Acoustic fun: Cafe is 'university' for novice performers

May 18th, 2017
Acoustic fun: Cafe is 'university' for novice performers
Around 5pm on the first Sunday of each month, excitement starts to build in a Balhannah cafe.

As patrons gather for dinner, a member of the audience will step up to the mic.

They could be 13 or 70, singing folk or pop, and playing almost any instrument. Whether they’re a seasoned performer or it’s their first public appearance, they’ve got an open-minded audience’s attention and fifteen minutes to shine.

This was the vision of Lobethal resident Bob Molloy when he formed Club Acoustica Eclectica, a regular series of live music sessions at the Olive Branch Cafe, six years ago.

As the events have grown from attracting 10-14 people to audiences of 40-50, he couldn’t be prouder of what they have created.

“One of the reasons the club has thrived is that we encourage all sorts of genres – we’re not just a rock venue or a folky or a blues venue,” Bob said.

“We have people coming along who are singer-songwriters, we have country musicians, folky musicians and we have small choirs who are beautiful to hear in the space.

"And all ages are welcome.

"There are absolute professionals and then there are 13 year old kids who’ve got their guitar for Christmas and learnt three chords and are trying things out.

“This is a little community that we’re trying to encourage of people who have a love for music.”

The first hour of open mic sessions is followed by concerts from “featured artists” – musicians Bob has specifically booked to perform for half an hour each.

Recent concerts have featured performances by folk singer Martin Newland, singer-songwriter Kit Williams and even poetry readings by Hills local Caz Williams and friends.

The sessions are always intended to be family-friendly nights out, and Bob said both performers and audience members get a lot out of attending.

“I think it’s good for the kids to hear a range of musical styles rather than just commercial rap or pop,” he said.

“For the oldies, they get a taste of their own songs but they’re also hearing songs from younger performers – that’s a good thing too.

"My aim is to get whole families interested in music, either as listeners or if they’ve got perhaps young teenagers, to encourage the kids to get involved and experiment with music either as a pastime or a serious vocation.”

He said the family-friendly environment is often a less threatening option for young musicians than traditional pub venues, while still giving them a chance to hone their performance skills.

“It’s a really safe space that we’ve created,” Bob said.

“They’ve got to learn the craft somewhere.

“When kids play in their bedroom, it’s a lot different to suddenly standing up with a mic and 40 people looking at you.

“The young ones who put their hand up here get to strut their stuff, get used to performing in front of people and get helpful feedback in a way that helps them develop and encourages them.”

Nairne teenager Indy Gautier, 15, started off performing at the open mic sessions 18 months ago and has since given four concerts as a featured artist, including one earlier this month.

A singer-songwriter who plays guitar and piano, the Heathfield High student enjoys the chance to perform her own songs to a local audience.

“It’s really boosted my confidence because everybody there is so friendly and uniquely talented, which makes it a great environment to sing in,” Indy said.

“I’ve had some invitations to other places since I’ve started – it’s opening a lot of opportunities and it’s really good to get public recognition.

“I don’t get nervous because the environment’s really friendly. It just feels natural.”

Describing her sound as a mixture of folk, country and pop, Indy said she writes songs about everything that inspires her.

“My most recent song is about bullying – that made everyone cry,” she said.

“I’ve written songs about sexual assault, domestic violence and just anything about life.

"They’re very powerful and personal, which shocks people sometimes.

“But it’s really made me feel comfortable singing my new stuff at the concerts because everyone’s really supportive.”

Bob said the beauty of Club Acoustica is in this supportive atmosphere, as well the range of styles and sounds.

“We love to see new people – we encourage them and will welcome anyone warmly,” he said.

These days he MCs most sessions, sometimes getting up to perform with friend Iain Ross in a country duo called the Artifical HIPSters.

“It’s our little joke about our age,” he said.

“Music is a passion so it’s a little outlet for us – we’re never too old to do it.

“This is great because the old codgers like myself have also got a venue where we can get up and play our stuff and have a little bit of fun every now and again ... maybe a more than a little bit!”

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