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 ***
Darwin Muso Series is a string of an indeterminate number of mini to medium to mega interviews with Darwin-based musicians and performing artists. Starting in September 2019, and we’ll see how many we can cover over the next weeks/months/years.
Airlie Beach Festival of Music is held in November, however, in the lead-up, the organisers stage what is arguably Australia’s biggest battle of the bands competition.
And you’d have to argue very convincingly to beat this: regional finals in (take a deep breath): Darwin, Cairns, Townsville, Mackay, Sunshine Coast, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Nimbin, Newcastle, Sydney, Illawarra, Melbourne and Adelaide.
And budding musos are all vying for the chance to participate in the final at Airlie Beach in November.
As well as the performance opportunity in 2019, the overall winner gets to return to play the main stage the following year, receiving four nights’ accommodation, VIP main tent passes, a $1000 performance fee, and a spot on Music View TV (Cairns).
If you’re a regional muso aiming to get your music to a wider audience, it’s well worth a shot.
Mensch Monique!: Interview at Cobargo Folk Festival
Mensch, Monique! were in Australia earlier in 2019, playing gigs, house concerts and festivals. I caught up with Jule and Georg at Cobargo Folk Festival to find out how musical and family life had been treating them since the days of The Beez.
We spoke under a blazing sun, with welcome shade from the café marquee, perched
precariously on milk crates, sipping on ginger and lemongrass over cubed
ice (just brilliant on a baking hot day).
Bill Quinn: How long has Mensch, Monique! been going? What are you doing? How is it going?
Jule Schroder: Well, actually, Georg and me, we have been playing since 2007.
BQ: And how about music?
JS: Exactly! Playing music! (And we’ve been playing together longer than that!) But I was in a band called ‘The Beez’; for such a long time.
BQ: The Beez? Can you spell that? I’m not familiar with this band.
JS: Tee Hahr Eeh Bee Double Eeh Zsedh. We were one Australian, one American, and two Germans.
BQ: And one of the Deutshes is now Australierin!
JS: That’s right. Deta got married to Rob a long time ago and now she’s got her spouse visa.
So, anyway, I was playing with The Beez, being busy. And there was just no point [after the birth of first child]. We couldn’t play gigs. Or we could, but it was just too hard.
So when I left The Beez in 2014, we said, “Let’s write some songs together”. And why not in German? And that’s what we did!
And it just takes a long time. You know, we’ve got two kids now. But we do it in our own tempo. Our own speed, you know? And we love it!
BQ: That’s very interesting that you do your songs in German, with English being the lingua franca for the world, the language that the majority of the planet understands. Tell me about when you perform in Germany. Is it 100% in German? Or do you mix it up a bit?
JS: We mix it up, but it’s really interesting because I talk to a lot of musician friends from Germany, and we came to the… schluss? … conclusion that we just HAVE to write songs in German because it’s our language.
It just doesn’t make sense that we only write songs in English, because that’s not our language.
And it’s a bit hard to sing in German, I must say. And what is really interesting for me is, because I write most of the melodies, I don’t think in German when I write the melodies. I can’t do that. It’s really interesting.
A highly irregular series reflecting on the wide, weird world of folk from the side of the stage
Back to Cobargo
Cobargo Folk Festival (CFF) in early March 2019 was a breath of fresh air for many who made their way to the beautiful green valleys and rolling hills just north of Bega, New South Wales. Not too far south of Narooma, and within a five iron of a heaven.
For this peripatetic scribe, it was a homecoming of sorts to the world of Australian folk festivals. A temporary one, as it transpired.
CFF came towards the end of a week or so in the Eurobodalla/Sapphire Coast region, just after the last member of my immediate family had left their home of almost twenty years in Bodalla, on an estate overlooking the quite stunning ranges of the Deua National Park.
But it was also a proper return to folk festivals after roughly five and a half years of continually wandering up and down the Australian east coast, from the deep south of New South Wales to the middling far north of Queensland.
(A handful of hours at Slacky Flat, Bulli in 2016 and 2019 doesn’t really count, does it?)
In those intervening years, the closest I’d come to our festival culture was random assorted gigs, and attendances, media, and volunteering/MC-ing at regional Queensland festivals in Cleveland, Stones Corner, and Boyne Island.
Though all events had minor folk elements, it was wonderful to be back among the campers, revellers, singers, musos, and so, so many familiar faces in a dedicated folk festival.
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 →