Current Issue #488

Katie Noonan on gratitude, grief and Leunig

Katie Noonan on gratitude, grief and Leunig

Noonan is set to play the Garden of Unearthly Delights with her jazz band Elixir, part of their national tour partnering with cartoonist Michael Leunig.

She’s arguably one of Australia’s most celebrated and awarded songwriters and performers, with five ARIAs and seven platinum albums under her belt. This year, Katie Noonan is coming back to the Garden of Unearthly Delights to play the Fortuna Spiegeltent on Friday, February 15.

The show is part of her national tour with jazz band Elixir, where they’re set to perform works from their most recent album, Gratitude & Grief. Produced in partnership with Australian poet and cartoonist Michael Leunig, the show combines well-woven words with the smooth sounds of jazz in one moving performance.

A collaborative effort with husband and jazz saxophonist Zac Hurren, Elixir is Noonan’s longest-running band, playing for over 19 years. “We started Elixir in 1996, so it’s very special for many reasons, mainly for me that I get to make music with my soul mate and we get to hang out as musicians and not just be soccer parents and homework people. It’s quite beautiful to go back to how we first met.”

Well known for her powerful vocals in rock band George, popular in the `90s and early `00s, Noonan has always had a penchant for jazz. “I had a need for quiet music that didn’t suit George,” she says. “I wanted to do more around my jazz training and a bit more improvisation.”

She juggled both George and Elixir simultaneously for a number of years, before George made the collective decision to disband in 2004. “I was freshly married, very pregnant and really wanted to focus on that new chapter of my life.”

Since then, she’s remained fiercely active in the music community from her home in Queensland, recording solo albums, collaborating with a range of other artists and creatives, and performing with the likes of the Sydney Dance Company and the Brodsky Quartet. More recently, she performed at the opening and closing ceremonies of the Commonwealth Games held last year.

It’s this love of working with other disciplines that has led to much of her current work. “I really love collaborating with a different vernacular,” she says. “You meet people who are equally obsessed with their craft but in a totally different language, which is really inspiring to be around.”

This led to Elixir’s partnerships with poets, combining spoken word with songwriting and considered composition. “It’s all about celebrating great Australian poets, but this new project is definitely the most collaborative, because Michael [Leunig] was in the studio with us working on it.”

The collaboration came about from a chance meeting, a dream for Noonan. “He’s my hero. I think every musician has a Leunig cartoon in their house somewhere, often in their toilet. We met 10 years ago and it felt like I’d met an old friend. He has this beautiful way of navigating the ugly ways of the world of journalism, into a very pure, vulnerable way.”

It was this storytelling which Noonan was drawn to, and that formed the basis of Gratitude & Grief. “He was incredibly open to it and I think he enjoyed getting into the world of making music. We definitely enjoyed having his energy there, too.”

The show and album showcase a collection of Leunig’s existing works paired with compositions from Noonan and Elixir. Given the restraints of the Fortuna Spiegeltent, the Adelaide show features Noonan and Elixir for a musical performance alone, while other shows feature Leunig reciting his poems and drawing to the music. “I’d love to try to bring the whole show back to Adelaide, so hopefully we can.”

Katie Noonan’s Elixir
Friday, February 15, 7pm

Fortuna Spiegeltent

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