Shaking Off The Rust

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Ben Fowler, recently returned from the Solomon Islands (photo supplied by artist)

Elizabeth Walton chats to Benji and the Saltwater Sound System

After a song is written you sometimes need to shelve it, forget it for a while, let the dust settle on the shine of a new idea. A good holding period offers time for ideas to go through some mystical metamorphosis which an artist can’t plan or contrive. That’s when that extra dynamic clicks in, that missing factor which takes a project from being just another element of a body of work to being something really interesting. When the artist returns to the shelf to dust off their work, then it can truly come to life.

For Benny Fowler, shelving his work in the sea has meant an accumulation of rust rather than dust, and it’s not just his material but his entire presence that’s been immersed in the salt. An extended break in the Solomons has allowed his material to mature, and infused his unique mix of chilled reggae/ska/funk with even more islander influences than before.

The time has now come to shake off the rust, to scrub and polish his songs, and reveal the metal beneath the surface. The job is well timed with appearances at both The National and Cobargo festivals coming up, as well as a return to the studio with the present lineup and a crowd sourced album due for recording later this month.

To get the show going, Benji and the Salt Water Sound System have announced a small halls tour of the South Coast of New South Wales. The tour kicked off in December with a gig at Murrah Hall on the Tathra-Bermagui highway down the far south coast, and a weekend of seaside events is planned for late February.

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Murrah Hall is a classic old time Aussie bush hall. It’s a hand-hewn timber structure set in a tall dense forest, well away from houses or cranky neighbours with their noise complaints. It’s a place that feels quiet and chilled even when the band gets going. The only road in to the venue meanders from beach to beach, delving inland through lush farms and forests, darting back towards the coast now and then, drifting over a series of wooden bridges that span sandy streams and low tide islands.


The small halls revival returns music to the people at their grass roots – taking live events out of the hands of commercial promoters and placing it at the feet of the community. Along with good tunes, local homemade food is shared for a small price, and people bring their own drinks – and often chairs – to share around the campfire. Dogs, kids, locals and groupies are all part of the blend. The result is an atmosphere that can’t be bought, with a house concert feel extended to reach a wider range of fans.


As always Benji and the Salt Water Sound System have their flock of devotees who seem to follow every event across the land, people who have stayed for the journey as the band evolved out of Ben’s earlier project Southerly Change into the current lineup. The band still has the same feel and a lot of the same personnel, though the tracking of life is leaving the trace of its touch on the face of the band.

“We seem to have a really broad span of ages in our lineup,” Ben says, reflecting on the current sound. Steve “Nello” Russenello still wraps his blues harp around every solo, and missing on this particular evening brass section favourite Mick Elderfield on sax, who is at home facing the challenges of holding a bedside vigil for an ageing relative. “He’s where he needs to be, it’s a good thing,” Nello says, perhaps reflecting on the mindset of musicians younger than Elderfield, now in his 30s, who may feel the music is the more important gig. Sitting in on kit is Alex Dumbrell from Caravana Sun, and Ben’s right hand guitar man, Jonathan Dallimore, whose lead riffs arrive at a relaxed perfection at the height of each tune.


As the life of a long standing band evolves and morphs into a new project, it’s naturally going to mark out the progression of your own time. The dates for the small halls tour are carefully scheduled around the imminent birth of Ben’s first child, with his faithful partner still showing up at every gig despite being rather beautifully overdue. Everyone at this gig is welcomed as a member of the extended saltwater family.

The small halls tour was created to allow the band to dust off the cobwebs, or as they say themselves, to shake off the rust, get back into the groove and give the new tunes a good airing before the band starts recording. If the Murrah Hall event is anything to go by, Benji and the Salt Water Sound System will be lifting the roof off in Canberra at The National.

The full list of upcoming shows are below. Tickets for the small halls shows are available from southcoasttickets.au@gmail.com or https://www.southcoasttickets.com.au

Friday 23rd February – Joyce Wheatley Community Centre, Kiama, NSW
Saturday 24th February – Bega Funhouse, Bega, NSW
Sunday 25th February – Tomerong Hall, Tomerong, NSW
Friday 2nd to Sunday 4th March – Cobargo Folk Festival, Cobargo, NSW
Thursday 29th March to Monday 2nd April – National Folk Festival, Canberra, ACT

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1 Comment

  1. February 2, 2018 at 13:43

    […] As always Benji and the Salt Water Sound System have their flock of devotees who seem to follow every event across the land, people who have stayed for the journey as the band evolved out of Ben’s earlier project Southerly Change into the current lineup. The band still has the same feel and a lot of the same personnel, though the tracking of life is leaving the trace of its touch on the face of the band – Elizabeth Walton chats to Benji and the Saltwater Sound System. Interview here […]


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