On stage with Hubert Sumlin at the East Coast Blues & Roots Festival, Byron Bay , Australia.
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Another action-packed few months for me! With blog activity LONG overdue, I’ll give you a quick catch up…from a South African blues festival to touring Aussie gigs with Deb Davies, while moving house (again!) and LOTS of traveling across the Hay Plains…
Plans for a delightful song-writing hiatus from the road disappeared swiftly upon my return to Australia in the middle of the year. With The Preacher on the move again much time, energy and road-miles were expended in the search for the ‘next big thing’. (Clever segue: go and check out my Facebook ‘Aussie Big Things’ photo album!) This lead to our latest relocation to Australia’s national capital Canberra…a far cry from our previous residence in the little town of Auburn (population: 200) in the Clare Valley, South Australia.
As we considered options for our 8th move in 8 years, I combined playing shows in various South Australian locales with trips to Melbourne and several 12-hour drives to Canberra. Why aren’t there frequent driver miles programs?
Things have receded into a blur of manic activity so I’ll just share a couple of highlights:
Durban International Blues Festival, South Africa
What an unexpected pleasure to be invited to perform in Durban! Big thanks to festival directors Will, John, Themi – and super-organized publicity manager Tanya – for a wonderful festival experience. Although I have traveled a fair bit, this was my first trip to Africa – and it was a fascinating mixture. While everything felt very exotic here, the quality of the light and the beach front reminded me a little of being home in Australia.
Diary note: 4.30am rise for Safari Game Drive
Hmmm – morning is not my strong suit, but this day-long trip to Hluhluwe Game Reserve was well worth the effort; an absolute highlight of the trip. Situated several hours north of Durban in Zulu lands, this nature reserve is South Africa’s oldest. There is some thing fantastic about seeing animals in their natural environment, not just in a zoo: to go round the corner and find a whole mob of zebras – or an elephant. Great! (see pix here) The overseas guests - myself, Liz Mandeville (USA) and Tassos, George and Tonnie from Greek blues band ‘Down and Out’ – all had a ball.
Everyone associated with the event was very friendly and hospitable. We were even assigned people from the Dept of Arts and Culture, to help us get around and get a feel for the place! (Thanks Chris and Eben.) Between sightseeing, I spent some time rehearsing with my Durban band: musical director Callie on keys, Jason (bass), Bruce (drums) and young Johno (sax). These local musicians did a fantastic job; definitely one of the best prepared ‘pick up bands’ that I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with. The festival show was a blast, situated in a funky venue on Wilson’s Wharf with a large decking overlooking the harbour. The band and I played a set of mostly original material from New Orleans, Chicago to Mississippi Hills stuff, which was very well received - even threw in a Louisiana-style tune to get Liz Mandeville and her rub-board up for a guest spot!
From the splendid colonial charm of the Royal, one of Durban’s oldest grand hotels, including views over the city’s busy harbour, to browsing for bargains in the Victoria Street Indian spice markets, sampling ‘Zulu beer’ brewed from sorghum, local ‘Moskanti’ music at the festival (as well as lots of Blues, of course!)...I can say my first South African visit was a great experience – and I sincerely hope I am invited back!
Debbie Davies at Wangaratta Jazz Festival
I got home from South Africa with barely enough time to drive back to South Australia, pack up my house, relocate to Canberra and get unpacked…in time for USA guitarist Debbie Davies to arrive. First guest in the new guest room!
With the current (constant) rebuilding of our capital’s new international airport, it was a minor miracle that I found my way in to pick her up…but that’s another story.
For those of you who have been following the news, Debbie won ‘Traditional Female Artist of the Year’ at the 2010 USA Blues Music Awards – an award for which we were both nominated. Although I knew Deb via her reputation as a fine guitarist who had played for many years with Albert Collins, is wasn’t until we were on the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise together last year that we had a chance to meet properly and jam. I’ve tried to adequately explain the ‘Blues Cruise Experience’ in previous blogs…it really is a trip. An alternative reality is created where Blues and blues lovers rule the world for a floating week of mayhem.
Deb and I enjoyed our jams on the boat so much it seemed like a great idea to make plans to get together and play some more! Here in Australia - after our first show at local venue, The National Press Club - I also had a little time to show Deb around Canberra before heading down the iconic Hume Highway. It might not be big game like South Africa, but it is lovely to be able to show off our cool Aussie birds to visitors, so we stalked a few mobs of galahs, cockatoos and rosellas in the city streets.
Our main destination, Wangaratta International Jazz Festival, has a dedicated Blues venue as part of its program, and luckily the site was still above water…just. The Wangaratta township, in central Victoria, had been hit with heavy flooding in the weeks preceding the festival so when it started raining again people started getting a bit worried. My Aussie band The Fortune Tellers - Dean Addison (bass), Marky Grunden (drums), Tim Neal (Hammond, piano) and Niels Rosendahl (sax) - had just rehearsed with Debbie and were raring to go…but by the time it was our turn to play on Saturday night, the heavens had well and truly opened. Everything was literally ankle deep backstage – and just as wet out the front - but (bless them!) the audience was there and ready to party. So we cut loose! Showing above-average bravery in the wet conditions, a film crew from Retro Films captured the moment.
We found out later that the stage was supposed to have been closed because of the weather early in the evening – thank goodness the stage manager had their phone turned off.
So wet! So much for the long-term Aussie drought of recent years. We still hadn’t dried out by Sunday’s gig, but nothing really mattered but the music and that was great! Debbie proved to be not only a great guitarist but also fine company during the tour. We rounded off the last night of the festival with a dinner party where we ate pasta, crafted in the hotel room by bassist Dean Addison (a man of many hidden charms!). Plenty of wine, good food and a chance to talk trash…
…nearly the end of the year now, folks, so I’ll leave you with Seasons Greetings for the weeks ahead and get back to my plans for 2011.
What’s coming up in the New Year?
For starters: Back to the USA and my first tour to France in January and February…and then…well, I’ll keep you posted!