Photo – Tim Chmielewski
After the Flood is the newest album from Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen; their first since 2009. Australian Stage went along to the launch at the Thornbury Theatre. And what a night it was! A unique band with a formidable and original sound, Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen (Mikel Simic, Pip Branson, Phil Moriarty, Guy Freer and Sam Martin) are consummate musicians and performers. Their musical styles are wide-ranging, often referred to as ‘euro–roots’, referencing folk music, Weimar cabaret, dance rhythms such as mazurka and tarantella, gypsy ballads, old-time swing, there’s a bit of country, bluegrass, there are touches of Dean Martin, Sinatra, Jonny Cash, Leonard Cohen, Walt Whitman, Lou Reed, Charles Aznavour, some jazz, a nod to the currency tunes of Australian colonial days and the sorts of shanty songs that spring up when people work hard and drink harder.
After the Flood was inspired by stories of the 200,000 mostly European men who came to Cooma to work on the Snowy River hydro-electric dam in the 1950s and 60s, Simic’s own father being one of them. The small town was transformed by men who’d come through World War II, seeking new opportunities – nightclubs were open every night, sex-workers would be bussed in via a repurposed ambulance, the men worked hard and partied even harder, and introduced real coffee to the town, amongst other things. In many ways the history of Coooma can be seen as a microcosm of one aspect of Australian European migration history. Mikelangelo and The Black Sea Gentlemen stayed in Cooma on an artistic research grant from an arts company called BigHart (with whom they’ve worked on various projects over the last two decades) while writing the album together – the first time they’d co-written a record. That residency paid off gloriously in musical and in story riches, as some of the original characters were still around to inspire stage characters and songs of bull-riding, bar-fighting, horseracing and lovesickness.
The first half of the night featured songs from After The Flood. The second set was more playful in tone and featured familiar classics from the Gentlemen’s backlist such as Skeletons (‘Sodomy is not just for animals; human flesh is not just for cannibals’), The Devil’s Wedding, From Here to There, Viva Las Vegas, Ten Long Years in the Saddle (a fond piss-take inspired by the music of Ennio Morricone of Spaghetti Western fame). The Gentlemen have a gorgeous shtick which gently parodies smooth crooners of yore but which never slips over into ego: ‘controlled madness’ is one way to describe it.
After The Flood was recorded and mixed at Turning Studios in Sydney with Evan McHugh, who co-produced the album with the group. After the Flood is a beautiful unpretentious work of storytelling, playing with tradition in ways both humorous and respectful. Mikelangelo and The Black Sea Gentlemen should be named national treasures, pronto.
After the Flood
Mikelangelo & The Black Sea Gentlemen
Venue: Thornbury Theatre Ballroom | 859 High St. Thornbury
Date: 6 May, 2016