Augustalia are a four-piece band fronted by singer songwriter Hannah O’Reilly. The band are named after an ancient Roman festival – aptly enough, as this gig has all the hallmarks of celebration and decadence of a bacchanalian orgy. If only the Romans had invented the kazoo…
This gig at the Voodoo Rooms’ Speakeasy is to promote the launch of the band’s wonderfully entitled EP “It’s Never Too Late To Ask For Your Knickers Back”, four tracks which demonstrate the twin camps Augustalia migrate between – alt-country and dark cabaret. The mirrored walls and opulent decor of the venue suit the mood perfectly: this is music for an unmade David Lynch movie; piped into the room direct from another world.
First support act of the evening is Lee Patterson, who takes to the stage without fanfare or introduction. Reminiscent of Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, classic gospel, blues and Dustbowl balladeers, Patterson recalls music one has heard many times yet remains a singular voice.
Using the simplest of accompaniment – guitar, washboard, drum sticks on a mic stand – and no banter between songs, Patterson still manages to deliver a performance which is passionate, profound and unforgettable.
Next up are the best thing to come out of the Borders since Hawick Balls – The Dull Fudds. Like a cross between Shooglenifty and Gogol Bordello, their energetic and upbeat folk tunes weave like wildfire through the stomping feet on the dancefloor.
Three lady Fudds on guitar, bass and flute and a Mr Fudd on drums get the crowd jumping and hollering to a set which would go down a storm anywhere, with its addictively joyful mood and music which is about as far from dull as it’s possible to be.
So the place is already pumped up by the time Augustalia take the stage. Hannah is front and centre, jaunty of hat and devilish of grin as she whips out her ukulele and launches into ‘Ode to Lederhosen‘, channelling the spirit of the likes of Amanda Palmer as she sings sweetly about frilly underwear and big white pants.
With the ice not so much broken as melted into steamy vapour, Augustalia then proceed to delight the audience with a set which swaggers and swoons between the electric bravado of songs like ‘Love And Laudanum‘; and the honey-dripping delight of numbers like the band’s recent single, ‘Foolish‘.
Hannah commandeers the stage between numbers, ordering tequilas from the bar, throwing plastic kazoos into the audience and generally lapping up the attention and reaction Augustalia deservedly receive. The boys to either side show skill as they move from one style to the next, Gary Anderson’s bass and the hirsute Steve Galbraith’s drumming underpinning everything. Adrian Michalski’s guitar alternates between picking out sweet country-tinged melodies and revving up like a lumberjack’s chainsaw to accompany the rockier numbers.
Irony is given a good seeing to as well: lyrically, some of these songs are not for the faint-hearted, but Hannah’s delivery always manages to pull things off, wrapping her lips round some rather dirty words with a mischievous and disarming style. Adding more fuel to the ironic fire is the the ‘contrived’ encore of ‘Honesty‘, which brings the evening to a liquor and sweat-fuelled close.
When everything gels together, Augustalia’s sound is addictive as some of the substances they sing about; they could also quite easily choose to focus on one genre only and make a success out of it. Hannah’s vocals are also deserving of particular mention, as the New Zealand singer possesses a vocal range which adds emotional depth to every song – no matter what the lyrical content.
By choosing to walk the line between two genres, Augustalia are successful in combining the best of both – and whilst sound & technical issues may cause them to teeter on the tightrope occasionally, they always end up regaining their balance with a flourish and a fanfare that makes them hard to resist.