This article also appeared in Trad & Now magazine in mid 2021.
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.
Bill Quinn: Daniel, as a temporary resident I can say: Welcome to Darwin!
Daniel Champagne: Thank you. It’s good to be here.
BQ: Not your first time in Darwin. How was it, and how did it compare with other visits to Darwin?
DC: It was great. It was my third time coming here, my first time driving. So that was a whole new experience, coming all the way from the south coast of New South Wales up through Alice Springs. Seeing the country change, feeling the air get wetter and hotter.
It’s great to be here; the shows were really good. All you can really ask for is for a few more people to turn up and listen every time, and that’s what’s happened.
The first time I came here, there was probably 30 people in the crowd, last time there was 100, and this time there was two sold-out nights which was unbelievable.
BQ: So you did two sold-out nights in Darwin – 450 people. And you had three gigs in Alice Springs. How does that go with the economics of coming so far for doing five shows?
DC: When they sell out, it goes very well!
It does make it feel worthwhile; it would suck to drive all the way for 30 people again. Pretty thankful that it worked out.
BQ: So we can expect you back in the Northern Territory at some stage.
DC: Absolutely. We were just talking today about it. Every morning after the show, I talk to my agent about the plan for the next time coming back to a town: timeframe and venue-wise, and we talked about that today. Maybe February next year might be the one.
BQ: So you’ve got a bit of a ground-swell of support here; there’s a lot of people following your music now. You do a fair bit of work in your social media to cultivate your following, don’t you? Is that something you do off your own bat?
DC: It’s just something that I do because it seemed to be the only thing that really worked well.
And so once I really saw that it was working and that people were coming because of it – and connected to the music and then following me from then on – it just seemed like the commonsense thing to do. When I started touring, people were still doing things like paying $500 to get a picture in the street press or the local paper, and things like that, and you never really knew if it was working or not.
So I think the social media thing seems to be a great way to connect with people. And once you connect with them, they’re kind of following you year round, and therefore they’re seeing where you’re touring and when you’re coming back, and looking forward to that as well.
It’s kind of a cool thing for an independent artist.
BQ: Last year, we had a real explosion of artists putting themselves out there on live streaming sessions. I only realised this afternoon: you’re still doing yours and you’re up to [almost] 250?
DC: Yeah, 250 is the next one, so I’ve got to decide when to do it. It was good fun for me because it was a weird period: from touring for 12 years to coming off and having no shows – it was quite strange for me.
Just mentally, it was quite good to have something to do every day, to use the voice again and play some songs, to connect with the people who are following me from all around the world.
I had no idea it would be that long and I just figured I’d keep doing it, and will keep doing it probably sporadically from now on now that the touring’s back a little bit.
BQ: Did you find that you were tapping into a lot of new followers who were hungry for seeing something different because they’re maybe in lockdown, looking for something new to see?
DC: Yeah, I’m not sure if there were that many new people discovering through it, but I think it was definitely strengthening the fan base, and people appreciating it. Particularly people overseas who were in pretty harsh lockdowns, and probably won’t get a lot of live music for a while still.
And it was kind of a cool little community too where I could see a lot of similar names pop up every day, and kind of feel like you get to know them a bit. And even they’d have conversations between each other in the comments section so they got to know each other a bit.
It was a cool thing.
BQ: We’d better mention the ‘C’ word: corona virus has really changed the landscape for musicians. We’re here in January 2021, and you talked a bit on stage the other night about the decisions you had to face last year. Contrast for me if you can: January 2021 versus January 2020, and what followed on.
DC: Very different to this time last year.
I was touring in America, and it was probably mid-tour – I think I saw a post from today that it was mid-tour – and that was my first one over there that was selling out every night. And that had been five years in the making and it was a very good feeling.
Towards the end of that tour, was when more corona virus information was coming in and the States started to get a bit crazy. So I finished that tour and went to Hawaii for a while and back to Australia.
I certainly had no idea – noone had any idea – and couldn’t predict that. I feel like now I’m feeling very positive. Obviously, I won’t be able to go overseas for quite a while, but I feel like in Australia we’re very lucky, and as long as we’re cautious, this year can be a good year for music.
BQ: Are you in touch with people, say, back in Tennessee and that area, and how your contemporaries are dealing with it? Are they getting out and is there any music to get out and do?
DC: I think it’s pretty tough. The weird thing for me from being here in Australia, the strange thing is that their restrictions at the moment are about the same as ours in New South Wales. Which is crazy because they’ve got rampant cases [of corona virus].
So weirdly enough, some of them are playing shows. Whether they should be is another question.
But yeah, they’re doing it tough. Not just with corona virus but the whole political situation and everything else going on in the US. I’m certainly feeling for them, and feeling thankful for not being there at the moment.
BQ: So you did the shows up in Alice Springs and Darwin. Actually, while we’re on the subject, I should ask about your support act. Crystal Robins – you knew her before you came here, did you?
DC: I didn’t know her, no. She reached out a few weeks ago, and my friend Danny [Christie] who’s a sound guy I know through different artists, he produced a song for her recently called ‘Wildfire’. And I saw that – Danny sent it to me a few days earlier and we were listening to it in the car on the way out of Adelaide.
And then she reached out and said, do you want me to play some tunes and so I thought that would be a great fit. And I think it was.
BQ: Fantastic. And where to next on this trip?
DC: Back south. So, Litchfield tomorrow and then gunning it to Uluru because we didn’t get to visit on the way up. And then down to Port Lincoln is the next show, South Australia. And then two nights in Adelaide, Victor Harbor, and Aldinga. And then across to Victoria for lots of shows.
BQ: And you say you had to bump a lot of gigs, reschedule a lot of times, because of different situations in different places.
DC: I think most gigs have been postponed now three times. Even the other week, we had to postpone the Wollongong, Blue Mountains, and Sydney gigs because of the recent [corona virus transmissions]. But again, you’ve got to look at the rest of the world and think we’re pretty lucky to do anything. So postponing a gig is not really a big deal.
Eventually, as we saw last night, we get around to playing it, and ticking it off. To be able to move around the country playing music is a pretty cool thing.
BQ: Fair enough. Well, I’d like to say I look forward to seeing you back here, but who knows where I’ll be next time I run into you. Maybe see you in Perth, Adelaide, or wherever.
DC: I’ll see you somewhere!
BQ: Best of luck for the future, Daniel. I’ll see you down the road(s).
DC: Thank you as always, Bill.
You can follow Daniel Champagne’s gigs and live streams on his website and social media links: