The Three Handed Beat Bandits

With the sad passing of Neill Duncan on 28 December 2021, Neill’s musical accomplice in The Three Handed Beat Bandits, John Stuart, wanted to ensure that everyone is able to access the duo’s live stream series. A collaboration between Neill, John and Music in the Mountains, this live stream series was very much a labour of love for all involved, involving a lot of laughs, technical hiccups and a celebration of music. What started out as a way of continuing to play music during the first outbreak of COVID-19 in NSW turned into a passion project for the duo and Music in the Mountains, and a way to share the duo’s original music.

All the duo’s live streams will remain on Facebook as well as many of the performances now being uploaded to YouTube. Here are a few key performances:

November 2020

December 2020

January 2021

February 2021

with special guest, James Greening

March 2021

Early April 2021

Late April 2021

with special guest Lloyd Swanton

October 2022

Neill’s last live stream – you are dearly missed our friend!

The Life of Neill Duncan

On 28 December 2021, a friend and a regular fixture at Music in the Mountains gigs, Neill Duncan, passed away. I generally don’t like to share my personal feelings online, however, I suspect there are many of us trying to deal with the loss of our friend and maybe my personal ramblings might resonate. I spent a couple of quiet days away from the world trying to work out how I should be feeling and all I can say is that I am sad. I’m of course sad that I will no longer be able to see Neill at another gig, however, I’m most saddened that a loving and dedicated father won’t get to spend more time with his children. If you’ve never played a gig with Neill, he was always running off as soon as he could to be there with his kids, and those of us behind the music could see how much he loved and adored them.

My personal music journey, when I first started live music at Hotel Blue, involved leaning on the advice and guidance of 4 bands – The Three Handed Beat Bandits (featuring Neill) was one of those bands. I’ve been lucky enough in my life so far not to experience many friends and family passing away, however, the passing of Neill, who I’ve respected and who has helped me on my musical journey has certainly been painful. I’m not saying this as a cry for help – I’m going to be okay . . . I’m saying this for anyone out there who doesn’t know how to feel. It’s okay to be quiet, it’s okay to be teary, and it’s okay to need a little bit of time to work out how you should be feeling. I’m certainly no psychologist, just make sure you talk with someone if you need to. 2021 has been a tough enough year without the loss of another friend, father, husband and bandmate, so if you need a little bit of time on your own, or a bit of time in the company of mates, do so – it’s okay to be a little selfish. Neill won’t be missed – he’s already missed now and I certainly feel that the community is all the poorer for his loss.

To end this on a positive note, however, I’m fortunate that my last memory of Neill was a happy one. Neill, with John Stuart and myself, was doing another Three Handed Beat Bandits live stream in October at Sound Heaven Studios. Neill had bounced back strongly and was recovering from another chemo treatment, and was positively upbeat and happy that he was playing music to a virtual audience. Neill was unusually calm despite a number of technical issues John and myself were dealing with (John and I were very stressed and trying to keep our cool), and Neill was just so happy that his sax was sounding the best it ever had (he had tweaked it to make the bottom end sound even better) and he could play to an audience again. After these live streams, John generally hosts us for dinner where we all sit around as Neill and John make take sarcastic shots at each other over a glass of wine and everyone has a good laugh. This gig, however, Neill ran off as he was itching to get back home to spend some time with his son, Floyd. Despite any emotions, I might feel, I hope that Neill’s children know how much he loved and adored them and I’m so happy that Neill spent another evening with Floyd instead of gas bagging with John and I.

It also brings me such joy that Neill and Naomi married before his passing – Naomi had been such a grounding and warm presence in Neill’s life in the last number of years and it makes me smile to think that Neill passed away painlessly, at home, embraced by his loving wife and children.

Neill my friend, you were a rare breed and you are missed.

Chris (aka Music in the Mountains).

PS: The image used here features James Greening, John Stuart and Neill Duncan. This was a happy day for Neill early in 2021.

Album Review: ‘One Take’ by Blue Sherlock

Music in the Mountains got his hands on a copy of the Blue Sherlock’s first full-length album, ‘One Take’, prior to the album’s release . . . is it good? . . .

Blue Sherlock is a band that absolutely shines live – their ‘Tash Sultana’ approach to live looping and ‘Hozier’ level emotional delivery makes every live performance something unique, complex, special and a real experience that draws you in and doesn’t let go until they are ready to ease up. For acts like this, studio recordings often feel contrived and leave you wishing for something with more energy and the texture of a live room . . . but not ‘One Take’. Blue Sherlock have recorded this so you can listen at home and still FEEL something. But before I dive into the album, it helps to understand the context of this album. 

Blue Sherlock is the partnership of Willem Sherlock Roorda and Jeremy Holland. Blue Sherlock was . . . “Born on Jeremy’s thighs, in a piece of trash Toyota Camry somewhere between Orange and the [Blue] Mountains. A banger was blaring on the radio, his hands were going a million miles an hour on his trousers while Willem yelled a bit and played air guitar. “Hey man, we should jam sometime.” Since then, Willem Sherlock Roorda and Jeremy have been concocting the dirty, delicious, bluesy funk that is Blue Sherlock. Living proof that the Blues is alive, well, and ready to kick your teeth in.”  While this tells a nice little story about how Willem and Jeremy became a duo, Blue Sherlock have not ever been content with just being one thing and staying still. Trying to pin down this act to one genre is a little difficult as both Willem and Jeremy continue to develop as professional musicians and explore their varied musical tastes. Blurring the lines between alternative, indie, blues and sometimes even pop, this duo is better described as producing “luscious vibes and moody textures”, but knowing these guys, by the time you read this review, they might be pushing a different boundary. With looping underpinning both Willem and Jeremy’s performance, their music is all about complex layers, never ending in a crescendo or fading into silence – it’s not about the beginning or the end, it’s more about the journey.

But, this album! It’s mature, emotive and gives all of Willem and Jeremy’s different musical influences a little bit of air time. This album, as it says on the label, was recorded in one-take, which was a smart choice for an act most at home in front of a live audience. In fact, when I was discussing the album with the boys, they told me that they recorded the album in a day, sat in whilst the tracks we’re being mastered and then haven’t listened to it since. For me, this was no surprise. 

Tracks like ‘Alright with me’ and ‘Gentle’ are more subdued and a nod to Willem’s songwriting back before he partnered with Jeremy. They’re not the highlights of this album by any stretch but provide some real balance with the heavier tunes on the album. ’Devil Woman’ and ‘Born Bred Blind’ showcase Blue Sherlock’s bluesy roots, with Willem’s vocals being crisp but almost on the edge of husky. Whilst I appreciate these tracks, I am in the unique position of having seen this band form and develop into the live powerhouse they are now over some years, and it’s unlikely I would rush to tune into these songs again. Of course, I am in a different position to the casual listener and assure you that all these tracks are excellent, complex and adapted specifically for a studio recording and to be listened to with headphones. 

In fact, as someone who has been present for countless live performances of theirs, one of the most surprising elements of this album is how well Willem and Jeremy have tailored their live performances to be listened to and digested digitally. ‘Electric Feel’ has a soft beginning with swirling waves of delicate layers building on top of Jeremy’s understated bass, allowing Willem’s gentle guitar picking to be the real star of this track, really encouraging listening to with good quality headphones or home hifi speakers. In a live setting, this track gets driven harder to overcome audience noise or cover the space, making this recording just something a little bit special. ‘Liar’ similarly gets special treatment with Willem’s vocals being more present than live performances and his guitar echoes more skilfully crafted for the recording. Willem’s vocals on ‘Weather’ also deserves a special mention as his almost poetic delivery over Jeremy holding the blues down made for a unique recording. As someone who hears so much live music, it’s easy to forget how a studio album needs to be produced for its audience, and that audience is streaming tracks through Apple Music and Spotify, and listening through headphones. But if you think that that’s a problem, you’re mistaken.

The most surprising track on this album is ‘Fever’. Now, I’m sure you’ve heard fever about a thousand times and always think that the Peggy Lee classic is a hard act to follow (yes, Peggy’s wasn’t the original version, but it is the version we all remember) and the song really is a ‘chick flick’. Well, Blue Sherlock will challenge you on this point as they turn this often Latin jazz number into a blues stroll, and listening through headphones really forces you to give yourself into the tune. Jeremy’s blues bass anchors this performance and really stretches it out, whereas most performers would rush through this track to punctuate a more frenetic approach to the song. Not Blue Sherlock . . . they sit on the fat beat, holding you there, forcing you wallow in the tune, allowing Willem to take his time through the lyrics. This is very much a refreshing approach to fever and leaves a lasting impression.

When it comes down to it, Blue Sherlock are an emotive duo – their songs always get you in ‘the feels’, and on that topic, my favourite track on the album is ‘Nothing Else’. This 10-minute track isn’t rushing to finish and compels you to close your eyes and give in. The music slowly builds up layers and skilfully plays up every element in the mix as it builds – you won’t hit any lyrics for over 2 minutes, and even then, it’s still building up. There is a real sweetness in the music and lyrics, and Jeremy’s measured bass line complements Willem’s heartfelt words, making this a truly special track. After Blue Sherlock reach a climax in this song, they’re still not done and give you just enough time to come back down, ending on the lines “just the way you are, I like you”, and boy do I like this song. I started this review by saying that Blue Sherlock draws you in and compels you to listen on their terms, and no other track is quite this compelling. Perhaps this song benefits from it’s context as COVID-19 hasn’t been easy for many people, and perhaps this track is that emotional journey some of us need to take right now. This track isn’t the biggest track on the album, it’s just the song that says we are all okay just the way we are. I don’t know about you, but I occasionally need to hear that and Blue Sherlock are just one of those acts who know how to shoot you in the feels.

Now, I might have said that ‘Nothing Else’ was my favourite track, but it’s my suspicion is that ‘Win Lose’ will be the track that more listeners identify with. ‘Win Lose’ is still over 9-minutes long in true Blue Sherlock style and doesn’t deliver any lyrics until the 3.5-minute mark. Once again, this track captivates, compels and takes its sweet time to get there – only when this track is good and ready does it let up. This is a more stripped back number than ‘Nothing Else’ but just as emotionally charged, and it’s more acoustic-style singer-songwriter vibe will be a crowd favourite. Listen to the lyrics and you will easily picture a music video in your head and tears may swell up as you picture the ‘will they, won’t they’ romantic story line. That of course isn’t what Blue Sherlock pictured, but the pacing of the song and more spacious soundscape leave images of 90’s rom-com narratives in my head.

As I had time to process the album in full, and revisit a few tracks, I realise that the real charm of this album is that the listener is able to give each song it’s own meaning. Whilst Blue Sherlock have a story behind each track, they don’t force-feed you their message and instead focus on conveying a feeling, and this is something Willem and Jeremy do very well. As with everything Blue Sherlock, their tunes are more about the journey rather than where they started, or where they are going, and In 2021, this is a message many listeners will resonate with (it certainly resonated with me). In short, find a quiet space, put on some headphones, give yourself some time and be ready to feel something.

Listening Conditions: Premium bluetooth headphones with good soundstage; a dark room; a quiet environment, 100% attention. Listened to & reviewed in one take.

Album Review: ‘This Year’s Modern’ by Gavin Bowles

Blue Mountains rock’n’roller Gavin Bowles released an album during COVID-19 lockdowns and Music in the Mountains has a little listen . . .

Have you ever asked what happens when ‘rock kids’ grow up? If you haven’t pondered this one afternoon with a tinnie in hand, think about Aussie iconic rockers ‘The Living End’ – wonder what they must be doing now? Well, the answer is that they are still rockin’ (and as Gavin will point out – they are still tight to this day!) but if you think back to their punk-rockabilly rock roots, do you really think they are still raging against the machine today . . . of course not! They’ve now got kids and mortgages to worry about and probably prefer a good pinot noir on a Friday evening rather than an all-night bender. Well, I haven’t actually met these rockers, but I’ll assume they’ve grown up and spend their time worrying more about the same mundane issues we all worry about. Now, don’t get me wrong, these guys still put on a killer live show, but I’m also sure they like to put the kids to bed at night when they’re not on tour and aren’t exactly living the ‘rock’n’roll’ lifestyle when it’s their turn to do the school run. But think back to  ‘Prisoner of Society’ . . . .cause I’m a brat . . . and I know everything and I talk back . . . cause I’m not listening to anything you say’. So yes, they’re all grown up . . . so what should they be singing about now. This is where Gavin Bowles attacks his latest record, “This Year’s Modern”.

Gavin is another one of those millennial musicians who became interested in music in the 90s when ‘The Living End’ were in full swing, but unlike many of these musos, Gavin grew up. Now don’t get me wrong, Gavin resembles Elvis Costello with his open shirt, hipster glasses and meticulous hair, but he’s no longer contemplating his ‘Second Solution’ – he’s working a job he doesn’t really like and trying not to make too much noise to infuriate the neighbours, because at the end of the day, he’s got to keep paying the bills and he doesn’t really want to have an argument with Karen next door. This is where Gavin brings you ‘This Year’s Modern’.

Lyrically, this album speaks about all those little frustrations modern day life brings, which could sound a little heavy, but like many millennials wondering how they’re going to get onto the property ladder, Gavin has a sense of humour and shrugs off the dread. Songs like ‘Apartmentality”, “Slave”, “The Daily Grind” and ‘Ships in the Night”, Gavin paint a vivd story using very slick, intelligent and catchy writing. This is thinking man’s rock’n’roll with every track worth taking note of what Gavin is singing.

Musically, there aren’t any monotone or same-same songs on this album; there are ups and downs, and fast tracks and slow tracks, making the record as a whole a real good time with no dead weight to speak of. Its the sort of pacing which makes this an album to listen to from start-to-finish when you’ve got a big drive in front of you, with each song changing pace as the album progresses (which as it turn out is part of the production process when Gavin is recording). Gavin road tests every song in the car when producing to make sure you can head bang whilst stuck in traffic and you can beat the steering wheel whilst rockin’ out. He sharpens every single track to make sure it’s not too long, but has all the essential pieces and really showcases Gavin’s talent as a producer, as well as a performer and musician. It’s also clear Gavin worked at a rockabilly bar whilst writing the album as there is plenty of 50s guitar underpinning this album and tight drumming to keep everything rolling along. There’s even a little bit of sparkle of organ to really add colour to some tracks. Like Gavin’s hair, this album is meticulously crafted without even a hair out of place.

The two tracks that stand-out to me are “Can You Hear Me Calling” and “Modern Rage” and really showcase Gavin’s surprising vocal range. Gavin’s vocal’s are exceptionally well produced and crafted across the entire album, and really make every song a good time that will remind you of classic rock bands (like ‘The Living End’) that were doing their thang in the 90s.

This Year’s Modern is a mature, light-hearted romp that will remind you of classic rock tunes from your past, but grown-up, with no sign of any ‘hipster barista’ feeding you the next fad. This album doesn’t take itself too seriously and is a rockin’ good time, so definitely worth checking out!

Listening Conditions: Premium bluetooth headphones with good soundstage; turned up loud; a noisy van doing 110km/h down the M1 on a 2.5hr drive. Listened to & reviewed in one take.