Black is a Colour
As Jenny Spear and I sat down to have lunch and a chat about her new album (‘Black is a Colour’) at Digress Restaurant and Lounge in Canberra City, I proved once again that while I do like my humour and observations laced with irony and straight-facing, I can be just as thick and literal as they come.
‘You know, this album will work well across a couple of genres because there’s an old traditional folk song called, “Black is THE Colour”.
To her credit, Jenny was very polite as she shot me a look that registered the comment, but she let me come to my own learning as sometime later a question revealed, “Yeah, well, that’ll be Track Three then”.
Jenny had contacted me many months ago out of the blue, at a rather crazy time as I was bouncing around New South Wales and ACT, and we made vague plans to catch up somewhere sometime somehow.
Then one night as I stopped off at the monthly music blackboard at the Royal Hotel in Bungendore, Canberra singer-songwriter-author Chris Johnson announced Jenny Spear as the woman sitting next to him, pumping out a fair slab of Neil Young’s back catalogue with him.
In late August, Jenny and I finally caught up over some wonderful Indian pizza at Digress. We didn’t realise it at the time, but Jenny was to soon perform there as the Merry Muse club took an unusual and welcome diversion to another venue for one night.
(Digress, by the by, has become an important player in Canberra’s music scene for live, original music. More of that elsewhere, and thank me now for not saying, “But I digress”.)
Bill Quinn: You contacted me back before I knew who Jenny Spear is. Who is Jenny Spear?
Jenny Spear: Oh, wow! Talk about an open-ended question, Bill!
BQ: It’s a service I provide.
JS: I write songs, I perform songs, I play guitar, I play bass. I’ve just got an album out called, ‘Black is a Colour’ (launched in September at The Artists Shed).
BQ: Where are you from, what’s your background and what are some of the musical influences that first sparked your interest?
JS: I come from Canberra; I’m pretty much a Canberra girl. I grew up here. I was born in Melbourne so I’m a bit of a Mexican, but by default I’m Canberran.
I’ve been playing guitar for a long time. I’m one of those people who’s got a degree in music. I went through the Canberra School of Music and I studied with Tim Kain. At the same time, I was dangerously interested in several other types of music.
BQ: [Laughs] Talk me through ‘dangerously interested’!
JS: Well, while I was studying to be another John Williams, I was going off to watch The Saints and bands like them. I’ve always had very diverse musical interests.
BQ: So, the ship’s about to sail, we’re about to put you out on the desert island for the next six months. You can only take a few CDs — or records! — who do you take?
JS: Number one: Physical Graffiti by Led Zeppelin. Number two: anything by Paco Peña.
Ummmm, errrrrr. Probably some Nine Inch Nails, just to put it all into perspective.
And Christy Moore.
BQ: That tells me so much about you! The first two were just bang! bang! you didn’t have to think about it. Struggled for the third, and then when you went for the fourth, you’ve done a complete 180 from Nine Inch Nails and went for Christy Moore — that’s awesome!
So, the record. Black is a Colour. You’ve been performing around town for a while. Is the album a distillation of the performances or are they more, ‘These are the songs I’ve had burning inside my 11 year old songwriter?’
JS: It’s a bit of a combination of both. The album has got nine tracks on it and it covers a fairly wide spectrum of styles. There’s one in there that’s got industrial leanings, and that’s what I’d call a studio track. I’m working on translating that into a live performance environment and that’s going to take a little tweaking to do.
Then there’s some rock stuff I did in a previous iteration called ‘The Trophy Wives’, so I did a few tracks from those days. And I’ve also got a straight classical track on there as well which I play when I do my classical gigs.
I’ve done a cover of a Led Zeppelin song on there [‘The Rain Song’]. And I’ve also got a cover of an Irish tune. [That would be that ‘Black is THE Colour’ thing then.]
BQ: It’s a nice blend, and when you’re mixing it up on stage you just need to say about the studio track or tracks, “Well, you’ll just have to buy the album!”
And you can buy the album and listen to tracks at Jenny’s website and there are more chances to see Jenny play live coming up very soon:
Friday 5 October — The Royal Hotel, Bungendore, NSW
Saturday 13 October — Smith’s Alternative Bookstore, Canberra City, ACT
Sunday 21 October — Beyond Q Bookstore and Cafe, Curtin, ACT