A Punter’s Perspective
Random observations on the wide, weird world of folk from the side of the stage
#32 Take one large shed, add art and music. Mix and serve.
First published in Trad and Now magazine, February 2012
At a time when venues are closing and festivals are either taking years off or simply disappearing off the calendar, it’s heartening to hear when a café/restaurant throws open its doors to live, original music or another venue opens.
A relative newcomer to the Canberra/Queanbeyan melange of venues is The Artists’ Shed, a large ramshackle and rustic barn of a place plonked in the middle of an industrial estate on the eastern side of Queanbeyan (or Quangers as it’s affectionately known in some circles).
It’s not exactly where you’d expect to find a home for music and the arts. Even the directions to get there raise an eyebrow or two: ‘Head up Yass Road, turn at Magnet Mart, go left, go right and look for the big shed with the Bogong moth on the side’.
Kicking off in April 2011, the Shed Sessions brought a trickle of local talent in which soon became a torrent and they’re pretty solidly booked into 2012. With the burgeoning numbers has come a rise in press coverage, and the profile of the artists performing, but always with a place for home-grown Queanbeyan and district talent.
Starting off on the ground floor with room enough for a few tables and an outside overflow, the Shed Sessions have moved to roomier surrounds up the rickety staircase (with its appealing chicken-wire balustrade) to the gallery space with room for 100 if you really needed to pack ‘em in, cheek by jowl.
Being a shed, there’s only so much you can do with climate control, so there has been the occasional chilly Sunday afternoon where places around the burning log fire are at a premium, and a few stifling days where similar positions are jostled for in the flight path of the fans.
And being a shed, there’s an air of rustic, laid-back Australian charm about the place, from the occasional roll of fencing wire strung from the rafters, or the fact that a resident cat might just wander through, brush your leg, and then plonk down in front of the stage to see what it makes of Liz Frencham’s lyrics, as was the case one afternoon this month.
(I think the feline preferred Liz’s originals, as it was nowhere to be seen during her version of ‘Lovecats’.)
So, what is this Shed Sessions, where did it come from, and how did it spring forth into being? Ros Hales (musician, council cultural person, founding Shed Sessions mother, and wearer of many hats) explains.
‘Dennis Mortimer, an artist who pretty much runs the Artists’ Shed, and I were hanging an exhibition at The Q [theatre], as part of my work as a cultural development officer for the council. And he was talking about how wonderful it would be to have some music happen up at the Shed.
‘And I thought, I could do that. I’ve got a lot of friends in the music business. So that’s pretty much how it came about.
‘I think when I did it I didn’t think too much about it, just that it would be great. It’s a beautiful venue, it’s a wonderful place. I could see the potential. But I really didn’t think past that. It was just a fun thing to do, and I hoped it would be great to support musicians as much as possible.
Like a lot of venues, it runs on the smell of an oily rag, without a lot of monetary assistance. So what sort of resources – not necessarily dollars – do they use?
‘Well, certainly not dollars. I do it all for nothing, as does Tim Keeble on the sound and Dennis donates us the venue. So the resources are our human resources. We have a whole lot of friends who help out from time to time.
‘We don’t have any paid advertising at all; it’s just media releases and little stories and snippets here and there. Word of mouth has been the most incredible thing.
‘And social media is amazing for broadcasting and promoting events anywhere.’
Dennis Mortimer explains more about the venue’s history and plans afoot for performing arts:
‘I moved in about nine years ago into what’s now the gallery and music area, and we [artist Margaret Hadfield and Dennis] joined forces and created what is now known as The Artists’ Shed.
‘It doesn’t make any money out of artists. It tries to get money for artists. Everyone here is a volunteer. And it facilitates the arts in all its guises: the visual arts, the theatre, the music. And stand-up comedy acts as well.
‘We’ve also had some talks with some independent theatre mobs who might be putting theatre on here soon. And also we’re having book launches and a CD launch here on 25 February.
‘We’re totally independent. We get no financial support from anywhere, which is a good and a bad thing because we have complete autonomy.
‘But at the same time we struggle to pay for things like rent. We do other jobs to pay the rent. We’ve got big expenses and no income. I make my income out of teaching (art lessons) and making stretch canvases for other artists.
‘We’ve had some international acts in the last few months. And Ros is on the ball there, trying to get more.
‘The place is a listening venue where people come in here for the art and the music. Whereas they go to other venues where the focus there is mostly selling alcohol.
People here donate a note, maybe five or ten or twenty dollars and it goes to the musicians. It’s the only way they get paid.
Dennis approached local community radio Artsound FM to see if there could be some symbiotic relationship of music, radio and a little council/sponsor support – and it worked.
‘The broadcast arrangement with Artsound FM is fantastic. It’s going to be a fabulous association. And that will be recorded live at the Shed once a fortnight on Artsound on the first and third Sundays of the month where in a 20 minute or half hour package there’ll be music recorded live here, and woven into that there’ll be features on happenings around Queanbeyan in a cultural sense.
‘And also, on the second and fourth Sundays of the month, we have the Shed Sessions from 2pm. Which is roots and blues music really. And jazz. We might look to push that even further and have some more alternative type music running through the place as well maybe once a month on a Friday night.’
Dennis sees the Artists’ Shed being an alternative to the Canberra pub scene which he believes is dominated by ‘the mediocre, the mundane and the monumental’.
And finally, a word from an artist. The Beez from Germany kicked off the radio partnership with Artsound FM in February and I asked singer and guitarist Rob Rayner what it was like as a musician to play in the Shed.
‘I LOVE this kind of gig. [The crowd] is so attentive. But they react, they respond and it’s great. And they listen to our lyrics. Who does that these days?
‘You can have 500 people and if they’re paying attention and they’re into it, it’s good. And I really love it if people are having a good time and dancing and making lots of noise.
‘But you do notice when there’s an interest and a respect and yeah, I like that.
‘I’m getting too old for the drunken RAAAR RAAAAR RAAAAR!’
So, that’s a thumbs up for the Shed?
‘Yeah, fantastic. I want to come back here; this is the perfect gig for us. Exactly the sort of thing we want to do more of.’
The Artists Shed: http://www.artistsshed.com
The Shed Sessions on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/artistsshedsessions