The Green Note was proving, and not for the first time, that its stage is just a little bit bijou – even for a duo. If that duo has several guitars, a drum kit and a ragtime washboard then that’s a lot that needs packing into a small space. The plus side to this, and what keeps people coming back time and again, is that the rest of the venue is to scale – meaning that you’re virtually on stage with Hat Fitz and Cara. Intimate isn’t up close and personal enough of an adjective.
With a new album – the excellent After the Rain – to promote this evening could have been virtually all new songs, but there were plenty of choice cuts from previous song collections Do Tell and Wiley Ways. Hat Fitz kicked off with his song about the breakup of his previous marriage – Play Something New is a country blues that takes a hard look at his behaviour and admits it was certainly lacking in places. Takes a big man to admit he was wrong. Tami Lee skirts the same border – a reflection on being away in Paris on his daughter’s birthday and wondering if it’s enough to be “your pen-pal daddy”. It’s not all introspection – Eliza Blue, with a deep and soulful vocal from Cara, tells the story of forced emigration to Australia, as well as being a nod to the poet Frank MacNamara. They also include their own takes on some of the pre-war blues that have so entranced them: Nobody’s Fault But Mine is instantly recognisable but also reflects the pair’s strengths of musicality and killer vocals. Hat Fitz came across Bo Carter through a record he picked up whilst touring outback sheep shearing stations with an “entertainment package” that included his father’s band. It was the LP cover that attracted him – he had nothing to play it on until he got home again – but from the lively rendition of Twist It, Baby it’s easy to see why he was attracted to this low down and salacious blues. It’s a powerful package of joyfully delivered single-entendres.
Between them Hat Fitz and Cara can make a huge sound, and they have several songs which showcase this talent. With Hat Fitz on battered electric guitar, Cara drumming fit to bust, and both competing for dominant vocals songs like Try and Power do their utmost to raise the roof. The stories behind the songs and Hat Fitz’s backstory in particular of a hard lived musical life in Queensland, are both fascinating and hilarious. There are plenty of self-deprecating digs as well which tend to enforce Aussie stereotypes – the pair live, naturally enough, fifteen minutes from the deadliest place on the planet due to the prevalence of snakes, spiders and other creatures kitted out with a deadlier than necessary sting.
The newer material certainly shows a bit more polish, casting out the net to touch on the political and the reflective but there’s no lack across the evening of the rough and ready – Hat Fitz, like all interesting guitarists, plays just the way you’re never taught to, mixing up picking, shredding and slide. Sometimes in the same song. Cara’s as likely to be found dancing through the crowd playing whistle as performing a high speed washboard and bells routine. There’s barely a pause for breath. Those who enjoy CW Stoneking or Seasick Steve will find fellow travellers in the company of Hat Fitz and Cara – who are continuing their UK and European tour through May.