18 June 2017, Haumoana Hall
It’s been over a week since Tiny Ruins played the Haumoana Hall and I know, I know, this review should have been long done and dusted… but I’ve been trying to pin the gig down as it slips under the Dream Wave, holding to that liminal moment created by songs that “traverse folk and early blues … drawing on ethereal and grungy soundscapes”, and by the collaborative visuals, spatial atmospherics, and the extraordinary hospitality of Jamie MacPhail.
I’ve been trying to work out Hollie Fullbrook’s beautiful, resonant voice, and where she sings me to. I sift through triggered sentiments, association: the many Nick Drake moments, his ‘River Man’, Mazzy Starr of course and all her gorgeous melancholy, Joni Mitchell in Hollie’s urban ballad ‘Adelphi Apartments’, Julia Stone … I’m digging up Cocteau Twins and Pooka, the 1990s, finding myself suddenly at a festival in rural Victoria 2002, and it’s Nick Morrey in the quiet ruins of my memory who flickers like a mirage through ‘Carriages’.
Tiny Ruins plays Haumoana Hall is like a road-trip, long-distance, that feeling of watching life slip into an iridescent past before your eyes while simultaneously dreaming into the space ahead – a kind of longing, bitter-sweet, for what is now what was and what could be, the ghosts that pull you back, and whimsical, seeing the detail in the vivid, strangely rendered present.
It’s the geek chic of glossy hair in straight-cut bobs, buttoned-up black shirts, a 1970s troubadour blouse. It’s Henry Norton’s nifty floor lights, flooding red up white, plaster walls and the stage lit blue, creating an aura of soporific lilac, a subtly rendered Lynch-like ambiance: the first cool, dreamy half juxtaposed with a promised “more rollicking” party set; them on a rosy-tinted, pink-lit stage, an outfit change, us in the blue.
It’s sitting on long wooden forms as if in school or church, under a barn-like, A-frame roof, and pouring BYO wine into plastic cups from the stash under the seat. We’re reprimanded for our chatter and we shush; an intimate crowd of excitable grown-ups, all linked by half a degree of separation, trying to be good, to respect the acoustics – Suzy Blue is definitely worth listening to.
As too Hollie’s poetic texts of poignant observation, the restraint and deliberate delivery of her super-talented musicians (Cass Basil, bass; Alex Freer, drums; Tom Healy, electric guitar) who have curated every note, however simple, improvised. Their performance is an act of almost meditative mindfulness, while Healy in his work as producer of their most current recordings brings an academic excellence to the form. Together they’re the antithesis of the stereotypical music school drop-out.
While Hollie’s gentle, cradled ease offers intimacy even in such a large, filled, community space, it’s only when she steps off-stage in one of her final songs to walk through the audience in house-concert proximity, and her voice is brought down from the soaring rafters, that the concert takes on an almost sacred gesture.
What stands out for me now, beyond unbidden lyric fragments (“I was struck by a feeling, it’s hard to describe, the urge to bust through the ceiling…raise glass to the sky”) and the impromptu elements that aptly played to an overall affect, is the hand-crafted, loving attention to the evening’s detail, down to the most perfectly delicious caramel slice ever made.