The Holy Sea, The Heritage Hotel, 17/10/10

October 24, 2010

Last week I took the train down to Bulli to take in a set by The Holy Sea, a folk rock seven piece touring their new album full of sorrow and hope and damn good storytelling that tackles both the ugly and the sublime. It was a good gig; small compared to the city album launch I’d missed the previous night, but apparently they ended up playing better in front of this slight Sunday arvo crowd. I sunk a few pots, yarned with a mate who’d come up from the ’Gong, and took in some accomplished, strident rock. The Thai place across the road does a mean Tom Yum, too.

I’ve been ritually going to Henry F. Skerritt’s band and solo shows since we were both UWA undergrads in the late 90s. He’s always been impressive and earnest, unashamedly romantic and literary, and he flays his acoustic like a torturer bent on extracting a brutal poetic truth. This period culminated in 2000’s absorbing Blessed Unrest, but he went quiet for a few years after that, a loss I sincerely lamented and was glad turned out to only be temporary. The Holy Sea returned in 2008 with A Beginner’s Guide to the Sea, a very autobiographical album full of heartbreak and adventure strung out between Perth and Melbourne, a phaseshift I know well.

Following some good press and plaudits, we now have their third record, the ambitious Ghosts of the Horizon. This is a more collaborative album, one occupied by the spectres of colonial violence. It’s thoroughly Australian, and the Australia of poetic image, too, from sensual geography to nautical exoticism, but this is no clichéd or escapist nationalism. As well as masculine endeavour forged on sports fields and in the pursuit of love, we confront here a country of Aboriginal round ups and deaths in custody. Ghosts of the Horizon engages the wounds of history with a sensibility both urban and contemporary.

The gig showed off these tracks with humour and flair, from sea-shanty to alt-country to good old rock’n’roll. The large line up produces a depth of sound that deserves to be heard live with the subtlety and shade of cello and keys. The Holy Sea rollicked then tiptoed and Henry drawled and declaimed, from the vigour of “Bad Luck” through the haunting grace of “Ten Rules” to the temperamental old school favourite “Holy Holy.” “The Seafarer” is this album’s epic and was the highlight of the set, with a great vocal delivered hands on hips by Emma Frichot, set off by a dramatic instrumental interlude.

I remember bumping into Henry at a Fremantle footy game in Melbourne some time during his hiatus; he eyed me with suspicious recognition and humoured my insistence that he ought to pick up the guitar again. I humbly refrain from taking all the credit for the band’s reemergence, but do manage to enjoy each show as if it was a gift just for me. I’m a generous guy, though, and willing to share—apparently their music is reproduced via multiple-use physical and digital formats—so get on it. Sure, you’ll never be O.G.H.S. like me, but you’ll get to accompany some distinctive musicians on one heck of a ride.

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