National Folk Festival Interview: Tolka

Image Courtesy of Tolka

Melbourne trad quartet Tolka were one of my favourite discoveries of last year and I’m super excited to hear that they’ll be at The National Folk Festival for the first (official) time this April. I sat down with Tolka fiddle player Hilary Glaisher to chat all things trad music.

Gareth Hugh Evans: I discoverd you guys last year and I don’t really know that much about you other than you have an amazing album Tunes From The External Hard Drive. How do four young musos start playing jigs and reels?

Hilary Glaisher: Well I grew up listening to really old LPs of my Mother’s of bands like Planxty and The Bothy Band. And then she took me to Newstead, well it was Chewton Folk Festival in those days, which was quite close to home. My sister and I for some reason decided that tunes were the best idea ever and we also saw Trouble in the Kitchen back in those days and they were … I would say they’re the reason I’m playing tunes today. I met Cameron [Hibbs] at The National a couple of years ago. I was in a band called Evelyn’s Secret a couple of years ago with Rob [Hillman]’s older sister – she’s now in The Mae Trio – so I knew Rob from hanging out with Anita. I think we met Allan [Evans] at some folk music camp like Rose’s Gap. I suppose when you’re a young person playing tunes you’re bound to meet the other ones. It’s kind of a small community.

GHE: I grew up going to folk festivals as well, and learning to love it.

HG: In terms of family holidays and places to go and hang out with your mates it’s actually perfect.

GHE: It’s funny that you meantion that Trouble in the Kitchen are such an inspiration because there’s an obvious influence on your music from them. I wasn’t sure whether to bring them up or not – whether you like the comparison.

HG: We’re more embarrassed that it’s maybe that obvious that we love them so much. We don’t want to replicate what they do at all but if we remind people of Trouble in the Kitchen then that can only be an amazingly good thing as far as we’re concerned.

GHE: The way that I found you guys is that my listening habits were leaning more towards American influenced folk music and I really wanted to get back into the anglo celtic stuff. So I reached to a few friends who are a little closer to that trad scene than I am for recommendations and you guys topped everyone’s lists. So I immediately downloaded your album and I really really love it.

HG: Thank you! I’m stoked to hear it. That’s amazing.

GHE: And it does seem that your profile has been lifting a lot lately.

HG: We’ve definitely been putting a bit more time into the band recently. We were a little bit stymied last year because we put so much time putting that first album out. We decided we wanted an album and spoke to Joe Ferguson [Trouble in the Kitchen] and he was sort of tied up with Circus Oz commitments and only had a window of time to record it with us. But this year we’ve taken a year off to do the band semi-fulltime because three of us finish our uni degrees and Rob’s just agreed to take a year off. We’ve been quite keen to be taking it a bit more seriously. I’m glad to hear out name’s popping up quite a bit because it means that work’s paying off a little bit. This year we’re going Ireland in June.

GHE: That’s awesome! I hadn’t heard that – that’s really cool. Have you been before?

HG: Not as a band. I’ve been by myself. We applied for the JUMP mentoring grant from the Australian Arts Council so we’re going to do an album in June with Brina Finnegan from Flook and Kan. That’s going to take up a lot of our year this year so hopefully when we come back that will help – keep us going a bit longer.

GHE: I’m chuffed you’re heading over there.

HG: We’ve got four months so hopefully we’ve got time to be in sessions and hanging out and listening to other sessions.

GHE: Is it all over Ireland that you’re going to?

HG: We’re actually going to be going to Belfast. I assume we’ll be doing gigs around the place. We’ve already got a smallish summer tour probably coming up with another band from England. We’re going to have a flat so we’ll feel like we’re actually living there rather than just tourists.

GHE: A question I’ve always wanted to ask a trad band – how do you decide which tunes to turn into Tolka sets? There’s so many tunes, and you must have sat in 1,000 sessions. How can you choose?

HG: I think the nice thing about playing in a band with more than one other person is that there’s something about the tunes that really get you going and it tends to be a very individual thing. One of the amazing things about getting to know Cam is his brain just works really differently on the tunes. Especially when he’s writing tunes he just comes up with stuff that when I hear it it just makes so much sense but I just never could have produced it myself. And I think the same applies to choosing tunes in that we all hear something different in each tune. It tends to be just one of us that will hear a tune and for some reason it just strikes us as something that would go down well as something that we’d arrange. I think for us too we really want to stay true to the tradition that we’re coming from but we’re really keen to explore the composition side of things and the arrangement side of things. Which is partly why we want to work with Brian because he is one of the foremost modern trad musicians in the world. He said to me the other day that the way he sees it is ingesting tradition and allowing it to reemerge through your own experience. Inevitably it’s going to change when it comes back out again.

GHE: This weekend you’re going to be in Sydney for a couple of St Patrick’s Day related events – Saturday night at The Gaelic Club with Sásta and then Sunday afternoon at the celebrations in Hyde Park. Being an Irish influenced band you must be in pretty high demand on St Paddy’s? They’ve been lucky to get you up to Sydney.

HG: We’re pretty excited to be going to Sydney. Apparently the Hyde Park bonanza is quite a thing in Sydney – they get lots of folk down there. It’s nice to be somewhere else – we’ve done St Patrick’s Day in Melbourne and Geelong quite a few times in a row so it’s nice to be going somewhere else.

GHE: And then you’ll be at The National of course. Have you played at The National before as Tolka?

HG: We were there last year just doing blackboard stuff. We’ve all sort of played in other bands at The National but not as this lineup. It’s nice to finally get there with this project. It’s all of our favourite festival to be honest.

GHE: I love that about The National – you can not get booked for it, still turn up and play a bunch of blackboard gigs and still feel like you’ve been a part of it. It must feel really cool to be on the official lineup this year.

HG: It is actually. Especially because upward of 80% of my favourite gigs of all time I’ve seen there. It’s a gorgeous place to be booked – they look after their artists so well. You’re just in such good company both at the present festival and decades backwards. It’s a bit of a privilege actually, it’s pretty amazing.

GHE: And the crowds at The National are something special as well. It’s a real music loving crowd – people are there to see you perform.

HG: I think they’re a really lovely mixture of the musically discerning but also really really supportive of the band’s they’re seeing.

GHE: So I might leave it there but once again can I say how much of a massive fan I am of Tolka and I can’t wait to see you guys at The National.

HG: I’m stoked that you’ve enjoyed the album. Thank you!

Tolka will be playing this weekend as part of the St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Sydney – details here. The National Folk Festival takes place at Exhibition Park in Canberra from the 17th to 21st April. Tolka’s set times for the festival are below:

Friday 18th April – 5:30pm The Terrace
Saturday 19th April – 10pm Trocadero
Monday 21st April – 4pm Marquee

The Mae Trio To Launch Their Debut Album

The Mae Trio
Image Courtesy of The Mae Trio

The Mae Trio are three very talented ladies from Melbourne and they have announced plans to launch their debut album Housewarming this Friday 2nd August. Made up of sisters Maggie and Elsie Rigby (The Rainmakers) along with cellist Anita Hillman (Evelyn’s Secret), The Mae Trio are considered amongst the best young talent on the Australian folk scene at the moment.

Housewarming was produced by Luke Plumb (Shooglenifty) and features some pretty special contemporary folk music. The album will be launched at The Thornbury Theatre in Melbourne on Friday, a night that will also feature supports from John Flanagan and the Begin Agains and The Stray Hens. Tickets for the night are just $15 – check out the official Facebook event here for more information.

You can also listen to a handful of tracks from Housewarming below – and we highly recommend you do as they’re something special:

Illawarra Folk Festival Announces 2012 Program

The Quarry Mountain Dead Rats
Image Courtesy of The Quarry Mountain Dead Rats

While the summer months see some of the nation’s biggest festivals strut their stuff it’s the little regional folk festivals that really shine in our books. One of our favourite regional festivals roles around every January – The Illawarra Folk Festival in Bulli just north of Wollongong, NSW.

Being within spitting distance of both Sydney and Canberra the Illawarra Folk Festival manages to attract some amazing national and international talent and is set in one of the most beautiful parts of the country. The 2012 festival will be held from the 12th to the 15th January and boasts a program featuring the likes of Dougie Maclean, George Kamikawa & Noriko Tadano, The Beez, Andrew Winton, Cj Shaw, Evelyn’s Secret, Get Folked, Jack Flash, Lucy Wise & The B’Gollies, Margaret & Bob Fagan, Martin Pearson, The Quarry Mountain Dead Rats (above), Skipping Girl Vinegar, The Bearded Gypsy Band, The String Contingent, The Woohoo Revue, Big Erle & the Limb Looseners, Jane Aubourg and of course Wongawilli.

The program for the event has just been released and is available on the official Illawarra Folk Festival web site – which is also where you can get the full lineup and all the information on how to get tickets. Looks like our January is planned then.

30th Cygnet Folk Festival Announces Artist Lineup


Andrew Winton
Image Courtesy of Andrew Winton

Tasmania’s premiere folk event, the Cygnet Folk Festival, will be celebrating its 30th year in 2012 and they’ve just released a pretty amazing program of artists for the occasion. Held in Cygnet, south of Hobart, the Cygnet Folk Festival takes place from the 6th to the 8th January.

Headlining the event this year are European folk group Ethno in Transit, Tennessee based singer songwriter Hannah Aldridge, US guitar master Dale Miller, trad autoharp players and multi-instrumentalists Cindy Harris and Eileen Kozloff, two of the UK’s finest young fiddle players, Simon Bradley and Anna Wendy Stevenson, performing with the Simon Bradley Trio, Melbourne based My Friend the Chocolate Cake and WA’s The Miles to Go Trio.

The lineup is also peppered with Timber and Steel favourites including Andrew Winton (above), Evan and Mischa, Evelyn’s Secret, Fred Smith and Liz Frencham, Penny Larkins & Carl Pannuzzo, Quarry Mountain Dead Rats, The Crooked Fiddle Band and many many more.

Tickets and more information are available from the official Cygnet Folk Festival web site. The full list of performers is below:

AP Dantonio, Adam Cousens Band, Aluka, Andrew Marshall, Andrew Veivers, Andrew Winton, Andy Baylor’s Possum Stole the Pumpkin, Benny Walker, Blue Cow, Bohemian Nights, Brett Campbell, Bruce Watson, Ceo Draoicht, Cindy Harris, Dale Miller, David “Odd socks” Wanless, Dominic Francis, Eileen Kozloff, Ethereal, Ethno in Transit, Evan and Mischa, Evelyn’s Secret, Fred Smith and Liz Frencham, Gretel Templeton and Friends, Halfway to Forth, Hannah Aldridge, Harlequin, Helen Thomson sings Gregorian Chant, Hot Club Romanesca, Hot String Band, Jay Fraser, John Flanagan & the Begin Agains, John Francis Carroll, Josh Durno, Junior Bowles, Kate Rowe and Ryan Morrison, Kavisha Mazzella, Kym Pitman, Le Blanc Bros Cajun Band, Madre Monte, Mahuts, Melisande, Miles To Go Trio, Mr Beep’s Magic, Music, Mayhem and Mirth, My Friend The Chocolate Cake, Nadia Sunde, Neil Adam and Judy Turner, Neil Gardner and Friends, New Holland Honey Eaters, Nick Osborn, Papa Chango, Penny Larkins & Carl Pannuzzo, Peter Miller, Quarry Mountain Dead Rats, Roaring Girls, Shanachie, Silkweed, SiSi & The Sonics, Sugarloaf, Susan King & Christine de Trincaud la Tour, Tabasco Tom and Doc White, Taliska, Tas and Mick Fleming’s Hawaiian Duo, The Crooked Fiddle Band, The Hazelman Brothers, The Hobart Smiths, The Lamplights, The Old Lyric Theatre, Uisce Reatha, Unsung Heroes of Australian History, Voicestrings, WhistleBlower and WoodSmith Mead

National Folk Festival Find: Evelyn’s Secret

Evelyn's Secret
Image Courtesy of Evelyn’s Secret

I’m forever hearing older folkies grumbling that the younger generation isn’t carrying on the folk music baton and that the tradition is being forgotten. Yet every year I attend the National Folk Festival I’m overwhelmed with the amount of “younger people” in attendance and even more so with how many of them are up on stage, instruments in hand, attending to that very tradition. I just love seeing anyone under 30 up on stage and knowing that, like me, they would have grown up immersed in folk music and folk festivals from a very young age.

On the final day of the National Folk Festival we decided to play things completely by ear, parking ourselves at one of the blackboard stages and seeing what they had on offer. What we discovered was one of those “young” bands playing a wonderful mix of contemporary and traditional folk music. That band was Evelyn’s Secret.

Formed in Bendigo, Victoria (but now pretty much based out of Melbourne) Evelyn’s Secret consists of Hilary Glaisher (fiddle, mandolin and vocals), Brigid Glaisher (Irish flute, whistle and vocals), Anita Hillman (cello, acoustic bass, guitar and vocals) and Jenny McKechnie (guitar and vocals). That they met and discovered a shared love of folk music in a town the size of Bendigo is remarkable enough, but that they’re all such talented musicians and singers on top of that simply blows me away.

Coupling traditional Irish tune sets (deftly performed by the Glaisher sisters) with original songs sung in the contemporary folk style, Evelyn’s Secret is everything that’s right about the generation of folkies that are emerging at the moment – they pay tribute to the tradition without being beholden to it. And I have to say it’s exciting to see a cello being used in folk music, the sound is wonderful.

I picked up Evelyn’s Secret’s album Rainy Saturday after their performance (from two very excited mothers – “I’m the mother of two of the girls”, “yes, but mine’s the songwriter”), which by now is a year old, and it’s amazing to see just how much they’ve grown as musicians and performers since its release. My only hope is that next year The National recognises what they’ve got hiding away in their blackboard venue and puts Evelyn’s Secret on the official program. If this is the future of folk then it’s in good hands.

Country of Origin: Australia (Bendigo/Melbourne)
File Under: Trad, Contemporary
Sounds Like: Trouble in the Kitchen fronted by Nancy Kerr

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