Mountfort de rigueur
by Brett Thomas
When Helen Mountfort first began playing music, she had no intention of ever joining a rock band. Her instrument of choice, the cello, was hardly de rigueur in either the sweaty pubs or cavernous arenas associated with rock and besides, she grew up surrounded by the grand sounds of classical music. But now, more than a decade later, the New Zealand born musician finds herself the preeminent cello player in Australian rock, with gigs in both the acclaimed NDW and its curious offshoot MFTCC. How so?
"I grew up in a family of classical musicains and I was obsessed
by the cello from a very early age," Mountfort said. "All
cellists are classically taught and I became obsessed with classical
music. I didnt listen to much non-classical music until my late
teens and now everyone has great fun at my expense because there are
still (famous rock) songs that I dont know."
In the end, it was a chance encounter with a Talking Heads album that
turned Mountforts musical life upside down.
"My boyfriend in New Zealand joined one of those record clubs
and when a whole packet of albums arrived one day, I opened it up
and took out a Talking Heads record," she recalled. "I put
it on and I thought: This is great. I must have been in
one of those open, receptive moods. Now, I dont listen to any
classical music - all my old vinyl records are classical but my CDs
Nine years ago, Mountfort moved to Australia and in 1988 she happened
upon a show by a quirky Melbourne based outfit called NDW, a band
which specialises in an intriguing blend of indigenous, ambient rock.
From the instant she saw them, she was hooked.
"I fell in love with then," she said. "I realised they
had a lot of cello and I thought to myself:I want to play in
this band, this is the band for me."
Only a few months later, fate engineered a meeting with NDWs
David Bridie and Mountfort found her dream coming TRUE when she was
asked to accompany NDW on their Claim tour.
"It was very different but very exciting," she said of her
first rock tour. "There were a lot of new things, like doing
sound checks and travelling in a Tarago. It was interesting."
Since then, things have moved ahead in leaps and bounds for Mountfort. NDW have received international praise from the likes of Peter Gabriel and their critical, if not commercial, success in Australia grows. Then there’s MFTCC, a band put together by the prolific Mountfort and Bridie to occupy their time between other musical projects.
Tomorrow, the band releases its second album Brood, an
indication that the formerly sideline project might be getting a little
"It kind of is," Mountofrt tentatively agreed. "It
has definitely changed colours, it has turned into a different project
now. When we made the first record in 1991 we didnt even have
a deal, we just wanted to something with the extra money we were making
from gigs. The first record did realy well and we wanted to play live
shows every three months or so. Then it became quite absolute that
we wanted to do a second album."
Mountfort said there were no difficulties in separating NDW from MFTCC.
"Theyre very separate in our minds," she said. "For
a start, there are four people in the band who have nothing to do
with NDW (Andrew Carswell, Hope Csutoros, Andrew Richardson and Michael
Barker) and that gives the band a different identity. MFTCC uses all
acoustic instruments, so that gives it a very different sound."
"I think the sound is warmer and a bit softer (than NDW) and
MFTCC is a very poppy band. MFTCC doesnt see itself as part
of the (music) industry, it does what it wants."
Mountfort said the idea to form MFTCC came when she and Bridie began
listening to a a lot of instrumental music. The pair though it would
be fun to record something using only acoustic instruments, with an
emphasis on strings.
"We wanted an arena to expand some different things and that
is what it has become," she said. "Its very strong
and financially viable."
From a basis of Mountfort and Bridie, the band grew bit by bit with
friends and friends of friends joining as rehersals progressed over
the weeks. Now MFTCC and NDW complement each other perfectly.
"In a way there has always been a lot of expectation on NDW and
that has put a lot of pressure on us," Mountfort said. "With
MFTCC neither the media nor the industry put pressure on us at the
beginning and it was very easy to do."
Mountfort doesnt restrict her work to her two bands - shes
an in-demand session player (Lets face it, who else would you
call if you wanted a bit of cello on your album?) and has worked with
the likes of Paul Kelly and, more recently, Linda and Vika Bull. And
she is aware of a growing popularity of strings in rock.
"I think that style is quite trendy at the momnent, which is
good for me," she said. "I see many people using cellists
here and I think it is just being seen as a great insrtument. Its
great for playing melody on and the deep tones are fantastic for sad