The energy in the air was electric as singer/songwriter Maggie Alley took to the stage at The Brunswick Ballroom in July.
“The gig took a lot of planning between us,” said Alley. “It’s likely the best and biggest gig we’ve played.”
Invited to perform by guitarist and producer Matt Walker, who has won an ARIA for best blues and roots album, the 19-year-old and her band brought their distinct brand of groovy punk blues to the dignified venue.
Only a month later and Maggie Alley Live at the Brunswick Ballroom was released without warning, a collection of recordings from that notable performance on Sydney Rd.
“I just really wanted to release something,” Alley said. “It felt like a good move to show people what my songwriting is looking like these days and how my performances are sounding.”
Alley began performing solo at the age of 14, writing original music and gigging around the Dandenong Ranges. Meshing classic Australian rock and UK folk inspirations, she found inspiration from Melbourne’s persistent punk scene.
“I had a really weird taste in music when I was younger,” said Alley. “I used to go see bands illegally, going underage to The Tote to see fierce punk rock women do their thing, bands like Wet Lips and Lazertits.”
It was at a gig in Upwey when Alley first met Matt Walker. The Australian blues veteran saw her performance and was blown away by her songwriting chops.
“Matt is the gift that keeps on giving … [that] evening he was like ‘Come and record an EP when you’re around, that’d be brilliant!’ A couple of years later I went into the studio with him and recorded Beasts.”
Alley released her debut EP Beasts in February, taken from recordings she had collected over a few years.
“I wrote all the songs that were on the first EP between the age of 13 to 16,” Alley said. “[Beasts] wasn’t outdated at all, but I’m a bit older now, my songwriting is a lot more mature.”
Stars aligned when earlier this year she received a call from Walker, offering her a supporting slot at the Brunswick Ballroom for his band Lost Ragas. It’s a prestigious venue, a step up from the pubs she was used to playing.
“The setlist was really important to us. We wanted to make sure it flowed and was really smooth so we cut out a lot of the meeker songs that wouldn’t make so much of an impact,” said Alley.
Alley and her band – bassist Nick Lazzara (Prerock, Flaura) and drummer Brayden Becher (Kvll, Silurian) – began fixating on the set.
“We wanted something really punchy, something well-formed … it’s [about] finding the balance within the band,” said Alley. “We took a long time to rehearse that and really picked apart the dynamics of certain songs, such as Goblin Market, which we slowed down.”
Alley didn’t realise it, but Brunswick Ballroom sound engineer Stive Collins was recording the entire set, and within a couple of weeks had finished mastering it.
“I usually record Lost Ragas sets when they play,” said Collins. “I hadn’t heard of Maggie but I was blown away by her soundcheck and decided to capture the performance.”
Alley said it was a ”really random” thing to happen.
“Stive sent me a Dropbox file randomly and messaged me being like ‘Hey, here’s the recording, it’s all mastered and good to go if you want to listen to it’.”
“I stayed up quite late listening to it that night and I was really impressed by the performances and the sound quality, I didn’t expect it to be recorded at all. It was slightly impulsive to be honest. I messaged Nick and Brayden and was like, ‘We gotta get this out there, let’s just do it’.”
Maggie Alley Live at the Brunswick Ballroom was released on August 14, showcasing what her audience can expect from a young performer with a plan for the future.
“Melbourne’s a fantastic city for live music – arguably one of the best in the world – but I do want my music to reach other people and other communities,” Alley said.
“I really want to get a studio album out as soon as possible … I’ve got it written already.
“With music, the bigger the better.”