The best late night slot on the main stage came from the three men I had hoped would blow me away. And that they did, emphatically. Shame that Zun Zun Egui, or The Phantom Band or Beth Jeans Houghton weren’t up there at midnight too.
It would be easy to spend a few paragraphs talking about violinist Warren Ellis’ banter and high kicks, but suffice to say that his irreverent piss taking flew in all manner of directions. Actually no, here come those paragraphs, if you’ve seen the band before then feel free to skip a few... He was glad to be amongst “the good people of Scotland” and “the chooks and the sheep and the goats”, telling semi-hecklers that he “only gets an hour or so every few months” and that he was going to “damn well enjoy it”. Requests were turned down because some songs “you play in the studio once and then everytime you play it afterwards it sounds shit”.
He described a creative block of four years involving middle-aged domestication and LSD in a flat before inviting song ideas from “you young vee-rile people” to be submitted to “dirty three dawt com” for a 55% songwriting credit: “they don’t have to be very clever, just three chords’ll do”. He told a woman who announced her love for him that she “should tell that to my fuckin’ wife” and described recording Ocean Songs in a dingy room full of metalheads and vomit in Chicago.
But however much we all laughed at these interludes there was no way to avoid the emotional current that these three Aussies channel straight into you. It’s no big news that Jim White is a good drummer, though I have to say he impresses a shade more on his work with songwriters like Bonnie Billy and Nina Nastasia, with his ability to accent their words with his wide vocabulary. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that anyone could play Mick Turner’s simple guitar parts, but this is folk music and without that man’s belief in those three chords, we wouldn’t have the Dirty Three.
Warren Ellis is a nimble fiddler, lyrical and capable of conjuring overwhelming force, not just via his use of distortion, loops and delay. He is also capable of sweetness, delicate romance and deep melancholy, though it never gets completely black. ‘Sea Above, Sky Below’ was magnificent and went straight to the heart, other highlights were the energising plucks of ‘The Zither Player’ (which is my personal favourite from Cinder) and the closer ‘Indian Love Song’ which Ellis told us featured the riff from Black Sabbath’s Paranoid played backwards, “down a fifth and up a third”.
It’s refreshing to go see a band that can mix such a variety of fine musicianship, depth and humour and at the same time conjure more emotion with three chords, a mad violin player and a score of high kicks than twenty other bands at this festival who were all desperately trying to prove how in touch they are with passion and emotion.
What Ellis referred to as “three washed up old men” is also a fine example for anyone wishing to learn how much colour you can achieve with three instruments and one, wordless pattern. It’s an old school, but it’s still one of the best. Long live Dirty Three, they’re chooks and their nooks and their crannies.