Free live music; beers, barbecue and giant vintage games in the sun; brand new bands fresh on the scene: what’s not to love about the Seymour Centre’s Courtyard Sessions?
Founded in 2012, the Sessions are a platform for up-and-coming local artists to showcase their music and are this year being curated by writer, publisher and music aficionado Larry Heath. We caught up with Larry to find out what he has in store for the 2016 season.
1. The open-air setting is amazing with lights in the trees and vintage games you can play
The Courtyard Sessions start at 6pm every Friday night and artists usually play three thirty-minute sets to a chilled after-work crowd. “The general atmosphere is a really relaxed one,” Larry tells us. “We want people to sit down, have a beer and a bit of barbecue and just enjoy the surrounds. We have beautiful trees that hang over the courtyard with lights strung through them and the atmosphere is amazing.”
As well as drinks and food, the event will also have vintage games: things like a giant Jenga and Connect Four. We can’t wait.
2. There are some exciting emerging Australian artists on the line up
2016’s instalment has eight events over seven weeks and features emerging Australian artists. “Seven out of the eight events feature artists from Sydney or New South Wales,” Larry says. “And the other – the closing event – features HOWQUA from Melbourne.”
When asked how he selects artists, Larry says, “We start by looking towards the singer-songwriters in and around Sydney whose music will work well in that space. A big heavy rock band, for example, doesn’t quite work in the intimate outdoor setting.”
“We’re not creating a mosh pit,” he laughs. “It’s usually a mix of solo artists and bands playing folk music, country music, blues, and indie/indie pop.”
Past years have seen the likes of Emma Swift, Doctor Gooddard and Gay Paris in the courtyard. This year, Fanny Lumsden, William Crighton and Jordan Millar are on the bill alongside, ILUKA, Ed Saloman from Louis London and Microwave Jenny, who recently toured with Brisbane indie pop band Sheppard.
3. The programme has been handpicked by someone who knows the scene well
The Sessions are in safe hands with Larry as programmer. Founder of music blog, The AU Review, Larry is a prolific music writer and organiser. “For the last twelve months I have been curating an event called The AU Sessions at the Hive Bar in Erskineville,” he explains. “Every month we’d have a list of people we wanted to play and I had some artists leftover from that which I chose for the Courtyard Sessions. I also had artists who played the AU Sessions that I wanted to programme again. Fanny Lumsden played the first ever AU Session, for example, and I wanted to bring her back for the Courtyard Sessions this year.”
Larry is effectively picking up where he left off at the AU Sessions and is able to book even bigger artists than before because the Courtyard Sessions has a bit of a budget. Larry continues: “I have been really impressed by the response to these events. People are really keen partly because there is no pressure: they don’t have to play songs that people know because it’s a free show and the audience has no expectations about what they’ll hear.”
4. 2016 will include the first ever tie-in with Mardi Gras
On Sunday 21 February the Courtyard Sessions are trialling something outside the usual Friday after work parameters. “We’re putting an event on to run alongside the Mardi Gras Fair Day, which takes place across the road in Victoria Park,” Larry tells us. “We will have a couple of DJs – Jake Stone of Blue Juice, plus a special surprise guest who’s incredible – from midday to 4pm. If it goes down well, we might do more Sunday afternoon DJ sets next year.”
5. You can see Louis London’s Ed Saloman’s first solo gig in years
This year, the Courtyard Sessions are welcoming Ed Saloman from Sydney five-piece, Louis London, to play the opening night. “Musically, it’s special show for Ed because he hasn’t one in quite a while so it’s going to be a great opportunity for his fans and fans of Louis London to see what he’s been working on,” Larry says. “It’s really great that he’s chosen the Courtyard Sessions to restart his touring cycle,” he smiles. “It was actually a bit of a coup to get him because he hasn’t played a solo show for quite a while.” Ed plays a mixture of acoustic and electric tracks.
6. It’s free
Being a free event, Larry has the freedom to program the people he thinks people should see, rather than simply choosing artists that are popular. “People don’t want to spend money on an artist they don’t know in case they don’t enjoy the music, but if an event’s free, they are likely to turn up to see what’s happening.”
He tells us that the atmosphere of the Courtyard Sessions is always and amazing and people come especially to discover new music. “We want to be supporting Australian music,” he enthuses. “We want to be supporting new artists and we want to be showing off what we think are some of the best live acts in the country.”
7. You might discover your new fave band
With that in mind, just think what incredible new music you could discover! You may even find your fave new band.
8. You might see the ‘next big thing’
“There’re plenty of artists who’ve played the Courtyard Sessions early in the careers before becoming really successful,” Larry says. Little May who played in 2014, for example, have just done an international tour.
Larry continues: “That’s what we want: we want people on board that we think are going to explode in the next twelve months or couple of years, and we want to help them on their journey, so to speak. In my profession it’s all so much about that – bringing people opportunities to discover new music and bringing musicians opportunities to play to appreciative crowds that may not otherwise know of them or see them.”
That’s the advantage of free events: programmers can book artists who people are going to take a chance on.
9. You’ll be supporting live music in Sydney in the face of the damaging lock out laws
From the ease of online streaming and digital downloading, to a lack of ticket sales and funding for events, there are plenty of things that threaten live music these days. The biggest challenge in Sydney, though, may be the lockout laws, which are forcing venues to close all over the place. “Although the City of Sydney is supporting this event, the current government in general is applying a trigger happy approach to legislation that’s being instigated without collaborating or coordinating with the people it impacts,” Larry explains. “The lockout laws were made without consulting anyone – anyone at all – from the sector and that’s the biggest challenge.”
“There has to be a dialogue between the musicians, the venues, and everyone who’s involved in the live music scene in Sydney,” he continues. “The minute you throw art and culture into a community, that community has fewer problems – it’s been proven in Paris, London, New York, LA and Melbourne – and this government is totally missing the point.”
Larry is instrumental in creating the kind of dialogue needed having recently become part of an initiative that works closely with the City of Sydney to start the conversation with the government about these sorts of decisions.
10. There are going to be some free drinks and other giveaways popping up on the Courtyard Sessions’ social media accounts. Yay, more free stuff!
“I hope everyone comes along and enjoys the music we’ve put together: I’ve seen all but one of the artists on the programme and they are artists I have enjoyed immensely over the years,” Larry says. “And keep an eye on the Courtyard Sessions’ Twitter, Facebook and Instagram channels: we’ll be giving away drinks tickets and other freebies!” We’re there.
The Courtyard Sessions 2016 kick off on Friday 5 February at 6pm. Visit www.seymourcentre.com/events/event/courtyard-sessions-2016 to see the full programme
Rosie Pentreath is a freelance arts journalist who moved from the UK to Sydney in April 2015, just to shake things up a bit. Formerly Digital Editor & Staff Writer at BBC Music Magazine, she has bylines in BBC Music Magazine, Homes & Antiques magazine, The Debrief and Sinfini Music, to name a few. When she’s not writing, she’s most happy running around with a Pentax MV1 SLR camera or discovering as much new music as she can. Rosie tweets at @RosiePentreath, writes on Medium and updates this blog with her experiences in Australia.
Disclaimer: The Plus Ones are invited guests of the Courtyard Sessions