A Letter from Italy is a romantic story that isn’t just ruled by its heart. It’s a novel inspired by Louise Mack, the first female war correspondent who worked during the First World War. It’s a book that shows how a determined and strong journalist negotiates the trials and tribulations of being a woman in a male-dominated industry and also through a time of tumultuous change.

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Oh you pretty things. As Hyde Park’s Sydney Festival Village heaved with people paying their last respects to the one and only David Bowie, a little band from New Zealand played a nice venue called the Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent. They were The Chills and they played a set that was brimming with beautiful, indie pop music.

This little group that could have had their fair share of ups and downs over the years. For some time this was the primary vehicle for the final remaining, founding member and songwriter, Martin Phillipps. Their recent album, Silver Bullets has seen a return to form, with the current line-up having played together for approximately a decade and also managing to capture some of that magic, Dunedin sound that fans of the Flying Nun record label talk about with much admiration and respect.

This evening was as much about celebrating the strong new comeback album as it was about celebrating the old songs. There were some punters that would have been hearing all of these tracks live for the very first time. This is not a band that has toured Australia often which is a shame, as they put on a rather sweet show to say the least.

The set started with the lush “Night of Chill Blue”. It was one pretty and sublime song that set the tone for the remainder of the evening. Phillipps’ creations straddle the lines between shimmering love songs that echo with a bittersweet quality as well as having their fair share of moments where they delve into the deep and meaningful world of social issues and politics. It’s a heady mix that can see Phillipps declaring his ability to fall in love one moment in a song like “Wet Blanket”, and then take pot shots at the U.S. later on in “America Says Hello”.

The group were a tight one where the complex and jangly guitar riffs worked together with the keys and the violin played by Erica Scally. The latter created a very atmospheric tone, full of different textures and techniques. New songs “Aurora Corona”, “I Can’t Help You” and “Warm Waveform” were all well received and fitted well alongside older favourites like “House With A Hundred Rooms”. The music was very vibrant and youthful and could have been played by artists several decades younger than the front man. It also meant the tunes wouldn’t be out-of-place on a playlist alongside the likes of R.E.M., The Church or even Cloud Control.

The Chills played some great kaleidoscopes of swirling pop at Sydney Festival and more than one of their self-proclaimed ‘heavenly pop hits’. The set was a fitting batch of songs for a warm, summer night and while the group have never reached the upper echelons or levels of the Thin White Duke being celebrated nearby, they’d certainly found their niche and entertained one happy, sold-out Sydney crowd. The Chills finished up with “Rolling Moon” and left people feeling joyful and basking in their opulent pop tunes. It was just gorgeous.

Originally published on 18 January 2016 at the following website:

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benottewell copy


Ben Ottewell’s vocals are the defining characteristic of Gomez. So imagine our surprise when he told us that his bandmates treat him like the “new” boy because he was the last one to join. Never mind the last sixteen years, they had all grown up together. At Ottewell’s show at the Basement he wore the folk troubadour badge and entertained us with Gomez covers plus cuts from his solid, debut solo record and other tracks.

Over the course of the evening Ottewell would keep things simple and devoted his time between one of two acoustic guitars. This really allowed his vocals to shine. Even Wikipedia makes note of his “deep, raspy voice” and “gravely baritone”.

The fact is that Ottewell is naturally blessed with vocal chords that parallel musical greats like Eric Burdon, Robert Plant and John Fogerty, to name a few. Ottewell may be 43 years old but his voice sounds like a far older, tortured bluesmen – one drenched in experience and peppered by a life of whiskey, women and wanting (and only some of that may be applicable!)

The set commenced with a cover of Nick Drake’s “Black Eyed Dog”. This one sounded like the equivalent of a home-ward bound walk into the sunset. The Gomez track, “Free To Run” followed and was a good, albeit stripped-back version before Ottewell upped the romance with some “Shapes & Shadows”. The title track from his solo album could have been by Josh Pyke and one male punter summed it up best when he declared it, “Beautiful”.

In Gomez’s “Get Miles” Ottewell turned the song’s catchy riff into the foundations of a pure pop ditty. He also road-tested the new song, “Patience & Rosaries”, which had a dark undercurrent that made it not too far removed – at least sonically – from most of the tracks on his debut effort.

“Blackbird” was like a light and golden apology before Ottewell was joined by Shane Reilly on the pedal steel guitar. Ottewell joked that the instrument could also have been a knitting machine or a maths problem. The additional player added a country, prairie flavour to “All Brand New”. But it was pure blues on “Hamoa Beach” and this one boasted what we assume contains both Ottewell and his Gomez colleagues’ diverse array of influences.

The set highlight was a cover of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine”. This was sheer bliss and so good it sent shivers up my spine. It was also a very similar rendition to the angelic cover performed by a young Michael Jackson on The Stripped Mixes album. Ottewell then brought the show home with a bunch of Gomez favourites including: “How We Operate” and perhaps the best band track to translate into the acoustic environment, “78 Stone Wobble”, before an encore of “Tijuana Lady” a “Song about a lady from Mexico”.

Ben Ottewell’s show had been a quiet and pleasant flip through the songbooks by this raspy man and a few of his influences and loves. The Englishmen played some fine guitar and was a real sweet troubadour. He kept us entertained with some stellar song choices but it was his unique and frankly powerful voice that left us all leaning in and wanting more.

Ben Ottewell’s Sydney set list:

1. Black Eyed Dog (originally performed by Nick Drake)
2. Free To Run (originally performed by Gomez)
3. Shapes & Shadows
4. Love Is Better Than A Warm Trombone
5. Get Miles (originally performed by Gomez)
6. Patience & Rosaries
7. Blackbird
8. All Brand New
9. Hamoa Beach (originally performed by Gomez)
10. Little Pieces (originally performed by Gomez)
11. Step Right Back
12. Ain’t No Sunshine (originally performed by Bill Withers)
13. How We Operate (originally performed by Gomez)
14. 78 Stone Wobble (originally performed by Gomez)
15. Not Fade Away (originally performed by The Crickets)


16. Tijuana Lady (originally performed by Gomez)


Originally published on 13 July 2013 at the following website:

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