Karen Dunbar was lucky enough to be in Dublin the same time as critically acclaimed Australian folk duo Angus and Julia Stone, and she brings her perspective of the spectacle that unfolded.
Hailing from Newport on the Northern Beaches of Australia, Angus and Julia Stone are a brother-sister folk meets blues duo who’ve been thriving in the music industry over the last few years. Following the release of their 2010 album, Down the Way, they have embarked on a lengthy tour which included a few Irish dates, namely The Button Factory on July 14th.
In the past, I have always found there to be something somewhat creepy and slightly incestuous about brother-sister duos, however these two have completely blown all of my pre-conceived notions right out of the water. I had been a fan for a few months prior to their gig in The Button Factory in Temple Bar, Dublin. Yet it was only when I experienced the unique quality of Julia’s encapsulating stage presence and Angus’ adorably shy yet heartbreakingly cool, easy manner that I realised you don’t find music like this every day.
Between the two, they performed on piano, acoustic and electric guitar, harmonica and trumpet. Their music contains such an honest and vulnerable quality which is extremely endearing, and they effortlessly graced the stage with their enchanting performance as if it was nothing. They both had begun as solo artists, performing at various open mic nights etc, however it was in 2005/2006 that they decided to join forces.
Julia danced onto the stage looking even more beautiful in the flesh, dressed in a timeless white blouse and flowing red skirt, wearing a smile that could melt a heart of stone, while Angus stepped on hidden behind a baggy shirt, hat and what must have been close to 7 inches of beard.
The set list included the traditional favourites such as ‘Mango Tree’, ‘Yellow Brick Road’, and ‘The Boys’, and came back for a surprise ending in which they played the ever popular ‘Just a Boy’. I have not come across this type of good, wholesome music since the era of Peter Paul and Mary and Bob Dylan.
Angus displays qualities of Paul Simon and Damien Rice in his voice, whereas I would compare Julia to the likes of Cocorosie, Joni Mitchell and Lisa Mitchell. It was made obvious that they think very highly of one another, and their musical chemistry is out of this world. Julia danced around the stage while Angus almost breathed out the gentle but beautiful numbers such as ‘Bella’.
The performance was very honest and genuine. Julia often told quirky little stories behind the songs, and about their childhood which was adorable. Julia also performed several songs on her own, which gave her a chance to really show off her voice. I thought she was much more powerful performing live, and the strength of her voice took me by surprise.
It was haunting and absolutely stunning; in particular when she performed her version of ‘You’re the One that I Want’, from the Musical Grease. There is a quality in Julia’s voice which is quite vulnerable and almost childlike, which I found very intriguing. It has been suggested by critics in the past that Angus ought to ditch Julia and go solo, as he has far more potential without her. I have to say I completely disagree.
Although both of them are incredibly talented as individuals, when they come together something magical happens. Julia stated that they generally write separately, then come together to arrange the songs for the band. However they did perform one song they co-wrote for a fundraiser on a community radio station called ‘Camp Fire Song’. It included snippets from The Fast Food Rockers’ Fast Food Song, “McDonalds, McDonalds, Kentucky fried chicken and a Pizza Hut”, which was hilarious.
They created the most amazing atmosphere I have ever experienced at a gig. The crowd remained absolutely silent throughout every song, followed by echoes of hoots, cheers and requests. They disappeared backstage towards the end, leaving us thinking they were finished, but then they returned with one last number, which of course was ‘Just a Boy’.
I was left dazzled by the performance for days afterwards. It made me realise that this kind of traditional folk music still exists today; only it’s even more exciting. I was completely spell bound by everything about them – their presence, their look, and their adorably innocent and catchy folk meets blues hits.
Between Down the Way, and their 2007 album A Book like This, it is impossible to find a bad song, or one which I didn’t like, which is quite rare really. I am counting down the days until the pair returns to Ireland, and I would highly recommend keeping an eye out for them and swiftly downloading both albums from iTunes now if not sooner. If they’re your cup of tea of course.