Equal parts cabaret, pantomime, comedy, and free-for-all musical mayhem, legendary indie songstress Clare Bowditch’s annual Winter Secrets tours have become something of an Australian institution. Ever since she first began this most irreverent and curious series of interactive concerts back in 2009, Bowditch has made it her mission to close the gap between performer and audience. Now, with her fifth studio album The Winter I Chose Happiness under her belt, Winter Secrets is returning – and just about anything is possible. What is certain, though, is that there will be some dizzyingly jazzy sounds, and some damn good times to be had.

In person, as in her public persona, Bowditch is an irrepressibly positive figure who exudes a gentle and intoxicating warmth. She smiles widely when asked how the idea for this series of concerts first came into being. “I was touring a lot with a big band, and then, to change things up, I thought I’d do a solo tour,” she tells me. “I called it a ‘Random Creative Adventure’. I found that when I played, the audiences were always just so brilliant, and were always really talented…and so I just started throwing backing vocals out to them, and they’d throw them back to me, and we’d all do three-part harmonies, or whatever.”

 

It didn’t take long for Bowditch to take her interaction with the audience one step further: the origins of her special breed of audience participation were seeded a long time ago. “I was at a Jeff Buckley concert when I was a teenager and I remember that feeling of wishing he would just reach down and drag me up on stage,” she recalls fondly. “And Winter Secrets then became a chance to get some of those talented people up on the stage! So it’s two parts – there’s a lot of play with the audience; if they’re into it, that’s great…and if they’re not, then that’s fine. But there’s a competition as well.”

 

And by competition, she means that there’s the chance for one talented musician in each state that Winter Secrets visits to grace the stage with Bowditch and perform a cover of her most recent single, the bittersweet and beautiful ‘One Little River’. Hopeful musos from across Australia have been filming themselves covering the song and sending their entries to Bowditch’s website. Clare herself will choose the winners.

 

“Some of them just blow me away!” she says. “People are making themselves vulnerable, they’re putting it out there, they’re giving it a crack; some of them are absolute professionals, and some of them have never done anything like it before and are just giving it a try – and I just love that.”

 

What is it, exactly, that she’s looking for in a winning entry? “Well, it’s really just about how it makes me feel. You know, it’s really that simple. When someone does something that’s unique and beautiful or…it just works – I never go in with a checklist of things, I just go in with a gut reaction.”

 

Another time honoured tradition of Bowditch’s Winter Secrets is her hand picking of a collaborator to join her in her shenanigans. Just as last year’s festivities included Lanie Lane, this year Clare will bring along the effervescent electronic skills of Melbourne-based Spender – a prospect Bowditch is truly excited about. “Spender is someone whose work I really admire – we went to school together. He was really short then, but then he really grew up, and now he’s become an amazing music-maker,” she laughs. “He’s making stuff that sounds like no one else except him, and he’s a great experimenter. He’s a great person to have on the road with me.”

 

BY THOMAS BAILEY

 

Clare Bowditch plays Lizottes, Dee Why on Thursday August 1, The Small Ballroom, Newcastle Friday August 2 and The Factory Theatre, Sydney on Saturday August 3. The Winter I Chose Happiness out now through Universal.

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