Phil Garland's News Blog

Phi Garland New Zealand Folk Musician and Kiwi Balladeer.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Australian Tour

I have decided to write about my recent Australian tour in response to numerous requests for some details of what turned out to be one of my most interesting and successful tours to date.
I flew into Melbourne on the first Tuesday in September, where I was met by Phil Young (expat Kiwi rocker turned folkie) who looked after me for the first couple of days I was to spend in Victoria. Phil also hosts a folk radio show on Wed nights in Melbourne and I was featured as his special guest on air - talking about and playing some examples of Kiwi folk song. The following day I was taken across the city during rush hour, something which made me fully appreciate the traffic situation or lack of it here in North Canterbury. I was to stay with John & Sue O'Leary for a couple of days. Sue might be familiar to Kiwis as a member of the Oz Scottish fiddle orchestra that toured here earlier in the year. Thursday night we all went off to a folkie pub in Nth Melbourne to hear local group 'Trouble in the Kitchen' perform and they certainly didn't disappoint one little bit.

My first gig was at the Melbourne folk club hosted by Jeanette Gillespie the following night and although there wasn't quite a full house it came very close to it - Here I caught up with a couple of old Kiwi mates - old timey muso Ken McMaster, who I hadn't seen for a few years and to my surprise Geoff & Judy Wright, last heard of in Queensland, but now recent arrivals in Melbourne. Geoff's brother Doug still lives and plays in Dunedin and helped out on my recent Southern Odyssey album. To all intents the gig went well and got the tour off to a good start. On Saturday John took me back across town to rejoin Phil & Elaine Young for the next few nights, but this time travelling on the freeway at a decent hour on Saturday and the return journey took only a fraction of the time we'd spent there a couple of days earlier.

Sunday afternoon had me playing semi-outdoors for the Selby folk club up in the Dandenong Ranges and the weather was simply glorious - I spotted one of my many Australian cousins in the audience and we managed to have a chat after the concert. The tour was originally intended to promote my new Southern Odyssey album, but with its release delayed until a week after my return home, I decided to perform only a couple of songs from the CD. After only two concerts it was becoming quite obvious that the 'Ballad of Minnie Dean' was creating a bit of a stir as audiences reacted strongly to the background story of this evocative song. I now had a couple of relaxing days before heading north to Sydney.

I could have flown from Melbourne to Sydney, but decided to travel by train on Tuesday, which is a long journey of nearly 12 hours - something not to be taken lightly, but I wanted to see the countryside and this seemed a good way to do it. After arriving in Sydney around 8pm, I booked into some budget accommodation near the station for the night before heading off the next morning to stay with Margaret Bradford in Engadine. Margaret used to run the Sutherland folk club, where I was booked to play on Thursday night. However as luck would have it, Margaret was playing a lunchtime concert for some old folks and asked me to join her, which I duly did and we had a ball - the oldies loved hearing some Kiwi songs and I even sold them a few memories on CD as well! I played the Sutherland club on Thursday night - it's now run by another expat, Jenny Watson and she had organised some Kiwi kai to help set the mood for the evening. Everyone got to taste some 'fair dinkum' pavlova covered with strawberries and kiwifruit. I have played this venue a couple of times before and generally have a good response here - the only sour note was when I discovered the sound man was recording the performance without permission and was offering to sell it to audience members once I'd gone. Needless to say I tried to put the stoppers on this idea - but who knows what transpired after I left!

My next gig was at the Illawarra Folk Club in Woollongong on Sat night, so I had to undertake some more train travel to get there. I eventually arrived in Kiama, where I was staying with another expat Kiwi Coaster and musician, Yvonne O'Grady. I've knownYvonne for some time and have stayed with her on previous occasions, when we always have a catch up about the trans-Tasman music scene. The Illawarra concert was held in the 'Wongawilli' Hall due to a mix up in bookings - but this didn't affect things too much as it turned out. There was a meal associated with this concert and first course consisted of lamb sausages with mashed potato, followed by Pavlova again. It seems some Australians have finally accepted our claim to have invented this iconic dessert. I had a great night with much Kiwi/Oz banter taking place throughout the night. Having played the Illawarra festival on a few occasions, there were a number of familiar friendly faces in the audience, which really does help set the atmosphere.

I had to be in Newcastle for Sunday afternoon, which necessitated an early start to my train travel once again -I had two seperate journeys ahead of me so I could arrive in Newcastle ready to start playing at 4pm. I duly arrived at 2.30 to be greeted and informed the concert had been advertised for that evening and I didn't need to rush - if only I'd known sooner my early morning start could have been delayed to give me a little bit of a sleep in. The Newcastle gig was an outdoor house concert and it was a chilly evening to say the least - however the audience response was a warm one, which was truly appreciated. Once again I caught up with another kiwi relation, who had offered to look after me for the next couple of days. Annie & her husband David were house sitting a million dollar mansion on the water's edge for a month and despite protesting strongly, I was taken there for some reaxing R & R. This touring business can be very difficult to cope with at times, but I suppose someone has to do it!

The inevitable train journeys were back on the agenda to get me to the next gig in Bowral - a couple of hours south of Sydney. Here I had been invited to stay with my niece Wendy and her husband Kevin (yet another expat Kiwi from Chch) During my stay Wendy also took me across to Mittagong, where her mother (my sister Joan) lives and it was great to catch up again albeit too briefly. The Bowral folk & acoustic music club is run by John & Jennifer Hall and this proved to be one of the highlights of the tour. Situated on the top floor of the local pub, the venue was full to overflwoing and the atmosphere was tremendous. The audience was very receptive and seemed to love hearing Kiwi songs. I spotted an old fiddling mate - Bob McInnes - in the audience - our paths have crossed on a number occasions through the years and he certainly understood what I was talking about during my intro to 'The Boys in the Band' when I mentioned the Kokatahi band and how they once used a 'stroviol' in the band. Bob owns one of these distinctive instruments and he is a great fiddler to boot. The organisers have invited me back to the club anytime I'm touring in the future -so I figure the night was an overall success.

A final train journey lay ahead of me as I was to be playing at the BAD folk club in Melbourne the following night. The train was due to arrive at 7pm with the folk club underway at 8pm. I was picked up by Phil Young once again and rushed off to the venue, where fortunately they had scheduled me to play in the second half. BAD stands for 'Berwick and Districts' folk club and is run by Edward Nass. This concert proved to be a truly amazing and surreal occasion. When I was introduced, there were a number of expat Kiwis at the back of the audience waving 'All Black' flags throughout the performance and cheering me on at every opportunity. Everyone of these wonderful people purchased a full set of my CDs - unbelievable!!!! if only more gigs were like this. Edward loved my performance and told me I was the best act they'd ever had and I was welcome back any time, which made me feel pretty special. To cap this off Edward organised a Sunday BBQ in my honour - something I was told he'd never done for any artist before. I don't know if this was totally true, but I really apreciated the sentiment.

The last segment of my tour would be in Queensland, which meant flying north a few days later. I have always found Queensland audiences to be great on my previous visits and hopefully this time would prove no exception. I was met at the airport by Jan Nary, who's looked after me previously. In addition to being the publicity officer for the Oz National Folk Festival, Jan also hosts a local radio show 'Harvest Folk' and once again offered to put me on air to help generate extra publicity. I played at the Kookaburra folk club on the Wed and this proved to be another great night. Anne Infante is the organiser here and I remembered meeting her back in the 1960s and then again when she came to Enzed during the early 1970s. I really had a good night here with people coming from all over the state to see me perform. I caught up with Bob Eden, who I had known as a shanty singer during my time in Perth and John Stafford, yet another expat Kiwi from the days of the Chch Folk Centre in the early 1970s. John used to sing only British ballads in Enzed and has started performing them again in Brisbane - however he really surprised me this time by singing only Kiwi songs for this special occasion at the Kookaburra. Great to hear! I also played the next night at the Madass folk club in Brisbane - this one is held in a proper pub and I have to say it was the most disappointing evening of the tour. Performers have to compete with a noisy drinking audience and scores of poker machines at the back of the venue. I truly did not enjoy playing here - although I did manage to sell some CDs to the noisy punters.

My last gig in Australia was to be a music festival at Mungindi some 7 hours drive from Brisbane. The town is located inland on the banks of the Barwon River, which doubles as the border to NSW & Queensland. The festival covers many styles of music from orchestras - brass bands - choirs to rock - country and folk. I was the only folk artist booked for this occasion, which was started to help offset the worries and conditions caused by the ongoing drought in this area. Friday night saw a giant concert highlighting the main guests, held in the local town hall - I was one of these and received a great reception. I was billetted just out of town on a large station called "Barwon Downs' and it was a lovely spot to be. I loved waking up to the bird life and seeming isolation of the property totally surrounded by bush. The whole of Saturday's peformances were held at the local showgrounds and started with a parade of guest musicians....I found myself second in the parade just behind one of Australia's greatest Jazz musicians - 'Don Burrows.' It was something different and folk turned out in their thousands to watch and cheer us by. I performed three times on Saturday - in a huge marquee - on a slightly smaller stage in front of the bar and then again in the woolshed. There were large appreciative crowds at all venues and so many were truly appreciative of my coming from NZ to be there in support of drought relief. All the Sunday performances were held at a giant marquee in the middle of a wheat field - the wheat stretched for miles around into the horizon - it was absolutely huge. The millionaire owner of the property said to me -"I bet you haven't got anything like this back home in New Zealand?" I had to agree with him, but not to be outdone I said "And we don't have as many flies as you like this back home either!" The flies were shocking - they were everywhere - in your eyes - up your nose - in your mouth, if you gave them half a chance! It was becoming increasingly difficult to perform on stage, that I finally relented and joined the rush to purchase a net to keep the little varmints at bay. I sang a couple of sets with a net covering my face - as did numerous other performers. I managed to raise a good laugh from the audience when I complimented them on their friendliness and constant waving. The final concert was held that evening at a specially constructed stage on the banks of the Barwon River. It proved to be a magical setting with the gumtrees all lit up around the site. The people were so friendly and responsive throughout the weekend that I wouldn't hesitate to return if given the opportunity. As a festival, it is so different from the norm and full of positive vibes - maybe the fact that I sold numerous product has clouded my opinion.

It took nearly all day Monday to drive back to Brisbane, sometimes along roads so narrow and broken up they had to be seen to be believed and experienced. After making contact with yet another nephew in Brissie, it was time to return home and I duly flew out to NZ on Tuesday morning.