Interview: Rory McLeod

Rory McLeod
Image Courtesy of Rory McLeod

How to explain Rory McLeod to the uninitiated…

If you took a bright yellow trombone with a social conscience, and a battered old guitar with a wry, observational perspective on the human condition, and then threw them in to a blender with a Mariachi band from Essex then…

You’d probably have some explaining to do to the authorities.

And the cleaning staff.

Conversely, you’d be a fraction on your way to getting Rory McLeod.

Last weekend, Bill Quinn (Overheard Productions) grabbed a few very late night words with Rory McLeod at Illawarra Folk Festival.

Bill Quinn: It’s very early or very late, depending on your perspective, and I’m talking with a man with a bright yellow trombone. His name is Rory McLeod.

The first thing I want to do is clear…

Rory McLeod [FX]: Bbbbbbbrrrrrrrrpppppppppppp.

BQ: He had the burritos for lunch.

RM: ‘scuse me; it’s something I ate.

BQ: I actually mentioned you in an article just recently, and I put “Scotland” in (brackets). What is your heritage?

RM: Oh, McLeod? Well, my Dad’s Scottish. He’s from Glasgow, from Govan Shipyards there on the Clyde. And my mum’s side, my Mum’s South African but her mum was Russian; they were Russian Jews. She was a baby when she left Russia, my grandma was, brought up in the east end of London.

So I was born in London so I could be near my mum. So I’m either a foreigner forever, or a Northern Hemispherian from me mum!

BQ: So which side if any did the music come from?

RM: I don’t know. There was no one who really played music. My gran danced.

My dad liked whistling; my mum liked dancing to rock and roll. Jiving and that.

I just taught myself, really.

BQ: You’re here in Australia; what’s been happening for you?

RM: I’ve been catching up with lots of old friends; it’s been great. Seeing friends’ grandchildren. I remember when I was here years ago, driving down to Myall Lakes, all the way down overnight, then stopping at the lakes just there – like glass.

And just lying on a bench, and all the birds – the first time I’d heard any Australian birds: kookaburras, currawongs – they had two voices.

But mostly catching up with friends. There’s friends I’ve known from Byron Bay, they’ve come down on a house-swap, and they’ve got their kids here.

And I’ve done gigs where people have brought their grandmas, and grandmas who’ve brought their grandchildren!

And the grandmas look really younger than their grandchildren!!

Lovely. It’s great.

BQ: Now, for this month only, I’m asking every Northern Hemispherean this question: Bit ‘ot, innit?

RM: Oh, I don’t mind the heat. I’ve always liked the desert. Actually, it’s funny, I’ve never seen anything like “The Alic”’: big sky, you’ve got 180 degrees, saw the shooting stars.

I quite like dry heat. Yeah, it’s been really hot today [42.4 degrees Centigrade on the thermometer, about 50 degrees bouncing off the bitumen at the showgrounds.]

I think it’s just keeping out of the heat in the shade. But you know; mad dogs and Englishmen! So they say.

There’s snow now where I live. I think if you stay here, you might miss the seasons if I stayed here every summer. I don’t mind the heat at all.

You gotta drink a lot of water. I drink tea, actually. I drink cups and cups of it – a hot drink in the hot sun.

You can take the man out of England but… no, in Asia, China they drink a lot of it.

It’s better for you.

BQ: Getting ever so slightly back to music, you’re here in Australia for a couple more weeks: what’s coming up?

RM: Singing songs! New songs, old songs. Where am I? Sydney. We’re at the Cat and Fiddle in Balmain next Tuesday. I’m hoping to catch up with Jim Conway.

Then I go from there to the Blue Mountains, the Clarendon Hotel there for a gig, [Wednesday 23 January].

That’s me birthday!

Then after that I drive down to Canberra, then from there I go to Yackandandah for a gig – that’s Invasion Day weekend, innit?

From there to Newstead Festival – looking forward to that. Then after Newstead, I’m looking forward to catching up with more friends down near Castlemaine.

And then I end up out at Broome. I’ve been to Broome but I’ve never played a gig there. Well, I played outside the bars.

I can remember, some of the blokes weren’t allowed in the bar, so I remember sitting outside and having a yell with them and played outside the bar.

Some of them Pigram blokes’ll be there: Steve and Tonchi’ll be there. I haven’t seen them for a good while – six years – so I’m looking forward to catching up with them.

Then the Workers’ Club in Fremantle, and then I’m going to Guthrie’s – I’ve never been there. That’s named after WoodyGuthrie – Guthrie’s bar in Adelaide.

Then I end up in Victoria. The Spotted Mallard or something in Melbourne.

BQ: In terms of recording material, have you got anything new out?

RM: It might be new to yourself, yeah, I’ve got a band and when we play as a band, my friend Diego [Laverde Rojas] plays harp – he’s from Columbia and he plays beautiful, lyrical harp. An old brother of mine, Bob Morgan plays clarinet and sax. And they’re on the album. We’ve got double bass, cello, vibes, pedal steel. And a bunch of new songs. Some sad, some happy.

But they’re not gonna make you sad. They’ll take the sadness out of ya. I want to take sadness out of people. So yeah, stories. Take ya on a journey.

BQ: Rory, thanks for talking with me.

RM: Thanks very much.

Rory McLeod’s remaining gigs in Australia:

Wednesday 23rd January – Clarendon Guesthouse, Katoomba, NSW
Thursday 24th January – Merry Muse, Canberra, ACT
Friday 25th January – Yackandandah Town Hall, Victoria
Friday 1st February – Fremantle Workers Club, WA
Sunday 3rd February – Divers, Broome, WA
Wednesday 6th February — Guthries, Adelaide, SA
Thursday 7th February — Briagalong Hotel, Vic
Friday 8th February – Harvester Moon, Bellarine, Vic
Saturday 9th February – Spotted Mallard, Melbourne, Vic

The audio file of Bill’s interview is a bit muddy with so many sessions going on in the background at Illawarra Folk Festival, but on this short grab recorded two days later, you can hear the crowd acknowledge Rory as only they should this week!

1 Comment

  1. January 25, 2013 at 14:38

    […] “I’ve been catching up with lots of old friends; it’s been great. Seeing friends’ grandchildren. I remember when I was here years ago, driving down to Myall Lakes, all the way down overnight, then stopping at the lakes just there – like glass. And just lying on a bench, and all the birds – the first time I’d heard any Australian birds: kookaburras, currawongs – they had two voices” – Rory McLeod chats to Bill Quinn. Interview here […]


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