Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Sarah Carroll is a songwriter, performer, radio announcer, choir director, ukulele teacher and producer. She has played with well-known Aus. musicians such as: Chris Wilson, Andy baylor, Mick Thomas, Van Walker, Gleny Rae Virus and Suzannah Espie - among others - for sixteen years whilst touring throughout Australia and the US. In addition to playing solo she performs in a duo with her husband, Chris Wilson, as well as part of The Junes who recently appeared on popular ABC TV show Spicks and Specks. Her music covers the broad spectrum of roots, country, rock 'n' roll, gospel, bluegrass, swing and calypso. She has very kindly agreed to be interviewed by email. Melbourne Roots would like to thank Sarah for her great responses.
HT: How did you first get into music and performing? Did your family or the place you grew up have an influence on your direction?
SC: I can't remember a time when I wasn't singing and dancing about. I always had a radio in my room and listened to 3XY as a kid, then 3BO and 3CV in Bendigo. My family was very democratic about music and we had access to an excellent stereo ( my stepfather's) from an early age. My brother and I and our mates used to dress up as KISS and put on shows for our parents and friends. We made platform boots out of roller skates. I did jazz ballet to the Beach Boys before that. And we were totally addicted to Countdown of course. I got my first guitars at about 10 or 11, a six and a twelve string. Got into public radio when I was about 15 and living in Collingwood. 3RRR was very important to me as a budding performer as it gave me my first on-air experiences ( graveyards with my brother in the late 80s). I started going to see bands at 16 or so and fell in love with that, and began performing professionally about 10 years later. My family moved a lot, and I didn't grow up with my father, but have found out recently from him that his side of the family was littered with singers, dancers and performers going back a couple of generations. So my drive to do that makes more sense now!
HT: GIT formed in 1998. Can you talk a bit about how you all got together and what it was like playing with Suzannah and Trish around Melbourne in the late 90s/early 2000s?
SC: I worked with Trish at 3CR and had lost touch with her while she did a music degree at Latrobe. She met Suzannah there and they graduated at the same time. They decided to form a retro-sounding trio based on the Andrews Sisters, just to do some busking or little gigs for fun. I'd met Suzannah at my share house in Fitzroy where she'd been visiting to learn some songs for a country band she'd formed with my housemate Phil McLeod. So both the gals knew me and thought they'd ask if I wanted to have a go at being the 3rd voice. With typical disregard for any parity between my desire and my ability to do things, I said yes. We had a fantastic and fun time time together and did hundreds of gigs. Pretty amazing. Actually our first gigs were in '97, but we recorded our debut cd in '98. It was called Fishburger, named after an item on the menu at a cafe in Byron Bay, I think. We were the only Melbourne band doing that 40s-50s style of country with female voices at the time so we were probably more successful than we deserved to be! We did work bloody hard though and it was tough on our little ones at times. Overall, it made each of us the performer we are today.
HT: After GIT disbanded, yourself and Suzannah teemed up with Glenny Rae Virus to form The Junes. Did you miss performing in an a three-part harmony, all female line-up? What do you each bring to The Junes do you think?
SC: Well, I think Suzannah and I just wanted to keep working together 'cos we have a shitload of fun! It was Phil McLeod's idea to form a band with Gleny, although he wasn't able to continue with us due to huge demand for his lithe body and mad skills...I needed some time, as we all did, including Gleny, to recover from post-breakup stuff, and do our own things for a while. So we have really eased in to the Junes, and each of us is very aware of how fragile and precious the co-dependent relationships in a band are, and we're all totally respectful and gentle with each other. At the same time, expecting completely positive and resilient attitudes from each other. It seems to work well. We all get along fabulously well...the Brokeback Line, a little too well sometimes...
HT: You've played festivals all over the country as well as in the US. What are some of your most memorable festival experiences?
SC: Great times at Woodford, Qld; SXSW in Austin, Folk Alliance in Nashville... meeting like minds all over the place. My first Tamworth was really special; I lived at my friend Leigh Ivin's house with The Re-Mains, Jackie Marshall, Andrew Hull and Neil Murray for a week. My best friend drove us up and she was exhausted at the end of it by me!! and my table-dancing air-guitar reefer-rolling ways.....Dancing at Nymagee is always a blast. Getting the biggest encore at Port Fairy for the band I play in with my husband, The Pirates Of Beer. And Katherine Country Music Muster with The Junes last year was just so great and so Australian. Really there are too many memories to remember!
HT: How important has becoming a mother been to your development as a person (and by extension) as a songwriter and musician?
SC: I didn't have the focus I needed before I had my first baby. It's impossible to describe the difference between pre- and post- natal life, only to say that I went from being two dimensional, to three dimensional...I don't remember what was important before.
HT: There's a strong tradition of female country performers in Melbourne. How important is that community, do you think?
SC: Is there? I reckon there isn't, actually. I think there's a very strong tradition in Sydney, Brissy, the Gold Coast, and in the bush, but Melbourne's only had female country performers I reckon in the last 20 years or so. Lisa Miller was the first I was aware of. I used to see her with Andy Baylor, and with Rick O'Shea and Warren Rough, The Everlovin' O'Sheas they were called. Lisa was the only female act supporting the US guys when they came out. I'm not sure who came next but I'd argue it's a recent thing. That's not to say that it wasn't totally welcome! And since it's been considered cool, there's chicks singing country everywhere!! Which is fantastic. Last year's Nymagee Outback Festival was dominated by ladies, as was Mossvale earlier this year. I'm still the best yodeller though, next to Melinda Schneider. I'd like to mention that Barb Waters, The Gusset Rustlers and The Dirty Hanks were at the forefront of female country in the late 80s and that those ladies are continuing to signify in Melbourne music, one way or another...they were guitar slingers but also writing great songs, playing bass and drums and fiddles and creating a genre of their own.
The Junes are playing at The Union Hotel (Brunswick West) on the 19th of August and at The Corner Hotel (Richmond) on the 20th. For more information visit www.myspace.com/thejunestunes. 'Twelve Golden Greats' can be purchased at www.lastrecordstore.com
Sarah's most recent album 'Wahine' (2008) is available from www.croxtonrecords.com. Or visit her at www.myspace.com/sarahmichelecarroll / www.sarah67comeback.com
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
On Saturday July 10th, Jess, Iona and I got down to the second set of the Le Blanc Brothers Cajun Band, hosted by the Melbourne Folk Club at West Brunswick's Grandview Hotel. It was great to step in from the chill luminous air of a Melbourne winter sunset to the belly-fire of the traditional Cajun music. I never imagined I'd hear a triangle played to such incredible effect; the music jaunty and melodic and quirky as hell. This particular line-up: Andrew Le Blanc (vocals and guitar) Geoff Le Blanc (accordion) Richard Klein (fiddle) Nicola Strating (triangle and fiddle) and Lachlan Dear (double bass) -- with guest Pete Fidler (lap steel) have been playing together since 2009, inspired by traditional southern Louisiana Cajun/dance music. Great to see this music alive in Melbourne. See above for footage of the song 'La Porte d'en Arriere' (The Back Door) And visit their myspace page here for more information. The Le Blanc Brothers Cajun Band are playing at the Lomond Hotel (East Brunswick) on Thursday, August 19th. Free entry.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
HT: Warren, how did you start out playing music?
WR: I started playing guitar when I was about eleven or twelve. I was brought up by mother and grandfather and my grandfather played harmonica and trombone and he taught my older brother Greg how to play harmonica. And, yeah, when I was about eleven or twelve my mother sent myself and my younger brother to a local music school that was on a Saturday morning and all they taught was piano, accordion or guitar (laughs). So I took the guitar; I was always the Indian, they were the cowboys. And yeah, that’s when I started playing guitar. And I took to it straight away; I really liked it. Ah but I didn’t have many lessons and what I did -- I was listening to the families, the records: Peter Paul and Mary at the time and I was really intrigued by the guitar playing on Peter, Paul and Mary records. Peter and Paul played this lovely acoustic guitar style which is called ‘pattern picking’ and it’s using your thumb and your first two fingers on your right hand rather than a flat pick, which most guitarists use. So it’s actually based on piano playing more than um -- you know most guitar you hear is based on saxophone playing; single string playing on guitar is based on jazz sax playing whereas finger-picking’s based on piano playing. The whole style is quite unique. And so I got myself a book or two explaining how to do that kind of thing and from there I got interested in the really early blues playing, the kind of stuff that was recorded in the 1920s and 30s and such.
HT: Any particular players you liked or were inspired by?
WR: Mississippi John Hurt.
HT: Love Mississippi John Hurt.
WR: Yeah. Because I played without finger picks at first. But later I took them up. Um, and that’s what I did for years and years and years. You know, I never thought of myself as someone who would join a band or anything like that. You know, I was strictly a bedroom guitar player.
HT: What was the first band you joined and how did that come about?
WR: Ah, I was in my early twenties when some friends of mine started a band called the Autodrifters and again I didn’t think that I, you know, would fit with my style of playing so I what I did --
HT: They were a rockabilly outfit?
WR: Um, they played rockabilly songs but they weren’t authentic sounding rockabilly. We played lots of rockabilly and kind of truck-driving songs. So the overall sound was what you’d probably call country-rock and the guys in the band were writing their own songs. Nobody was really professional, everybody were beginners really.
HT: Who was in the Autodrifters?
WR: Well Rick Dempster was the singer and played harmonica. We had Peter Lillie, who was the leader of the band, on guitar and vocals; Johnny Topper was on bass; um, we had Des Hewitt who was Pauline Hewitt’s brother on drums and later on Andy Baylor joined, playing steel and fiddle.
HT: Great line-up.
WR: Yeah. It didn’t last that long though. We recorded one mini-album and a few other tracks on a compilation but that was it; it only lasted about a year. And, after that I was playing in a little country band.
HT: The Gully Jumpers?
WR: Yeah, that’s right. Um, I’m not sure how that came about but we used to play at the Napier Hotel in Fitzroy. It was a long time ago; there was still sawdust on the floor. (both laugh)
HT: Is this the 70s you’re talking about?
WR: Yeah, later 70s. And while I was playing with them I met up with a guy named Rick O’Shea and he was interested in rockabilly and I thought that since the Autodrifters had broken up -- there was nobody in the inner suburbs really playing that kind of music. There were rockabilly bands in the outer suburbs and stuff but, you know, to go and see them you had to kind of pack a, kind of, lunch and a water bag to get out there and see them (laughing). They were way out in woop-woop. But um, so yeah I was talking to Rick O’Shea and he suggested we get a band together to play rockabilly. And so we did that. Initially I didn’t think that I would be playing lead guitar because I was still -- I had an electric guitar by then as well as the acoustic -- but I still thought of myself more as a rhythm player in a band setting. Cause I wasn’t sure how to get that style, that finger-picking style, to work in a band setting.
HT: How did you -- with the Crackajacks for example?
WR: Well we were -- at least at the beginning -- we had a very authentic rockabilly sound, you know a 50s rockabilly sound: we had a slap bass player and stuff. And what happened was, during rehearsals, we’d have a number of guitar players coming along to play lead guitar but sometimes they wouldn’t turn up and so just to make use of the time, you know, I’d try to do the lead guitar. And after awhile the other guys just said: well Warren, why don’t you do it? So I sat down and I studied people like: a guitar player called Scotty Moore who played on Elvis’ first recordings for Sun Records. And he had a style that was based on finger picking. And, ah, I was able to get ideas from that as far as adapting my style of playing was concerned. In fact, I’ve done that with all the bands I’ve been in; I haven’t gone to them with a particular style of playing, I’ve had to learn the style and adapt my way of playing to that style.
HT: Yeah -- a time-heavy process. You must have spent a lot of time rehearsing, studying quietly …
WR: Well, I’ve always -- playing guitar’s just my life; all I’ve really wanted to do. (laughs)
HT: The Crackajacks had some success with the single Long Blond Hair and Stranger than Fiction on the flip side in the early 80s. Can you talk a bit about the Crackajacks heyday? You must have been touring a lot -- you were with AuGoGo records, yes?
WR: That’s right. We started the same way that the Autodrifters would do it; and that’s very much: do it yourself. Um, what we’d do was, we’d get a repertoire together and to get a gig we’d just go to the local pub. In those days there were a lot of pubs, lot of, you know, you’re local corner pubs that, you know, had a lounge that wasn’t being used at all. So we’d just approach the publican and say: how would you like to have some live music here? And we’d do it all ourselves: we’d hire the P.A., we’d put somebody on the door and charge a few bucks and do it that way.
HT: Whereabouts in Melbourne were you playing?
WR: Well, for the Crackajacks, our first residency was at a little pub in Collingwood called the Laird O’Cockpin (Laird Hotel). That’s right near the Collingwood Town Hall. And we didn’t realise when we got it but it’s, it’s a gay establishment. So that was interesting to have all these rockabilly fans mixing with the gays (both laugh). But it worked!
HT: What did the gay community think of the Crackajacks?
WR: They loved it. They’d come in from the bar and have a dance. That’s another thing: all the bands I’ve been in have basically been dance bands. And, yeah, after some time we recorded a single and that was put out on AuGoGo, as you said, and it was quite successful on a local level -- it topped the alternative charts. And eventually Astor Records contacted us and we did a deal with them and they actually released it but it didn’t get on commercial radio.
HT: Why do you think that is?
WR: We were told because it wasn’t up to scratch in the recorded sound. Um, yeah -- it was a bit disappointing.
HT: The single has such great energy – I was surprised that it was held back. What was the music culture in Melbourne like back then? Was it conservative?
WR: Um, well it was mainstream rock, basically. You know, there were just inklings of the punk movement starting to happen; but we thought of ourselves playing a pure form of rockabilly, we thought of ourselves as truly alternative. Actually that term wasn’t used -- it hadn’t been invented back then! (laughs)
HT: Did the Crackajacks form at Hound Dogs Bop Shop in West Melbourne? Can you talk a bit about the record store –there was a real hub of activity going on there at the time, for rockabilly, wasn’t there?
WR: Yeah, that’s right. It was a real centre for that whole scene. And, ah, I’d gone in there -- when I was still with the Autodrifters I’d gone in there and I’d become a regular and it did help when we were forming the Crackajacks, finding people to do it. Like, slap-bass players were very few and far between; you might find somebody who played older style jazz would play slap-bass but apart from that it was really hard to find anybody. In fact, when our first bass player left we couldn’t replace him with slap-bass so we ended up getting an electric bass player. And our sound became less authentic rockabilly, we tried to write our own songs and mix in different influences. I’ve always been interested in lots of different music: mainly vintage music but all kinds, you know, I love Latin-American music, Caribbean music, country and its various offshoots.
HT: How important do you think Hound Dogs Bop Shop was to Melbourne’s roots music culture back then?
WR: Well, I know it was important for that scene in those days. It really was the centre for getting the information out about bands. And Denys Williams, who runs the show, um, he was great at getting that information out to everybody.
HT: It grew out of the Australian Rock n’ Roll Appreciation Society in the mid 70s, yeah?
WR: That’s right, yeah.
HT: Were you a member?
WR: I was, yes. And I wrote for the magazine: Big Beat of the Fifties.
HT: You must have been busy. This was at the same time as the Crackajacks?
WR: Um, well the heyday of the Crackajacks was I think about 1979 to 1983/4. It changed quite a bit: in the end we had quite a different line-up, there was only three original members by that time: myself, Rick O’Shea on vocals and rhythm guitar and Mick Black on drums, who was an old friend of mine from my old neighbourhood.
HT: You’re from Heidelberg aren’t you?
WR: West Heidelberg! Actually, I was born in Preston but we moved out to West Heidelberg and that’s where I met people like Bill Martin and Mick and so on.
HT: Great. So, moving on from the Crackajacks, you started the electric blues outfit the Paramount Trio in the late 80s -- were there other band between?
WR: Ah, okay, I’ll just have to try and think for a moment here. Oh yes, there was the Corpse Grinders. I got into that band, which was a psychobilly band --
HT: How would you describe psychobilly?
WR: It’s rockabilly with a punk sensibility. The best known psychobilly band is the American band ‘The Cramps’ and we certainly were influenced by them a lot. And that band got together because some of the guys in that band used to come and see the Crackajacks quite a bit and so when the Crackajacks finished they asked me to be in that band so I joined them.
HT: How long did that last?
WR: A few years … I’m not quite sure. It was a pretty hectic time. We did some touring; not as much as I did in the Crackajacks. In the later part of the Crackajacks career there was a lot of touring, especially Sydney. In fact at one stage we were more popular in Sydney than we were in Melbourne so we were going there a lot. The Corpse Grinders were based around a venue in St Kilda called the Seaview Ballroom and we played there a lot.
HT: How many people used to go along to those gigs, do you remember?
WR: I remember packed houses all the time. We were quite popular locally and again we -- the first recording we did topped the alternative charts. The song was called (laughs) ‘I Eat Babies’
HT: (laughing) I Eat Babies by ‘The Corpse Grinders’. Charming! So you were pretty wild then?
WR: We were. We drank a lot. Once we became popular I remember the drink rider for the band was a slab of beer before we went on and a slab of beer when we got off (chuckles). Yeah, so it’s kind of hard to remember much about that band; it was pretty wild.
HT: It must have been pretty exciting, being a young man in your twenties, gigging, drinking, touring etc. Did you have much down time or were you always on the go?
WR: It was mostly on the go because at that time I was living from playing music and that wasn’t the only band I was playing in. I played for awhile with a band called the Pete Best Beatles; um, I was doing solo work just playing guitar in a café in St Kilda. Ah, I was also in a trio with Rick O’Shea and Lisa Miller called the Everlovin’ O’Sheas.
HT: What sort of music was that?
WR: Mostly country songs. Mostly classic kind of George Jones, Tammy Wynette …
HT: So you were playing psychobilly and then country songs at the same time?! How did you manage that? Was it hard to switch?
WR: Yeah. It was okay, until -- I remember we did one gig where I had to do both bands – ah, this wasn’t the Everlovin’ O’Sheas it was the Pete Best Beatles who were a send-up Cabaret band. So you really had to know you’re stuff in that band. It was mostly humour but the playing had to be quite exact and we got booked for one gig supporting the Corpse Grinders so I had to go from (laughs) playing with one band, being very strictly spot-on, to then playing with the Corpse grinders who were really loose. I should point out too though that the Corpse Grinders were all about humour as well; we didn’t take ourselves seriously. It was kind of, well at least our appearances were as much a send up of that whole scene -- you know, we played really hard.
HT: What did you used to wear and do on stage?! I’m intrigued.
WR: Well, anything we wanted! (chuckles) We were usually drunk so we’d usually, you know, do whatever we wanted to and invariably arguments would start between the guys in the band and that was kind of like part of the show, you know? And the audience would get involved. You know there were these huge gaps between songs but then we’d get it together and we’d play something really hard and fast and really powerful. And then we’d go back to drinking and arguing again (both laugh) and mucking around. But, you know, it worked.
HT: Did people used to throw things at you on stage? Was it that good?
WR: If they were brave enough!
HT: So you all had reputations?
WR: Well, the bass player in particular was a rather large chap (laughs). But yeah, who was it? Jello Biafra, American guy, singer with the Dead Kennedys: we did a job with them; he later described us, in print, as the most entertaining band he’d ever seen in Australia.
HT: Wow. That’s quite an accolade. So can you talk about the transition from the Corpse Grinders to the Paramount Trio. How did that come about?
WR: Um, I think it was more that I was wanting to get back to what I played for myself, my personal style; to be able to use that more.
HT: Paramount Trio was yourself on guitar, Dave Hogan on harmonica and vocals, and Ken Farmer on drums/percussion. How did you get together?
WR: Again, I think we met through the Bop Shop (Hound Dogs). I’d known of Ken Farmer for some time, just from the general music scene and the same with Dave Hogan and it was in the Bop Shop that I met up with Dave and talked about the idea of the trio together. He was in a band called Southern Lightnin’ who were a blues-influenced rock band and he had the same thoughts that I had, which was forming a small unit that wouldn’t have to worry about big P.A.s and that kind of thing, and to play a more rural type of blues -- what’s generally called country-blues but it’s, you know, nothing to do with country music; the style of blues that was first recorded in the twenties were mainly rural performers, people like Robert Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson and such … and that music died out as far as recordings were concerned but made a bit of a comeback in the late 40s/early 50s when Muddy Waters -- people like Muddy Waters -- made their first recordings and they were playing in that rural style but it was amplified.
HT: So that’s what Paramount were based on?
WR: That’s exactly what we were trying to do. Ah, for a description of the band we named it electric, country blues.
HT: Did you have a residency at the Rose Hotel in Fitzroy, is that right?
WR: Ah, we started off at the Napier Hotel, where I played with the Gully Jumpers. Again it was just a matter of: they were the closest pub to Dave Hogan’s place. So when we thought we had enough tunes we just walked down there and asked if they’d like to put us on, which they did. And we played there for a number of years and then went on to other places but we tended to stick to the same places. We wouldn’t use a P.A. at all; my idea was to cut the costs; as well as just having three people you wouldn’t have to pay for a P.A. and someone to mix and such. So what we did was: Dave Hogan would sing and play harmonica through an amplifier -- he had a great old Vox amplifier -- and then I’d just have my guitar and amplifier and Ken on the drums and washboard. And it made it quite easy to do. The pub we were longest at was a pub on Smith Street (Collingwood), it’s now called the Punters Paradise and we played there for at least five years on a Friday night. We had a small but dedicated following. It was set up for that reason -- just to be a small-time thing. We didn’t do festivals, we didn’t make any recordings for ages; we weren’t aiming at a wider audience.
HT: Okay, great. Just to finish up with your current band, the old-timey/country blues duo Woodward and Rough -- can you talk a bit about playing with Craig Woodward and the shift to an acoustic, finger-picking style of playing. What inspired that shift?
WR: Well, I’ve always loved old-timey music. I first heard the country-blues stuff when I was thirteen/ fourteen and not long after that I first heard old-timey music and it really fascinated me, it always has. As far as I know, or I knew, nobody played that style of music and it was only when -- I’m also really interested in Cajun music -- and while I was playing with Paramount Trio, I heard this band called the Le Blanc Brothers Cajun Aces; I heard a track being played on the radio -- on 3CR -- and I thought it was a, you know, a Cajun band from Louisiana but it turned out they were a local band. So I went to see them and that’s when I first met Craig ‘cause he was playing fiddle and guitar. And later on he told me he was going to form a band to play old-timey music with Nicola Hayes and so they got together: Headbelly Buzzard. As soon as I went and saw them I was just blown away: I thought they were great and I was just knocked out that somebody would be playing old-time music. And so for a long time I used to go and sit in with the band.
HT: Playing rhythm?
WR: Yep. And from there Craig and I got together as a duo as Woodward and Rough.
HT: You’ve been playing together for about ten years, yeah? You’ve put out two albums: Sweet Milk and Peaches and Hometown Blues (both available from http://www.accrosstheborders.com.au/) Have you got any plans for a third album?
WR: Not at the moment, no.
HT: (laughs) Short answer. If you want to see Woodward and Rough live, they play every Sunday night from 10pm at the Lomond Hotel, East Brunswick. Thanks very much Warren.
WR: It was a pleasure, thanks Honeytree.
For more information on the formation of Woodward and Rough please see the three-part-series Interview with Craig Woodward accessible from the sidebar. Also, please see the post ‘A Visual History: Snapshots from the Big Beat Archives 1980s-90s’ for photos of Warren in various line-ups. Woodward and Rough CDs are available from http://www.accrosstheborders.com.au/ (Photo above taken from the Big Beat of the 50s archives, courtesy of Bill Martin and Peter Scanlon)
Monday, July 5, 2010
Photo of the Rockabilly Rebels and Vic O'Neill from: Interview with Vic O'Neill "The Man with the Golden Voice"' (September 1986, Issue #48)
From "Rockin at the Bop Shop -- the tale of Hound Dogs" Photos by Brian Carr (Sep 1986, Issue #48)
The Paramount Trio's Warren Rough and Dave Hogan outside Hound Dogs (photo by Brian Carr) (September 1992, Issue #72)
Text below taken from an article by Warren Rough: "Rockin at the Bop Shop -- the tale of Hound Dogs" (Sep 1986, Issue #48)
The Crackajacks recording at Preston Records (March 1989, Issue #58)
Photo from "Rockin Melbourne: A series of photos by Brian Carr" (September 1992, Issue #72)
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
I'll be posting a short interview with guitarist Warren Rough in the coming weeks. Woodward and Rough are playing at the Fox Hotel (Collingwood) this coming Sunday (5th July) 5-7pm. To purchase Woodward and Rough's Sweet Milk and Peaches and Hometown Blues please visit Accross the Borders.
Saturday, June 26, 2010
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Gleny Rae -- what a singer! Ramblin' Girl (video above) takes my breath away. Last Saturday (June 12th) I went with friends to glam/country band The Junes CD launch at Bella Union Bar (Trades Hall, Carlton) Great venue -- towering columns, sandpapered walls, grand ceilings, cold, wide staircases. It seemed to suit the winter mood. I wore a heavy, black woolen jacket and still stood shivering by the bar. The layered harmonies, cajun dance, and touch of Junes glamour soon warmed my cold journalists blood however and the suspended union/protest flags and red lamplight above me were stirring. The room had a fabulous sound.
The CD launched was The Junes: 12 Golden Greats (their first full length album, recorded with Craig Pilkington at Audrey Studios) and there are several heart-breakingly beautiful songs on this album. Slow dance, Blue Baby is a favourite, as is Hopeless and Ramblin' Girl (see video above) though I think this may be on their previous recording. The jumpier numbers like Stampede in the Begerkery (complete with chicken stomps, raised shins and sudden whoops) have a raucous hillbilly energy to them and are loads of fun. As per usual, there was a lot of innuendo and onstage banter to get the crowd laughing: Gleny Rae bemoaning the plight of chickens who are armless and without opposable thumbs; Sarah Carol teasing the all male rhythm section about their matching shirts and colourful on-stage bonding ;) etc. The fiddle and accordian solos by Glenny Rae were stunning, and Suzannah's singing was haunting and full of subdued passion. The rhytmm section (Dougie Bull and Chris Tabone) were very lively yet able to pull it back for the quieter numbers and let the beautiful, complex harmonies sing out.
As part of the evening's entertainment the 100+ or so crowd were treated to Cajun dance lessons (care of Emma Bee) and it was cute watching the, perhaps, dozen couples get up to left-foot, right-foot-it round the dance floor (and, yes, slightly dishearting to see that all the willing blokes were over sixty). My fellow lady friends and I stood slumped up against the wall slurping gin like lemonade as if we were abandoned prom nerds in a country barn. Once Andy Baylor's Cajun Combo started up however (see video below) we flung our boyfriend-needy inhibitions aside and toe-tapped our way onto the dance floor, swept up by the jaunty rhythms & melodies of the expert Cajun music. With such seasoned musicians as: Andy Baylor, Rick Dempster, Sam Lemann, Andy Scott, and Lenny Ramanauskas, what can I say? Brilliant. We danced the night away.
Needless to say it was a great gig. It all ended with a crammed ride in the cabin of a ute, gear stick vibrating madly at my calves, ashtray attached unwittingly to my bag stuffed under the dash, butts all over the floor -- cigarettes, that is ;) -- and several laughing heads growing out of my shoulders (or so it would have seemed to bemused pedestrians). This inane happiness I attribute to the fabulous Junes of course and the Cajun Combo -- not just the booze!
For more information on The Junes and to buy the CD visit their myspace page here. For Andy Baylor's Cajun Combo visit his website. H
Monday, June 14, 2010
CW: Yeah definitely. A way in for me was to go to a couple of festivals and conventions that they have over there and I was just lucky to meet the right people. People that I could spend time with who are kind of like the people I know here.
HT: So is it quite similar in some ways?
CW: Yeah, it’s very similar. I was lucky to camp next to the right crowd – for me, anyway. Because it’s funny …
HT: Is it bigger over there?
CW: Oh yeah – it’s huge. Actually the biggest festival, which is just string band/old-time music festival – it doesn’t include bluegrass – which is the Appalachian String Band Music Festival in West Virginia, Clifftop; they call it Clifftop. That’s gotten too big there and I think this year might be the last one because it’s just totally outgrown the site that it’s on and it’s just gotten so popular. I went there both times I went to the States and it was really huge; it was three years ago that I went and it’s sort over a weekend but people start showing up a weekend beforehand and I think on about the Thursday they just stop letting people in.
HT: Wow. So you’re talking attendances in the thousands? Tens of thousands perhaps?
CW: Maybe. (laughs)
HT: Too many people to count.
CW: Yeah. And it’s good but it’s a bit overwhelming; it’s a bit much you know.
HT: Did you play?
CW: Oh yeah, just jamming, you know. Which is mostly what goes on there. They have contests: fiddle contests, banjo contests; stuff like that. Which we don’t have here cause we’re the kind of people that get funny, I think, about the idea of contests … and it is funny.
HT: In Australia? (both laugh) Nobody wants to stand out?
CW: The Americans sort of grow up with a different sense of competition you know, they’re kind of into contests. But, you know, the good thing about the contests often is that if you play in a contest you get your entry money that you paid to get into the festival back. So it gets you in for free and it’s a way of getting musicians in and also having something on the stage that’s interesting for the locals to look at. You know, but everyone gets up; not just people that think they might have a chance at winning. (both laugh)
HT: Are there any old-fashioned pie-eating contests?
CW: I’d say so, I’d say so … Yeah, cherry pie; that’s popular in America.
HT: Is there a lot of dancing at those sort of festivals?
CW: Heaps of dancing. And that’s what we need here. They do a type of clogging – which is, they call it flat-foot dancing; although there might be a kind of difference between what people call clogging and what they call flat-foot, I’m not really sure. It’s kind of a cross between a few kinds of dancing, you know; it’s got a few influences but it’s very loose.
HT: It’s a high-stepping, rhythmic sort of dance, is that right?
CW: Yeah, yeah – though some of the really good flat-footing dancers do it really close to the ground; they hardly even lift they’re feet. So it’s not as exaggerated as some of those kinds of dancing.
HT: Does that come from Irish dance tradition?
CW: Yeah partly. Partly from that and, um, the African influence of course. Some of it’s similar – you’re probably thinking – to Irish step-dancing except much looser and not as exaggerated.
HT: Just getting back to the current music climate and what’s been happening in Melbourne and Victoria recently with the changes to liquor licensing legislation. Headbelly Buzzard – along with two other residency Railway gigs – lost their weekly spot late in 2009. Can you just talk a little bit about the impact the high-security measures had on you personally as well as a musician?
CW: Well … it’s definitely bad for those of us playing at the Railway. You know they keep going on about how Melbourne’s supposed to be Australia’s arts precinct and it’s not a very good way to go about keeping something that’s already an active culture going. And, you know, things might change; but they haven’t changed yet – for the Railway. And some places you’ve got security on but it really sets the wrong tone for a venue, having security on. It’s a bad look.
HT: In the fourteen years that Headbelly played at the Railway every Friday night, did you see any kind of violence or trouble?
HT: What sort of crowd did you get there?
CW: Well, it’s a pretty varied kind of crowd, pretty diverse. I mean pretty gentle generally; very gentle crowd. (laughs) Drinkers though! Lots of drinkers. Which was good ‘cause it kept us in a job as well. Unfortunately – well not unfortunately … the way we play old-time music, it makes it more enjoyable if you drink.
HT: So when the changes came in and you were informed that you lost your gig, how much notice were you given? Was it quite abrupt?
CW: No notice. We just … well, it was a funny night – the last night but I don’t want to talk too much about that but I went in and saw Peter [Negrelli – the publican] during that week and he said: it’s all over; we’re stopping all the bands. So we didn’t even get to do a last gig. Yeah, after fourteen or fifteen years. But we’ve waited around for long enough and I’m hoping that the Railway will get bands back on but it might take awhile. So, we’ll try it out at The Post Office Hotel (Coburg).
HT: Great; a new start for the latest incarnation of Headbelly Buzzard.
CW: With a wooden floor.
HT: Good dancing floor! Thanks very much Craig, for doing the interview. It was good talking to you.
CW: Good talking to you. Thanks.
HT: (laughing) Back to the whisky.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
Jess and I went to The Railway most Thursday nights before our child was born to drink wine and dance and he would sit in with The Blues Shooters to play guitar or I would sing an old jazz tune to the familiar faces in the crowd. We were the next generation of musos – always offered opportunities to get up and perform. I remember (yes, fondly) the faux-marble floor, awful fluorescent lights, wood veneer tables and footy memorabilia on the walls. I remember the grapevines growing on trellises in the courtyard out back; the rich smells of the home-style pub food cooked by the publican’s wife, Miriam, in the kitchen; the faces at the bar, young and old, who would greet each other with a pot of beer and plenty of talk; Peter’s resigned, slightly grumpy, nod in greeting. But most of all I remember the bands. The live music community at The Railway was a given, like the air we breathed; it was our heritage.
It was such a shock then, when late in 2009 the Italian publican, Peter Negrelli, informed the bands that due to changes in liquor licensing legislation (stating the pub required video surveillance and two licensed security guards when providing entertainment) the pub could no longer afford to put on gigs. As a result, both Headbelly Buzzard and The Brunswick Blues Shooters (who had played every Thursday night for four years) were instantly out of work. This was a blow to the whole community. My partner’s band ‘The Goodtime Medicine Band’, who had held the Saturday night spot at The Railway Hotel for a year and a half, also lost their gig. I don’t need to tell you the implications of this for us personally or for the broader music community; the bare bones are frightening enough: several generations of Melbourne roots musicians were culled by poorly conceived legislation that labeled live music – a culturally diverse and celebratory practice, known for encouraging strong community – a cause of alcohol-fuelled violence.
Ever since the debate has been raging: on the streets, in parliament and in the pubs where our strong music communities, of all genres, have been vocal about their anger at the linking of live music to alcohol-fuelled violence. It was at The Railway, in fact, that civil rights lawyer Anne O’Rourke began campaigning with fellow live music supporters Quincy McLean and Helen Marcou of Save Live Australian Music (SLAM) to fight for the link between ‘high risk’ conditions and live music to be overturned. This work, along with the support of other members of the industry led to the hugely successful SLAM rally that drew over 10,000 supporters into the city to protest against the reformed liquor licensing laws. At the time of the rally, in a spirit of goodwill, an accord was signed by the Brumby Government stating their intention to review the impact of the laws on small venues. The onus was still on the venues however and the review process complicated. It wasn’t until April’s petition delivery to Parliament (presented by nine well-known Victorian musicians) and a lot of bad press, that a couple of venues who had applied for the roll-back were finally approved. In the meantime gigs were being dropped all over the state. To date, only a small handful of venues have been successful. A new Director of Liquor Licensing has been appointed to replace the controversial Sue MacLellan and we are yet to see how or if this will change things for live music.
If you walked into The Railway Hotel today you’d find the food is still great, the fish-tank bubbling, the grapes still growing out back, but the music has largely disappeared and half the community with it. Headbelly Buzzard disbanded (they have recently reformed in a new line-up as ‘The Flying Engine String Band’ – see sidebar for details), The Brunswick Blues Shooters are still looking for a new residency, and The Goodtime Medicine Band are down from two gigs per week, to one (Lomond Hotel, Sundays 9pm). And what of the new bands that may have come through? So much lost opportunity. All of a sudden my mother’s words take on new meaning: “Headbelly Buzzard are a Melbourne Institution”, she’d said. It is devastating that the Government has been able to change the course of Melbourne’s music history so suddenly, in such an arbitrary way. It is inexcusable that this can happen whilst The Railway Hotel remains advertised on the State governed Tourism Victoria’s website as a pub popular for hosting live acoustic music. The hypocrisy is laughable. Is this all our culture means to Government – a sales pitch?
History is personal. If you close your eyes for a moment too long our heritage is gone; the place has been culled, renovated, replaced with high-rise apartments or hotels (as in the old city square) and, unforgivably, casinos. Then the culture dies, and our memories with it. Who are we then – when all we have left to remind us of our identity are faceless corporations, nightclubs and gaming joints? Who do we become? Voiceless? Disenchanted? Violent perhaps? I’ve been reading a novel lately: ‘Conditions of Faith’ by Melbourne-based author Alex Miller. In it his character ‘Antoine’ says: “The only history that satisfies our sense of justice is the history we write ourselves”. Yes. We won’t let our music history be overwritten. Music is voice, a powerful one; a voice that speaks from our most basic human need for culture and belonging. The Government has a big responsibility to the people who make up our cultural heritage in Victoria. And we have a big responsibility to fight for it, to protect it. We have a responsibility to remember.
Below is a youtube clip I found of Headbelly playing at the Railway in 2007 at Mick Cameron’s 50th. Though the footage is quite dark it is well worth persisting (it gets a bit easier to see when the b’day cake comes out) – the music is incredible and the energy and community captured on film is stunning. It is a poignant reminder of what we have lost and what we are still fighting for. H
Friday, June 4, 2010
HT: Your former band, Headbelly Buzzard (pictured), have long been referred to as a ‘Melbourne Institution’. What was it about Headbelly, do you think, that generated such strong interest and respect from the music-going community?
CW: Can you say that last bit again? (laughs)
HT: (laughs) this is one of my longer questions! What was it about Headbelly, do you think, that generated such strong interest and respect from the music-going community? I mean, you guys had a pretty devoted audience at your Friday night gig at the Railway Hotel; there was a real buzz around it.
CW: I think that goes back to the trance thing; it can generate a good mood in a room, that trance style of simple tunes – it’s just a repetitive thing, played over and over again, you know. It was very much a groove based band. I mean we had some interesting tunes as well but I think it’s the rhythm that kind of made it work in a hotel [pub], not too loud also but it’s got a bit of drive to it as well without being too aggressive.
HT: Did you get a lot of dancers?
CW: Not as many as we would like. People in Melbourne are often a bit shy of dancing; but we’re working on it.
HT: We’re very good at wearing black though.
CW: (chuckles) Yeah. Makes it hard to see ya. Um, we have got some dancers and we’re hoping for more. The Flying Engine String Band is kind of the same band with different people in it – we’re playing a lot of the same repertoire but it sounds different ‘cause there’s different players and having the knee-injection of Johnny on the guitar provides a lot of drive – it’s maybe a little peppier than the old band. Which is exciting for the dancers.
HT: Also Johnny’s a different generation to you guys as well so there’s a whole new potential appeal there. He’s of my generation; ‘Gen. Y’ they call us.
CW: Yeah, that’s right.
HT: And there’s a lot of people my age who are becoming interested in this sort of stuff.
CW: That’s great. Finally! There wasn’t when I was your age – when I was interested in this kind of stuff. (laughs) But I’m glad their finally is – that’s great. I guess more obscure music styles are pretty accessible these days and if you are interested in old-timey music and you’re lucky enough to live in Melbourne – particularly around the inner north – there’s a very healthy scene of people playing this old-time string band music.
HT: How would you describe the community around the old-timey scene? I know you go to fiddlers conventions, festivals etc. Can you talk a bit about what sort of avenues there are out there for people who play – or are interested in – this sort of music?
CW: I think the thing that’s really keeping it healthy is the regular jam session at the Lomond Hotel. Often you get to learn a new style of music or whatever but you kind of get a circle of friends with it as well. (laughs) You end up spending time with these people because they’ve heard about the jam session and started coming along.
HT: Where do people come from? Are they locally based?
CW: All over. Some people come from out of town but, yeah, there’s quite a few people who live around here that come – but there are a few people that travel a bit.
HT: And what about the fiddlers conventions that you go to? Who organizes them? You mentioned Ken McMaster …
CW: Yeah, he organizes the Yarra Junction Fiddlers Convention. It’s kind of – it’s actually become two different conventions, so I’m not sure what’s going to happen but this year there was two: one at Blackwood in February and there’s one just gone a couple of weeks ago at Camp Eureka (Yarra Junction). There’s also – there’s actually three or four of those type of festivals a year now. There’s the Harrietville Bluegrass festival near Bright which is run by the Dear family, who also run the Piggery. It’s kind of a bluegrass and old-time convention. Nick Dear is a well-known Australian bluegrass, old-time and Cajun musician. He helped steer me in the right direction when I first started getting interested in string-band music.
HT: How many people attend those festivals do you think?
CW: Oh, I’m terrible at estimating. Between two and a few hundred maybe? You never see everyone at once so I don’t know (laughs). Especially now; it takes over the whole town – it’s a tiny town but there’s quite a few people and the difference I suppose between a – why it’s a convention is that it’s kind of a pickers festival like there’s concerts and stuff like that so you can go and listen to heaps of music. There’s a lot of jamming and there’s maybe a few workshops for people that want to come and learn some technique. So I guess that’s why it’s a convention. It’s mostly people that play who go rather than just people that are going out to see music.
HT: So there’s probably three or four festivals like that a year in Victoria, is that right?
CW: Well there’s one in Beechworth that’s been going for awhile. We went for the first time last year and that was really good. So we’re going back again this year.
HT: Do you camp out there? It’s over a couple of days, isn’t it?
CW: Yeah. It’s really cold. It’s on in August or something. We all stay in this big old priory. It’s like a nun house. (laughs)
HT: A nunnery? (laughs) Okay. Do you wear habits?
CW: No. Oh yeah I’m wearing a few habits but … (both laugh)
HT: We’re all wearing a few habits, I think. Um, so that’s in Beechworth – what is it, a big old house?
CW: Yeah it’s huge and it’s a bit like a maze. If people find their way around this year – it’s a really crazy layout.
HT: Is it open to anybody who goes along to the festival? How do you get invited?
CW: Yeah, yeah. There’ll be a website I suppose. That’s probably a good place to stay ‘cause that’s where the majority of the jam sessions happen. There’s all these different rooms and there’s just a big garden. So it was good, you know; it’s been going for awhile but I hadn’t actually made it there ‘till last year and I’m looking forward to going back. There’s a banjo jamboree in Guildford which sort of includes that kind of music: string band and bluegrass music but it’s not as specific as – cause, you know, Beechworth and Harrietfield the focus is kind of bluegrass and old-timey string band music, Cajun music – just sort of American (mostly southern) traditional music styles.
HT: Are you surprised that – considering there’s such a strong community of people that like this sort of music and play and attend these festivals – that there isn’t anything written about it in Melbourne?
CW: Yeah, in a way. In another way we don’t want everyone to find out because then we’d have to share it with too many people and things get ruined that way. (laughs) But I do think it’s well worth documenting because Melbourne’s got a thriving roots scene and it’s unique from what I’ve witnessed and heard from travelers who’ve come here. It’d be hard to find a roots scene like Melbourne’s in the U.S. – particularly in the South. People in the South are into NASCAR racing and bad country music.
HT: (laughing) Great. This sort of leads us into the next question, which is around the idea of traditional music and the reinterpretation of American music – particularly in Australian culture. What are your views on it? Is there room for bands to open it up to new genres or new styles of playing?
CW: There seems to be. There’s a lot of … interest at the minute – there’s a lot of interest in things like – or more interest in stuff that’s: like that but isn’t that, you know? So … there’s plenty of room [for reinterpretation] and that’s okay. Because people who are interested in stuff that’s like something [traditional] might follow it up a little and be interested enough to hear the original stuff. I just mean stylistically; I think it’s necessary to keep the tradition going and evolving rather than just playing something as a museum piece. I think reinterpretation can be good but most of it isn’t so I don’t know if it’s necessarily reinterpretation because I think to change something, you maybe should learn to do it first, before you change it.
HT: What about the song content or the lyric aspect of it – interpreting it for an Australian audience?
CW: Well it’s mostly instrumental the stuff that I usually play and there are lyrics in some of it but a lot of it’s nonsense lyrics and just gives the tune a little extra shift here and there to put a verse in. There are some songs that maybe come a bit more from the ballad form – the English kind of ballad form – but mostly we play more hypnotic kind of instrumental music, some of which has lyrics. So I’ll leave that up to someone else to work with the lyrics to make it a bit more Australian.
HT: Well Mick Cameron was very good at that.
CW: Yeah, that’s right. I used to leave it up to Mick but now, I don’t know; I’ve been playing some stuff with Alan Wright who used to do some of his songs that he’s written with Tony Hargreaves um maybe to make a recording or something – I’m not sure. But that’s kind of interesting to do something different. It’s kind of a bit challenging; it’s not as simple as the music I’m used to playing but some of it sounds pretty good.
HT: How is it different?
CW: There’s many more chords. It’s not that usual. You know we play stuff with one or two chords (laughs). I’m more into, um, thinking about the rhythms and phrasing rather than – I mean sitting, trying to play stuff off charts and I don’t even really know what those chords are. I’m playing mandolin and once I hear it enough I can sort of play something; we’re trying to follow the chords – it’s the way he wrote the song: a lot of chord substitution like what they use in jazz and stuff; it’s not jazz music but it’s not what I’m used to doing so that’s one of the reasons I thought it might be good to do, to improve my music knowledge a little bit.
HT: Yep. Extending a bit further. And just going back to Mick [Cameron] again, you used to play with him in Headbelly Buzzard and also in Sandilands and the Cajun Aces. Can you talk a little bit about Mick’s songwriting and playing style? He was very well respected in the Melbourne scene wasn’t he?
CW: Yeah, he sure was. We were playing in three bands together when he died [March 2008]. I don’t think anyone can play as simply; I really respected his simplicity, his playing, his songwriting, and tune writing.
HT: What are some of your favourite songs of Mick’s?
CW: Well I kind of like the songs on the first Sandilands CD we did [Waterhole]; some of which we just sort of stopped doing after awhile. Very kind of country-blues style rhythms. [pause] I have trouble remembering titles; I know the tunes.
HT: That’s okay. Waterhole is still available from accrosstheborders.com.au. How did playing with Mick differ going from Headbelly to Sandilands do you think? In terms of the style and the experience.
CW: Yeah, it was completely different. It was kind of fun because I kind of got Mick interested in old-time string band music, so I guess he was doing my thing with me and Sandilands was very much his interest in his song-writing and approaching it in a particular way so it was kind of like me doing his thing with him. And aside from that we used to be able to play the slowest; we used to be the slowest playing band in town on some of Mick’s stuff. (laughs) And it’s just sort of the other end of what we were doing in Headbelly Buzzard; Mick would be working in the engine room pounding out rhythm whereas in Sandilands he was kind of leading the tunes and I was trying to tinkle away on the banjo-mandolin in between it and, you know, kind of fill it out a bit and give it some extra dynamics.
HT: What about the old Headbelly Buzzard gigs; how many did you used to get in attendance?
CW: Well it was up and down I suppose; we were there for so long. There was always a fair few people there and if people wanted to see the band they knew where and when to see us so … I like doing residencies, I think playing locally people know where you are and you get to – you don’t always know everyone that’s there but often you know most of the crowd. On the big nights you get to meet new people as well.
HT: Do you think it was the authentic sound of Headbelly that attracted so many followers?
CW: I guess. But a lot of people didn’t know what it was – so I don’t know how authentic it was to them. But I guess it’s authentic in that we don’t intentionally try and change things much – the tunes I mean – from how we heard them. It’s kind of traditional in that way. But we still had kind of a unique sound, you know. I guess that’s what happens with this style of music when everyone’s playing the same tunes but you’re gonna play it the way you play it so you do tend to sound a bit different from each other. And plus coming from here (Australia) and not really having that many people to learn from – when we started, there wasn’t as big a community of people playing old-time music as there is now …
HT: Do you think perhaps you’ve been an influence in that regard – to the local scene?
CW: Yeah, I think so. A lot of the people that play now come down to the jam session and also have their own string bands and stuff. They first heard old-timey music at the Railway listening to Headbelly Buzzard then started learning banjo and fiddle and stuff like that. I also teach a lot of fiddle, banjo and mandolin as well.
HT: So you’ve inspired people to pick up their instruments and join in; that’s great. People bring their kids down to the Lomond sessions too don’t they? And some of the kids are playing along – helped out by the adult players?
CW: Yeah, that’s right. I think, around here, it’s a good time to be playing it because there are so many people coming along and festivals and sessions and jam parties; so there’s an easy way in.
For more information on Headbelly Buzzard and Sandilands, please follow embedded links. Woodward and Rough, Headbelly Buzzard and Sandilands CDs are available from accrosstheborders.com.au
This is part two of a three part series which will be published in weekly instalments. Melbourne Roots would like to thank Craig for his thought provoking and generous responses. Stay tuned for the next instalment!
Saturday, May 29, 2010
CW: Well, we stopped using the name Headbelly Buzzard when Mick Cameron died [in 2008] --who was a founding member along with myself. We sort of kept the band going with a few changes of course but we were playing as The Friday Night Old-time Band and still playing at the Railway. It was a name we were just using until we thought of something else because that’s all we were doing was playing Friday nights; so my current band ‘Flying Engine String Band’ is sort of that line-up. Um, I’m playing banjo and fiddle, and my friend Liam Wratten – who lives up around Daylesford way – is playing banjo and fiddle also, so we swap that around a bit; and Brett, who used to play in the Headbelly Buzzard line-up, Brett Lepik – he was playing guitar with The Friday Night Old-time Band at the Railway but he’s back on the banjo-mandolin like he used to play in Headbelly. And Johnny Wilson – he’s playing guitar.
HT: He’s the youngest in the band isn’t he?
CW: Yeah, by quite a way I think. He’s quite a bit younger than the oldest in the band.
HT: (laughing) Who is who?
CW: (laughs) Yeah, we have Jeremy Hanley playing bass …
HT: Yeah, blame it on him.
CW: … which is good. He is the only double bass player around, that I can think of, who actually listens to old-time string band music very much.
HT: Is that a usual part of string-band music – the double bass? Or is that something you guys do that’s a bit different?
CW: It’s pretty usual these days for a string band line-up.
HT: What about traditionally?
CW: Well, some of the bands on the old records that we listen to from the 1920s do have bass. But often you can’t hear it on those recordings. And still a lot of people record old-time string band music without a bass but when you’re playing live or playing for a dance, it kind of tends to hold things together really well and makes a really obvious beat in the music that, you know, the people in the room can hear – [they] don’t have to think too much about where the feel is when you’ve got a bass panning it out. It’s pretty simple bass.
HT: Good for dancing.
HT: So you guys have got a new residency at the Post Office Hotel in Coburg on the first Friday of every month, is that right?
CW: Yeah, that’s right, for now. I think it’ll be good. Things are moving out [north] a bit and there aren’t really any other venues in Coburg so it’ll be great to have a venue there. And for us – I mean it’s been there for a long time – well, I don’t know how long – it’s an old pub.
HT: (laughs) Bikie club, I heard.
CW: (laughs) It’s sort of new, feels a bit new. It’s changed a bit quite recently – it closed down for awhile and reopened. Some of the owners used to frequent the Headbelly gigs at The Railway so when I approached them they said they weren’t ready to make it a live music venue yet but they knew us and knew our crowd so were keen to try it out. And if they do decide to have it as a new venue, it’ll be great. Also we were the first band that’s played there; which was the case at the Railway, when we played at the Railway – we sort of started that as a band venue. And I think maybe even at The Rose Hotel which is where the band started – Headbelly Buzzard, I mean. So, something new and also I can walk home from there.
HT: Craig’s a local. So it’s a good omen then – being the first band at this new venue. Good luck with that. You also play in the old-time/country-blues duo Woodward and Rough – can you give us some insight into that line-up?
CW: Yeah, well that’s Warren Rough on guitar and myself playing mostly fiddle and some banjo-mandolin.
HT: Do you do traditional songs or songs you’ve written?
CW: Ah, no, nothing we’ve written ourselves. We’ve kind of got our own arrangements of things but some you could definitely call traditional and some of it’s a bit more, sort of, period music from the 1920s – old-time with a lot of fiddle and guitar and duet kind of stuff from the 20s. Some of it is old tunes and some of it has a more rag-time feel or a bit more of a blues kind of feel; they sound a bit more – we try to do them as a period thing I suppose. Our first album was very much like Narmour & Smith and other Mississippi duos. We got a good review in the Old-Time Herald, which is an old-time music magazine in the Sates. It was really positive about the musicianship and material, except on the negative they said it sounded too much like the old recordings.
HT: (surprised) Oh … That’s interesting. What were they expecting do you think?
CW: Well, they were expecting we’d make it more unique – change it a little bit or something; which we did and maybe on the second listen they would hear – well definitely some of the instrumentation but also some of the melodies and the words for the songs are different to the old recording that we were sort of basing it on. But we were just trying to, you know, use some of the sort of sounds and some of the style of those recordings – you know, we wanted it to sound like the old recordings but we didn’t straight copy the old recordings. But I guess we don’t really – we’re not too conscious of that when we play now but when we first started that’s sort of what we were doing. And I think it has probably evolved into playing things pretty much our own way rather than trying to get the sound off the old records.
HT: Warren Rough has played a diverse range of music: rockabilly, jump blues, country, psychobilly, country-blues. How long have you been playing together and how did you meet?
CW: We’ve been friends for a long time. I mean we used to go and see each other play for quite a while before we actually played together. Warren was playing in Paramount Trio and I was playing in Headbelly with Mick Cameron and Nicola Hayes. Headbelly sort of sprang out of The LeBlanc Brother’s Cajun Aces in the early-mid 1990s. For a long time before I ever played with Warren he used to play me recordings – sort of a lot of those recording that I was talking about earlier that come out of Warren’s enormous collection.
HT: Which recordings are they?
CW: Well, mostly 1920s and 30s recordings of old-timey string band music. Narmour & Smith we both really like and they’re from Mississippi and a few other Mississippi kind of guitar and fiddle duos; they’re kind of on the bluesy side of white music from Mississippi.
HT: So they were the inspiration for Woodward and Rough?
CW: Yeah, I think Narmour & Smith were definitely one of the inspirations; we took our name from them. ‘Woodward and Rough’.
HT: Oh yeah (laughs) And what’s the collaboration process like, with Warren?
CW: For the first couple of years we got together once a week and did a lot of playing and listening. These days it’s a bit more organic and sometimes we just try something live and see how it works.
HT: What do you each bring to Woodward and Rough, in terms of influences and music style?
CW: Warren comes from a finger-style guitar playing background which is less common in old-time music these days – so there’s a lot more possibilities in regard to the arrangements rather than just the bass-note-strum guitar style that’s more common in string band music now. I also have some background in the bluesier side of old-time fiddling which lends itself well to the finger-picking guitar style.
HT: Yes. So Woodward and Rough play every Sunday night at the Lomond Hotel, East Brunswick. 10pm. You also do other gigs around Melbourne is that right?
CW: Well, we’re trying to get out a bit more. We do that gig every week but it’s not for everybody: 10pm Sunday night – it’s a pretty funny time slot. But we do have some appreciative folks down here that think that’s a good way to finish the weekend. But, yeah, just the other day we did one at the Drunken Poet (North Melbourne) and that seems like a pretty good place for us, being a small act, you know, fairly lively.
HT: Did you get a good turnout?
CW: Yeah, yeah, it was good. So we might be doing some there. If this interview is up in time also next Sunday (23rd May) we are playing at the Fox Hotel (cnr Wellington and Alexandra Parade – it used to be the Tower Hotel) from 5-8pm. So, if that goes alright we might play there sometimes.
HT: Can you give us some insight into your musical history – how did you get into old-time string band music?
CW: I came to Melbourne when I was seventeen and I had been playing guitar a bit. Where I come from (the Wimmera, near Warracknabeal – which is near Horsham) there wasn’t much interesting music on the radio. But I got into country-blues/roots music from hearing it on community radio in Melbourne and I ended up performing at the Melbourne Folk Club and One C One and some of the old coffee shops from the 70s that were still around. I’d probably heard old-timey music before but hadn’t really heard much but I heard some people playing from the High-Times String Band at one of these folk clubs.
HT: Is that a Melbourne band?
CW: Yeah, that’s Ken McMaster who runs the Fiddlers convention.
HT: Are they still playing?
CW: As the High-Times String Band? Um, occasionally. But I don’t know what the band line-up would be; it’d be Ken McMaster on banjo and Norm Adams and Maggie Duncan, who plays the fiddle. They were the first people I heard playing old-time music. So, it was pretty interesting – I liked the banjo style and I wanted to play the banjo. A couple of other people I met through The Piggery – a bluegrass, old-timey kind of thing, and I went there because they had American music on and I could play country-blues there and then through meeting people there, and getting given early recordings of old-time music in particular and also recordings of the older players – the kind of last players that learnt through local tradition who were recorded in the 70s and 80s due to the earlier folk revival.
HT: Can you think of some names?
CW: Tommy Jarrell, would definitely be one of them. A lot of people that play old-timey music these days would be influenced by Tommy Jarrell. He was born in 1900 in a town called Toast near Mount Airy in North Carolina.
HT: What is it about him, do you think, that inspires people?
CW: Well, he plays with a lot of rhythm and the melodies are very simple and mixed with heaps of bow rhythm and it’s the bow rhythm that’s really making the music and that’s what appealed to me. Also, at these folk clubs and festivals, I heard a lot of Irish music; it never really captured me; it’s pretty melodic, you know? It’s good but the old-timey stuff – some people would consider it a strain of Celtic music …
HT: They share a lot of similarities, don’t they? But also a lot of differences. Can you clarify that?
CW: African influence is one of the main things that make it different. They brought the banjo to America and a lot of the rhythms come from that African influence. It’s where it sounds different even in American music styles: the string band music that they play up North – around Boston, New England and up into Canada. It’s sort of the same kind of music but you hear a different rhythm when you hear the southern style of string-band music and it’s the kind of back-beat and the grooviness of it; it’s not quite as diddly as some dance music from Irish traditions. You know, the same kind of thing but it’s got a certain looseness and yeah it’s still melodic but a lot more of the music is coming out of the rhythms, like the bow rhythms.
HT: I’ve heard people refer to old-timey music as trance music. What do you think about that?
CW: Well, I think it’s a pretty good thing to say about it. It works for me.
HT: Do you get into a sort of state when you’re playing it or listening to it?
CW: Yeah, if it’s working – when it’s working, definitely. We play this sort of music just as a social thing as well as performing it. We have a jam session at the Lomond Hotel every Saturday afternoon. A lot of people come along and pick up the tunes – because we play the tunes for a long time – up to twenty minutes, if it’s good – and they’re pretty simple tunes so it makes it easy for people to come and learn them.
This is part one of a three part series which will be published in weekly instalments. Melbourne Roots would like to thank Craig for his thought provoking and generous responses. Stay tuned for the next instalment!