Thylacine Night at ONCA with Cathy Davey
The Thylacine was a nocturnal animal that looked like a dog, but with its abdominal pouch and awkward hop was in fact closely related to the kangaroo. It also had dark stripes across its back, hence its common name the ‘Tasmanian Tiger’. It features on the official Tasmanian coat of arms and was the subject of a Willem Dafoe film The Hunter, but it became extinct in 1936.
Its demise as a species is a tragic tale, the Tasmanian Government having introduced protection for the carnivorous predator only 60 days before the last known example died from neglect at Hobart Zoo in Tasmania. There have been rumoured sightings since, including on mainland Australia, but not one has been verified.
The ecologically-focused ONCA gallery in Brighton decided to put on an evening dedicated to this fascinating creature on the 80th anniversary of its extinction. Across the sea in Ireland, acclaimed singer-songwriter Cathy Davey had ceased writing songs for grown-ups after four albums and had decided to dedicate herself to the My Lovely Horse Rescue, co-founded with partner Neil Hannon (The Divine Comedy), where they rehabilitate and re-home abandoned and abused horses and other animals.
However, in one of those strange cases of serendipity, earlier this year Cathy had also recorded an excellent new album ‘New Forest’, inspired by her love of nature, on which there was a track entitled ‘Thylacine’. The ONCA team heard about this, got in touch and asked Cathy if she would like to join them in commemorating the Thylacine’s tragic anniversary and in this magical way this rather special event was born.
The night opened with some brooding spiritual poetry from Jennifer Milner and then, to lift the potentially mournful spirits, there followed some bizarre cheer-leading from merperson Liam Geary Baulch who in a blue wig and tutu managed to inspire the room to chant along with him in praise of the sea. There followed a far-too-short set from Tracy Jane Sullivan, on guitar and harp, who bewitched the audience with her beautiful vocals and her tales of crazy travels and relationships, ending with a divine interpretation of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Woodstock’.
Cathy Davey was joined on guitar by Conor O’Brien of Villagers, and despite the two of them having not played together for half-a-dozen years he provided the perfect accompaniment with his mix of rhythmic guitar and angelic backing vocals. As a twosome they played an array of songs from Cathy’s latest (4th) release and her other albums. Of course, she played her song ‘Thylacine’ and other beautiful tunes from the new album like ‘Birdie’ and ‘My Old Man’ (a song about her dog). Half way through the set Cathy announced that she was unable to write any songs now that weren’t about the animals she cares for, and then proceeded to perform a charming song about a wobbly pig who lives on her farm. Hearing a performance like this in the tiny ONCA gallery made for a really intimate and special evening.
The performance part of the night ended with a symbolic burial of Benjamin, the last known Tasmanian Tiger, whose skeleton had been on display in the gallery’s front window. Each member of the audience was handed a twig or leaf and asked to place it on the skeleton in an act of tribute from one species to another. It could have been a sad ending, but then there was drinking and dancing and we all left on a high.
Words and photos by Jon Southcoasting