Pop, reggae, jazz, rock. Don Walker has written it all.
Walker’s lyrical mastery extends beyond chart-topping hits. He is a poet capturing concepts, emotions, and landscapes. He is a storyteller communicating relatable experiences which unmask an earnest and admirable vulnerability. Walker candidly places himself on paper which in turn a myriad of artists cultivate into now cherished songs.
In what can only be described as a spectacular homage to Walker’s writing, Katie Noonan gathered a handful of Australia’s finest female musicians to swoop upon the Adelaide Festival Theatre in Songs of Don. With covid restrictions relegating Emma Donovan to Victoria and illness deeming her replacement Mahalia Barnes absent at the eleventh hour, Noonan, Clare Bowditch, and Adelaide’s own Sarah McLeod did their best to fill the gap. To be fair, all they had to do was be their sensational selves to achieve that.
Joined by Canberra’s Bree van Reyk on drums, Zoe Hauptmann on bass and Jess Green on guitar, Noonan, Bowditch, and McLeod traversed through a fifteen song set of Walker penned songs. But this was more than your standard covers gig. This was a nearly two-hour-long endorphin rush; it was a sharing of stories and sentiments; it was a historical musical journey; it was a display of camaraderie among artists and audience.
From the moment Bowditch literally threw her shoes off stage and McLeod showed what socks she was wearing, it was apparent this would not be your typical gig. The fourth wall was demolished from the outset, and it remained down for the entire performance.
Noonan on keys commenced proceedings with Saturday Night (Cold Chisel). Her angelic soprano voice reverberated through the Festival Theatre generating goose bumps from the stalls to the grand circle. Amid stories of house sharing with carnies in the ’90s and playing at iconic Adelaide venues, she offered emotive renditions of Choirgirl (Cold Chisel), The Party’s Over (Cold Chisel) and Silos (Don Walker).
A barefoot Bowditch radiated exuberance as she sang Breakfast at Sweethearts (Cold Chisel), Star Hotel (Cold Chisel) and Tucker’s Daughter (Ian Moss). Ever the supporter of her collaborators, it was common to see her with a broad smile bopping on the side of the stage and playing the tambourine when not twirling on centre stage.
McLeod, in her first foray to the Festival Theatre, effortlessly commanded the stage. Oozing rock n roll, she belted out classics Standing on the Outside (Cold Chisel), Flame Trees (Cold Chisel), Everybody (Cold Chisel) and Khe Sanh (Cold Chisel). The epitome of cool, even her own fangirling could not indent this persona. Instead, it revealed an endearing quality and authenticity. This realness showed by all the artists, not just McLeod, is what elevated Songs of Don.
The trio’s ease with each other and the audience, their acknowledgement of mistakes, their comfort to just be themselves was refreshing to watch. Noonan, Bowditch, and McLeod’s talent is undeniable and speaks for itself. However, the rambling banter, the laughter and shenanigans added to the overall atmosphere of the night. Together, the three joined forces, in various partnerings, on Boundary Street (Cold Chisel), Looking Forward Looking Back (Slim Dusty), Cheap Wine (Cold Chisel) and The Healing Power of Helpless Laughter (Tex, Don and Charlie).
Despite being thrown a double curveball with the absence of Donovan and Barnes, Noonan, Bowditch, and McLeod pulled it all together to deliver an enchanting, entertaining and wonderfully imperfect performance.
The 2021 Adelaide Cabaret Festival has thus far produced multiple unparalleled “once in a lifetime” performances. Songs of Don can be added to that list.
Adelaide Cabaret Festival Review By Anita Kertes