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