Jenny M Thomas and The System
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Jenny M Thomas and The System

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia | Established. Jan 01, 2014 | INDIE

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2014
Band Folk Pop




"Live Concert Review"

Bennetts Lane, Tuesday 17 Sept
(filed Wed 18 September 2013)

It’s not often you hear spoons being played at Bennetts Lane. And I’d hazard a bet that John Williams’ True Blue doesn’t turn up in the set list of many contemporary jazz ensembles. Not that Jenny M. Thomas and the System are a jazz outfit. But they’re also far from a conventional folk trio. They describe their music as ‘bush gothic’, which neatly encapsulates the shadowy beauty of their colonial-era tales.
True Blue aside, the band’s repertoire digs deep into Australia’s history as a penal colony, radically reimagining traditional songs of transportation, hardship and heartbreak. Their arrangements are strikingly minimal, and well-known tunes are reharmonised to the point of being almost unrecognisable. In the hands of Thomas and her colleagues (bassist Dan Witton and drummer Chris Lewis), hoary chestnuts like Botany Bay are stripped of their rollicking veneer to become ghostly echoes of the convicts’ uncertain future.
Thomas has spent years immersing herself in these songs and the true-life stories behind them, lending a powerful authenticity to her vocals. In this stripped-back setting her voice is extremely exposed, and its tiny imperfections heighten the sense of her characters’ vulnerability.
Thomas is also a gifted multi-instrumentalist, accompanying herself on violin, piano and spoons. Her colleagues are enormously empathetic, Witton’s sonorous bass creating plaintive counter-melodies and Lewis’ percussion serving as a subtle rhythmic underlay. The only thing missing on Tuesday night was a large audience to give back some of the energy that these talented artists dedicate to their music.
Jenny M. Thomas and the System play at the Grainger Museum on September 29 at 3.30pm. - The Age

"BUSH GOTHIC album review"

fRoots Magazine - CD review
July 2012, No. 349

Bush Gothic Fydle FY003

For the few of us who have been lucky enough to see Australian fiddle-singer, spoons player and pianist Jenny M Thomas live, it will be a delight to learn she is planning to tour the UK in October with ‘the System’, aka double-bassist Dan Witton and drummer Chris Lewis. She is also working on getting UK distribution for this fine album, which I have a feeling might establish her as a significant figure in the folk scene (it is widely available now as a download or on CD from her website if you can’t wait).

Bush Gothic boldly tackles ten folksongs about travelling to Australia and imprisonment with fresh and inventive arrangements. Memorable piano riffs, sweeping strings, multi-layered and measured (sometimes funereal!) tempos define the sound, and in terms of comparisons, it reminds me of Jim Moray’s debut, P J Harvey’s White Chalk and, in Jenny’s voice, Regina Spektor. It’s true that the first half of the CD in particular can get dangerously dirgey in places, but it has a certain mesmerising quality that draws me in more and more.

Henry’s Downfall is a highlight, the tension ratcheting up as the narrative progresses over thumping drums and repetitive piano. My other favourites are the two upbeat numbers – the quietly jaunty Ten Thousand Miles Away in which Jenny’s singing captures the protagonist’s bubbling excitement at seeing his love again, and the perky closing take on Maggie May (the traditional song, rather than the Rod Stewart / Martin Quittenton number).

If you opt for the CD you get an attractive and arty cardboard case, although I wouldn’t have minded lyrics and some information about the project or the songs themselves. The album also, like most classics, comes in at an accessible 45 minutes.

Christopher Conder - fRoots

"Live review: Adelaide Fringe Festival 2012"

Adelaide Fringe Festival 2012
The SA Folk Centre, Sat Mar 3
The birth of folk rock in the ‘70s made the purists cringe. But that was nothing compared to what Jenny (fiddle, piano, spoons), Chris Lewis (drums, percussion, piano) and Dan Witton (double bass) have done to traditional Oz folk music. And they have done it brilliantly! They sang about convicts, bushrangers and life in a younger Oz. They each worked tenaciously to perform their own unique arrangements to well known songs such as True Blue, Moreton Bay and Bound For South Australia. Jenny’s voice was stunning. Their three-part harmonies were tight and passionate; you could sometimes imagine you were listening to Irish band Clannad. All fine musicians and their interpretation of songs may be just what’s needed to bring younger musicians back to folk music. They’re not alternative folk but an evolution in traditional folk music. The crowd should have been bigger but they were enthusiastic, resulting in a well-deserved encore.
Final Word: Outstanding
Mike O’Callaghan - Rip It Up

"Feature article Aug 2009"

The remarkable Australian vocalist/violinist puts a lot of work into it.

Jenny M. Thomas, to my mind, means diversity in a very good way. What is plain from her two albums – the boundary-crossing Into The Ether and Farewell To Old England Forever, an original take on Australian folksong – is their startling stylistic differences. Her approaches to each project could not be more different. On Farewell To Old England Forever she is, to give an English comparison, like a coiled Australian amalgam of Eliza Carthy and Jim Moray. On the earlier project she is like no other violin and viola player on the planet. Between the two she presents herself as a wholly remarkable violinist-vocalist.
Farewell To Old England Forever is a complete departure, finding her singing and bowing at the same time and wryly reclaiming lost Australian cultural territory. Her versions of Waltzing Matilda and Along The Road To Gundagai transform the familiar like few interpreters ever dare attempt without change for the change’s sake. In their daring they are transporting.
Jenny M. Thomas’ music really gets under the listeners skin. And frankly imagining life without her music and its surprises is too bleak to even think about. Jenny M. Thomas is that transformative an artist. She is earth and ether. Big words but true.
Ken Hunt
- fRoots, UK

"Journey into the past. BUSH GOTHIC album review"

National Times, Warwick McFadyen
Journey into the past
October 5, 2011 - 6:49AM

All these grand finals, all these singalongs to the national anthem. Thousands of people in one voice raised to the skies: ''Australians all let us rejoice for we are young and free da da da da da daaa.'' It's always stirring.

This harmony of patriotism, national pride and sport segues rather nicely into my earplugs, specifically what I've been listening to for the past two weeks. But it needs to be called the other side of the coin of the realm. For this has been rather a collision of historical soundwaves.

Frankly, wars could have exploded, governments imploded, revolutions sparked and faded, Shane Warne could have proposed, the trains could have run on time. I have been deaf to it all.

Who do I have to thank for this interregnum? A Melbourne trio, and their supporting cast. The trio are Jenny M. Thomas and the System. The two making up the System are Dan Witton and Chris Lewis. The fruit of their labour is the CD Bush Gothic.
Thomas sings and plays violin, viola, piano, Fender Rhodes, spoons and guitar. Witton sings and plays double bass and chord organ. Lewis sings and plays drums. They are helped by Pria Schwall-Kearney (fretless banjo), Ceridwen Davies (viola), Michael Brooks-Reid (violin), Zoe Knighton (cello), Roy John (guitar) and Jason Day (backing vocals).

It was produced by Thomas and Roy John (who also mixed it), recorded by Dave McCluney and mastered by Lachlan Carrick.

I mention all those involved because credit where credit's due. Bush Gothic takes your breath away. With most music, within a fairly wide parameter, you know what to expect either from your own experience of the artist/artists or from what you've read or seen. But Bush Gothic has come — at least to me — from out of nowhere, postmarked Melbourne.

It is not original work, yet it is sparkling in its originality. Thomas and the System have reworked traditional songs about Australia — its convict, transportation and early settler years — into a chain that holds you captive. It's a work bold, inspired and beautiful in its intensity. Thomas, plus two, have taken the foundations of a folk library and built a new architecture. (Thomas has also recorded an earlier CD called Farewell to Old England Forever.) Traditionalists, those who sing along to Burl Ives doing Botany Bay, will probably hate these renditions. So be it. In order to create one must, at times, destroy.

Thomas and the System make their intentions clear from the first notes — a drone of strings, and then a Middle East cadence for but a few bars, in effect, alien to our ears that says you are entering a foreign world; and then begins the journey.
The track listing is:
A Nautical Yarn
Botany Bay
Black Velvet Band
Moreton Bay
Henry's Downfall
Ten Thousand Miles Away
Botany Bay Courtship
Wide Is His Blow
Botany Bay Courtship Reprise
Maggie May

The first song, A Nautical Yarn, sets up the album in its ease of mood movement and seamless joining of words and music. Botany Bay begins with the most simple of piano notes, an austerity of despair, and then Thomas begins singing, and it's a swooping, wild, lament that turns by song's end into a ripple of faintly tinged hope.
Then follows two meditative pieces Black Velvet Band and Moreton Bay, the latter though does not hide the misery of transportation and what lies beneath the equator:

I've been a prisoner at Port Macquarie
At Norfolk Island and Emu Plains
At Castle Hill and at cursed Toongabbie
At all these settlements I've been in chains
But of all places of condemnation
And penal stations in New South Wales
To Moreton Bay I have found no equal
Excessive tyranny each day prevails
For three long years I was beastly treated
And heavy irons on my legs I wore
My back from flogging was lacerated
And oft times painted with my crimson gore
And many a man from downright starvation
Lies mouldering now underneath the clay
And Captain Logan he had us mangled
All at the triangles of Moreton Bay.

The centrepiece to me is Henry's Downfall — also known as Van Diemens Land — one of the most commonly covered folk songs — from Shirley Collins to Jim Moray. Here it begins with just voice and banjo; drums and piano creep into the song, like footsteps in the night. At three minutes in, a harmony begins like a choir of ghosts. It chills to the bone. ''They lined us up like horses . . . they yoked us to their ploughs for to plough Van Diemens Land''. It's a song of slavery brought to life in the 21st century. It's our history.

There follows tales of love, Ten Thousand Miles Away, love thwarted by distance, and then Botany Bay Courtship, love thwarted by the factory gates, ''The Currency Lads may fill their glasses and drink to the health of the Currency Lasses, But the lass I adore is a lass in the female factory.''

Wide is His Blow is a merging of The Banks of the Condamine, which is itself based on The Banks of the Nile, and Click Go the Shears. Again a simple piano intro sets up heartbreak; a man is going ashearing and his wife pleads to go with him. Yet, there is in the violin accompaniment something uncatcheable, something you can't lay a finger on as Thomas brings in a line from Click Go The Shears: ''Wide is his blow and his hands move quick.'' And the song is turned on its head.
Bush Gothic ends with Maggie May (no, not Rod Stewart's version though are similarities) about a young scamp who is transported for her thievery. It's almost jaunty, uplifting.

One couldn't of course sing Bush Gothic at a grand final. One couldn't even sing it at barbecue. One perhaps, could hum a few lines on Australia Day. It could reside in the back of your mind, at home with what other feelings you might have for this country. Bush Gothic goes deep into the well of national identity. Whether we know it or not, we all drink from it.

Jenny M Thomas and the System play at the Paris Cat Jazz Club, Wednesday, October 12 at 9pm.
Follow the National Times on Twitter: @NationalTimesAU
This story was found at:

- National Times

"BUSH GOTHIC album review"

The Weekend Australian
Nov 26, 2011
Bush Gothic
Jenny M. Thomas and The System

JENNY M. Thomas and her Melbourne cohorts have contrived an arresting antidote to conventional takes on good old Aussie bush music as purveyed by a thousand lagerphone-propelled backyard bands.

Exhibiting a minimalist and downtempo approach, Bush Gothic comes palpably closer to capturing the original essence of convict songs and the austerity of the times – transportation, torture, deprivation, heartbreak and such. Thomas’ lugubrious vocal delivery, dark piano chords and Nordic accented fiddle and viola set the ambience perfectly in this haunting follow-up to her 2006 solo album Farewell to Old England Forever.

Drums, doublebass, banjo and string quartet add brooding undercurrents to the leader’s template, allowing full impact and absorption of the lyrics. Those accustomed to jaunty bush band versions of chestnuts such as Botany Bay, Black Velvet Band and Ten Thousand Miles Away will only recognize these heavily revamped and rearranged renditions by the words.

The dramatic opener, A Nautical Yarn, sets an authentically gothic tone, albeit with a hint of Indian-inflected fiddle. A funeral pace suits that ultimate convict classic, Moreton Bay, down to the ground. Henry’s Downfall and Maggie May are comparatively animated, the former embellished with vocal harmony; the latter coquettishly sung to a tacit reggae beat. Thomas is fast becoming to Australian bush music what US duo Snakefarm is to revisionist American folksong.
Tony Hillier
- The Weekend Australian


single: Black Velvet Band
Album released 1st August: airplay on Triple J, ABC Radio National, Local ABC radio, Triple R, 3PBS plus community stations across Australia.
FYDLE records, distributed through Blackmarket Music. i-tunes and instore.

2006 Farewell To Old England Forever:
(Jenny M. Thomas solo)

2002 Into The Ether:
(Jenny M. Thomas solo)




Gothic tales of Australia's dark history re-told.

Since the release of their album Bush Gothic in August 2011 they have toured Australia nationally and played venues from folk festivals to concert halls, jazz clubs and contemporary art institutions.

Jenny M.Thomas and The System have supported live acts Ruthie Foster, Pierre Bensusan and Altan been recorded live in concert by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Music Deli and performed live on ABC National's The Music Show.

Festival and Venue Highlights:
Brunswick Music Festival, Adelaide Fringe Festival, Cygnet Folk Festival, National Folk Festival, Turning Wave Festival, Majors Creek Folk Festival, Darebin Music Feast. MONA FOMA, Bennetts Lane Jazz Club Residency, Castlemaine Arts Festival, Melbourne Recital Centre, Percy Grainger Museum.

Current recording:
The band are developing material for the 'Victorian Heartbreak Project'


'Bush Gothic takes your breath away'- National Times. 

'Boldly tackles ten folksongs about travelling to Australia and imprisonment with fresh and inventive arrangements.'
Album review published in May 2012 edition, inclusion on 2012 compilation album, -fRoots (UK)

'The Planet', (ABC) Radio National: Feature Disc, 8/11
Triple J interview with John Safran 7/11

'The Music Show', ABC: interview plus Live to Air performance:10/11
'Bush Gothic' album review, The National Times 5/10/2011
'Bush Gothic' album review, The Australian 26/11/2011

Folk singer Jenny M. Thomas is a former Circus Oz performer and Golden Fiddle award winner. Wading into Australian song books with producer Roy John in 2009 they began adding drum and bass grooves to her song arrangements and the contemporary sound for BUSH GOTHIC was born.


JENNY M. THOMAS: fiddle-singing, spoons, keyboard.
fRoots describes Jenny M. Thomas as: Singing and bowing at the same time and wryly reclaiming lost Australian cultural territory she is like no other violin player on the planet. Imagining life without her music and its surprises is too bleak to even think about. Jenny M. Thomas is that transformative an artist. She is earth and ether. Big words but true.
Tanz and Folk Fest Germany, Villa Celimontana Jazz Festival Rome, Sidmouth Folk Festival UK, North American Folk Alliance Conference Memphis. Australian festival appearances include: Port Fairy Folk Festival, Woodford Folk Festival, National Folk Festival, Castlemaine Arts Festival.

Master of the rare art of singing and playing the fiddle at the same time, Jenny M.Thomas has had many musical adventures including rollerskating backwards whilst playing violin for Circus Oz, playing a Norwegian Hardanger solo with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra for the Lord of The Rings premiere, a solo concert series in Europe performing Indian classical violin plus a European tour with chamber-pop band Naked Raven. Her Australian folk song album Farewell To Old England Forever, (Extraordinary, even revolutionary traditional Australian Folk songs -The Canberra Times), won a Golden Fiddle Award, inclusion in the Melbourne Herald Suns top ten CD picks for 2006 and was rated as one of the four best CD's of 2006 by ABC Radio Nationals The Music Show.

DAN WITTON: double bass, vocal.
Dan Witton has worked as a musican and physical performer in contemporary music and theatre. These include the State Opera of SA, Australian Opera,  Circus Oz,  ABC TV, Belvoir St Theatre, Strange Fruit, The Blue Grassy Knoll, Cosmo Cosmolino, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, The Urban Dream Capsule, Chamber Made Opera, and the David Chesworth Ensemble. He co-founded desoxy theatre who have toured their original performance projects through Australia, Venezuela, Spain, Japan, Europe, Ireland and the UK.

CHRIS LEWIS: drumkit, vocals
Musical director for the world famous Circus Oz from 1998-2002 and again in 2009-2010,touring regularly throughout Europe, U.S. and Asia and Australia. In addition he has composed and performed, for many other Theatre /Circus Companies such as, Chamber Made Opera , Flying Fruit Fly Circus , Legs on the Wall , NICA & Dislocat

Band Members