Review: Perth Symphony Orchestra + Gina Williams, Guy Ghouse and Kav Temperley at Astor Theatre

Perth Symphony Orchestra + Gina Williams, Guy Ghouse and Kav Temperley at Astor Theatre
Thursday, October 12, 2023

The third instalment of the Perth Symphony Orchestra (PSO) “+” series featured Gina Williams & Guy Ghouse, together in the first half, and Kav Temperley in the second, playing a beguiling mix of songs. Small but punchy, PSO fielded only two small violin sections, some violas and cellists, and one double bass, yet provided glorious accompaniment to the three much-loved WA artists.

Gina Wiliams commanded the stage, her authentic warmth and good humour immediately evident. When she first sang, a ripple went through the crowd. Warm, strong, and true, her voice effortlessly powerful, she sang Koorlangka (about wishing on a star), accompanied by Guy Ghouse’s sensitive and nimble guitar, PSO’s strings, and Russell Holmes on keyboard, who wrote the orchestral arrangements.

They moved into the slow ballad, Koorndarm, about a dream of the future, a dream for all our children. The rest of their set included a jazzy show tune number (Keyen, Koodjal, Daambarrt, meaning 1, 2, 3 in Noongar), the bluesy Ngarda Mikang Karnangoor, and a connection-building audience singalong to Meenak Bilya (Moon River), a song which Gina has loved since childhood, and had sung as a lullaby to her own children. The lullaby theme continued, with Kedalak Baal Koorliny, about bush animals going home to sleep, inspired by Peter & the Wolf and the irreverent “Go the F to Sleep” lullaby.

Kav Temperley, Gina Williams and PSO

The “+” series format lived up to its name and provided more than just music, as between songs MC Blake Williams hosted intimate chats with the guest performers. Gina and Guy talked about where they first met, how their working partnership (which started in 2007) feels like a conduit to something bigger, and the way their success has grown since starting to sing in language.

Observing that the Noongar language is currently spoken by barely 400 people, Gina explained she went to TAFE to learn it, but hopes her music will help bolster interest in this “limited edition” (her spin on “endangered”) language, and that it might rebound in the same way Welsh has.

Incredibly, Gina was told as a child in foster care that she had no musical talent, and while she still cannot read music, thankfully she has nevertheless overcome these barriers to produce, with Guy and Russell, a fine body of work which includes two albums and an opera, all in Noongar. Their second opera in Noongar is in development, due to premiere in February 2024.

Kav Temperley

After the interval, Kav Temperley (Eskimo Joe) took the stage. Wearing a bright white jacket over black jeans and shirt, topped with an Elvis-esque (but way cooler) quiff, he looked–and sounded–every inch the rock star.

His set drew from his more recent solo career: The Fence, Graduation Day, Pollyanna, Last of the Wine, and a song he wrote for his wife and performed at their wedding, called Queen of My Heart, which included an intense cello intro. The penultimate song was Eskimo Joe’s From the Sea, which he performed as a duet with Gina, where her open-throated voice complimented his R&R crooning.

The last song, Stand by Me, performed with both Gina and Guy, had a fantastic back story… and a couple of minor unintended variations: discreetly alerted by Guy about the capo still in place from the previous song, Kav then set off to the first chorus in the wrong key! He handled these minor errors after an otherwise flawless night with grace and humour. “This is live music, folks!” he quipped, before getting straight back into it.

It wasn’t the first time he’d performed Stand by Me in a surprising duet; in his chat with Blake, Kav shared how he and John Butler had played it, unrehearsed and last minute, at Lucy Peach’s wedding. The booked performer had gotten lost, and wasn’t going to make it in time, and this was the only vaguely-suitable-for-walking-down-the-aisle song they both knew. PSO sweetly dropped a little splash of Pachelbel’s Canon in D in the outro, for some bonus wedding vibes.

Kav Temperley, Gina Williams and PSO

The music was exemplary and clearly enjoyed by the audience, as were the interspersed chats which gave such an amazing insight into the artists and their lives. Kav talked openly about his creative process, his vulnerabilities, and sketched some life events which seeded songs. Nostalgia, weddings, wine, friendships, childhood events, covid and loneliness; a lot of ground was covered in a very short time.

Ably guided by Blake, all three performers came across as humble, grateful, and very human. It could have been interesting to have had a short session with some of the other performers on the night, in particular, Pascale Whiting, PSO’s lead violinist, and three time WAMi-winner Russell Holmes, whose Perth music history dates back to his high-school days at Newman College and his band Forecast, and the more recent Russell Holmes Trio.

PSO’s merging of contemporary music with orchestral sounds was fresh, passionate and innovative. They successfully met their design brief to strengthen the reach and appeal of classical music. Clearly full of incredibly talented performers, PSO played tight and clean, brilliantly showcasing their own skills while enhancing those of their guest performers.

The interesting arrangements (those of the second half being by Tim Newhouse, Jonathon Yang, Laurissa Brooke, Iain Grandage and Johannes Luebbers, respectively), which often used pizzicato and spiccato for percussive interest, provided glorious soundwalls of strings which curated the emotional space of the songs.

PSO’s next event is The Snowman, in December, with further “+” series for 2024 being worked on now and worth looking out for.


Photos by Alan Holbrook