Live Review

Scott Cook at New Farm Bowls Club

The BUG (Brisbane Unplugged Gig) is a local music institution that has been taking place for 15 years. If you’ve never heard of it, don’t feel bad because to be honest not any people under the age of 60 have heard of it. But Brisbane has a healthy folk music scene, and tonight the New Farm Bowls Club has filled out to see Canadian folk singer Scott Cook.


First off though is a blackboard session – the folkie term for an open mic. We are presented with a woman singing beautiful Celtic folk songs, a fella singing country tunes of death and infidelity, and a guy doing a couple of authentic sounding covers of 70s soft country crooners.


The first scheduled act is Lizzie Flynn and the Runaway Trains. I have seen Lizzie and the boys (they look young enough to be her kids!) play a couple of times recently. The songs are upbeat and energetic country pop tunes; brought to life by an extremely competent acoustic trio on fiddle, guitar and double bass. The band obviously greatly enjoy getting to cut loose, and the vibe of fun permeates the room as Lizzie sings of love and adventure.


Scott Cook plays folk music. And I don’t just mean he sings and strums an acoustic guitar. I mean in the etymological sense of the German “volk” - music for the people, by the people.


For one, there is no big record label, promotion or management here. Scott drives around Australia in a van he has bought for the tour, along with his musical and romantic partner Pamela Mae. He mans the merch table, chatting to each person who buys a CD/book (as he jokes from the stage, he gets carried away writing liner notes). I did not see a single advertisement promoting this gig, and I doubt many of the audience did either. Like probably everybody else, I heard his music through word of mouth – specifically a friend singing a rendition of one of his songs.


The performance is personal – rather than an international star up on stage, Scott has a way of making you feel like he is sharing a song just as a personal act of friendship. The songs too are about people – how we live, how we relate to each other, how we grow or are restrained. They are personal without being heart rending confessions of love and heartbreak. They re political, though exemplified by the lyrics of Say Can You See: “And it’s working people who made this country great / Not the greedy opportunists or the peddlers of hate / And if a new day’s coming, it’s gotta come from you and me”


A running theme through Scott’s music is how our personal lives relate to the world around us. Pass It Along is about all the stuff we accumulate in this world and what kind of legacy it leads to. Enough is on a similar theme but a bit less cosmic - comparing the poverty of his grandparents to our unhappy affluence today. Another song reflects on his own journey in music from rowdy punk rocker to conscientious adult folkie. And a lovely new song, drawing on his experiences as a kindergarten teacher in Taiwan, is about the way we are broken into conformity by social institutions.


Between the songs and his easygoing introductions, there’s a distinct vibe created – a warmness that fills the room with gratitude for all we are given in this crazy world, optimism that we can leave it in a better place than we found it, a sense of community in the shared experience.


Following the set, a long queue formed at the merch table – to take home the CDs and books, and no doubt tell more people about the show so next time there will be a few more newbies like me. Scott Cook is a prime example of genuine folk music – for the people, by the people.


- Words by Andy Paine
- Photo by
Tina Dominic


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