Sunshine, a pint, and some chill tunes – is there any better way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon? This weekend’s tunes were provided by Daniel Champagne, a prodigious singer-songwriter who picked up a guitar at 5 years old and has been captivating hearts and souls across the globe ever since.
Coming to the end of his New Zealand tour, Daniel had picked up an “exotic” cold on our chilly shores, and it lended his soulful voice an air of grunginess usually only achievable with a 20 pack of smokes.
The gig kicked off with a feisty rendition of ‘That’s Why I Still Chase the Sky’. I found myself sitting, mouth agape, for the next few minutes. I can honestly say I have never seen anyone play a guitar the way Daniel does: smoothly plucked notes and chords, punctuated by slapping and knocking the wood, as is typical of the percussive style. He played with a kind of loose, easy movement that filled the space around him, and gave the impression his guitar was an extension of his body.
His next named song, ‘The Nightingale’, was sweet and soothing. Daniel must have perfect pitch, because part of the song involved progressively dropping the tuning of his guitar by a few steps, and then re-tuning it to carry on, seamlessly, mid-song. It’s no wonder that, at the age of 18, his masterful playing captured the attentions of one particular geriatric Tasmanian resident – but that’s a story for another day.
Let’s take a moment to talk about his instrument. Daniel uses a Cole Clark custom guitar, built to spec – the spec being, it has to take a bloody hammering. Made from Tasmanian Blackwood, it has double sheets of wood going cross grain to survive being hit, punched, and dropped. So when he covered Willie Dixon’s ‘Spoonful’, one of my all time favourite blues songs, and ended by tossing his guitar on the stage, he didn’t even flinch – and neither did the guitar. It sat there in one piece until the second half of the show.
In an entirely delightful and novel move, Blue Smoke put on a full roast meal during the half time break, with various meats, a lush looking pumpkin salad, and bread and butter pudding. Being a vegetarian, I gave it a miss, but can readily recommend the rosemary-flecked polenta fries (crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside) and fried Nepalese dumplings. Washing the whole lot down with a malty yet refreshing Cassels and Sons Lager, I felt ready for the second half.
Daniel had graciously taken requests from the crowd, and started off with a young audience member’s pick (and my favourite), ‘Supernova’, featuring floating harmonics, and a simple beat driving through from the first chorus. As the afternoon drew to an end and the autumn sun dipped beneath the horizon, Daniel treated us to a few new pieces which he had promised himself he would play on this tour but not quite mustered the courage to until now (“I think you guys aren’t as scary as you look”). In a closing ode to his homeland, ‘The Coast of New South Wales’ brought to mind classic Australian landscapes, with a bittersweet sense of being on the road, far away from the ones you love. This was a common thread through a few of his songs, and one got the impression that the life of a wandering muso could takes a toll on the heart.
With any luck, Daniel will be back on our shores next year, but in the meantime he’s – of course – hitting the road back home in Australia.
Most memorable lyrics: “When I told you I/was afraid to fall/really I/was afraid to fly at all” (from ‘The Nightingale’).
That’s Why I Still Chase The Sky
New (unnamed original)
The Great Dividing Range
Fade To Black
Heart Shaped Tattoo
Child In Yourself