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The Gin Club - In High Spirits

Author: Carlisle Rogers
Wednesday, 9 July 2008
3D's Carlisle Rogers chats to Brisbane's band of alt. country chameleons, The Gin Club.

The Gin Club is a smoky New Orleans clapboard juke joint with bare black feet stomping dust into the cracks between the floorboards. The Gin Club is a rough-hewn collection of musicians as interchangeable as the keys on a piano that rotate around the stage on any given night, giving each songwriter in the band his or her own few minutes in the spotlight. It's hard to pick out a front man in a band with as much of a debt to Dixieland, structurally speaking, as to acid country or The Band.

With their third album, Junk, a double album with 26 wrenching songs, the Brisbane outfit has hit some kind of high water mark, eclipsed only by the live show.

Ben Salter does end up in the front row a lot of the time, his quaff as disarming as it is forgivable, the way he plays guitar. There's also some real magic when Adrian Stoyles takes the microphone. He has this beautiful beatnik singsong voice that sits over the mélange of strings, drums, guitar, piano and a harmonica or two, and it comes out of a lanky wandering cowboy kind of kid that you'd like to write off until he picks up an accordion and keenly closes his eyes while somebody else sings their song.

One more thing: A bearded Conor J Macdonald will stand there for half the set wringing his fingers nervously, his knees pointing inwards, slapping a tambourine, so you get the impression he's not totally here, with everyone else in the room. Then he'll play his guitar, and scream a real rebel yell so loud and hard that half the crowd gasps, which you can't hear over the cacophony, but you sense it, and he holds it and it washes absolutely everything that's come before away like a bucket of cold water.

Jesus, then there's Dan Mansfield, so unassuming you think he's setting up this rattled up, dilapidated old Hammond B-3 for somebody else, until he pushes his hair out of his eyes and touches the keys and then it's a kind of self-deprecating Ray Charles thing going on and you're drop-knee aghast. Then he picks up Salter's white guitar and I kid you not, peels some Duane Allman tweak out of it like it ain't nothing.

So Ben Salter says the band describes themselves as a collective. 'That means it's not like we're open to new people coming in and doing songs live or in the album. At the moment we've got a pretty stable line-up for touring and the next album we might get a couple more guests or something, who knows-' he says. Salter, who writes some of the songs, can't tour due to his work and family commitment. 'But that changes as well, because sometimes when we're in Brisbane we don't have Adrian [Stoyles] and Angus [Agars] because they live down in Melbourne. Our fans have come to expect a different show every time they come to see us. I'm really impatient and get bored really quickly, so both live and the studio, this keeps it really interesting. Basically whoever writes a song sings live and plays acoustic so the rest of us shuffle around. At any show I might be playing bass, then electric and acoustic and Dan might be playing keys and then drums. It just keeps it really interesting.'

WHO: The Gin Club
WHAT: Junk through Plus One Records / Play Annandale Hotel / Play Splendour in the Grass, Byron Bay / Play Hopetoun Hotel
WHEN: Out now / Sunday 20 July / Saturday 2 August / Friday 8