The curtain rose to reveal 36 seated guitarists from the Blues and Roots Winter School, who were introduced collectively by their tutor and well-known local musician Cal Williams Jr. They performed in four sections playing two songs each that had been written during their tutelage, with enthusiastic audience response.
It was a heartening reminder of the value of developing musical skills and, for one student, the result was receiving a new Yamaha guitar to celebrate his progress. The Winter School tutors – Mary Trees, Chris Finnen and Chris Parkinson (of the Yearlings) – also appeared briefly during this segment, teaming with Chris Finnen to add the performance of a single song, “On the River”.
The originally programmed solo artist Lecia Louise was unable to appear for the commonly encountered reason of COVID-19-related travel restrictions. Stepping in was Liz Stringer, who had the crowd onside immediately with her humorous patter. Playing electric guitar, she introduced the moving and romantic “The Summer They Slept Under the Pines”, a song based around her father’s account of meeting her mother. Her playing was restrained; her strong voice and its measured delivery being the more prominent part of her performance.
Switching to acoustic guitar thereafter, Stringer offered the intense “Waning of the Sun”, about her ancestry, and followed this with “Little Fears, Little Loves”, which she said had been drafted on stage at a small venue when no-one was really listening. The love song “Half-Filled Cup” showed how a gradual shift in pace could have great effect, before “Things That I Know Now” concluded her set with hints of traditional folk music.
And then the main act. The abundant energy of the Gold Coast-based duo Hussy Hicks – actually a four-piece, all-female band for this performance – was evident as they fired up “Get Ready”. Leesa Gentz’s soulful vocals were a perfect match for Julz Parker’s superb skills on guitar. The tight rhythm section comprised Ali Foster (drums) and Tracy Stephens (bass), both showing power and finesse as required.
The lead vocals were mostly Gentz’s domain, her voice at times reminiscent of Deborah Conway and with a similar vibrant stage presence. Parker sings well, too. The tunes were never predictable; one moment laid-back, such as with “Trouble”, and the next very much in your face with a highlight song, “Drummer Boy”.
“Pirate Flag” brimmed with vitality, especially given the intricate fretwork from Parker, and yet the tender aspect of its message kept coming through. The final song, “Texas”, showcased the obvious pleasure and expertise of the band members, with Parker a gem on guitar.
Hussy Hicks is an inventive and talented band that seems to be having fun; a wonderful recipe for an audience. They produced catchy tunes that even included a miked tackle-box as an effective percussion instrument. Their music ranges from plaintive to rocky and is always engaging. Don’t miss the chance to see them next time they’re in town
Hussy Hicks and Liz Stringer performed at the Dunstan Playhouse for one night only as part of the 2021 Adelaide Guitar Festival. Note: this story has been updated since publication to correct an error regarding the names of the Blues and Roots Winter School tutors who performed in the opening segment.
Hussy Hicks will return to SA in October for a show at The Barn @ Wombat Flat near Eudunda.
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.