Liz Stringer

The Kimberley and Me – Ten Years On

I started writing the following in Perth, having just come from Broome after a very brief four nights up there. The Broome show marked the end of six weeks in Australia, most of it spent with my family in Melbourne, hanging out with my nephew and drinking as much coffee as I could physically consume. It also marked ten years since my first trip to the Kimberley.

I’m not convinced I can relay what the support from everyone over the last decade has meant. Here are a few thoughts that I scrambled down and have spent the last week putting into some kind of order, which may go some way to articulating my gratitude and to let you all know where I’m at. 

I’m in Canada right now, but I’m going to be back often.

x Stringzy 

Adam May and me, circa 2009 (photo by Leah Flanagan)

Last night was the show at the White Elephant Bar with Stephen Pigram, a gig that I’ve been waiting to play, or at least hoping would one day happen, for many years now. My bestie Leah Flanagan introduced me to the Pigram Brother’s music, and by extension Steve’s songs, ten years ago when Flano and I first met in Leah’s home town of Darwin. We embarked on a tour across the Territory and the Kimberley to Broome in the dry-season of 2008, set up by our darling friend, Kununurra-born-and-bred songwriter, Tash Parker. We sang one of Steve’s songs, ‘Going Back Home’, at all of the thirteen gigs across that northwest belt of Australia and over those couple of weeks something in my spirit stirred and was woken by the country up there. It was a life-changing tour for me, an experience that sent gentle waves ahead of itself, carving the paths that would lead me back to the Kimberley and the NT again and again over the next ten years and allow me to form some of my closest and most important relationships. We took stints driving Flano’s old aircon-less Hiace in convoy with our tour-mates Ads and G, overcoming the lack of phone reception by using walkie-talkies that someone had acquired from a $2 shop between vehicles, as we blustered open-windowed along endless kilometres of road-train studded single-lane desert-country highway. Long languid evenings of coloured lights strung in up in frangipani trees, gin and soda-tonics dripping with condensation in the soupy Darwin heat, red dust on our feet and in our hair (I’m borrowing that line, Steve), and that indescribable dusk light of the Kimberley sunsets out on the Ord and later over Broome, padding barefoot across the cooling pindan, finally near the ocean. My new but growing relationship with the northwest of Australia began to teach me quickly how much I have (and want) to learn about the continent I was born on. And every time I’m there, my heart tangles itself in that country a bit more.

As I played with Steve last night I felt waves of energy running through me. I could feel my spirit filling up, I felt proud and understood and part of something. Steve and I talked about a lot of things over the unfolding of that Friday, way into the small hours of Saturday morning, along with a round table of old friends after the show, as we sat drinking wine and tea on a beautiful dark-wood porch under the banana trees. We talked about music, Steve told me things about Broome and the infinite complexities and nuances of culture and home, we played songs to each other, we learned each other’s tunes. And we talked about how hard it can be, sometimes, trying to make a career in music work. How financially pressuring, and how frustrating and isolating it can feel, things that have been weighing heavily on me recently. But gigs like the one that we’d just played together have the ability to make most things begin to make sense. Or at least they make the hard stuff not matter so much. Steve is a natural musician and it turns out he thinks musically very similarly to me, although he’s way better than I am (or anyone else I’ve talked to) at articulating the way he understands things musically. It was revelatory for me to hear someone make tangible the things that I had never been able to find the language to express. Music connected us like two old friends and I was so stoked that I not only finally got to play with this man, but that we made a musical connection that will, I’m certain, send its waves forward to form parts of my future for many years to come.

Since I stopped drinking over 18 months ago I’ve been going through the process of what I’ve regularly described to friends as ‘pulling my head out of my arse’. I loved drinking. And I was good at it. I partied my face off for years. Booze was my partner in crime for many of my life’s experiences, and just like the bottle I drank it from, every last drop from every moment was wrung dry with booze in my blood. It helped me relax, it took me away from myself. Often. But after a while things started to change (to quote my sister quoting Hemingway) ‘gradually, and then suddenly’. My drinking, and everything that went along with it, changed direction like the wind at a fire front, causing a sharp but insidious process of disconnection between every part of my internal and external world. A disconnection from myself, from the people I love, from my instinct and my innate knowledge of who I am, and from my own sense of personal responsibility. This process kicked up the already smouldering spot fires of precarious mental health and before I knew what was going on, the whole situation had ignited into a blaze that I was afraid was about to burn entirely beyond my control.

Since the moment I stumbled, bleary eyed and terrified, from the dark cave of my excesses, I began to see things in an utterly new way. And I’ve realised how at odds my behaviour had been with the way I moved through the world as a musician, and what an eroding conflict this incongruity had been causing in me for many years, even throughout the earlier days, when there had seemed so much less at stake. The potential for autonomy and an idiosyncratic way of living is what has always drawn me so magnetically to a life in art and yet I’ve only in the last couple of years begun to realise that I have more freedom to construct the best way for myself to live than I’d allowed myself to believe. I began to see that connection is what makes the music and the songs – the centre of how I understand the world – alive and make sense. And that, for me, drinking was like a bullying, over-protective sibling – ultimately trying to help, but in reality domineering my will to live freely, and smothering my ability to truly relate to myself and to the world around me. And as I began the process of emancipation from this increasingly oppressive relationship with a vice that I had loved so hard for so long, I tried consciously to tread new paths through the grassy fields of my psyche, stepping off those long trodden trails worn down and compacted by a consistent and relentless way of thinking over the last twenty-five-odd years. I’m so grateful for the teachers and experiences that the Kimberley has given me. And for every place in Australia where I can go, after years of touring, and sit down among friends, rest, fill up, learn, and laugh deep into the dawn. And that I can now fully meet all of those connections with a clear and open heart.

I work hard these days at being actively grateful in my life, and am trying to replace decade-long patterns of aggressive self-talk and a gnarly pessimism with positivity and service. It requires dedicated practice because my cynicism and negativity not only form part of the map of these well-worn neural trails, but they also comprise a large part my self-identity that I created over many years, along with always being up for a bender at a moments notice. The beginning of a sober life marked the beginning of my search for myself, for who I’ve always been, but who I had carefully (albeit subconsciously) obscured by constructing around myself a complicated series of fortified walls. Every section of those walls were of course on some level authentic – it’s not like I’m a different person now to who I was two years ago – I’m just more The Same As Myself than I’ve been, probably since I was a kid. The people that I’ve spent time with on tour following this shift, from all over the world, some new friends, and some the kind of road family who know how I am as soon as I pull up in a driveway and who gently and silently pour me tea on a porch and allow me to rest my energy with them, are the long bands of constellations that have filled my sky, allowing me to navigate my way back to who I am after years adrift on a shadowed sea.

Being back in Australia these last few weeks has driven home with deep clarity how grateful I am to the communities that have welcomed me and opened their lives to me for many years, grateful for the experiences that music continues to give me and all of the things that those experiences teach me, grateful for my family, for my safety, for my friends all over Australia and in other parts of the world, and for my forged family, who teach me about who I am and who fill up and comfort my spirit every time I get to see them.

With Leah ‘Flano’ Flanagan, Marrickville 2016

Continued two weeks later in Canada…

I’m writing this in my apartment in Toronto. I arrived back here to a completely different city from the one I left in early May. A lush greenness has exploded everywhere, the sun is up until 9:30 every evening, people are out and about wearing shorts and sipping beers on patios. The general ‘vibe’ around here is lighter, happier and more open than the hibernation-like qualities of the Ontario winter. I felt it as soon as I landed at the airport. And I am now revelling in being able to walk through High Park every day which is, gloriously, only a few hundred metres from where I live. I explore the infinite maze of trails that wind through this enormous urban wilderness, gliding through cool air under a canopy of thick green woodland trees, staring longingly at other people’s dogs, in all of their delightful and hilarious variety, wishing I had my own furry friend to share these walks with.

I’ve been playing guitar with some touring bands over here. It looks like that’s what I’m going to be doing for a while. I love it. And I’ve felt an enormous weight lift being able to step away from my own solo career and allowing myself to concentrate solely on contributing to another person’s songs. I’ve spent so many years pushing my own wagon, my instinct is telling me that it’s time to take the focus off myself and to rekindle my immense and infinite love for music and for performing. To remember why I’m doing it.

And while I’m taking this break from performing my own stuff, Chris and I are finishing the record we started in February. Slowly and carefully. It’s nearly there, but I don’t want to rush it because these songs mark the significant personal shift that I’ve just touched on. They’re more vulnerable and profoundly more personal than any songs I’ve ever written, and certainly any songs that I’ve recorded or shown to other people… So we want to get it right. I refuse to put pressure on this process like I have done in the past. There’s no magic timeline to get this record out. Indeed the mobilisation that will be required to release it (maybe next year) is so immense I feel exhausted thinking about it. Which is a signal to me that I’m not ready to attempt to tackle it yet. I’ve put so much pressure on my songs and on my music for so many years that I’ve only just realised, since releasing the strangle-hold, just how long I’d been gasping for air. My instinct is being firm in letting me know that I need to let my art breathe and give it the space to be what it is. Starting from now.

And so this next part for me will be about reconnecting with myself and with the world I’m in. Listening more and yelling at myself less, learning to play other people’s songs and learning from their experiences. And allowing myself to be carried on the waves that began their forms at all of those various moments over the last ten years, letting them gently guide me towards where I’m meant to go. Wherever that is.

Toronto, 2018 (photo by Skye Polson) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

June 26, 2018

Melbourne June Dates Sold Out

I can’t wait to see everyone at these shows in June. And there’s still tickets available for Friday June 1st at the Bridge Hotel in Castlemaine, Victoria. I’ll be joined by the wonderful Kerryn Fields. Tickets available from the Shows Page

I’m so looking forward to coming back to Oz for these ones.

 

April 13, 2018

A Few Victorian Shows in June

Hello everyone,

I’m writing this in Nashville, but I’ve been spending most of my time in Toronto, Canada since the end of January. I’ve been working on some new material and staying inside. It’s been cold. I’m looking forward to being able to show everyone what I’ve been working on, and who I’ve been working on it with…

In the meantime I’m very excited to be coming back to Victoria in June to play a four shows over the weekend of June 2/3 in Melbourne at my friend Mick Thomas’s new boutique venue in the Westgarth Strip, The Merri Creek Tavern, and one at the awesome Bridge Hotel in Castlemaine on Friday the 1st of June.

As a bonus for my wonderful newsletter subscribers I opened tickets over the weekend exclusively to them, and today we’re announcing the shows publicly. As each gig has a small capacity, one has already sold out and the other three are going quickly, but there are still a few tickets left to the Saturday early show (6pm doors, 6.30 show), Saturday late show (9pm doors, show 9:30) and the Sunday evening show (6pm doors, 6.30 show) as well as the Bridge show (with special guest Kerryn Fields).

I can’t wait to come back and see everyone.

X Stringzy

April 8, 2018

FAI 2018 **OFFICIAL SHOWCASE** Friday 7pm Brookside

It’s that time again. I’m back at the Folk Alliance International Conference in Kansas City. Here’s the schedule for the week. I’m looking forward to catching up with some buddies from around the world and meeting some new people. And maaaaybe eating some BBQ… Good on me too, it should be mentioned, for getting a bunch of these flyers and posters printed and THEN realising that there’s three typos in the first quote… This is the web version – proofread. Dayum.

My official showcase is at 7pm in the Brookside room on Friday, 16th of Feb.

 

Liz Stringer FAI TABLOID POSTER

 

 

February 11, 2018

Info for ticket-holders for Northcote Social Club show with Jordie Lane – Wed 20th DEC

Hello my darling Melbourne, you sticky-tiled old buggar. I’ve missed you.

This is some info for everyone attending tomorrow nights sold out show at the Northcote Social Club. Jordie Lane and I can’t wait to play some toons for yas!

Doors are at 7:30. Show starts 8pm sharp!! There are no supports.

Either Jordie or I will start (depending on the result of a coin toss). Two short solo sets and then a duo set to round out the night.

The other news is that we’ll be running a raffle to raise funds for the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC), who do such incredible and important work for people seeking asylum in Australia.

Prizes include:
– Brilliant 2017 albums from our mates (and two of our very favourites) Jen Cloher and Pony Face, and various merch items from Jordie and me
-2 glass pieces from Melbourne artist Nadia Mercuri
-$40 voucher from CERES Environment Park
-2 decorative English made bone china tea cups and saucers
-2 books written by the hilarious Denise Scott Official Page (Jordie’s mum).
-$40 voucher from Le Café Flo in Thornbury

Tickets are $5 each or three for $10. Let’s smash this as hard as we can!!!

Tickets will be available before the show and during the set breaks and winners will be drawn directly before the last set of the night.

Can’t wait to see youse. X

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December 19, 2017

Keeping it in the fam – Festival of Small Halls

 

 

I’m writing this in Yeppoon, a small coastal town in Queensland near Rockhampton. The view out of the hotel window is pretty good. Straight onto the ocean across the road. But I’m inside trying to book a car with frequent flyer points. Turns out that’s disproportionately time consuming.

The glamour of touring. I’ll definitely be getting in that water I can see out the window though. At some point.

We’re up to gig 17 or something. I’ve stopped counting. Even when I was counting I was doing it incorrectly. So 17 sounds about right. I’ve been on the road for most of this year. Extremes in climate and coffee quality. And extremes, also, in mental health levels and in my extraordinary ability (some would say talent) to lose possessions, even after all these years of being on the road. I’m not winning the latter battle, at this point. The former, though, I’m holding my own in by swimming every day. I drive sometimes an entire hour round trip, before anyone else is awake, to the closest lap pool to get a kilometer into the arms. And early sun on the back. To gently force the mind to move in a straight line, instead of turning in a circle, down into itself. I think that might make me somewhat of an idiot, to get up that early, but being the only person swimming in an old, tiled pool in a tiny regional town just after dawn continues to bring me inexorable joy. I may as well take advantage of this particular kind of idiocy while it lasts.

It’s the Festival of Small Halls tour that’s rounding out the year for me. Twenty shows (I think, clearly I’m not sure…) through regional QLD, the (massive) region of Australia that I’ve toured the least in. Holy shit. What a delight to be somewhere so familiar I can feel it in my body and yet so utterly new. Driving for hours past cane fields. Scrubby, red dirt country that morphs into lush, tangled jungle, ticking with the tiny comings and goings of tropical creatures and birds that cry out at night. The eye can’t see the change, and only stares in wonder at how the country is ‘suddenly different’. It’s hot. Thick heat. Around the clock. Beautiful and complicated and hot.

I’m on the road with three travelling companions, the Festival Of Small Halls crew. These shows have been microcosms of country Australia. I’ve never said the word ‘community’ so many times in a short period. That’s the concept that FOSH is built around, the idea that people want somewhere to congregate and be together. In the 1950s and 60s, light spilled from these halls several nights a month. Dances, New Years Eve parties, weddings. This was followed by long years of quiet, as the dust gathered and flying foxes began to nest in the roofs. Maybe this quiet coincided with everyone getting a tele at home. Maybe priorities changed. But now, decades later, a collective yearning for togetherness has seen these beautiful buildings being dusted off, and bunting strung up, old roads opened, car parks marked out on grassy verges, cakes baked, best shoes put on, sausages grilled and curries cooked in massive, blackened pots, and old friends and neighbours shaking hands and kissing smiling cheeks as they arrive from their homes, having driven, in some cases, hundreds of kilometres for the occasion.

The formal part of the evening begins. A welcome to country. And then sometimes a local musician performs, or an acrobatic troupe, or a politician from the region. Then we play songs. Maybe some of these punters sit in the rows of chairs in the hall that they learned to dance in, or behind which they kissed their first sweetheart, and allow themselves to drift back to older days, and feel the smooth boards under their feet and the timber beams above their heads. A rare moment of suspended time among country that’s been in drought for years, or ravaged by coal-mining, or developed to welcome whole new populations, babies born, loved ones seen off. Slow change, like the country outside our window while we travel between these towns. Changes that are imperceptible in the moment, but profound in their sum.

It’s a simple privilege to provide music for these scenes every night. And I’m grateful for being the recipient of often tender and vulnerable post-show stories from so many of these locals. I guess I spilled my guts, so they feel safe to do the same. And that’s what propels me to keep touring so much. Maybe more structure and less chaos would be easier to manage for my, at times, unstable disposition. But this is the way I want to live. Even with the fourteen hour drives and the shitty wifi and the missing my people and my old haunts. I make jokes about being from Melbourne at these shows, that I wear black a lot, that I’m a coffee snob. Both things are absolutely and somewhat embarrassingly true, in my case… And, particularly on this tour, I am acutely aware of how different the Australia that I grew up in is to the one these locals know, and how many things that preoccupy and worry me in the city fade into an barely perceptible water colour out here.

I will always continue to have a lot more to learn.

 

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Photo by my touring buddy, Vance Gilbert from Boston, Massachusetts. Taken in Ilfracombe, QLD

December 8, 2017

X-mas Show with Jordie Lane Announced Today!!

 

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My dear friend Jordie Lane and I are playing a special End of Year show at the Northcote Social Club on Wednesday, December 20th.

We’ll be playing some old favourites, some new tunes, definitely a few together, and reminiscing about our musical friendship, which spans almost 12 years now.

After our two sold out shows at the Bella Union at a similar time last year, we’re pretty confident this show will sell quick, so we’re urging everyone to grab tickets now. You can click HERE for tix.

Both Jordie and I will be off to North America – Jordie to Los Angeles and me to Toronto – for extended periods following this show, so this may be our last respective Melbourne headline gigs for some time.

Can’t wait, it’s going to be a fun one x

October 2, 2017

My Last Show at the Incredible Caravan Music Club SATURDAY 23RD SEPT

The Caravan Music Club, in Oakleigh in the south east of Melbourne, is closing its doors after years of being, in my opinion, the best live music venue in Australia. Which is incredibly sad. BUT, my buddy Mel Parsons and I get to tread the boards one more time at our show on Saturday 23rd of September, the Melbourne leg of our Across The Ditch tour.

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Tickets are selling fast. Come and celebrate an incredible venue and two songwriters that love it very much!!

Click HERE for tickets.

X Stringzy

 

September 16, 2017