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.
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.
While that’s bad news for anyone on site who missed his gigs, or for anyone who got along and just wants to see more, the good news for John is that he can now find a shady tree and try to keep cool for the rest of the festival.
“This weather is too hot for my blood!” he observed to the lunchtime crowd of Duck Eggs, as he referred to them, in a friendly way.
While pumping up the nachos at The Chef’s Table and their other gastronomical delights.
Bill Quinn was phonetically challenged….
I’m sorry, I’ll read that again.
Bill Quinn was challenged in terms of phone access which left John with some extra time to enjoy the shade of the Coopers Bar, but they eventually caught up for a chat:
*** Audio file will be deleted by end of March 2020 ***
*** Audio file will be deleted by end of March 2020 ***
Back in early February 2018, I interviewed Jenny Thomas from Melbourne-based folk band Bush Gothic, at a time when both of us were looking forward to attending the National Folk Festival in Canberra at Easter.
One of us got there. It wasn’t me.
It was to have been my first National since 2013, a year when I barely felt like I was there. Some nights I was tucked up in the tent by 10.30pm. It happens sometimes.
But of course, your worst day at a festival beats your best day doing many other things, so…
Events transpired that at the 2018 festival, instead of running around with various recording devices, filing copy for a small coterie of publications, I was roughly 400kms north on Lake Macquarie, providing various gardening and handyman services for a friend.
If you want to give your (or any) god a good laugh, make some plans!
Back to the subject at hand.
It’s been an absolute delight and pleasure to not only see Jenny Thomas and Jenny M. Thomas and Jenny Thomas and the System and the current incarnation of Bush Gothic perform, but also to interview Jenny several times, both here on the blog and also on radio in Canberra.
It’ll be great to see Bush Gothic perform again, down one of many dusty roads, but for now, here’s the interview we did in February. You’ll just have to put your headspace into some sort of cerebral TARDIS and pretend we are looking forward to another five or six days of magic at an upcoming National Folk Festival.
*** Sound file will be removed by the end of March 2020 ***
*** Sound file will be removed by the end of March 2020 ***
To tell the story of Harry Manx would take several lifetimes, and hopefully a progression of life-form hierarchies over those lives to tell the story, because the story is so mesmerising and complex that we would not be very present and in the moment of most of those lives, and that could put the telling of the tale at risk as we would not be making gradual and continuous improvement as…
Harry Manx has already begun his 2016 Australian tour which will take him from Sydney down to Victoria (where he is on stage tonight, Friday 23 September in Frankston) then around to Queensland, South Australia, Perth and up to Broome and Darwin, ending in the beautiful, lovely, gorgeous, I-may-be-a-little-hereditarily-biased New South Wales locales of Katoomba.
Ah, Katoomba. If there’s a more intimate, special venue than Clarendon Guest House, I want it stuffed, mounted, and hung above my fireplace – or I at least want an invite to your venue if it can go close to kicking the Clarendon into a cocked hat. Or any poultry millinery for that matter.
So it’s a very eclectic path Harry treads, and look, I’d draw you a picture if I had a free hand, but imagine a much-twisted paper clip that’s been sitting on your desk all day on a slow Friday when you’ve been watching the clock since 9:36am – now you’re in the ballpark.
OR picture a moose that somehow wandered into your yard, found your sippin’ liquor in the shed, and is now making a bedraggled, loquacious, and somewhat winding stagger back to the forest by a circuitous route, two-thirds of it sideways.
A shorter version of this article appeared on Timber and Steel on 14 September 2015. This article appeared in full in the September edition of Trad and Now magazine.
To tell the full tale of this article would be to sing you a mournful ballad of disappearing Facebook event shares and a 12 minute interview, ambitiously recorded on a Nokia dumb-phone so old it needs hand-cranking.
Suffice to say that the audio of that chat between the artist (in Katoomba, NSW) and the interviewer (in Nelson Bay, NSW) is available now on eBay on a listing called ‘Marcel Marceau’s Greatest Hits’.
Technology is a fickle mistress, sharing pain and pleasure in equal measure, and my thanks to Paddy Connor from Lime and Steel for his assistance and good humour.
Blue Mountains-based folk band Lime and Steel have hit the road, making sacrificial offerings to the gods of automobile reliability and ‘keepgoingability’ from Melbourne’s CBD up the east coast to Brisbane (with a stop-off in the nation’s capital).
Lime and Steel began as a rootsy folk duo of Paddy Connor and Ben Scott, but over the years their composition has changed, and indeed, their compositions have changed. Continue reading →
2014-15 is only my fourth trip to Woodfordia, so there are others who are 25 visits ahead of me.
The first three festivals I attended as a volunteer, and like my introduction into the world wide weird of folk merely two years previously, I could not have made a better choice than to join the ranks of vollys, as they/we are affectionately known.
I have very little if anything to compare with the frissons of excitement I had as a wide-eyed young 41 year old, reduced by an event to a gibbering little schoolboy.
(Except when on stage; always a professional behind the microphone, of course!)
I was in a trippy paradise of heaven. Everything was new, everything was bigger and more colourful, more musical, more stunning, than anything else I’d encountered in music and art to that date.
Sorry, Bayern State Opera, but Woodford takes the strudel!
(It even proved to be a sorting hat for me, because my partner at the time came with me (to her first Woodford). In stark contrast, she whinged and whined and moaned and griped and complained. It was too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry, too expensive, too cheap, too too too much. I put her at an arm’s distance, revelled in my then very patchy mobile phone reception, and on 31 December when she texted me to say she’d gone home to mother near Chermside, I punched the air, danced a jig, yodelled from the Hilltop, and dived right back into the festival. A week later we were over for good and she ended up marrying the sound guy. Good luck to them both!)
I left home several days before the festival started and made a savage hook turn trip from Canberra down to Bodalla then later from Moruya to north Brisbane in one Christmas Day non-stop haul. Google Maps informs me that’s about 1450kms on the black-top. Another 74kms to the front gate of Woodfordia, in near carpark conditions on the Bruce Highway.
Travel north from Brisbane to the festival on Boxing Day at your own peril.
The taste of service station sausage rolls still lingers to this day. Nothing on the highway of any higher gastronomic fare was on offer in 2007, apart from days-old sandwiches in those hideous plastic containers that look like they’d been washed and glazed for display.
Before I’d heard much of anything about Woodford Folk Festival, back in the unenlightened days of roughly 2006, I’d sure heard about the Fire Event. Attending between 2007-2010, I joined the Fire Choir each year, initially with the tenors then the bass-baritones, and loved it to bits.
BUT being able to sit in the audience with a smashing view, able to take in the full spectacle and stunning sound and light production, I was like an excited 10yo boy.
Heightening the experience just behind me was an almost two year old who was in paroxysms and frissons of delight and was joining in, improv-style, during the choral bits.
Wonderful. An absolutely stunning achievement.
My favourite part, and a moment for me that seemed to encapsulate Woodford, was when the cast on the ground just got stuck in hoe-down style while the tragic-comedy drama face burned.