Byron Bay Bluesfest 2024, New South Wales, Australia, March 28 - April 1, 2024 | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Saturday, June 15th, 2024  

Tom Jones

Tom Jones, Elvis Costello, Jimmy Barnes, Little Quirks

Byron Bay Bluesfest 2024, New South Wales, Australia, March 28 - April 1, 2024,

Apr 08, 2024 Photography by Celine Teo-Blockey Web Exclusive
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A bill heavy with the likes of legacy acts such as Elvis Costello, Rickie Lee Jones, Australian icon Jimmy Barnes (freshly recovered from open-heart surgery that he underwent last Christmas) and octogenarians Tom Jones and Taj Mahal did not mean that fans after fresh names were disappointed at 2024’s installment of Bluesfest. Fourteen-year old blues prodigy Taj Farrant, 17 year old singer/songwriter/producer Ben Swissa, family quintet Little Quirks and rising psychedelic band Velvet Trip held their own at the popular, five day event (28 March to 1 April) which celebrates its 35th anniversary this year.

Surfer-musician and eco-warrior, Jack Johnson who first appeared at Bluesfest as a virtual unknown in 2001 returned this time for an exclusive, one-night only show in Australia. A regular on the Bluesfest bill, he packed out Day 2 at Crossroads, the largest stage at the festival, with ease. The tent spilled out with fans singing along to his dulcet tones and the familiar guitar strums of “Sitting, Waiting, Wishing,” the mashup of “Flake” with “In The Summertime” and “Upside Down” — a mood that jived well with Byron Bay’s easy, coastal vibe. Mid-tier highlights included PJ Morton, Meshell Ndegeocello and a host of other recurring Bluesfest favorites — Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals, Tedeschi Trucks Band and the Australian country-soul of The Teskey Brothers.

PJ Morton
PJ Morton

There weren’t as many indie acts on offer as previous years - 2023’s bill with Beck, Gang of Youths, Paolo Nutini and Frank Turner among others, seemed like an embarrassment of riches comparatively. But it felt like nothing short of a triumph that Bluesfest 2024 went ahead when only three days earlier, Splendour In The Grass, one of Australia’s premiere music festivals which also takes place in Byron Bay, announced that it was cancelling its 3-day, camping festival only two weeks after announcing its full lineup. It’s July spectacle was to include headliners Kylie Minogue and Future as well as a veritable feast of indie acts from Fontaines D.C., to Turnstile, The Kills, Lizzy McAlpine and The Last Dinner Party

This news was on the heels of Groovin The Moo, Falls Festival and others that had cancelled their 2024 installments. According to a Billboard report: “The Australian music festival industry is currently facing a crisis,” said Mitch Wilson, Managing Director of Australian Festival Association, “…the costs for staging a festival are up 30-40% across the board, affordable insurance is difficult to obtain, margins are tight.” Wilson has called for the Australian government to help through this period and assist in stabilizing the industry. This sentiment was reiterated by Peter Noble, the Managing Director of Bluesfest, ahead of the festival’s opening.

The visitor numbers at Bluesfest this year were reportedly similar to 2023’s turnout. Indeed, onsite the food stands and beer gardens did brisk trade and as always there was a multi-generational mix to the visitors (from toddlers to grandparents) in a way that the younger, mostly millenial-skewed festivals aren’t. It’s not unusual for Bluesfest regulars to purchase tickets for the coming year even before the headliners are announced. Unlike, Splendour In The Grass where young people contending with the cost of living crisis might weigh up long and hard, if they can afford to drop several hundred dollars of their hard-earned cash as soon as the festival bill is announced.

Festival-goers that made it to Bluesfest, regardless of their age, made the most of the bands on offer from the daily sets by wacky, Austin jazz-funk band, Here Comes The Mummies - the word had spread after the first day that theirs was not a show to be missed; reluctant Aussie star Matt Corby who delivered a rousing and heartfelt performance; to the impossibly cool Tex Perkins, a sort of Nick Cave-rock varietal, playing hits from The Honeymoon Is Over, his album with his 90s band The Cruel Sea. In the end, Elvis Costello—whose two headlining sets were long-awaited after his cancellation last year—delivered a less than perfect Friday performance as his voice struggled to find the right key on certain songs and he left out favorites such as “Veronica” and “Oliver’s Army.”

The Cruel Sea
The Cruel Sea


But here are the Top 5, near-flawless acts that we did see.

1.Tom Jones

After a slight delay in the crowded Crossroads tent, the 83-year-old Welsh legend ambled slowly across the stage and onto a stool before quietly delivering the poignant “I’m Getting Old,” off his most recent studio album, Surrounded By Time—which featured re-imagined covers of songs by Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and others. “I’m growing dimmer in the eye” he sang poignantly as the singular piano accompanied him, “I’m growing fainter in my talk…I’m growing slow in my walk…I’m growing, yes, I’m growing old.” The song was first presented to him by jazz composer Bobby Cole when Jones was in his 30s and he’d kept it all these years, delivering it pitch-perfect tonight, with every sentiment more resonant than the next, especially when he sings of the wife he misses.

This tender and vulnerable moment was followed by a Dylan cover before finally giving way to the cheekier Tom Jones — the one with the towering vocals that have not lost its bombast or restraint. After informing us that Surrounded By Time, was a No 1 album in Great Britain, “I’m officially the oldest artist to have a No 1 album,” he grinned, Jones then took us on a walk down memory lane beginning with his first US No. 1, 1964’s “It’s Not Unusual” followed by “What’s New Pussycat.”

Tom Jones
Tom Jones

There’s a way that he can ham things up with a twinkle in his eye or a slow but suggestive swing of his hips, and still be as commanding as when he was in his Las Vegas-era of low-cut jumpsuits. And the audience seem to revel in singing along to all these hits including “Sex bomb, sex bomb, you’re my sex bomb.”

Suitably warmed up, he then invited the Blind Boys of Alabama—who walked on in a straight line, each one leading the next to their mics, before they sang together on “Run On” and “Didn’t It Rain” — hits off Jones’ rootsy, 2010 Gospel album, Praise & Blame. Never missing a beat, he took on “Green, Green Grass of Home,” “Delilah” and “Leave Your Hat On” with gusto, before ending the set with Prince’s “Kiss” to a rousing applause.

Tom Jones with the Blind Boys of Alabama
Tom Jones with the Blind Boys of Alabama

Remarkably the lights did not dim and eagle-eyed fans realized that he would be coming out for an encore. Jones’ returned with a quiet-burner “One Hell Of A Life,”—a stirring treatise to not shed a tear when he’s gone because he’s “had one hell of a life.” It’s the kind of meditation, we might have hoped that all our best and favorite stars who have departed too soon from Elvis Presley to John Lennon would have the opportunity to sing.

Attuned to the times, he followed with “Strange Things Happening Every Day” by until recently, forgotten Black, Female rocker, Sister Rosetta Sharpe. Of course, he ended with a wonderful anecdote that when Elvis Presley and him were doing shows in Las Vegas, they went to see Chuck Berry together. “Elvis said to me,’ Jones said with a smile, ‘now there’s the real King of rock n’ roll!“ before launching into his final song “Johnny B. Goode.” As a parting short he thanked the audience, saying that he was last at Bluesfest 8 years ago and he hoped it wouldn’t be another eight before he was back again. I second that!


2.Peter Garrett & The Alter Egos

Midnight Oil frontman, activist and green politician, Peter Garrett, rocked the stage with The Alter Egos, his latest band and it included his two daughters on vocals. Having recently released The True North, his second solo album under that moniker, most of the songs performed were new and unfamiliar but his voice, verve and charisma proved unmistakable.

There was also no hiding his unwavering true north, a throughline from back in his days with the Midnight Oil. The title track, written when he was in the far north of Australia (Kakadu and Cape York) and amongst First Nations communities caring for country, he sang Bowie-like of this Herculean task to protect Australian land and waterways in the face of ever-encroaching corporate interests.

Peter Garrett
Peter Garrett

“Innocence Parts 1 and 2,” was a satisfying 7-minute opus that made mention of many pressing climate issues and that “there’s always someone selling fake joy,” but in its second half, Garrett used spoken word to tout not despair but insisted “that it’s not too late…never too late,” when it comes to bringing about change. A cellist joined his band on stage here and Garrett’s distinct baritone was nicely juxtaposed by his daughters’ airy vocal harmonies.

“Paddo” was another spoken word piece and when he mentioned “bust in the land of pretend plenty,” a recurring theme of how Australia had failed to protect its land from short term capitalist’s gains, felt resonant of the bigger issue happening around the globe in this holocene epoch.

Earlier in the night, Garrett had talked about the shirt he was wearing, that had been recently returned to him after more than 30 years, from a fan in San Francisco who had stolen it then from a Bay Area punk club. It bears remembering that by the time the Midnight Oil was played on MTV and college radio in the US, their album Diesel & Dust— their most commercially successful—had come 10 years after their debut and endlous touring in the US. His set ended on a resounding high, giving fans young and old Midnight Oil’s most well-loved hits “Beds Are Burning” and “The Dead Heart.”


3.Jimmy Barnes

No shortage of Von Trapp families here, Australian stalwart Jimmy Barnes appeared on stage with a massive band and his three daughters on vocals. His eldest, Mahalia, who appears to have inherited not only her father’s vocal textures, but also its rawness and sheer power, sat closest to him onstage. She took over several of her father’s shows when he was rushed to the hospital last Christmas for his second open-heart surgery after surviving his first in 2007.

Jimmy Barnes & Mahalia
Jimmy Barnes & Mahalia

Opening strong with “Working Class Man,” a massive Aussie hit from his old band, Cold Chisel, Barnes’ ear-shattering vocals showed no hint that he’d undergone major surgery only three months earlier. Everyone in the audience sang along, some with tears in their eyes—no doubt from their own nostalgia and the poignant reminder that rock stars are mortals too.

Barnes is akin to an Australian Bruce Springsteen, his peers were Nick Cave’s band The Birthday Party and INXS. He sang a duet with Michael Hutchence in 1987 that was featured in The Lost Boys movie soundtrack. But Barnes’ music never made it big beyond local shores (in the US, he was a popular meme briefly in 2018 when Kirin J Calinan released “Big Enough” featuring Barnes’ yell, alongside Alex Cameron) and while his brand of Aussie rock might have been too ocker for most, over the decades he has become somewhat of a cool, elder statesmen of rock here.

Having had a successful solo career after Cold Chisel parted ways in 1983, Barnes invited several of his collaborators since, onstage—from Tommy Emmanuel to Bernard Fanning. Josh Teskey from the Teskey Brothers, doing a duet of The Band’s “The Weight” was a huge highlight, pleasing the already elated audience to no end. “How do we top that?” Barnes then said, before bringing out his Cold Chisel bandmate, Ian Moss, to pandemonium! They then embarked on their much-missed band’s greatest hits from “When The War Is Over” to the glory days-feel of “Flame Trees,” coming back for an encore with the tale of a Vietnam War veteran struggling to settle back home—an Aussie classic “Khe Sanh.” Not a dry eye was left in the house.

Jimmy Barnes & Josh Teskey
Jimmy Barnes & Josh Teskey


4.Little Quirks

Little Quirks are a family band from the Central Coast made up of sisters Abbey (vocals) and Mia Toole (drums), their cousins Jaymi (mandolin, vocals) and Alex Toole (bass), and other cousin Jordan Rouse (lead guitar). The quintet bounded onstage—the two lead vocalist with glitter eyeshadow, one in a fetching ‘70s batwing jumpsuit—and sang a lively mix of indie folk with shades of The Lumineers and the raucous energy of early Mumford & Sons records. But they pull from all genres, online, you’ll find their covers of Olivia Rodrigo’s “Can’t Catch Me Now,” ABBA’s “SOS” and “Dream” by the Cranberries.

There’s a certain warble to Abbey’s vocals that lent itself beautifully to their songs “Storm Like Me” and “The Rain,” as well as their cover of “Zombie” particularly given the supporting familial harmonies.

Little Quirks
Little Quirks

Jaymi’s lead on the ballad “Someone To Hold” was equally mesmerizing. They announced that they had a new single coming out and proceeded to sing “Reverie” — an ‘80’s tinged pop-rock sound.

The piece de resistance was their cover of Tommy James & The Shondells 1968 hit, “Crimson & Clover.” The song’s inherent structure provided the perfect balance between a measured calmness and spritely freak-out that not only showcased each member’s individual artistry but also their sum as a whole.

Little Quirks
Little Quirks

5.Velvet Trip

A psych band in the mould of Tame Impala or Pond, Sydney-based Velvet Trip is ordinarily the project of singer Zeppelin Hamilton and drummer Clayton Allen, but here they were a tight crew of five. Hamilton, in a sparkly jumpsuit with long flowy locks replete with a faraway look on his countenance, felt straight out of a ’70s psychedelic vinyl cover pulled out of a dusty crate. Standing still with a guitar in hand, his falsetto soared steadily as he sang “Get You Off My Mind,” a mood-altering single from their freshly minted debut album, Harmony Blooms.

Having played half of a set with Australian alt-rocker Dan Sultan prior, Hamilton had hot-tailed it from the Delta Stage, located on the other end of the festival grounds to play his own set on the Jambalaya Stage. “Yesterday, I was soaked because of rain,” he said, “today from sweat.” Indeed the weather swung from thunderstorms causing the camping fields to turn to mud the previous night, but by Saturday morning, the sun was ablaze for a scorcher. If he felt any kind of heat, it was not obvious to us as he seemed in possession of an inscrutable cool that heightened his allure on stage.

Velvet Trip
Velvet Trip

After thanking a fan called Andy who posted a cover of their song “Moving On,” Hamilton and the band launched into the dreamy, psychedelia-tinged number. But if you thought they were a one-trick pony, they delivered “Honest I Do” - an airy, sixties-styled torch song, with a hints of R&B, and a do wop chorus complete with snaps and handclaps.

“I grew up coming to Bluesfest,” said Hamilton, whose family are from Byron Bay. “I would stand side of stage. And my family is here today. My nephew’s here,” he said pointing to the audience stagefront. He waxed lyrical about his love for the Blues and how eager he was to catch bluesman Taj Mahal’s set, before they played “Hurricane,” a blues and honky-tonk number that teased out a Jimmy Morrison swagger in the frontman. To further highlight their deft showmanship, they segued nicely to a cacophonous wall of noize while Hamilton played the guitar with his teeth—but at each point, no amount of distortion or crackly reverb could sway their enthralled audience away. The bass-led “Harmony Blooms” followed, with “Silly Boy” then veering left again, this time to airy, electro-pop.

Velvet Trip
Velvet Trip

Although nascent, Velvet Trip offered an expansive, psych-pop range of sound and were easily one of the most exciting new acts to come out of Bluesfest 2024.

Tickets for the 2025 edition are on sale NOW




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