’t dance here. Just listen. It’s an effort not to join in with the vocals through the evening, but when you’re only two metres from the performer you know it just can’t be done.
As if the music itself isn’t emotional enough in its own right, that night just before the show started I learned that Connie Johnson from Love Your Sister cancer charity had died hours before, our Connie, Canberra’s Connie, everyone’s Connie. So when Mark sang ‘All I Ever Wanted’ at the end of the evening, there was a special poignancy about it and the lyrics seemed to be hers: “Something so strong, that never dies.” It’s about being in the here and now, which is pretty much what #nowisawesome is all about.
There’s an encore, another sad song, and then another encore, and another. We finish with ‘Another necklace’, another fave. Too many anothers.
If you don’t know this music, look it up. Listen to it. Seriously.
We stocked up on the newest albums to add to our collection and listened to them on the drive home the next day. Without exception, each track is worthy, and the interspersion of violin and cello add another dimension and depth to the simplicity of the unplugged live versions.
On the night it was just one singer, one guitar, one voice.
It was enough.