This quarter, your regular ‘Notes from Deep Down South’ column may as well be called ‘Tales from the Road’. Over the past few weeks, whilst putting the following words together, I’ve found myself huddled in cafes from Albany, Western Australia to Hobart, Tasmania via Perth, Bunbury, Adelaide, Young, Canberra, Manly, Newcastle, Bellingen and Katoomba – with a healthy dose of Victorian destinations scattered in between. Some of this traveling has taken place with Shane Nicholson and The Weeping Willows and some with Bill Chambers and Perth’s Belle Harvey – but for the most part I’ve been playing alongside Henry Wagons – an artist who’s been at the forefront of ‘Melbourne country’ for as long as I’ve had an interest in the genre.
Henry will be headed to Tamworth this year for the third time – and I’d be surprised if his show doesn’t again sell out. He may operate well outside the mainstream, but along with his band (Wagons) he’s managed to build a substantial audience around the country with his outlaw-country-influenced catalogue. Whilst some artists in the Melbourne scene are criticized for a lack of stagecraft, Henry is a true entertainer with a big personality and a sharp wit that shines through in both his songs and the banter in between.
In case you haven’t guessed, this edition of the column will focus on Victorians heading to the Tamworth festival – and it gives me great pleasure to inform you that this year there seems to be more than ever. For the second year running, my friend Chris Snow – a real country music tastemaker in Melbourne – will be presenting the Deep Down South Showcase, named after the column of course and featuring some of my favourite Melbourne country acts. Deep Down South will happen at The Tudor Hotel on Tuesday and Thursday, as well as The Family Hotel on the Friday afternoon.
The Weeping Willows will headline the show, on the back of their huge successes this year at home and in the USA. Andy and Laura’s second album, When Darkness Comes a Callin’, reached America’s prestigious Americana Radio Charts and saw them embark on a three week tour of the US in September. They’ve been a favourite of this column since the start and this year I suspect they will cement themselves as a festival favourite too.
Jemma Nicole returns this year, also with a successful album release under her belt. Her record, In My Darkest Hour (noticing a theme here amongst us Southern folk?), is filled with excellent songs and performances, produced at Melbourne’s new Black Pearl Studios. Jemma’s ethereal, gothic country will surely have you captivated – and she’s come a long way even since last year.
Joining the showcase for the first time will be Bill Jackson, a quiet achiever on the Melbourne scene who is so well respected by fellow artists at home and abroad that David Olney, one of Nashville’s most accomplished writers, chose to record a Bill Jackson tune for his own recent album. For a songwriter there is no greater honour than having a song cut by an artist that’s a great songsmith in his or her own right – so this must have been a huge thrill for Bill. This will be Jackson’s first trip to Tamworth and I look forward to festival audiences getting to see him.
Jed Rowe and Ange Boxall will round out the showcase. Jed, a protégé of slide guitar legend Jeff Lang, is not only a fine instrumentalist but also a fine storyteller whilst Ange, a Tasmanian native, is possibly better known in England and The US than her home country (see also, Reviews). Boxall’s new album, Into The Wind, debuted at #11 on the Australian Albums Charts (across all genres) just last week so she’ll be running up to the festival with significant momentum. The album is her first since returning to Australia to raise a family after around a decade on the road.
Whilst they’re not part of the showcase this year, it’s just as gratifying to see Gretta Ziller and Andrew Swift – two of last year’s Deep Down South contingent – returning to the festival with busy schedules of their own. The pair, who perform both separately and together, are both working on new albums due for release in 2017. This year Swift will be featured in the Toyota Starmaker contest, and us Deep Southerners will be willing him on to victory.
Matt Alford, better known as Mr Alford Country, is another Deep Down South veteran who’ll be returning to perform numerous shows in and around the festival. One of the most naturally gifted and hardest working in the business, Alford will likely spend any and all of his Tamworth free time either busking on the streets or helping out his friends and colleagues at their own shows.
Of course, my own band and I will be lining up for our eighth Tamworth festival this year – which I guess means we’re not the new kids anymore. This time round my schedule is packed and I’ll be collaborating with the likes of Shanley Del, Jenny Queen, Imogen Clark and more as well as headlining Americana in The Park on the evening of Monday the 23rd with the band. In the two weeks leading up to the festival this year I’ll be mentoring at The Country Music Academy for the first time, alongside Catherine Britt, Kevein Bennett and others. I’m really looking forward to assisting the next generation of artists, writers and musicians get their start – and whilst I won’t be showing any favouritism I’ll definitely be interested to see how the Melbournians go.
Finally, and on a slightly different note, I’d like to congratulate the great team behind the new Americana Music Association of Australia on their successful November launch. As mentioned on these pages before, much of Melbourne’s great country music falls under the loose banner of ‘Americana’ and I look forward to seeing all the ways in which the new association will provide a resource for fans and practitioners on the fringes of country. Well done to all involved!