By Mae Anthony
One of the charming intricacies of the Ellington’s overall finesse is its ability to bring a variety of musical flavours out in a seemingly similar served platter of a refined genre. It does not surprise me that they would take the opportunity to snatch up the ineffable Grace Knight – who is embarking on a small tour to accompany her latest album release – because they value delivering expert players and creating musical performances that outline the praxis of a good musical experience.
Grace Knight (Melbourne) is one of Australia’s finest singers. Throughout the 80s she was the mainstay member of Australian indie pop band The Eurogliders, who formed here in Perth. After singing on the soundtrack for T.V. series Come in Spinner with acclaimed Jazz singer Vince Jones (who sang half of the tracks on that soundtrack, collaborated with Knight, and graced Perth audiences with his presence at the Ellington early last month) and launched a career as a Jazz singer with her ARIA award-nominated debut release of Stormy Weather (1991) that is still a favourite amongst her fans and Australian audiences.
I was not prepared to see Knight deliver the widespread variety of distinct talent and mature, ageless vocal style and emotional sensibility that she is well known for with such a carefree and wild transmission. Her stage persona has been described as a “Manic Ballerina”. I like to think her on stage is what Janis Joplin would have been like had she lived past the age of twenty seven and abandoned the drug habit that made her at times physically incoherent: wild hair, sweet nature, and a love of music that transmits through her performance, extinguishing anything trivial such as appearances or misguided costume choices.
Just after the end of the first tune, Knight welcomed the audience and rather unexpectedly reports: “Okay so I fucked up.” Confused as to which gig she was performing that evening, she had had a slight wardrobe malfunction. After discovering that this was a solo gig, and not a Eurogliders gig, she proceeded to explain the seemingly-odd, but still workable appearance of a bright red shirt with a yellow star on it underneath a cream-coloured suit. It was a confusing note to begin on, but nevertheless it made for delightful humour and amusing banter between the band members. Her self-effacing stage presence, and the fact that she was honest enough to share the story and laugh at herself, was so perfectly fitting to the completely genuine atmosphere of her performance.
Her latest release, Fragile, features bluesy, folk, Celtic-inspired tunes, many of which she performed. She and her long time Eurogliders collaborator Bernie Shaw (Perth) joined her and Sam Lemann (Melbourne) with local jazz session superstars Karl Florisson (Perth) on bass, and Ben Vanderwal (Perth) on drums. It’s a show that exemplified a change of direction for Knight who has returned to where she first started: the folk, indie, pop roots of her Euroglider days, with blues inflections to add. Her voice is still nothing short of incredible, with her characteristic Jazz and Blues inflections and vocal style – this is a singer not to be missed or unheard. She enlightens the small nuances of the vocal line and can captivate an audience with a charm and passion that is not only impossible to detest, but that is done with such a natural smoothness and clarity that it is almost chilling.
This is just a second nature – a soulful reflex for her. Knight’s performances are humble, and the intimacy of her recent song choices and humorous stage presence are indicative of the very fact.
Grace Knight is due to play another set at the Ellington on Saturday August 13. Go to their website for more details and to book tickets (they’re almost sold out!)