Albany International Folk’n Shanty Festival 2022

This article also appeared in edition 152 of Trad And Now magazine in November 2022.

Having not ventured from Perth/Fremantle since landing in Western Australia in April 2022, it was great to zip off for two weeks in a rented campervan to see the great south west, mostly to take in the 2022 Albany International Folk ‘N Shanty Festival. Heading off towards a weekend of music, song, and good people is hard to beat.

It was my first time driving in Western Australia and proved quite the revelation. WA for me conjures up images of stark rocky ranges, miles of pindan dust, and a harsh, dry climate. But Freo to Albany and return via Denmark, Nannup, and Margaret River has the look and feel of south east NSW or Victoria. Dairy cow, vineyard, and tall tree country.

Albany is quite stunning. Turning up early and staying late was wise. A boat across Oyster Harbour and up Kalgan River, a morning zip around King George Sound on a whale-spotting boat, a spin out to the wind farm, and wanderings around the tops of Mounts Melville and Clarence (Corndarup) – all recommended diversions. Bring a jumper.

Add in a trip to a local brewery and the giniversity and that was a pretty full first visit. Now add 2.5 days of a shanty festival and stir liberally.

Albany Town Hall

I offered my MC skills and told the festival director I’d buy a ticket, but was informed that wouldn’t be possible. (The ticket purchase, that is.)

It’s a totally free festival.

Not only is there no charge for punters, the performers come from far and wide to provide their services for free.

Festival creator Gary “Grizz” Greenwald explained how it came to be:

“There’s shanty groups all around the coast of the UK; shanty festivals all over Europe and North America. I got to [Western] Australia and assumed there’d be a shanty group and there wasn’t one (in this town). Started a shanty group in 2016.

As soon as we got the group going, The Lost Quays were the only group gigging in WA at that time. The Fo’c’s’le Firkins came out of retirement – they’d never called quits, they just weren’t doing a lot. The She Shants (wives and partners of The Lost Quays) were around and we did a workshop.

Colin Anker came around for tea and a few beers and a bit of a sing with us. We put a post on social media and something went in the newspaper, and they had 25 lads come and started The Anchormen.

Then we suddenly realised we had enough groups for a shanty festival.”

À La Souche (Canada) at The Albany Club

Grizz also enlightened me on why there are no performance or attendance fees:

“The model in the UK is (Falmouth would be your example): you perform for free and raise money for charity. What we’ve been trying to do is get charity buy-in, so you’ve got charities who want to use it as a vehicle to raise money.

We would like to pay the musicians’ expenses, but you’ve got to have the money to do it.”

Like other festivals without a camping element, Albany keeps its administrative overheads a little lower by holding events mostly in four centrally-located, established venues, all within an easy walk of each other. That’s a good thing when there’s rain around and the temperatures are a little brisk. While Perth/Freo was just tentatively dipping a toe into 30+ Celsius territory, Albany and surrounds were noticeably milder.

As one radio presenter observed: “21C in Albany today – that’ll feel like 30C to them!”

The Albany festival is still in its infancy having kicked off in 2019 and taken a year out for the plague. In these still uncertain times, John Henderson (festival director since 2021) had some pre-festival nerves.

“It’s been an education for me because I’ve never done anything like this before. Last week, I went to bed one night and was lying awake worried that noone was going to come. Then the next night I was lying awake worried that too many people were going to come.

But because we don’t sell tickets, we didn’t know how many people were coming. You just sit there going, ‘Let’s see what happens.'”

The Albany Shantymen at the Earl of Spencer Inn

Crowds ended up being Mother Bear level: just about right. Venues started filling up when sessions started for the day about 10am and ebbed/flowed til stumps, peaking at early to late-evening. Canny planning saw the rowdier, noisier shanty groups on later in the evening, and the Premier and Earl of Spencer Inn were rocking and rolling.

I take a kind of vicarious joy in standing down the back of venues like the Earl of Spencer on Saturday night when the home team, The Albany Shantymen, were in full hue and cry. I could only see the singers’ heads over the top of a sea of bobbing heads.

Watching the band crank out shanty after sea song after shanty with relatively little chat, I was mesmerised by a group of people in front of me that must have been late teens to early 20s at the very oldest. Despite their youth, they were belting out the chorus gustily. Everyone, every word.

Don’t judge a book by its cover, but they didn’t look like your archetypal shanty crowd or even folkies, come to that. (Shocking generalisation, I know, but let’s move on.) It was only after talking with Grizz and John the following Tuesday night after the festival had wrapped that I discovered I’m the last person in the world to find out about the worldwide shanty craze that had erupted on Tiktok, especially ‘Soon May The Wellerman Come’.

Accordingly, there were several opportunities over the weekend to sing of our expectation of the imminent arrival of sugar and tea and rum.

The Marmaduke Marauders at The Albany Club

The following day there was an even younger cohort to witness carrying on shanty traditions with a duo called Marmaduke Marauders from Margaret River. Harper (12) and Otis (10) were on the blackboard at The Albany Club belting out shanties in the front room.

Harper: “When I was 11 I heard some shanties on the radio after The Wellerman hit by The Albany Shantymen, and that’s what got me into them.”

Otis: “I didn’t hear it on the radio but Harper played some songs at dinner that night and I heard them and decided that I liked shanties.”

Harper and Otis went to the Albany festival after that to further their interest in the genre. They count The Anchormen, The Albany Shantymen, and The Pogues as their favourites.

40 Degrees South at Six Degrees Albany

Appropriately enough, the WA shanty groups hug the shoreline from Albany on the south coast up to Geraldton, with one group of very welcome interlopers from Sydney. Performing groups included: The Albany Shantymen and The Shantylillies (Albany); The Anchormen (Bunbury); Dunn Bay Wailers (Dunnsborough); 40 Degrees South (Sydney); The Lost Quays, The She Shants, The Original Fo’c’s’le Firkins (Fremantle); Mandurah Mariners; Rum Jungle (Geraldton); and The Salty Sea Dogs (Denmark).

Jon Cope from the Firkins had foreshadowed that despite the number of groups, there’s enough diversity of interests and songs that you don’t get the same ones endlessly repeated (see Trad and Now, edition 151). That proved to be the case, and it was only later on Sunday night that this occasional chorister thought, “Yeah, that’s probably enough ‘Barrett’s Privateers’ for a while now.”

Other performers included a mix of genres and ages offering folk, alt-country, a bit of bluegrass, and old timey. One of the crowd favourites was visiting Canadian duo À La Souche from Newfoundland, although when Keirsten began to speak to introduce herself and Bryan, she did so in a Perth accent. (Kiersten is originally from WA.)

It was great to see some artists I knew of but had not previously seen perform such as Sea Swallow (folk duo Claire Moodie and Bill Laurie), Martin & Coole (Jon Cope and Emma Birkett), and Gav Brown. My new discovery pick would have to be Matt Black (and the Gloss Whites) performing selected songs of John Prine. Matt has one of those voices that belongs on the mantle piece in the good room. Superb.

Se Swallow at the Earl of Spencer Inn

For audience participation and great fun, Saturday evening’s singing session with Albany’s Playlist Choir was hard to beat. The group took enthusiastic participants through two songs: ‘Gràinne Mhaol’ and ‘The Pirate’s Gospel’, and I’m fairly confident many walked away from the Six Degrees venue that night with two enduring earworms. I was sing/humming for days.

A tip of the hat to Phil Gray who did a great job wrangling reciters and readers to the two poets breakfasts at The Albany Club which drew close to capacity crowds. A highlight was Robyn Minee (Shantylillies) doing an hilarious version of ‘The Man From Ironbark’ with actions, ably assisted by the biggest ham this side of the Darling Downs, Jeff Swain (The Lost Quays).

Crowd at the Poets Breakfast at The Albany Club

Come Sunday morning about 10am and there was a boisterous crowd down at the Boat Shed to witness the epic tug of war contest between The Albany Shantymen (dressed as requested by their opposition as barmaids from the 1700s/1800s) and The Anchormen (dressed as used car salesmen, I mean, as news anchormen). Under appropriately leaden skies and a drop or two of rain, the two teams heaved, ho’d, and hauled for about four minutes before the Bunbury team claimed victory, and both groups joined in an enthusiastic rendition of ‘South Australia’.

Tug of War: The Albany Shantymen and The Anchormen (Bunbury) at The Boat Shed, Albany
Front page of The Albany Advertiser, Tuesday 4 October 2022

Sunday evening wrapped things up with a raucous performance called a ‘Shipload Of Shanty’ featuring the local shantymen followed by wave after wave of singalong shanty walk-ups from festival performers.

Watch out for the 2023 festival – everyone is welcome on board.

Full interviews with Gary ‘Grizz’ Greenwald, John Henderson, and the Marmaduke Marauders will be available soon-ish-ish at www.OverheardProductions.com.

My full photo album for the festival is at: www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.546037140856123

Perth Folk And Roots Club

This article also appeared in edition no. 150 of Trad & Now magazine, August 2022.

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.

Words to live by. Sign over the bar at the Inglewood Bowling Club.
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Barry Skipsey – Singer, Songwriter, Photographer

Image courtesy of Barry Skipsey

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

In June 2021, the Central Australian Folk Society (CAFS) and Top End Folk Club (TEFC) held their slightly delayed 50th Top Half Folk Festival at Mary River, NT.

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).

Image courtesy of Barry Skipsey

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.

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Fieldsy – A Divine Slice Of Dublin via WA

Image courtesy of Fieldsy

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.

Image courtesy of Fieldsy
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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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Folk On The Road: Jeremiah Johnson (Qld) Talks About Indie Music In The Time Of Pandemic

Image courtesy of Jeremiah Johnson

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.

Image courtesy of Jeremiah Johnson
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From The Vault: The Woodford Files 2014-2015 – John Smith (UK), January 2015

john-smith
Image courtesy of John Smith

Originally posted on Timber and Steel blog: https://timberandsteel.wordpress.com/2015/01/02/the-woodford-files-john-smith-uk/

John Smith is performing at Woodford Folk Festival, and at the time of writing has just finished his last show at The Duck.

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 ***

JS1
Image courtesy of John Smith

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Darwin Muso Series: Ben Evolent, September 2019

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.

BE02
Image courtesy of Ben Evolent Music

Ben Evolent

The Darwin Railway Club played host to the Darwin regional final of the Passport To Airlie competition in mid-September 2019.

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.

* If you can find a bigger one, I want it stuffed and mounted on display at ARIA or APRA headquarters, please.

Opening the batting for muso chats on the night (and for this series of interviews) was Josh Tarca of Ben Evolent.

(Just a quick Overheard At Passport To Airlie from my notes here. My mate leaned over as the third act came on and said, “I think the announcer said this band is from the Netherlands”.

Me: “No, the band’s name is ‘Ben Evolent’!)

20190913_193639
Ben Evolent performing in Passport To Airlie – Darwin at Darwin Railway Club

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Passport To Airlie – 2019 Darwin Heat (Darwin Railway Club)

PTA-D01
Image courtesy of Airlie Beach Festival of Music

Passport To Airlie – Darwin Heat (Darwin Railway Club)
Friday 13 September 2019, Darwin Railway Club

The Darwin Railway Club played host to the Darwin regional final of the Passport To Airlie competition in mid-September 2019.

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.

It’s huge.

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.

PTA-D02.jpg

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Mensch, Monique in Australia, 2019

mensch-monique-354
Image courtesy of Mensch, Monique!

Folk On The Road

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).

CFF
Cobargo Folk Festival 2019

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.

[If you can’t pick up the irony in that sentence, go to https://overheardproductions.com/?s=The+beez where you can read just one or two articles about this band by the authour over the past decade.]

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.

MM1

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