Image Courtesy of The Good Intentions
If you’ve watched TV docos in the last 49 years or so, you might know of the show ‘7 Up’ and its sequels which track the lives of a group of Britons from age seven, at seven-yearly intervals.
One of the vignettes in the first episode of the latest offering (’56 Up’, SBS One, Tuesday 7.30pm) included one R. Peter Davies who was returning to the show after a break of 28 years. And when he quite clearly stated his reason for rejoining the program, Bill Quinn clapped, applauded and reached for his laptop to look up the band The Good Intentions on social media.
Four days later, Bill was on the phone to Liverpool (UK) having a chat with Peter Davies and Gabi Monk, two-thirds of the band that also includes Francesco Roskell.
Bill Quinn: Peter and Gabi, where did you begin with music?
Peter Davies: Well, the day I first picked up a guitar, I guess, when I was a teenager. I’d always loved music and I started playing guitar mainly so I could get girls interested in me.
BQ: It’s a common theme!
PD: It didn’t seem to work!
But it got more and more serious, I started playing in bands and it just went from there. It’s been a hugely important part of my life.
BQ: And you, Gabi?
Gabrielle Monk: I first started playing probably as a teenager, but more in the church choirs and classical music. It was Pete that introduced me to the music that we now play.
We first started playing together in a band before we had kids and then when the kids came along we stopped for a while because it was just too difficult. But we’ve been playing in this incarnation now for the past six or seven years.
And it’s going great!
BQ: How did you both get into the Americana/country/alt-country genres?
And I remember reading an interview with Elvis and him saying, you know if you think I’m good, you should check out this guy Gram Parsons.
And this was like an epiphany for me. I went out and bought a Gram Parsons record and it was like my eyes were suddenly open.
I thought, I get it now. I see where all this music comes from: rock and roll all comes out of country and blues.
And it just took me from there: Emmylou Harris, Louvin Brothers, Hank Williams and Jimmy Rogers.
BQ: And is there a fair appetite for this sort of music in the UK?
PD: Yes, surprisingly. It’s never really going to go mainstream – it’s never going to get regular airplay on national radio. It’s a niche market, and I think it’s even a niche market in the US. But we have some good British artists and bands here, and a regular following for these artists.
People have this idea of “country music” here – people think it’s just big hats and rhinestones. If they come along to the shows, they hear good songs with good melodies and lyrics and that’s what it’s about.
BQ: Do people ask, “Where’s the line between country and alt-country?” Do people want to put genre labels on you?
GM: Yeah, and we have a big folk music scene in the UK – English folk music, Celtic, Irish, Scottish. And some of the folk clubs are quite purist about what they want and what they’ll have. So sometimes if we’re playing in clubs that are used to British music, it won’t go down so well having other influences.
So people are a bit compartmentalised.
PD: We belong to the tradition of old time, Appalachian folk music and a lot of that came out of traditions from the British Isles, which were taken out there by the immigrants to America and to Australia. We feel we fit in there, and we see no problem with playing that sort of music.
GM: We don’t wear rhinestones!
BQ: Ha! I noticed you went to America earlier this year. We have an expression – I’m not sure if it’s Australian or British: “taking coals to Newcastle”. Was there something about taking Americana back to America that was a bit daunting?
GM: Oh yeah, absolutely. The first time we went, we went to Nashville and played at a bar in the centre of Nashville on a Friday night. And as we got up onto the stage, there were probably about 200 people there and they’d all been drinking beer. And Pete just looked at me and said, “I don’t think I can do this!”
But it was great.
And we found American audiences very appreciative and listening. And they get that what we’re doing is from a shared heritage of influences and that we’re not just copying something; we’re adding to that genre.
BQ: Gabi, I notice you’re playing an auto-harp in one of the videos. Is that something you’ve been playing for a long time?
GM: No, it’s something I’ve been playing for about four years. It’s an instrument that’s not really British; it’s much better known in the states. It’s a lovely instrument and I really like it.
But a lot of times when I’m playing it in the UK, people come up to me and say, “What is THAT?!”
I play the auto-harp and I also play the piano accordion. Not at the same time, though!
BQ: Independent music in the UK: do you have a lot of support structures there, or do you find you’re going out a lot on your own?
PD: We’ve had to do a lot of work ourselves. We have the equivalent of people like you in the UK: blogs, online magazines and stuff. There are one or two agents who specialise in this kind of music, but they’re pretty thin on the ground.
And once or twice we’ve been in the right place at the right time and met the right sort of person. And for the forthcoming record which will be out in [the northern] Spring, we’ve on the verge of nailing a deal with a label.
GM: And the other thing we find helpful is that other musicians are good at supporting each other and building a supportive network. And that’s not just in the UK; we’ve found that in the states as well. They’re happy to share information and resources.
I don’t know if the house concert network is a big thing in Australia, but they’re big in the states and they’re starting to take off in the UK. So we put quite a lot of visiting artists on here, people we’ve met when touring in the states, and share audiences and resources that way.
It’s a great opportunity to see this sort of music and you get to see them up close and personal.
BQ: Just to touch on the Up series briefly, I’d not watched any of it until a few days ago, but when I heard you say on the 56 Up show that you’d come back on after a 28 year break more or less to get publicity for the band, I applauded.
PD: Thanks for saying that!
BQ: Good on you. Coming from the independent music scene, I reckon any time you can get some leverage is a good thing.
With the band going around about the time of 49 Up, did you have any thought that you might go back to it then?
GM: I tried to persuade him back then, but because he had such a bad time back in the eighties, he didn’t want to do it. Because every time the program comes around they come back and ask if he will do it.
But this time around, we’d been promoting the new album and Pete was feeling a bit low, thinking, “Oh God, this is so hard”.
And I said, “Well, why don’t you sell your soul to the devil? Why don’t you go on the television and promote the hell out of the album?”
“You can’t complain if you don’t take the opportunity.”
PD: Yeah, we had the new album at the time and were really proud of it. We just wanted to get it out there.
So I spoke to a couple of guys in the states, and they said, “Where’s the down side? Why are you asking? Go and do it!”
And they were right.
We got some great response to it. We sold a lot of records off the back of it. And we’ve got people like you interested.
And I have to say that since it went out in Australia a few days ago, we’ve had some great feedback. We’ve sold some records over there, so it’s been great for us. So we appreciate you saying that.
One or two people were a bit snide about it and said, “Oh, well, you’re only doing this to promote your band”.
And my answer is, “Yeah! Why the hell not?”
Playing this music and working independently, you have to take every opportunity that comes along.
BQ: I only found out a couple of hours ago on the internet that there’s been such a delay between the show going to air in the UK and being on air here in Australia – it’s getting on for six months now.
PD: Yeah, which is a really good time for us. We’ve got the new record coming out in [the northern] Spring, we’ve had all this activity since the program aired here, now the activity from Australia, and it’s showing in Canada at the end of this month and then in the states in the new year.
So we’re hoping it keeps kicking over quite nicely until the new record comes out in Spring.
BQ: One final question, and I apologise for it now because it’s going to sound a bit clichéd. When you’re doing 63 Up, where are you going to be at?
PD: [Laughs]. Good question! And the honest answer is, I don’t know. It seems like such a long, long way away. Our focus now is entirely on pushing ahead with the band. And making the maximum use of all of the publicity and responses due to the last program.
Who knows? By that time we could have come to a point where we don’t need the extra publicity. At a guess, I would say we’d take the same view again.
Episodes two and three screen on SBS One on Tuesday 6 and Tuesday 13 November from 7.30pm.