Frank Gutch Jr: Majors Creek (Australia) Music Fest Carries On Without Founder Peter Gillespie, Memories of the Eugene Pop Festival of 1969, and E.J. Simpson— The Most Base of Bassists… Plus the Ever-Wondrous Notes…..
If you live in the States or Canada, you can be forgiven for not knowing about Majors Creek, for there are plenty of people who live in Australia who know little or nothing about it. Here is a DBAWIS primer for those in the dark.
Classified a small town, it lies within the boundaries of New South Wales, had a population of 220 in 2011 (I hear it has since grown to 223) and is situated somewhere around towns/areas/cities with names like Cullerin, Yass, Braidwood, Woolgarlo, Taralga, Jerrabattgulla, Towrang, Wee Jasper, and Burrinjuck. Check that. Jerrabattgulla is evidently a body of water of some kind and not a town, but with a name like that, I think someone should name the next town that. As I researched, I laughed out loud because I love what the Canadians named their towns— Medicine Hat, Moose Jaw, Spillimacheen, Goodsoil, Goodwater— Good God!— Saskatoon, and though I could not find it on a map, a town referred to by Benton Fraser in an episode of Due South as Tuktuyuktuk. Not that I found them funny. I found the names cool. Rumor has it that Spillamacheen was so named because while traversing the area with, um, a machine, they spilled it! Whether it is true or not, I prefer to think it is. I mean, it’s not like if it isn’t, the world will spin off its axis.
I used to sit through the closing ceremonies of a day of CBC broadcasting to hear O Canada and watch the clicking off of the places transmitters (or maybe re-transmitters) were ensconced, each little town a light on a map. I can only imagine what it would be like to watch the same thing on Australian Broadcasting— I mean Googong? Wamboin? If only the founding fathers in the States had such creativity.
But to the point. Majors Creek, small town that it is, hosts a music fest yearly. Yup. Out in the middle of, I assume, nowhere (I mean, Australians admit that only a very small portion of their continent is inhabited— well, let us change that to populated. It’s a fact. Or as close to a fact as you’ll ever get out of me. But, God, what heaven it must be! No big cities or freeways or worries beyond survival. In fact, leaving worries behind.
I know these things because of Hannah Gillespie, a musician I have become quite taken with and who has been involved with the fest the past couple of years. You see, her father, Peter Gillespie, was there at the beginning. He loved music so much that he made it a point to encourage it wherever he was. Carol Ogilvie remembers:
Peter Gillespie was the founder of the Braidwood Folk Music Club. I met Peter in 1989 after he had placed an ad in the local paper which read something like “Anyone interested in folk music meet at the Royal Mail Hotel Tuesday evening, 7 PM.” Being a bit of a folk singer, I went along with my trusty guitar and there was Pete with guitar, mandolin, and dulcimer, and Noel Harrington with his lagerphone (I can only imagine an instrument which dispenses beer), and one or two others with a variety of instruments. We sang our way through the evening, ending it by singing “Wild Mountain Thyme,” and the Folk Club was born. Within two years, we were a larger group meeting on Sundays at Gordon Pritchard‘s at Mongarlowe. Many a great afternoon was had with Peter playing any instrument he could get his hands on, and Gordon, Michelle, and Pete Burn lending their voices. Rob Gooley the mad banjo player, Hugh Krijnen with his bush base (don’t ask me…), Murray McCracken who played a mean harmonica and myself and anyone else who wanted to join in. Michelle would feed us all. Great food, music, and company. Pete suggested we find a permanent evening venue for the Folk Club and John Mitchell offered us a room in his hotel where we met regularly and sang our hearts out. Pete was our MC and chief organizer and it was his vision that led to our own folk festival which was coined Music at the Creek by one of our members, the late Jim Clapin. The rest, as they say, is Folk Club history.
Peter was an amazing musician and his great big voice will resonate with all us old folkies from those early days for a long time to come. I miss his music, his love of harmony and his passion for the old traditional songs which will continue to be heard because of people like him. It was a pleasure to sing with him, and to know him. Twenty-six years on and the Folk Club still flourishes and at the end of each session they still sing “Wild Mountain Thyme.” Pete would love that.
When I am gone, I can only hope for such eloquence. A heartfelt eulogy and personal look at the man who was and is crucial to the festival. I know Wild Mountain Thyme well. The first version I heard was by Silly Wizard and I was immediately enthralled. I have heard it numerous times since and have yet to lose the feeling. I think Peter Gillespie and I would have gotten on well.
I see that Kate & Ruth are headlining this year— Oh, the dates this year are from November 20th through the 22nd. I am fairly new to Kate & Ruth’s music but was bowled over by the traditional leanings of their new Declaration album. I am surprised because only two of the songs are original— one by Kate (Burke) and one by Ruth (Hazleton)— and yet I am immersed in the flashback to the traditional. In the mid-seventies, I came under the spell of Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span and am reliving that spell, so to speak. Ruth, by the way, has spent her time at the festival in the past too.
The first time I played Majors Creek would have been around 1996 with Closet Klezmer, a group which played Eastern European Jewish music. I was only 20 years old and the festival was among my first experiences as a performer. I recall warm days, cold nights, thunderstorms and the thrill and excitement of becoming part of a scene which nurtures and encourages young musicians. Over the next ten years I would return to Majors Creek regularly with different acts I have played with including The Horse’s Leotard and Dev’lish Mary, but most often with Kate Burke as a duo.
Large festivals are prestigious, grand affairs but it is always the smaller ones that bring bogger personal reward. Majors Creek is where we met many of our mentors, where we learned the craft of performance and were given countless opportunities to learn tunes and songs around campfires and in the bar. It’s a place where community is based upon a common love of tradition and unspoken understanding that anyone is welcome regardless of whether they play at a recreational or professional level. Majors Creek is where I came to understand that class and cultural boundaries can be easily cast aside for pure love of music, dance and poetry. Regular characters at the festival become part of the festival itself and you quickly realize that you have become part of an enormous family (with all that brings).
Peter Gillespie was a gentle man with an enormous warm presence. I regret never taking the opportunity to get to know him personally. I remember his grin and the way he drifted through, I think with wholehearted satisfaction of seeing a community at play. His passion was evident in that grin. As I ponder returning to “the Creek” and a time which seems a lifetime ago, I am reminded of a place of great connection, where I dared to continue picking up my instruments and the mob of faces who have known me so very long. There will be a lot of catching up to do.
Just so you know, Kate & Ruth‘s Declaration album is among my top picks thus far this year and will be at the end, I am confident.
One Sharon Casey is a regular to the festival and had this to say:
I’ve been every time it has been on since about 1990 and love it. It is my favorite little festival. It is big enough to get lovely acts (it’s an outstanding lineup this year) but small enough to have that campfire meeting with friends feel. The country location (the festival itself is on a grassy oval in a small country village) is just beautiful. It has a little wooden hall with a veranda which everyone uses to get out of the sun or rain and just to lean up against with drinks. The little wooden building bounces and throbs when people dance. And there is the weather. Almost every festival I have attended has encompassed four seasons in one festival with mist and fog rolling in at night.
(It is) a lovely family festival, thanks to the layout in which kids can play in the central grassy area while the elders spend time in the venues which surround it on the outside. Small enough that you can catch up with people and play music but large enough for some very impressive bands (at which point she nods to The Band Who Knew Too Much) with dancing encouraged at every turn. My favorite memory was Alistair Hulett playing acoustic in the hall when the power failed. When the power came back on, he continued playing acoustic because we were all so taken by him.
Alistair Hulett, if you don’t know, was quite the artist in Australia. I think you could liken his status to that of Gordon Lightfoot in North America.
Here are some videos of the acts which will be at Majors Creek in November. Trust me, it is one hell of a lineup.
I’ve been to only a few music festivals— The Eugene Pop Festival the summer of ’69, the California Jam, the Sisters Folk Festival in 2009. They were all good in their own ways.
Of course, the California Jam would be the preferred concert for those I call classic rock boneheads, every big band from Earth Wind & Fire to Deep Purple and Emerson Lake & Palmer playing, but it failed in too many ways for me. I remember two things of that day— the crowd tossing full jugs of water into the air and the number of people being escorted to the first aid tents shortly thereafter, and a song by Loggins & Messina played on the PA system between acts (Pathway to Glory) which to this day remains the only song I ever really liked by that band, and that thanks only to the long jam.
The Sisters Folk Festival turned me on to a string of virtual unknowns, from Shaun Cromwell, who played an exceptional set to the side of the Sisters Coffee Company, The Quebe Sisters who were just plain fun to watch, Antje Duvekot, and a few others.
The Eugene Pop Festival— well, I again went for the oddball acts, finding Rockin’ Foo the real surprise of the afternoon. Three guys—- guitar, drums and keyboards (the organ player played bass on a console)— and some of the weirdest sounding songs of the day— Rochester River, Stranger In the Attic, Down in Cleaton— all to become favorites a number of months later when the album was finally released. I saw Alice Cooper— a very early Cooper— before success and in fact defying success, it seemed, as Cooper sang one song through the panes of a door, probably symbolizing imprisonment, and ripped a pillow apart at the climax of another, feathers flying everywhere. At that time, the band was signed to Zappa-backed label Straight Records and their first album, Pretties For You, was selling about as well as the Mothers’ albums— not very well. River, a Portland band, played and there was this band named Peter & The Wolves which someone told me was a precursor to The J. Geils Band but weren’t. Evidently they were a band from somewhere in Montana. Good, but buried by the heat of the early afternoon. I was just checking the Net to see who else played and the listing included Them, but I don’t remember them being there. Nor do I remember J. Geils or The Bumps or ZU (a later version of Seattle’s City Zu, I assume). They could have been there. I just don’t remember them.
I am surprised at the number of bands which canceled. The Byrds, of course, and Eric Burdon & The Animals and The Youngbloods. They announced that anyone who wanted their money back could claim it at the gate but I don’t think anyone did. What did it cost? Three bucks? Less? I have no idea but it could not have been that much because I hardly had two nickels to rub together in those days.
I ended up the night on stage with The Doors— well, offstage, anyway. One of the secvurity guys and I had worked a few shows as ushers at the University of Oregon (the concert was at Hayward Field, Oregon’s until-then classic football and track stadium) and he grabbed me and led me through cables and amps to watch close up as The Doors played. Things were not all that copacetic with the band— the limped their way through the set and communication was practically nonexistent. Morrison was in his beard and denim phase and was overweight and had a shit attitude, at best. When the set was over, they made a bee-line for the stairs and headed for the bus, shoving anyone and everyone out of the way. The crowd outside the fences were yelling to be let in and Morrison asked someone what they were yelling. “They want to get in,” someone said and Morrison said “Fuck ’em. Let ’em, pay like everyone else.” So much for legend.
I mention these things because the Majors Creek Festival reminded me how much the unknowns and lesser-knowns mean to me— even back then. I am already compiling a list of artists to research from the Majors Creek lineup including Lugh Damen and Ben Drysdale and The Timbers and Angharad Drake, whose voice is holding me captive.
God love the Peter Gillespie’s of the world. Without them, music would be so much less. I only wish I could have sat down with him over a pint. I can only imagine the stories he could have told.
I knew this band once called Maggi Pierce & EJ. I loved those guys and knew they had what it took to make it big but every time I tried to turn people onto them, the biggest response I got was “they should change the name.” WTF? I mean, I loved them. What the hell does a name have to do with the music, I thought. By the time I ran into them, they already had six or seven albums out and had what I could only imagine as throngs of fans back in the old home town of Philadelphia. They could have had. I don’t know. All I know is that every time they put out an album, I found a few knockout gems on it and would hit the streets trying to get people to listen but to no avail.
Finally, they split up. I guess their heads hurt from banging them on too many walls or something. You think you mourned certain band breakups? You have no idea what that did to me. I went into seclusion. I stayed in the computer and listening room and went MPE crazy (for those of you who are total idiots, that stands for Maggi Pierce & EJ). I listened to nothing else for a week or two at which point I accepted my and the band’s fate. It is my process.
Maggi and Pierce picked up a cigar box guitar and became Hymn For Her and are doing pretty damn well for themselves, though they spend most of their time on the road. They put out a few CDs and have one vinyl album (Lucy & Wayne’s Smoklin’ Flames) which is a freaking killer. Whenever they come out to the Left Coast, I try to catch them (I have seen them four times thus far) and have not been disappointed.
E’J., though, stayed in Philly and kept himself busy but I hardly heard from him. A couple of years ago he sent ma a CD and I liked it fine but I still haven;t really heard it yet. Something always prevents me from really hearing it, you know? Well, just this past week, I got another package from Philly and now I’m impressed. Ol’ E.J.’s gone and done it. The album I have been waiting for. A lot of E.J. With just enough MPE in it to make it good. Hard to explain.
MPE always had an edge to them— I compared them to Gruppo Sportivo when I wrote about them, not because they sounded like them but because they both had a creative edge which practically drew blood at times. E.J. wrote one song about California breaking off and sinking into the ocean, another about manic masturbation, one about Elvis still being alive— each one a true classic. There were others too. He is no one hit wonder.
The new album is titled Got a Circle to Circle and is a gem. He is all over the place— MPE-land, slow dirge-like blues, psych jam, harmonic pop perfection. The more I hear this, the more I like it (I’ve been saying that a lot lately, haven’t I?). Thing is, to hear what I’m hearing, you really have to listen closely. That means sitting or laying down, low light or eyes closed, concentration to the max. If you want to give it a shot, it is streaming on E.J.’s website (click here).
Welcome back, E.J.
Better get to it. We have a few things to catch up on. It’s time for more…
Notes… It is turning out to be a strange week, indeed. I have been thinking backwards again (meaning reliving bits of my past in my head) and that of course means imagining and re-imagining the scenes of the movie in which I am currently starring (it is, after all, all about me) whilst looping current music on a constant basis. Just today, I was linked to a piece written by DBAWIS‘s Gary Pig Gold about one of the few music journalists who made a real difference in my musical adventures, Greg Shaw. I have run across numerous people who knew or had dealings with Shaw and the only consensus regarding him was that some hated him and some loved him. I suppose it’s that way with everyone. All I can say is that he was always on the up-and-up with me. And that he led me onto paths many of us took while most did not. He had that innate ability to hear the hook, feel the beat and separate the wheat from the chaff. His magazine Who Put the Bomp and his label BOMP! Covered some of what would be come my favorite bands including Shoes, The Zeros, Tha Flamin’ Groovies and others. Because of him, I began to organize my musical past in my head and in my record collection, both places I still spend a large portion of my time. But also largely because of him, I realized the value of independent music. I owe him in more ways than one. So for those who did not know Shaw or his dedication to music, I suggest you read this excellent piece the Pigman wrote about him. Consider it a primer for what rock ‘n’ roll could have been and, in a way, is becoming. Read it here.
Now resurging. Toiling Midgets…..
Remember when I posted this video?
Turns out Undergrunnen has a new album scheduled for release this October. Here is another excellent track, the single from the album— Blokkunge. Click here. It will be worth it. I am thinking I need a copy of that album. The Unders may be my new favorite band!
Here is another beauty as well. As I listened to Undergrunnen I was working and didn’t stop the tracking at the end. This excellent song by a group/artist known as Gris de Lin followed and it was too damn good to cut off. Click here. Anyone ever hear of them/her? I need to know! Tell you what, let’s watch the video. This is good stuff!
In case you wondered why I have been swept away by Colleen Brown, listen to this:
Anyone who thinks they don’t know how to party in Edmonton wasn’t at The Artery this night. It was a freaking party!!!
I have always been a sucker for well produced Pop. And I have been a fan of Shelley Fraley since I first heard her a handful of years ago. Here is a video sampler of what she has done and can do. Sometimes mainstream ain’t so bad.
Sometimes experimentation has incredible results (and sometimes not, but this is one of those cases where it did). Here is a short clip about the making of 10 CC’s I’m Not In Love. I loved those guys enough to forgive them their occasional failures, of which this definitely was not.
Canada’s Terry Tufts is known by me for his exceptional catalogue of folk sings and albums but he recently posted this music memory which leans more toward light jazz, the perfect genre for the sentiment and song. The video is chock full of pictures of Tufts and friends and loved ones over the years. Good stuff.
The more I get to know musician Jeff Ellis, the more impressed I am. He was wondering why these guys never made it. I don’t know because I had not even heard of them until he posted this video. Now I’m wondering too.
You can tell how influential a musician is by how many musicians have stories about them and, boy, they were backed up on the freeway to talk about John Hartford for his upcoming documentary. Many of us rock ‘n’ rollers know him from the massive underground airplay of his tune, Hey Babe Wanna Boogie, but he had a long string of successes, not the least of which was writing Gentle On My Mind, made famous by Glen Campbell. He was unique and a character and, more than anything, a musician who lived his music. He deserves a documentary. And it’s coming.
Frank’s column appears every Wednesday
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“Frank Gutch Jr. looks like Cary Grant, writes like Hemingway and smells like Pepe Le Pew. He has been thrown out of more hotels than Keith Moon, is only slightly less pompous than Garth Brooks and at one time got laid at least once a year (one year in a row). He has written for various publications, all of which have threatened to sue if mentioned in any of his columns, and takes pride in the fact that he has never been quoted. Read at your own peril.”