Mention an “Australian folk hero” and most folk will name Ned Kelly but tonight it’s Ernest Aines who gets the accolades. Aines has been hoovering up the superlatives in his native land where his touring portfolio has included the nations F1 Grand Prix and the Tennis Open, one of the Grand Slams, thus reaching beyond the roots cognoscenti. Remarkably he spent 18 years busking in Melbourne which if nothing else makes the international touring well-earned as well as providing various nuggets of experience for songs. This is his first UK tour, and indeed he follows it with a further flurry of Irish gigs before heading back for the Australian festival season. One hopes he picks up the audience size his material deserves.
His debut album ‘Spiral Bound’ is impressive, the lyrics and sound not uninfluenced by Nick Drake, and it received suitable plaudits from AUK. He is quite some guitarist and wrings a lot out of the instrument. The combination of the guitar prowess, the arresting lyrics and the vocal dexterity has tinges of Paul Simon or Jeff Buckley. In a quick chat with Aines between sets he mentions an eclectic array of influences including Doc Watson, Steeleye Span, Robert Johnson, Bert Jansch and Aussie band Silverchair, and one way or another, one can see how he channels them into his own composing and performing.
Opening song ‘So Far’ is a pacy affair, cracking along with its jingling melody – think Black Crowes in their stripped back rootsier moments. He airs his concerns how the various aircon rooms he’s been inhabiting may disrupt his voice and on hearing the ways in which he sings one can appreciate that it needs to be cotton wooled to keep it in prime working order.
He says that ‘River Mouth’ was “the first song I thought was any good” and tells the poignant and curious tale of a man persistently hunting down a fish to catch, sung from the fish’s perspective. This left field thought process is deployed again in ‘Real Boy’ a powerful song that closes the first set, sung from Pinocchio’s perspective of his plight.
‘I Won’t Take Your Honesty Away’ recalls his later teen years when he went along to enjoyable clubs motivated mainly by peer pressure. This is followed by ‘Lady In Waiting’ which he introduces as “the most innocent version of love I know” and the guitar playing has tones of the medieval era in which the song is set. ‘Yellowstone’ is compelling, the ringing acoustic guitar leading into the understated lyrics, his ‘lived in’ voice just perfect for the song. This tour de force was inspired by a David Attenborough documentary which inspired him and it’s the media world’s loss that his attempts to synch the song with one of the TV spinoffs hasn’t yet borne fruit. ‘Seasons’ is another virtuoso guitar song with Aines describing his inner displacement after a relationship has hit the rocks (“were you ever really mine?” – “I don’t know the reasons anymore/I don’t know the seasons anymore”). Lyrically quite sparse it is nevertheless a powerfully sung piece. It serves as his dedication to the fandom of Foy Vance whose support he gained when playing this song to him in a Vancouver bar.
He has spent time teaching guitar to primary school age pupils whose innocent enquiries obliged him to recast his cover of Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’ as ‘Joeldean’. Hugely covered as this has been, his version brings his own style. ‘Ghost Song’ is a luscious highlight from the second set, Aines masterfully weaving the Celtic influences through the guitar playing.
A smooth cover of Jens Kruger fine instrumental ‘Bristol Bay’ closes the show.