In 2005 I was a 20 year old university student excitedly looking forward to seeing Ken Stringfellow play a gig at the Northcote Social Club in Melbourne with my older cousins who had introduced me to The Posies (of which Ken was a leading and founding member), several years earlier.
Fast forward 9 years and I, a 28 (almost 29) year old Victorian public servant was again excitedly looking forward to seeing Ken Stringfellow perform at the Northcote Social Club in Melbourne as he had returned to tour his fourth solo album Danzig in the Moonlight. Seemingly, not a great deal had changed.
But don't be fooled. The world of Ken Stringfellow, the hardest working musician around, is an ever changing, progressing and moving blur of musical clarity and precision; something I learnt more about when Ken kindly agreed to chat with me before his first of 2 Melbourne shows recently.
If you aren't familiar with the work of Ken Stringfellow, please allow me to provide you with some background information to give context to this post. As Ken himself has told me, context and presentation is everything. Ken Stringfellow achieved success in the 90s (1990s that is) with power-pop melodic rock band The Posies. He has played with REM and Big Star among a multitude of other notable musicians. He is a songwriter, performer, producer, mixer, arranger and tour manager. As I said before, he is the hardest working muso around, and by his own admission, it’s just as much about engaging his mind as it is about sourcing income.
It’s not every day that you are given the unique opportunity of watching a musical idol you have revered and admired ever since you were an adolescent, rehearse songs that you have held most dear for just as long. But for me that day came on the 28th of January 2014 when the ever obliging Ken Stringfellow invited me along to have a chat during sound check at the Northcote Social Club.
Walking towards the venue on a sweltering hot Summer day, I spotted a man with black hair and a black blazer rummaging through items in a parked car. There he was, the embodiment of rock n roll. I approached carefully but cheerfully so as not to startle him as he was clearly about to carry equipment into the band room. He greeted me with a kiss on each cheek (that’s the way it’s done he said) and told me to make myself at home while sound check went on. Sweet! If you've never had the chance to be present during sound check, let me say this: It's pretty freakin’ awesome. I sat down unobtrusively so as not to disrupt the organic organisational process. I watched as Ken discussed the logistics of his props. I heard him specify that only one microphone would be required for his duet performance later that night (more on this to come) “for aesthetic reasons.” That's the kind of performer he is - a holistic one, paying attention to every aspect of the musical experience.
Ken was obviously happy to have (finally) returned to Australia and spoke freely about his time spent here. As to why there has been less of a buzz about him visiting our shores than there was in 2005, he was surprisingly insightful. “People forget” he says, “9 years since my last solo tour is a long time.” Ken rarely knocks back an opportunity and is always wont to experiment in “different spheres of the arts” evidenced by his recent venture in composing a musical piece for a film. Of course, the risk with being so busy is that you don’t make it out to Australia for almost a decade and your shows don’t sell like hotcakes. While this may bother those trying to ride the popularity wave, Ken has never been about making headlines, “I don’t work in the music biz. I work in the Ken Stringfellow biz. It’s a whole different biz – I’m my own business” he says. That, I feel should tell you all you need to know about Ken Stringfellow.
The show itself was, as anticipated, an absolute delight. Ken Stringfellow joked. He laughed. He fed us stories. He flirted with us. He seduced us. Not only did Ken play a stellar set just shy of 2 hours, keeping the audience enthralled the whole time, but the 16 or so songs selected, re surfaced versions of him from almost every stage of his musical journey thus far; from poetic gems 'Known Diamond' and 'Any Love (Cassandra et Lune)' to the more emotive tracks like 'Here's To The Future' and 'Lovers Hymn.'
As expected, several tracks from Danzig in the Moonlight were featured of which 'Shittalkers!' and 'Superwise' were personal stand outs. A mesmerising duet performance of 'Doesn't It Remind You Of Something' with Melbournian singer songwriter Lucy Roleff, sung intimately with a shared microphone, as earlier alluded to, left a note of enchantment in the air while guests the Wellingtons assisted in the signaling of a definite shift in the level of excitement with old time classic 'Solar Sister.'
The assembled crowd was quiet and respectful because that's what Ken's music dictates. Support acts Chris Stamey and Skylar Gudasz were perfect accompaniments and talented musicians also worth listening to. The admiration in the room was clear allowing Ken to sing several tracks without a microphone; a stillness filling the air as the raw emotion from his voice enveloped the space like a warm hug.
To surmise, Ken Stringfellow told me with a wisdom that only comes from over 30 years in the music scene, "it's better to have your reputation proceed you." The thing about Ken is that, no matter whether his reputation precedes or proceeds him, he is truly an artist who is all about the music and the experience of making and sharing it with others and that warrants a nod of approval whether you personally buy what he's about or not.
Thanks for visiting Ken and we hope to see you here again before too long.
Love and hugs,