The Shavings – Interview at the 2021 Top Half Folk Festival – A WORK IN PROGRESS – LOOK OUT FOR SAFETY NOTICES – MIND THE GAPS 😖

The Shavings, kicking back at their campsite after their singing workshop. Mary River Wilderness Retreat.

[Intro blah blah]

Bill Quinn: Is there a spokesperson for the group?

The Shavings: No, we’re a collective. We all speak together. [Sing] We speak with one voice, we are, you are, we are The Shavings.

[The next bit where the interviewer makes a horrendous and mostly unsuccessful joke by asking if The Shavings has a Nick has been deleted on the grounds of good taste.]

BQ: So, who can tell me the history of The Shavings?

Chris O’Loughlin: I joined The Shavings in, I think it was, 2012. Rod Moss and Des ? were the founders. Rod and I sang in the East Side Christmas Carolers in the noughties. And we used to go around East Side (Alice Springs) in the back of a ute, and we used to lob into random houses – without an invitation – and we just carol-bombed them.

And we actually went into the Barra On Todd (restaurant and bar); we went in there once and just sang to the crowd. Didn’t ask the management, just sang.

?: Until security came.

Anyway, Rod remembered me liking to sing in public, so he said, “Chris, there’s a group getting together. We’re getting together every Thursday night and you should come along.”

He did that for about two months before I finally thought, oh I better go.

And I was at Monte’s [Lounge] and Kate Young and Des – they’re a married couple. Kate was our director – she’s a musical genius – and she was able to lead these blokes. Des and I were the basses. We were at Monte’s one night and they were about to do a performance, and I came in about half-way through.

And they said, if you’re going to join, you’ve got to join this week. So that was in about 2012.

Huss (?): So she [Kate] took a bunch of rough stones and polished them until they were slightly less rough stones.

CO’L: She did.

BQ: I heard this afternoon that there’s also The Splinters. So, what came first? The Splinters or The Shavings?

CO’L: The Splinters came first. The Splinters are all female, and the guys (partners of The Splinters) thought if the are gonna sing, we should sing, so when the blokes came about, Kate called them The Shavings, and that’s how it happened. That was about 2012, so we’re nearly ten years.

BQ: From last night’s concert and the workshop this afternoon, I see you’ve got a fair old repertoire that crosses a lot of genres. What’s the process of working out what you’re going to sing?

Huss (?): Whoever’s got the strongest passion for a song that they think would be appropriate, and it’s incumbent on them if they want to nominate a song to back it up with some words and some direction. And then everyone comes in behind that.

??: So Kate used to do some arranging which she was very good at. But she had a full-time job, and she was doing [arrangements] for The Splinters as well, and she didn’t have a lot of time. So when we’d come up with a couple of ideas, she would always say, “Show me the dots”. Because at the stage, we always sang set parts – set harmony parts. If Kate had a passion for the song, she’d arrange it, but if she didn’t have time, so we’d have ideas and thye’d never go anywhere.

When Kate left, we had to fend for ourselves, so we’ve got a couple of people who’ve arranged songs or transcribed songs for us – within the group, and family and friends. Albert O’Loughlin.

CO’L: My son who’s studying music in Melbourne.We wanted to do ‘Full Force Gale’ but we didn’t have the dots and he transcribed it, and he wrote it all out.

??: It’s a shame because we can’t even read!

CO’L: We know if a dot goes up, our voice goes up. And if it goes down, it goes down.

BQ: That’s the way I do it too!

I heard you when you pulled up [to the campground] you said this is your first festival, so what other performing have you done before now?

??: Well, it’s not our first festival, but it’s our first time outside Alice Springs, I think. We did perform at the [Top Half Folk] Festival in Glen Helen which was two years ago, and there have been a few festivals in Alice we’ve been part of.

??: The Glen Helen one was a lot more homely. This one has got a lot more interstate people, and in some ways it’s upscaled and bigger and better. And we were pretty intimidated when we got here!

BQ: So Glen Helen is mostly Alice Springs people, is it?

??: No, there were people from Darwin and interstate, but not as big or as many as this. The standard here is way above what we thought we were at. When we heard the opening night, I thought, ‘Hmmm, okay. I don’t know how this is going to go”.

And then when we were singing on the deck after the concert, and it’s all these strong voices singing in harmony…

Angus?: But it went well. In terms of the performances and festivals, the very first performances were very community-based, and we used to have those Christmas shows, and we would combine with The Splinter Sisters. We’d get together and it was usually a gold coin donation which usually went to ALEC (Arid Lands Environment Centre) or some charity – and everyone would have to bring all the food.

Heaps of people would turn up. We had it in a house to start with, we had a few. Then we had one out at White Gums, one in the old court house. They were great, singing together with real community involvement; it wasn’t at all to make money. It was groups of friends and family coming and just sharing singing.

And it grew from that with people wanting to join or do bits and pieces. So we did the song festival (Desert Voices).

??: Started getting a few paid gigs, started getting really big heads. Then we listened to the recordings and the heads shrink back pretty quickly.

BQ: Going back to food, can somebody unpack the nexus between singing and cheese which I’ve just only learnt about [during the singing workshop].

Angus: When Kate left, we were in deep despair as a group because we really valued her, and she nurtured and sustained us with her ability. Then I think we basically took solace in cheese; we ate a lot of cheese.

And then gradually we emerged like a bloated, cheese-laden Phoenix from the ashes of our despair.

CO’L: I’ll have to write that one down.

When Kate and Des left for Tasmania, which was about 2017, I think, there was a real fear that we just wouldn’t survive without a musical director. But our love of getting together every week and singing survived and made us and find a way, and we didn’t want it to finish. So it survived.

??: So there’s kind of like friendship and fellowship and singing and music in kind of equal measure. So we’re all friends and get on well together, but we’re not all close friends outside of singing, but we help each other out if there’s something going on.

??: Like moving a bloody pool table?

??: There is another dimension that we’ve added at this trip, I think, and previously it’s been sharing cheese and an occasional glass of wine, but this is the first festival I think we’ve really had the chance to get pissed together.

??: And we’ve been on a road trip.

BQ: I can tell you firsthand, I saw this last night. It happened.

??: We do have two teetotallers in the group.

BQ: Otherwise known as designated drivers.

??: We embrace their choice.

??: Being part of the group for me has really helped with my journey to sobriety. Because when you watch these boys on a night like last night, it makes you glad you’re sober.

BQ: You said something this afternoon that I latched onto about harmony and confidence, and that confidence is a bit more important than getting the note right.

??: Yeah, I didn’t labour the point as much as I wanted to…

BQ: They [rest of the group] wouldn’t let you!

??: I really found my own ability improved just purely if I was confident. And singing together gives you that confidence, because you’re so supported in lyrics and supported in the notes and the music. I’m familiar with a lot of people who can sing and could sing so much better if they sang confidently and in a supportive environment.

My son is 12 years old and he won’t sing in front of me, but he’s pitch perfect.

BQ: You haven’t tried to drag him along to a singing session?

??: I’m really pleased that he’s joined the choir at his school, and that was a choice that he made himself. And he’s one of only two boys in a big group in a cross-gender school. So he has seen both his parents bloom through their choral experience, largely through singing with Asante Sana.

My ex-partner and I sang with trade union choirs when we first met in the noughties and then we would alternate our singing with Asante Sana, so one of us would sing and one of us would stay home and look after the children. And then that balance went a bit skew-whiff where I had a few years at home and my partner for the benefit of her mental health – which was in greater need – did more consecutive years.

So now that group is now 11 years in the making and are probably going to have their last sing together in September under the direction of an amazing man called Morris Stuart.

BQ: And after this festival, what’s next for The Shavings?

CO’L: I think the next big thing for us is the Desert Voices festival which is in September.

??: I’m part of a group that’s pushing to hire Witchetty’s [???] – an Alice Springs theatre venue – to do a cabaret show with The Splinters and maybe some other friends. We’ll probably have room for maybe 150 or so guests and have it as a fundraiser for a friend who’s in need of some funds through illness in the family. I think that’ll be quite a big show for us. That should be August, I reckon.

??: And we’re about to take on two new members as well. We’ve just taken on Tim and we’re about to take on Francois – I know that’s not his name, but he’s French!

??: The process of getting new members has been kind of interesting, hasn’t it?

BQ: That was my next question: are you open to – not putting my hand up here myself – open to new members?

??: No, we’ve got

Top Half Folk Festival Turns 50

Top Half Folk Festival celebrated its 50th in time-honoured tradition: with cake.

This article also appeared in Trad & Now magazine in August 2021.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and almost three hundred hearts were filled with music, song, poetry, and good cheer in June as the Top Half Folk Festival (THFF) returned – after a year on sick leave – to celebrate their milestone 50th annual event.

Covid19 had cancelled the festival in 2020, and conditions were still dicey in the lead-up (meaning some interstate visitors could not make the trek north). But it all kicked off in brilliant conditions and sublime surroundings at the Mary River Wilderness Retreat on the June long weekend.

While I’m not on commission for the venue, I highly recommend you add this little accommodation gem to your itinerary if you’re headed to the top end.

Situated just over 100kms east of Darwin along the Arnhem Highway, the cabins and sprawling campgrounds are tailor-made for a folk festival or a stopover. And the management have been generous and constant supporters of THFF since it moved to that locality in 2000.

Well, half of it moved there. Let’s go back a step.

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Daniel Champagne – Live In The Time Of Corona – Interview

Daniel Champagne playing at the Darwin Railway Club, Saturday 23 January 2021. Pic: Bill Quinn.

While the world is in various stages, tiers, and iterations of lockdown thanks to corona virus, Australia is one nation that’s managed to escape relatively lightly with restrictions.

That’s doubly or even more so for Darwin.

After what I’ve termed ‘Lockdown Lite’, hospitality venues were starting to open here again in May 2020, gigs were on again from June 2020, festivals with some restrictions were on in July 2020, and open air music festivals were live and kicking by the end of the year that dare not speak its name. (Even though I have. Others still call 2020 ‘Voldemort’.)

It’ll be a while yet before we see international touring acts flooding back to our shores, but nationally, musicians are starting to shake the mothballs and cobwebs off their touring paraphernalia, and live music is limping back to life.

A welcome returnee to the north, Daniel Champagne is a hometown boy from Brogo, New South Wales. Brogo for me was always a bit blink-and-miss-it on the map, and be careful to slow down quick because the highway takes a mighty dogleg off the end of the bridge, though Daniel is a font of information about this fascinating part of the far NSW coast. (That all came over a dinner of Darwin music-related people on a monsoonally wet top end night, and before the recorder went on. Ask him about it sometime.)

The last time I interviewed Daniel was in a radio studio roughly 4000kms away, and ten or so years and a half dozen lifetimes ago, so as the wet season rains poured down in Nightcliff NT, we sat at an outside table under the awning and got a more up to date state of play.

Daniel Champagne playing at the Darwin Railway Club, Saturday 23 January 2021. Pic: Bill Quinn.

Bill Quinn: Daniel, as a temporary resident I can say: Welcome to Darwin!

Daniel Champagne: Thank you. It’s good to be here.

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