Liz Frencham talks about playing solo
and with Jimmy the Fish and Gregory Page
This is a slightly elongated and fuller version of the interview with Liz Frencham that first appeared in Timber and Steel on 28 September 2012.
Liz Frencham is one of the hardest working women in folk.
Liz’s collaborations, bands and projects are legendary. If you laid out her records end to end, including her solo, band, contribution and bit part playing thereon CDs… my, it would take a long time to pick them all up again.
Liz spent part of winter cocooned away in rural Victoria, but in recent times she’s been on the road with her bluegrass outfit Jimmy the Fish, and with the inspired pairing with Fred Smith as Frencham/Smith.
Sometime in the late 1980s, or so it seems, Liz had an interview with Bill Quinn which included one landline, one mobile phone as conduit, and another mobile phone as recording device. Liz was in picturesque southern Trentham, and Bill by the banks of the Moruya River on the beautiful Eurobodalla Nature Coast in rural, coastal New South Wales.
Playing solo is “different” and it requires different skills. Probably one thing it has in its favour at the moment is that it still completely terrifies me.
It’s not something that I’ve mastered. It’s exciting and I haven’t settled into a comfortable groove, which makes the possibilities seem more endless. I wouldn’t say it would be a preference, per se.
I am a bass player, and when you’re fitting into your role the most is when you’re accompanying somebody else.
Bill Quinn: Is there something about ownership, because when you’re up there on your own, playing your own stuff, the way you’ve arranged it — and sure you can throw some covers in there — but this is essentially mine? As opposed to doing lead vocals on a Fred Smith song that’s totally Liz Frencham in presentation, but someone else’s song?
LF: Yeah, see I really love doing my own versions of covers as well. But yes there is something about when I do choose to do my own stuff as well. Once again, with solo, there’s that sense of excitement that you have the entire responsibility for getting the message across.
BQ: How much of the solo stuff have you done to date?
LF: I’ve only ever done two whole shows. One was at The Artists’ Shed in Queanbeyan, and another one I did at Café Church Space. Even then I only did one whole set, and the next one I made sure I had friends I invited up from every song! So I kind of chickened out, you know?!
BQ: I heard someone once describe it that a solo player has “spaces”. Say, for instance, if you’ve got Nancy [Kerr] and James [Fagan] that when you’ve got the guitar playing, some of those “spaces” will be taken up with the fiddle. Do you ever feel like that when you’re playing on your own that there are some “spaces” there?
LF: Oh, definitely. You can imagine, you know, it can be that confronting to be playing guitar and singing. Think about a guitar, it’s at least a chordal instrument and you can strum it, and sure a singer-guitarist might miss having a soloist or a harmony voice. But imagine how obvious those spaces are when you’ve only got a single note instrument. Really, the most you can ever do is play two or three double stops to suggest chords and things.
But it can get very muddy when you try to play more than one string at once. It becomes very challenging to find ways to interpret the songs with a bass. On your own.
BQ: Tell us about Jimmy the Fish.
LF: Jimmy the Fish is one of those side projects I really delight in. We joke about the fact that we only get together once a year, but it’s going to turn out to be like three times a year this year, which is quite big for us.
Gee, this is getting serious!
You would have seen us out at the Cobargo Folk Festival earlier this year, possibly? And then we’ll be playing at Dorrigo Folk and Bluegrass Festival later this year, too. And that will be after a NSW/ACT tour plus a couple of gigs in Victoria on the way up as well (August/September).
We did our first show at my favourite place in the whole world — which everyone who comes to Victoria should go to — called the Radio Springs Hotel in Lyonville.
BQ: I can’t wait to go to this venue. I’ve seen so much stuff on line about it. It’s one of those places I’ve looked at and said, “Oh, man; I’ve gotta go!”
LF: Oh, you do. Everyone has to! I call it our local, but to give you an idea, there are two pubs closer to our house, and yet we choose to drive to Radio Springs because it’s such a great place. They’re open only four days a week, but they have music — six bands a week. So you can see the dedication they have to music.
BQ: And you’ve got something very exciting coming up later in 2012, haven’t you?
LF: The Gregory Page tour? Yeah, that’s going to be really awesome. He’s an incredible song-writer from the US of A, and he was this style that goes between folk and almost crooner-swing.
And that’s my two favourite genres. All you’d have to do is throw in a touch of bluegrass for me!
He’s come to Australia a couple of times before but this is a more extensive tour for him. For most of the tour I’ll be opening for him, doing a completely solo spot. This is my absolute first time doing the bigger venues completely solo.
And that’s where we leave this part of the interview, and if time and wellbeing and pigeons sitting on various towers of mobile phone companies allow, I’ll talk with Liz somewhere on the road and see how things are progressing on her solo opening tour with Gregory Page.
Thursday 4 October – Camelot Lounge, Sydney, NSW
Friday 5 October – Yours and Owls, Wollongong, NSW
Sunday 7 October – The Clarendon, Katoomba, NSW
Friday 12 October – Royal Exchange Hotel, Newcastle, NSW
Saturday 13 October – Humph Hall, Allambie Heights, NSW
Sunday 14 October – Folk in the Foothills Festival, Jamberoo, NSW
Thursday 18 October – The Joynt, Brisbane, QLD
Saturday 20 October – Bangalow Bowls Club, Bangalow, NSW
Sunday 21 October – Dingo Creek Jazz Festival, Sunshine Coast, QLD
Friday 26 to Sunday 28 October — Dorrigo Folk and Bluegrass Festival