Image Courtesy of The Company
For the first time in its 50 year history The National Folk Festival will be hosting celebrate Brisbane bluegrass quartet The Company. We sat down with fiddle and Banjo player George Jackson to find out what the band has been up to and what to expect from their shows at The National.
George Jackson: The Company hasn’t been to The National Folk Festival before. So it’s exciting for the band – we’ve been hoping to get there for a few years now so we’re stoked to be playing this year. And I haven’t played personally, in any capacity, for four to five years so I’m really looking forward to performing at The Nash this year.
GHE: Is there something about The National Folk Festival has inspires you to try and get onto the lineup?
GJ: It’s definitely one of my favourite festivals to go to. So that’s always an incentive to try and get in as a performer. It’s really well run and there’s always exciting musicians from all over the world that you want to connect with and jam with and see play. For me I always want to be there in some capacity – and I’ve been lucky enough to be there every year for a number of years now with the Folk Alliance or one thing or another. It’s The National Folk Festival – it’s prestigious and you want to be a part of it.
GHE: You guys have just recorded a new album, is that right?
GJ: We have, yeah. It’s our third album and we’re in the process of mixing bringing it all together at the moment. That’s slated for release in the second half of this year.
GJ: Absolutely. We’ll definitely be performing all of the new material. This new recording is going to be 13 tracks, all of which are originals of ours. We’ve been exploring our own sound further and we’re excited to get the opportunity to play a lot of that stuff at The National Folk Festival this year.
GHE: I feel like bluegrass as a folk genre has only really been rising to prominence at The National over the last few years. Or maybe my eyes have been open to it a bit more – it feels like it’s getting on the main stages and there’s whole concerts built around it. Do you think that’s contributed top you guys getting on the lineup this year?
GJ: This year is the 50th anniversary so I think they’re going all out, booking a lot of bands. There’s some excellent bluegrass bands there this year which is exciting for all of us because we love to get into the session bar and pick. And I definitely think that bluegrass, and associated Americana music, is on the up at the moment. When there’s a lot of high quality acts available in a certain genre I think they’re going to be represented more. I think that’s been the case recently that there’s been some younger bands, some new bands, around representing those genres. It’s exciting to see that there’s a lot of Bluegrass there and some of them are the most high calibre around like Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band and The Davidson Brothers. Something that’s interesting about that too is that there’s a lot of different styles within bluegrass to play – none of those bands are going to sound terribly similar. I think in the past bluegrass music has been lumped in as one thing. You have an Irish band and a Scottish band and people understand the difference in that. But the difference between what Peter Rowan’s going to be playing and what we’re going to be playing as The Company is very different. There is a lot of scope within the genre.
GHE: When I started going to folk festivals as an adult about 15 years ago there was a very clear divide between “folk music” from an Anglo-Celtic point of view and anything that fell under the American banner of folk music – country, Americana and bluegrass. But that just seems to have gone away. You go somewhere like The National Folk Festival and you’re going to see as many country singers and bluegrass singers as Irish trad bands.
GJ: That’s exciting! It’s a popularity thing – there are movies and things recently that have helped the resurgence of that music. It’s part of the whole hipster thing to I think [laughs]. Americana is a very popular genre.
GHE: So The Company is essentially a Brisbane based band but I know you spend a lot of time down in Melbourne and across in New Zealand and the US. How often do you actually get a chance to get together as a band? How does it work?
GJ: When we started the band we were all living in Brisbane. We started the band, we recorded our first album and during that whole time I was living in Brisbane, as were the other guys. It definitely helped us form the band that way – there was a base to grow from, we had a repertoire that we organised a whole CD worth of original music and a bunch of traditional music that we’d worked up for our shows. In the first year or year and a half of the band being together I moved to Melbourne and I’ve kind of been based there for the last three or four years. Because we’d already done the groundwork there whenever I flew up to play some gigs or we met at a festival we had that repertoire ready to go and we just built on it. Each time we were together someone would have a new tune or a new song and we’d just work it out in the couple of days around a gig. One of the joys of playing with The Company is that the whole band is very active in keeping the repertoire turning over. It’s really not a stagnant band at all which is awesome considering the fact we have that geographical hurdle to cross with me not being in the city. As a trio they will perform gigs and they will work on new material which I’ll fit myself into when I get up there. So sometimes it works like that. But we all really love to write new music and work on new music so oftentimes we’ll give ourselves a goal like recording an album. It’s kind of intense and can be stressful but ultimately super rewarding and exciting to be involved in. We’ve just recorded our third album of thirteen original tracks, some of which you’d call bluegrass and some of which I don’t know what you’d call it. But it’s all great music and we’ve pulled it off – it’s a really fun band in that respect. It works if you want it to work and we all just get in and make it work. I really appreciate the fact that the guys are willing to continue the band with me with me all over the world at any given point.
GJ: I think often it’s to do with what I’ve written at a certain time and what band happens to be around when I’ve written it. I think there’s definitely stylistic differences to the band too which kind of dictate when you write something whether it’s going to go to one band or another. One of the fun things about playing with The Company verses playing with One Up, Two Down for example is I only play fiddle with One Up, Two Down and it’s kind of based on Old Timey music – that’s the basis of where we’re coming from. In The Company I play a lot of banjo as well – I probably play 50% banjo and 50% fiddle. So if I’ve written a banjo tune it’s probably going to suit The Company more. If it’s slightly more esoteric or jazzy or arranged the guys in The Company are all conservatorium trained musicians – Jamie’s a jazz guitarist and he was my lecturer at jazz school and Mick is classical violist who studied at ANU. Those guys are visual musicians, they like to write things out. When you come to a Company rehearsal there’s lots of music notation and arrangements written out, chord charts and stuff. Whereas working with One Up, Two Down – those guys are trained musicians too but the way we approach it is definitely more in a “this is what I’m hearing, why don’t you do this there”. We just verbalise it and play it. The process is different and so I think itself to what tunes go where.
GJ: Totally. The plan is to release it in the second half of this year and that will be coinciding with a tour and a run of festivals and things. I think you can expect that the second half of this year and the first half of next year there’ll be a lot more of The Company going on than there has been in the past six months.
GHE: Well that about wraps it up. Thanks so much for chatting with me today George.
GJ: Not a problem – thank you.
Thursday 24th to Monday 28th March – National Folk Festival, Canberra, ACT
– Friday 8pm – The Lyric
– Saturday 11:30am – The Terrace
– Sunday 12:30pm – Budawang
– Monday 11am – Marquee
– Monday 2:30pm – Speigel Zelt