A Punter’s Perspective 10 — It’s only words and that is all…. damn, what’s the next line?

Bill (7)A Punter’s Perspective
Random observations on the wide, weird world of folk from the side of the stage

#10 It’s only words, and that is all… Damn, what’s the next line?
First published in Trad and Now magazine, May 2008

By Bill Quinn
At a recent singing session, a participant asked a very leading question in between songs.

“I love singing and I love songs, but I can never remember all the words. How do you singers remember not only the words to one song, but to so many songs?”

It’s a fair question. One with possibly as many answers as there were singers in attendance to provide answers.

How does one recall to mind lyrics they’ve written themselves, lyrics written by their peers, and lyrics written by others from one to 400 years previous?

(Arguably, the same question applies to instruments, notes and chords, however, since the author isn’t a musician – or at least, not for the last 27 years – we’ll confine the discussion to the realm of the vocal cords.)

In singing sessions, not everyone is expecting polished performances, and there’s a fair amount of group effort involved; if someone starts to falter, others will usually chime in with a word or phrase or some background accompaniment while the main singer gets back on track. If they know the song. Continue reading

A Punter’s Perspective 09 — After the Party (NFF 2008)

National 2011469A Punter’s Perspective
Random observations on the wide, weird world of folk from the side of the stage

#9 After the Party (National Folk Festival 2008)
First published in Trad and Now magazine, April 2008

By Bill Quinn

After the band has played ‘Waltzing Matilda’
They’ve torn down the streamers
And left you alone
And the carpark’s deserted
And the weeds they’re growing
I’m still here
I still love you
Come on; I’ll take you home.

From ‘After the Party’, from the album “Etched in Blue” (1987).

Reprinted with kind permission of John Schumann

I’ve always thought that some of the truest words are said in jest, or at least with little thought. Some of these utterances unexpectedly reveal the deepest meaning, and illuminate the most clichéd and the most banal of banal sayings.

On topic, and ‘front-brain’ for this punter ever since the 2008 National Folk Festival, is the often repeated claim that musos, organisers, volunteers and punters ‘grieve’ when a festival closes.

‘Are you OK?’
‘Yeah, just in mourning for the [insert name of latest festival].’

Sometimes they really do die a little inside as the tents come down and the sound gear packs up.

It sounds a touch melodramatic, but this proposition has been validated by some light investigation, and by comments solicited from a selection of festival-goers, not just at the National. Continue reading

A Punter’s Perspective 08 — Braidwood Folk Club

Bob Fox plays at Braidwood Folk Club
Bob Fox plays at Braidwood Folk Club, February 2008

A Punter’s Perspective
Random observations on the wide, weird world of folk from the side of the stage

#8 Braidwood Folk Club
First published in Trad and Now magazine, March 2008

By Bill Quinn

Many Canberrans beat a path from home to the south coast of New South Wales, so most know the main street of Braidwood like the backs of their hands. They’re typically racing through on a Friday evening (with a coastal destination in mind) or Sunday evening (en route back home to hoover the beach out of the back seat of the car).

Somewhat fewer make the trek on a Thursday evening, say, the third Thursday of the month. But if they do, they’d be well-advised to peel off at Wilson Street, past the park (site of several million traditional coast trip loo stops) and on down to the Anglican Hall, the current meeting place for the Braidwood Folk Club (BFC).

For a bit of geographical positioning, Braidwood lies about 90km slightly to the south east of Canberra, and just before the Clyde Mountain, the proving ground for many a learner driver of the region. If you really want to get the picture, track down a copy of the 1987 film ‘The Year My Voice Broke’ as it’s filmed on location.

Having passed through Braidwood roughly 27,000 times since the age of eight, I finally took a chance to stop in to the folk club last September to see Women in Docs, and then again in February to see Bob Fox, the latter currently on a two-month tour of Australia and New Zealand. Continue reading

A Punter’s Perspective 07 — The folk that’s flipped sunny side up

Image from the Asia-Pacific  Database on Intangible Cultural Heritage
Image from the Asia-Pacific Database on Intangible Cultural Heritage

A Punter’s Perspective
Random observations on the wide, weird world of folk from the side of the stage

#7 The Folk That’s Flipped Sunny-Side Up
First published in Trad and Now magazine, February 2008

By Bill Quinn

Firstly, my sincere thanks to everyone who’s granted me interviews for a series of articles I was planning on kids in folk. Apparently another writer for this fine publication has started doing something similar, so let’s not be crossing quills and spilling ink.

I’ll start using that material elsewhere in the near future.

At short notice, I came across some stuff written at length about nine-ten months ago when the pages of Trad and Now were awash with the great folk debate. While choosing to not throw my tuppence in at the time, I started a rambling, direct reply to the protagonist that took on a life of its own (nine pages), written during the month leading up to the National while tripping around the country-side for work.

It evolved in a series of hotel rooms, empty training rooms, planes, waiting lounges, and the occasional airport bar. (The protagonist of the piece latched on to this last point and said I was under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Hmm. Have you seen what they charge for a Guinness or Carlton Crown at any airport bar? A single Dad and volunteer can only get so ‘influenced’ at those prices.)

Without wanting to re-open old wounds, I do notice via some unsolicited junk mail that there’s a new festival starting over Easter at Grafton, so with that by background, here are some very edited, meandering bits from that 2007 missive.

Strap yourself in; this stuff bounces around more than a Dash 8 in heavy turbulence. Continue reading

A Punter’s Perspective 06 — Sing! Sing! Sing!

Bill-singA Punter’s Perspective
Random observations on the wide, weird world of folk from the side of the stage

#6 Sing! Sing! Sing!
First published in Trad and Now magazine, October 2007

By Bill Quinn

When you front up to any given festival, you’ve generally got a fair idea of who’s on the bill. And yet, one of those grand moments of the settling-in period, after you’ve been tagged and show-bagged, is to scan the program for your favourites. Pen in hand, there are those tantalising moments of deflowering virgin program pages with flowing strokes of biro circles around the tried, the trusted and the ‘man, you just gotta see’ acts.

Conversely, there may be other acts or genres that you zip over, or choose to ignore, or even scratch a dismissive mark through. (The author will refrain from venturing examples here as his insurance definitely doesn’t cover such off the cuff observations.)

For this punter, anything that had ‘choir’ in the title was always a category to avoid like the fugue. However, one of the true joys of many, many discoveries over the last few years has been to admire the wonders of the massed one-to-four part harmonies of many voices.

Choirs rock.

Community choirs, singing groups, singing sessions, and the big daddy of them all (or many of them): the festival choir. There’s a sweet science behind the process of putting several to several hundred voices into beauteous harmony, but to the punter, it’s just a chance to let one’s jaw drop to the canvas, their eyes roll back in sheer aural ecstasy, and to feel the very hairs up the back of their necks stand out in perpendicular, involuntary admiration.

Festival choirs have become a mainstay of many festivals, and they’re well worth seeking out. In smaller festivals, it helps when they’re seeded by established choirs, but after that, it’s open to all comers, because many of the festival support staff, volunteers and even paying punters are closet warblers.

As a friend said many years ago, and it’s stuck to the point of my adopting the phrase, ‘Do I sing? Sure. I give daily concerts in the shower and in the car!’ Continue reading

A Punter’s Perspective np — Cloudstreet

cloudstreet -- Nicole Murray and John Thompson
cloudstreet -- Nicole Murray and John Thompson

A Punter’s Perspective
Random observations on the wide, weird world of folk from the side of the stage

NP Cloudstreet: On the road and on the phone
Not published, for some strange reason. Possibly due to the eye-watering length of the text. Used in Monaro Musings at roughly the same time.

By Bill Quinn
Many readers would be familiar with the name Cloudstreet (the folk music act, not the book. Maybe both. Let’s stick with the former for now).

Nicole Murray and John Thompson have been plying their trade as individual performers for many years, and as a duo for about ten years, turning out fine studio albums and countless live performances in the process.

I spoke to Nicole and John in April this year, following a post-National Folk Festival gig in Canberra, and then again to John in June, when Cloudstreet’s first live album had just seen the light of day.

John and Nicole shared their views on singing, recording, live performance, and most importantly, what makes a really good cardboard box drum.


Trad&Now: How was the National Folk Festival for you this year? Continue reading

A Punter’s Perspective 04 — National Folk Festival 2007

IMG00924-20100401-1644A Punter’s Perspective
Random observations on the weird world of folk from the side of the stage

#4 National Folk Festival 2007
First published in Trad and Now magazine, June 2007


By Bill Quinn

The 2007 National Folk Festival is by now but a handful of dim, fuzzy, yet pleasant memories on the rear horizon. Before the festivals themes of Western Australia, water and the Middle East fade completely away, here are a few observations on some of the talent and goings on in Canberra over April.

Lessons learnt from the Easter weekend at EPIC: the Canberra Contra Club did not receive arms (or any other body parts) from the US Government in the mid-1980s. The Lawnmowers are not available for freelance landscaping jobs. Madviolet did not take their name from an aggressive (and since discontinued) Dulux paint chart. But it is true: the Jinju Wishu Academy were approached for next year’s Tamworth Country Music Festival – until Academy members quietly explained they are in fact ‘lion dancers’.

The Western Australians were in town in greater numbers than usual, and hopefully those present took the time to meet, greet and hear from a bunch of singers, songwriters and musicians that might not ordinarily make it to the east.

Simon Fox (from WA via Vancouver) treated audiences to a stack of his original tunes, including one that nearly got him evicted from his apartment during the creative process. He’d practised the bluegrass licks so many times that his neighbour above was going quite spare.

Simon claimed it was revenge for his having to listen to his country and western neighbour incessantly banging his foot on his floor (Simon’s ceiling) in time to his own brand of music. The audience burst into applause at the end of Simon’s tune: ‘Yeah, you like it, but you didn’t have to listen to it for hours in a row!’ Continue reading

A Punter’s Perspective 03 — Jack Mancor

Jack MancorA Punter’s Perspective
Random observations on the wide, weird world of folk from the side of the stage

#3 Jack Mancor
First published in Trad and Now magazine, April/May 2007


By Bill Quinn
Jack Mancor is already responsible for two of this punter’s 27,000 “Enduring Memories of Folk”.

The first occurred in August 2005, during the Folk Alliance Australia Convention, standing in the foyer of the Polish White Eagle Club in Canberra, hopping from foot to foot, desperately needing to decant some very fine (and very filtered) Polish beer, but physically unable to depart before the end of ‘Fisherman’s Boy’, Mancor’s haunting ode to the sailors of a Philippine fishing boat that went down in rough seas.

The second came in February 2007, after closing time at the very same venue, when Mancor and Owen Campbell broke into an impromptu version of ‘Rambling Rover’ on the footpath outside the club with various others joining in on the chorus:

Give me a rambling rover
Fae Orkney down to Dover
We’ll roam the country over
And together we’ll face the world

A third enduring moment was to come, but more of that later.

The first two moments go to the heart of what seems to make Jack Mancor the muso, songster and wandering minstrel tick, and moreover, what seems to work on his audiences: the power of his lyrics and performance, and his up-closeness and accessibility to the punters.

And it works just as well when you take his music home and put him on the stereo: Mancor’s album ‘Looking For Something…’ is a remarkable work, reflecting the eclectic and meandering life he’s led to date.

Mancor left home at age 16, then lit off up the road at age 20 to somewhere and anywhere. He spent half of each year working at several vocations, and half the year doing what he loves to do: play his music and sing his songs to a crowd.

Jack rolls a cigarette out front of the endearingly grungy Phoenix bar in Canberra on a vibrant, balmy night (yes, they do exist in Canberra) while he tells me what he’s variously done for a trade.

“I’ve worked down mines, in canning factories, in textile mills, flour mills, on ships, trains, even a fruit juice factory. I’m a fitter by trade and a musician by heart. A lot of my music reflects my work ethic.”

“I’ve burnt a lot of bridges with a lot of bosses,” he concedes with a wry smile.

Mancor’s red-ragging may have earned him the ire of many bosses, but it’s also endeared him endlessly to the executive, rank and file of many unions, and he’s performed at rallies of up to 20,000 comrades.

Mancor’s seen much, and has had some fantastic times travelling. “I was born on the road at 100 miles an hour!” he claims with a grin. He also met his partner and now has a three-year-old, both travelling around with him. Continue reading

A Punter’s Perspective 02 — Everybody (bush) dance now

Image from Monaro Folk Society -- Yarralumla Woolshed
Image from Monaro Folk Society — Yarralumla Woolshed

A Punter’s Perspective
Random inexpert observations on the world of folk from the side of the stage

#2 Everybody (bush) dance now
First published in Trad and Now magazine, February 2007

By Bill Quinn

Scratch the surface of the folk scene and you soon find there’s plenty to keep the average punter occupied for several nights of most weeks, especially if you’re into dancing. Turn to the Dance Calendar in this very publication and you’ll see what varied options lie in wait in your neck of the woods.

The Canberra dance scene was ripe for a tentative foray into the relative unknown, approached with some caution, since I own the equivalent of two left feet. More correctly, they’re something akin to two swinging voters: apt to go either way, and often at the same time.

Canberra is blessed with many diverse dance options within a small geographical area: Irish set dancing, the colourful and energetic Bordonian Heritage Dancers, and the Contra Club just for starters. More on those in later editions.

But for a trip back in time to those school and parish ‘bring a plate for supper’ dances of yesteryear, first stop was the Monaro Folk Society (MFS) New Year’s Eve bush dance at the Yarralumla Woolshed.

If you’re going to have a bush dance, you can’t beat a hundred year old former shearing shed for atmosphere. You get the feeling the sheep were only cleared out hours earlier to make way for the stage, sound desk and supper tables.

The shed’s supports occasionally proved to be challenging obstacles, as the ever-increasing circle of dancers chose their promenading paths with care. “Dodge the poles!”, came the cry from the stage. We kept an eye out for the Hungarians as well.

(That joke celebrates its 15th birthday later this year. I’m buying it an iPod.) Continue reading

A Punter’s Perspective 01 — From a punter’s perspective

The author
The author

A Punter’s Perspective
First published in Trad and Now magazine

#1 From a punter’s perspective
First published in Trad and Now magazine, December 2006


Bill Quinn

The world of folk boasts a limitless supply of people whose breadth and depth of knowledge of their craft and art is simply breath-taking. Their technical knowledge is detailed, their repertoires seemingly endless. Some folklorists have researched, collected and interpreted material for decades, their own lives becoming living folk legends of themselves. Traditional and contemporary artists encapsulate decades and centuries of history in a few short verses or stanzas.

But then there be folk like the author: the punters. We’re the people who hang around the back of session bars in dumb-struck awe (“Awww!”). We watch musicians on stage and can’t work out how they tune an instrument and breathe at the same time, much less engage an audience in simultaneous banter. And as for the seamless transition between fiddle, guitar, bodhran and tin whistle – did those people start learning their trade in the womb?!

We don’t know our jigs from our reels or our airs from our graces. We think an autoharp is Dublin’s car club, that a bouzouki is something immediately followed by ‘bless you’, and that lute is something you get paid if you manage to shift a few CDs.

But we attend festivals, buy the music, wear the t-shirts, sniff out the folk clubs, find when acts are playing in the mainstream world, and even surf off into cyberspace to broaden our folky horizons. We occasionally pluck up (pun intended) the courage to blunder up to musicians at an appropriate time and place (i.e. the middle of the campground – Hi, Geraldine!) to tell them their work has moved or touched us in some way or inspired us or had some profound, life-changing effect.

We don’t necessarily know good folk, but we know what we like. Sometimes we even struggle to spell it proper: hey, if it rhymes with ‘joke’… Continue reading