24 Mar

Soul returns to the Old Church

Words by
Lauren Mitchell
Pictures by
Chantel Knight

Bendigo’s Mariah McCarthy will let loose her soulful folk tunes this Saturday, March 26 at a group show at The Old Church on the Hill.

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Some of us baked bread, others binged Netflix, many desponded. Mariah McCarthy spent her early isolation months recording retro tribute tunes for her dad’s 60th. 

“I thought at the time I wasn’t being very creative at all but when I look back, I was sitting down and playing,” says the Bendigo songstress.

“I ended up recording a whole cover album at home for my dad.” Think Meatloaf, Black Sabbath and Neil Young. Not Mariah’s usual genre, although she did put her trademark folksy spin on them.

“Dad loved it,” she says. “I grew up listening to his music, but I’d never had the chance to play it. I got to put my own style on it, which was fun.”

Bendigo will hear Mariah’s unique self this Saturday at a group show at The Old Church on the Hill. She’ll be sharing some new material to feature on her first full-length album, due for release later this year, including the track Red Sky.

“I wrote that about my frustration with government inaction over climate change. I started it on that Code Red day in 2019 when the sky turned red and we had that awful bushfire summer. I finished the song throughout the summer as the fires went on… It has a bit more of an edge to it than my usual songs.”

Although she resumed playing to live audiences in November, Saturday’s show at the Old Church on the Hill will be Mariah’s first appearance at the much-loved venue since Covid hit. It’s also where she staged her local EP launch in 2018.

“The Old Church is a really beautiful spot to play, and I love going there as an audience member as well, it’s so cosy with all the couches and rugs,” she says.

Mariah will be joined by good friends and collaborators Ben Langdon and Cassie Ward, delivering some sweet three-part harmonies.

Mariah met Cassie in primary school at Holy Rosary in Heathcote, and Ben at Collarts in Melbourne, where she studied music after graduating from Catholic College Bendigo.

“It was quite the change,” she says for a country kid. “For the first year I was there I lived right in the city, which was really fun and exciting. I found it to be good inspiration for song writing. I spent a lot of time on public transport, which always gave me time to write.”

After two years studying Mariah spent a further two years in Melbourne working and playing live at little bars like The Evelyn and Edinburgh Castle and others along Sydney Road and High Street.

She says playing at folk festivals has also been a highlight. “They are always super fun and I like being able to travel and see new places and new musicians. Some festivals I've played are Yackandandah Folk Festival, Wintermoon Festival, St Albans and a favourite of course, Bendigo Blues and Roots Festival.”

Mariah moved back to central Victoria to start life with her partner in 2018. “I enjoyed Melbourne, but I think I like the quieter lifestyle,” she says, and just as well for Bendigo, and its next generation of musicians; Mariah also teaches guitar, ukulele, piano and vocals at six local primary schools.

“A great part of coming back to Bendigo was joining the amazing music scene, particularly for original folk/blues/roots musicians. Colin Thompson has been a major part of making the Bendigo live music scene what it is today for musicians but also for punters too.”

This weekend’s show is a Bendigo Blues and Roots showcase gig, which also features headliners Melbourne rock and soul band Leslie D. King and The Trembling Shakes, plus bluesman Alister Turrill.

“It should be really great,” Mariah says “I haven’t seen Leslie D. King live before, but I’ve heard his music and it’s a lot of fun. It’ll be interesting to see if people get up dancing because it’s definitely something you can dance to. Alister Turrill I’ve played with heaps of times and he’s an amazing blues slide guitarist.”

The show starts this Saturday, March 26 at 7pm at the Old Church on the Hill. Tickets $15 via Humanitix. 

In other weekend happenings, the Bendigo Craft Beer and Cider Festival will be wetting whistles at the Tom Flood Sports Centre from 11am to 7pm on Saturday.

The Bendigo Sustainability Festival will be advocating for the earth at the Garden for the Future from 10am to 3.30pm on Saturday. Gardening Australia’s Millie Ross is among the speakers.

And our new obsession with Elvis continues at the Bendigo Art Gallery and beyond. Elvis films are showing at the Star Cinema each Friday. And the Shake, Rattle and Roll tram trundles the main drags each Saturday evening. Google it people! And look out for the roving Bendigo Magazine photographers this weekend.