Posted 15 August 2016 by Adz Carter
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There’s three things I love about August: 

1) It’s the end of winter
2) It’s the month of my birthday (and celebrate/commiserate all month), and
3) It’s the beginning of the Passport To Airlie band competition.

Now in its third year in Newcastle, the Passport To Airlie band comp has become something of an institution for Novocastrian music fans, and for the musos competing. Unlike most band comps that offer studio time or similar, Passport To Airlie stands out from the rest, offering all of those battling it out the chance to win amazing cash prizes, as well as a chance to perform at the tropical paradise that is Airlie Beach. The musos are not the only ones to compete for prizes, as $50 bar vouchers are up for grabs, as well as the chance to win a brand new Gretsch guitar!
It’s not just the comp winners who are grinners though, as everyone in attendance always get to see the cream of the crop of rising talent. Yesterday was no exception, as every act reminded me exactly why this is one of my favourite times of the year.

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In Motion got things in motion (and gave me the gave me a chance to start doing bad puns again) opening with the powerful ‘Give’, evoking the same heavy tones as Audioslave and Led Zep style grooves. ‘Redback’ had the momentum and strength of a Mac truck with cut brake cables, and the slightly softer ‘Black And White’ highlighted lead singer/bass player Lachlan Fisher’s beautiful Black Keys-esque/indie rock vocals. During every number (including an Arctic Monkeys cover, and the original ‘Lover’), the band flourished with great guitar solos and wonderful use of the wa wa pedal from Daniel Ennis, as well as powerhouse drums and amazing drum fills, with Jack Davis exhibiting a similar style to Keith Moon (and the same energy too!) The next number proved lead vocalist Fisher was also a dab hand with his instrument, playing chunky bass like ‘Bleach’ era Nirvana, and proving that the entire set (and band) were infectious as f*ck!
In Motion were another exceptional example of a band having a big sound for a three piece, and as always, being the first band on the bill is not always an enviable task, but neither was having to follow these guys.

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In Motion may’ve been the preverbial hard act to follow, but if Gayle O’Neil was even the least bit deterred she certainly wasn’t letting it show. Armed with an acoustic guitar, one hell of a voice and a hell of a lot of spirit, O’Neil opened with The Waifs number ‘Lighthouse’, lending it more country stylings than before, and giving everyone a great taste of what was to come. Originals like ‘Five Hundred and Ninety Days’ had O’Neil perform with the passion of Janis Joplin, with a voice a little reminiscent of Kasey Chambers, only cleaner and clearer (just like Jewel with a Tennessee twang). Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams’ translated extremely well performed solo on an acoustic guitar, as did Nancy Sinatra’s signature song ‘These Boots Were Made For Walking’, and the Creedence classic ‘Proud Mary’. Out of the covers performed though, the standout was the very faithful rendition of Dolly Parton’s iconic ‘Jolene’. As great as the covers were though, it was definitely the originals that gave the entire performance its real pep. ‘Freedom’ was a bouncy song that was surprisingly uplifting giving the subject matter of someone reflecting on a relationship not worth writing home about. It was definitely worth writing a song about though, as O’Neil sure has a knack for storytelling. This was emphasised in the sets closer, ‘Welcome To The Neighbourhood’, an ode to loving music, so how could I not get behind a song like that, or this amazingly talented artist?
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Hunt For Home took off looking like they were hunting for a win, complete with black war paint covering the skin of a couple of the members, making them look like extras in a Mad Max movie, and lead singer Silhouette Woods looking part Nikki Sixx circa 1985, and part Amy Lee from Evanescence. So it was then with some surprise that they would open with ‘Joker and the Thief’ by Wolfmother. This slightly questionable cover choice was then counteracted though with the original ‘Galaxy’, that suited their style (and look) much better. Hunt For Home kept the ball rolling with two more originals, the punk/pop ‘In All Honesty’ (which made the band sound like a heavier version of Rancid with a twist of Killing Heidi), and the next original which evoked the early 90s Seattle sound. Throughout the set of originals and covers, Hunt For Home showed just how unique they are, and how much they can stand apart from other young artists, especially with their interesting take on the Lorde hit ‘Royals’, performed with the emphasise on drum and bass, and almost rap style vocals. The Bryan Adams seminal hit ‘Summer Of ‘69’ was another odd cover choice, but there was a brilliant return to form Nina’s 80s pop classic ’99 Red Balloons’, well and truly putting their own spin on it, and proving to all that Hunt For Home were not just style but substance too.

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Pap & That changed the pace somewhat, and immediately too, with the somber tone of ‘Listen With Your Heart’ altering the atmosphere, and capturing the entire audience in the palm of their hand. The uplifting second original soon displayed the diversity of this three piece band, whose bongos and chimes (played with perfect precision by percussionist Kerry Miller) gave the band a Santana quality, as did the unbelievably amazing guitar work of Nick Raschke, who is now a veteran of the Newcastle music scene, and whose reputation precedes him with good reason. Singer/songwriter Ian Papworth is no slouch though, with his guitar dancing around Rash’s beautifully, and the twin guitars completely complimenting the rich lyrics of each song, producing a sound so fantastic it took me longer than I care to admit to realise that there was no bass. Pap And That’s third original ‘Rocks In My Pocket’ had both a country feel and Simon and Garfunkel leanings, while the cover of  The Kinks classic ‘Sunny Afternoon’ displayed incredible harmonies from Papworth, Raschke, and Miller. By the time the band played ‘Overkill’ by Men At Work, I had definitely become a fan of this band (and I guess it didn’t hurt that ‘Overkill’ is my favourite Men At Work song), but the applause from the crowd revealed that it wasn’t just this reviewer who was entertained by Pap & That.

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Upon seeing that local artist Wesley Edgerton was on the bill, I thought I knew what to expect. Having seen this skilled muso perform in the 2015 Passport To Airlie band comp, I knew everyone was in for a treat, but what I wasn’t prepared for was just how much Wesley (who performs under the moniker “Wesley’s Edge”) had gone from strength to strength.
Opening with a cover of ‘Last Goodbye’, he did Jeff Buckley, and himself proud, as a number of audience members, and at least two of the judges, were singing along with him enthusiastically. His original ‘Time To Shine’ had a very apt title, as well as sounding amazing, like a modern day nu metal/alt rock classic ballad in the tradition of Staind or Puddle Of Mudd. ‘4 Tyler’ was an overwhelmingly poignant song about Wesley’s son, and was so touching that, despite not being a parent myself; I definitely felt it (so I can only imagine the emotions it would’ve stirred up in those with children). 
The standout of the covers was Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’ (done in the tradition of Chris Cornell’s cover), but the absolute highlight was the next original, which saw Wesley make use of his loop station, whose looming presence suggested that it may be used at any moment, but hadn’t been utilised until this point. While solo acoustic artists with a loop station are almost becoming a cliché, and a tad overdone, Wesley had the edge to stand out from the crowd. I hope he can forgive me for that pun, but I think if he keeps up this level of entertainment, he will have to get used to such analogies. The 2015 Passport To Airlie band comp showed that Wesley’s Edge was a talent on the rise, while this performance in 2016 proved him to be a potential star in the making. What a difference a year makes!

This comp proves to be brilliant each and every time, however there is one negative aspect to it, and that is the fact that there can only be one winner. As has been the case with pretty much every single round of every band comp I’ve been involved with, there was very little difference with the points, which is of course a testament to the caliber of artists who were performing. Runners up in Heat One were In Motion, who have now advanced to the Semi Final on the 11th of September, and the winners of Heat One were Pap & That, who now head straight to the Grand Final on the 18th of September. Congratulations to both bands, as well as all the artists performing on the day, who well and truly kicked off the comp with a big bang! Speaking of big, make sure to be at the Stag & Hunter next Sunday from 3pm for another great afternoon of FREE live entertainment! Also, because it’s my birthday the day before and I’m such an egomaniac that I think nothing of extending my celebrations an extra day, I will be having a big afternoon, which means I might be a real rebel and not just drink lemon squash... So come along and do your part to support live music, and no matter what your poison, any drink (or food purchase) will see you go into the running to win a $50 bar voucher, and of course, that brand new Gretsch guitar. Wow, and it’s not even YOUR birthday!


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