Steve Tyson is doing what good indy musicians do: hitting the road to tour a new album.
‘Green Side Up’ is the new record, and from Byron Bay to Port Phillip Bay returning via Wagga Wagga, Canberra and Wongawilli Wongawilli Wongawilli (because he’s been everywhere, man) and Marrickville.
A lot of miles and a lot of different beds! And lots of new faces, new fans and the CD stocks starting to deplete as Steve Tyson and the band wend their back up past Taree, Forster, Tuncurry, and a thousand blanky roadworks.
The album has already had great reviews and you can see what all the fuss is about at Steve’s upcoming gigs.
On Remembrance Day 2014, a very tired Bill Quinn rang from the Kingsgrove RSL to speak with a slightly more chipper Steve Tyson, who was lounging around the Curly Flat Winery at Lancefield.
The sound quality is a little rough and red-dy. Which is appropriate, really.
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Bill Quinn: Steve Tyson comes from Byron Bay; somebody has to!
At the moment he’s down in Melbourne and making his way back towards New South Wales and ACT this weekend, and he’s going to be…
Well, let’s find out. Let’s day, g’day Steve Tyson.
Steve Tyson: Hey, Bill. How’re you going?
BQ: Very good. Steve, you have got a number of projects, as many musicians do. Tell me about the one that occupies most of your time at the moment.
ST: Sure. I’ve just released a new solo album a couple of months ago called Green Side Up, which is the follow up to Temple Dog from a few years back.
I’ve just been touring it for the last month or so, kicked off up my way around Byron and Brisbane. I’ve just come down, we did South Australia a couple of weeks ago and then went up north to the Tablelands [Folk] Festival outside of Cairns the week after that. And then came back down just this last week to kick off stuff in Victoria, so we just did Ballarat on Friday night and we’ve been here for a couple of days in Melbourne, doing a gig here on Wednesday.
But this is the Green Side Up tour with my band, The New Felons.
BQ: Tell me about that. [After playing with Rough Red for decades], somebody told me that putting out your first album is like these are the things that you really want to get off your chest, your lungs, your heart. Tell me about the process of the tricky second album.
ST: Yeah, for me it certainly flowed a lot better. For me, playing in bands and being a part of Rough Red with those guys for twenty years and with other projects, doing something on my own was fairly daunting to do it solo. I did that because the songs on the first record were of a very personal nature, songs about some family stuff and my travels and whatnot.
I think that was the most daunting thing, and having done that and getting a good reaction to it and touring it gave me a lot of heart for this new record, a lot of confidence. And the songs I had for this record have been building up over the last few years and back longer than that. So really for me, I was quite excited about getting back in the studio and doing the second one.
Also, I’ve got my own studio now where I live at Byron Bay in the hinterland there, so I was able to take my time with it and really focus on getting the best out of the songs. So it certainly was that second album thing. The first album was really critically acclaimed, as they say, but I didn’t really worry about that too much because I knew it’d give me the confidence as a writer and a singer with more heart and more vigour.
It was a great process, a really fun process.
BQ: You shouldn’t put your light under a bushell because calling a spade a spade, you’ve had a good critical reception to this new album already, haven’t you?
ST: Yeah, look it’s been great, Bill. It’s been amazing. We’ve had a couple of four star reviews in the national Weekend Australian and a review in Rhythms [magazine] last week and so the reception, the response to it has been fantastic. I couldn’t have asked for a better start. It’s been good and so far the shows have been great.
BQ: The sense that I get from those reviews is that we love things that resonate and you’ve got stories to tell that touch and echo, they resonate with people for different reasons. Everything from the club down the road to the Nepalese highlands. Have you found that going around?
ST: Yeah, I think that’s true. The storytelling is a really, really important. And even at the live shows, I spend a lot of time telling a story, where it comes from. And I love when people come up to me after a show and say, “I love the fact that you explain what the song’s about or where it came from”. It really connects with people, and that for me is as important a part of the show as playing the song.
I’m not sure if the band thinks that because they have to sit there and twiddle their thumbs through the story. And they’ve heard them so many times.
But I think because they come from so many places – this album’s got a bunch of songs that come from family history. Over the last few years, my mum and dad are quite old now. My dad actually passed away about a month ago. So in recent years, I’ve sat down with them and some of the stories that have been floating around their families in the background I’ve paid attention to and some of them are just extraordinary.
They turned into three or four songs on the record and they really resonated with people. And then in amongst that there’s some other stuff that’s come out of other travel stories and time on the road with Rough Red, things like that.
Those sort of things resonate with people when it comes from the heart, I think.
BQ: Steve, what you’ve just done is you’ve explained the folk process. About storytellers passing on oral traditions. I was going to get there, you just jumped in a little bit ahead [and saved us some time!]. You’ve got a genetic pathway to [storytelling]. Tell us about your father.
ST: Dad was Russ Tyson, pretty well known to a lot of people in Australia. He had a national program on the ABC from just after the [Second World] war til the late 60s for a couple of decades. He ran it from Brisbane, but it was a national program. He had a national hospital half hour he used to do as well. So he was pretty loved and revered. To this day, from what I’ve been told, he’s still the highest rating announcer in the history of the ABC. His program went all around the country and you know a little about radio ratings, Bill; his ratings in the day were higher than any other station combined, so it was pretty extraordinary.
He wrote about half a dozen books – philosopher’s books and that sort of stuff. He was the first face on TV in Queensland. He moved to commercial radio for a while and was on a couple of TV shows in Queensland. He retired quite a while ago. He was a much-loved character, and his books got re-released.
He just passed away at the age of 94 in September – September 11th, actually. He’s always had a big impact on my life, obviously as a father figure and also just as a storyteller as well. It was a very sad thing, but the legacy lives on.
BQ: I told someone just this morning or last night a line from a book by Salman Rushdie, a book called Shame. The line goes: “A father is a warning and a lure.” So some things you look at your father and think, ooh, I’m not going to do that, but they also drag you along with the things about them [that you’d want to emulate].
My father was a difficult man. He died eight years ago, and I so treasure the bits [where I’ve followed in his wake, inevitably].
ST: A great way of putting it and it’s so true.
BQ: Steve, let’s get back to the here and now.
You’re down in Melbourne; tell me, tell us, tell the world what’s happening starting off this Friday night.
ST: Yeah, sure. So we’ve got a gig in Melbourne tomorrow night, then we make our way north and we’re playing a show in Wagga Wagga on Tuesday night. And then on Friday we play the Merry Muse in Canberra, the well-established folk club there.
BQ: Yeah, just remind me where they are now. Are they out at the Burns Club still?
ST: No, they’re not. They had it there but they’re shifting it around a bit. It’s now at the Weston Raiders Club.
BQ: Oh, that’s a lovely little club; I’m a member there.
ST: Yeah, in Weston Creek. And then on Saturday night we head up to the Illawarra region and play the Illawarra Folk Club which this time is going to be held in the Wongawilli Hall.
BQ: It’s a beautiful place. Have you been there before?
ST: No, I’ve never been there before. I always wondered where that great band Wongawilli got their name from; that’s probably it.
David Hyams and The Miles To Go Band are also on the bill as well. They’re playing earlier then the dinner break then we play the night time show. Then on the Sunday we’re back to Sydney and we’re playing on Sunday night at a venue called The Newsagency on Enmore Road at Marrickville. Francesca Sidoti is our special guest there; she’s doing support, so we’re looking forward to that run of gigs, it should be great.
BQ: Just channelling Julie Andrews for a moment, what you’ve just explained from Thursday through to Sunday, Steve: these are a few of my favourite things!
ST: Yes, well Wednesday night is at a place called Clifton Hill Hotel which does regular shows; it’s a really good little venue.
And where we’re staying at the moment is at a winery at a place called Landsfield, which is north of Melbourne and some friends own it, and we did an impromptu gig here on Sunday night. It’s actually freezing here at the moment; the wind’s howling through and it’s amazing, coming from Byron.
But the band I’ve got which I should mention is definitely one of my favourite things. I’ve got John Barr from Rough Red, my old mate I’ve been playing with for forty years on bass. And Peter Harvey from Rough Red who plays accordion in Rough Red, but he’s playing keys in this band, so he’s on piano. And a drummer called Andy Kirkaldy; Andy’s from Sydney and I played with him many years ago.
It’s great, we’re on fire; it’s really working well. So Clifton Hill on Wednesday, the Birdhouse Bar in Wagga Wagga on Thursday night, the Merry Muse at Weston Raiders on Friday night, Illawarra Folk Club at Wongawilli Hall in Dapto on Saturday night, and The Newsagency at Marrickville in Sydney on Sunday night.
BQ: Five days of gold. When you need a tour manager, you know who to call, yeah?!
ST: Mate, I could certainly use one of those. It’s still a cottage industry these days; you do all the stuff yourself and I quite like it, I like talking to the people and venues and whatnot, but sometimes you think, “Now, did I do that? Did I make that phone call, book that?” Sometimes it’d be nice to wake up and have the tour manager slip the thing under the door and say, Be here by ten o’clock.
BQ: I’ve got a theory on this, Steve. The dirty little secret about music is that musicians want to music. They don’t want to be travel agents, admin officers, tax agents, all of that.
Steve, we could do this all day, but for now, thank you so much for sharing your time with us today. Have a great week and I’ll see you when I’m looking at ya.
ST: Yeah, terrific, Bill. That’d be great, mate. Look forward to catching up, we’ll have a beer for sure.
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Gig dates for Steve Tyson and band:
Wednesday 12 Nov 2014: Clifton Hill Hotel, Melbourne
Thursday 13 Nov 2014: Birdhouse Bar, Wagga Wagga
Friday 14 Nov 2014: Merry Muse, The Weston (Raiders) Club, Weston Creek
Saturday 15 November 2014: Illawarra Folk Club, Wongawilli Community Hall
Sunday 16 November 2014: The Newsagency, Marrickville