The audio from this interview was originally linked to a Timber and Steel article on 26 September 2013. This article is being added over six years down the track as part of a project to move most of Overheard Productions’ audio files to text.
Liz Frencham starts her Joy Spring tour in Newtown tonight, Thursday 26 September, and continues through September along the Eastern Coast and hinterland, stopping in at Newcastle, Canberra, Wollongong, Newtown, Glebe, Allambie Heights and Katoomba and then continues into Queensland with more dates to be announced.
Bill Quinn managed to get some time to chat to Liz Frencham about the tour and her upcoming recordings – listen to the interview below and check out her full list of tour dates (so far).
*** Audio file will be removed by end of February 2020 ***
Bill Quinn: On a very, very muggy afternoon in spring, it’s time for a spring tour, and who better to bring us that than the lovely Liz Frencham. Hello, Liz Frencham.
Liz Frencham: Hey, Bill. Nice to talk to you again.
BQ: Tell me about the tour.
LF: I’m a big spring fan; I’m such a fan of spring I moved to a very cold area in the central highlands of Victoria because the spring is so dramatic. You go from very, very misty, cold, no-sun type winters into this beautiful time where basically the whole town first of all gets peppered in snow drops, and then an explosion of colour as all the daffodils come up. And the little hyacinths with a red/purple colour.
You know it’s all happening; I like that. I feel like I can come to life at the same time too.
Andrew Winton, David Hyams and Bernard Carney at the bar, Illawarra Folk Festival, 2012. Photo by Bill Quinn.
Last night a song came on the Saturday Night Forever Classic Hits and Memories Relive Show on the radio. And the song is a brilliant soundtrack to my current never-ending task of cleaning, packing, clearing, selling, and carting stuff to op shops, charity stores and the tip.
The song (Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da by The Beatles) I learnt via ABC Sing books in primary school and ABC Radio 2CN and 2CY back in the 1970s.
And from listening to Beatles records in the Dickson Library in Canberra after school.
I took the song in my head to a ‘Songs We Sang In School’ themed concert at Illawarra Folk Festival a few years ago, in answer to a callout from the organisers.
I’d worked up a bit of vaudeville to go with it, but the setting for the concert was an intimate affair up the hill in the Chapel.
At that time, the venue was just the chapel itself, not the awesome little elevated tent show it’s now become.
The small, subdued crowd didn’t really seem to suit the energy of what I’d planned, so I did a Dylan song instead.
However, I *did* mention to Bernard Carney in passing that I was planning to do the song before I changed plans. Bernard Carney, apart from his decades-long anthology of original music, has made a regular feature of his festival appearances in putting on all-singing, all-dancing, multi-muso, multi-instramental, multi-styles and genres Beatles Singalongs at festivals and gigs around Australia.
At my casual remark that I was minutely and momentarily stealing his thunder (i.e. not in the slightest), Bernard shot me one of his trademark sideways looks, twiddled his ‘tache, and said, “Why don’t you come along and sing it at The Beatles Singalong?”
Me. Mr Amateur Warbler Plus, who occasionally slid off notes like a slippery dip.
Singing with electrified accompaniment in front of ~400 people.
Feel the fear and don’t think twice, it’s alright. (Gratuitous Bob Dylan references are my jam and cream.)
“Oh, yeah. Alright. No big.” Translation: OH MY GAAAAWD!
Always up for a challenge, me. “That a (hu)man’s grasp should exceed [their] reach, or what’s a heaven for?”
Possibly vice versa. I never can recall.
Come the appointed night, with the thought of going on stage and singing with a backing band, I had so much adrenaline pumping through the veins, you could stick a cord into any orifice and light up a small city.
Ask Craig Dawson — he was sat next to me and had to ask permission to say something before I went up there.
I’m glad he did because he said, “Give it everything. Don’t hold back. Leave it all out there on the stage.”
I can scarcely remember getting more timely, salient, or sage advice. Thanks, Campusoid.
I strode out, barefoot and in shorts, bandages around my legs where the gumboots had bitten into my calves, plonked a bag on the stage, nodded to no less than Liz Frencham on bass, David Hyams on geet, and Bernard himself wielding his axe. 🎸 There were others.
I fluffed the first line because I was – still am – crap at singing lead with accompaniment, rarely if ever know when to come in. But I made up for lost ground, and when we hit the first chorus, I had props.
“Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, life goes on, bra…” ♪♪♪
And every time I hit the word ‘bra’, I threw a St Vincent de Paul shop-bought bra out into the audience.
If I missed a note, or got a half-tone off or slurred a word, who cared? Everyone was tossing bras around the crowd. 💄
An enduring memory of that night came as I sang, “🎼🎵🎶 Desmond stays at home and does his pretty face!” And on every syllable stabbing a finger at Billy Folkus, the late, great, flawed but fabulous Bill Arnett.
Picture, if you wish, an Australian twin of Billy Connolly in the fifth or sixth row. Billy had one of the bras tied around his head like some large, hairy, pseudo-effeminate character from a Jane Austen novel.
I walked off stage to shrieks of laughter and gales of applause, cheering and clapping, and the knowledge that noone — not one single person — needed to know my name. Just that they had had a fun time and laughed lots and maybe had a story to tell.
It chrystallised everything that’s core to my being about performance and writing and speaking and radio and singing and living:
It’s not about me. It’s about you.
It’s about them. It’s about us.
I don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy old world and never aim to. That people can tell me stories as if anew that prominently featured me – but they didn’t know nor realise it was me – is a cause for great personal joy and satisfaction.
It’s the song, not the singer. Play the game, not the ball/song carrier.
Another enduring memory out of all of that was the amused, bemused and c-mused look on Bernard’s face as I bounced off stage and over to the bar to collect the bottle of wine I’d won as a runner-up prize in the Yarn Spinning Contest earlier that day.
I necked it in about 15 minutes flat, which only partially damped down the raging flames of heat and adrenaline. That provides something of a ‘call-back’ to the Billy Connolly reference. I highly recommend the book ‘Billy’ by Pamela Stephenson. (Please check for possible triggers before reading.) Pamela talks about how Billy could drink a stonkering amount of alcohol after a gig but stay high-functioning because of the counter-balance of adrenaline.
I know what that looks like, though mercifully, I’ve never been a slave to the drink. Also, if Billy Connolly is premier league, I’m Sunday park football. Not even in the same postcode.
Bernard Carney watched my exit, stage right, and with another of his trademark looks, leaned into his mic and wryly observed to the audience:
“I think we’ve reached a seminal moment in Beatles Singalongs!”
The next morning, as we were setting up in the Slacky Flat Bar for the day’s shows, one of the cleaners walked up to me swinging one of the bras around her fingers, and with an incredulous look on her face asked:
[Insert audible groan of indecision mixed with ‘Oh well, why the hell not’-ness.]
I realise that ‘Year in Review’ blogs and lists can seem as passé as flash mobs and….. other things that are passé.
Like saying that things are ‘passé’.
But as per the opening sentence, ‘Why not?’.
As with many things that I’ve written since age 14, this may provide a mixture of utility for others (especially if I’m reduxing your interview or news event) and utility for me. It’s a natural progression from the Year in Review emails and Farcebook notes I’ve written in years gone by.
This 2012 version was prompted by that nonsensical Farcebook function that purports to consolidate your 20 biggest moments of 2012, using an algorithm that was obviously created by a very finitenumber of monkeys on a finite number of very old typewriters.
My glittering pseudo-career on community radio took an extended break in May when I hung up my boots from Artsound FM.
I love presenting radio programs. I’ve discovered so much good music, so many talented performers and met so many good people through it. But it’s nice to have a little more breathing room and leisure time.
I tend to throw myself in to things like this, boots and all, somtimes at the cost of sensible balance with other things, so I have enjoyed putting my energies into other areas.
I’ve written extensively, exhaustively and some might say nauseatingly in the past on what I deem to be the restorative power of folk festivals.
They’re good for what ails ya.
Your worst day at a festival beats your best day doing many other things. I mean, look, it IS possible to say, “Gee, I had a great day at work!” It is. I’ve had them meself. But I can’t remember too many times when I’ve said, “Well that was a crappy festival day”.
My first and latest Folk in the Foothills was in 2008 and I recall it vividly for two very specific reasons. Back in those days, I was singing with Ecopella, that wonderful, sustainably-good four-part singing mob from around NSW and the ACT.
And what made it doubly good for a small ‘g’ greenie such as meself that day was that when I arrived somewhere on the south coast to give a lift to the choir director, I was brandishing the front cover of The Canberra Times which was announcing that the Greens looked like winning the balance of power in the previous day’s Legislative Assembly elections in Canberra.
And the other reason I recall well was that at Jamberoo in the mid-afternoon, I spied two rather gorgeous women who did indeed look like they were having a pretty crappy festival day.
(See, it all came around to a point of some sort in the end. And that’s just the way I planned it. Yeah, right.)
Liz’s collaborations, bands and projects are legendary. If you laid out her records end to end, including her solo, band, contribution and bit part playing thereon CDs… my, it would take a long time to pick them all up again.
Liz spent part of winter cocooned away in rural Victoria, but in recent times she’s been on the road with her bluegrass outfit Jimmy the Fish, and with the inspired pairing with Fred Smith as Frencham/Smith.
Sometime in the late 1980s, or so it seems, Liz had an interview with Bill Quinn which included one landline, one mobile phone as conduit, and another mobile phone as recording device. Liz was in picturesque southern Trentham, and Bill by the banks of the Moruya River on the beautiful Eurobodalla Nature Coast in rural, coastal New South Wales.
As Liz prepares to strike out on a tour with US singer-songwriter Gregory Page, I started by asking Liz where her preference for solo or band performing lay.
Liz Frencham: I wouldn’t call it a preference. It’s exactly the same, say, as playing playing with Jimmy the Fish and playing with Fred.
Playing solo is “different” and it requires different skills. Probably one thing it has in its favour at the moment is that it still completely terrifies me.
It’s not something that I’ve mastered. It’s exciting and I haven’t settled into a comfortable groove, which makes the possibilities seem more endless. I wouldn’t say it would be a preference, per se.
I am a bass player, and when you’re fitting into your role the most is when you’re accompanying somebody else.
But to hear more from the man himself…. no, I mean to read more from the man himself — I’m not on radio anymore — click here for my interview with Fred last week for the very fine Timber and Steel blog.