National Folk Festival Interview: Sparrow-Folk

Sparrow Folk
Image Courtesy of Sparrow-Folk

Canberra based comedy-folk duo Sparrow-Folk have been making waves on both the folk and comedy festival circuit in recent months with their unique, wry musical take on everyday situations. In what was probably the funniest interview I’ve ever done I chatted to Juliet Moody and Catherine Crowley, the duo who make up Sparrow-Folk, before their appearance at The National Folk Festival this weekend.

Gareth Hugh Evans: You guys have had a massively busy year so far. Just looking at your social media it seems like you’re everywhere, all the time.

Juliet Moody: Not musically, just stalking people.

Catherine Crowley: Have we been stalking the same celebrities?

GHE: [laughs] Has that been a concerted effort from you guys, to make it a big 2015.

JM: Last year kind of found us, rather than the other way around. We were able to The National Folk Fetsival last year which is fantastic. And while we were there lots of people were saying “are you doing this festival, are your doing that one” and we were like “no? We didn’t even know about them”. So last year was the first time we did any sort of folk festival so this year we made a concerted effort to just do every one that we can mixed in with comedy festivals and fringe festivals. We’ve basically done this to ourselves.

GHE: Which is excellent. And you’re obviously juggling jobs and family as well. It’s got to be quite a different audience going to a folk festival compared to a comedy festival.

CC: Yeah, the audience is really down to earth. We have lots of fun – both types of festivals are really exciting and we have different experiences but there’s something really nice about a folk festival and the audience we have there. Folk festivals are all about playing for your family whereas comedy festivals are really you throwing yourself out there. We love folk festivals because we feel we can share all of our music not just our really funny stuff.

GHE: Comedy audiences are a bit more demanding. They sit in front of you and say “right, make me laugh”.

CC: And folkie audiences are arms wide open audiences. They want to get to know you, they want to listen to what your music’s about and how you made the music.

GHE: So last year was the first National that you’ve played at as Sparrow-Folk.

CC: We started life at the blackboard gig in The Bohemia tent. I think it was the first year of the Bohemia tent. That’s where we first discovered each other.

JM: That’s right. We had other people that we were playing with at the time. It was more of an improv set. But our eyes locked…

CC: From across the microphones…

JM: And we went “let’s forget all these other guys on stage, we’ve got something here”. So literally that day we went away and said “we should do something together”. And our music actually started as folk music. I don’t think we ever intended to go into comedy. It’s just that people kept laughing at us. Which really is why we like doing the folk festivals because every now and then we throw in a serious song or a song that really means something to us and folk festival people really lap that up. Comedy people are “Nah. Move on”.

GHE: Folk as a genre lends itself to comedy as well because it’s all about lyrics. And audiences expect you to talk about the song before you sing it.

JM: I agree with what you’re saying. We find when we’re put in the folk festival circuit you get lots of people coming up and saying “this is great that they’ve put some comedy in”. It gives people an opportunity to relax or laugh a little bit. Some folk music can be quite heavy, some of the topics that they talk about can be quite dark or heavy. I totally think it lends itself to comedy. But there’s not a lot of folk comedy people out there so it’s good to get a chance to share what we do.

GHE: And you guys insert social comment into your comedy. And that’s really a folk thing as well, using the music to comment on society.

CC: I don’t think we could ever write funny songs without some sort of comment. We’re socially conscious women.

JM: Everything has an element of truth in it and I think that’s why people identify with our style of music. Even though we’re singing funny songs and they’re about stupid things sometimes they come from a place of truth. It doesn’t mean that the actual story has happened that way but events have happened in our life or we’ve met people and thought “that is hilarious” or “that’s really significant”. I don’t think we ever sit down going “we need to write something funny”, I think something happens to us and we go “let’s write a song”.

GHE: It’s funny that you guys said that you got together at a blackboard concert. So many musicians I talk to say that that was their first introduction to performing at the festival. It’s like a right of passage.

CC: When we were chatting to Pam [Merrigan], the artist director of The National Folk Festival, we told her our story about starting at the blackboard gig she said almost all of [the artists] started that way. That’s what she really loves about the festival, she was saying, that there are lots of these folk bands who started at The National, at a blackboard gig just jamming together. It’s nice.

GHE: After The National Folk Festival are you guys going to be focusing on getting to even more festivals this year?

JM: We try to get to as many as we can. It’s great for us – we obviously love doing them – but it’s also an easy access point for people to come and see us play. Because of the nature of what we do we can’t do these major tours that go on from months and months and months. Doing a festival circuit means that people can access our music first hand which is great.

GHE: And it must be great to play at all of these family friendly festivals as well.

JM: Absolutely. We played at Kangaroo Valley and it was the first festival that we decided we’d take all the family, which was fun. We hired a big house up there and had a great weekend with all the kids. It was crazy at times but it’s another wonderful thing about folk festivals is that they are so family friendly.

GHE: Although you always have to be careful taking kids to comedy-folk acts.

CC: For some of our songs we go “oh no, there’s some kids around”

JM: We do try to put a little warning if we’ve got some naughty stuff in there.

CC: Sometimes parents just come up and go “it’s great, it’s an education”. We keep getting put later and later on the bill for just that reason. We were playing a festival not long ago and started at 10:30pm and we thought “Great! We’ll pull out all our naughty songs” but there was still kids in the front row.

JM: It is a good folk festival thing for kids – they stay up late, run around and have a good time.

GHE: So what’s the evolution of Sparrow-Folk? You talked about how you never intended to be a comedy band. Would you ever focus on the serious side of your music?

CC: Sparrow-Folk seems to be constantly evolving. We have found ourselves in the comedy industry where we’re quite a niche. We’re doing music, we’re doing every day humour, so I think we’re liking the couch we’re sitting on in the comedy industry. But you never know, things are always happening. And of course inspiration for us, ideas for songs, come from everywhere so we never know.

JM: I read an interview with Tim Minchin recently and I kind of liken it to that. He doesn’t like to call himself a comedian so much as he’s a musician who has found himself in that kind of arena. And now he’s gone off and done this musical [Matilda]. If we found ourselves writing more soulful stuff that’s probably the direction we’d go. I guess you’re also in tune with what your audience wants to hear as well. It’s a journey that’s found us and we do what we love. Who knows what’s around the river bend … says Pocahontas.

CC: Who knows the colours of the wind?

JM: I do.

CC: Yours are green as far as I’m concerned.

JM: It’s all the curried egg sandwiches.

CC: What?

JM: Nothing like a good fart joke in an interview.

GHE: Thanks for that [laughs]. So at The National is there anything that you guys are involved in that people should know about?

CC: Yes! We have an [Infinite] Reggae entry.

GHE: That’s very exciting!

JM: We’re playing the greatest reggae song ever written.

CC: The greatest.

JM: We can’t tell you the title but it’s going to be awesome.

CC: You’re just going to have to wait and see. You cannot miss the reggae.

GHE: I’m looking forward to that!

CC: And if you can’t go to the folk festival we are doing the Melbourne Comedy Festival and the Sydney Comedy Festival.

Watch the New Dan Mangan + Blacksmith Video “Mouthpiece”

Dan Mangan
Image Courtesy of Dan Mangan + Blacksmith

Dan Mangan + Blacksmith have just released their brand new video “Mouthpiece”, taken from their new album Club Meds. Check it out below:

National Folk Festival Interview: Mustered Courage

Mustered Courage
Image Courtesy of Mustered Courage

Melbourne based new-grass band Mustered Courage have had a massive couple of months, touring the US, picking up a Golden Guitar at the Tamworth Country Music Festival and spending time in the studio recording their epic new album. With an appearance at this weekend’s National Folk Festival we sat down with Mustered Courage’s banjo player and lead vocalist Nick Keeling to reflect on the past few months and look forward to the year ahead.

Gareth Hugh Evans: First of all congratulations on the Golden Guitar win this year! That must be pretty exciting for you.

Nick Keeling: Yeah. It was a pretty good night there. Tamworth can be a bit of a hard slog – we played like 10 gigs this year in a row. So on the last day to win a little bit of a shiny thing, it’s nice. And then the phone rings a little bit so that’s good to.

GHE: Yeah, I imagine that suddenly there are a few people who’ve never heard of Mustered Courage who are now paying you a little bit of attention.

NK: Mustered Courage kind of sits in between a couple of different genres and different music scenes and the country scene is definitely one of them. If we can make inroads into the folk scene, the country scene, the roots scene, the indie scene – we just want to be everywhere.

GHE: I feel like the Australian country scene can be a little bit closed at times – its very hard for bands to break into. But maybe that’s going away a little bit?

NK: I feel like it’s just about participation. I don’t think there’s any kind of clique or wall. Just get up there and do it! I keep urging bands that I’ve seen at one Tamworth and then I don’t see the next to say “why didn’t you come back?”. Rome wasn’t built in a day. You’ve just got to keep chipping away. It’s basically an open door policy as far as I’m concerned – you want to play in the country scene, then play in the country scene. The only thing stopping you is your own desire or intent to do it.

GHE: How were the audiences in Tamworth?

NK: I really did feel like the audiences are changing a little bit. It’s getting younger, the next generation of country music listeners is intact. Hopefully that will then encourage more bands that are maybe in the scene to go up there. We had the Green Mohair Suits in Tamworth for two years in a row, Little Bastard came back, Wagons came back. I look first to our closest peers – you kind of need an army to lead the movement, you can’t do it by yourself.

GHE: You guys are heading to The National Folk Festival this year, which will be your second time there. What’s drawn you back to The National?

NK: I think it’s one of the greatest folk festivals in the country by far. I’ve been to dozens of festivals, I think they do it really well. I lived in Canberra for a long time, Julian [Abrahams] our guitarist is a Canberra boy, so it’s a bit of a homecoming in that regard. The best thing about The National for me is almost every concert I ever went to there is packed. Some people might get a little bit grumpy when they have that sign out the front that says “Venue Full” but you just learn to get in a little bit earlier and then you know the vibe’s going to be good. Some festivals, without naming any names of course, may spread themselves too thin on some shows. I think the beauty is in the programing and size management. When you go and see a show half of what you want is atmosphere and if a festival works hard to make sure that atmosphere is good for the band and the audience then there is no excuses.

GHE: And the audience that goes to The National are genuine music lovers.

NK: You go and you know there’s going to be a great camaraderie at The National as well. The session bar after hours, that’s the best musicians get together and party that I’ve ever experienced.

GHE: I don’t think there’s anything quite like the session bar. It’s one of those places where you can jam with your musical heroes. Where else does that happen?

NK: No where! I’ve been to a lot of back stage picks but this is just anyone. It’s really cool. From a personal perspective I’m gonna know about a hundred people up in there so it’s a good party.

GHE: I know people who pay for a season ticket and then spend their entire time in the session bar. They don’t go and see any of the programmed music, they just wait for the music to come to them.

NK: That happens at a lot of the great festivals of the world where people don’t leave the parking lot. That’s one of the great things about festivals, it’s a lot more than just going to see the bands. There’s a lot of stuff to do.

GHE: So you’ve been in the studio recently?

NK: Yeah, we’re just putting the finishing touches on the mixes now.

GHE: I saw crazy photos on your Facebook page of timpani and orchestral percussion. Is this a “big sound” Mustered Courage?

NK: It’s a big sound. We’ve kept the bluegrass thing at its core for sure – every track is acoustic guitar, bass, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, dobro. But then we built more around that which was one of the visions that we had for a long time, to orchestrate things a lot more. There is timpani, tubular bells, marimba, horns, organ, electric pianos, electric guitars and some other exotic instruments. Oh, and drums! I forgot – when you get too deep into the bluegrass scene people are like “drums?” but then the moment you stick you’re head out everyone’s like “of course you have drums. Bands have drums”. It’s definitely the next evolution of the sound – I would describe it as bluegrass with indie/Americana/folk/rock stuff that we don’t know has been done before, but it’s worth a try.

GHE: Sounds like you guys are really pushing the boundary of what Mustered Courage is.

NK: It’s still the same at the core. We try to write good songs. The vocal harmonies that we’ve really focused on for the past four years are still the main feature and the picking is still underneath and in the breaks to tantalise the ears. There’s just a lot more textures.

GHE: Did I see that you guys are heading back over to The States again this year as well?

NK: Yeah, we’re leaving in about seven weeks now. I feel like we just got back. The last tour was three months, no less than, no days off. Any day that was considered a day off was a couple of interviews and a 12 hour drive. We still played 50-something shows, nearly killed each other a few times, killed a few vehicles and we drove 27,000 miles. And we’re doing it again! We’ve got some good festivals lined up in the summer of bluegrass scene.

GHE: Is it important for you guys to chip away at the American scene while still maintaining your base in Australia?

NK: Yeah. It’s expensive for us to get over there but as far as the audience goes, we’re trying to build an audience for this kind of stuff here but over there there’s a ready made one. Our management and agencies don’t want us to lose any of the ground that we’ve got from going last time. We’ve managed to get on some really, really good festivals. One is the Telluride Bluegrass Festival – it’s kind of little bit of a dream festival for us. It’s the place where new-grass all started. Just to be a part of that makes this trip worth going and it makes the last trip worth it to because obviously we made an impression enough to get noticed by the people that you want to [notice you].

It’s tough because sometimes the tours feel like they have no rhyme or reason to them. They’re just town to town to town to town to town to town and you’re like “how can we even start to make a fanbase in these towns if we just play one little show and leave”. It’s a good thing we have some people driving this train that know what they’re doing because a lot of it has to do with trying to create hype with publicity. Basically the words “publicity tour” were important in what we did last time.

GHE: Well I’m glad you’re heading back there but I’m also glad I’m going to be able to catch you at The National Folk Festival first.

NK: Thanks mate – see you there.

National Folk Festival Interview: The Button Collective

Button Collective
Image Courtesy of The Button Collective

Since moving to Sydney from Lismore a year ago The Button Collective have become an integral part of the local folk scene. With The National Folk Festival looming this weekend and The Button Collective on the lineup officially for the first time we took the opportunity to chat to Brodie Buttons (lead vocals, guitar, mandolin) and Kwinton Trembath (piano accordion, vocals) about the band and the year they’ve had in the “big smoke”.

Gareth Hugh Evans: The fact that The National Folk Festival is this weekend means it’s been a year since I first met you guys. I remember seeing you at a gig and then recommending that you head to The National for Easter. I didn’t expect you to follow my advice but lo and behold I turned up and saw you busking there. And you obviously enjoyed it because you’re on the official lineup this year.

Kwinton Trembath: We only moved to Sydney around this time last year. We found a place and then within a couple of weeks we were playing a lot of gigs but we had the weekends off. So we were like “f**k it, let’s got to The National“. So we jumped in the van, drove down and had a great time busking there.

GHE: You guys were everywhere last year. When I convince someone to come to The National I’m always worried that they’re not going to think it’s cool. It’s not like other festivals where there’s these huge international names playing. But obviously you guys got the most out of The National last year because you were in the session bars, you were watching music, you were busking – and that’s paid off because you’re back there again this year. Did you guys play any blackboards last year?

KT: Yeah, we played a few blackboards in the cold of the night, very late. Just had a few of the diehards chilling out with us.

GHE: So it’s been a year since you guys moved from Lismore to Sydney. Reflecting back are you happy you made that decision?

Brodie Buttons: For sure. The folk scene here is amazing. Where we were before in Lismore, if we played three or four gigs a week we’d flood the market in one week and have to wait six months to play any more gigs. Here we can do it as much as we want. And the bands around Sydney in the folk scene have been really supportive, giving us gigs or contacts. It’s amazing.

GHE: And on the days you guys don’t have gigs your out busking or at jams…

KT: Or going to other people’s gigs. That’s the thing – wanting to play so many gigs has kind of backfired for us because we’re always missing other people’s great lineups.

GHE: The lineup that I see you play the most with is the two of you and Jake Pember on bass. Is that the lineup you’re taking with you to The National?

KT: We’ll have our fiddle player and our banjo player with us at The National. That’s the full Button Collective five piece. Our banjo player also plays a mean mouth harp. He lives in Lismore because he’s got a wife and a child and responsibilities there. Whenever we’ve got a festival where we can afford to fly him down we do. The fiddle player as well lives in Lismore, teaches at a Steiner school there.

BB: When we play as a three-piece that’s our skeleton crew.

GHE: So the size of the band and the make up of the band depends not just on whether they can make it down from Lismore but also the size of the show.

KT: Absolutely. If we could we’d get them to come to every gig.

BB: It’s probably hard to be more exciting than having a kid or teaching kids.

GHE: Exactly! Playing footstomping folk music is just not a priority when you put those things in the mix.

KT: but we’re very excited about playing with our banjo player Ben Wilson. He writes amazing music himself and he adds a lot to the energy of the performance when we play with him.

GHE: I’ve seen you guys a lot over the last year and I feel like I’ve seen you get really tight as a three piece. The harmonies are sounding amazing. I love the kick-drum. I guess there’s nothing like playing live several times a week to tighten up as a band.

BB: Totally. We thought that by moving in together we’d be rehearsing every day. But all it means is that we’re not band mates now, we’re housemates. So our rehearsals have become the three gigs we play a week at least. So we’ve gotten very good at playing gigs. We could be tighter if we rehearsed more but I think this way is a little more fun.

GHE: There’s nothing like rehearsing in front of a crowd and working out whether a harmony or a break is going to actually hit or not.

KT: When we first started the band there was almost seven of us. Stripping it back due to moving to Sydney and playing as a three-piece, you realise that you need to do a bit more to make the song really sound full and make the lineup suit the song. Jake is tapping the bass as the snare hits and I’ve started playing kick drum. It’s working well.

BB: I feel like parts of songs that we would have figured out through rehearsal we’ve sort of gone the long hard way around it by doing it organically. By playing it live enough we realise subconsciously that something’s not working.

KT: Trial and error’s a big thing. Often we’ll play the songs at different tempos three or four nights throughout the week and one of those nights will go off and the crowd pumping. Then subconsciously we’ll play at that tempo just because we know that that’s where it works.

GHE: Are there certain venues around Sydney where you feel like you can experiment a bit more?

BB: I find the best one for that is The Wild Rover. There’s always a good mixture of some people paying attention and other people not. It usually depends on sets: the first set everyone’s talking over you so you play a bunch of loud songs to try and get their attention; second set some people are paying attention and that’s just a normal gig; and by the third one the room’s pretty much empty cos everyone’s gone home – there’s one or two people left and it’s super intimate and lovely. That’s the place that we’ve made most of our songs what they are.

KT: I agree with that. Surprisingly the more people are interested and invested in how you’re playing, the more you improvise because you play off how they’re reacting. Sometimes there’ll be a song where usually there’ll be a part where you want to bring it back and have a quiet moment but everybody will be up and dancing so you’ll change the song to suit the people. Especially at The Corridor, people get really into it. Whether they’re up dancing or watching intently we change the song to sort of suit the moment.

GHE: One of the other things I love about you guys is the amount of energy you bring to each show, even if you’ve only got a handful of people in the audience. And I think that energy has informed your success in Sydney – venues want to have you back. Playing every gig like it’s the most important gig is a way to get venues and punters on side.

KT: The way we started was busking. Busking in Lismore, half the time there’s no one on the street so you’re just playing to no one at all. And you’re still having as good a time as if there were a crowd around you. It’s all about enjoying the music yourself.

BB: It also comes down to only knowing five chords. So you have to yell and be angry and passionate enough that people don’t notice [laughs]

GHE: And the influences you very obviously wearing on your songwriting sleeve – Australian bush music, Irish ballads and even bluegrass – also lends it self to that high energy as well.

KT: We’re definitely into a lot of the Irish tunes. But one of the main things that Brodie and I listen to and comment on is the lyrical content of music. And I think that’s something that I really resonate with with our songs.

GHE: I feel like a lot of your originals sound like Irish ballads or Australian bush ballads. There’s a very obvious linear link from that kind of music to the stuff that you guys write and play.

BB: I grew up going to a lot of folk dances. It was traditional Irish music and bush poetry so I learnt to like words and Irish music together.

GHE: What’s the next plan for you guys after The National Folk Festival?

BB: More festivals. But we’re also quite excited to release an EP and an album shortly. We have it almost all finished. I’m very excited because I feel like it’s the one good thing that I’ve done in my life. I’m excited for people to hear it.

GHE: Nice! Where abouts did you record?

BB: We recorded the EP at a farm house up in Lismore which was a lot of fun. And the engineer we worked with was so good to work with that we took him down to Green Cape Lighthouse [to record] the album. And that was so good – we were just in a little shack next to the lighthouse. And I just found out as well that there’s a story around Green Cape Lighthouse where there was a shipwreck full of gold miners from early Australian gold pioneering days. Apparently there’s a lot of gold buried underneath Green Cap Lighthouse. And I want to go back there some day … with a shovel.

KT: We’ll be putting out the EP before the album. The EP will be around a single called “The Lonesome Sea” which is a song that we wrote while sailing. We were at Falls Festival last year and in the camp ground we ran into a whole lot of people who go sailing with this old man. It was his birthday, I think it was his 70th birthday. We came on board as sailors but they smuggled our instruments on board and once we were out to sea we brought our instruments out and played for this old man. And he loved it! He’s traveled the world and loves music. And since then we’ve gone sailing with him every month or two months because he’s trying to develop a crew so that he can start doing trips to islands. One of those trips Brodie forgot to pack a lunch – he was complaining about being hungry and we couldn’t stand to listen to it any more so he went off with his mandolin to the back of the bought and wrote “The Lonesome Sea” about …

BB: Sailors starving [laughs]

KT: And that’s going to be the name of the EP. It’s going to be The Lonesome Sea.

GHE: Do you guys have any stories that don’t start with “So we met these random people and they said you should do this and we said yes”?

BB: It’s all about taking up opportunities. It’s the biggest think I’ve learnt since meeting Kwinton and Jake – it’s very easy to be boring and stay at home but nothing happens. You have to fight it and go out – the moment that you do something interesting is when you have an amazing story to tell.

KT: One of the absolute highlights of The National last year was that we were busking and this French Gypsy man ran up to us with his harmonica and just starting playing. I don’t think he even had the right key of harmonica at the time.

BB: [laughs] No he didn’t!

KT: But it sounded amazing because of the energy that he had. He played with us for a few hours, we made a whole lot of coin, spent it all on beer, got to know the guys and spent the rest of the festival with him. Had the greatest time. He came back to Sydney with us and busked with us for another week or two and then he went on his journey again. He’s probably doing that in more folk festivals overseas. He was an inspiring dude because now we can aspire to be the people that find those opportunities and makes amazing stuff happen.

GHE: I hope that at this year’s National you come away with more amazing stories.

The Milk Carton Kids Announce New Album Monterey

Milk Carton Kids
Image Courtesy of The Milk Carton Kids

US folk duo The Milk Carton Kids have announced plans to release a new album this year. Titled Monterey, the album is due for release on the 19th May – check out the track listing and a very funny launch video below:

1. Asheville Skies
2. Getaway
3. Monterey
4. Secrets Of The Stars
5. Freedom
6. High Hopes
7. Deadly Bells
8. Shooting Shadows
9. The City Of Our Lady
10. Sing, Sparrow, Sing
11. Poison Tree

The first taste of Monterey is the titled track which you can stream here:

National Folk Festival Interview: Mark Moldre

Mark Moldre
Image Courtesy of Mark Moldre

Central Coast singer-songwriter Mark Moldre is heading to The National Folk Festival this year having spent the last two years solidly touring his fantastic album An Ear To The Earth. Moldre is a favourite on the folk scene and we sat down with him to talk about the festival, his album and what’s coming up next.

Gareth Hugh Evans: You were in the first round of artists announced for The National Folk Festival this year. What’s drawn you to play there?

Mark Moldre: I just wanted to play some festivals to tell you the truth. We were sending out a whole bunch of applications and I was keen to get onto some festival bills. I’d heard lots of really good things about The NationalSarah Humphreys who I’m good friends with had told me heaps of good things about it. She always enjoyed playing there, crowds were so attentive and it was such a great musical atmosphere. For that reason I was just really keen for The National.

GHE: One of the cool things about folk festivals is that the people who go to them are music lovers. They truly are there for the music, not just to see the big name artist at the top of the bill or to follow a particular genre.

MM: You can see it from the performers. The genres are quite wide aren’t they?

GHE: Definitely. And I think the reason you’ll fit in really well is because you straddle multiple genres with your music.

MM: There are some people who are really really good at writing for a single genre and absolutely nailing it and sticking to it. I think about people like Pokey LaFarge for example – he’s just so good at what he does, that kind of jazzy, western-swing thing. I don’t know whether my head’s too scattered or what it is but I find it really hard to sit down and think to myself “ok, I’m going to write an album and I’m going to stick to this”. I listen to so much music and I’ve enjoyed listening to songwriters who’ve really delved into different genres and tried to pull together then own sound. I’ve always admired people like Paul Simon for example who’s a master at that. You can tell straight away it’s him but he can write for so many different genres. I kind of like when there’s a lot of styles all pulled into one common thread.

GHE: I also think that songs can transcend genres as well. Paul Kelly is a great example of someone who can adapt his songs for whatever genre takes his fancy, whether it be folk, pop, rock, soul or bluegrass. I like musicians like yourself who serve the song first and foremost.

MM: That’s nice to hear! I think what I pull from people like Paul Simon or Paul Kelly is they’re really strong lyricists as well. I think a lot of the time people are listening just as much to what they’ve got to say as they are to the music.

GHE: What can audiences expect from you at The National? Will you be solo or with a band?

MM: I’m enjoying the fact that we’re taking the whole band this time. We’ve got me on acoustic guitar, Jamie Hutchings on electric guitar, Michael Carpenter filling in for our usual drummer which is going to be fun, Reuben Wills playing double bass and Adam Lang on banjo and lap slide. It’s the full lineup.

GHE: That’s really exciting. It’s nice to be able to do that for a festival because I know how expensive it can be carting people and gear around the country.

MM: Yeah, it is hard and it is expensive. I just really wanted to do it with the band and I think the festival requested if the band could come if possible.

GHE: As far as your live set goes are you mainly drawing from An Ear To The Earth? I know it’s been out for a while but is that still the album that you’re touring?

MM: I can’t believe it’s been out for two years. We had this discussion with the band just before we started rehearsing for The National and we decided because we haven’t played Canberra that much, and a lot of people wouldn’t recognise those songs, we playing mainly from An Ear To The Earth. I have a couple of new songs which we ended up not having the time to rehearse and just wanted to stick with the songs that were strong. I think there’s one song from The Waiting Room and one song from a collaboration I did with Michael Carpenter and then the rest of it’s from An Ear To The Earth. And we’ve been playing Neil Young’s “Vampire Blues” for a while and we love playing that so that’s remained in the set list.

GHE: I feel the music industry and the music media, myself included, are so obsessed with what’s the next thing. It’s kind of nice to settle into an album like An Ear To The Earth and see where it takes you. Do you feel like the songs have evolved in the two years since its release?

MM: The band plays them a little grittier and harder than they are on the album, that’s probably one thing. What you just said I think is really true – I think more and more because of people’s short attention spans and social media people do move from one thing to another very very quick and forget about what they left behind. Albums are just having a shorter and shorter shelf life. That kind of makes me a little bit sad because I always enjoy really letting an album wash over you and repeated listens and rediscovering things. I’m still really into track lists and not listening to songs where I’ve pulled singles off iTunes. I like to listen to an album from start to finish. And kind of my whole goal of doing this concept of a clip for every song on the record is to give the album a lot more longevity than it normally has while waiting to find some inspiration for the followup.

GHE: And it’s a nice way to keep creating something new from an existing album, releasing clips every few months.

MM: I’ve really enjoyed doing those. I love movies and I love talking about that stuff, writing down the concepts and coming up with the ideas. I’ve really enjoyed doing that probably as much as I had making the record. And I’ve worked about five different people making the clips – it’s been a ball.

GHE: It feels like between yourself and Sarah Humphreys, Bill Chambers, Mike McCarthy, etc, that there’s a nice little folk and acoustic scene in the Central Coast. What do you think that’s down to?

MM: Yeah there is. There’s a nice bunch of people and there is a nice little folk scene. Everyone knows each other and we all gig together and everyone’s quite supportive of one and other. I think we had to do that because even though we’re not that far away from Sydney we feel a bit isolated in that there isn’t many places to play here. As you probably know Lizotte’s [Kincumber] is closing its doors – that was a place where a lot of us over the last eight, nine years all had a lot of support shows there. Brian [Lizotte] was really supportive of all the local artists. With that going, it’s good that there’s this folk community, this group of us who kind of get together and organise little shows whether they’re at places like The Glass Onion Society or Quatro or wherever it may be. I think without that we’d kind of all feel isolated.

GHE: I kind of feel like the music scene always finds a way. Just because venues close doesn’t mean there isn’t an appetite for live music, whether it moves to other venues or starts popping up in living rooms as people put on house concerts.

MM: That’s right – the house concert thing is really taking off.

GHE: And I think that’s a response to venues closing down. Live music has found a way.

MM: The thing with house concerts is you know that those people who live int he house are going to work to bring some people along. Whereas you can go to a venue in some obscure location and never want to have the owner book you again because no one turns up. You’re kind of guaranteed with those house concerts that you’re going to play to a nice, attentive audience that are keen to chat to you afterwards and buy CDs and talk music. They’re a great idea.

GHE: So after The National Folk Festival what’s next on your plate?

MM: I’m definitely head down for writing on the next record. I’m planning on recording pretty much the same way with the same band. I’m looking for Jamie to produce it again and we’re going to record to tape again – we had such a good time doing things that way. The joy of just going straight to tape and playing live with the band was just one of the best recording experiences I’d ever had. And for me it was probably my favourite result. So writing and then a new recording.

Watch the New Bellowhead Video “Roll Alabama”

Image Courtesy of Bellowhead

“Roll Alabama” is probably my favourite track from the new Bellowhead album Revival and it’s such an obvious single, I’m surprised it’s taken them this long to release it as one. The band have just revealed the brand new video for “Roll Alabama” following on from a nomination for best group in this years BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.

Check out the video below:

National Folk Festival Interview: Restless Legs

Mairead Hurley
Image Courtesy of Mairead Hurley

Gareth Hugh Evans: I think the first time I saw you guys was actually at last year’s National Folk Festival.

Mairead Hurley: Yes, last year. We had just gotten the name last year. I had just moved to Sydney last January and I already knew Louise Phelan [fiddle] and Maeve Moynihan [fiddle] from Ireland, from going up and going to fleadhs and festivals. Then we all met Ben Stephenson [guitar, flute, bodhran] in Sydney. As a group we went to Tasmania last year to their fleadh in March. That was the first time we’d performed as Restless Legs. By the time we played at The National we weren’t billed as that because the application had gone in much earlier but it was the same line up.

This year we have a couple of new additions as well. We have Louise Phelan’s husband John Cassidy performing sean-nós dancing and we also have a new arrival in Sydney, a girl named Susan Miller, who’s a multi-instrumentalist as well – she plays fiddle, button accordian and piano as well.

GHE: I feel like you had a dancer last year as well?

MH: That was John Cassidy as well. That was Louise’s partner and they just got married earlier this year.

GHE: So yourself, Louise and Maeve played together back in Ireland?

MH: We would have all met each other and played bits here and there, not on a regular basis. More just a social basis, fleadhs and sessions and stuff. We all started playing regularly together in Sydney.

GHE: I know there’s quick a big Irish community in Sydney – within that is there a lot of musicians?

MH: Yeah, and that was the reason that both Louise and myself came to Sydney originally. There’s lots of music being co-ordinated by the Irish National Association, and they’re based in the Gaelic Club. They have a program where they regularly hire an Irish person to come and teach whatever is their chosen instrument. Louise did that for a couple of years and she still teaches with them and I came over to teach with them in 2014. The people learning are a mixture of Irish people who maybe played when they were younger and have taken it back up or Irish people who bring their kids to lessons, their kids who are Irish-Australian and then often some people who have no Irish connection at all and just pick it up because they love the music. There’s a pretty vibrant scene.

GHE: There’s obviously a difference to playing in sessions and performing on stage in front of a crowd. How do you choose which tunes and sets make it into the Restless Legs set and which are kept for the sessions?

MH: As a group of musicians we all have the same focus and priority which is kind of what makes us play well together and made us want to take the set further. That focus on very traditional tunes but also quite unusual tunes. To get away from the old classics and maybe find a few more hidden treasures within the tradition. And then mixed with newer, more contemporary stuff and occasionally finding an old standard and trying to rework it or do something different with it. It’s kind of a balance between all of those. We all kind of feed off learning new tunes from one an other and finding stuff that we want to work with. Then it’s just a matter of fine tuning it, taking arrangements and working with sounds to see what combination works best. Mostly just going with what tunes we like – it’s all about enjoying the performance and you enjoy it when you’re playing stuff that you like.

GHE: Do you have a particular type of tune that you enjoy playing?

MH: Not really. For a session and for a performance, what keeps it interesting is having a variety. Nothing in particular but we probably would focus on the faster dance tunes, reels and jigs, than anything else.

GHE: I do have to ask, but why did you learn the concertina? It’s not the most glamorous instrument in the world.

MH: What! What! I’ll change your mind about that!

GHE: I’m sorry!

MH: [laughs] It had a massive resurgence in the last 15 years which is about the time that I started playing. I think it’s because I grew up in Sligo which is predominantly fiddle and flute country. My dad’s a flute player and my uncle’s a fiddle player. From the neighbourhood that I grew up in that was what was common. I learned the flute first. And then I think it’s because the concertina was so unusual and when it started becoming a bit more widespread it was completely new to me – it was a whole new sound, it was a whole new array of things that could be done with tunes that I was just not familiar with. I just felt like I had to play that instrument and then I think once I made that decision, when I was about 14 I wouldn’t put it down any time in my waking hours. My mum can verify that!

It’s like any instrument – there are so many ways to play the same tune. So many different styles. I just think it’s great. And I think it sounds really good with fiddle in particular so I guess that’s why it works well with two girls in the band.

GHE: And it’s super portable! I think that’s why it was so popular 50 years ago with singers and players. It was something that they could just carry with them.

MH: I think that’s kind of how it ended up making its way into the Irish tradition. Because they were so portable sailors used to throw them on ships and then when the ships would come into port they’d end up in every household. It was very popular in County Clare.

GHE: One question I’ve been meaning to ask you is what it’s like to play with Ben Stephenson? He’s a bit of a hero of mine. Does having him in the band bring an audience with him?

MH: I’m not sure. Possibly. Ben’s an amazing playing and we’ve all clicked really well. Like I was saying we all share tunes and he’s very open with his music, he’s really encouraging and he’s really interested in learning from everyone else. When you get that interaction from someone it’s great. He has such amazing experience as a band member with Trouble in the Kitchen and I’ve been lucky enough to perform as a guest with them at The Woodford Folk Festival and The Port Fairy Folk Festival and the Brunswick Music Festival recently. They’ve got so much experience, they’re so well polished and Ben really does bring that experience to us a as group.

GHE: Anything else we can look forward to from you guys at The National?

MH: Just that both Maeve and Louise will be giving fiddle workshops. You’ll find them in the program. There’s an intermediate and advanced fiddle workshop with them.

We’re looking forward to The National, really excited. This will be my second year – I had a massive ball last year, it’s one of the best festivals I’ve ever been to. We’re looking forward to lots of music, lots of late nights at the session bar and lots of tunes from all our friends from Australia and beyond.

Passenger Announces New Album Whispers II

Image Courtesy of Passenger

Uk based singer-songwriter Passenger last week announced plans to release his new album Whispers II. The album is a follow on from his highly successful 2014 record Whispers.

“The truth is I’ve been sitting on this album for ages as all of the songs were written and recorded at the same time as Whispers which is the reason why it feels right to make it a follow up rather than a separate entity all together,” Passenger explained via social media. “There are ten songs on the album (plus 6 bonus tracks if you get the deluxe edition … no pressure haha) and as I said these songs have been around for a while so some of you might know a few of them already.”

Passenger has also announced that 100% of all profits of the album will go towards Unicef.

Whispers II is due for release on the 20th April. Check out the first single and video “Travelling Alone” below:

National Folk Festival Interview: Chaika

Image Courtesy of Chaika

Sydney world/balkan/bolk/jazz/classical group Chaika will be heading to The National Folk Festival for the first (official) time this year so we thought it was about time to sit one of the band down – multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Laura Bishop – to chat about the band and the big plans they have for 2015.

Gareth Hugh Evans: Chaika is playing at The National this year. You’ve played their before right?

Laura Bishop: We’ve never been on the program before but we have actually played a couple of times as part of the MoFo concert or The Flute & Fiddle asked us to play. We always love doing a blackboard because we have members that are part of other acts, different conglomerates of different things so we’re usually down there. Apart from last year where we didn’t actually play at all as Chaika I think for the last four or five years we’ve had a play around somewhere on The National. But yeah, this is our first time on the program.

GHE: I had no idea. I just assumed you’d played on the program before. I’ve seen you there a number of times.

LB: I know, most people don’t. They think we’re actually part of the program.

GHE: I guess it’s because The National is kind of like your “home” festival.

LB: Well it certainly feels like that to me.

GHE: I guess that goes to show the power of The National Folk Festival – you don’t have to be on the program to feel like you belong there. I just assumed you’d been playing there for years.

LB: Myself and my sister [Susie Bishop] who are one third of Chaika, we’ve been going to The National since we were very very small. Possibly I’ve been going there since before I was born – I haven’t checked out the timing of it. Our parents are born and bred folkies and for many years we were part of our family’s dance band called Crazy for Contra. We used to live in The States and out parents brought back this form of dancing called contra dancing and we just played at The National every year as part of that. And then we started making our own bands and fell into playing there as part of other acts.

GHE: It’s great that there are those venues at The National who do the blackboards or put on non-programmed artists. It must be really nice to feel you can turn up to the festival with the band and still get gigs even if you aren’t on the official program.

LB: Yeah, it’s been great over the years. Before Chaika became Chaika we were a four piece girl group which was based more on Yiddish Klezmer music. It got one of its first gigs at a blackboard at The National. It’s kick started a lot.

GHE: And the other great thing about the festival is it’s not just about singer-songwriters and anglo-celtic folk like a lot of folk festivals are. You guys still find an audience there even though you’re outside of the norm. For some people the “world” music program, for want of a better term, is why they go to The National.

LB: Not just at this festival but at lots of festivals we find audiences who love what we do which is a real mix of genres and influences.

GHE: And it feels like the music you guys are influenced by – klezmer, Balkan, gypsy, Eastern European – is being surfaced more at folk festivals at the moment. It seems to be everywhere.

LB: Yeah, I love it! It’s great! It’s nice to have such a diversity. I feel like we’ve come a long way as a band – our second album is building a lot on the first and we’ve got a third in the works which I think is going to be pretty stellar.

GHE: Does that mean we’ll be treated to some of that new music at The National?

LB: Not yet! Unless you haven’t seen us for a year it’s all going to be highly polished first and second album stuff. In May we’re lucky enough to be the Bundanon artist in residence. I don’t know if you know but the artist Arthur Boyd left his property to the Bundanon Trust for Australian artists just to go and be artistic. It’s a beautiful place – it’s got a river and lots of hills and wildlife. We’re spending a week about a month after the festival working on new material. But sadly no new music in time for the festival

GHE: Highly polished music from your first two albums sounds very exciting regardless. You guys haven’t played much at the beginning of this year, have you?

LB: No. The reason why is that half of the band has been in Argentina with a tango quintet, who were actually at the festival last year. They were the Infinite Elvis winners, Tángalo. My sister was wearing false eyelashes, a crazy wig and a stupid dress. All sorts of hijinks on stage. The bass player [Johan Delin] and the accordionist [Emily-Rose Sarkova] from Chaika were up there as well along with two other wonderful musicians. So yeah, they’ve been in Argentina for a couple of months doing a Jump Start grant, getting some study into that music. So they’ve come back with a whole lot of musical ideas – it’s going to be fun.

GHE: Do you think that will feed into Chaika?

LB: I think it will, yeah. I really do.

GHE: So the guys who are in Tángalo are back in the country now?

LB: Yeah, they got back only a month ago. We got together the day before the Cobargo Folk Festival, did a couple of hours rehearsal and went straight there. They played with a duo that they brought back from Argentina and we played together in some really great concerts for some really wonderful audiences. Apart from a gig that we did in September last year we haven’t played together before then. But it’s amazing to see how quickly we get back on the bike. Like there’s this crazy piece that we’ve written called “Vreme Senvič” which means “time sandwich” in Macedonian – and it is with lots of time signatures sandwiched together. And I was just pissing myself laughing looking at Emily-Rose’s face, the accordionist who takes the melody. Her face didn’t look like it knew what her arms were doing but her arms were doing it just perfectly.

GHE: It’s all muscle memory.

LB: Absolutely. It sounded good, it’s always fun to play with those guys.

GHE: With the band back together and one festival performance under your belt and The National coming up does it feel like you guys are now going to have a bit more of a focus on Chaika in the coming months? Especially as you’re going to the Bundanon residency.

LB: Absolutely. Always the difficulty with it, and with any musical project, is how much to balance against other projects that are happening. We’ll definitely be focusing on new material through May and June. In July I’m going on tour with a Bulgarian choir to Europe so that time with be dead time for me. I’m sure there’s gong to be stuff happening for Tángalo and the other guys. Laura Altman, our clarinettist runs improvised music festivals. Our percussionist Rendra [Freestone] is also in another act at The National called The Rhythm Hunters, which I highly recommend – if you’ve got time to see them they are awesome. Amidst all of that we still really love Chaika and whenever we get the time to do it we’ll be focusing on making new music.

GHE: So anything else you want to talk about before I let you get back to your day?

LB: Actually yes! We’ve got a songbook full of transcriptions that I made of the songs that we’ve written and traditional tunes that we’ve arranged with artwork that Susie and Emily-Rose have drawn in it – which is a pretty cool thing. They’re kind of going like hotcakes so if anybody wants to learn how to play our stuff, that’s where to find it.

GHE: People will have to pick that up early at The National I think instead of waiting until the last minute like I always do. Well thank you so much for that Laura – really appreciate your time!

LB: No worries. Thanks Gareth!

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