Monday, June 14, 2010

Interview with Craig Woodward (Part Three of a three part series)

This is the third and final instalment of a three part interview with Craig Woodward. Please see earlier posts (filed under Craig Woodward/Interviews) for earlier instalments. Craig plays every Sunday from 10pm at the Lomond Hotel in Brunswick East as part of Woodward and Rough and also the first Friday of every month at Coburg's Post Office Hotel in the Flying Engine String Band. Go and see them! (Pictured: Aubrey Maher, Mick Cameron and Craig Woodward in the original line-up of the ACME String Band.)

HT: Now you travelled to America – twice I believe – once in 1998 and once just recently – a few years ago; how does the community and music here compare to over in the States? Did you get in touch with the communities over there that are playing old-time music?

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?

CW: No.

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.

CW: Back to the whisky.

For more information on Headbelly Buzzard and Sandilands, please follow embedded links. Woodward and Rough, Headbelly Buzzard and Sandilands CDs are available from

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