Monday, April 26, 2010

Interview with Rick Dempster

Rick Dempster is the steel-guitar and harp player for The Brunswick Blues Shooters. He regularly plays with the Baylor brothers and a host of other Melbourne bands. Melbourne Roots would like to thank Rick for his articulate and generous responses and for adding to the conversation around Melbourne's music history, its future, and the political and cultural challenges our musicians are faced with . H

MR: How did you come to play gigs and work as a roots musician in Melbourne?

RD: I started playing gigs in 1977 with a band called the Autodrifters, which consisted of songwriter-guitarist Peter Lillie and Johnnie Topper, who had previously established the Pelaco Brothers, which was fronted by Steven Cummings. Warren Rough was also in the Autodrifters. We played a mixture of Rockabilly, country, and Lillies original songs. This all took place in the inner city rock scene at a time when just about every pub was running bands.
There was no such thing as a ‘roots’ scene back then; everyone was attempting to play what they saw as progressive rock or punk. There was nobody playing interested in studying the conventions and disciplines of traditional American music forms (despite the fact that those traditions were the driving force in rock music) unless you include a few people in the folk scene playing some bluegrass, or some of the bands, mainly in the northern suburbs doing country, and who were not considered part of the ‘hip’ inner city rock scene.

The traditional jazz players were probably the only crowd who were interested in closely studying the conventions of American popular music forms, but they were certainly not, and are still not considered part of the ‘roots’ music scene, probably because they are considered, by people with a rock background, too sophisticated, and because they distanced themselves from the rock’n’roll scene, which most of them looked down on as too crude, and, no doubt because it had knocked out a lot of their gigs.

The rock scene at that time, and for a good many years after, considered sticking with traditional forms to be decadent, or ‘purist’.

Daddy Cool, although very much a part of the rock mainstream, were the band that impressed me the most at that time as being able conversant with a particular discipline of American music; even so, they made something of their own of it.

Other than that, there were plenty of bands that drew on American traditions, but absorbed them into the rock ethos; blues guitar licks, a bit of harp, maybe, but basically rock-blues.

Sydney had a small blues scene back in the seventies, with bands like the Don Hopkins R’nB four, the Hawaiian Houswreckers, Junior and the Goldtops, the Foreday Riders, and Continental Robert (who then styled himself as ‘Fat Robert’) had just got going with the Rugcutters. I remember going to Sydney with Warren Rough back in ‘75 and seeing all those bands. There was nothing like that in Melbourne.

Andy Baylor started turning up to see the Autodrfiters early on, and of course, playing the same gigs, we saw him in bands like the Belair Bandits, the Blue Rockets and the Honeydrippers. These bands were playing Rhythm & Blues, including some originals, but drawing on the work of people like Big Joe Turner, Charles Brown, Wynonie Harris etc. In addition to that, Baylor would occasionally pull out the fiddle, which he had just started to play, or a Fender steel he had, and do add a jazzy, western swing flavour to the music.

We asked him to sit in with us, and later he joined the band for the rest of its short career, playing fiddle and steel.

Andrew and I, along with a few others, were interested in the connections between the various styles of blues, country and jazz, and wanted to get further into that aspect of the music. Hound Dogs Bop Shop had opened in 1974, and for the first time it was possible to get original recordings of all kinds of older American music styles, like western swing, Cajun, honky-tonk country, rockabilly, down home blues and R’n’B.

I’d been taking lessons in Hawaiian guitar from some older Australian players like Les Adams and Jim Jensen, and so it was almost inevitable that we came together again in 1981 to form the western-swing styled Dancehall Racketeers, in which we could indulge all of our interests at the same time, playing jazz tunes, R’n’B, fiddle tunes, Hillbilly, Hawaiian and Boogie Woogie. I’d spent a year with the Rockabilly Rebels, who were based at the Prince Mark in Doveton, and double-bass player Graeme Thomas from that band joined us too.
I’d been playing harp since I was seventeen, so I had a grounding in Chicago blues, and used that instrument in country settings as well, so I had a pretty broad background of American styles to refer to.

Through the time the Dancehall Racketeers was a full time road band (1981-1988) there was no festival circuit as there is now, with the exception Port Fairy, which was very much a Celtic affair at that time, along with Tamworth and the Gympie muster. We played all these gigs, as well as the inner urban rock scene in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide, country pubs, sporting clubs and whatever else we could book.

We played the National Jazz convention in Geelong in 1982. I don’t believe there was any other band with this kind of versatility.

Invariably we were too country or rocky for the jazzers, too jazzy for the country crowd, and to the rock scene gatekeepers, a bunch of conservative ‘purists’.

Still, we managed to regularly play five nights a week, something which is impossible to do today.
In addition to all this, I had an acoustic outfit with Andy and Ian Hayes, three nights a week in a city restaurant playing Hawaiian and old tin-pan alley tunes, and around ’86 and ’87 had an Hawaiian act with Paul Pyle and a Kiwi who called himself Tex Nobody, and used to be the booker for the Esplanade Hotel. We did a cabaret act in RSL clubs and such with a floor show using Tahitian or Cook Island dancers.
Is that enough??

MR: How importantly do you view live music for you as a person and why?

RD: Playing live is the way I connect with the world, and how I create, or attempt to create, a world I feel comfortable in.

MR: In your view, how important is the community around the live roots music scene?

RD: The community is what gives the music meaning and life. Without it, the music has no identity and no purpose. I talk about playing ‘American’ music, but I can always tell an Australian band, whether they are playing blues, jazz, country, rock or whatever. I think it’s a big mistake to be thinking about whether your music has a national identity, and self consciously trying to create that. It’s the audience, or community if you like, that defines that, if you are playing to them, responding to them, and they to you.

MR: How do you see the future of roots music in Melbourne?

RD: I’d say the next thirty years will be the hardest part; but if I can quote from George Orwell’s character Benjamin, the Donkey, in ‘Animal Farm’: “Donkeys live a long time. None of you has ever seen a dead donkey.”

MR: Can you shed some light on your involvement in the campaign against the new legislation regarding liquor licensing and how you see it impacting the roots community?

RD: Quite simply, I lost my gig with the Brunswick Blues Shooters, at the Railway, in North Fitzroy, which we’d held for four and a half years; the nicest residency I’ve ever had, so I was not happy. At the same time, I saw a lot of other musos losing gigs, and a few of us got together to try to do something about it. We teamed up with other groups that had got together, such as SLAM and The Push, and it’s a work in progress. We really haven’t come very far at all, despite the wonderfully inspiring rally.

The government really doesn’t want to have to come to terms with the real problem, which is the social and cultural black hole that is Australian society, which seems not to be able to socialise without getting blind drunk. It certainly doesn’t want to lock antlers with liquor industry, which must bear at least half the responsibility.

The music ‘industry’ (I use the term ironically) is an easy target, largely thanks to the way the rock scene has always liked to style itself as dangerous and revolutionary, and its practitioners forever threatening, smashed and drunk, or at least, likely to vomit on the carpet.

In reality it’s all about image, dress-ups, and giving the punters the idea that they are indulging in something illicit; “buy the tee-shirt, overthrow the government”.

That is why, I think, the government can sell the idea that popular music is linked to violence. Perhaps they need to go and see that wild rebel, Tex Perkins, re-born as a cabaret artist in ‘The man in black’, or Barnsey, taking the same route, suited up as a James Brown for the suburbs.

As for the campaigners, they consist mainly of club operators, publicists and bookers, the people who actually have the most to gain, financially, from live music. There are very few musicians involved. While the campaign needs these people for their experience in licensing and planning laws, they do not represent the interests of career musicians; their stock in trade is the endlessly renewable cheap energy resource of young bands, most of whom will not last more than a few years in the game. For the few who find they have an ongoing interest in continuing to play and improve, there is nowhere to go once the bitter reality of the dearth of venues or any kind of opportunity becomes apparent. This realisation may follow years of relative obscurity, or a few years of fame, followed by consignment by the ‘industry’ to the scrap heap, in favour of younger bands.

If someone has chosen to ‘stick with it’, they have often reached their musical maturity in the years following their decline in patronage from the industry.

Meanwhile, the government throws money at the ‘arts’, young hopefuls attend the VCA, to emerge with few prospects, to wind up teaching another generation of teachers and playing in reception bands.

I would like to see the campaign for live music concentrate on the proliferation of venues of the widest possible spectrum; to help publicize in particular the diversity of lesser known music, rather than simply promoting the fatuous, dead-end of the rock’n’roll lottery. It needs to promote the cultural value of live music; local venues that make a practice of running regular gigs in an hospitable atmosphere designed to put people at their ease, and promote camaraderie and social harmony. This is the true function of music, as far as I see it, and one that is at direct odds with the government’s idea of live music as public assembly embodying the threat of affray.
Below is footage of Rick Demspter's speech at the SLAM Rally Feb 23rd 2010

Sunday, April 25, 2010

SLAM Rally 23/2/10 (Footage taken by Ian Edwards)

Ian Edwards (former radio presenter at Plenty Valley FM) has kindly given me some great footage of February 23rds hugely successful SLAM Rally where more than 10,000 live music fans marched through the city to protest against changes to Victoria's liquor licensing laws. See video below. H

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Junes @ The Lomond - April 17th 2010

Last night, high-spirited country/glam/gospel band 'The Junes' played to a full house at The Lomond Hotel, East Brunswick. Suzannah Espie was composed and sultry in black lace, black neck-tie and cropped copper curls, her voice tonal & lilting under a steady gaze and dazzling smile; Gleny Rae Virus, a bright, fiery blond in red cowgirl boots and black tassels, stood centre stage whipping the crowd into line with a sharp tongue and wild grin, accordion and fiddle at her feet; Sarah Carroll swayed, willowy and elegant in a floral dress, guitar slung across her hips, porcelain skin, dark hair, eyes twinkling - her face an ever shifting beam of light. They kept the 100+ audience grinning bashfully from the shadows, beers forgotten in limp hands, as we stared mesmerised into the eyes of these heart-thumping sirens of song. Yes, I am certain - that the slow-dance seduction of love song 'Blue Baby' (see video above) evoked the poor sailor's fated crash into the unforgiving rocks of the sirens of the sea. Performance is myth: entertainment and archetype and connection. The Junes are brilliant at it.

Of course this makes it sound like the band consists entirely of women - and it's hard not to be swept up in the charisma of these three lady super-stars given their popular musical histories (GIT, Gleny Rae Virus & her Tamworth Playboys) - but in fact the gig would have been a different experience all together if it weren't for the incredible energy and drive (and appropriately sheepish maleness) of the dynamic rhythm section (Dougie Bull - Bullfiddle and Chris Tabone - drums and percussion).

Providing fuel for the women's onstage banter, with his dreamily painted kick-drum and straw hat, Chris Tabone 'Diego' sparked this moniker from Gleny Rae: "The Little Man in the Boat". Punctuated by: "And for the astute members of the audience you'll understand that's a euphemism" (extended laughter). After some rumbling from the crowd and the sudden murmur of a bemused sounding "clitoris?", Gleny Rae, grinning, replied: "I meant: the only drummer in bluegrass." Of course!

It is hard to beat the infectious energy, humour and glamour of these women; they are wonderful entertainers and musicians. Perhaps, at times, the band were so rocking (and loud) that the rich tones, great lyrics and harmonic subtleties were lost in the muddle - which is a shame as these women write and sing beautifully. Old GIT favourite "Car Outside the Bar" was an instant hit. So, to keep the myths alive and thriving, we must pay heed: wild things happen when women get together in kitchens to sing. Sailors beware x x


The Junes will be launcing their latest CD at the Belly Union Bar @ Trades Hall on June 12th with Andy Baylor. For more information, to buy a CD, or listen to songs - check them out at

Video footage of song 'Hopeless' below (apologies for the poor sound quality - it's the digital Kmart-camera. Jess has suggested I make a cardboard box model of a 'real' camera and stick the digital one in a hole at the end so at least I can look half-professional) :) H

Friday, April 16, 2010

Snapshot - The Crackajacks (1979) Rockabilly

Formed early in 1979 The Crackajacks were a live-wire Melbourne rockabilly band with spunk featuring Warren Rough on lead guitar, Rick Newton (vocals and acoustic rhythm guitar), Peter Patter (double bass) and Mick Lyon on drums. Here's a couple of great photos of the band in their hey-day (courtesy of Billy Martin) with a link to an interesting article - and sample songs off their CD 'Rockabilly Ricochet!' - found at MMusic (Independent Australian Music Online). ('Long Blond Hair' is a ripper - click on the article link above to listen)

Warren Rough (in the fancy shirt) went on to form Paramount Trio with Dave Hogan and Ken Farmer and is currently (yes, 2010) the guitarist in old-timey duo Woodward and Rough who play every Sunday night (10pm onward) at The Lomond Hotel, East Brunswick. Go and see them!

Great news for The Lomond Hotel

The Lomond Hotel have finally had their rollback approved by the Department of Liquor Licensing Victoria. The Lomond applied for a review of their 'high-risk' security status after an accord was signed around the time of the huge SLAM rally in Febrauary. The new license comes with the condition that security is required after 12.30pm but this is of little consequence as Lomond gigs rarely run this late. This is great news for The Lomond and wonderful for the roots music community. Congratulations everybody. There is an article in The Age today announcing the news.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Old-timey Session @ The Lomond Hotel

Every Saturday from 5.30pm onward The Lomond Hotel hosts an old-timey session in the main bar. Led by renowned old-timey musicians Craig Woodward (Headbelly Buzzard, Sandilands, Woodward & Rough) and Warren Rough (Paramount Trio, Woodward & Rough) the session is a relaxed, family friendly, live jam for musicians and fans of old-time American mountain music. The gig is informal and open to both seasoned musicians and novices, young and old. On any given Saturday you will find anywhere from a dozen to thirty-odd musicians wandering in through the evening, instruments tucked in their cases, smiles etched in greeting, a kid or two rocketting about between legs to dance or bang on the piano in the back-room and jam along with their parents. It's a lovely, social way to spend a Saturday arvo. Thanks to Nick Steiner for the wonderful photos. The footage is just a sampler for those of you readers who haven't yet been to The Lomond on a Saturday arvo. Jess and Iona and I go down most weeks (it's a great excuse not to cook) and my daughter just loves it, as do I. It's also free of charge - as are all Lomond gigs. A great part of Melb's music culture.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Musicians deliver petition to Parliament

Today (April 7th, 2010) nine well-known Victorian musicians presented a petition to State Government on the steps of Parliament calling on Government to remove the link between live music and 'high risk' conditions on liquor licenses for live music venues. The petitions were signed by an impressive 22,000 people. Gathered at the base of the steps in 'don't kill live music' t-shirts, sunglasses reflecting the glare of a humid autumn day, the musicians and SLAM organisers took interviews and prepared the petitions for the official handing over to Government. Jon Von Goes gave an impassioned speech demanding direct action from Brumby to redress the situation before Melbourne loses the vibrant live culture that helps define it. He also raised a valid point about how important our votes are to his tenure as State Premier. Was Brumby listening? Were the public? We'll find out. Greens MP Sue Pennicuik (pictured below) will be taking the petition to a parliament sitting next week. In the meantime share your stories, speak out about the impact the high-risk conditions are having on the small venues you love going to and on the bands you know who are still losing gigs. Comment below and keep informed by checking out the following websites S.L.A.M. and Music Victoria.
You can find a full report on the event and surrounding issues (including audio and photos) on Tripple J's Hack Site. There is also a great write-up in todays Age and an article on online music mag Mess and Noise. For the Green MP's Victoria video on the event click here.

H. Thomas

Photos by Nicholas Steiner

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Hi all, please note the following:

S.L.A.M / Fair Go 4 Live Music / Music Victoria

Over 20,000 Victorians demand that ‘high-risk’ conditions be de-linked from live music.

12.30pm Parliament House, Melbourne

Since the closure of The Tote Hotel in mid-January, the Fair Go 4 Live Music petition has been collecting signatures from music lovers all around Victoria, calling on the State Government to overturn the link between live music and ‘high risk’ conditions on liquor licenses for live music venues.

Melbourne’s musicians and music lovers marched through the city streets for the SLAM Rally on February 23rd and it’s time to return to the steps of Parliament with the delivery of the petition to the Legislative Council on Wednesday April 7th 2010 by various decades of well-known Victorian musicians.

The Victorian musicians who will be presenting the Fair Go 4 Live Music petition to Parliament are: 1930s - Harold Frith, 1940s - Mike Rudd, 1940s - Ross Wilson, 1960s - Jon Von Goes, 1970s – Kram, 1960s - Clare Bowditch, 1970s - Angie Hart, 1980s - Dan Sultan and 1980s - Evelyn Morris

More musicians to be confirmed.

Despite the signing of the Live Music Accord with the State Government, the link between live music and ‘high risk’ still exists. More disturbingly, no venues have had their high risk conditions removed since the signing of the Accord. The music industry and the public want to see real action on this issue. We want action, not just Accords. The threat to Victoria’s vibrant live music culture remains in place. The 22,000 signatures attest to the public support of live music.

SLAM, FG4LM and Music Victoria will redouble their efforts to bring this issue to the attention of the public.

Harold Frith (drummer from early rock n'roll band the 'Thunderbirds' - now drummer for 'The Brunswick Blues Shooters') is one of the musicans presenting the petition to government. Stay tuned for photos/footage (will post around the 8th of April).