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About Us - bios and reviews

On this page you will find our bios as well as heaps of reviews of our music and performances. If you are looking for press-ready photos to go with all of these words, have a look at our press&tech page.

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Cloudstreet - hot harmonies & beautiful ballads. Cloudstreet present high-quality concert performances of new Australian folk music. Incorporating traditional and contemporary influences from England, Ireland and Australia, their music is engaging, exciting and fun. Cloudstreet's trademark is their innovative use of two-part vocal harmony, supported by driving guitar, soaring wooden flute along with concertina and percussion.

Cloudstreet will draw you into the stories behind the songs, lifting your spirits with laughter, delighting you with their musicality and sharing with you their passion for the great songs of the Australian tradition.

(A "cloudstreet" is a row of thermals marked by cumullus clouds. When gliders fly from thermal to thermal by following the clouds, they "fly the cloudstreet", staying aloft for miles.)

 

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bios | reviews

Cloudstreet sweep aside musical boundaries and sing! They take traditional folk song, shake it vigorously, add exquisite harmonies and a mountain of fun to produce heart-lifting shows that excite, entertain and delight. Cloudstreet's Nicole Murray and John Thompson perform New Australian folk music, a combination of Anglo-Celtic and Australian traditional songs and tunes, coupled with trad-styled original songs. Their repertoire represents the many influences from around the world that have been blended to produce Australian folk music. Cloudstreet's music is acoustically-based, with roots in the English, Australian and Irish traditions, with an emphasis on innovative use of vocal harmonies and instrumental arrangements to incorporate contemporary performance values into an ancient musical form. In concert, they deliver a powerful and moving musical experience, whether to dozens or thousands, They have gained a strong following in Australia and the United Kingdom as one of the most exciting and entertaining acts on the contemporary folk scene.

While Cloudstreet’s style is traditional, they present a lively and entertaining acoustic act which appeals to a wide range of people and ages. Their ancient ballads and traditional songs are made spellbinding by their daring and sublime vocal harmonies, which create the impression of a ‘third voice’. The songs they perform are like chapters from fairytales; some dark and foreboding, some strange and funny and all performed with consummate skill, grace and passion. They tell the stories of Australia's past and present, as well as drawing on the English and irish traditions which have fed the Australian folk music repertoire.

Keeping an ancient storytelling tradition alive, Cloudstreet reminds us that love, betrayal, deceit, loss and laughter are universal aspects of the human story. They combine these ancient tales of wonder with the magic of beautifully produced music, drawing a new generation into the timeless world of musical tradition.

Cloudstreet has been in existence since 1999. The duo is regarded as Australia’s foremost exponent of Anglo-Celtic-Australian ballad singing and crosses over into a number of genres involving acoustic music, harmony singing, traditional & contemporary folk.

Since turning professional in 2003, Cloudstreet has continued to build on its strong profile in Australia as a main concert act and festival headliner and sought to develop on this success through building an international market for its music in UK. Consequently Cloudstreet has undertaken five tours to the UK since 2003, developing a strong following among festival and folk-club audiences across the country.

Back home, Cloudstreet has performed at all of the major Australian folk and acoustic festivals and regularly tours nationally each year through the acoustic festival and club circuit. Festivals performed at include the Port Fairy Folk Festival, Woodford Folk Festival the National Folk Festival in Canberra.

Cloudstreet has released six CDs, the most recent incorporating live recordings of performances at Brisbane's Judith Wright Centre in 2007. Cloudstreet are currently recording their sixth album, due for release in August, 2009.

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Nicole Murray | John Thompson

 

 

 

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Nicole Murray

Nicole is a full time musician and visual artist. Her long musical and performing career has seen her in many different bands and ensembles in Townsville, Melbourne and Brisbane, ranging from the exacting combination of vocal and instrumental music which is Cloudstreet, to pantomime and celtic concerts with Baldrick and the Cunning Plans, anything from celtic to country with The Pirate Brides, acapella harmonies with the award-winning Gritty Pearls, and Drunk on the Moon; and irish pub rock with Rockin' Molly and Hot Toddy. A multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, she has concentrated on trad music, harmony work and songwriting. She has run a festival choir in Townsville, taught a group of over-50s to play tin whistle (for which they gave her rave reviews), and participated in a Bulgarian choir for the Brisbane Festival.

Nicole plays flute, tin whistle and guitar and violin, and is an accomplished writer of songs and flute tunes.

Nicole's musical journey started in Melbourne. As a child, she remembers being alarmed by the highland piper playing in the New Year with Scotland the Brave in her grandparents' house. At four, she moved with her family to Townsville, where her early days at school brought a more structured introduction to music. She performed in amateur theatre productions and was introduced to Irish whistle and tunes.

Encountering the music of the seminal Bushwackers at school, she soon discovered the influences of Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention. With friends in Townsville she performed with the popular local band, Rock Wallaby.

Moving back to Melbourne to study art led her to the famous Normandy Hotel sessions in Clifton Hill. Flung into the world of the all-night kitchen session, she was inspired by the marvellous players of the Melbourne folk scene.

Nicole returned to Townsville in 1994. There she was a founding member of the Yabby Pump Quintet, the a-capella disco trio (yes, really!) Echolalia and what was to become one of the North's longest surviving bands, Rocking Molly. It was in Townsville that she met John Thompson, through the long-running folk club at the Sovereign Hotel.

In 1996, Nicole was invited to Brisbane to join Hot Toddy, a folk-rock six-piece in residence at Dooley's. With characteristic enthusiasm she also threw herself into the Brisbane music world and several groups evolved, including Drunk on the Moon, with a growing emphasis on vocal work..

Baldrick and the Cunning Plans (a band so cunning you could pin a tail on it and call it a weasel) became one of her enduring projects. Ranging from a three-piece to an eight-piece, and working as a concert band, pantomime troupe, and irish session crowd, Baldrick has featured at both the National and Woodford festivals in recent years.

In 1997, John Thompson moved to Brisbane and Nicole and John began to share their music in the duo which became Cloudstreet.

As well as regular festival appearances with Cloudstreet, Nicole has sung at the Brisbane Festival 2000 in Legs on the Wall's production of Homeland, as part of the Bulgarian choir, with Mara! World Music Ensemble. More recently, she has developed a schools music program with a female acapella trio called The Gritty Pearls, exploring world music styles, and performed with country/swing/folk fusion trio, The Pirate Brides. Nicole's song The Wooden Spoon was nominated for a Q Music Award in 2007.

 

 

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John Thompson

John's earliest musical memories are of sing-alongs around the family piano in the Brisbane suburb of Moorooka. As a result, a disturbing number of music-hall favourites formed his early repertoire.

In 1975, John joined the St. Stephen's Cathedral Boys' Choir in Brisbane. Singing with them for over six years, he developed a love of harmony singing and unaccompanied vocals. After leaving both the choir and school in 1981, John's life was relatively music-free until he walked into the New Exchange Hotel one Saturday afternoon in 1983 to find a traditional folk session in full swing. He stayed on and has maintained his involvement in Brisbane sessions ever since.

John's next musical move was into busking, with the madness of Contraband in the Queen Street Mall. Away from the street, John joined a second group, which quickly evolved into No Right Turn. Their tight harmonies and political punch made them a mainstays of the Brisbane folk scene. After No Right Turn, John was a founding member of One Step Forward, developing his trademark harmonies with Maree Robertson and Ann Bermingham.

In 1992, John's work as a barrister took him to Townsville where he launched himself into the local folk scene. One Step Forward continued to perform at festivals around Australia and in 1994 played at the National Folk Festival in Canberra. John's unique vocal style and strength earned him the inaugural Lis Johnson Award for vocal excellence.

As well as singing with cloudstreet, John performs as a debater, master of ceremonies, singer, songwriter, parodist, and all-round nice guy. He was one of the judges at the inaugural cludge-mollying competition at the Brisbane Medieval Fayre in 2005. He plays guitar, English concertina and whistle. His remarkable vocal range provides some enthralling listening in cloudstreet's arrangements.

His musical influences to date include the Tallis Singers, the Dead Kennedys and hearing the drunk guy sing, "Show Me the Way to Go Home" as he staggered up the street outside John's boyhood home.

Since 2003, John has pursued music as his full-time occupation.


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reviews

 

"Stonking magic!!"
(Pat from Llantrisant Folk Club, June 2006)

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"One of the highlights of the weekend and I would recommend to any festival to book them."
(Ken Bradburn, Brampton Live)

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The absolute standouts (at the festival) were cloudstreet. The vocal duo of Nicole Murray and John Thompson are touted as the world’s best harmony singers. And I could clearly see why. … John and Nicole sang divinely as one: in perfect harmony. There is an exalted place for cloudstreet in folk heaven once they do their final concert here. (Trad & Now, July 2006).

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"…a delightful duo who not only inspire one another but put an indelible smile on the faces of their audiences. Strong harmonies, side-splitting stories and ballads brought to life in a way we hadn't seen before. Heartily recommended."
(Nancy Kerr and James Fagan)

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"Their individual voices are splendid, their harmonies sublime, their arrangements superb, their material stupendous, their repartee scintillating, the overall effect stunning!!"
(Margaret Walters)

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"With stunning harmony singing, and magical arrangements John and Nicole demonstrate energy, dynamism and the sheer joy of performing together before an audience. Singing acapella or supported by instrumentation of guitars, flutes, whistles and percussion their emphasis is on songs with a traditional feel which awaken strong emotional responses."
(Greg Watson - The Tablelands Folk Festival)

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"Exciting, polished, and professional these folks have really impressed us (and we are not easily pleased). The cross section of material is perfect, traditional to new written and the voices and harmonies are wonderful and laced with skilful musicianship that works well for big stage or small clubroom.

On top off all that, they are damn nice people!

Book 'em .you won't be disappointed."
(Dave Webber & Anni Fentiman)

 

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"CLOUDSTREET: Nicole Murray and John Thomson came, sang and conquered with twinkling smiles in their eyes and lots of ambitious music in their hearts. I have loads of respect for Cloudstreet; both of these Australians have luscious, superb voices, so beautifully controlled at the drop of a hat – but when they mean business, those magnificent voices soar and swell and fly away. That’s not clapping you hear, but the collective sound of jaws dropping. Nicole plays a neat flute and John’s no mean guitarist, but the most satisfying and pleasing aspect is that both are such thoroughly nice people. Not only that, but Cloudstreet keep the crowd very, very happy with good deal of imaginative, well-thought-out and original takes on well-known folk songs. You go to a Cloudstreet gig and it feels as though the clouds have lifted and the sun’s shining again – that’s the effect they have on you!"
(Mick Tems, Cefyddydau Mari Arts, June 2006)

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"The best new act on the English folk scene."

(Derek Droscher, Ride a Cock Horse Folk Club)

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"Cloudstreet's sense of fun, fabulous arrangements and well-matched,gorgeous voices add up to a great night's entertainment. They include atouch of theatricality - without overdoing it - to turn their carefully-chosen material into a performance which totally absorbs theiraudience.

With a bit of everything - tunes, ballads, choruses - they present a balanced and well paced show; and with The Green Man John has contributed what ought to become a folk club standard."
(Hamish Currie - The Tudor Folk Club, January, 2004)

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"…together they are superb. Vocally they are well matched and musically their arrangements are magical."

"For me, Cloudstreet's strength is when singing as an unaccompanied duo, both having rich voices of a distinctly different character, but which blend beautifully nonetheless. The high points of their set were The Briar and the Rose by Tom Waits, Nicole's flute playing on McGlinchey's Reel, and the hilarious song The Woman Who Got Done Wrong as sung by Blossom Dearie (actually called The Ballad of the Shape of Things written by Sheldon Harnick. Ed.), dealing with the metaphorical geometry of a relationship. Actually, their rendition of The Briar and the Rose was for me one of the high points of the whole night."
(Sebastian Flynn in The Folk Rag, March 2002)

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"..while their material is mostly from the British Isles tradition, their joint persona is unselfconsciously Australian. Cloudstreet's vocal strength served them well in the traditional numbers, and they showed their creative depth in Violet Sarah - intelligent lyrics turning a tale of a boating holiday into something poetic and slightly mysterious." (The Courier-Mail, February 2002)

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"Their soaring vocals, tight harmonies and sensitive instrumentals bring alive traditional Anglo-Celtic and contemporary ballads in a fresh and exciting style that captures the attention of even the most non-traditional of North Queensland audiences - which is saying something! They have that rare ability to communicate the timeless themes of traditional songs and music in way which soon has the audience entwined in the storytelling. In this, they are minstrels, in the truest sense.

Having said that, what is really impressive about John and Nic is their enthusiasm and professionalism. This is not only reflected in the quality of their performance, but flows through to their overall impact at festivals. As a duo and as individuals they throw themselves into all aspects of festival life with unbridled enthusiasm and are a festival organizer's dream! Whether it be running poets breakfasts, giving workshops on singing styles, harmony or tin whistle, leading festival choirs or chorus sessions, they pop up everywhere - you simply can't keep them out of the action!

Whether it be a small regional festival such as Palm Creek or a major event such as Woodford or the National Folk Festival, audiences go away with strong positive memories of Cloudstreet, for all the above reasons. That is why they are increasingly in demand by festivals all around the country."
(Jeff Corfield - Palm Creek Rainforest Festival)

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Cloudstreet at the Red Deer, Sheffield.

Last night, at the second of the Folk Music Subscription Room Concerts, the audience at the Red Deer in Sheffield enjoyed a fantastic night of music, song and craic. I thought it would be difficult for Jim McDonald to organise a fitting sequel to Michael Mara's performance there last month. For me, the only disappointment of the evening was that even more people couldn't have shared the experience.

Jim's choice of support in local performer Bay Whittaker was inspired. Her opening number 'Marlborough Country' brought memories back to many of us about stopping smoking. From then on, she had the audience captivated with her humour, fine guitar playing and expressive singing of self-penned songs such as 'Barker's Pool, the George Clooney song and my favourite, her closing number, 'Personal Inferno'. Though most of us hadn't heard her sing before I think we will all be looking out for her in the future.

As for Cloudstreet, I have never been disappointed by their performances. This was no exception. They proved that, even without the use of soundmen and amplification, their growing nationwide reputation as fine musicians and singers is well deserved. Their timing and harmonies in songs such as Tom Waits 'Briar and the Rose', and their own compositions "Green man" and "Violet Sarah" were excellent. Like many, I am still amazed by the voice change they manage in "King Willy" and I love the title track off their new CD 'The Fiddle Ship'. Their obvious enjoyment of their craft is infectious and those in the audience who had not seen them before were not disappointed by the evening's entertainment. Their encore was Tom Paxton's 'Wasn't that a Party?'. It certainly was! In fact, I think John and Nicole gained themselves a number of new fans. The folk scene in Britain will certainly miss them when they return home to Australia in October so if anyone hasn't seen them yet there is still a little time.

My only criticism of the evening is that was that it passed too quickly. It wasn't an evening for the purist who enjoys traditional folk music but Jim organised a night of quality entertainment that was certainly value for money. I am now looking forward to the next Folk Music Subscription Rooms concert in November when Jim has organised for Bill Caddick to take centre stage with Ken Johnson in support.


Sue Haithwaite
11/07/2004

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CD Review: Violet Sarah and Muckle John

Cloudstreet are John Thompson and Nicole Murray. Based in Brisbane, the Australian duo are popular performers at home, drawing their material mainly from Irish, English and Australian traditions. They have an attraction to the big ballads the muckle sangs the 'soap operas of a former age'. Many of the songs in their repertoire are accompanied by guitars, flutes, whistles and percussion, but a particular strength of their performance is their use of harmony. In a similar vocal range, both voices are spectacularly suited to each other. While Murray's voice is a remarkable instrument, particularly notable is that of former chorister Thompson, who possesses a strikingly beautiful tenor voice, and a deft and inventive touch with harmony.

Violet Sarah and Muckle John is their second release. The rather cryptic title combines the names of two of the songs. Murray's composition, 'Violet Sarah' opens the album, and comprises a series of stream-of-consciousness reminiscences of a holiday with friends on their narrow boat on the English canal system. In tight harmony with only guitar accompaniment, its quirky rhythm is an enticing introduction to the duo. 'Muckle John', words by Thompson, set to music by Murray, describes one of the last court jesters lamenting the passing of his trade.

I've heard Sheldon Harnick's The Shape of Things many times over the years, but I think Cloudstreet's version is masterful. The tight arrangement, the accomplished harmony, and mock serious presentation are fine counterpoints to the bathos of the lass' geometric betrayal and ultimate revenge.

The rest of the album is a combination of traditional songs and composed pieces. Murray proves her talents as a composer in a fine set of tunes which includes two of her own. To me, the sign of a well-written tune (or
song) is that it sounds as if it already has the edges knocked off it by having been played a lot by others. These tunes have that worked-in feel to them, to their credit.

The high point of a uniformly excellent production is the closing track - a stunning unaccompanied rendition of Tom Waites' 'The Briar and the Rose'. This is one of these arrangements that echoes around in your head long after the last notes have faded away. One hopes they end their concerts with it. The streets of Brisbane must be filled with the sound of humming after a performance by Cloudstreet.

The album features no studio pyrotechnics, no cast of thousands, no extra musicians imported for the occasion (well, apart from the cello on one track, but cellos are special), just two very talented performers at work. Sometimes it is difficult to form an impression of a group in action from a recording, but Cloudstreet's Violet Sarah and Muckle John lets us know exactly what to expect from a live performance, and certainly leads us to look forward to an appearance a little closer to home before too long.
(Alistair Brown - The Green Man Review - September, 2003)

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CD REVIEW: Swallow the Concertina

Have we got a good Christmas present for you!!!!

Among the latest Folk album releases for the Christmas market is Cloudstreet's Debut album, Swallow the Concertina, (not so named because they hate concertinas but from their set of tunes The Swallow's Tail and the Concertina Reel).Cloudstreet have a good explanation for their name in the cover notes, which I think is very appropriate, I'll let you find out for yourselves when you get your hands on their CD.

Cloudstreet is Nicole Murray and John Thompson, good performers in their own right but together they are superb. Vocally they are well matched and musically their arrangements are magical. A good example is the opening track King Willy,(version of Child Ballad no. 6 Willie's Lady - original 44 verses) a brilliant mix of flute and whistle in a mediaeval style harmony which lends to the authenticity and enjoyment of this long traditional ballad.

Five of the twelve pieces on this album are traditional, three are their own original songs and tunes written in traditional style. There is some very impressive whistle and flute playing and great harmony singing. They have added nothing on the CD which cannot be duplicated in a live performance.

Among my other favourite tracks are a version of Child Ballad no. 10 The Twa Sisters and Annan Waters for their harmonies (both quite different) and John's original The Green Man, a very powerful song with a great chorus, really deserving to be sung in the midst of a large singing session so that we all can join in with the multitude of harmonies which are available.

The album production is clean and uncluttered and the treatment of the material is well thought out and just downright good. All this is bound up in a very attractive cover, designed by Nicole herself with the photography, recording and mix by Matthew Moline.

Not to detract from the above review I must admit that Cloudstreet is even better live. Their energy and dynamism and sheer joy of performing together before an audience is an added factor which I feel cannot be adequately conveyed on a mere audio CD - perhaps a video would be the answer? Or better still for an extra fee they could perform for you live in your lounge room, according to an informed source!!

(June Nichols in The Folk Rag, December 2000)

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CLOUDSTREET
The Fiddleship
Roots Records - CDST03


Hailing from Brisbane (Australia) Cloudstreet's Nicole Murray and John Thompson are both excellent singers, combining an attractive freshness of attack with a deft expressiveness. Their diction is clear and assured and their superb harmonies are a key element of their appeal, as evidenced in the healthy ratio of purely a capella tracks on the CD, of which the gorgeous "Winds of Fortune" has to be the standout (though John's sole rendition of "Plains of Emu" runs it close). They are strong instrumentally too, with thewelcomingly understated drive of John's guitar setting into relief Nicole's prowess on flute; they bring an almost classical degree of poise to their renditions of tunes composed in the traditional style. On three of the tracks they are also joined by Vicki Swan and Jonny Dyer. Cloudstreet have a definite penchant for the classic ballads which they bring to life in a distinctive way: "King Willy" illustrates the duo's use of a"characterisation" device, whereby they adopt varying voices, tones and mannerisms to bring the tale alive. This is of course part of the armoury of the master storyteller, but with less talented singers it would seem merely a cheap gimmick.

"The Fiddleship" is Cloudstreet's third CD. It's title alluding to Nicole's vocation as a sculptor and artist, using the image of the sculpture to represent the powerful vitality of traditional music. The title track is one of just two Thompson originals, the majority of the album being drawn from Australian as well as British traditions. But they also tackle contemporary song, displaying a real ability to penetrate to the essence of a lyric; a good
example is "The Mill" (from the enviably prolific and increasingly well-regarded George Papavgeris), which is given an imaginatively stark, quasi-modal treatment. In all, I'm not sure that "The Fiddleship" quite amounts to Cloudstreet's best album so far (I'm still really fond of their debut), but it certainly contains some of their best material and performances.
www.cloudstreet.org

David Kidman, fRoots, April 2005

 

Cloudstreet - THE FIDDLESHIP

Cloudstreet
The Fiddleship
CDST03
mail@cloudstreet.org

Having seen the Australian duo live several times I was anticipating great things from this album, recorded in Coventry during their protracted stay in England over the last year. I was not disappointed. The first track rolls in with the assured and beguiling air of the great storyteller; for this is what Cloudstreet does best.

In a live performance with Nicole Murray and John Thompson it is easy to find yourself transported to the magic of childhood storytelling without ever feeling patronised as an adult through the genuine and accomplished delivery. There is a worry that something so dynamic and engaging in that live performance will not necessarily translate well into a studio recording, yet Cloudstreet succeed, which is a credit to Nicole and John's thoughtful arrangements and outstanding vocal skills. The only thing I feel is a little lost in the recording of their music is something of the gutsy quality of their live vocal performance, John appearing rather more earnest at times than is evident in the live performance, and Nicole losing a little strength in the harmonies she sings. However, when leading the vocal on several tracks, Nicole really comes into her own, and her range of vocal styles is inspired. The tune sets are nice and break up the album well but still Cloudstreet's skill for me lies in the delivery of a good story, whether comic or tragic, but always engaging and sensitive.

Amongst the highlights fo rme was definitely "King Willy", a full band version of the song which appears on their first album, "Swallow the Concertina". The addition of smallpipes creates perfectly the atmosphere for this journey of love and magic. And if only they could double their number to reproduce the fantastic, "The Mill" live, a song in multiple-part harmony (quite a skill for a duo!). I shall let you discover the last track for yourself...

What I like most about Cloudstreet is that they are not afraid to twist convention, to take on different vocal styles and to use a range of interesting tempos and harmonic ideas all the while remaining true to the genre. This leads to an album on which every song has its own unique atmosphere yet which is a well-crafted, cohesive whole.

My advice? Get the album, then book them for your local folk club or festival as quick as you can for when they return next spring!

Helena Reynolds
English Dance and Song (EDS)
Winter 2004
EFDSS
(The English Folk Dance and Song Society)


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Cloudstreet - Dance Up The Sun (cloudstreet)

This friendly, vibrant Australian folk duo have over the past short number of years built up a healthy following in the UK, notably at this country's folk festival stages, and their thoroughly professional approach is commendable - not least because they've got the talent to back it up (in that respect, they're much in the mould of Artisan and Quicksilver, if you get my drift). Following their acclaimed third album The Fiddleship was never going to be easy, but Dance Up The Sun manages to honourably continue the Cloudstreet tradition while inventively ringing some changes.

Here John and Nicole present another scintillating, accessible collection of songs with acres of contrast; it's perhaps the most persuasive demonstration of their versatility yet. Vocally neither of them has ever sounded better, for their inspirational, uncannily accomplished harmonies set the seal on some truly magnificent solo singing; their voices are augmented when appropriate with some expertly judged instrumentation (guitar, English concertina, flutes, fiddle and percussion). So with fine singing, excellent musicianship and gimmick-free production, all you need is some good songs to complete the picture - and Dance Up The Sun comes up trumps here too, with a compelling and generally well-paced mixture of material drawn mostly (though not exclusively) from the pens of contemporary folk songwriters (including their own).

The title track opens proceedings with John's own cheery bell-ridden tribute to the magic of morris (the Horn Dance itself is given a stately instrumental rendition later in the disc). Ewan MacColl's The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face is done in a stirring acappella rearrangement, providing a telling contrast with John Warner's wonderfully earthy Miner's Washing and the anthemic Time Is A Tempest (for so long a live favourite, though it's never as effective without a full chorus raising the roof!). The disc's remaining acappella items are of a distinctly lighter ilk: there's the supremely aromatic bouquet of Grant Baynham's brilliant Wine Song (which even appears as an encore, as a "quartet"), and John's own clever, epic sales jingle for "Swaggy the Camper Van" (another long-standing request from the live set!). Highlights among the accompanied items are Nicole's impassioned performance of Hugh McDonald's setting of Henry Lawson's moving tale of Scots Of The Riverina and John's own Sweetest Complexity, "a love song to whiskey, conversation and late nights with good friends", which touchingly exudes the generous spirit of its dedicatee George Papavgeris ... Dance Up The Sun unquestionably contains much of Cloudstreet's best and most persuasive work to date, and the recording quality's excellent too.

Dave Kidman
February 2007
NetRhythms
http://www.netrhythms.com

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The Woodman Folk Club Kingswinford 11/6/2004


I've seen Cloudstreet doing spots at several Woodman singers' nights, and been frankly impressed by this Australian duo's humour, intelligence, and sheer well-rehearsed tightness and quality of their performances. Consequently, tonight's date has been in my organiser for months, and Bob and I set off earlyish to get a good seat : we reach the Woodman as the heavens open and it begins to rain heavily, and scurry inside for beer, chats with the regular club members, and to say "hi" to Nicole and John and
wish them a good gig. Cloudstreet have brought a selection of CDs with them, and Bob and I have a quick shuftie at what's available : me because I've come intending to buy some of their music, and Bob to decide which CD to choose when he inevitably wins the raffle…

…and then it's the part of the evening I've been looking forward to -
Cloudstreet taking in "The Woodman" as part of their 2004 UK tour! Nicole and John have been in Britain since the end of last year, embarked on a thorough schedule of folk club gigs, sessions and festival appearances, and have been successfully delighting audiences wherever they appear. Although Nicole is a fine and talented flute and whistle player, and John plays nimble, solid rhythm guitar which frequently sounds open-tuned when it isn't, for me their forte is their dual harmonies, and it's to this strength they play with their opening unaccompanied number, "Diggins-Oh". It's an
Australian Gold Rush song, sung in modal harmony, and described by themselves as a traditional Australian 'gardening song'… and it's a well-rehearsed, precise piece of harmony singing which has the audience joining in with its shortest of refrains. Visually, Nicole is a slender lady singer wearing a dapper waistcoat, curly-toed jester boots and a clear expression of enjoyment in her singing, with a smile which can vary from innocence to very very cheeky indeed : while John is a more compact,
flamboyant entertainer, conducting his own singing like a cross between Pavarotti and Joe Cocker, a jester in his own right like an Aussie Timothy Claypole (if you remember "Rentaghost", of course.. :).

Having warmed the Woodman audience up nicely and evoked some warm applause, Cloudstreet tell us a musical tale about a narrowboat called "Violet Sarah", owned by some friends of theirs in Stratford, and which features John on guitar and Nicole on flute : a jaunty, infectious song with subtle time changes and a jolly chorus the singing Woodman audience joins in with heartily, somehow even avoiding being caught out by a dead stop in the last refrain ! "Lady Maisry" is next, one of the dozens of Child ballads concerning that Lady but specifically warning of the dangers of courtship and childbirth, followed by a Cloudstreet favourite from the Woodman singers' nights, "The Shape Of Things", an unaccompanied song about 'betrayal, revenge and geometry', and a masterclass of performance timing which is enthusiastically received by the audience. This is followed by a second Child ballad, the charming "Two Sisters", in which we are all educated as to the true employment of a beaver hat… and then the first half is brought to a crescendo by Cloudstreet's genuinely amazing performance of "King Willy", a further Child ballad and made famous by Martin Carthy to boot. I won't spoil it by telling you how they achieve it - you'll have to buy their CD or go and see them - but believe me, their arrangement is an absolute triumph, the only other possible way to perform the song and thus the only other definitive version of "Willie's Lady" ever : judging from the explosion of applause following the song, the Woodman thought so too !

After the half-time break, and a warm-up solo number from Medium Paul, who as a native of the North East, asserted his moral right to tell us the awful story of "The Lambton Worm", there was a surprise rupturing of the space-time continuum when Bob failed to win the raffle… Luckily, however,
quantum stability was swiftly restored and Cloudstreet are welcomed back on stage, to begin with an exquisitely arranged acappella rendition of "The Briar And The Rose", which is joined with traditional harmonising and gusto by the Woodman attendees. Cloudstreet have manifestly put a frightening
amount of time into rehearsing their singing - they're beautifully in tune, synchronised to an almost Cosmotheka-esque degree and even their respective vocal qualities complement each other. Following this, we're entertained by an everyday anecdote of Australian life coping with snakes, all of which is a preamble to an optimistic and amusing solo song by John, called "Out On The Highway" and sung to the tune of a certain Sinatra hit, and which is purely included in the set as an advert for selling the Cloudstreet tour van when they go home ! Next up is "The Blacktown Jig", featuring tight and inventive flute-playing from Nicole and ably underpinned by John's guitarwork, and then we're treated to another of our favourites from their singers' night appearances, "Muckle John", an ode to the last Court Jester which features some excellent and tightly executed time changes and speeding
up.

Another opportunity for a good sing is presented to us now as Nicole introduces the next song, "Green Man", written, it would seem, by John while in the shower. Earlier in the set, the Green Man, pagan symbol of the merging of humanity with the forces of nature, was mentioned fondly as part
of Cloudstreet's trip aboard the "Violet Sarah", and Nicole now explains that in her other guise as a clay-working artist, she makes Green Men whenever she can get the firing clay and has even brought some to sell ! Thus having tied up a few loose ends, they launch into the song, which has a
splendid chorus simply begging for harmonies and the Woodman faithful do not disappoint : in many ways it's the high point of the evening, a super song with a catchy and infectious melody and clearly a testament to the acoustic properties of John's bathroom ! Cloudstreet then sing us "The Fairest
Flower Of Serving Men", to an original tune by Nicole : she tells us with wry amusement that when learning the words from a songbook, she had overlooked the possibility that there might have been an index at the back and thus missed the tune section at the back of the book altogether ! She needn't worry though - it's a fine melody, another one easily harmonised with (not to mention John's magnificent and indescribable lute solo !) and is, as it turns out, a powerful finisher for their second set and we applaud thunderously to show our appreciation of their exemplary evening's entertainment. Oddly enough for the Woodman though, Ian seems to have worked out that it's "only just gone ten past eleven" - funny how often that happens ! - so there's plenty of time for Cloudstreet to emerge from their
hiding place behind the left speaker and perform a final song for us, the beautifully sung and nicely allegorical title track from their new CD, "Fiddle Ship", and after a final good clap from us all, the evening's over and it's time to buy CDs, buy Katie a Green Man for our garden, and have a post-gig congratulatory chat with John and Nicole before heading home for bye-byes.

The verdict ? Go And See Them. If there's a friendlier, more genuinely likeable Australian couple around, certainly I'd be delighted to talk to them an' all - Cloudstreet are approachable, witty and intelligent, and both blessed with a self-effacing, cheeky irreverence and a healthy sense of
humour, and every facet of that comes over in their songs, singing and arrangements. "Hot Harmonies and Beautiful Ballads", it says on their website. Can't argue with that !

Malcolm Jeffrey

(for the full review of the evening, check out the Woodman Folk Club site)

 

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Cloudstreet Live Review - Bedford Folk Club 15th July 2004

Once again, Cloudstreet deliver a startling performance, delighting Bedford Folk Club with their 'hot harmonies and beautiful ballads'.

Even although this was Cloudstreet's first gig in Bedford, for those of us in the audience it had the feel of a homecoming, emphasised to a greater extent by the presence of Nicole's parents in the audience. The duo began in fine form, instantly stunning the expectant audience with Tom Waites' 'Briar and the Rose'. Their entwining harmonies create a haunting ballad that can't fail but send a shiver down your spine and after such a show-stopping start one begins to wonder how they can possibly top this. However, what follows is equally impressive. Cloudstreet incorporate traditional songs from Britain and Ireland as well as their native Australia, and whilst their beautiful harmonies and sensitive understanding of the music keep them acceptable to the 'purist-folkie' their fresh approach and enthusiasm keep songs such as 'King Willy' and 'The Two Sisters' sounding new and exciting.

Not only are John Thompson and Nicole Murray to be commended for their adaptation and delivery of traditional songs, but also are both extremely talented songwriters. Tonight we are treated to Nicole's 'Violet Sarah', which describes a trip on a narrow boat and John's 'The Green Man' and, perhaps the most striking number of the evening, 'The Fiddleship'. The title track to their new album, 'The Fiddleship' was inspired by a sculpture of Nicole's (who is a talented artist and sculptor) made of an old fiddle and three tin whistles. Apart from being another fine example of their rousing hamonies, 'The Fiddleship' seems to embody Cloudstreet's entire philosophy, highlighting their passion for the music and memories they have picked up on their travels. Similarly, their playful, relaxed attitudes are revealed in John's 'Out On The Highway' sung to the tune of a very well known Sinatra song and a shameless attempt to sell their camper van before returning to Australia.

As if Cloudstreet weren't enough, the second half was opened by the highly esteemed songwriter George Papavgeris, who treated the audience to a track from his forthcoming album (to be released in October) before inviting John and Nicole to join him. Cloudstreet later returned the gesture by asking George to join them on a moving interpretation of his own song, 'The Mill'.

Overall, The intimate blend of music, friends and family had the feel of a 'farewell' performace despite having in excess of 20 bookings still to perform at before their departure back to Australia. Cloudstreet provided a performance as flawless as their studio recordings but made even more special by their friendly attitude, witty interjections and amusing annecdotes. Breath-taking.

Christine Miller

 

 

 

CD REVIEW: Clouds on the Road - Live Performances in Australia and New Zealand

For Cloudstreet fans who miss John and Nicole when they are off touring the U K and other far-flung Corners of the Commonwealth (there was even a reputed Cloudstreet sighting in a back-alley pub in Hong Kong a couple years ago), here is a live CD that takes you along - without your having to take out a second mortgage on your banjo to pay Qantas. “Clouds on the Road” was recorded in various concerts in N Z and back in Oz while touring early this year. There is something elemental about these two in concert: much of their warmth and wit, charm and chops come through in this well-recorded live album.

One thing that struck me after listening to these 14 tracks was the wonderful variety and uniqueness of good folk music, well arranged and well performed. There’s not a thematically or musically formulaic song on the list! Among the unique gems is “The Wooden Spoon” penned by Nicole. It was written for her mother who marked important family occasions with loving gastronomic creations. It is both very personal and vividly picturesque, all served up with John’s rhythmic guitar. Nicole’s “Violet Sarah” again has vivid word pictures that in this case made this blue-water sailor want to switch to a canal boat and the close waters and cosy companionship of the British canals. Several of the songs are done as a’ Capella duets where John and Nicole really shine.

These are interesting - sometimes unusual - harmonic lines that come together and resonate. I really like that! (happened to me once) Additionally there are tasty bits of Nicole’s flute and whistle (and yes she is still beating on her signature cardboard box…not a Fosterphone but equally emblematic) and John’s guitar and concertina. The on-stage repartee between songs is classic Cloudstreet and another reason why a live album suits them. They are joined on a few numbers by their Big Band: Rebecca Wright (cello and vocals) and Belinda Ford (fiddle, flute and vocals).

The clever covers on the album are by a broad range of rascals and iconoclasts from Henry Lawson to Tom Waits, and from Tom Paxton to Ewan Mac Coll. Many of the songs were chosen with a fine ear for lyrical twists and delights, wit and humour. In John’s “The Van Song” he spruiks the glories of their old Renault 1.4 van that they must sell but also say a tearful goodbye to at the end of a UK tour. There are many clever words, harmonies and tuneful bits to savour on “Clouds on the Road” so y’all go out and get a copy.

John Holmberg, The Folk Rag, July 2007

 

 

Clouds on the Road


From the opening strains of Thousands or More you know you are in for a treat. Nicole Murray and John Thompson’s arrangement gives this old drinking song a whole new life. The song was published in D'Urfey's Pills to Purge Melancholy (1707) – and in the hands of Cloudstreet, it certainly does that. It is a strong and exciting opening to Clouds on the Road, a compilation of live tracks from this impressive folk duo.


It is often the case with compilations that the opening track is this strong, but then followed by lesser offerings. Not here. Next up is an unaccompanied version of the traditional Child ballad King Willy, set to the Breton tune, Song of Cider. Those Cloudstreet devotees who think they have heard great performances of this favourite will be knocked out be the clarity and energy of the delivery. Nicole Murray and John Thompson’s voice swoops between the sweet and the demonic with enviable ease.


The fourteen tracks on the CD offer a feast of music that showcases both the vocal and instrumental talents of the duo. Murray’s flute has moved from being simple accompaniment to centre stage where it delivers silken tones and fine ornamentation and Thompson’s taking up of the concertina is a welcome addition. Yet, at the end of the day, Cloudstreet’s greatest strength and attraction still remains the delicious harmonies that remain unrivalled on today’s folk scene. While Thompson’s voice can deliver beautifully songs such as Freedom’s on the Wallaby, it is when he and Nicole combine on the light-hearted Ballad of the Shape of Things or the spine-tingling Briar and the Rose, that you realise that you are in the hands of superb vocalists. The Tom Waits’ song, The Briar and the Rose has been in their repertoire for some years yet this live version delivers with a freshness and energy that is pure joy to listen to.


If there is a weakness in the album it is that the collection does not include more examples of the song writing talents of this remarkable duo. John Thompson’s Dance up the Sun, a hymn to Morris Dancing, is both beautifully constructed and delivered. His lyric dexterity is drolly demonstrated in The Van Song, while Nicole Murray’s The Wooden Spoon takes the mundane topic of home baking and lifts it to the memorable.


The CD closes with the anthemic Time is a Tempest – leaving the listener wanting more. Indeed a superb offering.

Sandy McCutcheon, August, 2007.

 

Cloudstreet - Clouds On The Road (Own Label)


"Ladies and gentlemen, will you please be very loud and welcome Cloudstreet!" Which is exactly the kind of reception this sparkling duo gets everywhere they play. An evening spent in their company is a joyous celebration of song and companionship and fine entertainment: John and Nicole are tremendously versatile and accomplished singers and musicians, yet utterly sincere with it, and that's a winning combination, no mistake.


Clouds On The Road, released to celebrate many successful years of live performances, documents several shows in New Zealand and their native Australia undertaken earlier this year, edited together to form a fairly seamless and very much typical Cloudstreet live set lasting around 75 minutes (that's including the song preambles, which are admirably concise and, helpfully, are also banded separately). Though inevitably a mere snapshot of the current Cloudstreet repertoire, it draws songs from the duo's four studio albums as well as a few as yet unrecorded items. It's a truthful portrait of the duo's talents both vocal and instrumental - although happily (and unsurprisingly) there's plenty of emphasis on their glorious harmonies with a good selection of acapella items. Passion and professionalism don't automatically go hand in hand in folk music, but Cloudstreet demonstrate they have both qualities in spades, especially evident in those acapella pieces (contrast Tom Waits' Briar And The Rose with John Warner's Miner's Washing which follows, and you'll hear what I mean). As for instrumental prowess, well Nicole and John have plenty of that too, albeit in an entirely unassuming way, while us UK Cloudstreet fans will notice immediately that the duo is augmented on some items by Belinda Ford and/or Rebecca Wright (who to my knowledge haven't yet been brought over here on tour).


The 14 songs on this disc run the celebrated Cloudstreet gamut, from traditional balladry to session tune, contemporary song (including some fine original compositions like Nicole's award-winning Wooden Spoon and John's vibrant tribute to morris Dance Up The Sun) to revue-number (Sheldon Harnick's Ballad Of The Shape Of Things). Highlights come both seriously heart-stopping (First Time Ever I Saw Your Face) and deliciously fun (John's hilarious Van Song). And there's no other way a Cloudstreet live performance could end but with the brilliantly rousing John Broomhall anthem Time Is A Tempest! Now live albums are a funny thing: many don't do the performers justice, many don't survive the transition to home listening, and many are definitely for existing converts only. But Clouds On The Road is a truly life-affirming example, a live album that's good for repeated plays, and both a perfect calling-card and a perfect memento - what more could you ask for?

David Kidman August 2007
Netrhythms

The Circus of Desires CD Review by John Holmberg

3/5/10

What do you do when you’re down…havin’ a hard time? One thing that works for me, by way of an escape to an energizing good place, is to throw myself into a music project…or even just some good tunes or a heart-felt song out on the verandah. John Thompson and Nicole Murray say the idea for the title song of their new CD “The Circus of Desires” came from a sometimes-difficult year. The song, and indeed the whole CD, evokes the “real magic” out there in the creative cosmos. The connections and seminal discoveries that come with the hard work of touring internationally; the sense of cultural occasion that comes from a shinning performance or an unexpected impromptu collaboration on stage; the process of bringing new songs into existence or developing a new take on an old song: all of these are a part of that serendipitous place called the “The Circus of Desires”.

Hard deliveries sometimes bring the most cherished offspring. After some time of wanting to get traction on this new album, real momentum accelerated early this year and Nicole and John are justifiably excited about their new baby. The CD is skilfully and effectively arranged and produced. They’ve tried lots of effective new production and arrangement ideas. There is a bodhran-beating heart behind the tender rendering of David Francey’s lament on lost love “The Waking Hour”. There is a brass arrangement by Mal Webb in “Bill and the Bear” that creates the proper pomp and circumstance for John’s epic saga song. It tells of an Aussie strongman that heroically wrestled a bear in the travelling Wirth’s Circus at the turn of the twentieth century. Vicki Swan and Jonny Dyer, friends from Essex, make several choice, cyber-contributions on double bass and piano, e-mailed from England. Erin Sulman (Barleyshakes) provides the subtle and effective percussion.

Three of the best songs on the album are written by John and two lovely tunes are penned by Nicole. In addition to “Bill and the Bear” and “The Circus of Desire” mentioned above, John’s “The Green Man”, written in 1999, is here given new life. It has an evocative melody and wonderful harmony singing which help bring to life this celebration of the natural world and the inspiration and lessons garnered from observing it. The Clockwork Elephant Set is not only a great name for a tune set, evoking the bowed bass unpinning the concertina and flutes, but also the tunes are memorable in their form and unusual instrumentation. Again we see the fruits of a life of travels and touring as the first tune is a Swedish “sung polka”. It evokes the moderate tempo and yearning of the contemplative human voice. Nicole’s tune “The Waltz of the Kitchenpipers” was written for the wedding of their friends Vicki and John in England and has a great feeling of significant occasion.

Cloudstreet lovers will find, in addition to the new treats above, lots of what the duo have always done so well: great arrangements of traditional ballads, some of them rare and offbeat; and wonderful harmony singing supporting stirring lead vocals. So come along to the The Circus of Desires. While you are under the Big Top and the CD is unwinding you can forget your troubles, acknowledge your desires, and be transported on the magic of the muse these two gifted musicians have forged out of a life dedicated to their music.

 

 

 

 
 
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