Back in 2002 I received a CD as a Christmas present from a good friend of mine. It was an EP called Prelusiveand she explained it was the debut EP by an old friend of hers who was now going by the name of Sarah Blasko.
I really enjoyed what I heard and was excited when the song Your Way started to get some air play on Triple J radio. Over the 10 plus years since then I have watched this Sydney based singer-song writer blossom into one of Australia’s top female musicians. Her 4 albums to date have seen significant chart success in Australia, winning her two ARIA awards and numerous other award nominations. And she has toured extensively, selling out good size venues all over Australia, joining the lineup of numerous festivals and earlier this year, even playing 2 sold out nights at the iconic Sydney Opera House, backed by a full orchestra.
Unfortunately for Sarah, none of these things count for much in the very beautiful but somewhat sleepy Dutch town of Haarlem. The show would be at the Patronaat, a pretty cool, multi-stage venue which I had heard about but never actually been to before. Heading out there we were expecting Sarah to be on in the small room (capacity of around 300 people), rather than the large hall which holds around 900 people. So it was a little surprising to find the show had actually been moved into the café, or bar part of the venue rather than either hall.
We entered the relatively small bar area while the Dutch support act was on stage and stood at the back of the room, behind two guys in very skinny black jeans and black leather shoes. They had tucked in long sleeve shirts buttoned to the neck and with the sleeves rolled up to their elbows. One was also wearing a vest and I had an immediate flashback to shows in Newtown, surrounded by local hipsters and wondered how on earth they had found their way to Haarlem?
It was only then that I noticed the pretty lady standing with them in her vintage style dress, and realized that was Sarah Blasko and these two hipsters must be her band. Sure enough, a few minutes later they wondered up to the front of the room and then took to the stage. No dramatic entrance, no showmanship and apparently no back stage area at all.
I am never good at guessing crowd numbers, but I would say there was somewhere between 50 and 100 people in the room. It certainly looked like an okay sized crowd but in an admittedly small space. We had made our way to the front, right hand side of the stage by now and it was really great to be up close and see Sarah in action.
She opened up with show with a bunch of songs from her 3rd album, As Day Follows Night, and she was really able to show off the range of her voice. Right from the opening song of Explain she was hitting all the right notes and even though I am more familiar with her earlier work, I was sucked right into the show from that opening song.
The two hipsters turned out to be Ben Fletcher (previously of Bluebottle Kiss) on guitar and David Hunt on piano. They provided great support, letting Blasko’s voice be the driving instrument but giving great texture and layering to the sound and certainly keeping things more interesting than what I have seen previously when she is completely solo.
The second half of the set was entirely from her new album, I Awake, and in probably less than an hour it was all over. The shorter set and no encore was probably appropriate for the venue, the ticket price and the relatively small crowd and no one seemed at all disappointed. Personally I probably would have liked one of the older, bigger, songs but I didn’t really mind and she more than made up for it after the show by hanging around selling her own merchandise, signing autographs and talking to any punter who wanted a chat.
Never ones to let an opportunity pass by to shoot the breeze with a fellow countryman (or woman), we ended up chatting to Sarah for quite a while, while her band mates were still busy packing up their equipment and taking out to the car (themselves).
She turned out to be very down to earth and easy to talk to, which is exactly how she comes across on stage. When we asked about how she ended up playing here in Haarlem she went on to explain that she did not choose the location and had been a little puzzled by some other locations on this tour.
And the natural flow of conversation about this venue of course went into asking about her favorite venues back in Australia. Team Sydney had a nice victory over team Perth, with Sarah explain how excited she gets to play at the Enmore Theatre, just because that was the venue she grew up loving. She also talked about how cool it was to have played at the Sydney Opera House with a full Orchestra earlier this year – you don’t get any more iconic concert houses in Australia than that, and it would probably make a top 10 of iconic venues around the world.
Her latest album had been partly recorded with the Bulgaria’s 52 piece New Symphony Orchestra, in Sophia, the Bulgarian capital. When we asked how that came about she explained that her family has Bulgarian heritage and it had been something she had wanted to do for a long time. The remainder of the album was recorded in Stockholm, Sweden – in the same studio as her previous album.
It seemed like a long way to go to find a studio, but she told us the story of how much good music, particularly strong female music, was coming out of Sweden and that she had really wanted to work with producer Björn Yttling (of Peter, Bjorn and John fame). Even though the new album was self produced, the experience of making As Day Follows Night up in Stockholm had been so good, she chose to go back and work with a lot of the same people again.
Having taken up more than enough of her time, we bid her good luck and good night and made our way back to the bar. There are plenty of great things about being an expat in the Netherlands and nights like tonight are right up there towards the top of the list. It was a fantastic night, and something that would never be possible back home.