Bill Quinn – Writer, MC, Radio Presenter

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Bill Quinn and John Schumann (Redgum, John Schumann & The Vagabond Crew), Concert Stage, Woodford Folk Festival, December 2007

Owner/operator of Overheard Productions, 2003 to present


Sponsor of 102.1FM 8CCC Community Radio – Alice Springs & Tennant Creek (Dead Parrots Society and A Little Bit Country), 2021 to 2022.

Contributor to Trad & Now magazine (folk and anything roughly related), Ducks Crossing Publications, 2006 – present

Contributor
to Central Coast Newspapers, 2014.

Festival and gig MC 2005 onwards

Radio presenter:

2008 to 2012 – Artsound FM 92.7/90.3FM/artsound.fm  (ACT)

2019 to 2020 – 104.1 Territory FM/territoryfm.com (NT)

2020 – Guest presenter via phone, 107.5FM 2EAR-FM/2EARFM.weebly.com Thursdays at 7.15pm AEST on Ian Traynor’s Thursday evening show (6-10pm)

2022 onwards 107.9FM Radio Fremantle, ‘Folking Around’, Mondays 9-11pm AWST and online at: https://radiofremantle.com.au/shows/folking-around 

Trivia quiz host 1992 – 2012. Maybe again…

Peripatetic, interviewer, blatherer Ongoing. Always. Ever-present.

Gypsy. Effectively on the road from Ngunnawal (Canberra) since March 2013, with a 2.5 year stop in Darwin (March 2019 to August 2021).

Currently in residence in Walyalup (Fremantle, Western Australia), on the lands of the Whadjuk people, and I pay respect to the custodians past, present, and emerging. These are lands that are called ‘Australia’ and Terra Australis, a land of many nations, that were never ceded by the traditional owners.

More details at www.OverheardProductions.com/About

Bill The Housesitter
Bill Quinn, Bloke, v2011

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Albany International Folk’n Shanty Festival 2022

This article also appeared in edition 152 of Trad And Now magazine in November 2022.

Having not ventured from Perth/Fremantle since landing in Western Australia in April 2022, it was great to zip off for two weeks in a rented campervan to see the great south west, mostly to take in the 2022 Albany International Folk ‘N Shanty Festival. Heading off towards a weekend of music, song, and good people is hard to beat.

It was my first time driving in Western Australia and proved quite the revelation. WA for me conjures up images of stark rocky ranges, miles of pindan dust, and a harsh, dry climate. But Freo to Albany and return via Denmark, Nannup, and Margaret River has the look and feel of south east NSW or Victoria. Dairy cow, vineyard, and tall tree country.

Albany is quite stunning. Turning up early and staying late was wise. A boat across Oyster Harbour and up Kalgan River, a morning zip around King George Sound on a whale-spotting boat, a spin out to the wind farm, and wanderings around the tops of Mounts Melville and Clarence (Corndarup) – all recommended diversions. Bring a jumper.

Add in a trip to a local brewery and the giniversity and that was a pretty full first visit. Now add 2.5 days of a shanty festival and stir liberally.

Albany Town Hall

I offered my MC skills and told the festival director I’d buy a ticket, but was informed that wouldn’t be possible. (The ticket purchase, that is.)

It’s a totally free festival.

Not only is there no charge for punters, the performers come from far and wide to provide their services for free.

Festival creator Gary “Grizz” Greenwald explained how it came to be:

“There’s shanty groups all around the coast of the UK; shanty festivals all over Europe and North America. I got to [Western] Australia and assumed there’d be a shanty group and there wasn’t one (in this town). Started a shanty group in 2016.

As soon as we got the group going, The Lost Quays were the only group gigging in WA at that time. The Fo’c’s’le Firkins came out of retirement – they’d never called quits, they just weren’t doing a lot. The She Shants (wives and partners of The Lost Quays) were around and we did a workshop.

Colin Anker came around for tea and a few beers and a bit of a sing with us. We put a post on social media and something went in the newspaper, and they had 25 lads come and started The Anchormen.

Then we suddenly realised we had enough groups for a shanty festival.”

À La Souche (Canada) at The Albany Club

Grizz also enlightened me on why there are no performance or attendance fees:

“The model in the UK is (Falmouth would be your example): you perform for free and raise money for charity. What we’ve been trying to do is get charity buy-in, so you’ve got charities who want to use it as a vehicle to raise money.

We would like to pay the musicians’ expenses, but you’ve got to have the money to do it.”

Like other festivals without a camping element, Albany keeps its administrative overheads a little lower by holding events mostly in four centrally-located, established venues, all within an easy walk of each other. That’s a good thing when there’s rain around and the temperatures are a little brisk. While Perth/Freo was just tentatively dipping a toe into 30+ Celsius territory, Albany and surrounds were noticeably milder.

As one radio presenter observed: “21C in Albany today – that’ll feel like 30C to them!”

The Albany festival is still in its infancy having kicked off in 2019 and taken a year out for the plague. In these still uncertain times, John Henderson (festival director since 2021) had some pre-festival nerves.

“It’s been an education for me because I’ve never done anything like this before. Last week, I went to bed one night and was lying awake worried that noone was going to come. Then the next night I was lying awake worried that too many people were going to come.

But because we don’t sell tickets, we didn’t know how many people were coming. You just sit there going, ‘Let’s see what happens.'”

The Albany Shantymen at the Earl of Spencer Inn

Crowds ended up being Mother Bear level: just about right. Venues started filling up when sessions started for the day about 10am and ebbed/flowed til stumps, peaking at early to late-evening. Canny planning saw the rowdier, noisier shanty groups on later in the evening, and the Premier and Earl of Spencer Inn were rocking and rolling.

I take a kind of vicarious joy in standing down the back of venues like the Earl of Spencer on Saturday night when the home team, The Albany Shantymen, were in full hue and cry. I could only see the singers’ heads over the top of a sea of bobbing heads.

Watching the band crank out shanty after sea song after shanty with relatively little chat, I was mesmerised by a group of people in front of me that must have been late teens to early 20s at the very oldest. Despite their youth, they were belting out the chorus gustily. Everyone, every word.

Don’t judge a book by its cover, but they didn’t look like your archetypal shanty crowd or even folkies, come to that. (Shocking generalisation, I know, but let’s move on.) It was only after talking with Grizz and John the following Tuesday night after the festival had wrapped that I discovered I’m the last person in the world to find out about the worldwide shanty craze that had erupted on Tiktok, especially ‘Soon May The Wellerman Come’.

Accordingly, there were several opportunities over the weekend to sing of our expectation of the imminent arrival of sugar and tea and rum.

The Marmaduke Marauders at The Albany Club

The following day there was an even younger cohort to witness carrying on shanty traditions with a duo called Marmaduke Marauders from Margaret River. Harper (12) and Otis (10) were on the blackboard at The Albany Club belting out shanties in the front room.

Harper: “When I was 11 I heard some shanties on the radio after The Wellerman hit by The Albany Shantymen, and that’s what got me into them.”

Otis: “I didn’t hear it on the radio but Harper played some songs at dinner that night and I heard them and decided that I liked shanties.”

Harper and Otis went to the Albany festival after that to further their interest in the genre. They count The Anchormen, The Albany Shantymen, and The Pogues as their favourites.

40 Degrees South at Six Degrees Albany

Appropriately enough, the WA shanty groups hug the shoreline from Albany on the south coast up to Geraldton, with one group of very welcome interlopers from Sydney. Performing groups included: The Albany Shantymen and The Shantylillies (Albany); The Anchormen (Bunbury); Dunn Bay Wailers (Dunnsborough); 40 Degrees South (Sydney); The Lost Quays, The She Shants, The Original Fo’c’s’le Firkins (Fremantle); Mandurah Mariners; Rum Jungle (Geraldton); and The Salty Sea Dogs (Denmark).

Jon Cope from the Firkins had foreshadowed that despite the number of groups, there’s enough diversity of interests and songs that you don’t get the same ones endlessly repeated (see Trad and Now, edition 151). That proved to be the case, and it was only later on Sunday night that this occasional chorister thought, “Yeah, that’s probably enough ‘Barrett’s Privateers’ for a while now.”

Other performers included a mix of genres and ages offering folk, alt-country, a bit of bluegrass, and old timey. One of the crowd favourites was visiting Canadian duo À La Souche from Newfoundland, although when Keirsten began to speak to introduce herself and Bryan, she did so in a Perth accent. (Kiersten is originally from WA.)

It was great to see some artists I knew of but had not previously seen perform such as Sea Swallow (folk duo Claire Moodie and Bill Laurie), Martin & Coole (Jon Cope and Emma Birkett), and Gav Brown. My new discovery pick would have to be Matt Black (and the Gloss Whites) performing selected songs of John Prine. Matt has one of those voices that belongs on the mantle piece in the good room. Superb.

Se Swallow at the Earl of Spencer Inn

For audience participation and great fun, Saturday evening’s singing session with Albany’s Playlist Choir was hard to beat. The group took enthusiastic participants through two songs: ‘Gràinne Mhaol’ and ‘The Pirate’s Gospel’, and I’m fairly confident many walked away from the Six Degrees venue that night with two enduring earworms. I was sing/humming for days.

A tip of the hat to Phil Gray who did a great job wrangling reciters and readers to the two poets breakfasts at The Albany Club which drew close to capacity crowds. A highlight was Robyn Minee (Shantylillies) doing an hilarious version of ‘The Man From Ironbark’ with actions, ably assisted by the biggest ham this side of the Darling Downs, Jeff Swain (The Lost Quays).

Crowd at the Poets Breakfast at The Albany Club

Come Sunday morning about 10am and there was a boisterous crowd down at the Boat Shed to witness the epic tug of war contest between The Albany Shantymen (dressed as requested by their opposition as barmaids from the 1700s/1800s) and The Anchormen (dressed as used car salesmen, I mean, as news anchormen). Under appropriately leaden skies and a drop or two of rain, the two teams heaved, ho’d, and hauled for about four minutes before the Bunbury team claimed victory, and both groups joined in an enthusiastic rendition of ‘South Australia’.

Tug of War: The Albany Shantymen and The Anchormen (Bunbury) at The Boat Shed, Albany
Front page of The Albany Advertiser, Tuesday 4 October 2022

Sunday evening wrapped things up with a raucous performance called a ‘Shipload Of Shanty’ featuring the local shantymen followed by wave after wave of singalong shanty walk-ups from festival performers.

Watch out for the 2023 festival – everyone is welcome on board.

Full interviews with Gary ‘Grizz’ Greenwald, John Henderson, and the Marmaduke Marauders will be available soon-ish-ish at www.OverheardProductions.com.

My full photo album for the festival is at: www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.546037140856123

Fo’c’s’le Firkins – Shanties And Songs Of The Sea

Image courtesy of The Original Fo’c’s’le Firkins

This article also appeared in edition 151 of Trad And Now magazine in September 2022.

Here in south west Australia, and in niche but growing enclaves around the country and the world, many of us are starting to get a little excited for the upcoming Albany International Folk ‘n’ Shanty Festival which takes place from Friday 30 September to Sunday 2 October 2022.

“From fireside folk sessions and concerts, to full blown pub shanty singing, from tales of pirates, whales and shipwrecks; the Albany International Folk ‘n Shanty Festival turns historic Albany/Kinjarling into a playground of maritime culture.” – shantyfest.com

Albany may not lay claim to the most remote festival venue on the continent, but there would be few that could beat it. Albany is 3,335kms by road from Melbourne, 3,864kms from Sydney, and about a five hour drive south from Perth.

But more of the festival itself in a future edition. I mention it here for context to say I’ve been booked in to attend for a while, so when news of a CD launch of sea shanties and songs of the sea* bobbed up, my interest was already piqued.

* There’s a difference between the two. All shall be revealed hereunder.

The Original Fo’c’s’le Firkins launched their live CD in Fremantle at the Navy Club on Saturday 20 August 2022. It was a nice piece of musical recording symmetry as the album was recorded in 2021 at the same venue.

Band members were understandably taking any chance to plug the CD and gig around Fremantle in the lead-up, and group member Jon Cope spent some time during ‘Folking Around’ on Radio Fremantle to talk in detail about the recordings’ evolution and background.

Normally, I would have been one of the interviewers, however, I was struck down by a debilitating (non-plague) illness that week, so my colleagues of the airwaves manned the bridge and took the wheel: Frank Hodges (asking the lion’s share of the questions) and Alan Dawson (on the panel, knobs, buttons, and light comic relief).

Image courtesy of The Original Fo’c’s’le Firkins
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Perth Folk And Roots Club

This article also appeared in edition no. 150 of Trad & Now magazine, August 2022.

One of the joys of landing in a new locality is the gradual discovery of new venues, local watering holes, gigs, and music sessions.

After a self-imposed hermitical existence in Brisbane for three and a half months at the start of 2022, I jumped in to south west Australia with both boots upon arrival in April, and have since been to stacks of lively places for all manner of events.

It helps to be filling in as co-host of ‘Folking Around’ on 107.9FM Radio Fremantle on Mondays from 9-11pm AWST – go to www.radiofremantle.com.au to listen live or on-demand to months of previous shows. (Spot the subtle plug? No? Good.)

Host Frank Hodges starts every show with an extensive run-down on gigs in the Greater Perth and Fremantle areas, and it’s been great to zip out and experience some of these first-hand.

On a chilly July Sunday afternoon, I set off to the Inglewood Bowling Club in Mount Lawley. For the sensible, it’s a drive to the back of Inglewood Oval and a park right outside the venue on Stancliffe Street. For me, it was a bus to Fremantle, train to Perth Station, then a very pleasant hour’s walk north in pale, wintry, late afternoon sunshine.

Words to live by. Sign over the bar at the Inglewood Bowling Club.
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Folk On The Road – Endless Sky: A Personal, Musical Love Letter To Mparntwe

Alice Springs - First visit in March-April 2021
Anzac Hill at Alice Springs. From the author’s first visit in March-April 2021. Before I knew the word ‘Mparntwe’, definitely before I knew how to pronounce it. Thanks, Xavia for the video instruction during Endless Sky, recorded by 8CCC Community Radio et al on 21 August 2021 at Araluen Arts Centre, Mparntwe, transmitted on 13 September 2021 – see article for link.

This article also appeared in an edited format in the October 2021 edition no. 144 of Trad & Now magazine – available in good newsagents and some sketchy ones too. Or by subscription at www.tradandnow.com.

This article was principally written on the lands of the Central Arrernte people in Mparntwe (Alice Springs). I’m creating this online version on the lands of Western Arrernte people and doing the most recent of many edits in Walyalup (Fremantle) on the lands of the Whadjuk people. I pay respect to the traditional custodians of these lands: past, present, emerging, and those to come. The author of this rambling tome was born on Ngunnawal land.

Endless Sky – A Personal, Musical Love Letter to Mparntwe

by Bill Quinn

Darwin Festival 2021 went ahead from Thursday 4 to Sunday 22 August 2021, and as the song says, it was against all odds.

Well, not all odds, but many.

In these pages [of Trad & Now magazine] we’ve discussed the challenges (and strangely the opportunities) that Covid19 or corona virus or SARS2 has presented to the worlds of music, arts, entertainment, and hospitality.

For now, I have to tip all of my hats in the direction of Harbour View Plaza in McMinn Street, Darwin and say the sincerest and deepest of thanks to everyone at Darwin Festival who made DF21 happen. That it happened at all is remarkable. That it blossomed forth in such sparkling, memorable fashion is an incredible accomplishment.

If you were attending the festival from out of town, or were new to the festival, it may have appeared a seamlessly professional and comprehensive series of so many events covering all the aspects of the yarts imaginable. Apart from three days off for Darwin’s Lockdown Light III (17-19 August 2021), the show went on, and every spot on the program that I can recall was filled with sparkling talent.

Yeah, sadly many southern artists could not make it to the Top End to join in the joy and fun. That was a shame.

Festival CEO James Gough and Artistic Director Felix Preval, and the scores of production, box office, talent-wrangling, stallholder-herding, sales, corporate liaison, sponsor-schmoozers, and volunteer coordinator Mathilde Mercadier – all of them ducked, weaved, bobbed, re-organised, rescheduled, reordered, and (strike me down, I’m going to use the P word) yes, they pivoted. (There goes a dollar in the buzzword jar.)

Together they created an amazing event, a jewel in a groaning, heaving, bloated, glorious calendar of Darwin and Top End events.

Darwin Festival 2021. Image by Bill Quinn.
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Barry Skipsey – Singer, Songwriter, Photographer

Image courtesy of Barry Skipsey

Overheard On The Road
Observations, interviews, and stories from the backroads, main roads, and city streets of Terra Australis and the world
– This article appeared in Trad & Now magazine in early 2021.

Barry Skipsey – Photographer, Singer-songwriter, Northern Territorian
by Bill Quinn with Madison Collier

In June 2021, the Central Australian Folk Society (CAFS) and Top End Folk Club (TEFC) held their slightly delayed 50th Top Half Folk Festival at Mary River, NT.

You can read all about it in Trad & Now edition 143, September 2021. Mentioned in dispatches is Barry Skipsey, a man of many talents, with a story to tell that’s in many ways a common tale: come to Australia’s Northern Territory for a few weeks; stay for decades.

But in the most important way, it’s unique to Barry Skipsey.

A man who just yesterday (as I type in late 2021) appeared on stage in Alice Springs with no less than Scotty Balfour, Ross Muir, and David Evans in the ‘Living Histories’ show: stories and songs from the legendary band Bloodwood, plus their solo adventures outside the band.

On a Sunday afternoon in June, The Shavings had finished their singing workshop and the afternoon concert was kicking in, we had a chat with Barry, dressed in his territory rig and leaning against his territory rig. (First rig is a clothes reference, the second is a mighty automobile that ploughs the Stuart Highway and beyond).

Image courtesy of Barry Skipsey

Bill Quinn: Barry, you’ve been doing folk for about 145 years?

Barry Skipsey: (Laughs) Seems like it. I’m only 64 but yeah, we’ve all got aches and pains. I’ve got a couple of brand new knees in recent years.

BQ: But you’re not originally from the Northern Territory?

BS:  No, I was actually born on King Island. I’m a Tasmanian, technically.

I left there when I was about six years old. My father was over there building soldier settler homes. My brother and I were born there, and I left there when I was six. And I often say that we came to Australia. We came to Melbourne.

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Fieldsy – A Divine Slice Of Dublin via WA

Image courtesy of Fieldsy

Folk On The Road – Fieldsy: A Divine Slice Of Dublin Via WA

This article also appeared in Trad & Now magazine in July 2022.

Back at last behind a typewriter (for Trad & Now) after a break of about six months.

Those months have gone by in something of a blur. Mparntwe, Brisbane, and Perth are all now in the rear view mirror. Darwin seems like a lifetime ago. (It’s been nine months in earth years).

Crash-landed in Fremantle in late May and looking to drop an anchor here for a while, it occurred to me I’d gone the year without any live original music gigs in the calendar. (With the exception of Bushtime at Woodfordia on New Year’s Day.)

Soon after making that realisation, social media chimed in with an alert to say that perennial favourite Daniel Champagne was appearing at Freo.Social in a few days’ time. One quick online transaction and some changed social plans later, and come the first Friday in June, I was plonked in the band room at this wonderful WA venue.

Just before the gig, I noticed the support act was ‘Fieldsy’, and with no other information to go on, I pictured a bald bloke in a blue singlet with three chords, six teeth, and the truth.

The reality was something (and someone) quite different.

Fieldsy comes from Dublin, from a large, rowdy family. A Catholic schoolgirl who went on to become a singer-songwriter recording artist in several guises. Then in the early 2010s when the Celtic Tiger had roared, reared up, and been well and truly tamed, Fieldsy and family decamped to Australia in search of better economic fortunes.

Cut forward to 2022, with even more musical incarnations under her belt, Fieldsy is making a return to performing after a few months off with vocal maladies and a dose of the dreaded corona plague.

Image courtesy of Fieldsy
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Xavia – Horizons: Music Inspired By The Landscapes of Centralia

Image courtesy of Xavia. Photo by Micah Barnes, Micah Barnes Photography (vimeo.com)

One of the great joys of music (and the yarts in general) is making new discoveries.

When I went to my first National Folk Festival in hometown Canberra, Australian Capital Territory in 2005, it was a journey of only 2.7kms from my first home into another world or planet.

When driving through Sydney and listening to FBi Radio 94.5FM, I love mostly hearing only music and artists whom I’ve never heard before.

Same syndrome applied last night at Monte’s Lounge in Mparntwe Alice Springs, Northern Territory during the 8CCC Community Radio 102.1fm – Alice Springs & Tennant Creek Sunday Sessions. All bangers, all new to my ears.

Image courtesy of Xavia. Picture by Jeff Tan Photography.

I’d never heard of Xavia before August 2021 when the first draw of a bow across her cello reduced me to a watery pile of salty liquid on the dusty grounds of the Sunset Stage of Darwin Festival in Garramilla Darwin, Larrakia country.

But much as I didn’t know Dave Crowe Music either (also performing in the same concert that night as Resin Moon), I’ve probably heard Xavia’s music before but didn’t know it. Various gods (especially sun gods) thank the moguls of film, TV, and other media that love to pay phat or medium stacks to independent artists to licence their art.

(Not every Australian would know the band Flight Facilities, but I’d wager that about 80% of Terra Australians could instantly recognise one of their songs.)

I should also tip my Stetson to the others on stage that night: Casii Williams, Paul Ah Chee, Bambadino, and the magnificent Alice Sings under the direction of Ed Gould. If the performance of Endless Sky at Araluen Arts Centre is totally new news to you, then hi. I’m Bill ‘Quinny’ Quinn. I thought we’d met! (I’ve mentioned it just a few times on social media in the last two months. Just a few.) 😉

Ok, muggles. Strap yourselves in, and be prepared to slap your Mparntwe mates with a bunch of lightly-dampened celery and bellow, ‘Why did you not tell me this was happening in August? What am I to you? Chopped liver? A block of flats? A ham sandwich? Why don’t you love me anymore?’

Ok, admittedly that’s at the top of the dial for intensity of response. Let’s move on, shall we?

We shall. Click here, and don’t thank me later. Thank THEM!

Back to Xavia. This is her song ‘Horizons’ – the original version.

Through the wonders of technology, you can experience many different versions of ‘Horizons’ with just a few clicks of a keyboard, or twitches of your thumbs on your preferred device.

I inwite you to do just that. Then if so motivated, go to http://www.xaviamusic.com/ as I did and hoover up her music for less than you’d spend on a great meal and a craft beer at Monte’s Lounge in Todd Street, Alice Springs. My personal recommendations: Chicken Mesquite, a Dawn Patrol, and Xavia’s current single Saule – and I’m still working on how I add the acute on the ‘e’ on this laptop that doesn’t have a numbers pad…

No, wait. I came up with a solution last week. It helps if you speak French, but that’s not a pre-requisite. Once more with feeling: Saulé. Formidable! Facile!! (French for ‘wonderful’ and ‘simple’.)

^^^^ My Favourite Song and Record of 2021.

My opus ex animo article in the October 2021 edition no. 144 of Trad And Now magazine is called ‘Endless Sky – A Personal, Musical Love Letter to Mparntwe. It’s ok as articles go, but the online version is more polished, eye-wateringly longer, and contains embedded photos, videos, and links. I mean, it will do when I finish playing with it in draft. Two weeks and one day now.

It’s coming like Christmas, but hopefully before. 😉

Bill ‘Quinny’ Quinn
Mparntwe/Alice Springs
Central Arrente NT
Australie

As with all my articles, it’s a living, breathing, evolving, ever-changing beastie, and I’ll tinker and tweak it for days to years to decades to come. If a link is busted, or some detail is wrong or could be improved on, please post a comment or get in touch via the Contact page. BQ.

The Shavings – Interview at the 2021 Top Half Folk Festival – A WORK IN PROGRESS – LOOK OUT FOR SAFETY NOTICES – MIND THE GAPS 😖

The Shavings, kicking back at their campsite after their singing workshop. Mary River Wilderness Retreat.

[Intro blah blah]

Bill Quinn: Is there a spokesperson for the group?

Huss: No, we’re a collective. We all speak together. [Sing] We speak with one voice, we are, you are, we are The Shavings.

[The next bit where the interviewer makes a horrendous and mostly unsuccessful joke by asking if The Shavings has a Nick has been deleted on the grounds of good taste.]

BQ: So, who can tell me the history of The Shavings?

Chris O’Loughlin: I joined The Shavings in, I think it was, 2012. Rod Moss and Des O’Shannessy [check] were the founders. Rod and I sang in the East Side Christmas Carolers in the noughties. And we used to go around East Side (Alice Springs) in the back of a ute, and we used to lob into random houses – without an invitation – and we just carol-bombed them.

And we actually went into the Barra On Todd (restaurant and bar at The Chifley); we went in there once and just sang to the crowd. Didn’t ask the management, just sang.

Angus: Until security came.

Anyway, Rod remembered me liking to sing in public, so he said, “Chris, there’s a group getting together. We’re getting together every Thursday night and you should come along.”

He did that for about two months before I finally thought, oh I better go.

And I was at Monte’s [Lounge] and Kate Young and Des – they’re a married couple. Kate was our director – she’s a musical genius – and she was able to direct these blokes. Des and I were the bassies. We were at Monte’s one night and they had a performance coming up in a few months, and if I wanted to joing, I had to join now. So I came in about half-way through the preparation for the upcoming gig.

So that was in about 2012.

Angus: So she [Kate] took a bunch of rough stones and polished them until they were slightly less rough stones.

CO’L: She did.

BQ: I heard this afternoon that there’s also The Splinters. So, what came first? The Splinters or The Shavings?

CO’L: The Splinters came first. The Splinters are all female, and the guys (partners of The Splinters) thought if the are gonna sing, we should sing, so when the blokes came about, Kate called them The Shavings, and that’s how it happened. That was about 2012, so we’re nearly ten years.

BQ: From last night’s concert and the workshop this afternoon, I see you’ve got a fair old repertoire that crosses a lot of genres. What’s the process of working out what you’re going to sing?

Huss: Whoever’s got the strongest passion for a song that they think would be appropriate, and it’s incumbent on them if they want to nominate a song to back it up with some words and some direction. And then everyone comes in behind that.

Angus: So Kate used to do some arranging which she was very good at. But she had a full-time job, and she was doing [arrangements] for The Splinters as well, and she didn’t have a lot of time. So when we’d come up with a couple of ideas, she would always say, “Show me the dots”. Because at the stage, we always sang set parts – set harmony parts. If Kate had a passion for the song, she’d arrange it, but if she didn’t have time, so we’d have ideas and thye’d never go anywhere.

When Kate left, we had to fend for ourselves, so we’ve got a couple of people who’ve arranged songs or transcribed songs for us – within the group, and family and friends. Albert O’Loughlin.

CO’L: My son who’s studying music in Melbourne.We wanted to do ‘Full Force Gale’ but we didn’t have the dots and he transcribed it, and he wrote it all out.

Angus: It’s a shame because we can’t even read!

CO’L: We know if a dot goes up, our voice goes up. And if it goes down, it goes down.

BQ: That’s the way I do it too!

I heard you when you pulled up [to the campground] you said this is your first festival, so what other performing have you done before now?

Adam: Well, it’s not our first festival, but it’s our first time outside Alice Springs, I think. We did perform at the [Top Half Folk] Festival in Glen Helen which was two years ago, and there have been a few festivals in Alice we’ve been part of.

Angus: The Glen Helen one was a lot more homely. This one has got a lot more interstate people, and in some ways it’s upscaled and bigger and better. And we were pretty intimidated when we got here!

BQ: So Glen Helen is mostly Alice Springs people, is it?

Angus: No, there were people from Darwin and interstate, but not as big or as many as this. The standard here is way above what we thought we were at. When we heard the opening night, I thought, ‘Hmmm, okay. I don’t know how this is going to go”.

And then when we were singing on the deck after the concert, and it’s all these strong voices singing in harmony…

Shilts: But it went well. In terms of the performances and festivals, the very first performances were very community-based, and we used to have those Christmas shows, and we would combine with The Splinter Sisters. We’d get together and it was usually a gold coin donation which usually went to ALEC (Arid Lands Environment Centre) or some charity – and everyone would have to bring all the food.

Heaps of people would turn up. We had it in a house to start with, we had a few. Then we had one out at White Gums, one in the old court house. They were great, singing together with real community involvement; it wasn’t at all to make money. It was groups of friends and family coming and just sharing singing.

And it grew from that with people wanting to join or do bits and pieces. So we did the song festival (Desert Voices).

??: Started getting a few paid gigs, started getting really big heads. Then we listened to the recordings and the heads shrink back pretty quickly.

BQ: Going back to food, can somebody unpack the nexus between singing and cheese which I’ve just only learnt about [during the singing workshop].

Angus: When Kate left, we were in deep despair as a group because we really valued her, and she nurtured and sustained us with her ability. Then I think we basically took solace in cheese; we ate a lot of cheese.

And then gradually we emerged like a bloated, cheese-laden Phoenix from the ashes of our despair.

CO’L: I’ll have to write that one down.

When Kate and Des left for Tasmania, which was about 2017, I think, there was a real fear that we just wouldn’t survive without a musical director. But our love of getting together every week and singing survived and made us and find a way, and we didn’t want it to finish. So it survived.

??: So there’s kind of like friendship and fellowship and singing and music in kind of equal measure. So we’re all friends and get on well together, but we’re not all close friends outside of singing, but we help each other out if there’s something going on.

??: Like moving a bloody pool table?

??: There is another dimension that we’ve added at this trip, I think, and previously it’s been sharing cheese and an occasional glass of wine, but this is the first festival I think we’ve really had the chance to get pissed together.

??: And we’ve been on a road trip.

BQ: I can tell you firsthand, I saw this last night. It happened.

??: We do have two teetotallers in the group.

BQ: Otherwise known as designated drivers.

??: We embrace their choice.

??: Being part of the group for me has really helped with my journey to sobriety. Because when you watch these boys on a night like last night, it makes you glad you’re sober.

BQ: You said something this afternoon that I latched onto about harmony and confidence, and that confidence is a bit more important than getting the note right.

??: Yeah, I didn’t labour the point as much as I wanted to…

BQ: They [rest of the group] wouldn’t let you!

??: I really found my own ability improved just purely if I was confident. And singing together gives you that confidence, because you’re so supported in lyrics and supported in the notes and the music. I’m familiar with a lot of people who can sing and could sing so much better if they sang confidently and in a supportive environment.

My son is 12 years old and he won’t sing in front of me, but he’s pitch perfect.

BQ: You haven’t tried to drag him along to a singing session?

??: I’m really pleased that he’s joined the choir at his school, and that was a choice that he made himself. And he’s one of only two boys in a big group in a cross-gender school. So he has seen both his parents bloom through their choral experience, largely through singing with Asante Sana.

My ex-partner and I sang with trade union choirs when we first met in the noughties and then we would alternate our singing with Asante Sana, so one of us would sing and one of us would stay home and look after the children. And then that balance went a bit skew-whiff where I had a few years at home and my partner for the benefit of her mental health – which was in greater need – did more consecutive years.

So now that group is now 11 years in the making and are probably going to have their last sing together in September under the direction of an amazing man called Morris Stuart.

BQ: And after this festival, what’s next for The Shavings?

CO’L: I think the next big thing for us is the Desert Voices festival which is in September.

??: I’m part of a group that’s pushing to hire Witchetty’s [???] – an Alice Springs theatre venue – to do a cabaret show with The Splinters and maybe some other friends. We’ll probably have room for maybe 150 or so guests and have it as a fundraiser for a friend who’s in need of some funds through illness in the family. I think that’ll be quite a big show for us. That should be August, I reckon.

??: And we’re about to take on two new members as well. We’ve just taken on Tim and we’re about to take on Francois – I know that’s not his name, but he’s French!

??: The process of getting new members has been kind of interesting, hasn’t it?

BQ: That was my next question: are you open to – not putting my hand up here myself – open to new members?

??: No, we’ve got

Top Half Folk Festival Turns 50

Top Half Folk Festival celebrated its 50th in time-honoured tradition: with cake.

This article also appeared in Trad & Now magazine in August 2021.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and almost three hundred hearts were filled with music, song, poetry, and good cheer in June as the Top Half Folk Festival (THFF) returned – after a year on sick leave – to celebrate their milestone 50th annual event.

Covid19 had cancelled the festival in 2020, and conditions were still dicey in the lead-up (meaning some interstate visitors could not make the trek north). But it all kicked off in brilliant conditions and sublime surroundings at the Mary River Wilderness Retreat on the June long weekend.

While I’m not on commission for the venue, I highly recommend you add this little accommodation gem to your itinerary if you’re headed to the top end.

Situated just over 100kms east of Darwin along the Arnhem Highway, the cabins and sprawling campgrounds are tailor-made for a folk festival or a stopover. And the management have been generous and constant supporters of THFF since it moved to that locality in 2000.

Well, half of it moved there. Let’s go back a step.

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Daniel Champagne – Live In The Time Of Corona – Interview

Daniel Champagne playing at the Darwin Railway Club, Saturday 23 January 2021. Pic: Bill Quinn.

This article also appeared in Trad & Now magazine in mid 2021.

While the world is in various stages, tiers, and iterations of lockdown thanks to corona virus, Australia is one nation that’s managed to escape relatively lightly with restrictions.

That’s doubly or even more so for Darwin.

After what I’ve termed ‘Lockdown Lite’, hospitality venues were starting to open here again in May 2020, gigs were on again from June 2020, festivals with some restrictions were on in July 2020, and open air music festivals were live and kicking by the end of the year that dare not speak its name. (Even though I have. Others still call 2020 ‘Voldemort’.)

It’ll be a while yet before we see international touring acts flooding back to our shores, but nationally, musicians are starting to shake the mothballs and cobwebs off their touring paraphernalia, and live music is limping back to life.

A welcome returnee to the north, Daniel Champagne is a hometown boy from Brogo, New South Wales. Brogo for me was always a bit blink-and-miss-it on the map, and be careful to slow down quick because the highway takes a mighty dogleg off the end of the bridge, though Daniel is a font of information about this fascinating part of the far NSW coast. (That all came over a dinner of Darwin music-related people on a monsoonally wet top end night, and before the recorder went on. Ask him about it sometime.)

The last time I interviewed Daniel was in a radio studio roughly 4000kms away, and ten or so years and a half dozen lifetimes ago, so as the wet season rains poured down in Nightcliff NT, we sat at an outside table under the awning and got a more up to date state of play.

Daniel Champagne playing at the Darwin Railway Club, Saturday 23 January 2021. Pic: Bill Quinn.

Bill Quinn: Daniel, as a temporary resident I can say: Welcome to Darwin!

Daniel Champagne: Thank you. It’s good to be here.

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