I remembered the Stiff Gins as a larger band and they were a trio in the early days. But this was their 15th birthday celebration and there are now only two, although they seem to collaborate with others for various recordings and projects. They were at the National Film & Sound Archive and they were to record to an original Edison wax cylinder. It's a project they are undertaking after hearing the one extant recording of Tasmanian Aboriginal language, as songs, by Fanny Cochrane Smith. They do work like that, blending white Australia with indigenous culture. Another project response (Spirit of Things: Sound of Objects) had them in the vaults of the Australian Museum in Sydney, exploring Aboriginal artefacts and writing music in. I think it was Kaleena who'd earlier spoken of an elder who found our presence in rocks and trees and the country we'd passed. In these ways, the artefacts and even the wax cylinder resonated with these connections. It sounded strange to me, but not at all when they likened it to precious objects handed down from family. These, too, have the presence of someone loved and the value of that connection. I could feel that perfectly comfortably. At one other time, we heard a recorded song from the pair against archival film of the foundation of Canberra. The video was of light horsemen and King O'Malley and Billy Hughes and Andrew Fisher and other politicians and Coldstream Guards (!) and some Brit in uniform as the Governor-General of the day and attendant wives in heavy garb and unsmiling kids. Canberra was just open fields with the foundation stone that still sits between Old and New Parliament House. The Gins had sung to this, so giving the long-term occupants of the land a place at this event. It could be an angry expression but it wasn't. These women are open and frequently smiling and their presence was proud and positive and warm. So they sang two songs, one each of their favourites, both originals, one a folky feel by Kaleena about an experience in Edinburgh while on tour, and an uptempo number by Nardi called Morning Star. It was especially in Morning star that I noticed their individual styles: Nardi grooving with guitar, lighter voiced but with rich, bluesy embellishments and Kaleena with a louder voice of substantial power and projection. And with harmonies that merged so well and brought smiles to their faces. Then to end was the wax cylinder recording. Firstly, one run through for practice, then the recording proper. This went well, as these things go. It's not an outcome that thrills with volume or clarity (apparently a hard-wax mould can improve on the sound) but it was interesting to watch and it wasn't digital. So then, out for birthday cake and chatter in the foyer. Nice evening, intimate, and just a touch of their music. I would have liked to have heard more music, but this was more a celebration than a performance, so it was never planned. I liked these two, intimate and open as they are, and what little music we heard was impressive. Must catch them in concert sometime.
The Stiff Gins are Kaleena Briggs and Nardi Simpson and they were interviewed at the National Film and Sound Archive by the Senior Curator of Indigenous Collections, Peter White.