Paddy McHugh @ The Old Museum

Beautiful music for a beautiful venue..

Brisbane's country storyteller Paddy McHugh has a new album to share and is launching it at the Old Museum.

Before we get to him though, there are a couple of supporting artists. Gretta Ziller plays accompanied only by her guitar to an attentive audience. The most distinctive feature of her songwriting is the usage of rural metaphors to explore personal relationships - most notably slaughterhouses and failed mining towns. The songs were clever and heartfelt; and Gretta got a good reception from the audience.

Next up is Sam Newman. It is unfortunate for someone trying to be a public figure (like a musician) to share their name with another public figure who is thoroughly dislikeable; but Sam seems to have decided to struggle on without changing his name. He plays a very indie kind of alt-country with emotive singing over a gentle folky backing. It may be that the venue has now filled up with more people, but Sam's songs seem to act more as background music, not quite capturing the attention of the audience.

No such issues for the night's headliner - there is tangible excitement in the room for the entrance of Paddy McHugh. While Paddy has been building an audience for years playing his Australiana-country, his new album City Bound Trains has seemingly opened up new horizons - after a couple of DIY releases he is now on ABC music. The arrangement and production of songs has a new epic expansiveness; and the Old Museum is a new surrounding with its ornate trimmings and audience seating.

The set begins with Down To Sydney, a track off the new album hat features a few classic Paddy McHugh motifs - a narrative song structure, themes of heartbreak and death, and a sly sense of humour. To say the audience response was enthusiastic would be an understatement - and yet I think the crowd got more enthused as the show went on. Backed by a full band (double bass, two electric guitars, keyboard and drums), Paddy went through most of the new album as well as new reworkings of a couple of old favourites. The songs and performance were great, but the most notable thing about the night was the audience response.

I don't have any stats to back this up, but I assume this would be the biggest crowd Paddy's played to as a headline act. And not just were they all paying attention and loudly cheering between songs. People were singing along even to the new songs and shouting out interjections as Paddy stopped to introduce each song. I think it's partly his laidback average bloke demeanour; partly the local references that inhabit his songs; maybe the way he sucks the listener in by telling a story. But whatever the reason, Paddy McHugh's songs really mean a lot to people. He's not a musician you just just come and watch, he's someone you identify with.

As the set closes with old favourite The Snowmen, someone from the front row jumps up on stage to join in. The security guards - ornamental all night as the most well-behaved crowd in the Valley wandered in - are suddenly a flurry of activity. Paddy politely shoos the security away. It's a little flash of a punk past momentarily invading his alt-country present. But it's not out of place - it feels like a symbol of how Paddy McHugh's music and authenticity can appeal across the board to a broad range of people. As he attempts to branch out to new audiences and musical frontiers, he brings with him the influences of small towns, punk, radical politics and DIY.

The band leaves, but Paddy relents to the pressure and returns for a solo encore of epic death ballad Dan O'Halloran. The night is not over though - people mill around and chat, picking up the new album and stopping for a handshake with the artist - a self-proclaimed teacher and dad who has also created a great album and live show.

Zed Facts

In November 2013, Queer Radio was chosen by an independent panel of judges to win the CAN Awards 2013 Media Award. The Community Action Network Awards were first introduced in 1997 to recognize achievement that is positive and makes a difference in the inner city areas of Brisbane. Coordinated by the New Farm Neighbourhood Centre, the award citation reads "For excellence in journalism/social media which promotes the social inclusion and equality for all".