The last time I saw Women in Voice (WIV) was the early nineties when they played at the Sitting Duck Café in West End. From the depths of my time-addle-memory I recall a second-story venue on Boundary Street thronging with young, fabulous feminists; the who’s-who of Brisbane’s spunky, punky chicks sporting Doc Martins, overalls-with-attitudes and worshipping acoustic music.
This time, I found myself back at home in the audience of WIV at The Judith Wright Centre – still a thronging set of fabulous women, now toting a gaggle of gentrified men, and as I waited for the audience to file in, I thought about the journey from the Sitting Duck to the Judy. The distance between those two shows seemed so far for me and yet, in a year that uncovered misogynistic attitude after attitude, perhaps not that far at all.
Emcee Judy Hainsworth (Babushka Cabaret) with her sharp wit and super-slick tongue, echoed the same sentiment as she led the delightful ensemble in a welcome tune – a slightly adapted version of Robbie Williams’, ‘Let Me Entertain You‘ that highlighted the train-wreck of a year we have almost survived, the loss of great artists, and the abysmal promotion of greater fools (guess who).
Hainsworth is dynamite, sporting a clever costume range inspired by the traditional court-jester attire. She easily directs the evening with bursts of clever repartee ranging from her teenage attempts to compete with one famous Katie, to her hilarious reflection of her time touring regional Queensland with a side-splitting ditty about how every town on tour is just the bloody same.
Alicia Cush selected songs for her set that relate to her idea of paradise: songs that easily show off her classically-trained talent, linguistic accomplishments, graceful style, and alluring accordion abilities! Alicia is an intriguing creative with a surprising range from Opera Q (Tosca, Turandot, and La Traviata) to touring with Circa Contemporary Circus and easily seduced with a silky rendition of The Church’s, ‘Under the Milky Way Tonight’. Alison’s multifaceted-talent is beguiling as she impresses with her pliable voice one minute and a mean flute solo the next.
While it was disappointing that Sahara Beck was not well enough to perform on the Friday, Bethan Ellsmore, sultry and sassy with her pink rockabilly hair-do easily owned her place in the show. Stepping right out of a David Lynch film, she was haunting and divine as she performed ‘Blue Velvet’, with the rest of The Voices drippingly-good in that Lynchian harmony.
Leah Cotterell mused about her research on emotion and connection being at the heart of singing, and it occurred to me that I have lot to thank these women for. All those years ago, through their strong and diverse voices they connected me to the world I was seeking outside of the limits of house wifery the suburbs had in store for me and undoubtedly their 20-odd-year reign on the Brisbane scene is a testament to all they inspire each time they raise a harmony. Cotterell’s incomparable vocal presence defines ‘white jazz’ and her equally wicked mischief inspired an entire audience to sing-along to ‘Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again’… well you know how the extra line in that song goes. It was hysterical watching this some-what older audience gleefully responding “No way, get F*d, F* Off!”.
Women in Voice founder Alison St Ledger rounded out the evening with a tremendously fun homage to the Boogie – preaching from the Book of Boogie, St Ledger, the divine deliverer of disco, wowed us with her ability to channel the gods (and goddesses) of glitter from the Bee Gees to Bacarra – Yes Sir, it was good to be alive. But the miracle of the evening was Alison’s embodiment of Michael Jackson – now I’m no Jackson aficionado but on closing my eyes I was beguiled at how close St Ledger was, right down to Jackson’s distinct vibrato. The King lives on.
Women in Voice is arguably one of the most successful and enduring institutions in Brisbane. There are no fancy production values here, simply a group of super-talented women performing for an ever-growing crowd of devotees. The Voices left us on a high note with a premeditated but not pretentious encore – these five remarkable women bid us adieu with Cat Stevens,’Peace Train’ which left us lifted – something good begun all those years ago in a West End cafe.