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

Fo’c’s’le Firkins – Shanties And Songs Of The Sea

Image courtesy of The Original Fo’c’s’le Firkins

This article also appeared in edition 151 of Trad And Now magazine in September 2022.

Here in south west Australia, and in niche but growing enclaves around the country and the world, many of us are starting to get a little excited for the upcoming Albany International Folk ‘n’ Shanty Festival which takes place from Friday 30 September to Sunday 2 October 2022.

“From fireside folk sessions and concerts, to full blown pub shanty singing, from tales of pirates, whales and shipwrecks; the Albany International Folk ‘n Shanty Festival turns historic Albany/Kinjarling into a playground of maritime culture.” – shantyfest.com

Albany may not lay claim to the most remote festival venue on the continent, but there would be few that could beat it. Albany is 3,335kms by road from Melbourne, 3,864kms from Sydney, and about a five hour drive south from Perth.

But more of the festival itself in a future edition. I mention it here for context to say I’ve been booked in to attend for a while, so when news of a CD launch of sea shanties and songs of the sea* bobbed up, my interest was already piqued.

* There’s a difference between the two. All shall be revealed hereunder.

The Original Fo’c’s’le Firkins launched their live CD in Fremantle at the Navy Club on Saturday 20 August 2022. It was a nice piece of musical recording symmetry as the album was recorded in 2021 at the same venue.

Band members were understandably taking any chance to plug the CD and gig around Fremantle in the lead-up, and group member Jon Cope spent some time during ‘Folking Around’ on Radio Fremantle to talk in detail about the recordings’ evolution and background.

Normally, I would have been one of the interviewers, however, I was struck down by a debilitating (non-plague) illness that week, so my colleagues of the airwaves manned the bridge and took the wheel: Frank Hodges (asking the lion’s share of the questions) and Alan Dawson (on the panel, knobs, buttons, and light comic relief).

Image courtesy of The Original Fo’c’s’le Firkins
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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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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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