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
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.
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
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.
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
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
Since 2003, John has pursued music as his full-time occupation.
(Pat from Llantrisant
Folk Club, June 2006)
"One of the highlights of the weekend and I would
recommend to any festival to book them."
(Ken Bradburn, Brampton Live)
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).
"…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
(Nancy Kerr and James
"Their individual voices are splendid, their
harmonies sublime, their arrangements superb, their material stupendous,
their repartee scintillating, the overall effect stunning!!"
"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
(Greg Watson - The
Tablelands Folk Festival)
"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."
Webber & Anni Fentiman)
"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)
"The best new act on the English folk scene."
(Derek Droscher, Ride a Cock Horse Folk Club)
"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
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)
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)
"..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)
"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)
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.
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)
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
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
(June Nichols in The
Folk Rag, December 2000)
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
David Kidman, fRoots, April 2005
Cloudstreet - THE FIDDLESHIP
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
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
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!
English Dance and Song (EDS)
(The English Folk Dance and Song Society)
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
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
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".
Australian Gold Rush song, sung in modal harmony, and described
by themselves as a traditional Australian 'gardening song'
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 !
(for the full review of the evening, check out the Woodman
Folk Club site)
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.
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
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
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
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
The Circus of Desires CD Review by John Holmberg
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.