Review: Live On The Heysen Trail

Born out of a hike on the southern end of South Australia’s longest hiking trek, Live on the Heysen Trail is a celebration of the Fleurieu Peninsula’s spectacular landscapes accompanied with rousing alt-folk songs (from the eponymous album) by B.S Roberts of the Ukulele Death Squad.

Live on the Heysen Trail cast | image credit – Jesse Budel

Shot on location in July 2020 by filmmaker Simon Kither (of KITHER Co.) and developed over 18 months, the show traces the journey of Roberts and Kither along the first 17 kilometres of the trail, starting in Cape Jervis and ending in a lush waterfall gully further inland. Songs accompanying each scene, led by Roberts alongside the supporting vocals of Alice and Matt Barker (of Roger and the Albatross).  

Kither’s visuals make full use of The Lab’s northern and eastern wall-length screens, rendering panoramic views of the southern peninsula’s bushland at Deep Creek, many scenes framing Kangaroo Island over the Backstairs Passage in the background. Crystalline in detail, each site’s video representations are sumptuous and palpably immersive.

Robert’s ukulele-accompanied ballads draw upon the rich sound world of Americana folk music evocative of Sam Amidon, Anaïs Mitchell, and the further afield Mumford and Sons. In his hands, Robert’s ukulele sounds less a four-stringed instrument and more a full guitar orchestra, sometimes sounding like an Andalusian guitarra, others more like a New England-based banjo backing. Vocals are also tight and focussed, blending together three-part harmonies with splendid energy and sensitive as need be.

Far from feeling contrived alongside the visuals, the music is intimate and inviting, drawing one further into the landscape, and sharing stories and perspectives that either element in isolation might not reveal. Scenes of the surf at Blowhole Beach are presented along the fun-loving sea shanty ‘Mutiny’, while a song about the loss of a significant other underscores images of charred scrubland with budding greenery hinting at an optimistic future.  

Hopefully there are further collaborations between KITHER Co. and Ukulele Death Squad exploring deeper along the Heysen Trail (if even just the northern end), showcasing more of our state’s natural beauty through film and music – this avid hiker will certainly be in attendance!

Rating: ★★★★1/2

Reviewed 24 February 2021 at the Lab

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