juke joint of sonic riotousness

Energy-filled Joy of a Western Sydney Juke Joint of Sonic Riotousness—The Australian-US Turner Brown Band hit Town

Art of Sound 2020: World Creative Music Public Performance & Songwriters Workshop, Western Sydney University, Penrith Campus (Kingswood), 12th March 2020

Presented by the Music Program (SHCA) with support from Sustainable Futures (PVC Learning Futures)

Figure 1: Tomika Webb (drums/vocals), Dom Turner (guitar/vocals), Nicolle ‘Nikki D’ Brown (lap steel/vocals), Gloria Brown (rhythm guitar/vocals); The Turner Brown Band with filmmaker Vincent Tay—Recording Studio, WSU (photos: Bruce Crossman)

The blues performer, hinged over his sonic grit-making electric guitar, sort of waddled and hopped at left back stage in a crawling movement—a type of Chuck Berry duck-walk—with walls of steel-lined sound emanating through the speakers in dialogue with the sacred-steel guitarist’s bending and throbbing lines. The veteran Australian gritty guitarist, Dom Turner, with a cheeky ease, hopped over the carefully laid concert cabling, before pumping out that throbbing energy at front of stage in his trade-mark strut and brimmed hat whilst trading sonic blows with sacred steel guitarist from Toledo, Nicolle ‘Nikki D’ Brown. The chunky, chugging rhythms swinging of the laid-down energy of Turner’s grit-maker guitar, was caught by the thick sliding, solo energy of the lap-slide guitarist, Nikki Brown, pulsing up and down in energetic fist-arm movements like a Beijing guzheng player in full mode, with her head thrown back in a joyous scream to match the Sydney-based player. Thumping great wallops of a straight-forward swung backbeat with splash cymbal edged tom-toms and kick-drum with a deep belly shaking energy from Brown’s cousin Tomika Webb (drums), undergirded the two fronting guitarists’ energy; whilst sister Gloria Brown’s sideways thrown motions of rhythm guitar, with a gracious ease in her playing, filled and swung the sound. Special guest musician, Rowan Lane’s carefully placed bass lines filled out the energy spectrum effortlessly and seamlessly with the band.

Figure 2: Tomika Webb (drums/vocals), Dom Turner (guitar/vocals), Nicolle ‘Nikki D’ Brown (lap steel/vocals), Gloria Brown (rhythm guitar/vocals) & Rowan Lane (bass) (photos: Vincent Tay)

Simultaneously, the good vibrations were engaging the eight-young student female singer-songwriters sitting, standing and vibrating in wild gestures with the band at the front of the crowd—almost standing on their seats. Vibrating, pulsing and swinging the whole capacity crowd at the Kingswood-based Music Area’s auditorium—The Playhouse—it was as if the Turner-Brown Band had turned the Western Sydney University campus auditorium in Sydney’s extreme intercultural outer West—where over 170 language and cultural groups collide, into their very own Juke Joint of sonic riotousness, like a Mississippi Delta venue that Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson would ‘dirty up’ with gritty sonic life.

Figure 3: ‘Nikki D’ Brown (lap steel/vocals) & Dom Turner (guitar) engage students at The Playhouse (photos: ‘Nikki D’ Brown)
Figure 4: High energy & seriousness: ‘Nikki D’ Brown (lap steel/vocals) & Dom Turner (guitar); Tomika Webb (drums/vocals); Nicolle ‘Nikki D’ Brown (lap steel/vocals), Gloria Brown (rhythm guitar/vocals) (photos: Vincent Tay)
Figure 5: Industry wisdom: Tomika Webb (drums/vocals) & Dom Turner (guitar/vocals); Turner Brown Band (photos: Bruce Crossman)

Soon after, as the sounds of the heady swinging religious-blues settled down in the auditorium—with images Nikki D’ Brown’s twirling around to demonstrate the Lord’s goodness all around still in the memory’s air—the Turner-Brown Band settled to probing questions. A stunned panel of distinguished scholars and musicians faced the band—renowned feminist musicologist Sally Macarthur, poet and Joan Baez band member Kate Fagan, and Australian Art Music Award winner Clare Maclean, with Jayd Abacan-Luna—lead singer in the student funk band The Groove Operators. The panel were clearly still reeling from the joy of the performance and opened up insight into equity issues in the music industry but also, modelled ways forward. Some of the most moving discussion

Figure 6: Panel wisdom: Dom Turner, Tomika Webb, Nicolle ‘Nikki D’ Brown, & Gloria Brown; MC, Sally Macarthur; Kate Fagan, Clare Maclean, Sally Macarthur & Jayd Abacan-Luna (photos: Vincent Tay)

from the concert and panel, was around the poignant meanings of love transcending domestic violence underpinning the song, ‘Nice Shirt.’ What was revealing in the discussion, was Fagan’s opening up of the diversity issues and questioning whether the band felt disadvantaged growing up as Black Americans in Toledo. Nikki D’ Brown’s answer was surprising and inspiring—their upbringing was within a loving family that encouraged their daughter’s gifting, including in organising lessons that led to her prominence within the Church-based lap-slide guitar tradition in Ohio. She did not feel disadvantaged. So clearly, in an industry where the statistics of female participation in songwriting are shockingly unbalanced as Macarthur pointed out, a supportive environment can make a difference.

Figure 7: Intercultural filmmaker Vincent Tay & crew interview The Turner Brown Band (photos: Bruce Crossman)

After a vegan lunch break, the band, in tandem with Kate Fagan and Clare Maclean, swung back into action—this time as mentors to the young Western Sydney female songwriters, who had earlier been unable to contain their joy in the concert and were jiving and swaying and interacting with the band’s lead, Nikki D’ Brown. In the University’s intimate cathedral-like recording venue, roughly adjacent to the Playhouse ‘Juke Joint,’ the eight singer-songwriters mustered their bands and courage to perform to the Turner-Brown Band. Jayd Abacan-Luna, Sarah Vella, Lili Chang, Rachel Barrett-Giudice, Mitch Marsters, Ma’ata (Martha) Jones, Daphne Webb, and Elysa Villareal sung with passion, intimacy and from the heart. It was beautiful to see the family members sitting in the flanking rooms to the recording studio lovingly supporting and observing their charges—as nervous as their daughters—as they sung with soaring passion about death and love, satirical sonic designs in cabaret quirkiness, Pacifica beauty of meshing voices, slick-funky grooves of entangled and indistinguishable tones of merged singers, and poignant heart-break with vocal narrative and vulnerability. In telling interviews with Western Sydney-based intercultural filmmaker Vincent Tay—immediately following the workshop—the band spoke of the need to not chase fame, but to unleash your inner gifting and sing from the heart, and that makes a way for you in life. The mentors spoke with passion, applauding each singer with joy and mentorial love, and most importantly noted—each had sung from the heart with beautifully prepared musicianship. We are grateful to Jen Dollin, the University’s Sustainable Futures unit manager, for sponsoring the event, and Dom Turner for his generosity in bringing this nurturing chaotic energy and joy to our campus. Perhaps what lingered most, was Tomika Webb’s wisdom in the interviews, of encouraging the young songwriters’ dreams of the heart, not fame, to fuel songwriting with genuine creative voice and distinctiveness that finds its way in the world.

Figure 8: Master room view: Mitch Hart (senior technical officer), composition students, & the singer-songwriters watch and await their turn (photos: Vincent Tay)
Figure 9: Joyous & seasoned knowledge with an on-looker at the day’s end: Tomika Webb, Dom Turner, Nicolle ‘Nikki D’ Brown, & Gloria Brown (photo: Bruce Crossman)

Organising Committee: Co-chair: A/Prof Bruce Crossman (Discipline Lead, Music and Music Therapy) & Ms Jen Dollin (Senior Manager, Sustainable Futures); Sustainable Futures team: Ms Helen Angelakis, Ms Brittany Hardiman; HCA/ Writing and Society Research Centre team: A/Prof. Sally Macarthur (Music DAP), Dr Kate Fagan (Director, WSRC), Dr Waldo Garrido, Dr Clare Maclean, & Mr Vincent Tay

Selection Committee—Songwriters Workshop: A/Prof Bruce Crossman (chair), Dr Waldo Garrido, Dr Clare Maclean

Technical Team: Sound—Mitch Hart (Senior Technical Officer), Noel Burgess, (Senior Technical Officer), Emma Harlock (Technical Officer); Vision—Vincent Tay (Communication Production Lecturer), Amarullah Anam & others (production crew)

Website: Turner Brown Band

© Bruce Crossman, Glenmore Park, 5th April 2020