Home' In The City : In The City - Autumn 5.11 Contents Canberra Club Ltd
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Monday February 28, 2011
For a band that describes its style as a
mix of funk, soul, hip hop and R&B,
covering The Wiggles might not seem
like the gig dreams are made of.
However, up and coming bands in Canberra
know breaking into the live music scene means
taking the opportunities you get, when you get
them, and making them count.
Such has been the case for Velvette – the five,
sometimes seven, occasionally eight-piece local
act that came together three years ago through
the Canberra Institute of Technology’s music
The band, which last August placed second
in the ACT finals of the National Campus Band
Competition, has gradually been increasing its
profile in Canberra.
But as lead singer Alex Cowell explains, getting
regular gigs at some of the city’s most prominent
venues hasn’t always been on the cards.
“My first gig with Velvette was the Teddy Bear
Picnic and I remember we had to learn some
Wiggles songs, Old McDonald had a Farm, the
Teddy Bear Picnic theme song, that kind of stuff,”
“I think, though, they appreciated that we did
that and it was quite fun to be singing along with
It’s a performance that, should Velvette go on
to bigger and better things in the future, will no
doubt draw some laughs in recollection.
But it’s also one that carries a message about
what it takes to crack the Canberra music scene.
“There are opportunities out there in Canberra
but you have to work hard to find them and you
have to be willing to do whatever gigs come up,”
“In saying that though, I think that makes the
quality of Canberra bands better because you
really have to pick up your game to get gigs.
“What I mainly feel about Canberra is that you
have to work hard to make sure you have the right
product and I think Velvette, being an R&B band,
suits a lot of the venues, especially in the city.”
Consisting of brothers, Daniel and Adrian
Tonkovic on bass and drums respectively, along
with Liam Wilson on keyboards, Velvette is
unusual in featuring both a lead male and a lead
Alex is joined behind the microphone by Martin
Tavaya and it’s a combination that has given the
group its distinctive sound and style.
At present, Velvette’s ever-changing line-up also
includes guitarist Will Higginson, trumpet player
Callum Gracie and saxophonist Oisin Smith-Coburn.
The band performs regularly at Hippo Bar
in Garema Place and can often be seen at the
Hellenic Club in the City.
Having a style that shines in more intimate
performances is a definite advantage in Canberra
as there’s no doubt the small pubs, bars and clubs
clustered around the city centre form the heart of
the local music scene.
While sites like Transit Bar, Hippo Bar and
the Hellenic Club are the go-to locations for live
music, they lack the capacity of inner-city venues
in Sydney or Melbourne.
One of Canberra’s favourite music hot spots
has long been the Phoenix pub, which has been
putting on live music for the past 17 years.
Phoenix owner Kieron Clohessy said that
although the ability to showcase live performances
was an integral part of any city, there was only so
much Civic could offer.
“I think one of the biggest problems with the
live music scene in the city is that we’re all quite
small venues and then it’s a quantum leap up to
the Royal Theatre,” he said.
“I would suggest that if you had an outlet that
could hold 300 to 400 people in the city itself that
could make a real difference in the kind of acts
you could have.”
For aspiring musicians in Canberra, a shortage
of locations to ply their trade is combined with
an abundance of local talent resulting in venues
being booked out months in advance.
Ren Deane has been organising the music at
Hippo Bar for the past three years and said they
were never lacking prospective talent.
“I get 20 to 30 emails a week from people
trying to get themselves organised to play here at
Hippo,” she said.
“The school of music at the ANU is right next
to the city and it’s quite well established so it’s
pivotal that if there are literally thousands of
musicians on your doorstop, that they have
somewhere to play.”
It’s a situation that, while tough for musicians,
means Canberrans can rest assured they’ll be
seeing the best Canberra has to offer the next time
they head out into the city.
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