Getting this interview was in some ways a 25 year odyssey, in other ways a two-year process, and in yet another, a 17 day exchange of emails.
More of that elsewhere because as I expected, Billy Bragg was his charming, effusive, generous, articulate and engaging self for 21 minutes. We’d still be chatting had we not gotten the wind-up.
But on a clear, crisp early Spring Friday night in Canberra, and god knows where Billy was – I never did find out – two Bills had a chat about music, assumptions (grr!), death, life, the moon, first words, and giving the punters what they want.
Now if reading great swathes of text is not your thang, do here undereth clicketh:
Bill Quinn: He’s coming to Australia in a couple of months’ time but we have him here telephonically; it’s hello and welcome, Billy Bragg.
Billy Bragg: ‘ey, Bill. ‘ow are you?
[I’ll eschew the phonetics from here on, but even just these five words made me smile.]
BQ: Billy, I’m going to start and finish with a slightly clichéd question, and in between, we’ll see where we go.
Your signature song is “Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards” which is a bit like a snowflake, never the same thing twice, always evolving and grabbing the zeitgeist. In 2012, are you just a little bit spoilt for choice with subject matter for that song?
BB: Heh! Unfortunately I am, yeah.
That’s the problem with being a topical songwriter; sometimes things just keep popping up, y’know? I’ve got a week or so in New Zealand before I get to Australia. I hope I’ll be able to zone in a little on what’s happening in Australia. And see if I can shape some of the lyrics of “Great Leap Forwards”.
I mean, some of the verses are universal, but one or two of them are specifically about the UK. Maybe I might just be able to Australianise them if possible.
My very first live to air radio interview was with The BordererS — an Adelaide band based around Jim Paterson and his wife, Alex. The BordererS play a blend of music that’s hard to defind — actually, it’s easy to find (see link above), it’s a tad difficult to define, but once you’ve found it, you won’t want to de-find it. Aren’t typos fun?
Where were we? If you put folk, Celtic, world and dance into a blender, it may come out sounding pretty much like this combo.
Ever since that first inexpert interview, stabbing at buttons and sliding of faders, I’ve had the great pleasure to interview Jim and Alex several times, both in and out of the studio. This weekend they’re heading to Canberra to do two quite different gigs, and when I asked Jim how he’d be placed on Wednesday night for an interview, he said he’d be placed in a comfy chair in his lounge room in Adelaide.
Which is where I caught up with him, telephonically.
Bill Quinn: Jim, I’ve spoken to you many times before, but for others who are just catching up, tell us a bit about The BordererS.
Jim Paterson: Well, I’m six foot five and look very similar to Brad Pitt.
BQ: That’s my recollection.
JP: Ehm, and my wife… she’s kind of like a midget.
No, we’ve been going for nearly 19 years now, and I was just talking with someone today — Gabi, she’s our backing vocalist — and I said that after 19 years, we should be doing the reunion tour now, rather than still going!
I’m Scottish and my wife [Alex] is Irish. And we play around the country and into Europe. And America next year; we’re going to go to America next September.
On a mild Canberra evening, I interviewed Billy Bragg down the line from the UK. While I hammered the text out fairly quickly and it appeared in Timber and Steel a week or so later, and in Trad and Now not long after that, I dragged my heels a little to get the audio edited down.
Luckily, my new multi-channel recording device comes with a handy bit of sound-editing software, and while I’m hardly a master of it, it’s done. Even if Soundcloud is taking forever to load the audio file.
But that’s my problem not yours…… 36% uploaded……
Full details of where Billy’s playing are in the Timber and Steel article — see above for link.
(But he’s about to do a week or so of solo stuff so make sure you read to the end!)
Tracking back even further through my backlog of recorded material, back a fair few weeks ago now, Bruce Watson was on the road with three of his Victorian compadres (I could have said Mexican, but didn’t) for the Unsung Heroes shows in a few venues. Sadly, this article didn’t get to see the light of day in time for those shows, but as you’ll read, the project has quite the life that will see it around for some time to come. Here Bruce talks about how the concept came about and what the future plans are for the project.
And then, you can start scribbling dates in your diary as Bruce prepares to have a mini-assault on ACT and the southern highlands/Illawarra hinterland/central coast and Hunter region over the next ten days.
Bruce Watson: It’s a collection of four singer-songwriters – which is sort of unusual for singer-songwriters to all get together. But we all met at a thing called the Darebin Songwriters Guild which is based in our local area in the northern suburbs of Melbourne.
And we got together to do that, and the actual idea for the project came from Moira Tyers, and she was just basically talking to people about it. She formed a band with Wendy [Ealey] and Neil [Robertson]. And I heard about the project and said, ‘This is really good. I’ve got some songs that would fit into that idea, and I’d love to be involved in some way’.
So I was invited into the project.
We actually started with about ten people. And gave the initial concert with a whole lot of local songwriters that did songs on the theme of ‘Unsung Heroes’.
Then we gradually filed it down to a manageable number of people, and to more of a thematic approach, with the organising principle being: time. It’s chronological, going from settlement (and a little bit of a flash-back to pre-settlement Australia) and it goes right through to a few contemporary people – a few people who are still alive and doing amazing things.
So that’s how the show started, and it’s turned into a show that’s got a narrative and a set of songs and the visuals are really important. It’s got a slide show component that’s quite important. Continue reading →
Not bad for a metropolis of only about 360 000. And that’s just the gigs riffed off the top of the head. I’m sure there are many others. (See www.culturazi.com for any missing bits and pieces.)
Still, it’s a thing of joy and beauty to welcome a new player onto the scene. Because if you want to get away from three-chord covers bashers, replete with drum machines, in the clubs, Canberra really does offer a feast of the good stuff. And we’re big and ugly enough to offer a smorgasbord and share the audiences and audients about.
Which is not to say the occasional gig doesn’t kick off with the sound rattling around in poorly-attended venues. That will happen. Some days are diamonds, some days are when you struggle to clear the venue costs and pay the sound guy.
So. One such venue made its way into Canberra’s mix recently with just the right amount of fanfare, immediate support and a growing profile.
Thank you SO much to the truly wonderful Gareth Huw Evans of Timber and Steel — he’s a credit to Australian music and to effective business and being a good bloke.
Similarly, Heidi Braithwaite from Riot House Publicity has been a model of timely responses and good-humoured help.
And to everyone who’s given the interview a nudge, a like, a re-post or a share: you rock my world and you know who you are. (And I know where you live!)
To go back a ways regarding interviews: in 2008, I spoke in halting, nervous tones down the line with Jim Paterson of The Borderers on my very first solo radio show on Artsound FM, while I tried very hard to work out which buttons to press and which faders to slide.
Jim didn’t realise it at the time, but his simple query in an email created something of a monster (in every sense of the word), and my four years with Artsound were typified by studios over-flowing with guests, musos, family, friends, PR people, mums and dads, and some golden live moments. I think pets is the only….. no, we had some of those too, including my melon collie in later years.
I look forward to many more interviews and live moments elsewhere in the cosmos. I recorded one at this very dining table about 8.5 hours ago and that will be coming to you soon.
For now, Billy Bragg has been by far my biggest — and longest for a non-performance — interview to date. (Myf Warhurst had the gold for a good run, but she’s sitting so very pretty — sigh! — in silver medal place now. Why did I shave that beard off? What was I thinking?! Why am I saying this out loud?)
Transcribing the BB interview took the better part of a working day, albeit with lots and lots and too much of online-y distractions along the way.
I’m an un-ashamed Billy Bragg fan, and he’s my favourite performer of any genre in the world.
As much for his soul and his passion and his politics and his unrelenting drive as for his art. If you could bottle the resonances, you’d outsell coke. And coal. And natural gas.
I hesitated like you can’t know before going down the route of making that personal connection with him about my brother during the interview, but I was ultimately so glad I did. Like a song I partially inspired, written by my good friends Craig and Simone Dawson, I have a little personal dare with myself where I take a deep breath, count 1, 2, 3 and dive in.
I was sat there in the studios of 2XX, having effectively paid/donated a tick under $500 of my own money to a crowd-sourcing project for the privilege. That was a thing of pure socialism. At the time I had roughly five grand in the bank and thought, some of this cash could do more that just gather dust.
If I had known then that less than seven days later I would fall even further down the rabbit hole for two weeks, I might not have been as effusive and altruistic!
Meh. As I fully believe, and as I overheard a new colleague say in as many words today:
“It’s only money — you can always get more.”
So, there I was in Studio 2 or 3:
in a radio studio I’d never used before,
one arm across my body holding mic three which I’d dragged across the desk,
twisted half-way back towards the console to read a few scratchy notes I’d made for myself on screen,
one eye on my watch as we were going to be cut off at 20 minutes and I hadn’t been able to add nineteen to whatever time we’d started — there was too much going on.
And out of all that I had nothing but faith (because I do keep faith) in my ability to somehow make it all happen in an interview that in many ways had been two years or more in the making.
And when I hung up from the interview and had let out a gurgling scream of something to the universe, in the next heartbeat I was on the phone to my brother Greg’s widow to do a quick de-brief. I’d told a few choice and a few badly chosen people what was going on, but ultimately it was Ainslea’s secret.
Anyone who saw me later that night at the Canberra Musicians Club Old Timey gig might have mistaken me for a ten year old boy who’d just gotten the cream, to mix a human-feline metaphor.
Sadly, and this has been a pattern, some elements in the music world and the yarts have again inferred some sort of ego-stroke or self-aggrandisement for Billy Quinn out of all of this.
And to those people, I say two things:
1. It’s not me, it’s you. No, really, this time, it’s you.
3. Press ‘play’.
Me? I’m looking for that next big thing, “exploding over our heads”. ♪♪♪♪♪
So, as the bishop said to the actress, I’ll be brief.
No, seriously. I know we’ve met and all, and I know that you know that I know that I don’t do brief.
Or briefs. But hey I just got up from a nap.
Unclench and un-eeewwwww! I’m wearing trackie pants but only because me trewsers are drying and when they are, I get to go out the door and down the club to watch Norwich at home to West Ham United who are the new black because (tada) that’s Billy Bragg’s team.
See? Douglas Adams was on to something with Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency: the interconnectedness of all things. (Shows how much TV I watch; apparently it’s a TV series. Go go Google iView or whatever or I’ll have to go to Britain if it’s geo-blocked here. Mind you, I’m writing this from Australia, so we might get to see it here in 2014. This is the part where you dive in and say, ‘Oi, cloth ears; it was on in May!’)
Now, by curious coincidence, I mentioned ‘the interconnectedness’ of all things to Sir William Bloke in the interview, and just as I expected, he leapt on to the concept like a seagull onto a chip.
I once blew seven layers of merde through a group of teenagers throwing chips to seagulls on the south coast of New South Wales.
Random observations on the wide, weird world of folk from the side of the stage
#35 Pat Drummond: A tribute while he’s still alive First published inTrad and Nowmagazine, May 2012
Don’t freak; Pat Drummond isn’t leaving the planet any time soon that we know of.
However, in this the year that Pat celebrates several major milestones, a raft of talented musicians and others threw together one hell of a tribute show in Canberra to honour the man.
Some milestones: 60 years on the planet, 45 years writing songs, 40 years married, 35 years in the music business, and 25 years since he was arrested for climbing the harbour bridge before it was legal.
As Harry Manx continues his way around Australia on an exhaustive (and possibly exhausting) tour, I caught up with Harry by phone one evening as he was taking a few days off in Darwin.
Rather than copy and paste the details here, I’ll direct your attention to the very fine Timber and Steel web-site where you can read all the details and hear the audio from my April interview as well.
Harry will be playing in Canberra on Wednesday 20 June, so I’ll see you there if I’m looking at you!