A Punter’s Perspective 20 — Gypsies (Raggle-taggle and others)

Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen
Image courtesy of Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen

A Punter’s Perspective

Random observations on the wide, weird world of folk from the side of the stage

#20 Gypsies (Raggle-taggle and others)
First published in Trad and Now magazine, April 2010

From flitting sporadically and erratically around the edges of the music scene, it’s possibly to form occasional observational and lightly-informed opinions.

I have hundreds. Many of them so self-evident they barely bear recounting.

One that seems worthy of at least a little light attention is the casual observation that gypsy music has been on the rise in recent years. There’s more on the radio, there’s more on festival programs and gig guides are swelling with their ranks.

Struggling to differentiate between Roma Music and Roma Street Station, I spoke to a number of exponents of the art-form.

My interest was piqued about a year ago when UK-bsed Paprika Reloaded (previously Paprika Balkanicus) came to Australia and whipped up a frenzy of punter acclaim wherever they went. I Canberra, just these five guys on stage, dressed conservatively in white shirts and black pants – no elaborate lighting or special effects – created pandemonium. There was dancing in the seats, dancing in the aisles, and every security’s detail’s nightmare, the crowd was invited up for dancing on the stage. Continue reading

A Punter’s Perspective 19 — Christmas Tidings

Anything is possible...
Anything is possible...

A Punter’s Perspective

Random observations on the wide, weird world of folk from the side of the stage

#19 Christmas Tidings
First published in Trad and Now magazine, December 2009

Greetings, salutations, merry whatever to you and yours and good luck to your family.

Typically a sign-off but I thought I’d get the nice stuff going first.

My thanks to all the great gypsy music artists (and faux gypsies) who have provided interviews and sound bites and input into what was to be a brief look at gypsy music in Australia and selected parts of the world.

Ah, plans and deadlines and dumb yet inconvenient luck. All my interviews are in myriad formats and various locations around Canberra and surrounding NSW and getting them together in time to be very late for a missed deadline.

Will get that going for February.

But for now, sitting in a superb little organic café in Nimmitabel, woofing down a superb big breakfast and washing down the first of a couple of long blacks, while the friendly, cheery staff play glorious Celtic music and helpfully ask if the music’s too loud and are helping out an indecisive customer: I’m just a wee bit contented and happy about my Monday morning at work on the road in the music industry. Continue reading

A Punter’s Perspective 18 — Tuross Music Festival 2009

Tuross Music Festival the first
Tuross Music Festival the first

A Punter’s Perspective

Random observations on the wide, weird world of folk from the side of the stage

#18 Tuross Music Festival 2009
First published in Trad and Now magazine, October 2009

While it’s been my pleasure over the years to attend the 20th of this festival, the 30th of that festival and the 40th of the other festival, it’s always nice to be there at the birth of one.

It was in these very pages of Trad and Now a few months ago that I read of a new festival cranking up in my second home, the quite stunning not-so-little hamlet of Tuross Head on the south coast of NSW. The festival had its inaugural outing on the second weekend in August, amid enjoyably warm and settled conditions.

Sandwiched between the jazzy township of Moruya and the blues stronghold of Narooma, it seemed a natural location to turn some new musical sods (er, no offence intended) with no particular labels or genres catered for specifically, save for an intentional focus on youth performances.

Festival director Ian Traynor has been very active in the Tuross Head community for many years, and also bobs up at many NSW folk festivals, most noticeably as a bush poet and MC. Ian laid the tools of his accountancy trade to one side for the weekend, which started as a birthday party on steroids and developed into a festival spread over multiple venues. Continue reading

A Punter’s Perspective 17 – Kids in Folk pt II: Almira Fawn (Kentucky, USA)

Almira Fawn
Almira Fawn

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.

Continue reading

A Punter’s Perspective 16 — The Beez: Portrait of a band at the end of a very long road

The Beez at the (Australian) National Multicultural Festival
The Beez at the (Australian) National Multicultural Festival, February 2009

A Punter’s Perspective

Random observations on the wide, weird world of folk from the side of the stage

#16 The Beez: Portrait of a band at the end of a very long road
First published in Trad and Now magazine, May 2009

‘Is there any point going on with this? I mean, should we just unplug and go acoustic?’

It was late December 2008, one of the first gigs for The Beez from Berlin at the start of an epic four-month tour. Fresh off the plane (and without their usual all-terrain sound man Georg for the first few gigs), things were not going well.

The speaker, Rob Rayner, originally from Sydney but a long-term resident of Berlin, was being polite and patient and professional, but the strain was beginning to show as Julischka’s acoustic bass seemed determined to stay unplugged. The audience was urged to move up front and cluster in the front rows.

Guitarist Peter D’Elia made some gag to help defuse the situation which got no response from the audience, except this from yours truly. ‘Try telling that joke again acoustically’.

‘Hey, I know you!’ D’Elia said, pointing into the second row.

And so was rekindled a friendship that left off in Cobargo in 2007.

This was the start point of the mammoth undertaking that saw The Beez travel to just about every point on the Australian compass, from Darwin to Hobart, from Byron Bay to Perth and many, many points in between. Continue reading

A Punter’s Perspective 15 — We Couldn’t Do It Without You: The Pros And Cons Of Volunteering

Volunteering
Volunteering

A Punter’s Perspective

Random observations on the wide, weird world of folk from the side of the stage

#15 We Couldn’t Do It Without You: The Pros And Cons Of Volunteering
First published in Trad and Now magazine, April 2009

Ok, this could get messy.

‘Messy’ is a service I do often provide.

And if the only ‘Messi’ you’re interested in plays for the Argentinean football team, it may be best to fast forward a couple of pages.

I’ve been thinking a lot about volunteerism lately. And in choosing to write on the topic, I realise this is not a new subject, and it’s been covered substantially. Including in the pages of Trad and Now magazine in the last 12 months or so by others.

But I’m choosing to delve and dive a little deeper, as the hypnotist said to the snorkeller. And look at motivations, experiences, and the treatment of volunteers.

It didn’t come out of the blue. It comes off the back of a couple of rather trying personal experiences.

And for that I apologise now for the use of personal pronouns. It’s something I (pardon me) usually shy away from, but it fits the subjective nature of the topic.

Volunteers come in all shapes and sizes, and in all levels of commitment, application and motivation.

Disclaimer: I am a volunteer. If you cut me in two, you’ll find a volunteer’s wristband and a couple of unused complimentary festival beer tickets. Always sad to find the latter.

There’s nothing necessarily noble or virtuous about being a volunteer. For serial helper-outerers, it’s just the way we’ve been hard-wired, often from an early age.

Volunteerism motivates us and drives us, sometimes in many worlds. For me it’s mostly (but not limited to) music, entertainment, and the arts.

I know there are hundreds of others who put in far more effort than what I get up to.

Continue reading

A Punter’s Perspective 14 — Countrified folk or folkified country? (Greg Champion)

Greg Champion
Greg Champion

A Punter’s Perspective

Random observations on the wide, weird world of folk from the side of the stage

#14 Countrified folk or folkified country? (Greg Champion)
First published in Trad and Now magazine, February 2009

When musical chat turns to genres, labels and identification, if someone poses the age old question, ‘Is it folk?’ or the broader chestnut, ‘What is folk?’ I suddenly hear my mother calling.

(For a woman with reduced lung capacity, she can make herself heard well enough from 300kms away when the need arises, God love her.)

They are worthy and valid questions of a kind, with multiple levels and directions of discourse, but to borrow a phrase another family member uses, if someone starts on these topics, I can just feel the backs of my eyes going dry.

It’s fair game (sometimes) if weighty matters are being discussed at a conference or workshop, but when someone decides to get all loquacious after 17 pints of the sponsor’s product at a festival, that indeed is time to throw them their guitar or bodhran or electric spoons and ask can they play that one about the boat/shearers’ strike/ode to Annie, Nancy or Gwinviere.

For all of that, there’s one related topic that I’m continuously interested in: folk versus country. Which is not some sort of fiddle and dobro slap-down in the cage with folding chairs at ten paces, but more of a mild interest on where the line is, or if it exists.

Are there points of intersection, cross-over (and pass your partner down the line) or even symbiosis?

I’m suspecting ‘yeah’ on all three.

But lord knows I’m a punter and do not presume to be capable of long treatises on-topic. Instead, I took the chance at last year’s Maldon Folk Festival to buttonhole a favourite performer, just one of many who move in both worlds of folk and country: Greg Champion, as he made his way through a lunch-time feed of Indian food outside the Guinness Tent. Continue reading

A Punter’s Perspective 13 — Mike and Thom Jackson

Mike and Tom Jackson
Mike and Tom Jackson

A Punter’s Perspective

Random observations on the wide, weird world of folk from the side of the stage

#13 Mike and Tom Jackson
First published in Trad and Now magazine, November 2008

This is the second in a (very) occasional series that’s taking a casual glance at what’s being done in the realm of folk for and by kids. Back in

T&N: Mike, what are you doing here?

Mike: 16 performances! Kids’ performers tend to be the work horses; we basically are often multi-talented and we have to be able to perform for adults and for kids. This festival fortunately I’m doing just kids’ performances so I’ve got time to concentrate down here.

It’s a wonderful life, it really is.

Why do we do what we do? I think initially it was a second string to be an adult performer: you were sent off down to the kids to make them happy for a while. In my case, it became a profession fairly early in the piece.

What am I trying to do for kids? Pass on some of the traditions that my grand-parents and parents passed on to me. It’s an ongoing thing; I’m basically entertaining but teaching as I go about the music and about the instruments that I play. Continue reading

A Punter’s Perspective 12 — Ladies and gentlemen, could you please welcome…

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

#12 Ladies and gentlemen, could you please welcome…
First published in Trad and Now magazine, August 2008

A former housemate of mine would often look askance at me whenever I mentioned the concept of masters of ceremonies (MCs) at folk festivals. More used to the rock, pop and dance festivals, to her the thought of having someone bob up between acts to announce and back-announce the talent was novel.

I offered the opinion that if you’re at a major rock festival, you’re probably not likely to need much more prompting about the next act further than someone off-stage mumbling, ‘Give it up for Crowded House!’ or ‘Let’s hear it, folks, for Silverchair!’

(It is of course at this point the writer pauses while certain readers look up and ask aloud: “Who or what is Silverchair?”)

Folk festivals are slightly different, bringing together as they do, a mix of soloists, duos, bands, choirs, and poets from the local region, interstate and abroad. While a program can give a sketchy outline, and while some artists may be extremely well-known, it’s not always the case that an audience fronts up to a performance where the artist truly does need no introduction.

Added to that, there is the festival goer who pays little or no heed to the program and just drifts around from venue to venue, taking pot luck or Russian Roulette on whatever they stumble upon. For them, it helps to have some idea of what’s going on, and maybe a little geographical and background information.

Continue reading

A Punter’s Perspective 11 — Kids in Folk I: The Bond Traps

BondTrapsA Punter’s Perspective 11
Random observations on the wide, weird world of folk from the side of the stage

Kids in Folk I: The Bond Traps

First published in Trad and Now magazine, June 2008

The folk scene seems to be largely switched on to the fact that engaging with kids and getting them involved early is important.

This is neither startling news, nor is it in any way new news. If anything it borders on the screamingly self-evident.

It’s worth dwelling on for a while, nonetheless.

Festivals have for years been at least incorporating youth elements into their programs, or holding self-contained and separate kids’ festivals, sometimes devoting a discrete area specifically for the kiddies. Woodford boasts a kids’ program that’s as extensive and packed as some whole festivals.

I’ll spare you, dear reader, from further personal insights and observations on topic. Much more illuminating (and hopefully, more interesting) are the experiences and motivations of younger performers and the adults who help nurture the burgeoning young talents. Continue reading