Kate Miller-Heidke, the classically trained, multi-award-winning, multi-octave vocalist, is performing at Twilight at Taronga on Friday March 10, supported by rising talent Emily Wurramara.
Manly Observer caught up with the ever effervescent Kate, who revealed there may be a few surprises in store at her harbourside performance.
Emily Wurramara, who hails from Groote Island in the Gulf of Carpenteria (Australia’s fourth-largest island, where the traditional owners are the 14 clans of the Warnumamalya people), sings in both English and her native Anindilyakwa language.
Among her soulful songs is Dumungkwurra, a translation of the old classic, Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree – ‘Dumungkwurra karrawarra ayika-manja’.
Her 2016 debut EP, Black Smoke, caught the nation’s attention and earned her a Queensland Music Award. This was followed by Milyakburra, the 2018 AIR (Australian Independent Records) award winning and ARIA-nominated Best Blues and Roots Album.
In November 2022, Emily collaborated with 14 other Indigenous artists in a tribute song to Cassius Turvey, a 15-year-old Noongar-Yamatji schoolboy who died after he was hit in the head by a metal pole in an apparently random attack whilst walking home from school.
The song, Forever 15, which also featured Emma Donovan, Dobby, Drmngnow and Cassius’ favourite hip-hop performer Bryte, was performed at Cassius’ funeral on 18 November and publicly released three days later.
Four young adults in their 20s, including a woman, are currently on murder charges for the attack – suspected to be a case of mistaken identity.
Kate Miller-Heidke makes her second appearance at Twilight at Taronga, which must rank as one of the world’s best venues to watch a concert, with the harbour, city lights and Harbour Bridge as a magnificent backdrop.
However, she’s no stranger to performing in spectacular locations.
“We got to play once, at Angkor Wat in Cambodia,” she revealed. “It was the first concert that they ever held there, in the middle of the jungle, in these magical ruins with monks in saffron robes darting around. That was really special.”
Angkor Wat is a 12th Century holy city – initially Hindu, later Buddhist – of towers, temples and a mausoleum that eventually fell into ruin and was reclaimed by the jungle, but rediscovered in 1860. In 1992 it was nominated for UNESCO World Heritage status.
“I also played Pokhara in Nepal on the top of the Himalayas.” Pokhara, which means ‘pond’ in Nepali, is on the shores of Phewa Lake, and at 820m above sea level surrounded by three of the highest peaks in the world, is a popular tourist destination.
“But Sydney,” she declared, “it’s hard to think of a more stunning city, and that view from Taronga Zoo is just iconic. It’s going to be magical!”
And what might we experience at the Twilight concert?
“Well, we’ve got Emily Wurramurra opening, so that’ll be pretty special,” she said. “And then I’m going to perform with my long-time collaborator, guitarist and life partner Keir Nutall, and the incredible Jess Hitchcock sings backing vocals with me.”
Keir Nutall (Kate’s husband and father to their young son, Ernie) also writes humorous songs under the name Franky Walnut, his comic alter-ego.
He has performed and recorded in Kate’s backing band since 2004, as well as contributing songs to her albums and co-writing some of her better-known compositions, such as Caught in the Crowd (2008 winner of the International Songwriting Competition), Zero Gravity (which she performed atop a bending pole the 2019 Eurovision song contest, representing Australia in the grand final), The Worst Block in Town and The Last Day on Earth.
TV and Theatre work
The music video for the latter track, a poignant lament to personal loss, was filmed in a house on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. Originally released in July 2009, it was later used to promote long-running TV soap Neighbours and has appeared in several other TV programs.
The Last Day on Earth has recently been reprised as the theme song for a new TV series, Last King of the Cross, which began screening in February 2023.
The series is based on the autobiography of notorious nightclub owner John Ibrahim, who was accused in the 1994-97 Wood Royal Commission into the NSW Police Force of being the “lifeblood of the drugs industry of Kings Cross.”
Kate’s song was remixed by Marcus Bridge, vocalist of Sydney heavy metal band Northlane who added his own growling sonance. Did she record a new vocal track or did the producers take the original and remix it?
“I made a new one,” she replied. “It probably sounds quite similar to the old one, but one of the producers had the idea to make this kind of gritty, really hard-edged new version.
“The TV show is about organised crime in Sydney, so they didn’t want my wispy little girly vision! They wanted it toughened up and so yeah, I got to work with Marcus Bridge.
“I never thought I would be crossing over into the world of metal but it’s great to be constantly surprised in my career. And it was amazing hearing him screaming slash sort of death-growling over that track, because it gave it new life.”
In addition to TV series, Kate has composed for the stage.
“I’m currently working on a couple of quite large-scale theatre works,” she confirmed. “That’s something I can’t go into in too much detail, but I’m also starting to work on a new a new album… I like being challenged and I like using music to tell a story…
“I’ve spent quite a lot of time in recent years on theatre,” she added. “My partner and I wrote the music for Muriel’s Wedding, the Musical, which opened in Sydney [and sold out two seasons at the Lyric Theatre].
“We’re going to do a song from that at Taronga.”
Kate also wrote a humorous song for ABC TV comedy series Preppers, called I Am My Own Panther Now. Might she have the opportunity to serenade a panther at her Twilight concert?
[Note: Taronga has African lions and Sumatran tigers, but, unfortunately for Kate, it doesn’t host a panther. Two of the panther’s nearest mountain-dwelling cousin, snow leopards, were relocated to Billabong Zoo in 2015.]
“I’ve never performed I Am My Own Panther Now live,” she confessed. “But if I’m not going to do it when we go to a zoo, I don’t know when I’ll do it. I think that will have to be the special live premiere of that song!”
Kate revealed she’s going to meet some of Taronga’s furry, feathered and scaly occupants when she’s on the premises.
“Taronga are going to give us a special behind-the-scenes tour before our show, where we’re going to get up close and personal with some of the animals. I’m very much looking forward to that; I’m going to bring my little son along, he’s seven, he’ll be super keen!”
As for Kate’s Twilight concert, the audience will be in for a treat of both familiar and exceptional material.
“We’re going to keep it loose but it will definitely have a kind of ‘Greatest Hits’ type of a vibe,” she revealed. “But I’m also taking requests – people can feel free to hit me up on social media beforehand with any song requests.
“I think it’s going to be a beautiful night of storytelling: some funny bits, some sad bits, and we’ll play all the stuff that people are expecting to hear and maybe throw in some surprises as well.”
Kate Miller-Heidke performs at Twilight at Taronga
Friday 10 March 2023
Taronga Zoo, Bradley’s Head Rd, Mosman
Gates open 6pm
Twilight at Taronga – tickets
Emily Wurramara webpage
Kate Miller-Heidke webpage
Kate Miller-Heidke on Facebook