National Folk Festival Interview: Andrew Winton

Andrew Winton
Image Courtesy of Andrew Winton

It’s been ten years since I first walked into a random tent at The National Folk Festival and became mesmerised by WA based singer and lap guitarist Andrew Winton so it’s amazing to see him returning again this year. We sat down with Winton to chat about The National, his unique guitar and his brand new album Glorybox Mechanics.

Gareth Hugh Evans: I first saw you at The National about ten years ago. I was wandering into one of your shows knowing nothing about you and was blown away by this amazing performance. It was all slide guitars and knee slapping – just amazing. Is The National a special festival for you?

Andrew Winton: It has been. The first time might have been 2006. We were on one of my first national tours and it was just an experience. We had a caravan and an 18 month old – it was a real whirlwind. It was one of the first bigger festivals where we thought “oh, this is very interesting”. We were put in a bit last minute but we had such a response and we’ve been back a few times.

GHE: I remember you in 2006 well.

AW: Yeah, I had dreadlocks and the whole thing. That was at that point where to play that music you had to have a uniform.

GHE: You were the “other” dude from WA with the dreadlocks and the lap guitar.

AW: Yes! Mr Butler, is that the man?

GHE: And I distinctly remember your 18 month old son with Karen Winton holding him. In fact she may have gotten up on stage to sing with you while still holding him.

AW: Yeah – she’s very strong. I think we’ve been at most of the festivals either pregnant or with a young child. We’ve stopped breeding now but there was a period when we were ready to have a kid it was mid festival. It was a real lifestyle for a while.

GHE: Has having a young family informed your playing folk festivals as opposed to the big blues or rock festivals? They’re a bit more family friendly.

AW: Yeah. It’s interesting, that year or the year after we did that circuit and then got invited to SXSW which is the big rock and roll festival in Austin, Texas. And that’s when we felt like “wow this is a bit different”. At [folk] festivals people will actually listen, it’s not all about drinking. And you don’t have to go to number ten on the energy – people will listen to quieter songs, a range of material. People are actually interested in the instrument, in the playing. On the whole the folk festivals have a diverse audience interested in different things., not just stomping and drinking and hollering.

GHE: Speaking of being interested in the instrument – your guitar is called The Beast right?

AW: Now when you saw me I had a thing called the Winton Beast which was made by a Victorian luthier. Then several years after a small American company saw me and said “we want to endorse you and make weird instruments for you” and that’s still happening these days. What they make is these instruments out of the roots of cyprus trees in Alabama. So the Winton Beast morphed into this instrument that is two in one. The Winton Beast was a seven string and I introduced a six string so it’s a 13 string tree root that I play.

GHE: Do you go to the luthiers and say “this is what I want? Or do they come to you and say “what do you think of this crazy idea”?

AW: In both instances they’ve said they’ll make me anything I want. And I’ve gone a) I don’t know what I want and I don’t know much and b) I just used my limited strange creativeness to invent something and they made it happen. And with the guys in Alabama it was all over Skype. I’m a non-practical person, I can’t hammer and nail – I just said “can we try having this many strings with this type of tuning”. I didn’t know if it was going to work and it’s all very experimental. And it’s mostly paid off and I guess in my own little world I’m known as this person that plays weird instruments.

GHE: I think I saw you play at a guitarist showcase at The National and everybody was just fascinated by your instrument.

AW: That’s right! People are more intrigued by that than me. On stage everyone was looking at my groin! Some could consider that a gimmick but in a landscape where everyone plays the same instrument with the same sort of tunings it’s just something different. And as a soloist it allows you to occupy the bass area, the chordal area and the melody at the same time.

GHE: You’ve been pretty prolific over the years and you’ve just recently released your album Glorybox Mechanics. Did you self produce that album?

AW: I have a friend here who has done a lot of recording for me. I chose to go down the path of not wanting any of the gear in my house – I didn’t want to go down the rabbit hole of recording. But very close to me is a very good engineer and basically I just did it on my iPhone and then went and replicated with him. In some ways it’s self produced but with someone who knows the buttons and the screens and the boring bits.

GHE: It’s always tempting as a musician to become a gear junkie.

AW: I’m anti that [laughs]. Because those guys end up becoming computer engineers and their musical skills fade into the distance.

GHE: You’ve been Glorybox Mechanics quite a bit recently – how’s the reception been so far?

AW: Quite nice actually. It’s tricky because the last album Happy won a bunch of awards and was a whole different level, so there was a little bit of pressure with this one. So it’s nice that ABC Radio National and a lot of community stations, and even one or two of the bigger ones, are playing a couple of songs. It doesn’t change the universe but I was just worried if these were going to work – it’s just my nature. And I’ve been pretty pleased. Especially in a landscape where people don’t buy CDs.

GHE: Except at festivals!

AW: Exactly! It’s the last arena where you go to see an act and straight away go and talk to the person who’s just played and take a bit home with you. It’s that kind of instant performance energy. That’s why these festivals are still trucking along well. As a musician it’s a privilege to play at them because people face your way and they might buy something and you get to talk to everyone.

GHE: At The National Folk Festival this year is it just you solo? Is Karen coming?

AW: Because I’m coming over for a couple of festivals it’s just me – we’ve got too many children now. And I think we’ve got some nice spots there – we’re going to be doing a filming in The Buddawang.

GHE: The National always ends up being quite a collaborative festival anyway so I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up spotting you playing with someone like Liz Frencham.

AW: That’s already been arranged! Liz and I live a long way from each other but whenever we get to the same suburb we do something.

GHE: It wouldn’t be a National Folk Festival if Liz Frencham didn’t play with every single act at some point.

AW: Exactly. I stir her about that [laughs].

GHE: Where else are you playing while you’re on the east coast.

AW: I’ve got gigs at the Django Bar in Sydney and the Union Bar in Melbourne.

GHE: Oh lovely – I’ll have to try and get down to one of those shows.

AW: Great! I haven’t been over there for a while.

GHE: Thank you so much for chatting with me. Looking forward to seeing you play again.

AW: Fantastic – thank you!

All of Andrew Winton’s upcoming dates, including his shows at The National Folk Festival, are below:

Wednesday 23rd March – House Concert, Temora, NSW.
Thursday 24th to Monday 28th March – National Folk Festival, Canberra, ACT
– Friday 4:30pm – Budawang
– Saturday 3:15pm – Marquee (Infinite Song Contest)
– Saturday 7pm – Flute ‘n’ Fiddle
– Saturday 9:30pm – Flute ‘n’ Fiddle (Liz Frencham Album Launch)
– Sunday 10am – The Terrace (Lap Slide Guitar Workshop)
– Sunday 9pm – Marquee
Thursday 31st March – Django Bar, Sydney, NSW
Friday 1st April – Selby Folk Club, Selby, VIC
Saturday 2nd April – Union Hotel, Melbourne, VIC
Sunday 3rd April – House Concert, Mount Franklin, VIC
Friday 8th April – The Herdsman Lake Tavern, Wembley, WA
Saturday 9th April – Caves House Hotel, Yallingup, WA
Sunday 10th April – Settlers Tavern, Margaret River, WA
Friday 15th to Sunday 17th April – Fairbridge Folk Festival, Pinjarra, WA
Sunday 24th April – The Vic Hotel, Perth, WA

National Folk Festival Interview: Burrows

Burrows
Image Courtesy of Burrows

You may recognise the members of Canberra nu-folk four piece Burrows as being from bands like The Ellis Collective, Mr Fibby, Fun Machine, Pocket Fox and more. But Burrows is more than the sum of its parts, with music that draws you in and captivates you. With a new album on the way Burrows will be playing a series of shows at this week’s National Folk Festival. We sat down with front man and songwriter Sam King to talk through the evolution of the band.

Gareth Hugh Evans: Back in 2013 you were on The National Folk Festival lineup credited as Sam King. Was that the beginning of the project that has become Burrows?

Sam King: Yeah, it actually was! I applied to the festival solo because I’d not really done much solo before, I’d always played in bands. I had a solid hour of songs at that point so I thought I’d give it a shot. Then very kind of close to the festival I decided that it’s definitely much more fun playing with other people so I invited three people to come and play with me. We were still credited as “Sam King” in the festival program. It was only meant to be a one off thing, a nice excuse to play with some friends. But we ended up being quite taken by it and continued doing it.

GHE: I was at The National that year and called you out as an artist to watch in a Timber and Steel feature. And then every now and then I’d check in online to see what was going to happen to “Sam King” project but nothing had ever eventuated. I thought maybe that was it – I didn’t realise it had evolved into what has now become Burrows.

SK: Yeah – it’s a slightly less Google-able name

GHE: All of you guys play in different bands in and around the Canberra folk and indie scene like The Ellis Collective and Mr Fibby. What makes Burrows different from those other projects?

SK: Yeah, a lot of those bands have the same people in them. We definitely stick pretty close to each other project to project. I mean Grahame [Thompson] is definitely my go to cello guy. They all kind of evolved out of different things. For The Ellis Collective Matty Ellis is a huge part of that. The name we were never really stoked with but it kind of came about because early on there was a lot of us playing in the band and we were all quite busy. It was more just an idea that Matty could be at the centre and whoever he was playing with could be The Ellis Collective. As it turned out we pretty much all made it to all gigs so it wasn’t really necessary. For [Burrows] I’m sort of at the centre of it. I’m slightly uncomfortable with that idea but I like to think of it as a more collaborative process than just a single singer-songwriter. I feel like we’re much more than the sum of our parts from that point of view. So I guess what makes it different from the other projects is really that I’m playing less of a supportive role – usually the catalyst for all the songs comes from me and then it evolves from there pretty quickly.

GHE: And it’s not just you doing the songwriting right? I got the feeling other members of the band were contributing.

SK: Yeah. And that’s a great deal for me. Usually the way those songs come about is often I’ll get a third of a way through a song – I might have a melody and the chords – and I sort of take it as far as I can then flick it to them. Whether they totally finish it from there or they flick it back to me, that process can go on for a little bit – but in most cases I’ll get it part of the way and they’ll write the lyrics, then maybe as a band we’ll change things structurally. I’d really love in the future for it to be much more collaborative. After a while you get sick of the sound of yourself.

GHE: So you’re just about done on the Burrows album right? You’re pretty close to releasing that?

SK: Yeah, it’s being pressed and printed now. It will be available at The National Folk Festival but we’re not officially launching it – it’s just a little sneaky prelaunch. I think we’ll be officially launching it and touring it mid year. Our initial plan was to launch it at the festival and then tour it around that time but it had to get pushed back a little bit – I was al little bit too picky with the masters. It came back the first time and I wasn’t thrilled with the mix, I had to change one or two things.

GHE: I caught you guys at the Summer Hills Folk Festival in Sydney and from what I gather you pretty much played the album from start to finish in your set there.

SK: Yeah, that’s right.

GHE: It’s sounding gorgeous live. I guess the way I would describe Burrows’ sound is “lean in music”. The kind of music you want to listen intently to.

SK: That’s a very good description – that’s definitely what we’re aiming for. We’re trying to be miles away from the play-louder-than-the-pub kind of band, which I’ve definitely done in the past but it gets kind of exhausting. These days we hope to invite people in rather than try to compete with them.

GHE: Are you playing more intimate stages at The National Folk Festival?

SK: Generally The National’s pretty great for [that type of music]. We’re playing Scrumpy, Majestic and The Lyric – we’ve just got the three gigs. Intimate is what we’ll be aiming for and we’ll cross our fingers that there won’t be some sort of dance band in the next tent.

GHE: Just as you’re launching into a sweet folk tune the Brass Knuckle Brass Band will march past.

SK: Those guys would do that just to spite me, even if they weren’t scheduled to play at that point they’d hop up on stage [laughs]. The festival tends to evolve every year with where venues are and the size of them. Scrumpy and Majestic have been pretty consistent over the last few years.

GHE: I feel like The Majestic is your spiritual home. That’s always traditionally been the “youth” tent at the festival.

SK: Yeah. There’s a very funny story behind The Majestic. The two years before The Majestic came about and was on the oval Mr Fibby was there. We didn’t get in [to the program] but we were all there with The Ellis Collective and I think [Adam] Hadley was there with something. – we just put up some posters in toilets saying “Mr Fibby. The Oval. 10pm”. So there was a tradition for a couple of years where we would play acoustically on the oval and sometimes more people than could really hear us would show up, which is awesome. And then the Majestic was kind of put there based on those performances. I think the festival director had been invited to come down and look at these scallywags playing on the oval and then they put Hadley in charge of the venue for three years. Then hilariously we couldn’t get a gig there anymore [laughs]. But yeah, definitely our spiritual homeland based on that. It was brought about by Mr Fibby in an indirect way – and it also coincided with the fringe festival’s funding getting diverted to The National. It was nice to see all that stuff in one place – it was often hard to get a seat in there.

GHE: Definitely – when The Majestic was on the oval I could never get in. People would just come and park themselves there all day.

SK: Yeah – it was funny wasn’t it? I would always just sneak backstage and watch from there.

GHE: As a Canberra based band how important is The National Folk Festival for you guys?

SK: It’s definitely a great opportunity to play in Canberra to a lot of people who are from interstate. I think it’s a good stepping-stone – it’s a nice gateway for other festivals around the place. A lot of the other festival directors come to The National and they see you and that has some nice flow on effects. And I guess as a Canberran, I’ve not done anything else for Easter since I was 17. I’m sure other stuff goes on but I wouldn’t know about it. It’s a very special time of year and it’s always very nice when they get you along to play – particularly when I was younger. The first few breaks they gave me in bands like One Night Jam – they were hugely supportive. For younger performers it’s a great stepping-stone to all of a sudden be playing to 200 people who are hanging on your every word. There’s not really any opportunities in Canberra – or anywhere to for that matter – to do that outside of the festivals. I cannot praise it highly enough.

GHE: Well thank you so much for chatting with me today. I can’t wait to see Burrows again!

SK: Thanks very much mate.

All of Burrows’ shows at The National Folk Festival are below:

Thursday 24th to Monday 28th March – National Folk Festival, Canberra, ACT
– Saturday 5pm – Scrumpy
– Sunday 10:30pm – The Lyric
– Monday 4pm – Majestic

National Folk Festival Interview: Sian Evans

Sian Evans
Image Courtesy of Sian Evans

Brisbane based singer-songwriter Sian Evans hits The National Folk Festival for the first time this weekend as part of her current east coast tour. We caught up with Sian Evans to discuss her new sound, the stresses of being a touring artist and what we can expect from her performances at The National.

Gareth Hugh Evans: You’ve just released your new single “Cold Feet”. I love it – there’s a pop sensibility about it while still maintaining your folk and country roots. It feels like you’ve written a pop song.

Sian Evans: I did write a pop song. I wanted it to be accessible to a wider audience. I wrote three songs last year and that was one of them – they all kind of have this pop sensibility. At the moment my head is in a space of wanting to write singles and then maybe put out an album full of singles. I really want to work on something that’s really bloody awesome and that I’m really really proud of. I feel like I’ve got the maturity to actually deliver something like that whereas when I did an album years and years ago I just so wasn’t there as a song writer yet.

GHE: Is part of it to separate the solo work from your work with The Rusty Datsuns?

SE: I guess so, yeah. A lot of people didn’t really know who any of the The Rusty Datsuns were individually anyway so I’ve started from scratch. The stuff that we wrote is different to where I’m at at the moment. My last record was more traditionally focused – it had one song on it that was mine and a bit pop. And I guess after you’ve been slogging at it for ten years you want stuff that’s going to be favoured by radio stations [laughs]. It’s not all about the financial side of things, it’s not all about money or anything like that. Anyone who comes into the the music industry with the idea of making money, unless they’re doing pub covers, then they’re absolute idiots. But to just have it sailing its own ship at some point, or maybe getting the closest that I’ve ever been, would be really nice.

GHE: And I guess if you’re performing under your own name it’s music that represents you as an individual.

SE: Yeah, totally. I’ve never been very good at themed writing – I’m pretty authentic to the cause and whatever mood I may be in. To some extent I’m probably a bit of a sad person [laughs] – it reflects in my music.

GHE: I really like the production on “Cold Feet” as well. I think that might contribute to why I think it’s a pop song – it’s really tight.

SE: [Producer] Josh Shuberth used to drum for Josh Pyke and I love Josh Pyke, I’ve been listening to him since I was in high school. I’ve been rolling around with my stampy box and jingles which is basically my broken down drum kit that I play with my feet while I play at the same time because I can’t afford a drummer and because I don’t want to have to deal with another personality. My last record we slapped on our hands and our knees and stamped my boots on the ground – I really like natural sounds. So this time we set my mate Mike in the studio with whatever we could find and there was a hundred different tambourines in the studio and a wine bottle with a spoon – so we just tapped on heaps of shit and again I got into the studio and tapped on my thighs and my stomach and my hands.

GHE: You’ve already played a couple of shows around Brisbane to support “Cold Feet” and you’re about to head out on some east coast dates – are you looking forward to those?

SE: Hell yeah. I’d be playing everywhere if I could afford to but I just decided to stick within my means for this tour which meant not going back to my home town of Cairns and it also meant not going to Melbourne. I had such a great time in WA last year – Perth and Fremantle were just amazing. So that’s kind of sad but I figure maybe I’ll pick up a bit of momentum for the single and I’ll pick up those places for the next tour. But I’m really looking forward to heading down to Canberra – I’ve never actually spent any time in and around Canberra before. And I’ve never been to The National Folk Festival before and it’s the 50th anniversary so if that’s not some kind of sign, I’m not sure what is.

GHE: I think you’re going to absolutely love The National. It’s one of my favourites – it’s a community coming together.

SE: Is that not the nature of these types of festivals? Except it won’t be so hot that you want to keel over and die [laughs].

GHE: Is it just going to be you and your fiddle player at The National?

SE: Yeah! Unless if a friend happens to be going or we happen to meet someone at a jam – by the end of a festival everyone is just like family. If you make special, chemical connections with people you want to share that on stage. If I happen to jam with a bass player or someone else and it works I have no issues with having guests on my stage ever.

GHE: As well as The National you have shows around Queensland and Northern New South Wales as well…

SE: Like Nimbin Mardi Grass!

GHE: I’m not familiar with Nimbin Mardi Grass at all.

SE: I was meant to play there last year but I was supposed to do Urban Country Festival as well. Urban ended up getting cancelled and I made the call not to try to drive to Mardi Grass because it was too sketchy with the weather, as to whether everyone was going to get flooded in or not. I didn’t really need that. But I love Nimbin, and I love the area. It’s just really beautiful – that appeals to me a lot. I’m not a really massive pot smoker so that side of it doesn’t necessarily appeal to me, but if that’s people’s thing that’s fine. But it’s a nice place to go for a couple of nights – it’s nice and cool and there’s generally some really bloody good music.

GHE: You had a pretty massive 2015 in terms of touring. Is 2016 shaping up the same way?

SE: No. Last year I basically just fell apart. It was too much for me – too much back and forth, too much travelling. By the end of it I couldn’t fly without being sedated on valium because I started having panic attacks on aeroplanes.

GHE: That’s not ok!

SE: It was really full on. I was still running a business in Brisbane and trying to get back to my son in Cairns – it was just too much. And touring solo, being on my own for a lot of the time and doing all the driving and lugging in of gear myself, I just felt the camaraderie wasn’t there. I lost so much money as well – I was just banging my head against a wall going “am I really doing the right thing? I really thought my calling was music but maybe I’m not good enough”. So I had to just step back and go this is going to have to be more of a hobby and I decided that I would prefer to definitely work another job and make that a priority as well as being a mum. I would put less pressure on performing and maybe try to do just two tours a year – make them x amount of time long so I didn’t burn myself out and so that I could give my audience the best of myself. And now I’m working full time and I’m totally a single mum in the city with no family at all – so that’s pretty hectic. I just really have to pace myself. I’m touring this time for the majority over the school holidays and mainly weekends for the time outside of that. So that is just a walk in the park. No aeroplanes for Sian!

GHE: Yeah, I know a number of artists where the relentless touring and travelling has led to burn out.

SE: It’s f**ked! There’s no other way to say it for what is often no monetary return. And it should be about quality of life. The way that I was living was not fun at all – I wasn’t happy, I wasn’t enjoying it, I was questioning everything and I was so f**king poor.

GHE: And it pulls the joy out of the music which is why you started in the first place.

SE: Yeah. It’s for self expression and it’s for connection. I was in such a broken place I just felt like I couldn’t look people in the eye at some points without drinking. I was so exhausted all of the time and because I was drinking I didn’t know whether I was tired or I was shitfaced [laughs]. When you get to that point you’ve kind of hit a point of no return and I really needed to take a break. And I did – I took a break for four months and then of course got itchy feet. I was like “ok, I’m going to book another tour now!”. But I tried to be really organised about this one and I started three or four months prior, booking the gigs, and basically didn’t push very hard. I just went with what came really easily and what had money attached to it.

GHE: It sounds like you’ve found a balance now.

SE: Yeah, totally. And I think that that’s the way forward. Approaching it a bit slower – smashing it out and then having a break.

GHE: Definitely sounds like you’re on the right path. Well that’s about all we have time for – thank you so much for chatting with me today. I’m super excited to see you at The National

SE: I can’t wait. Thanks Gareth.

All of Sian Evans’ upcoming tour dates, including her shows at The National Folk Festival are below:

Thursday 24th to Monday 28th March – National Folk Festival, Canberra, ACT
– Friday 9pm – The Lyric
– Saturday 4:50pm – The Buddawang
– Sunday 7:10pm – Spiegel Zelt
Wednesday 6th April – The Foundry, Brisbane, QLD
Saturday 9th April – No.5 Church St, Bellingen, NSW
Saturday 16th April Night Quarter, Gold Coast, QLD
Friday 22nd April – Grounded Festival, Brisbane Valley, QLD
Saturday 30th April – Nimbin Mardigrass, Nimbin, NSW
Sunday 1st May – Brisbane Powerhouse, Brisbane, QLD

National Folk Festival Interview: Nancy Kerr

Nancy Kerr
Image Courtesy of Nancy Kerr

The headliner for this year’s National Folk Festival is the irrepressible Nancy Kerr, who will be performing as Nancy Kerr & the Sweet Visitor Band, Nancy Kerr & James Fagan and as part of The Fagans. We sat down with Kerr ahead of the festival to chat about what we can expect from her performances at The National.

Gareth Hugh Evans: You’ve played The National Folk Festival a number of times – how does it feel to be headlining the 50th anniversary with your various projects?

Nancy Kerr: Obviously I’m absolutely honoured that the festival has made it possible to bring the band and the family out to Australia. I have been away for three years and it’s been a big time for me so I can’t wait to present our new repertoire and sounds, as well as familiar pieces from the duo’s history, to what I know is an incredible audience to play for.

GHE: In terms of folk festivals around the world how does The National rate?

NK: I think what makes The National special for me is the way it homages and appreciates the raw, grass roots qualities of folk and traditional music, presenting it all with great respect on both big and small stages. The level of knowledge, friendliness and depth with which the audience throws itself into proceedings is second to none, at least as far as I’ve experienced at festivals around the world.

GHE: You’ve found “fame” (if there is such a thing in the folk scene) in your native UK but over the years you’ve spent a lot of time in Australia touring and performing at festivals. What is it about Australia that keeps you coming back (apart from the obvious)?

NK: Well it may be obvious but it’s also true! James [Fagan] and I have been together for 20 years now – or do you mean the weather? Australia is a huge part of my history musically, culturally and in terms of family. A British colleague of mine recently returned from her first trip to Aus and said to me “Ah, I understand you now – you’re Australian!” The subjects of many of my songs will be more current and recognizable here than they are at home in the UK. It’ll be so nice not to have to explain what a Jacaranda is.

GHE: You’re well known for involving yourself in numerous projects – is collaboration an important part of your art?

NK: It’s always been central and that’s why it took me until I was nearly 40 to make my debut solo recording – I think collaboration is the source of so much musical learning and strength but I also think it’s important to step into the light on your own terms sometimes – that way the listener gets to experience everything you’re capable of and things stay fresh and creative.

GHE: After The National what’s next for Nancy Kerr?

NK: My album Instar is nearly finished – the follow-up to Sweet Visitor and also self-written – and I’m delighted with how the band sounds on it – it’s released in September. I have tours with all my projects including a trio with Martin Simpson and Andy Cutting [Simpson·Cutting·Kerr], and I will also be recording and performing political songwriting collaboration “Sweet Liberties” which was commissioned by the Houses of Parliament.

The full list of shows for Nancy Kerr at The National Folk Festival are below:

Thursday 24th to Monday 28th March – The National Folk Festival, Canberra, ACT
Nancy Kerr & the Sweet Visitor Band:
– Friday 7pm – Buddawang
– Sunday 8pm – Marquee
– Monday 4:40pm – Buddawang
Nancy Kerr & James Fagan
– Saturday 8pm – Flute ‘n’ Fiddle
– Sunday 10:50am – Buddawang
The Fagans:
– Saturday 10:40am – Buddawang
– Monday 12pm – Marquee

National Folk Festival Interview: Black Market Tune

Black Market Tune
Image Courtesy of Black Market Tune

Austro-Scottish trad band Black Market Tune return to Australia this month for The National Folk Festival after wowing croweds over the 2014/15 summer. We sat down with fiddle player and singer Paul Dangl to talk through the band’s influences and what Australian audiences can expect from the band this time around.

Gareth Hugh Evans: Black Market Tune draws on a lot of European influences but as you say yourself, the backbone of the band is Scottish. What is it about this music that attracts you?

Paul Dangl: I have a deep relationship with Scottish music, as I spent one year of my life in Glasgow, to absorb the music from its source. The music can be really gentle and smooth, when it comes to ballads but also really ferocious and rythmically driving in strathspeys or reels – I really like the broad spectrum of expression and energy when it comes to Scottish Music.

GHE: When you’re playing music with influences from around Europe what similarities do you see in the way the songs and tunes are constructed?

PD: I found lots of similarities between Austrian and Swedish songs and tunes, both traditions have those driving, fast 3/4 tunes – in Austria they’re called “Schleunige”, in Sweden polskas. Also you find waltzes and polkas all over The European Folk traditions. I find it really interesting to look for similar kind of melodies from different folk traditions, and to combine them.

GHE: You were in Australia just over a year ago for the Woodford Folk Festival – how did you find that experience? What’s brought you back?

PD: We had a great time at Woodford Folk Festival, it was really stunning to see so many types of music and styles of playing in one place called Woodfordia – I think that’s the thing that made it really special, and one reason why we came back – to meet so many musicians, for jamming, chatting and laughing and of course, exchanging music!

GHE: The lineup is a little different from the last time you were here – can you talk us through all of the players in Black Market Tune for the Australian tour?

PD: Box player Colin J Nicholson from Orkney and myself from Austria (fiddle & vocals) were here last year. This year we’re delighted to have Scots singer & fiddle player Lori Watson on board, as well as Graeme Armstrong on guitar. Both musicians hail from the Scottish Borders (South of Scotland), enriching the repertoire of Black Market Tune with great Scots and Borders songs and tunes.

GHE: You’re playing at The National Folk Festival as part of their 50th Anniversary. This festival is well known for it’s jamming and sessions – will we likely see Black Market Tune jamming in the session bar?

PD: Yes, as I mentioned before, the exchange of music is an important aspect of this journey, so it’s very likely you’ll spot some Black Market Tuners around the session bar at any time of the night!

GHE: After your Australian tour what’s next for Black Market Tune?

PD: In May the festival season starts in Europe, and we have a few festivals lined-up so far, among them a very special one where I’ve been founding member – it’s called Wackelstein Festival and it’s from 22nd to 24th of
July, 120km north of Vienna. Our next big project will be our second CD, which will be recorded in Fall 2016 and released on Galileo Records by the beginning of next year.

The upcoming dates for Black Market Tune’s Australian tour, including their shows at The National Folk Festival, are below:

Friday 18th to Sunday 20th March – Yacandandah Folk Festival, VIC
Monday 21st March – Kedron State High School Auditorium, Brisbane, QLD
Thursday 24th to Monday 28th March – National Folk Festival, Canberra, ACT
– Friday 5pm – Marquee
– Saturday 12:50pm – Billy Moran Tent
– Saturday 2:20pm – The Terrace
– Sunday 9pm – Budawang
– Monday 10:30am – Budawang
Tuesday 29th March – Smith’s Alternative, Canberra, ACT
Wednesday 30th March – The Exchange Hotel, Sydney, NSW

National Folk Festival Interview: Bloodwood

Bloodwood
Image Courtesy of Bloodwood

Seminal Alice Springs based bush band Bloodwood have a long history with The National Folk Festival, having first appeared in 1979, and they’re returning this year to help celebrate the 50th anniversary. We sat down with Bloodwood vocalist/guitarist/fiddle player/mandolin player Bob Barford to chat about the band’s long history with The National and what it took to get Bloodwood back together.

Gareth Hugh Evans: Bloodwood have reformed for The National Folk Festival this year. What is it about The National that got you guys back together?

Bob Barford: It was an opportunity to get the band going again, particularly to represent the Northern Territory seeing as though it’s a special event this year featuring all of the different states. I just thought “you can’t really feature the Northern Territory without having Bloodwood“. So I put in the application then I told everyone else that we should do it.

GHE: So you got accepted into the festival then told the rest of the band?

BB: That’s basically it.

GHE: Bloodwood has a really long association with The National. You’ve played there numerous times, you’ve even organised and hosted in in Alice Springs when it used to travel.

BB: That’s right. Indeed, for the 1979 National Festival which was in Melbourne one of the reasons Bloodwood got together in the first place was to promote the 1980 festival which was to be held in Alice Springs. We went down there and had a fabulous reception. We had terrific posters and terrific t-shirts and all that stuff designed by a lady in Alice Springs. It was a knock out design and the strange thing is we were actually asked to stop promoting the 1980 festival by the Melbourne organisers because no one was buying their t-shirts. That is deadset true!

GHE: And as a result did you get a big turn out for 1980?

BB: We did! It was the first time the festival had been held outside a capital city. The first time for a long time that it turned a profit. It was very very successful.

GHE: Who did you have playing that year?

BB: I remember we had Eric Bogle. Ernie Dingo was a big drawcard. We had all the stalwarts like Phil Lobel, John Dengate – there was tons of the old timers. And Scotty Balfour [singer/guitarist/accordian player for Bloodwood] was the festival director.

GHE: So The National Folk Festival and Bloodwood is forever intertwined.

BB: That’s right!

GHE: Is it also true that another driving force behind Bloodwood getting back together was as a way to showcase founding member Barney Foran as a poet?

BB: I don’t think I’d quite put it that way. I think the Bloodwood ethos was to revive or put some new feeling and life into some of the traditional music and along with that came the poetry. Barney was a driving force in getting Bloodwood and along with that went the bush poetry. In my opnion Barney breathed a huge degree of life into the bush poetry scene back in those days. He was the one who really got it moving and you see it reflected in the various ways that poetry is portrayed these days at festivals – it’s no longer the finger-in-the-ear, dum-de-dum-de-dum-de sort of stuff. It really has got life and that’s what Barney gave to it.

GHE: And Barney’s going to be joining Bloodwood at The National this year.

BB: Yeah – I reckon that’s great. It’s a real extra added bonus, if you ask me, that Barney’s going to be there with us and doing some of his poetry.

GHE: The Bloodwood that’s going to be presented at The National is going to be a super-group of sorts – with members across the band’s history all coming together. Yourself, Scotty Balfour and Dave Evans as the core members and then people like Barney Foran, Ross Muir (bass) and Barry “Skippy” Skipsey (vocals and guitar) who have all made major contributions to the band over the years.

BB: Skippy’s been such a terrific songwriter – we’ve taken on board quite a few of his songs and we’ll be featuring them in various concerts. And Ross is such a good musician – to lay down that strong bass line to really make that gel. He’s been playing with the band now for 15 or so years so it’s not as if he’s a newcomer!

GHE: Over the career of Bloodwood you’ve had a lot of highlights – overseas tours, appearances on national television and more. Do you have a personal highlight?

BB: That’s a hard one! I’d have to put The National Festivals that we went to as the highlights. I certainly enjoyed some of the presentations that we did in and around Alice Springs including Ayers Rock and out at Ooraminna. As far as tours are concerned I think the Edinburgh Festival tour we did was probably the highlight tour. We stood on our own feet for that one – the other world tours that we did were courtesy of the Northern Territory Tourist Commission.

GHE: So I know at The National this year you’re doing a presentation as one of your shows. Is that right?

BB: That’s right – it will be more like our early style of presentation. Each of those have been themed – so in the past we’ve had things like “Boom, Bust, Banality, Brigands and Blacks”, “And Then We Chocked Down”, “Droving Australia” and so it went. And all of those were concerts that presented songs, poems and items that illustrated a certain feeling within our folk culture. This one is called “Our Red Centre” and basically it’s going to be us reflecting on why we chose those songs, what those songs mean to us, how they came about, how we changed them and made them our own, why we wrote them, etc. It’s sort of divided up into a few sections from our early days on – the songs that we put together and the songs that influenced us, the thoughts that came to our mind as we were presenting them and how they reflected the folk scene as it was in the 70s and 80s

GHE: What really what separates Bloodwood from your contemporaries who were also presenting bush and traditional music at the time is that focus on the NT and the outback – singing songs by local songwriters like Ted Egan and Barry Skipsey. How important was it to hold those songs up as being as important in the bush music canon as your “Lachlan Tigers” or “Click Go The Shears”?

BB: I’ve always been pragmatic about songs. Some people like to get all tied up in the tradition and the tradition carries on – thank heavens that it does, it’s a resource. But you get those new songs coming in and if they’ve got the passion, the flavour, if they tell the story as strongly as the old songs they have equal place in my mind. Sometimes we’re a bit naive of what we’re writing about and what we’re doing – we get sort of tied up in the time. And it’s only after time that we can sit back and reflect upon those songs and say “Ok, these guys were doing the shearing and this that and the other thing. But we were up there doing the prawning or we were sitting behind a desk pushing a pen”. Songs about those sorts of things have equal place as time goes by. My simple philosophy is a good song is a good song.

GHE: Before The National Folk Festival you have a couple of gigs in Alice Springs. Getting the band back together for The National was it important to play in Alice as well?

BB: I said it was and I said to my fellow compatriots that “I’m not coming to Alice Springs to rehearse if we don’t do a concert”. My reasoning was altruistic – I thought it would put the pressure on to make sure we had something polished enough to take to Canberra. Having said that, I think we owe it to Alice Springs to do it.

GHE: I think the town has given a lot to the band over the years. Not just as a place to gig over the years but also a spring board to launch yourselves nationally and internationally via the work you did with the NT Tourist Commission and other channels.

BB: Yeah. There’s the romance of Alice Springs – everyone’s heard of it. It conjures up images in peoples minds all over the world and I think that’s helped us tremendously. I think we owe it to Alice Springs to put on a couple of concerts.

GHE: I reckon you’ll play those shows and you’ll have a few of generations of people sitting in the audience – your contemporaries along with the kids who used to see Bloodwood at school bush dances or local festivals and venues and have now grown up. Everyone will be singing along – you’ll have a really nice atmosphere up there.

BB: I think so. I remember quite a few years ago we were singing at one of the pre-schools [in Alice Springs] and there was a mum at the back. We finished our little set of songs and she was bawling her eyes out, tears rolling down her cheeks. And I think it might have been Dave who went up to her and said “It wasn’t that bad was it?”. She said “No, no! I’m just crying because you used to sing those songs to me when I was a kid”. We’ve got history!

GHE: Well thank you so much for chatting today Bob – and good luck with the Alice shows and The National.

BB: Thanks Gareth – appreciate it.

The dates for Bloodwood’s Alice Springs shows, along with their shows at The National Folk Festival, are below:

Friday 18th March – The Watertank Cafe, Alice Springs, NT
Saturday 19th March – The Watertank Cafe, Alice Springs, NT
Thursday 24th to Monday 28th March – National Folk Festival, Canberra, ACT
– Friday 6:00pm – Flute ‘n’ Fiddle
– Saturday 11:50am – Flute ‘n’ Fiddle
– Sunday 8:30pm – The Lyric
– Monday 11:50am – Trocadero (Presentation: Our Red Centre)

National Folk Festival Interview: The Plough

The Plough
Photo of The Plough at The 2015 National Folk Festival by Sarah Turier

Last year NSW based bluegrass and old time band The Plough made their debut at The National Folk Festival and very quickly became one of the most talked about bands of the event. The Plough are back at The National again this year so we sat down with singer/fiddle player/mando player John Healy and guitarist Francis Duffy to talk about what we can expect from the band second time around.

Gareth Hugh Evans: You guys are playing at The National this year which will be your second time around for that festival.

John Healy: Yeah, it will be our second year in a row. We were pretty surprised to be picked up a second time. It was so good last time.

Francis Duffy: We had a great time last year. We’re pretty chuffed to be going back there again.

GHE: I went to a few of your sets at The National last year and it felt like each show there were more and more people there and you were building a bit of a buzz. Did you feel that from the stage.

JH: Well Francis reckons the first gig was good [laughs]! But yeah, I felt that. The last gig was awesome! We weren’t used to playing in front of so many people – it was quite overwhelming and pretty fun.

GHE: I also saw you guys pretty heavily involved in the Session Bar as well. For me the Session Bar is the heart of The National – it’s a place where you get to play with all of these amazing artists. What drew you to the Session Bar

JH: We’re so used to playing our stuff we want to expand and learn more actual old timey and bluegrass tunes. And just see our friends. Francis got to play with Gordie [MacKeeman]. He got to do…

FD: “Wagon Wheel”

JH: Yeah, “Wagon Wheel” with Gordie.

FD: That was my big moment.

JH: I think I got to play “Old Joe Clark” with Gordie. That was cool.

GHE: So tell a little bit about the origins of The Plough. Has it come out of the picking and jamming sessions in Sydney?

JH: Sort of. We started playing music together as friends and then came across the Bluegrass and Old Time Society and started going there a lot. We’d learn three songs to play at that gig – every month we’d learn three more songs. And we slowly built up a set and we ended up having enough to do a gig on our own. It was pretty slow but also really nice. We got to participate in the Bluegrass Society and also develop the songs we wanted to play and learn songs from other people.

GHE: So what solidified you as a band?

JH: I think the Bluegrass Society made us a band.

FD: I think at [the Bluegrass and Old Time Society], playing the three songs, is quite challenging. I think some musicians say they get up and play, even though they’re very competent, as it’s a good place to practice. You’re playing in front of an audience of musicians. And it’s a very supportive environment.

GHE: I’ve never been because it intimidates me.

JH: It’s not intimidating at all! It’s actually quite beautiful. You develop relationships with people and I guess you gravitate towards certain people to learn things from or people offer their advice to you while you’re playing. Like I remember we were playing one particular tune – “Goodbye Liza Jane” – and this guy walked over and he pointed out the note that we were missing. We added it in and it sounded really good.

FD: People are very supportive and encouraging. When you go there you want to go back and try and get better. It’s good having that monthly get together – I think John and I are quite religious about being there.

GHE: It nurtures community as well. There’s a very obvious, tight-knit group of people who have come out of the Bluegrass and Old Time Society in Sydney.

JH: It’s a really great community. And the nice thing about it is it’s kind of from old to young – it’s not just one bunch of people. That’s where I first started playing the fiddle. They have a sinners group – Safety In Numbers. A big group of people in a room learning a few songs. So I got to just scratch away on fiddle – it’s a really safe and open place to expand your use of an instrument.

GHE: So last years you guys headed to Europe for a tour of Sweden and Ireland. How did that come about?

JH: It sort of just fell together. Francis hadn’t been back to Ireland for a few years and he really wanted to go back. And I said “well I’ll go”. Then Daniel, who plays with us and is Francis’ son said “ok, I’ll go”. So then we thought we could go as a band and we saw that there were these festivals available, we called them up and they said “sure!”. We booked into a festival in Ireland and then we were on our way. We didn’t want to go straight to Ireland and we thought it would be great to stop in Stockholm [for a festival]. So we rang them up and they said “yeah, sure” and they put us into their lineup. And then I have a nephew over there and he booked a lot of smaller gigs for us. It just came together.

FD: It was really good and Sweden was beautiful. It was such a nice vibe, lots of great international bands. It was summer time so there was 24 hour daylight. It was very therapeutic – very pleasant. We played in this huge barn that could house 1000s or people. Being in the one spot for a few days and having that focus was quite nice – we’re all together, we hired a car together, we drove around together. We did the same in Ireland. It’s not like being on a holiday.

GHE: Was bluegrass and old time music popular over there?

JH: Not really. Just at the festivals. I think people liked what we did in the pubs but it was probably more novelty than anything. I think in Ireland country music is popular. We noticed we played a lot faster than the Irish bluegrass bands because they’re more country.

FD: Their choice in bluegrass is always leaning on country.

GHE: And the trad celtic stuff is obviously quite popular.

JH: Yeah, especially where we went to in Galway and the west. You’re tripping over it there. It was great to watch.

GHE: So what’s happening after The National? Any more overseas trips in the works?

JH: We’re thinking next year. There are a lot of other European festivals and I think Sweden would have us back. We’d really like to do it again because it was pretty easy and it was so much fun. Otherwise we’ll just apply for a lot of festivals and see which ones we get into.

GHE: Well thanks so much for chatting today! I’m really looking forward to seeing you guys at The National.

Jh: Thanks Gareth.

All of The Plough’s shows at The National Folk Festival are as follows;

Thursday 24th to Monday 28th March – National Folk Festival, Canberra, ACT
– Friday 6:50pm – Bohemia Bar
– Sunday 1:20pm – Scrumpy
– Monday 10am – Scrumpy


National Folk Festival Interview: The Company

The Company
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.

Gareth Hugh Evans: I know you’ve been before as an individual but is this the first time The Company has played at The National Folk Festival?

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.

GHE: So are we likely to see new material from The Company at The National 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.

GHE: Given you’ve got a bunch of other projects as well such as One Up, Two Down and Buffalo Nickel, how do you decide what you’re going to bring to The Company?

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.

GHE: So you’ve got the new album coming out in the second half of this year – when can we expect The Company to get together again live after The National?

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.

All of The Company’s shows at The National Folk Festival are as follows;

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

National Folk Festival Interview: Kaurna Cronin

Kaurna Cronin
Image Courtesy of Kaurna Cronin

After winning the Folk Alliance Youth Award at last year’s National Folk Festival Adelaide singer-songwriter Kaurna Cronin returns with a full band and a new album. We sat down with Cronin to talk about the massive year he’s had.

Gareth Hugh Evans: You released Glass Fool in July last year. It’s been getting a lot of really good press – how are you feeling 6 months on? Has the album settled into itself?

Kaurna Cronin: It was such a lengthy process going into it I kind of felt, just after recording process, that it was a little bit stale. But then going on tour and releasing it with the band we adapted it for a live performance and that really gave it a lot more life and energy – that felt really good. Six months down the track it’s still a pleasure travelling around playing it. And we’re adding a lot of new songs that will be coming with the release of the new album too. We’re excited to do that too after The National.

GHE: I didn’t realise there was a new album in the works.

KC: Yeah. We’re piecing it all together now. I think it will be around July this year that we try to get it out to everybody.

GHE: Last year a massive year for you with quite a big overseas tour through Europe, the album release, a couple of Australian tours and of course you scored the Folk Alliance Youth Award at The National last year. Have you recovered yet?

KC: It was an amazing year and it was amazing to have the support of the team at Folk Alliance too. That was really amazing. And to be able to do Woodford and the Fleurieu Folk Festival and all these amazing festivals. It’s been amazing to keep really busy. All of those European shows were a lot of fun with the band over there. The Christmas period was lovely for a bit of recovery but it’s really never ending. We’ve been working on the new album pretty intensively and we’re coming up to The National and Port Fairy and the Blue Mountains Folk Festival so that’s going to be a pretty busy period too.

GHE: What was the process behind winning the Folk Alliance Youth Award?

KC: It was unexpected really. We got nominated to be a part of the showcase at the National Folk Festival last year. I’d never been to The National so it was more just going along and being part of it – we didn’t really realise it was a competition as such. So we went up and played a couple of songs and at the end they said “you guys are the winners”. It was kind of weird and we didn’t really know what we got. But it’s been amazing working with them – they’re super helpful.

GHE: What’s the prize for that?

KC: It’s essentially a collaborative work with them for twelve months. They’ve got a lot of connections with a lot of festival bookers. And a big part of it is going over to the Folk Alliance International showcase in Kansas City in the United States. That’s industry meets and establishing a network over in the States.

GHE: I first came across your music through the rest of the Adelaide folk scene – people like Tom West and Todd Sibbin. It’s a really interconnected scene down there with everyone playing together and recording on each other’s albums. And it feels like everyone from that scene has really started to focus on the Folk Festival circuit – has that been a conscious effort from you?

KC: I don’t know if it was conscious but it’s definitely sort of evolved in that way. A lot of the projects I’ve been involved with have really pushed for that triple j market or national touring but I think for me I really just wanted to release an album that I was proud of and working collaboratively with different musicians who could add different, unique styles. I think through that, and keeping on writing songs, we’ve been lucky enough to land lots of these folk festivals and keen engaging with people.

GHE: And the folk festival audiences seem to really like you. They’re a pretty unique audience in that they’re a listening audience. You go and play at a folk festival, whether it’s Woodford or Cygnet or whatever, and the people who come to your shows are there to hear you and are super attentive and engaged.

KC: They are the best crowds for sure. At a folk festival in particular people are going along to be there, to have the experience. I think it’s really beautiful, the appreciation for the artist, that comes from a folk festival.

GHE: And people a very open to different types of music as well.

KC: It’s an eclectic mix. I thought it was amazing up at Woodford – you had Marlon Williams and then you walk around the corner and it’s MC Briggs. The diversity was crazy.

GHE: So talking about The National in particular: You’re back this year in an officially capacity. Are you looking forward to playing the 50th anniversary of the festival?

KC: Yeah! Last year was my first time at The National and I was blown away. It’s an amazing festival and there’s so many great artists. I’m really excited – this is going to be the first major festival that I’ll be playing with the full band. We’ll be doing songs from the Glass Fool album and also new songs that will be on the latest album too. It’s going to be a really good opportunity to play them live to one of those beautiful folk festival audiences.

GHE: And then after The National are there more shows planned?

KC: We’ll be touring for the single in May. But other than that we’ve just got Port Fairy and the Blue Mountains Folk Festival. After this run of festivals we’ll start releasing all the singles and then we’ll be going overseas in July/August touring Germany, Belgium and Sweden for a couple of months.

GHE: You just can’t get enough of Europe.

KC: It’s always good to get away from the winter blues.

GHE: That so much Kaurna for chatting with me today. Hopefully we’ll catch up at The National. Good luck with everything you’ve got on this year!

KC: Cheers Gareth, appreciate it.

Upcoming dates for Kaurna Cronin, including all of his shows at the National Folk Festival, are below:

Friday 11th to Monday 14th March – Port Fairy Folk Festival, Port Fairy, VIC
Friday 18th to Sunday 20th March – Blue Mountains Folk Festival, Katoomba, NSW
Thursday 24th to Monday 28th March – National Folk Festival, Canberra, ACT
– Friday 4pm – Scrumpy
– Saturday 10:30am – The Majestic
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Interview: William Fitzsimmons

William Fitzsimmons
Image Courtesy of William Fitzsimmons

This week US based singer-songwriter William Fitzsimmons will tour Australia for the very first time, with shows in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. We managed to grab five minutes with Fitzsimmons ahead of the shows to chat about the new record Pittsburgh, his decision to head to Australia and what’s next.

Gareth Hugh Evans: Pittsburgh is a very personal, autobiographical album. How does it feel to put something out there that’s pulled so much from your life?

William Fitzsimmons: Honestly at this point it’s really all I know. I’ve been writing songs about my life, my family, my mental health problems, etc. for over 10 years, so at this point it’s become second nature. Not that it’s easy, it actually takes a pretty big emotional toll to spend so much time thinking about things that cause pain. But it’s never been difficult in terms of sharing it with other people. That part has always felt natural. These are the kinds of things that only get worse when you don’t let the steam escape every now and then.

GHE: I love the production on Pittsburgh – it just feels a little more “filled out” than Lions. What was behind the decision to self produce again for this album?

WF: Thanks a lot! You know that decision to me is a really funny one, because I never sit down and do a pros and cons list or anything. I probably don’t even think about it for more than a few moments, and I just sort of know what I’m going to do. I’m sure a large part of the choice comes down to what I’ve been doing more of recently. I loved making Lions with Chris Walla so much and I would love to work together again. But whenever I work with a producer for a while I really start to want to be behind the controls again. And vice verse when I’ve been holed up alone in my own studio. It’s the same with performing with a band versus solo. Both are wonderful in their own rights. But after a while of doing it one way you want to do something different.

GHE: We picked the title track of the album, “Pittsburgh”, as one of our top 25 songs of 2015. Can you tell us a little bit of the story behind this song, or if that’s too personal a little about what went into writing and producing this track?

WF: That means a lot, thanks sincerely. I’m very proud of that song and yes, it is a pretty personal one for me. I wrote that, and the whole record, after I lost my grandmother, Virginia, in late 2014. The song is about being separated from a person, or persons, or a place, or a time that meant a great deal to you. I left Pittsburgh years ago, following my divorce, because it was just too depressing to be there anymore. I loved my family and I still had some close friends there, but it was just destroying me to be there any longer. I suppose there’s a piece of guilt in the song about leaving. But it was the right thing to do.

GHE: This is your first tour to Australia despite Pittsburgh being your sixth or seventh album. What’s prompted you to visit your Australian fans for this album cycle?

WF: Haha, I’ve been trying to get down there for years! I still have no idea why it happened, but Australians were, believe it or not, some of the first to start writing me on Myspace asking for CDs, talking about the songs, etc. At the time I was still working as a therapist, so even though I would have loved to, I didn’t think there was much chance I’d ever get there. The last several years, however, as we’ve been traveling further and further away from home, I knew we could find a way to make it work. I’ve been waiting for this for a long time, trust me.

GHE: Are we likely to here tracks from across your catalogue or will you mainly be focusing on Pittsburgh?

WF: For the first visit there, I think it’s a lot of fun to try to hit all the records. Of course for me personally, the newer songs tend to be closer to where I’m at emotionally. But there’s this cool thing that happens when you revisit a song you haven’t played in several years. You start to hear it in a different way, almost like it’s not even your song. I have this personal rule that I’ll only play songs which I have a strong emotional connection to at a given time. Old or new, doesn’t matter. If I can’t mean what I’m singing I won’t do it.

GHE: You’ll be performing solo while you’re here – does that affect how you go about choosing a set list compared to band shows?

WF: It does in the sense that with the band you’re always having to think about flow and arrangements, switching instruments, tunings, dynamics of the show, and so forth. It turns into a big puzzle and sometimes you make song choices based on pragmatic issues in addition to emotional ones. For the solo shows, basically I can do whatever I want to, whenever I want to. I can be totally open to throwing out the set list in the middle of the show and just playing what I’m feeling the crowd wants me to. It’s more loose and fun in that sense. It feels more spontaneous.

GHE: Finally, what’s next for William Fitzsimmons?

WF: Well I don’t think I’m supposed to tell anybody yet, but I just finished a new record. It’s the 2nd half of the Pittsburgh album, basically “Pittsburgh Part 2.” There’s another half of that story that I wanted to tell. I’ll be doing some limited touring for that record this year and probably some festivals in the summer. Past that just spending as much time with my daughters as I possibly can.

Pittsburgh from William Fitzsimmons is available now. His Australian tour dates are below:

Tuesday 9th February – Newtown Social Club, Sydney, NSW
Thursday 11th February – Northcote Social Club, Melbourne, VIC
Sunday 14th February – Chevron Festival Gardens, Perth, WA

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