I didn’t go to see the singer-songwriter Colin Hay for the anecdotes. I think the first words he said as he took the stage were ‘Got enough chips there, mate?’, directed at one of the diners at the front table. It was immediately obvious that this Scot, who settled in L.A. after spending his first 14 years in Scotland and the next 24 in Australia, couldn’t half talk, and this gathering of polite Canadians were glad he did.
Hay’s acoustic guitar and mandola playing was folk-based, supple, powerful when it needed to be and often harmonically rich, courtesy of his use of alternate tunings. His singing was strong and precise, making use of what has been called the ‘pharyngeal’ voice, the super-high non-falsetto register above the normal male ‘chest’ voice. Like Sting when he sings with The Police, Hay often finishes the notes with a jazz-influenced vibrato.
I’ve got a few Colin Hay albums. Sometimes you can find 2 or 3 contrasting versions of the same song on different records. I’m sure he has got masses of material but he seems to know his stand-out pieces and is aware that his audience wants to hear them. Fortunately ‘Send Somebody’, from Hay’s latest CD ‘Gathering Mercury’, is one of these pieces, so it’s not all about recreating the past.
I suppose that the public are interested in success and all that comes with it, so Hay’s patter (which must have taken up more of the show than the music) contained a lot of stuff about the people he’s met, the songs that have made it with the mainstream media (or not) and how it felt to start again after having worldwide hits with Men at Work, giving up the booze and going acoustic. But despite the globetrotting and hobnobbing, he still comes across as a cheeky teenager from small-town Scotland finding out about the world.
Despite the verbal brashness, Hay played an understated and moving set, never playing to the gallery and often abruptly ending a song once it had run its course. The climax to the evening was a simple piece of up-the-octave singing on the last verse of ‘Overkill’ and the repetition of the song’s quiet ending – ‘Ghosts appear and fade away’. ‘Waiting For My Real Life to Begin’ was Hay’s encore, and he exited to the recorded version of his most famous co-composition, ‘Down Under’. Well, maybe there ARE some songs he’s sick of playing.