Tinpan Orange, Thelma Plum - The Vanguard, Sydney

Written by Therese Watson

Tinpan Orange, Thelma Plum - The Vanguard, Sydney

Back in February last year, a friend took me to a show at The Vanguard. It was there that I first met Tinpan Orange. I knew from their first song that this would become a special relationship. Now, over a year and a half later, and after the release of their incredible new album Over The Sun, I made my way back to that same venue, hoping they were what I remembered. They were better.

I was really excited to see that Thelma Plum would be the support for their Sunday night gig. I remember being struck by this enchanting voice and incredibly touching song, Father Said, a while back. Running just shy of two minutes, it is full of heart. Hearing she’d won the triple j Unearthed spot to perform at the National Indigenous Music Awards seemed unsurprising, but hearing she was a mere 17 years old was. This is one young songstress that has musical soul beyond her years.

Seeing her perform was a real treat. As she fiddled with her necklace during songs, Thelma did seem a little nervous, yet her humble and vulnerable stage presence and that sincere voice and Aussie twang captivated us all. She was accompanied for most songs by Andrew on guitar, who also added smooth vocal harmonies. Heels towered Thelma over Andrew, but their musical connection was level and extremely complementing. The way they layered vocal parts of the songs, like in Rosie, and harmonised in simple thirds or octaves was pretty perfect.

They told us how, while at the Opera House for the Deadlys, they managed to write a song in their dressing room. And with truthful lyrics like ‘you say you love how he called you darling, do you love how he hurts you, darling?’ and ‘people always question if you’re the one that’s right, but who really cares?’, the song is killer. Thelma Plum has a remarkable way of saying so much in a few short lines, and her delivery is just as real. Finishing with the upbeat Dollar, Thelma and Andrew definitely wowed us all.

When Melbournites Tinpan Orange took to the stage, I was immediately transfixed. Beginning with the album’s opening track, Birdy, Emily’s charisma and red locks grabbed the full room’s gaze and her distinctive voice warmed our ears. With full band, including her husband Harry James Angus on keys and brother Jesse on guitar, the song settled into a fun-fair three-four, and the climbing electric guitar and cymbal crashes in the bridge were thrilling.

After a casual hello, they went straight into Flowers. Well, after a croak and a clearing cough, they did. Yet the false start didn’t bother me at all: it simply made the good-humoured Emily appear even more genuine. With a mini electric guitar finishing the song with a baroque-styled outro, the song was lively and full. Her voice did seem a little tired during Like Snow, but she managed to use this musically, in aid of her melancholia. I really love Emily’s songwriting style. Her structuring and subtle changes in time or phrasing excites me each new song I hear. And the band facilitates the swift changes between genre ever so well.

Introducing the love ditty La La La with an accidental innuendo, “wrote it when the weather was tropical and my fellow went down south…oh wait…”, the crowd giggled, and gladly joined in on the chorus and swayed to the cute ukulele rhythms. With an amazing way of storytelling that fascinates you, Tinpan Orange’s songs are at once familiar and unique. I got lost watching Barcelona, but it was just as amazing to see the musicians get lost in Lonely People. More heartfelt than the record, it was the ending that was particularly stunning: suddenly stripping back to leave strong, choral voices: ‘We are the lonely people…who said it’s so bad anyway?’ A definite highlight.

Tinpan Orange treated us with their quirky cover of Round the Twist and a devilish Tom Waits song, as well as the energetic Tattoo on Her Wrist where Emily jumped about the stage, dancing and twirling with loveliness. They finished their set with Saudades, a gorgeous track from their first album The Bottom of The Lake. The violin and piano counter-melodies were beautiful, and those lyrics: ‘Love is fast. Life is slow’. They really hit me.

Thankfully entertaining us with an encore, “you didn’t think we’d leave you with that one…what a downer!”, Tinpan Orange premiered a new track. Three-part choral accompaniment to Emily’s melody and plucking guitar led into exciting floor tom beats and more casual unison vocals. But to top it off was Whiskey – a crowd favourite, gypsy-folk number with a brilliant violin solo, energetically taking us to the end.

So go on, treat yourselves to the delight that is the album Over the Sun and get to know Tinpan Orange. It will surely be a beautiful and enduring relationship.


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