Hello Darwin Rock City! declared Backtrackers' pedal-steel player Jason Walker as his DC3 descended towards the resurrected runway of the old Parap Airport. The Buried Country mob flew into Darwin last week and, with not a lot of the qualities of the average FIFO worker, came and went and left a real good feeling. Last Thursday, Buried Country: Live in Concert opened the Darwin Festival for this year with a mega free performance at the Amphitheatre, and then on Saturday night Roger Knox backed up at the same venue to receive his induction into the NIMA Hall of Fame. Congratulations to Baker Boy, the late Dr. G Yunupingu and all the night's other winners. “My message is simple,” said Roger. “Love one another, love yourself, and if you’re going to get anything, get understanding.”
Extra rehearsal required to work up songs with Darwin guest star, Eleanor Dixon
Two of our guests of honor in Darwin: (Left) One-year old Tom Jones, with mum Leah Flanagan and his first-ever lammi, and (above) 13-year old Eng Maraka, who as his T-shirt suggests came all the way from Cambodia
Now the fanstuff really kicks in: (Above) Warren H. Williams (who?) and Roger Knox (who??) with MICHAEL LONG!! and (right) Roger gets covered
One of the surest rules for the touring musician: Hurry up and wait!
Richard Watts wrote of the show in Performing ArtsHub: “As dusk gathers, the sinking sun gilds the treetops which ring the grassy slopes of Darwin Amphitheatre, painting them in vivid emerald shades against the darkening sky. Beneath their boughs hang giant paper lanterns, illuminating a festive crowd gathered on picnic blankets and folding chairs. The air is soft and warm… in the words of Larrakia singer Ali Mills, who takes to the stage with a ukulele to sing ‘Adelaide River’, the Darwin Festival’s free opening night concert is a rare moment where ‘you and me will meet’. “Some of the founders of Aboriginal country music are no longer with us, some having passed on since earlier iterations of the concert which is based on the book and documentary of the same name by Clinton Walker. Those who are still with us, such as L. J Hill, are frail and occasionally forgetful, but Hill is still capable of passion despite his weakening voice, as he clearly demonstrates on ‘Pretty Bird Tree’ – once he is reminded which song he is supposed to sing. “Instead, we hear from the children and grandchildren of those groundbreaking artists, and from other artists they have inspired, while video projections at the back of the stage give us glimpses of their original voices and songs. The performers are more than ably supported by the Backtrackers, a tight and accomplished backing band who drive the night forward with gusto and, when the occasion demands it, beautifully shaded intensity. “There’s pain and melancholy here, but also hope and resilience – and a whole new generation of singer-songwriters poised to carry the genre forward into the 21st Century.” (Read the review in full here.)
Local kids' choirs as opening act, photo by Steve Habibi Kelk, with thanks
Alex Collins wrote in themusic.com.au: "Many of the songs featured throughout the night were sparse in their original form, but were filled out by a killer house band in the Backtrackers. Buddy Knox's take on Black Allan Barker's ‘Run Dingo Run’ is a muscular brute of a blues number that bristles with attitude. The old cliche says that country music is nothing more than three chords and the truth, and there's plenty of truth when Leah Flanagan thanks Santos for sponsoring the opening night but adds that it won't buy her silence as she speaks out against opening the Territory up to fracking. “Even more eloquent is her performance of ‘Brown Skin Baby’, a plaintive bush ballad that chronicles the life of one member of the Stolen Generations. It's a haunting song and her voice soars as she performs it, a plaintive cry that too many people in the audience recognise. It's a performance of devastating beauty, and one that lingers in my mind long after the music has ended.”
... and finishing with a few more great shots by Steve Kelk: Local legend Ali Mills does the Welcome to Country...
... in front of a back projection of his nan, the late Auriel Andrew, Teangi Knox performs her great song 'Ghost Gums' in tribute...
Said Leah of the stand she took: “Yes I was nervous but I believe if you are given a platform to connect with people, it is important to do the right thing. After the loss of an important figure across this country who fought to keep coal seam gas mining off her country and out of the NT, I had to honor the legacy of the great Alice Eather and make my voice count. Fracking is poison and the NT government has no right to sell off more than half of our land mass to a foreign company for short term, short sighted 'profits'. Please, everyone, lets be noisy and get in their faces. They've lifted the ban but we can still stop them from taking things further. We just have to be dedicated and stop being complacent. No-one is going to do this for us. We have to do it for our land and for the future of our families. DON'T FRACK THE NT! The conversation is back in the spotlight. Let’s keep it there.”
... Leah Flanagan wasn't the only one to voice protest at festival sponsor Santos and its fracking business in the NT; note Luke Peacock's T-shirt...
... while guest star Eleanor Dixon stars...
On the Saturday night back at the Amphitheatre for the NIMAs, Warren H. Williams introduced Roger Knox to get his Lifetime gong. He said, "Tonight’s inductee to the NIMAs' Hall of Fame is country through and through. Our families have grown up and played music together over the decades, so it’s a proud moment for me tonight to stand here and talk about my friend. He grew up in the missions of outback New South Wales where Sunday school gospel was his first exposure to music and singing. His parents and grandparents participated in church choirs and the love of music, and that rubbed off onto his talent; he was a handsome teenager, he had a reputation for snappy dressing and big hair – whaddya reckon?! – fancy moves gave him the nickname the Black Elvis! Roger joined the legendary Brian Young show in the 80s and that gave him an excellent grounding in bush touring, developing his stagecraft and songwriting skills, leading to a lifetime of entertaining his adoring audience. "He and his family have been the backbone of country music in Tamworth for decades, encouraging young Aboriginal people. This man and his band of brothers have earned a huge reputation from campfires to the world stage. The original publication of the Buried Country book and compilation album in 2000 bought wider recognition of the featured artists, and Roger’s solo albums became in much demand, and in festivals all around Australia. His smooth, strong vocals and his songs proved popular outside traditional country music circles and got high rotation at CAAMA radio [which Warren should well know, since he was the DJ spinning ’em!]. So, rightly, Roger has been nominated and won many industry awards. I have shared the stage with this man many times and I am so proud to be handing him this lifetime achievement award tonight – give it up for Roger Knox…"
Roger on the dais flanked by Buddy Knox, Teangi Knox and Nicolette Dixon
After the customary acknowledgements and a greeting in his own Kamilaroi language, Roger said, “It’s a great privilege to be here tonight to receive this award. Someone said to me it’s been a long time comin’ but… we got a long way to go! I’d like to thank the organisers here tonight, the NIMA people, for such a deadly honor. When I look back over the years I’m so grateful to all the people who’ve helped me, there was so many people who have lifted me up, when times were hard – and they were really hard sometimes through them early years, especially comin’ from an area where I come from, it was really hard as a black musician to try and get things done and to move forward, to me I’m just a humble blackfella from a little mission called Toomelah… nearest town is a place called Goondiwindi, but I wouldn’t like to say too much about that… the media has recently portrayed Toomelah as a fourth-world community… [but] I’m here today, what I am, because of my mother and my father and my brothers and my sisters, and my children, and I’d like to thank their mother Vivien, may she rest in peace… and I’d like thank Buddy, who’s at my side here, I had to drag him out of school! coax him.. I’d like to acknowledge my earlier heroes, like Uncle Col Hardy, who got me up out of my sickbed… a great hero of mine Uncle Dougie Young… and Uncle Lyle Munro… and Uncle Charlie Duncan, who taught me or introduced me to music, he made me work towards bein’ somebody, because I am somebody… they all encouraged me and helped me to realize and respect and continue the important cultural tradition of giving credit to other songlines, and sharing them across our country… many thanks to my late friend and a great man, Eric Allen… and thanks to a lady here who has been with me, she is my great friend, supported me and believed in me in the last few years, Nic… I’d also like to make mention of Enrec Studios in Tamworth because during those times we couldn’t get our songs out there, and it was the people from Enrec who give us this opportunity… I’d like to thank another great fried, Jon Langford, who helped me tour through Canada and the USA… and maybe some of you mob were here the other night for the Buried Country show, Buried Country tells the true story of our mob’s country music, so thank you, Mary… I’d like thank all my mob across country… you know sometimes you stumble, sometimes you fall, but I believe you never walk alone… my music has taken me from Toomelah to some of the great stages of the world, it hasn’t been an easy path, but I’ve played in many prisons, I know what life is like for some of my brothers and sisters, and my message is simple, love one another, love yourself, and if you're going to get anything, get understanding."
The Buried Country mob all started trickling in to Darwin today ahead of our show on Thursday night, August 9, to open this year’s festival there. Buried Country will appear, for free, at the Santos Opening Night Concert at the Darwin Amphitheatre, starting at 7pm. It is a special event for the festival and the week will be a special one for Buried Country too, with cast-member Roger Knox lined up to be inducted into the NIMA’s Hall of Fame at the Awards’ ceremony at the Amphitheatre on Saturday night, August 11.
For Buried Country’s Leah Flanagan, the gig is a homecoming, and she is relishing showing off her beautiful new baby boy Tuco to family and friends. Leah’s rendition of Bob Randall’s “Brown Skin Baby” is always one of the show’s highlights, and will have further resonance in Darwin where Randall first unveiled the song around sixty years ago in the late 1960s. In the absence of cast regular Franny Peters-Little, the Darwin show will also boast a special guest, Eleanor Dixon. Elly likely needs little introduction especially to Territorians, with her esteemed work over the years with Rayella, her band with her father Ray Dixon, and her band Kardajala Kirri-Darra, who’ve lately set the Australian music scene on its ear. With Buried Country, Eleanor will put her own spin on one of the songs that Franny usually sings in the show, her father Jimmy Little’s “Blacktracker,” and she will sing one of her own songs, which – we hope! – the band is furiously rehearsing even as we speak.
For Roger Knox, to be inducted into the NIMA Hall of Fame, is only fitting if not overdue. But then the late Auriel Andrew still wants to be acknowledged in such a way too, and the ARIA Hall of Fame has a lot of catching up to do. Roger is a living legend and he has been a lynch-pin in the Buried Country stageshow since its inception a few years ago. Even for all the duress that such full-scale touring can impose on especially elders, his commitment and deep soul has never wavered. Roger will join other such Hall of Famers as Ali Mills, Jimmy Little, Seaman Dan, Archie Roach, Vic Simms and Kutcha Edwards, and on the night he will perform a few songs alongside other showcase performances by 2018 NIMA nominees like the Baker Boys, Busby Marou, Kasey Chambers with Alan Pigram, Alice Skye and others. He will then, later this year, be the subject of an exhibition at the new Australian Music Vault at the Arts Centre in Melbourne, which will display artefacts and show films from his 40-year long career. A national tour with Jon Langford is also in the offing. Meantime, if you’re in Darwin, we hope to see you at Thursday’s show, which will have local legend Ali Mills performing a welcome to country. Very excitingly too the new Buried Country vinyl LP edition will be on sale at the merch table! Mary or Ruby will look after you. From all the BC mob, we give Roger a big hug and just look forward to even more years of great music yet ahead of us…
A couple of years back, I went to an event at the Golden Age cinema in Sydney starring Eric Isaacson, who runs the American label Mississippi Records, which has just released the new vinyl LP version of Buried Country. Eric had been on the road in Australia with his friend Darren Hanlon, the fine young singer-songwriter from Queensland whose own label Flippin’ Yeah Records is a partner in this BC LP endeavor, and Eric spoke amusingly about his background, his mostly-musical obsessions and the rationale behind Mississippi, and he showed some of the amazing last films shot by Alan Lomax that he has in his archive. And I thought, a kindred spirit! Mississippi has amassed a truly extraordinary catalogue of exhumed gems (gospel, blues, R&B, hillbilly, street singers, devotional music) that make Greil Marcus’s famous “old, weird America” tag seem totally inadequate. I had a brief chat with Eric at the end of the night, and left it at that. Until a little while later I got an email out of the blue from Darren who was with Eric at his home in Portland, Oregon: They wanted to know if I’d be interested in helping them put together this LP that’s just coming out now. I said to them, you mean an actual 12” 33.3rpm vinyl LP?! Are you kidding would I be interested?!? I had only one main qualification – that we take this unique opportunity to include some material from my collection that was always perhaps a bit too arcane, a bit too lo-fi, to include on either of the two major-label CD releases. With which they couldn’t have agreed more. And so we proceeded to get the album together, or more to the point, Darren did; it was mostly his baby and an odyssey as he trekked over the four corners of the country tracking down whatever traces of the music he could still find. I mean, who else was gonna do it? I gave Darren all the background, contacts, leads and hunches I could, and off he went and way beyond the call of duty… And it was really only the support and encouragement he got from community and family that made the LP possible. Darren went to the Kimberly to talk to Olive Knight, and to northern NSW to talk to the daughter of Black Allan Barker and the family of Maisie Kelly. In his clapped-out old van, he went and saw Wilga Williams in Canberra, and Bobby McLeod’s daughter Natalie in nearby Nowra. He went and saw ex-Warumpi Band guitarist Sammy Butcher in Papunya. He talked to people in Darwin and people in Tasmania. He secured the rights to use a portrait of painter/singer Jimmy Pompey by Vincent Namatjira on the front cover, and a painting by Pompey himself on the back cover, as you can see here:
These artworks are stunning, just as the album itself sounds as fresh and sparkling as the day the tracks were cut in the first place; just as Darren’s dedication is total, beyond ego (money doesn’t come into it) and even beyond love, into some form of spiritual obsession… which just leaves me feeling humbled… And so this album is not just yet another dimension to the seemingly unstoppable Buried Country juggernaut but, with the inclusion of rare tracks like the never-before re-released “Give the Coloured Lad a Chance” by Jimmy Little, and the never-ever released cassette demo of the Kooriers’ “Sick of Being Treated Like a Mangy Old Dog,” and complete with its accompanying 36-page booklet, it is a whole other entity in its own right.
If you have been in the slightest moved by the previous Buried Country iterations of book/film/CD, or seen our travelling stageshow and enjoyed it, you must investigate this package – because I can safely predict it will take your breath away. You can buy copies from its official distributor Light in the Attic here, or from other fine online retailers like Forced Exposure, Portland’s own Little Axe or, in Australia, Newtown’s Repressed Records.
… to the Territory where so much music and some of our stars – Warren H. Williams and Leah Flanagan – come from, but Buried Country: Live in Concert is delighted to be able to announce we will be playing opening night at the up-coming 2018 Darwin Festival in August.
The show, which is free (!), will be on at the Darwin Amphitheatre on Thursday, August 9, at 7pm. For more details go here or click through the image above.
Buried Country is about to be born again again, with the imminent release of a vinyl LP through a co-pro between Mississippi Records and Flippin’ Yeah Records, the former an amazing archival specialist coming out of Portland, Oregon, the latter the label run by Australia’s own Gympie Songster, Darren Hanlon. Darren has been a friend of Buried Country for a long time, and this album is really his baby, as he has coursed all over Australia in pursuit of producing it, making more friends and connections, as he is wont to do (pictured above with 'Salty', who he met on the trail in the Kimberley just before Xmas, about which you can read a bit here). The album will be released very soon, and it brings so much more to the table, featuring tracks never before re-/released and with lavish packaging including more rare photos, original artworks and extensive liner notes. The tracklisting is as follows (and the test-pressing sounds stunning!):
SIDE ONE 1/ BLACK ALLAN BARKER Take Me Back 2/ GALARRWUY YUNUPINGU Gurindji Blues 3/ WARUMPI BAND Jailanguru Pakarnu 4/ KANKAWA NIAGARA Yanany Baliba 5/ KOORIERS Sick of Being Treated Like a Low-Down Mangy Dog
SIDE TWO 1/ JIMMY LITTLE Give the Coloured Lad a Chance 2/ BROWN BROTHERS Black and White Cat 3/ DOUGIE YOUNG Cut a Rug 4/ MAISIE KELLY My Home in the Valley 5/ COUNTRY OUTCASTS Streets of Old Fitzroy 6/ BOBBY McLEOD The Resurrection
A few years ago, I was asked to write a letter in support of an application for a visa to get into America that was being being made by Buried Country star Roger Knox. Roger had initially been knocked back on the grounds that he was a terrorist, or an artist of insufficient repute for the US to let him in or something like that. Without ever saying, well, he’s a black man, we don’t any more of them than we’ve already got. Anyway thankfully something worked and Roger got his visa and went on to complete his album Stranger in my Country with Jon Langford in Chicago. I’ve just done a similar thing for Roger’s son Buddy, who is a fellow cast member of the Buried Country roadshow, to help push through the general approvals for Buddy and his son Goori to go to the US to compete in the 2018 International Blues Challenge in Memphis in January.
I told whosoever it may concern that I first met Buddy when he was still just a teenager playing guitar in his father Roger’s Euraba Band in the early 1980s, when I was a young music journalist writing about Roger, that I’ve known him for that long, and that I could not vouch more earnestly for him as both a friend and musician. I told them, I can say unequivocably what a fine, fine musician Buddy is, and a complete professional at it, and that it’s a measure of his talent and initiative that he can cross so readily between genres like country and blues the way he goes from Buried Country or the Euraba Band with which he still still plays to this duo with Goori. It is in fact an absolute delight for me to see Buddy continuing his family tradition in music, and for Goori to be doing so well as his partner in this endeavor and gaining so much for the experience. Buddy and Goori will make fine ambassadors for Australia and especially Aboriginal Australia at the challenge in Memphis and though I may not know who their competitors are, I share their confidence that they will give it a real good shake. Go, Buddy, go!
Delighted to be able to announce, just confirmed, the next Buried Country: Live in Concert gig will be at the Tamworth Country Music Festival in January 2018. Co-presented by the Jimmy Little Foundation, Buried Country will appear in concert at the Capitol Theatre in Tammy on Sunday, January 21.
This marks something of a completion of a circle, because it was at Tamworth, during festival time two years ago, that Buried Country had its first rehearsals and played a quiet little showcase performance at Enrec Studios; from which everything we’ve done since has flowed. At that same time in 2016, BC cast-member Franny Peters-Little was unveiling, as you can see here, a bronze bust of her father Jimmy that was added to the Country Music Trail in Tamworth’s Bicentennial Park:
Perhaps it’s opportune to note here now too that in attendance at that Enrec session was Iain Shedden, a long-time supporter and great friend of BC who has sadly just passed away. Sheddy went off and wrote up in his Spin Doctor column in the Australian that our little invite-only event was one of the two best gigs he saw up at Tammy at that time, and we were all grateful for his support – he subsequently afforded us another major feature in the Australian – and we will miss him dearly.
So there are all those good reasons and more that we are so happy to finally be returning to Australia’s home of country music, the ‘more’ being that it is a hometown gig at last for the Knox family members of the show – and that the date is a special milestone birthday for Franny too. The Jimmy Little Foundation is a non-profit organisation that carries on its namesake’s dedication to the improvement of the quality of life and health of Indigenous Australians, and Buried Country is proud that it is proud to be co-presenting our Tammy show. We know that Franny, James Henry and the whole mob will do Jimmy and Marj proud - and we’ll do one for Sheddy too!
It is sad indeed to have to report on the death of James Djagamara Macleod, one of the stars of the Buried Country 1.5 album. That’s James’s voice you hear at the start of the mash-up ‘title sequence’ that opens our every BC: Live in Concert performance. When the time came in 2015 to put together the BC1.5 CD, I was so determined to have a track on it by the sometime band James had with Toby Martin – the Rug Cutters, a sort of tribute band to James’s grandfather, the legendary Dougie Young – they became the only act to purpose-record something for it.
And now I’m even gladder we did that, because not only was it a great thrill for James, but serves as something of a small legacy… we remember James and fondly, and convey all our condolences…
Now, for the real deal, over to Toby Martin, who from his current UK base penned the following testimonial that was read out at James’s funeral in Queanbeyan, and is reproduced here with the kind permission of James’s family:
I first met James in 2011. I had just started a fellowship at the National Library in Canberra where I was researching the music of Aboriginal folk and country artists, including the legendary Dougie Young. I got a phone call from a friend of a friend one day who said, “I’ve got the number of Dougie’s grandson for you!” James and I arranged to meet at a café outside the Eora centre in Redfern, where he was studying. He had a guitar with him and, there and then, at the café, he busted it out of his case and gave me a full-throated rendition of his own songs, as well as his arrangement of his grandfather’s powerful song about black identity ‘The Land Where the Crow Flies Backwards’. It was different from the original version – it was fuller, more strident, more rock, very much done in James’ own style. Inside his guitar case were a few gum leaves that he told me had picked up from a river bank at Michelago a few days beforehand. That was my first introduction to Jimmy: charming, crackling with energy, a bit wild, interested in connections to Country and his people. Utterly and truly himself. It was a first-impression that was to prove consistent throughout the time I knew him. James discovered his Aboriginal family when he was 21. So he was already a musician himself when he found out who his Grandfather was and the respect with which he was held in Aboriginal communities. If it was a coincidence, it was a pretty mystical one. James and I got a country-rock band band together to play Dougie Young’s songs. We called ourselves the Rugcutters, after the famous Dougie Young song ‘Cut A Rug’. James taught us his arrangement of ‘The Crow’. He also did a beautiful, bitter, stripped-down version of ‘Old Wilcannia Town’, and a spoken-word turn on ‘I Don’t Want Your Money’. We played some great gigs that year: at the Block in Redfern with kids down the front and seated Aunties at the back, at the Sandringham Hotel in Newtown where Jeremy Beckett, the anthropologist who originally recorded Young, came up to us and said, “Dougie’s finally got his rock and roll band!”, and at the Canberra Folk Festival to a packed tent of folk afficiandos. People were often struck by the way we had re-interpreted Young’s acoustic songs, and in particular the fresh life James had breathed into his Grandfather’s music. A few days after the folk festival, James and I went into the recording studio at the National Library and laid down about eight Dougie Young songs.
RugCutters live in Wilcannia
We played sporadically over the next few years. Most memorably, we were invited to go and play in Wilcannia, the town in which Dougie Young spentmost of his life and wrote most of his songs about. I remember the thirteen-hour drive west from Sydney, the trees becoming more sparse, the soil turning to red. James was uncharacteristically quiet on that drive, he spent most of the time looking out the window – and I think going to the Country of his Aboriginal family stirred some complicated emotions in him. It was the first time James had spent a significant amount of time in Wilcannia, and while it was an incredible experience for him, he also later described those couple of days to me as “pretty full on”. The gig itself took place in a park on the main intersection of town. Lots of people were there. People who had known Dougie, and people who were descendents of the friends that Dougie wrote about. People who loved the way James was singing his Grandfather’s songs and who were keen to meet him, to hug him and to talk to him. A descendent of one of Dougie’s mates showed us around town. He took us out to the cemetery where we unsuccessfully searched for Young’s grave. “Sorry son,” he said to James, “I really wish I could find it for you.”
Following our Wilcannia tour, the Rugcutters did full-band studio recordings of ‘The Crow’ and ‘Got No Time For Dancin.’ The recording of ‘The Crow’ appeared on the 2015 CD Buried Country 1.5, the re-release of the influential collection of Aboriginal country music put together by Clinton Walker and featuring artists likeRoger Knox, Troy Cassar-Daley and Vic Simms. It was a well-deserved honour for James’ music to feature alongside these singers. James and I alwaystalked about doing more – about doing a whole tribute album to Young, about writing songs together – but musicians talk and dream a lot and act a lot less. Still, I am very proud of what we achieved together and the way in which it got James respect for his own music, and raised the profile of his Grandfather’s amazing legacy.
Through playing music together, James and I became close friends. He made a very big impact on my life – both as a musician and as a person. He made me re-think some of my ideas about music and culture and friendship and identity. I loved him like a brother. Life was not always easy for James. He struggled with some fairly serious health issues and many of the times I hung out with James the surroundings and occasions were not as fun as the ones I have described above. And yet in almost every situation his lust for life and positive spirit shone through. He turned my visit to the psychiatric unit of Goulburn hospital into a lunch date and a tour of the op-shops of town, followed by a jam session in the garden out the back. I left with my spirits raised! James said yes to things. He said yes to forming a band with a complete stranger, he said yes to going to Wilcannia, he said yes to people and to opportunities. His willingness to say yes and worry about consequences later was a trait I greatly admired in him. He was a huge force of positive energy, dreams and enthusiasm. He died too young, but I feel very lucky that he came into my life when he did.