Blues breaker

DENMARK singer Willow Sukys, 15, lives and breathes music.

Her family jokingly says she started singing the second she was born and was writing songs before she could talk.

And it’s not an unbelievable claim.

Sukys has been surrounded by music from day dot, with her father and uncle current-day musicians (Denmark outfit Evergone), her mother an enthusiast of music, and her younger brother a secret singer.

She’s escalated through Perth singing schools and choirs, performed at multiple Albany and Denmark venues, and last year recorded a song for the Sounds of the Great Southern album.

Most recently, Sukys landed herself a new type of gig – being one of four Great Southern singers selected to perform at the inaugural Tasty Tapas and Tunes on Stirling Terrace in Albany in April.

‘Moody pop’ is how she describes the sound people will hear from her.

“When I was told I got it, I was crying,” Sukys laughs, reflecting on learning that she had landed the Stirling Terrace gig.

“It was so crazy! “I was like, ‘they want me? Oh, my gosh!’”

Although her set list for the show is still on the drawing board, Sukys says some of her original work is on the cards.

She’ll have plenty of opportunities to fine tune the list over the next few weeks, with performances lined up for this weekend at the Denmark Arts Markets and at Six Degrees on January 20.

“My music isn’t all up and down like some pop,” Sukys says.

“Some of it’s emotional…my inspirations are Twenty One Pilots and Billie Eilish and Lorde.”

Sukys says that, so far, her songs have been about romance and love – some of it unrequited– and they’ve gained her a bit of local fame.

“The kids at school often sing my lyrics to me,” she chuckles.

“The boys at school say I’m a meme, which is totally a life goal.”

But for Sukys, meme status is not her only dream.

“It might be a bit far- fetched, but I’d love to play at big arenas to lots of people,” she says.

“I really want to build on my live performances…I definitely want to work on my guitar and I want to learn piano.”

Sukys will be joined by Albany musician Blake Grobbler at Tasty Tapas and Tunes on April 13.

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Dancing full time

LAWYER-turned-dance teacher Antonia Grasso has accomplished her dream of having a bricks and mortar dance studio to call her own in Albany.

Entering the realm of ballroom dance at a later stage in her life, Grasso said dance provided a much-needed outlet from her strict work regime in family and general law.

She decided after nearly a decade as a full-time lawyer that she wanted to embrace her dancing hobby permanently.

“I always wanted to dance but I never had the guts to go on my own,” Grasso said.

“One day I just decided to go…but I had no partner.

“So, I got partnered with the teacher and they asked me how long I’d been dancing for, and they didn’t believe me when I said I’d just started.”

Two years later in 1995, Grasso trained as a dance teacher and worked at the Perth studio where she had commenced dancing.

She moved to Albany in 1999 and dabbled in other creative pursuits.

“I always wanted to do theatre so I joined the Albany Light Opera and Theatre Company and I did some chorus work and choreography,” Grasso said.

“I was in Les Miserables, 70, Girls, and The Gypsy Baron.

“But I missed dancing, so I started my own studio in 2016.”

Grasso said her weekly classes consisted of private and group lessons, and involved about 30 people.

However, having no permanent studio to herself, she regularly battled against clashing schedules and hall restrictions in venues across the city.

Last year she decided enough was enough and in December took a lease on her own building on Lockyer Avenue.

She and her husband, woodcarver Len Radcliffe, have been at the new studio “all day, every day” for the past month getting it up to scratch before the official opening in February.

“Len’s made the stage,” Grasso said.

“We’ve got two tonnes of fl or to put in a sprung floor – a sprung floor is important in dancing.

“We’re installing fans and benches and curtains and two chandeliers…it’s so exciting.”

Grasso said she wanted her studio to be a place for ballroom lessons, and a “hub” for other types of dance and fitness and social events.

She said yoga instructors keen on hiring the hall have already come forward, and that interest has grown over her “musical soiree” idea.

“It will be a chance for people to come together on a Saturday night and listen to some singers, bring their own nibbles and sit and relax, and if they want to dance, there’s a 130sqm dance floor,” Grasso explained.

“I’m aiming to hold them once a month…I already have one act booked and that’s Big Ted and The Humbuckers.”

Grasso will add a four-week beginner’s ballroom course to her list of regular classes, commencing February 12.

Her new studio at 129 Lockyer Avenue, behind Lovett Muay Thai, will be unveiled on February 8 at 7pm.

She said Evan Ayres and The Swing Kings would perform and there will be champagne and light refreshments.

The $25 entry tickets can be bought by calling Grasso on 0417 948 155, messaging the studio’s Facebook page or at the door on the night.

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It’s a wrap for Happiness

RECENT York Street addition Little Italy Restaurant and Pizzeria, French café Gourmandise and Co and Little Beach all copped a mention from Hollywood superstars Joel Jackson, Emma Booth and Richard Roxburgh as their favourite spots to visit in Albany in-between filming H is for Happiness.

The Weekender sat down with the trio while they were filming in Albert Hall, adjacent to Wesley Uniting Church on Duke Street, on their second last day in town.

Film crew and actors began filming in and around Albany on November 12 and wrapped up on December 21.

They spent their last day in Albany shooting scenes in a house on Festing Street and had their wrap up party at the Stirling Club.

Jackson, born in Albany, said he was proud to come home after so many years and reminisced on his childhood with The Weekender.

“We lived on Queen Street in Little Grove in this sunken, white house,” he said.

“I went to Little Grove Primary and Mr Bolt was one of my teachers.

“I just remember the oceans, lots of kids everywhere, and being outdoors…and vivid boat memories; I love Muttonbird [Beach].

“I remember the ocean being so big and so scary!”

Jackson said when he had been spotted around town, there were still a few people who remembered him from when he was a little tacker.

Booth, born in Denmark but raised in Perth, said her old family farm had become a vineyard.

She had planned to visit it but ran out of time.

“I think it’s Southern Star now,” she said.

Booth managed to get out to Two Peoples Bay and Little Beach and couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw the scenery.

She popped over to a few eateries in town too and discovered her new favourite foods.

“I just don’t understand how the water is that turquoise!” Booth said.

“Oh, and we’ve been slamming pizzas from Little Italy and that French place? Gourmandise and Co…where has that been all my life?!”

The interview was momentarily disrupted by a quick hug between Booth and fellow cast member, Deborah Mailman.

Roxburgh agreed with Booth that the Great Southern’s coastline was one of a kind.

“Denmark was just glorious,” he said, reflecting on his shoot for Breath.

“And Albany is pretty spectacular.

“I’m staying at Middleton and the boardwalk there is pretty special.

“I love the easy pace here.”

H is for Happiness will now go into post production and premiere during the Melbourne International Film Festival in August.

A crew spokesperson advised people to stay tuned about an Albany premiere and the film release date.

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Actors wanted

LADIES and gents of all ages are being sought for Spectrum Theatre’s first production of 2019.

Female Transport will follow the tale of six female convicts aboard a ship bound for Australia from Britain in 1807.

The drama will reveal the six-month voyage while the women are kept in a cramped cell below deck.

Co-directors Sally Forbes and Cassandra Hughes said they are looking for six women to cast as the convicts and a handful of blokes to play a surgeon, captain, cabin boy and first mate.

“People don’t need to bring anything, just themselves and a sense of humour,” Forbes said.

“Female Transport is primarily a drama but it has moments of gritty humour.”

Hughes said she performed the play 20 years ago but was keen to have her turn as director.

She said the play uses a very simple set and shows a lot of raw courage that the women develop while battling being trapped by both the boat and men.

“It’s quite a challenge,” Hughes said.

“It brings to life a really grim story.

“But I really love it; it’s interesting and it’s different, so I hope people embrace it.”

Auditions will be held at Spectrum Theatre on Proudlove Parade on January 9 at 7pm and January 12 at 1.30pm.

Rehearsals will be twice a week for at least three hours and performance dates will be between March 28 and April 14.

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New brand of blues

DAN HOWLS’ gig at The Albany Blues Club on Saturday night comes with a warning.

“I don’t just rip through the pentatonic scale,” he declared, when describing his approach to blues guitar.

Howls said he much preferred to take the foundations of the blues and add a little something.

“I love the blues, but I take it as the basis for what we play,” he said.

“We’re a bit different than your regular 12-bar blues bland. We want to do something modern with it – think Jack White, Gary Clark Jnr…those sorts of guys.”

The gig at Six Degrees’ backroom will be Howls’ first in Albany, and he said his repertoire and style was well-suited to playing in rooms of varying sizes.

Regular tours of Europe have taught him to ac- commodate crowds of anywhere between 20 and 2000 blues music fans, and he’s just as happy in either scenario.

“I just try to be genuine. Unless you are a typical obnoxious rock star and can pull it off – which I can’t – then you’ve just got to be yourself,” he said.

“I don’t mind talking to the crowd, or a bit of heckling.”

Howls will be joined on stage by four other band mates, including bassist Ben Power, who is based in Denmark, but travels to-and-fro the big smoke to keep his valuable place in the band.

Power will save some fuel for the band’s first of three gigs when they play a set at the Denmark Arts Markets on Saturday. The Blues Club gig follows, then the band finish the quick trip south from their Fremantle heartland with a private gig on Sunday.

South Coast favourite Myles Mitchell will warm the crowd on Saturday night with the support slot. Tickets are $10 at the door, which opens at 8pm.

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Festival program launched

MORE than 4000 people are expected to flock to Albany next year for the expanded Albany Arts Festival Season program.

The festival was launched this year following the exclusion of the Great Southern from the Perth International Arts Festival, and included 18 theatre, classical and contemporary music, visual art and circus acts.

Co-curator of the event Drew Dymond said the 2019 festival season will see 27 different acts perform in Albany across four months.

He estimates 4250 people will attend.

“We had an audience of 3300 people this year, so we hope to build on that,” Mr Dymond told The Weekender.

“And 30 per cent of that figure was from people outside the Albany postcode, so I think there’s an appetite for it.”

Four of the 27 acts were revealed on Tuesday ahead of the full program announcement before Christmas, which included Albany-bred stand-up comedian Amy Hetherington.

Jazz singer and Grammy Award nominee Jazzmeia Horn, theatre production Wot? No Fish!! and Irish singer Sharon Shannon featuring SON form the first Festival Preview Package alongside Ms Hetherington.

“It’s really pleasing,” Mr Dymond said of including local acts.

“We have three collaborations with local and national artists planned.

“It’s terrific to give local artists a platform.”

The inaugural Albany Shanty and Sea Song Festival is one of the new events on the festival season calendar and Mr Dymond believes it’s the first of its kind in the country.

“It’ll be the first Australian shanty festival, as far as we know,” he said.

“Albany is entirely suited to it, being a seaside town, and it will be entirely free.

“It’ll be a pretty enjoyable event.”

Co-curator Rod Vervest confessed the idea for the Albany Shanty and Sea Song Festival came to him while on the airwaves.

“The whole idea unfolded on radio when I was talking to Andrew Collins [ABC],” he laughed.

“The Albany Shantymen were visiting the Fairbridge Festival and it was suggested, well, why not have a shanty festival?

“Australia doesn’t really have an official shanty festival so we thought, let’s go out on a limb.”

Mr Vervest said the “greatest shanty group in the world”, Kimber’s Men from the UK, will be the centerpiece of the festival and be accompanied by seven other local and visiting shanty groups, including Albany’s male and female shanty groups.

He agreed with Mr Dymond that Albany was a “good fit” for such event.

“The festival will open on the Amity,” Mr Vervest said.

“It’ll be a shanty blast.”

Other new elements of the festival season include an additional three theatre performances – both traditional and interactive digital public theatre – 13 free events and the premiering of a local composer’s work.

“I really hope people seriously look at and engage with the program,” Mr Vervest said.

“Just because you haven’t heard of it, doesn’t mean it isn’t good…we haven’t gone with the obvious and popular, we’ve gone with the new and interesting, people on the world circuit.”

“They’re certainly all must-sees,” Mr Dymond added.

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Players lighten the mood

COMEDY and war aren’t often two things you’d put together.

But Plantagenet Players managed to do it delicately and with style in their latest production 1918 The War is Over.

From cooking shows in the trenches and marriage proposals with an elderly nymphomaniac, to operations with a kooky doctor armed with a mallet for anesthesia, the Players embraced the costume and attitudes reminiscent of the wartime era and breathed hysterical slapstick life into it.

A few serious moments were fed into the script to reflect on those who lost their lives and souls in the war, but the mood was brought back up with dimwitted chefs and drunken mothers.

It was a perfect way to lightly reflect on the past amidst other more sombre Armistice centenary events held across the Great Southern.

The Weekender’s Andy Dolphin showcased the broad spectrum of his acting skills by portraying a surgeon, chef, snobby father and larrikin farmer, triggering fits of laughter in every scene he graced.

Pat Topping surprised the audience with her cheeky lines and animated facial expressions – her mature age making them even funnier.

Co-producer Helen Jeffery smoothly and hilariously transitioned from a thickly moustached sergeant to a singing nurse and later, a half-cut mother.

To top it off, the tale of a boy eaten by a lion – read by Siobhan Gallagher – was woven in between scenes and made eyes water from giggling.

1918 The War is Over will play for two more nights – this Friday and Saturday, and tickets were still available at time of going to print from Mt Barker’s Scrap Shak.

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Kings of the road

THE Swing Kings will be going their separate ways this November after three sell-out performances and a debut EP, but not before hitting the stage for one more weekend to bid goodbye to the Great Southern.

The Weekender had the chance to stop by during one of their rehearsals for a chat about their rapid rise to local fame and their plans for the future.

The band, which consists of Evan Ayres on guitar and lead vocals, Oliver Tetlow on bass, Mollie Hare and Bonnie Staude on backing vocals, Bryce Taylor on trumpet, Anna Leach on saxophone, Hunter Ewen on trombone and Jeremy Staude on drums, said the experience had been very rewarding.

“It’s been terrific,” Ayres said.

“It’s been such a great opportunity.”

The group has a wide range of talents and interests, which is evident when talking about their plans for after the final show.

Front man Ayres plans to pursue music, hoping to score a place at the WA Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) next year.

The same goes for backing singers Mollie Hare and Bonnie Staude, who are both hoping to study musical theatre at the Academy.

Oliver Tetlow is going to university to study engineering, Anna Leach to study social work, Hunter Ewen plans to go into pathology, Bryce Taylor’s going to university in Canberra, and Jeremy Staude said he’d like to go on holiday to Japan.

When asked how being in the band had impacted their lives, the band agreed that it had made life a whole lot busier, but more exciting too.

“It’s a bit tricky to balance our workload with all of us still in school – well, except for Mollie – but I think Evan’s got his priorities straight: music first,” Bonnie Staude said, much to the amusement of Ayres.

“But yeah, it’s definitely worth it.”

The band were quick to respond when asked about the highlights of their brief Swing Kings career.

“It’s probably the adrenaline of performing,” Bonnie Staude said.

“It’s cool to be in a band that’s so high calibre; it’s really good music that you don’t always find.”

Ayres said that having five sell-out shows – including the two upcoming farewell performances – had been one of his major highlights.

“One sold out in two hours, which was pretty amazing,” he said.

Tetlow said his high light came after their first performance.

“There was a lady who came up and said that I was her hero,” he said, sparking a collective “awww” from the rest of the band.

Taylor explained how supportive their fans had been.

“It’s the response we get after the shows; we have people coming through with CDs asking for autographs or just saying how much they enjoyed the show,” he said.

“I like playing fast songs,” Jeremy Staude said plainly, causing an eruption of laughter from his fellow band members, who joked that they’d often catch him nodding off during the slower numbers.

Though the band is splitting up for now, they are all hopeful there will be a Swing Kings reunion in the future.

“It would be sad if there wasn’t,” Bonnie Staude said.

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YouTuber steps in for Kanye

AUSSIE YouTube star and self-proclaimed loose unit Alex Williamson is heading to Albany next week for a show “so wrong, it’s wrong”.

Williamson first hit YouTube in 2003 with the likes of his seven-part Sweet AFL Dream Team series, The Summer of Ben Cousins, and later his most renowned series, Loosest Aussie Bloke Ever.

Along the way, he’s roped in MC Eso from Aussie hip hop trio Bliss n Eso, and fellow Aussie comedians Troy Kinne, Superwog and Frenchy, to perform skits about standard Aussie banter, sex, drugs, booty calls, Pokemon and his beloved C-word.

From there, Williamson’s career spun into an international one, leaving behind his high school teaching career to entertain on stages across Australia and the UK, and wrangling interviews with actors Sacha Baron Cohen, Jennifer Aniston, Harrison Ford, Robin Williams, Ryan Reynolds and Tom Felton.

Williamson spoke to The Weekender while enjoying the sunshine back home in regional South Australia between his Renmark and Ipswich performances of his So Wrong, It’s Wrong tour.

“I was a quiet little kid,” he said, reflecting on his childhood.

“People always ask was I funny in school and I say, ‘nah, I was a f***in’ quiet loser’.

“But I was always talking to people, I never shunned anyone out.”

Williamson said he chose to embrace the Aussie bogan stereotype in his videos because there was “no point” denying it.

“It was hiding deep within,” Williamson laughed.

“Now I’ve realised I’m a bogan, I’m living life to the fullest.”

He said despite being Aussie through and through, he’s had people question his lineage due to his “Aussie-isms” and ocker accent.

“I was overseas and someone came up to me and thought I was doing well, because they thought English was my second language,” Williamson chuckled.

“But when I’m overseas I want to Aussie it up a bit…I flick the Aussie knob to 110 per cent.

“And in the UK, they love it!

“They’ve just got this fascination… but I did feel like I should’ve been in the bogan enclosure at London Zoo.”

His speech has confused a few Americans on his travels too.

“I was at a house party in the US talking to this girl,” Williamson began.

“And at the end of the conversation, I said, ‘ah, fair-o!’ and she looked at me and said, ‘whaaat? Like an Egyptian Pharoah?’”

Williamson is keen to get around regional Australia where everyone “speaks his language”.

“You know us country folk, we can read Harry Potter out loud in five minutes,” he said.

“And I can include all my Aussie-isms that I had to abandon in the UK.

“I had a joke for a UK show and the punch line was Shannon Noll, and when I realised he’s not the next Taylor Swift, I had to change it to some sh** celebrity they would know.”

When informed by The Weekender that Albany is inhabited by a predominately older demographic, Williamson said they might be “a bit stunned and shocked” by his show, but still encouraged all people to come along.

“I had a couple of 90-year-olds come to a show once because they thought they were seeing John Williamson,” he said.

“They left after 10 minutes and complained to the doorman that the only word they understood was the F-word.

“But, they said, ‘well at least he’s getting young people to the theatre’.”

Williamson said he loves regional shows and bringing something to rural towns, as he couldn’t imagine people like Kanye West would make the hike.

So, he’s “stepping in” for Kanye and performing at the Albany Entertainment Centre on November 17.

Tickets can be purchased at the AEC Box Office or online at tickets.ptt.wa.gov.au.

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A stitch in time

KATANNING’S newest art exhibition looks deep into the past at how the humble domestic sewing machine changed the lives of women at home.

Curator of Machines and Makers Jude van der Merwe said it was when she discovered her neighbour’s collection of 260 old domestic sewing machines that she learned about the impact the device had on women during the world wars.

She said her neighbour had been an apprentice sewing machine repairer during World War II and had maintained his passion for them ever since.

“That was the starting point, really,” Ms van der Merwe said of the exhibition.

“I didn’t realise that the domestic sewing machine had changed the lives of women so much…they could make a living, and make clothes for their family.”

Machines and Makers features the work of 12 artists, responding in their respective mediums to the notion that sewing machines changed the lives of women.

It is part of Art on the Move, a Perth-based organisation dedicated to touring contemporary visual art exhibitions across the country.

Ongerup-bred Susie Vickery is featured in Machines and Makers and has created embroidered smaller-scale sewing machines for the exhibition, which Ms van der Merwe described as “absolutely beautiful”.

Other artists have submitted works such as paintings of sewing machines, and even animations – Perth artist Tee Ken Ng has created an animation of mice, which is projected behind a real sewing machine, and the mice are hanging up washing and repairing machines.

Ms van der Merwe was impressed with the range of artwork created.

“It’s an extraordinary medium. It’s very flexible,” she said of textiles.

“I think we are all close to textiles, because we wear it, we touch it and we feel it, and so many people can express their love for it in many different ways.”

Machines and Makers is at the Katanning Public Art Gallery until November 24.

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