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.
Interview with Craig Coombes of Naked Tuesday dot me
This is an interview I did with Craig Coombes in 2013 at his home in Melbourne for a book I’ve been very slowly putting together on grief.
I’ll include the background of the interview and the book at the end, but since that conclusion will no doubt waffle on for quite a bit (much like the author), let’s dispense with that for now and first get to the subject matter and the man himself.
Craig Coombes received a terminal diagnosis of throat cancer in 2012. Instead of feeling sorry for himself and hiding away from the world, Craig chose a fairly unconventional way of expressing himself and what he was going through.
It’s an approach that’s resonated with thousands of others around the world via social media, and literally millions through his television appearances.
And happily, Craig is witnessing this as he continues to defy the medicos, batting on way past the initial prognosis of his existence.
I started by asking Craig where he was up to at that point, in August 2013.
It started with a diagnosis of laryngitis (as you can tell with this wonderful voice of mine!) Through not improving, and tests, tests, tests, it became, “Sorry, cancer”.
You hear that word, it does change your life completely.
The old thing is that ‘Cancer is a word, not a sentence’. Did they give you hope?
That day they pretty much said it’s a tumour on my vocal chord. And thyroid cancer.
So we’ll do the operation, you’ll have some treatment, and everything will be fine.
Youtube has a simple facility where at the push of a button, your shaky video is stabilised and appears much more professionally-recorded than you could manage when you were adding some extra jigginess via mundane bodily functions such as breathing or sneezing.
Or as I was here, weeping uncontrollably.
Let’s go back a few years.
At probably my first Woodford Folk Festival, I got a treasured copy of the then very new ‘The Next Turn‘ album by Trouble in the Kitchen. As I set off down the D’Aguilar Highway on 3 January, processing eight days’ worth of festy wonderfullness, I was in an emotional, impressionable state, making listening to the 14 tracks all the more powerful.
(Some of my most treasured and loved folk albums have seared straight into the deepest levels of my cerebrum by dint of being absorbed in post-festival drives.)
However, my attention must have wandered on Track Five as I didn’t pick up all the lyrics nor their significance. I acquired and adopted a handful of mondegreens, and ran with those for many months until one day I sat with a stack of 20-25 Woodford-collected/purchased CDs and…
I was initially attracted to the sound of Tolka as they reminded me strongly of one of my favourite Australian folk bands. I won’t say which one, though it was mentioned in dispatches and a subject of some discussion when we spoke — press ‘Play’ below to find out more.
When we spoke earlier in the year, on a sultry Saturday evening when the Illawarra Folk Festival was fairly humming, strumming, beating and dancing, Tolka hadn’t at that point put one foot inside the recording studio for their debut album.
However, last weekend, ‘Tunes From The External Hard Drive’ was launched with appropriate fanfare in their hometown of Melbourne.
There are more chances for you to see Tolka for yourself via their gig listing. The album will be available soon at Bandcamp, or contact Tolka directly about where to snaffle a copy.
The band has played many live radio and television performances in Australia and overseas.
With a mixture of traditional Scottish and Irish music and modern self penned Celtic rock the band represents the best of new age Folk Music.
Through a diverse and unique mix of sound’s featuring guitar, mandolin, fiddle, military snare, the highland bagpipes and even a didgeridoo, it is little wonder Claymore are one of Australia’s most popular festival acts. A not to be missed extravaganza.
Claymore are one of the first bands to spark my interest in folk music. Unless you count that village fair in Surrey in 1979 where I first experienced Morris Dancing (and have been in therapy ever since).
Nothing was ever quite the same after that, even if it did take another three and a half years to distil the experience and step over the threshold of the National Folk Festival in Canberry for the very first time. My ninth is coming up this month.
It was wonderful to see Claymore perform in Queanberra last Saturday as I prepared to leave the city of my birth for good.
I’ve been lobbying William Hutton and co. to come here for about four and a half years since I had the great pleasure of being the band’s MC at the Guinness Tent at Maldon Folk Festival to a heaving, throbbing and bobbing crowd. That they were here near the nation’s capital just before I’m folking off for the rest of my naturals was a dream come true.
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.
Firstly, due to some rather dodgy priorities, I’d only come flying around the great hessian protuberance we named The Great Wall of China to be transported into the relaxing and mesmerising surrounds of the Tantric Turtle Cafe as they were into their first number, having plotted and planned to be in the middle of the oval well before kick-off time.
Secondly, it’s always a source of joy and uplifting-ness to see/be in a decent radius of the lovely Penny Larkins.
And thirdly, when I spied Penny and saw her unmistakable girth, rotundness and bump-ness, I did squeeze out a few little tears of vicarious, fecund joy.
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”. ♪♪♪♪♪