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Gill and I have been married for 40 years this November, and our home has always been filled with music, so my musical journey is as much about our nomadic life together as anything else. We both have strong Celtic roots (Highland Scots on Gill’s side and Irish on mine), and this meant inevitably that we grew up with lots of traditional music in our family homes. My mum was an accomplished concert pianist in her heyday, so my musical involvement started while I was at school, where our band played at school concerts - I seem to remember being enthusiastically received by a faithful school audience at each concert, but I think in hindsight they liked the way we played rugby union, rather than the music we made – never-the-less it was great fun!
After school there were some minor music events, mostly forgettable, then Gill and I were married and what with building a career and having kids etc, I found that live music took a back seat for a few decades, although there was always an old guitar knocking around somewhere. Then one Wednesday night 4 or 5 years ago after we’d finally returned to Brisbane for good, Gill and I dropped into the Kookaburra Café for a quick pizza. We heard a band singing folk songs upstairs, so up we went to investigate and we found The Wayfarers in full voice. We’ve tried not to miss a Wednesday night session since! The procession of visiting musicians and singers who drop in to share their music is fantastic, and the regular soloists (Anne Infante, Mary Brettell, John Lewis, Ross Roach, and Mark Davidson just to mention a few) never disappoint. And of course the irrepressible good humour of Ian Clarke (balanced by the quick wit of audience stalwarts) always makes for an entertaining evening. We’ve noticed over time that the Kooka folk are very kind and welcoming to new performers, and the wholly acoustic 5-song format provides for a Wednesday night of fine entertainment and variety. This is what makes the Kookaburra Folk Club so special and quite unique in our view… at least we haven’t come across the like of it in our travels before.
Gill and I grew up immersed in Elvis (naturally) and the Everly Brothers while our parents ran interference in the background with Burl Ives, Kenneth McKellar, Lionel Long and too many Irish and Scottish singers to remember. Then came the folk revival and we were caught up in following the '60s and '70s folk and country balladeers and went to some great concerts. We were also lucky enough to spend two magical years in Kentucky USA where we came to know and love Tennessee mountain music, and were frequent visitors to some dubious Honky Tonks that featured fantastic fiddle and banjo players, and mechanical bulls!
I guess our own little folk revival happened about 6 or 7 years ago. We’d settled back in Brisbane, and I was playing a series of gigs with a rock and roll band around Brisbane, and while these were fantastic fun, the wall of sound that enveloped me on stage became a bit too much for my ageing eardrums, so I welcomed the more mellow sounds of the Kookaburra Folk Club. I started very slowly as a soloist at the Kooka. This was a brand new and enlightening experience for me I must say – you can hide quite happily as a guitarist in a rock and roll band, but there’s nowhere to hide as a soloist in an acoustic folk club!
I quickly became intrigued by the history of the fantastic old songs that were being sung, and I started to think a little more about the stories they told. This opened up an enthralling world of folklore surrounding our Australian cultural roots. The old Irish, Scottish and English ballads provide a sort of living commentary from centuries past, of events that altered lives and were passed down in poem and song by minstrels of the time. There is something quite poignant in the way these stories move across the ages to arrive here with us, still able to enchant and tweak our emotions with their tales of everyday people living their everyday lives.
So while I’ve been indulging myself, ferreting out and singing these tales, Gill keeps me honest as far as the delivery of the ballads goes; she tries to pull me into line if I take too much license with my interpretations – of course, she realizes that in the finest traditions of all folk singers, I’m quite prone to altering a song to suit my purposes in telling the tale, but she points out my transgressions never-the-less … and she’s invariably right! Like the true soul mate that she is though, she loves the music and traditions as much as I do and provides me with no end of support.
As for the future, well I am delighted to say that I’ve joined the ranks of that finest of folkie institutions The Wayfarers, and what a delight it is. Getting to sing great music every Wednesday to a fine folkie audience is really hard to top. And to think the group is now in it’s 47th year - I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing. So, we intend to continue going along to the Kookaburra on Wednesday nights, enjoying the music and the company, singing with The Wayfarers, doing a solo set every so often, and hoping people enjoy the songs and their histories as much as Gill and I both do. We hope we’ll see you there sometime …
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