If there was one surprise that Winnipeg Folk Festival got right, it was Kim Churchill. Whether intentional or not, it wouldn’t be a long shot to say that this Aussie knew how to make girls of all ages swoon (and how to get some unexpected man crushes to emerge). The twenty-two year old took audiences to a new level with his creative approach to solo performance, the passion and soul he brings on stage with him, and not to mention his charming – but humble – good looks.
Playing the guitar, harmonica, a kick drum, a tambourine, and singing at the same time isn’t something that Churchill just picked up off the street. Actually, it was something he had to bring to the street shortly after graduating high school, busking to pay the petrol bills from one gig to another across the vast land of Australia. Churchill gave me the scoop on how the one-man-band came to be his forte:
“My mom helped me buy a camper van, and we put a bed in the back of it. I got two hours on the road and realized I had to try to make a career out of this because I was running out of petrol and I didn’t have much money. So I immediately started busking, I had to make money to survive … if nobody is listening to you, you’re not going to make any money, so you need to find ways to turn people’s heads and grab their attention. And so the multi-instrumentalist thing was a kind of novelty aspect that was almost immediately grabbing people’s attention. And so when I started I had a kick drum, a tambourine, a guitar and a harmonica, and I even had some chimes that I would hit with my elbow … it was a process: you draw people in, convincing them that you have enough to offer, so that they buy a CD or throw some money in the case. So that’s how it’s all developed and that’s how I decided to continue honing in on it.”
Continuing this approach to performance, Churchill says, “now it’s quite different – I’ve really inserted all of my influences into it.” He grew up in a household full of musical influence, his father a classic rock fanatic devoted to bands like Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and on the more psychedelic side the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane, while his mother loved glam rock superstars such as David Bowie.
“But I’ve always been very obsessed with Bob Dylan – he has been the main one for me,” Churchill says, “and through Dylan I found Neil Young and Nick Drake, and a whole bunch of acoustic-based songwriters that I thought were really amazing. And slowly, I started to really realize how brilliant a lot of the stuff that my Dad liked was.” And you can hear it in his music: with the reverbs, echoes and delays falling off random intervals in his songs, Churchill uses his creativity to catch listeners off guard, bringing it all together perfectly. Having studied classical guitar for ten years, his expertise and musicality have become second nature, leaving room to bring in other elements to his performance. “As much as I wish I could say I had grown up spending four hours a day on the electric guitar, I think classical guitar is a really good thing to have sitting subconsciously underneath everything.”
So where does this creative vision come from with every performance? “It’s almost like you look at a venue or room full of people, and they are your canvas, and you choose the kind of paint you are going to use,” says Churchill. “I am solo on stage and I don’t have anybody else there, so I can take things in whatever direction I want … You wouldn’t try to use chalk on an oil canvas – so I think I change things, not just the songs, but the delivery. Every audience is different, but I think on some level Canadian and Australian audiences are quite similar – both are really proud of being happy, welcoming people, and they certainly emanate that.”
Churchill impressed Winnipeg Folk Festers with several performances, including a few daytime workshops as well as a tweener on the Main Stage Friday night. His best however was his own solo concert on Little Stage on the Prairie on Saturday afternoon. From a distance, one would expect a full band to be on stage, but once up close would be surprised to find Churchill on his own. Whether the crowd consisted of die hard fans, enamored girls, or many new listeners, the young Aussie dominated every single one, proving he is something to be recognized. When asked about his approach to performances at music festivals, he says “I think I try to push things in directions that haven’t been explored yet.” His foot stomping beat throughout the concert as well as innovative additions like singing into the harmonica to create a slender, echoed effect was more than enough to keep the audience on their feet, but it was the passion and energy that came out of “The Early” that really took off, and ended the concert on an exhilarating high.
“I don’t think you ever get used to it,” says Churchill about playing to large audiences like the size at WFF’s main stage. “For me it’s still this huge rush, you can sort of feel a kind of positive energy circulating between you and that many people. It’s a beautiful gift to be given and a it’s a beautiful gift to give.”
All I can say about this guy is that he possibly represents the definition of live performance. While Churchill’s studio recordings are full of soul and thoughtfulness, his live performances bring his compositions to a whole new level, and one that will blow you away upon first listen. While he is touring quite often in Canada, don’t second guess yourself when buying a ticket to see Kim Churchill live. I can promise that you’ll leave with more than your money’s worth.
When asked about his impression of WFF, Churchill replied, “it’s probably one of the first times I’ve seen such a big festival maintain that kind of small festival vibe. I grew up going to small festivals with only five to six hundred people, and this somehow has a similar vibe to them. I don’t know how they manage to do it, but it’s very impressive and it’s something that I’ve never seen before.” – Hopefully the festival leaves a lasting impression on Churchill, as I can guarantee that many are hopeful he’ll be in the line-up again next year for WFF’s 40th anniversary. His own full Main Stage performance, perhaps? Fingers crossed!
WFF Photography by Bram Sawatzky
*For those of you nearby, Kim Churchill is playing Canmore Folk Festival August 3-5.