A Punter’s Perspective
Random observations on the wide, weird world of folk from the side of the stage
#17 Kids in Folk pt II: Almira Fawn (US)
First published in Trad and Now magazine, September 2009
Last year I wrote a column about two young performers from New South Wales (then aged 11 years old), and I had cunning plans to make a semi-regular feature in my monthly A Punter’s Perspective column in Trad and Now magazine to focus specifically on younger performers.
Plans are funny things, aren’t they? We have endless fun making them, and then so often simply file them under ‘F’ for forgotten.
Or ‘I’ for ‘I’ll get back to that…’.
And then a funny thing happened on the way to a singing session one cold Saturday night in Canberra.
The radio announced a burgeoning young star from Lexington, Kentucky and I was hopelessly hooked.
I was stopped in the carpark outside Woolies in Dickson (Canberra), and found myself unable to get out of the car.
Instead, I sat transfixed to the Woodsongs Old Time Music Hour program, and the story of Almira Fawn (aged 11 at the time of recording, having turned 12 in the intervening few months).
It’s quite a story, and one which could stretch over a year’s worth of articles, were there time to tell them all.
Six billion eccentrics wander the earth
To me right, file diddle i ay…
– Peter Morton, Northumbria
This is the story of Almira Fawn, collected over the phone while talking with Almira, her dad Don, and mum Umi in Lexington, Kentucky. Also patched through via conference phone to Almira’s manager of sorts, Beau, who runs a community radio station (The Penguin 106.7FM) in Wilmington, North Carolina.
We opened up the chat with my apologising in advance for any Australianisms that might crop up. Beau now believes Almira should write a song called ‘Fair Dinkum’.
The following week, I spoke with Almira’s guitar-teacher/blues performer David M McLean.
The back-story is this. At age six, Almira had extreme shyness, but being such a fan of music and singing, her parents put her into guitar lessons. At eight she was busking at the local farmers’ markets.
By 10 Almira was doing restaurant gigs and other performances. At 11 she was on the international ‘Woodsongs’ radio/TV show and had her first album of mostly originals out.
Almira does the odd bit of motivational speaking.
And yeah, she’s pretty much over the shyness thing.
Isn’t music a wonderful thing?
“We actually called it ‘therapy’,” says Almira, “because my parents took me in [to lessons] hoping I’d learn to be able to perform in front of people because I was extremely shy. I’d cry before I had to get up in front of people.”
“I learnt to perform and I just got better.”
How did Almira cope with a guitar at age six?
“Well, it was extremely big compared to me! When I’d sit in a chair, my feet would be half way to the ground. My fingers couldn’t even reach all the way around the finger board.”
“My parents really like contemporary music. Back then when I was a lot younger, they introduced me into a little older music. So I was listening to ACDC and Peter Frampton, and all that sort of stuff.”
“But now I do pretty much everything.”
Including writing her own material.
“There wasn’t really a time when I thought, ‘Now I’m going to write my stuff; I’m going to write music today’.
“Things just came to me, and I thought, ‘That sounds pretty good; I’ll write that down’.”
Where does a sub-teenage girl find inspiration for writing?
“I really look up to the eagles a lot…”
At this point, I was absolutely astonished that Almira was about to expound an amazing, inspirational metaphor about the powerful, graceful, soaring birds above her that she looks up to. Symbol of the USA, flight, might and power.
I’m sorry, I’ll write that again.
“I really look up to ‘The Eagles’ a lot and how they do a lot of genres.”
Aha. Different eagles.
“JJ Grey, who’s a soul singer/songwriter, because of his soul and his meaningful lyrics.”
“And basically everything around me. Even my cat is an inspiration to writing music for me; it does this thing we call ‘psycho’. Rips through the house and tears up everything, and that ended up being a song called, ‘What’s On Your Mind’?”
Guitar teacher David suggested Almira appear at the local farmers’ market in Lexington.
“I was eight at the time,” Almira recalls, “and I was thinking, ‘Whoo! I’m making money!’”
“I was really nervous the first few times, for the first few songs, wondering what people are thinking of me. But after a couple of songs, I was having a blast there too.”
“That first time there was a talent scout there too, and he was talking to me and he said, ‘You should come up to New York City. We’re having this talent sort of convention thing.’” And I said, ‘Cool! I’ll do it!’”
“So they put me in it and I competed in that convention thing. Sort of like a job fair slash talent convention. And I guess it all went from there.”
“And that really helped my confidence and everything. I also met this guy named John DeGrazio, the writer of the song ‘Abandoned’ which is on my CD. And I just really loved that song, and he’s a big influence on me too.”
“He really influenced me to write after that. I guess when I was eight and met him, that’s when I really started writing. Back to that question again!”
“JJ Grey is also a major influence. I just really love his soul and his songs. All of his songs. There’s not one that sounds like an ‘OK’ or bad song.”
Short pause to check out some vision on Youtube taken shortly after the Woodsongs program was recorded. Throw ‘Appalachia’ and ‘Almira Fawn’ and ‘Lochloosa’ into a web search, press ‘Play’ then sit back, and your gob shall be smacked.
It was this Youtube vision that first captured the notice of Beau from The Penguin radio station, while he was checking some material on JJ Grey’s web-site for an upcoming concert.
“The wonders of Youtube have opened up the doors for much success for a lot of people around the world. So I watched this video of Almira Fawn playing the song of one of her inspirations, JJ Grey. She performs the song ‘Appalachia’ which Grey wrote which Almira kind of re-worded and re-wrote.
“After I saw that video, I watched many, many more videos of hers on Youtube and was so impressed.
Beau wrote to the poster of the videos (Almira’s parents) and long story short, Almira played at that concert.
“That’s where I stepped in and got to know her. And have been all the better for it.”
“Woodsongs was the biggest experience I’d had at that time. You just look out into the crowd and go, ‘Whoa!’. I was freaking out and then about five minutes into it, I thought, ‘’This is really fun!’”
Did it enter her mind while on stage (age 11, remember) that there was a world-wide audience tuning in at some stage?
“No, it didn’t really cross my mind right then, but then afterwards when I saw it on TV and everything, I thought, ‘You know there’s actually a million people listening to me right now. Wow!’.”
And the rest.
As much as Almira has drawn inspiration from others, she’s now inspiring others herself, even if she’s not aware it. Being so busy with music, school and soccer, her mother Umi handles much of her correspondence for her.
“Almira,” Beau interjects down the line from Wilmington, “you probably don’t know this, and you may not monitor all the emails, but I’ve been speaking with your mum and there is a kid who has been very inspired by you and has taken up the guitar to learn.”
Almira: “Oh, really? Cool!”
Beau: “One person, and that could blossom into many more from here.”
Did I mention that Almira has an album? ‘Chillax’, featuring seven originals, one cover and one cover/re-write (Appalachia).
I’ll not steal the thunder of others who may want to review the actual album other than to say Almira has a very mature voice on very small shoulders.
And even before putting the record on, the simple, elegant artwork had told so much that words could not hope to convey.
The front cover shows a pensive, introspective artist.
The back picture shows a joyous, uninhibited 11 year old leaping in the air.
The inside cover shows a mix of staged and performance shots, but two really stand out and depict the maturity and level-headedness I’ve come to infer from my many interactions with Almira.
One shows Almira at a younger age, kissing a frog.
Another shows Almira in full soccer gear, sliding in to kick the ball into the net.
‘Balance’ and ‘well-rounded’ are terms that spring to mind.
“The album was new and exciting and fun to me. Just because I get to lay down those special thoughts on it.
“And it was a whole lot of work too.
“It was done in a home studio. We had the whole band: The drummer was in the living room. I was in the owner of the studio’s son’s bedroom! And he was in the actual recording studio. So we were all placed in different rooms.
“There wasn’t any fancy glass or anything,”
The album is available through Almira’s web-site: www.almirafawn.com
Whereon you will find this intro: “On any given day, Almira Fawn can be found going to school, taking care of her pet animals, eating her favourite chocolate or playing soccer. Almira loves to catch and study wild animals and is a certified scuba diver.”
Almira is also known to do the odd spot of motivational speaking. Sans the extreme shyness which now appears to be very much a thing of the past.
Guitar teacher David McLean (who will be the subject of an ‘Older Kids in Blues’ article elsewhere) has the words on this: ‘If there’s anything you think you can’t do, or something you want to but can’t, then Almira’s your go-to person. She’s stubborn and competitive (in a good way) and will not give up until she succeeds.’
There are six billion stories of individual brilliance out there. This has been one of them.
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