Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Retro blog: May 2009, The Beez 2009 Australian tour

The Beez appeared on 'Spicks and Specks' on ABC1 on Wednesday 24 March and ABC2 on Thursday 25 March 2010 as part of their 2010 Australian tour.

This article was originally published in 'Trad and Now' (www.tradandnow.com) in May 2009.

A Punter’s Perspective
Random observations on the wide, weird world of folk from the side of the stage
By Bill Quinn

The Beez: Portrait of a band at the end of a very long road

‘Is there any point going on with this? I mean, should we just unplug and just go acoustic?’

It was late December 2008, one of the first gigs for The Beez from Berlin at the start of an epic four-month tour. Fresh off the plane (and without their usual all-terrain sound man Georg for the first few gigs), things were not going well.

The speaker, Rob Rayner, originally from Sydney but a long, long-term resident of Berlin, was being polite and patient and professional. But the strain was beginning to show as Julischka’s acoustic bass seemed determined to stay unplugged. The audience was urged to move up front and cluster in the front rows.

Guitarist Peter D’Elia made some gag to help defuse the situation which garnered no response from the audience, except this from yours truly. ‘Try telling that joke again acoustically’.

‘Hey, I know you!’ D’Elia said, pointing into the second row, and so was rekindled a friendship that left off in Cobargo 2007.

This was the start point of a mammoth undertaking that saw The Beez travel to just about every point on the Australian compass, from Darwin to Hobart, from Byron Bay to Perth and many, many points in between.

And more festivals than you could poke a mic stand at.

From the disheartening sound problems early in the tour, there were many much more happier times.

Like scenes of crowd pandemonium in Bulli, standing ovations in Cobargo, masses of new fans everywhere, and the final bitter-sweet performance to an over-flowing tent (and champagne glasses) in St Albans.

I crossed paths with The Beez at seven of those festivals, plus their gig at the Folkus Room in Canberra, and I had them come into the radio studio to play and chat live on air in Canberra.

But one thing eluded me (and them) from Woodford and through each of those meetings until literally the last minutes before they jumped on the tour bus away from their last gig: the 'Trad and Now' interview.

Finally, there were some hurried chats outside the entrance to St Albans folk festival late on a chilly Anzac Day evening, and they spoke briefly about the process of touring on such a scale.

Plus some more clich├ęd questions about reactions to Australian crowds, music and touring.

Talking to five people more or less separately meant some questions became a little repetitive.

Talking to five people more or less separately meant some questions became a little repetitive.

OK, even I knew I was going to do that.

Trad and Now: It’s the end of four months: how are you feeling?

Julischka (acoustic bass/vocals): I’m feeling sad and I’m feeling happy too because four months is a long time on the road. It’s been really, really nice and really awful at times, you know! Because you’re so, so long away from home. You need to go home at some point. I think it’s nice to go home.

But also we’ve seen so many great places. We’ve been to Darwin which was great. We’ve been on the East Coast which we really love.

We’ve been to Tasmania which is beautiful and also a little bit like Europe, I think. And we went to Perth, to Western Australia last week. I think Western Australia is a lot like how I imagined Australia to be.

Trad and Now: The land?

Julischka: Yeah, yeah: the nature. It’s really weird. You’re in this huge country, this continent and you see so many different places. So different. And so many beautiful people.

T&N: How about musically? Were there any good musical memories?

Julischka: We met so many good musicians. We have a pile of CDs we’re going to take home. It’s too much; we can’t take it all. We have to put it in our computers. We met so many Australian bands. Deta makes a sampler for every month, and the April sampler is all Australian musicians.

T&N: Four months. It’s a long time. Would you do it again?

Julischka: No. [Laughs]. No, no, we’ve decided. We’ve all been through this and we said four months is too long. If you’re in one place, it’s good, but all this travelling is so tiring. I think two months is a good amount. We spoke to many artists like David Francey, and they all do two months. Seven weeks, two months – that’s good, but four months is too long.

But we still love each other.

T&N: I wondered about that. Do you start to rip each other apart on the bus?

Julischka: No, no we didn’t. But it’s good when you can talk about it. You say, ‘We really have to take some time and be away from each other for a few days’, and then we can meet up and are happy to see each other again.

And this guy [Georg, the sound guy joins us] is the sound guy and he has heard 69 gigs of The Beez.

Georg: No, I don’t. I didn’t. Because I had something in my ears. All the time.

T&N: So what, you were listening to a bit of speed metal or Rammstein?

Georg: No, nothing like that. Nice music.

T&N: Wow, maybe we’d better talk some more about that friendship you said was still there!

And what’s it like travelling with four musicians for four months?

Georg: Terrible. I hate it. I can’t stand it anymore!

T&N: Did you find there were any places where the sound really did present a challenge?

Georg: Most of the time the small venues like pubs were nothing, actually. They were crap! Sometimes five cables, one mic stand and two loud speakers.

And one time there was nothing!

Julischka: Yeah, we had to play acoustically. But we can. You know this guy is a magician.

Georg: Yes, my second name is McGuyver.

T&N: Tell me something about the process of organising a four month tour. How far out did you have to start organising it?

Rob (guitar/mandolin/vocals): The problem with Germany is that you’re often organising stuff a year in advance. Or a year and a half in advance. The running joke is that it might be 2008, and we had a couple of promoters saying, ‘We’d like to book you for, um, we’re looking at September’. And we’d say, ‘2008?’ and they’d reply, ‘Nooo, we’re talking about 2010!’

So they can be booking two years in advance, becauz zey are organized!

Ja, it iz like a machine! They’re not all that crazy.

Nevertheless, here I started a year ago. Applying, setting up, then you’ve got all the visa requirements that you have to sort out. They’re very stringent.

T&N: Stringent on the Australian side?

Rob: Oh yeah! Very difficult. I just get the feeling that we’re being forced to jump through these flaming hoops. The hoops are getting smaller and the flames are getting higher! And it’s making my job very difficult.

I’m an Australian who wants to come back here and play in his own country, and I want to be in a band with people from other countries, and it’s being made really, REALLY difficult from several different sectors and being able to make a buck out of it. Because most of the money that we’re earning is being left in Australia. We’re not taking a lot of money back. We’re taking a bit of pocket money back if we’re REALLY lucky.

T&N: Things that you could do different? Resources that you can draw on? Intelligence that you have after this tour?

Rob: I think a bit of corporate stuff next time, because we do a bit of that in Germany That might make it just a bit easier financially next time.

And we need management. We need someone to take it to the next level. We can do that ourselves but then we neglect the creative side of things.

[T&N: Deta and I had spoken a couple of times over the four months about language barriers and so her first answer when she joined in was highly appropriate.]

T&N: Deta, memories of Australia? The fond ones and the not so… the challenging ones?

Deta (piano accordion/kalimba/xylophone/vocals): [Pause]. I don’t understand the question!

T&N (rephrasing): What are your fond memories, your happy memories of Australia and the tour?

Deta: I saw a crocodile! I had a glass of wine with Campbell (the Swaggie) and he gave me a postcard, with a picture of him. A painting, actually.

It’s all about people and it is not easy to meet people when you are not a native English speaker. I am really looking forward to Tuesday night because I will have a pizza in my neighbourhood with all my friends and they will pick us up from the airport and I can speak German again!

I think that my English is good enough that I can understand what others are saying, but sometimes if there is a big group and everyone is talking and it’s very noisy then it’s very hard to understand. You get tired.

T&N: Musically, do you have fond memories?

Deta: Well the thing is we don’t have these kinds of festivals in Germany. If we do festivals in Germany they are music comedy, or juggling acts or vaudeville shows and if you can’t sing and juggle and doing a handstand at the same time, it’s just not interesting for the people.

And when I came first to Australia, to Port Fairy, there was a big tent, about 2,000 people in the audience and there were two women on stage singing a cappella. And the audience was just listening. I almost cried because I never saw that people are so attentive to music and I thought, ‘I can relax in Australia because I can do music; I don’t have to do all the tricks!’

T&N: What are you thinking now as opposed to four months ago when I saw you at Woodford playing for the first time?

Peter (guitars/vocals) When I first left Berlin, I thought, four months, that’s a really long time. As soon as I got here I forgot about Berlin and have been having the best time. I’m feeling sad about leaving, actually. Once I get back I’ll be enjoying Berlin in the spring and summer but right now I’m definitely sad.

T&N: As a San Franciscan living in Berlin and touring in Australia, do you ever get a feeling of, ‘Where the hell am I? What city am I in?’

Peter: For sure.

T&N: What is it that lets you know you’re in Australia?

Peter: Meeting people and finding out about them in the first ten minutes. It’s crazy! Not the case in Germany.

T&N: So Australians are a bit more up front?

Peter: Totally upfront. You learn much more about them in a very short space of time. Americans can be that way too; Australians even more. It takes much longer to learn about people’s private lives in Germany.

T&N: How about musically? The music that you’ve seen, the venues: what are the differentiating factors that you’ve seen?

Peter: We’ve done so many big festivals and the outdoor shows that we do in Germany are not so much festivals as street fairs or more like smaller scale village festivals. And we’ve had a few other shows as well here, but we don’t do so many pub gigs in Germany So it’s kind of hard to compare.

T&N: What are the good memories?

Peter: Having some time to be out in nature, and getting to see people more than once. The nice thing about four months is going to some same places again and getting to hang out with the same people again. And that’s not the same as a one/two month tour where you might only get to see that person once.

And get all the way north to Darwin and all the way west to Perth.
__________________________

About 36 hours after leaving St Albans, The Beez flew back to Berlin and hardly drew breath before heading off to Rock und Rottwein (probably doesn’t need translating). For more on The Beez, and to keep watch on when they might be headed back to Australia, see http://www.thebeez.de/ and http://www.myspace.com/thebeezband.

Bill Quinn

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Punter's Perspective: Kids in Folk pt II (Almira Fawn)

_______________________________________________

This article first appeared in the September 2009 edition of 'Trad and Now' magazine (www.tradandnow.com).


A Punter’s Perspective
Random observations on the wide, weird world of folk from the side of the stage
By Bill Quinn

Kids in Folk pt II: Almira Fawn

Last year I wrote a column about two young performers (then aged 11) from NSW, and I had cunning plans to make a semi-regular feature in Punter’s to focus on younger performers.

Plans are funny things, aren’t they? We have endless fun making them, and then so often simply file them under ‘F’ for forgotten.

Or ‘I’ for ‘I’ll get back to that…’.

And then a funny thing happened on the way to a singing session one cold Saturday night in Canberra: the radio announced a burgeoning young star from Lexington, Kentucky and I was hopelessly hooked.

Stopped in the carpark outside Woollies in Dickson, I found myself unable to get out of the car as I sat transfixed to the ‘Woodsongs’ program and the story of 11 year old Almira Fawn (turned 12 in August).

It’s quite a story, and one which could stretch over a year’s worth of articles, were there not countless other stories out there to tell.

This is the story of Almira Fawn, told over the phone while talking to Almira, dad Don, and mum Umi in Lexington, Kentucky, while patched through to Almira’s manager, Beau, who runs a community radio station (The Penguin 106.7FM) in Wilmington, North Carolina.

We opened up the chat with my apologising in advance for any Australianisms that might crop up. Beau now believes Almira should write a song called ‘Fair Dinkum’.

The following week, I spoke with Almira’s guitar-teacher/blues performer David M McLean.

The back-story is this. At age six, Almira had extreme shyness, but being such a fan of music and singing, her parents put her into guitar lessons. At eight she was busking at the local farmers’ markets.

By 10 Almira was doing restaurant gigs and other performances. At 11 she was on the international ‘Woodsongs’ radio/TV show and had her first album of mostly originals out.

Almira does the odd bit of motivational speaking.

And yeah, she’s pretty much over the shyness thing.

Isn’t music a wonderful thing?

“We actually called it ‘therapy’,” says Almira, “because my parents took me in [to lessons] hoping I’d learn to be able to perform in front of people because I was extremely shy. I’d cry before I had to get up in front of people.”

“I learnt to perform and I just got better.”

How did Almira cope with a guitar at age six?

“Well, it was extremely big compared to me! When I’d sit in a chair, my feet would be half way to the ground. My fingers couldn’t even reach all the way around the finger board.”

“My parents really like contemporary music. Back then when I was a lot younger, they introduced me into a little older music. So I was listening to ACDC and Peter Frampton, and all that sort of stuff.”

“But now I do pretty much everything.”

Including writing her own material.

“There wasn’t really a time when I thought, ‘Now I’m going to write my stuff; I’m going to write music today’.

“Things just came to me, and I thought, ‘That sounds pretty good; I’ll write that down’.”

Where does a sub-teenage girl find inspiration for writing?

“I really look up to the eagles a lot…”

At this point, I was absolutely astonished that Almira was about to expound an amazing, inspirational metaphor about the powerful, graceful, soaring birds above her that she looks up to. Symbol of the USA, flight, might and power.

I’m sorry, I’ll write that again.

“I really look up to the Eagles a lot and how they do a lot of genres.”

Aha. Different eagles.

“JJ Grey, who’s a soul singer/songwriter. Because of his soul and his meaningful lyrics.”

“And basically everything around me. Even my cat is an inspiration to writing music for me. It does this thing we call ‘psycho’; rips through the house and tears up everything. And that ended up being a song called, ‘What’s On Your Mind’?”

Guitar teacher David suggested Almira appear at the local farmers’ market in Lexington.

“I was eight at the time,” Almira recalls, “and I was thinking, ‘Whoo! I’m making money!’”

“I was really nervous the first few times, for the first few songs, wondering what people are thinking of me. But after a couple of songs, I was having a blast there too.”

“That first time there was a talent scout there too, and he was talking to me and he said, ‘You should come up to New York City. We’re having this talent sort of convention thing.’”

“And I said, ‘Cool! I’ll do it!’”

“So they put me in it and I competed in that convention thing. Sort of like a job fair slash talent convention.”

“And I guess it all went from there.”

“And that really helped my confidence and everything. I also met this guy named John DeGrazio, the writer of the song ‘Abandoned’ which is on my CD. And I just really loved that song, and he’s a big influence on me too.”

“He really influenced me to write after that. I guess when I was eight and met him, that’s when I really started writing. Back to that question again!”

“JJ Grey is also a major influence. I just really love his soul and his songs. All of his songs. There’s not one that sounds like an ‘OK’ or bad song.”

Short pause to check out some vision on Youtube taken shortly after the Woodsongs program was recorded. Throw ‘Appalachia’ and ‘Almira Fawn’ and ‘Lochloosa’ into a web search, press ‘Play’ then sit back, and your gob shall be smacked.

It was this Youtube vision that first captured the notice of Beau from The Penguin radio station, while he was checking some material on JJ Grey’s web-site for an upcoming concert.

“The wonders of Youtube have opened up the doors for much success for a lot of people around the world. So I watched this video of Almira Fawn playing the song of one of her inspirations, JJ Grey. She performs the song ‘Appalachia’ which Grey wrote which Almira kind of re-worded and re-wrote.

“After I saw that video, I watched many, many more videos of hers on Youtube and was so impressed.

Beau wrote to the poster of the videos (Almira’s parents) and long story short, Almira played at that concert.

“That’s where I stepped in and got to know her. And have been all the better for it.”

“Woodsongs was the biggest experience I’d had at that time. You just look out into the crowd and go, ‘Whoa!’. I was freaking out and then about five minutes into it, I thought, ‘’This is really fun!’”

Did it enter her mind while on stage (age 11, remember) that there was a world-wide audience tuning in at some stage?

“No, it didn’t really cross my mind right then, but then afterwards when I saw it on TV and everything, I thought, ‘You know there’s actually a million people listening to me right now. Wow!’.”

And the rest.

As much as Almira has drawn inspiration from others, she’s now inspiring others herself, even if she’s not aware it. Being so busy with music, school and soccer, her mother Umi handles much of her correspondence for her.

“Almira,” Beau interjects down the line from Wilmington, “you probably don’t know this, and you may not monitor all the emails, but I’ve been speaking with your mum and there is a kid who has been very inspired by you and has taken up the guitar to learn.”

Almira: “Oh, really? Cool!”

Beau: “One person, and that could blossom into many more from here.”

Did I mention that Almira has an album? ‘Chillax’, featuring seven originals, one cover and one cover/re-write (Appalachia).

I’ll not steal the thunder of others who may want to review the actual album other than to say Almira has a very mature voice on very small shoulders.

And even before putting the record on, the simple, elegant artwork had told so much that words could not hope to convey.

The front cover shows a pensive, introspective artist.

The back picture shows a joyous, uninhibited 11 year old leaping in the air.

The inside cover shows a mix of staged and performance shots, but two really stand out and depict the maturity and level-headedness I’ve come to infer from my many interactions with Almira.

One shows Almira at a younger age, kissing a frog.

Another shows Almira in full soccer gear, sliding in to kick the ball into the net.

‘Balance’ and ‘well-rounded’ are terms that spring to mind.

“The album was new and exciting and fun to me. Just because I get to lay down those special thoughts on it.

“And it was a whole lot of work too.

“It was done in a home studio. We had the whole band: The drummer was in the living room. I was in the owner of the studio’s son’s bedroom! And he was in the actual recording studio. So we were all placed in different rooms.

“There wasn’t any fancy glass or anything,”

The album is available through Almira’s web-site: www.almirafawn.com

Whereon you will find this intro: “On any given day, Almira Fawn can be found going to school, taking care of her pet animals, eating her favourite chocolate or playing soccer. Almira loves to catch and study wild animals and is a certified scuba diver.”

Almira is also known to do the odd spot of motivational speaking. Sans the extreme shyness which now appears to be very much a thing of the past.

Guitar teacher David McLean (who will be the subject of an ‘Older Kids in Blues’ article elsewhere) has the words on this: ‘If there’s anything you think you can’t do, or something you want to but can’t, then Almira’s your go-to person. She’s stubborn and competitive (in a good way) and will not give up until she succeeds.’

There are six billion stories of individual brilliance out there. This has been one of them.

For more details and links:

www.almirafawn.com
www.skinnydevil.com
www.1067thepenguin.com 
www.woodsongs.com



Bill Quinn

www.myspace.com/overheardproductions

ENDS

Blogging: you gots to start somewhere

There was a time when I scoffed at people who carried mobile phones. Now I own a BlackBerry (or ChuckBerry, as I affectionately call it -- I'm still not exactly sure how it works, but you gots to start somewhere).

I can remember seeing a documentary on TV from France where a small town was trialling something that was later to be known as an EFTPOS card, where shoppers would swipe a plastic card and enter a personal identification number to purchase their goods and services, in preference to handing over cash. 'That will never take off,' I scoffed. Nice call, scooter.

Facebook? That was never going to be for me. Never. Ever. Ever. That's a young person's thing, and not for me. Now I have over 260 'friends' and while I haven't plotted the median age, I'm guessing it would be late thirties to early forties.

Twitter? No never ever ever never. I'll go so far with this social networking craz(e)(i)ness but not there. Yeah, I'm now a Twit, though it's been a very slow start on that front. The sheer volume of some twits is quite staggering in comparison to my typical one-update-per-day, if that.

And now my advisers tell me that blogging is the way to go. Which sort of makes sense since I have a lot to say, and have said (and written) much in the past that's hanging around on various hard drives and floppy discs and compact and not-so compact discs.

How much of it will be of use and utility to the great washed and unwashed is debatable. But hey, this is cyberspace, so it might as well be out there, and parked in some lay-by on the information superwebzway, and time will tell if you (yes, you -- and possibly that person behind you doing the dishes) find it of interest.

Feel free to tell me what you think.

Cheers

Bill Quinn
Overheard Productions