Winter Ball 2011
" The highlights of this year's Winter Ball will be musical, I think - I know who I've invited, but I've no idea what we're going to do." So laughs Charles Jenkins, one-time leader of legendary Adelaide greasy power-pop band The Mad Turks From Istanbul, Melbourne's Icecream Hands, and lately eponymous leader of Charles Jenkins & The Zhivagos. Jenkins' songwriting abilities are renowned by fans and contemporaries alike - in daylight hours he conducts songwriting workshops in Victorian high schools - but he's not holding himself out as an anally retentive event organiser. "It's loosely forming at the moment," Jenkins muses. "Everyone's busy - the ship's slowly turning toward the Corner Hotel," he laughs.
Jenkins donated his name and organisational efforts to the first Blue Atlas Winter Ball in 2009. The original idea was simple - having just released his first album with The Zhivagos, Blue Atlas, Jenkins decided to hold an event at The Corner Hotel at which a range of Zhivagos contemporaries would each play one of Jenkins' songs; Jenkins would return the favour by playing a song written by each of the other artists on the bill. While Jenkins' name was prominent in advertising for the gig, the event was also a charity fundraising effort, with all proceeds going to the local VicRelief charity. "I never wanted it to be a case of 'look at me'," Jenkins points out.
The foundation Winter Ball was a resounding success - listeners of Triple R's Off the Record radio program voted it the best Melbourne music event of 2009 - and Jenkins decided to follow it up with another Winter Ball in 2010. While not critical of last year's event, Jenkins says the 2011 ball is intended to revert to the format successfully used at the 2009 event. "If there was a criticism of last year's event, it was the format," he explains. "With this year's Winter Ball, I aim to make it like the first year."
Jenkins admits with each event comes a sense of fatigue and a desire to spare himself the organisational headaches of another Winter Ball. Over the course of the year, however, and his will - bent by the encouragement of others in the local music scene - begins to bend. "After each event I say I'll never do it again," Jenkins laughs. "Then I forget how much was involved in putting it together, and I then I get talked into doing it all again," he smiles.
Having decided to put his mind and body into a third Winter Ball, Jenkins set about assembling the lineup for the gig. Jenkins says there's no particular science to the artists participating in this year's version of the Winter Ball. "It's terribly haphazard," he says, almost apologetically.
"I started off trying to get different people from last year, but then there were some people who just had to be involved."
Jenkins' initial focus was on The Zhivagos record, Walk This Ocean, which the band released in 2010. "With this year there's a new record, and the people I've invited have [a part in] that record," he says. The lyrics to Save from Walk This Ocean for instance - which name checks local musicians Van and Cal Walker - ensure the Walker brothers would appear at this year's event. "I had to get Van Walker because of him being in the song," Jenkins points out, "and I'm hoping we can get Cal to come along as well."
The rest of the lineup is equally auspicious, with artists including Ashley Naylor, Georgia Fields, Kat Spazzy, Mike Noga and Liz Stringer lending their talents to the show. "I'm going to do an Even song, I'll also be doing Van Walker's Rules Of Pain," Jenkins reveals. He's also still pondering which Spazzys song to perform. "I can't wait to sing a Spazzys song," he says with youthful enthusiasm. "Maybe I'll do Paco Doesn't Love Me - that'd be great, wouldn't it?" he laughs.
To the extent that there's a common theme in the artists featured in each version of Winter Ball, it seemingly comes down to Jenkins' personal friendships. "I don't really like approaching people that I don't know," he admits. Despite relying on platonic rather than financial incentive ("the money goes to charity, so no-one's getting a lot of money"), Jenkins hasn't had too much trouble attracting musicians to join the lineup - in fact, it seems a case of the mutual appreciation society coming together for its annual general meeting.
"Liz Stringer is absolutely fucking sensational - if people in this town don't realise just how talented she is, then they have to come along and see her play to understand," Jenkins figures. "Ashley Naylor played at last year's Winter Ball, but he couldn't stick around because he had to play another gig on the night, so this time he's here for the whole show. Mike Noga hasn't been on the bill before - I'm going to be doing Irene from his album, which I'm really excited about as well."
And the fun doesn't stop there. Jenkins waxes lyrical about Georgia Fields, while Jeff Lang gets his own superlatives ("Jeff Lang is just insane," he says with a shake of the head). Then there's former Died Pretty singer Ron Peno, currently heading up his new solo outfit, Ron Peno And The Superstitions. Rumour had it that Peno made it known before last year's event that he was expecting the call-up; Jenkins neither confirms nor denies the rumour, but says this year the weight of popular opinion compelled Peno' presence on the bill. "It was due to overwhelming public demand that Ron gets invited onto the bill," Jenkins says, with a hint of a smile.
Former Hunters and Collectors lead singer Mark Seymour will also make his Winter Ball debut this year. Perhaps surprisingly, Jenkins says he didn't know Seymour until their paths crossed as part of one of Jenkins' songwriting workshops.
"Because I run songwriting workshops where up-and-coming songwriters are thrown into a room with experienced songwriters, and then I slam the door… that's what I call facilitating," Jenkins laughs, self-deprecatingly. "That's how I met Mark Seymour - and I had the gall to call him up and ask him if he wanted to be on the bill. I'm just as much of a nervous fan as the next person," Jenkins laughs.
With such an eclectic lineup, and a warm and inviting atmosphere, it's surprising there hasn't been an effort to release a live recording of the event. Jenkins says such a marketing development - while likely to attract hefty popular interest - goes against the grain of the event. "The first Winter Ball was recorded, but we got sidetracked and never went through with it," Jenkins recallos. "There are a few things online, but do something more would cost a bit of money. And it's a charity event, and I'd hope that people would come along and see the show rather than watching crappy YouTube footage of the night."
Previous years' Winter Balls have been accompanied by an invitation for attendees to frock or suit up. Jenkins is happy for attendees to go to a sartorial effort, though he's wary of tarting the night up too much. "I suppose people can put on something nice for the evening, but I don't want to make a meal of that," Jenkins smiles. "You can wear thongs if you want - I might be wearing thongs, but only on my feet," he laughs.
Despite having his name attached to all three of the Winter Balls, Jenkins is still keen for someone else to take the baton and organise future events. "I'd like the event to continue, but I don't think it should necessarily be me behind the event," Jenkins muses. "I'd like someone else to curate it. Melbourne should support it, because there's so many great musicians in this town."
For Jenkins, the idea of dedicating a couple of months of each year in full-blown event organisation mode is anathema to his artistic bent. "I'm a songwriter by trade," he says, "so I'd rather concentrate on that."
Jenkins' ultimate vision for the event is close to the All Tomorrow's Parties concept, with a rotating curatorship. "The aim has been to have a different person curate each year," Jenkins says. "It'd be great if future events were held along those lines - that was certainly the original intention." Jenkins' preference is also for the charity aspect of the Winter Ball to take precedence over any particular artist. "It would be really great if it could just become the VicRelief Winter Ball," he figures.
Interestingly, with his energies so devoted to logistics, Jenkins hasn't had a lot of time so far to sit down with his band mates to practice for the event. "We haven't even practised yet," Jenkins confirms with a laugh. "I'm sure we'll practice before the event - I find that works better than after the event," he chuckles. Notwithstanding, Jenkins is confident his own band will come up trumps on the night. "It's really the band that has to sweat it out on the night," Jenkins says. "And that's OK, because the Zhivagos are absolutely incredible."
The 2011 WINTER BALL , featuring CHARLES JENKINS & THE ZHIVAGOS, along with a stellar lineup of guestsincluding Mark Seymour, Mick Thomas, Jeff Lang, Lisa Miller, Shane O'Mara, Ashley Naylor, Kat Spazzy, Georgia Fields, Van Walker, Liz Stringer, Mike Noga and perennial favourite Ron Peno, will be held at The Corner Hotel this Saturday July 9 from 8pm. Tickets are available from cornerhotel.com, The Corner Hotel box office or 9427 9198. With proceeds being donated to Foodbank Victoria make sure you support this worthy cause, while partying with some of Melbourne's best musical talent. CHARLES JENKINS & THE ZHIVAGOS' latest album, Walk This Ocean , is out now through Dust Devil Music.