One of the joys of landing in a new locality is the gradual discovery of new venues, local watering holes, gigs, and music sessions.
After a self-imposed hermitical existence in Brisbane for three and a half months at the start of 2022, I jumped in to south west Australia with both boots upon arrival in April, and have since been to stacks of lively places for all manner of events.
It helps to be filling in as co-host of ‘Folking Around’ on 107.9FM Radio Fremantle on Mondays from 9-11pm AWST – go to www.radiofremantle.com.au to listen live or on-demand to months of previous shows. (Spot the subtle plug? No? Good.)
Host Frank Hodges starts every show with an extensive run-down on gigs in the Greater Perth and Fremantle areas, and it’s been great to zip out and experience some of these first-hand.
On a chilly July Sunday afternoon, I set off to the Inglewood Bowling Club in Mount Lawley. For the sensible, it’s a drive to the back of Inglewood Oval and a park right outside the venue on Stancliffe Street. For me, it was a bus to Fremantle, train to Perth Station, then a very pleasant hour’s walk north in pale, wintry, late afternoon sunshine.
This article also appeared in an edited format in the October 2021 edition no. 144 of Trad & Now magazine – available in good newsagents and some sketchy ones too. Or by subscription at www.tradandnow.com.
This article was principally written on the lands of the Central Arrernte people in Mparntwe (Alice Springs). I’m creating this online version on the lands of Western Arrernte people and doing the most recent of many edits in Walyalup (Fremantle) on the lands of the Whadjuk people. I pay respect to the traditional custodians of these lands: past, present, emerging, and those to come. The author of this rambling tome was born on Ngunnawal land.
Endless Sky – A Personal, Musical Love Letter to Mparntwe
by Bill Quinn
Darwin Festival 2021 went ahead from Thursday 4 to Sunday 22 August 2021, and as the song says, it was against all odds.
Well, not all odds, but many.
In these pages [of Trad & Now magazine] we’ve discussed the challenges (and strangely the opportunities) that Covid19 or corona virus or SARS2 has presented to the worlds of music, arts, entertainment, and hospitality.
For now, I have to tip all of my hats in the direction of Harbour View Plaza in McMinn Street, Darwin and say the sincerest and deepest of thanks to everyone at Darwin Festival who made DF21 happen. That it happened at all is remarkable. That it blossomed forth in such sparkling, memorable fashion is an incredible accomplishment.
If you were attending the festival from out of town, or were new to the festival, it may have appeared a seamlessly professional and comprehensive series of so many events covering all the aspects of the yarts imaginable. Apart from three days off for Darwin’s Lockdown Light III (17-19 August 2021), the show went on, and every spot on the program that I can recall was filled with sparkling talent.
Yeah, sadly many southern artists could not make it to the Top End to join in the joy and fun. That was a shame.
Festival CEO James Gough and Artistic Director Felix Preval, and the scores of production, box office, talent-wrangling, stallholder-herding, sales, corporate liaison, sponsor-schmoozers, and volunteer coordinator Mathilde Mercadier – all of them ducked, weaved, bobbed, re-organised, rescheduled, reordered, and (strike me down, I’m going to use the P word) yes, they pivoted. (There goes a dollar in the buzzword jar.)
Together they created an amazing event, a jewel in a groaning, heaving, bloated, glorious calendar of Darwin and Top End events.
Overheard On The Road Observations, interviews, and stories from the backroads, main roads, and city streets of Terra Australis and the world – This article appeared in Trad & Now magazine in early 2021.
Barry Skipsey – Photographer, Singer-songwriter, Northern Territorian by Bill Quinn with Madison Collier
You can read all about it in Trad & Now edition 143, September 2021. Mentioned in dispatches is Barry Skipsey, a man of many talents, with a story to tell that’s in many ways a common tale: come to Australia’s Northern Territory for a few weeks; stay for decades.
But in the most important way, it’s unique to Barry Skipsey.
A man who just yesterday (as I type in late 2021) appeared on stage in Alice Springs with no less than Scotty Balfour, Ross Muir, and David Evans in the ‘Living Histories’ show: stories and songs from the legendary band Bloodwood, plus their solo adventures outside the band.
On a Sunday afternoon in June, The Shavings had finished their singing workshop and the afternoon concert was kicking in, we had a chat with Barry, dressed in his territory rig and leaning against his territory rig. (First rig is a clothes reference, the second is a mighty automobile that ploughs the Stuart Highway and beyond).
Bill Quinn: Barry, you’ve been doing folk for about 145 years?
Barry Skipsey: (Laughs) Seems like it. I’m only 64 but yeah, we’ve all got aches and pains. I’ve got a couple of brand new knees in recent years.
BQ: But you’re not originally from the Northern Territory?
BS: No, I was actually born on King Island. I’m a Tasmanian, technically.
I left there when I was about six years old. My father was over there building soldier settler homes. My brother and I were born there, and I left there when I was six. And I often say that we came to Australia. We came to Melbourne.
Folk On The Road – Fieldsy: A Divine Slice Of Dublin Via WA
This article also appeared in Trad & Now magazine in July 2022.
Back at last behind a typewriter (for Trad & Now) after a break of about six months.
Those months have gone by in something of a blur. Mparntwe, Brisbane, and Perth are all now in the rear view mirror. Darwin seems like a lifetime ago. (It’s been nine months in earth years).
Crash-landed in Fremantle in late May and looking to drop an anchor here for a while, it occurred to me I’d gone the year without any live original music gigs in the calendar. (With the exception of Bushtime at Woodfordia on New Year’s Day.)
Soon after making that realisation, social media chimed in with an alert to say that perennial favourite Daniel Champagne was appearing at Freo.Social in a few days’ time. One quick online transaction and some changed social plans later, and come the first Friday in June, I was plonked in the band room at this wonderful WA venue.
Just before the gig, I noticed the support act was ‘Fieldsy’, and with no other information to go on, I pictured a bald bloke in a blue singlet with three chords, six teeth, and the truth.
The reality was something (and someone) quite different.
Fieldsy comes from Dublin, from a large, rowdy family. A Catholic schoolgirl who went on to become a singer-songwriter recording artist in several guises. Then in the early 2010s when the Celtic Tiger had roared, reared up, and been well and truly tamed, Fieldsy and family decamped to Australia in search of better economic fortunes.
Cut forward to 2022, with even more musical incarnations under her belt, Fieldsy is making a return to performing after a few months off with vocal maladies and a dose of the dreaded corona plague.
But much as I didn’t know Dave Crowe Music either (also performing in the same concert that night as Resin Moon), I’ve probably heard Xavia’s music before but didn’t know it. Various gods (especially sun gods) thank the moguls of film, TV, and other media that love to pay phat or medium stacks to independent artists to licence their art.
(Not every Australian would know the band Flight Facilities, but I’d wager that about 80% of Terra Australians could instantly recognise one of their songs.)
Ok, muggles. Strap yourselves in, and be prepared to slap your Mparntwe mates with a bunch of lightly-dampened celery and bellow, ‘Why did you not tell me this was happening in August? What am I to you? Chopped liver? A block of flats? A ham sandwich? Why don’t you love me anymore?’
Ok, admittedly that’s at the top of the dial for intensity of response. Let’s move on, shall we?
We shall. Click here, and don’t thank me later. Thank THEM!
Back to Xavia. This is her song ‘Horizons’ – the original version.
Through the wonders of technology, you can experience many different versions of ‘Horizons’ with just a few clicks of a keyboard, or twitches of your thumbs on your preferred device.
I inwite you to do just that. Then if so motivated, go to http://www.xaviamusic.com/ as I did and hoover up her music for less than you’d spend on a great meal and a craft beer at Monte’s Lounge in Todd Street, Alice Springs. My personal recommendations: Chicken Mesquite, a Dawn Patrol, and Xavia’s current single Saule – and I’m still working on how I add the acute on the ‘e’ on this laptop that doesn’t have a numbers pad…
No, wait. I came up with a solution last week. It helps if you speak French, but that’s not a pre-requisite. Once more with feeling: Saulé. Formidable! Facile!! (French for ‘wonderful’ and ‘simple’.)
^^^^ My Favourite Song and Record of 2021.
My opus ex animo article in the October 2021 edition no. 144 of Trad And Now magazine is called ‘Endless Sky – A Personal, Musical Love Letter to Mparntwe. It’s ok as articles go, but the online version is more polished, eye-wateringly longer, and contains embedded photos, videos, and links. I mean, it will do when I finish playing with it in draft. Two weeks and one day now.
It’s coming like Christmas, but hopefully before. 😉
Bill ‘Quinny’ Quinn Mparntwe/Alice Springs Central Arrente NT Australie
As with all my articles, it’s a living, breathing, evolving, ever-changing beastie, and I’ll tinker and tweak it for days to years to decades to come. If a link is busted, or some detail is wrong or could be improved on, please post a comment or get in touch via the Contact page. BQ.
Bill Quinn: Is there a spokesperson for the group?
Huss: 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 O’Shannessy [check] 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 at The Chifley); we went in there once and just sang to the crowd. Didn’t ask the management, just sang.
Angus: 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 direct these blokes. Des and I were the bassies. We were at Monte’s one night and they had a performance coming up in a few months, and if I wanted to joing, I had to join now. So I came in about half-way through the preparation for the upcoming gig.
So that was in about 2012.
Angus: 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.
Angus: 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.
Angus: 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?
Adam: 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.
Angus: 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?
Angus: 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…
Shilts: 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?
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.
This article also appeared in Trad & Nowmagazine 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.
The Foodbank Hunger Report makes for sobering reading as we tuck into our smashed avo breakfast and second chai latte, or rip into a chicken parmigiana and included pint of tap beer. That bar bill you’re stumping up for could put food into the mouths of many starving Australians who might not have the luxury of three square meals a day.
If you’ll crave an indulgence, the author spent several years in the mid 2010s when $10 could and did provide enough groceries to keep going for three days. Necessity is the mother of invention, and you might be amazed at the creative ways some people are forced to employ just to provide themselves with the most essential sustenance to keep alive.
“Foodbank is Australia’s largest food relief organisation, operating on a scale that makes it crucial to the work of the front line charities who are feeding vulnerable Australians. Foodbank provides more than 70% of the food rescued for food relief organisations nation-wide.” – What We Do, Foodbank website, https://www.foodbank.org.au/hunger-in-australia/what-we-do/
In late June 2020, I met with Peter Pilt at the Berrimah warehouse of Foodbank NT to find out more about their operations with special interest in their work during the pandemic of Covid19. No further preamble is necessary. Peter is one of the most eloquent, passionate, and driven individuals I’ve had the pleasure to interview, and the audio needed no editing:
Bill Q: Good morning from beautiful Berrimah in the Northern Territory.
Now, for anybody who might be listening in around the country, it’s the start of winter in Australia, and I’ve got to tell you it’s currently 29 degrees and feels like 31 degrees. So if you’re suffering in the cold, hunched around the fire, so sad for you.
But anyway that’s enough of that. I’m speaking with Peter Pilt, and Peter runs the Foodbank NT out here at Berrimah.
Peter Pilt: Hey, how’re you doing? And hi to everyone listening.
In late June 2020, Jeremiah Johnson and I tried to do what I term a ‘guerrilla interview’: an off-the-cuff chat, no interminable plans to talk at some point in the future which may get moved up to 36 times, just a wham-bam, thank you, man for the good talk.
We got snookered twice. The first time by a dodgy connection from Coconut Grove, NT (me) and somewhere near Mareeba, Qld (Jeremiah), and we gave up after two or three minutes.
The second time worked a charm a few days later, this time from Bellamack, NT (me) and Cairns, Qld (Jeremiah). Most of that went out as a live Facebook video which you can view now at www.facebook.com/OverheardProductions, but you’ll have to scroll down or use the search function, or just click on the hyperlink earlier on this sentence. I’m all over WordPress like a cheap suit. Not so much.
The process of getting the interview onto the website – www.OverheardProductions.com – took a little longer. Let’s just leave the ‘guerrilla’ title for Facebook and call this version: Jeremiah Johnson Talks About Indie Music In The Time Of Pandemic. Fun Fact: I just went to Facebook to check the actual broadcast date, and Facebook helpfully reports it was: ‘About two weeks ago’. Great.
Bill Quinn: It is Wednesday the 20-somethingth of June. It doesn’t really matter that much since it will be in the text.
I’m speaking with Jeremiah Johnson in Cairns. G’day Jeremiah.
Jeremiah Johnson: G’day Bill, how’re you going?
BQ: Very good. Now despite pandemic, you’ve been a fairly busy boy lately. Tell us about that.
JJ: Well, I’ve just been consolidating probably about 40 songs in the music catalogue, trying to navigate the rest of the year as far as bookings go, and I have just taken a booking for my first live show in Cairns on the 24th of July, so that’s very exciting.
BQ: That is exciting.
Up here in Darwin, we’re a little bit spoilt because gigs have been back on for a little while. We try not to chuck it in other people’s faces. But what’s it been like there in Cairns? How have people been feeling about not having live gigs, both as performers and also the punters?
JJ: I can only speak from my point of view and that is that it’s been a really weird feeling to not be able to pursue your work and to not play music in front of people.
I mean, that’s what we like to do the most, so as far as the rest of the community is concerned, I’m not sure but I know that people love live music, they love getting out with their friends, and I’m sure that would be difficult, yeah.