Andrew Clermont is a hard man to miss or lose in a crowd. So when Bill Quinn was tip-toeing around the outskirts of the musos’ precincts at Woodford Folk Festival, it wasn’t hard to spot the towering fiddle-player from Tamworth.
Andrew, like many folkies, wears many hats (some of them at the same time) and at Woodford he’s virtually juggling them. His supper club has two showings at Bill’s Bar every day, and Totally Gourdgeous are launching their new live DVD. Also, in the background, Andrew’s Blu Guru fusion band has found a surprising niche.
Bill caught up with Andrew under slightly trying circumstances in the media centre, with a couple of locals providing some sound spill to give that really authentic festival feel.
(Luckily you can’t hear the sound of me throwing books of post-it notes at one individual as Andrew was talking about what he’s been up to.)
Text of the interview:
Bill Quinn: Like many folk artists, Andrew Clermont is a man who spreads himself not thinly; he spreads himself thickly. He’s a thick man. NO! He’s a tall man. He’s a very talented man. Hello, Andrew Clermont.
Andrew Clermont: Greetings, Bill.
BQ: Andrew has just finished an interview with a Japanese interviewer. You’ve been asked about 27 times about Celtic music; I don’t think we ever solved that, did we?
AC: Celtic music is, I think, fairly defined here in Australia. But I didn’t think it was Irish, I didn’t think it was Scottish; it’s a little in between it all. Maybe it’s got a certain umbrella that certain admin people would be defining it under. I steer clear of that sort of thing.
BQ: I think it’s a bit like the vexed issue – which I don’t touch with a ten foot barge pole – ‘What is folk?’ We’ll pick that up, put it outside the precinct, and move on.
First of all, Andrew, tell me about the Supper Club.
AC: Okay, well the Supper Club is now in its 17th year. The whole idea of the Supper Club, from my perspective, is to bring the youth and the wizened a bit closer together, to get people to think a bit more orchestratedly with their ideas.
And whether it’s a fun gathering that ends up with hip hop and stuff, or whether it ends up with just a whole string of fiddles playing together, harmonies bursting forth, whether it means someone’s studied together for hours and hours just trying to get the right combination of things.
Or someone writes 30 pages of amazing music like from The Crooked Fiddle Band – they did amazing stuff. I just said, Oh, write some stuff for us, and all of a sudden there’s 30 pages of amazing arrangements. And we did the whole thing in three sections during the week. So, that for me is the ideal of the Supper Club.
Up here it’s a little trickier because the noise level is much higher and you can’t get too intimate too often. Unless it’s by chance and suddenly, Whooo! What’s that? Oh, the drums have stopped. No! The bass solo.
BQ: Because where you are, it’s at Bill’s Bar, isn’t it? Which means you’ve got that sound spill from the ampitheatre.
AC: As well, yeah. But the whole festival has it. Generators and whatever else.
So most importantly, the Supper Club is a bridge between lots of different styles. It’s about self-expression. It’s funny; there are people who within that are very restrictive in how they view things and then I’m just trying to bend them.
But also, because you’re dealing with a lot of youth, and a lot of nerdy people in there as well, it’s also communications between musicians and between players as such, and realise where this person next to you is, maybe they’re not quite where you think they could or should be, but you were once there as well. And we helped you through, so it’s your turn.
BQ: Interesting. I see a lot of young – or ‘green’ – people. Do you see a role for people like you – seasoned professionals – to mentor and help [in such a structured or organised way]?
AC: Oh, totally. Totally.
You have to balance when’s the right time for mentioning those sorts of things. Particularly here at Woodford and those kinds of festivals, you can hear someone play and say, That’s great but if they just knew about this particular aspect, maybe that could open a couple of doors. So you get them in the Green Room or somewhere and you go, Hey, have a listen to this. And they go, Oh, really?
I remember one of my favourite people, Craig Fischer from Adelaide who makes pipes and all sorts of instruments. I played some stuff to him and he sad, “Oh Andrew, have you noticed this?” And he just changed the bowing slightly.
“Oh! What’s that? Do it again! You’re kidding. That’s it?”
And that one trick has been the bridge between what one might call classical or basic bowing to the lilting bowing of the folk music. It’s only a couple of tricks that make all the difference.
BQ: I’ll tell you where’s a great place for that – moving off Woodford just for a minute – is at Illawarra Folk Festival, under the grandstand there. I see a lot of people getting together there and having a lot of fun, but it’s also a place with a lot of learning going on.
Moving on. Just some times for people on site?
AC: Typically a 3pm start for about two hours, and 9pm for two hours. Sometimes 9.30pm. And we’ll be taking in New Year’s Eve, and we’ll be taking in the final outro as well.
It’s full of adventure. We try not to repeat much as well, so things might develop, but they’re typically not repeated.
BQ: That’s a fair old thing to do, twice a day for a six day festival.
AC: That’s four hours a day for six days, so that’s 24 hours of virtually unrepeated music. Certainly Totally Gourdgeous tends to do that too. We’ll be playing three or four times and we won’t be repeating anything.
BQ: Now that we’ve mentioned Totally Gourdgeous, you’ve got a DVD.
AC: A stunning DVD, four cameras, shot at ENREC Studios, Tamworth – so it’s in a sound studio, set up like a house concert so a big live audience in there, very jovial.
And we just had a hoot. It was at the end of a tour, so we were hot to trot and we finally got Packrack down, which has to be seen. You can listen to it but it’s not the same.
.emas eht ton s’ti tub ti ot netsil nac ouY .nees eb ot sah hcihw ,nwod kcarkcaP tog yllanif ew dna tort ot toh erew ew os ,ruot a fo dne eht ta saw iT .tooh a dah tsuj ew dnA
And there’s one section where we sing the song backwards – literally sing backwards in three part harmony – and Mal plays the mbira backwards as well. And so to ram it home, I’ve actually dropped a drumstick so you can look at it and say, Wait a minute; the drumstick just went up! What’s going on there?
So we sing it backwards then I turn it round so you can hear it: proof that we did actually sing it completely backwards and here’s the proof. It was a bit of work!
But we have that in every language that we’ve visited.
BQ: So that’s out, and how can people get a copy of it?
BQ: And just to finish off: Blu Guru. What’s happening with Blue Guru?
AC: Yes, Blu Guru is a curious story. Google is our friend. A lady was getting married and she really loves Indian music. Her partner really loves bluegrass music. So they went, Google, Google: bluegrass and Indian music. What have you got?
Blu Guru, Melbourne.
We’d love it if you could play. So our next tour is based around that wedding. We’ve done about five tours now which had a wedding attached somehow, either within the band, with Josh and Parvyn themselves, or Brook Ishima [spelling?] who’s on the first recording – she does beautiful harmonies and a song on there: she got married at one point this year. My daughter got married on one of them.
Always the tours have led to some sort of marital bliss!
BQ: Which in this day with marriages breaking up, that’s a wonderful thing.
And if you’re out there looking for a bluegrass and Indian fusion for your wedding, get in touch with Blu Guru.
AC: Extremely good mixture of Bollywood and clogging.
BQ: If you want to know what that looks like…
AC: It’s on the web! Because there’s a few people we had the dance-off with at Tamworth at the Supper Club there, a couple of years ago that Ross Waldron filmed. So you will be able to find, if you look hard enough, the clogging and Bollywood dance-off.
BQ: From the very ambient and sound-spilly media centre at Woodford Folk Festival, thank you for your persistence and your patience, Andrew Clermont.
AC: No worries, thanks Bill.
Gig times for the Andrew Clermont Supper Club:
Daily at 3pm and 9.30pm
EXCEPT New Year’s Day at 10pm
Totally Gourdgeous and various members will be playing here, there and everywhere around the festival and details are on Mal Webb’s Totally Gourdgeous page.