A Light in the West
Music was always a part of my growing up. There had been a piano in the house before I was born and my mother needed little urging to delve into the stack of music books and play some of her, and our, favourites. In later years when some of my older brothers would come home for christmas there would be singing sessions most nights with the music books eagerly thumbed to find particular songs and the books placed, open, in the queue for Mum to play.
There were several volumes of Allan's Scottish songs and I think that my interest in the tunes that carried the songs was probably nudged a bit then but remained dormant for some time. My musical education was considerably broadened by my elder brother Bill who brought to our house a variety of classical and other music recordings, some of which I later bought for my own collection.
I was interested in Australian songs from an early age and can recall hearing Burl Ives on the ABC from time to time. My interest in the songs got a boost when I discovered the Stewart and Keesing collections and I started looking around in libraries for more of the same.
I went to Canberra at age 18 to work and lived in one of the many hostels for government workers. There were a few others with broadly similar interests and my horizons were somewhat expanded.
One early influence was a young violin and banjo mandolin player, Bob McInnes, who turned up from time to time with a guitar and banjo player, Ian Drynan. My dormant appreciation of the “tunes” was awakened here and was fanned by other players such as Colin McJannet and Jacko Kevans, while Dave de Hugard called through from time to time and usually stayed with Ian Drynan who knew him from university days in Brisbane.
I had been playing harmonica for a while but it was Jacko who urged me to find a 2 row box and get into the music. He phoned me one day to ask if I had seen a 2 row box advertised in the paper. I hadn’t seen it and he told me to go and check it out.
He phoned again about two days later to ask whether I had been to see it and when I said I had not he suggested, strongly, that I get off my arse and do it.
So today I play a Hohner 2 row box G/D; a Hohner Club 11 C/F; and Mezon 3 stop single row approximately in G. I also play a Wheatstone 48 key tenor treble concertina and a Jones Anglo 3 row C/G. Jacko was an important influence on my playing and on the odd occasions when our paths would cross, especially after we had moved to WA, he was always interested to know what I was playing, how I was playing, and what tunes were in my repertoire.
About this time my younger brother Tom, who had found his way into the songs and music, turned up in Canberra and loaned me a 2 row Anglo concertina. I played this for a few months and he turned up again to retrieve the concer and to leave a 2 row Hohner C/G box. I still have this box, and play it occasionally, and will be transferring it to my eldest grand daughter in Darwin who has shown an interest in playing it. And so it goes on!
Tom played with various musicians and bands and was part of the group that, together with Dave de Hugard, recorded the collection of songs and tunes on “Freedom on the Wallaby.” He went on to be one of the better exponents of the button accordion and English and Anglo concertinas with a great repertoire of traditional Australian, Scottish and Irish music.
I was a foundation member of the Monaro Folk Music Society and was chair of the WA Folk Federation in 1985 and chair of the organising committee for that year’s National Folk festival. I moved from Canberra to Perth in 1974 with my work (CSIRO) and expected to find a music scene like the one I left in Canberra. Perth was mostly dominated by English singers and musicians with a few Irish on the periphery. The Australian music that was being played and sung was poorly done by singers mainly from an English background.
I made a conscious decision to fly the Australian flag and my repertoire became largely Australian songs with a few tunes that I had learned.
My nephew Mark Rummery, son of my eldest brother John, came to Perth in the mid 1970’s. He had been studying music at Sydney University but had to leave the course through illness. Mark and I played a lot of music together around Perth for some time but he then moved back to the east coast. His subsequent work, with others, as a collector with Charlie Batchelor, Joe Yates and other musicians is well known.
By this time I had begun setting Australian poetry to music and the first stirrings of dance tunes began to come to mind. I had been talking with “old time” musicians from the south west of WA who had played for the regular dances on the Group Settlement Blocks across the area.
I was a member of a band for some years that played music for “bush” dances in and around Perth and I made an effort to replace English and Irish tunes for some dances with appropriate Australian tunes. My earliest tunes date from this period (late 1980’s) and, depending on whether or not I can get a leg rope onto my Muse, I have continued to produce some music. The inspiration can take many forms. We have travelled through many parts of Australia and some tunes reflect this. “The Tanami Schottische” and “The Road to the Cape” for instance came from one such trip. We travelled from Alice Springs to Hall’s Creek through the Tanami desert and later drove from Broome up to Cape Leveque. On one trip to Darwin we stopped for a coffee north of Hall’s Creek near a stand of Baobab trees. A red tailed black cockatoo was sitting up near the top of one tree hence “The Black Cockatoo in the Baobab Tree.” In this case I had a jig in mind and was thinking about a title so the decision was easy! Other tunes were written for family birthdays or to mark a particular event or happening. My two grand daughters in Darwin have a waltz and a jig respectively while my two Perth grand daughters have a mazurka each. Other tunes were written for a particular event or occasion or just for the hell of it. So “Pi in the Sky”, a polka, is a musical version of the way my son’s dog walks while the “Ellenbrae Polka” recalls the heavily corrugated state of the road past Ellenbrae Station in the Kimberley.
I find that ideas for tunes come to mind when I’m walking our dog or driving somewhere. Sometimes when I’m playing my accordion a run of notes will suggest the possibility of a tune and if I’m lucky I can get it onto a small tape recorder before it vanishes. I have quite a few First Parts of tunes on my tapes and every so often a second part will show up! The frequency of these tunes happening varies considerably. I can go for months without anything turning up and on other occasions one tune will inspire others to show up.
I’ve been playing with a band called Loaded Dog since about 2000 and we have released 4 cd’s so far. We do Australian songs with a particular interest in West Australian material. For the last three cd’s I have included some of my tunes on the recording. The second cd titled “A Coastline facing West” has two jigs, “The Dryblower” and “The Old Camp”; it also has two polkas “Over the Hill and through the Puddle” (written by band member Phil Gray) and “Back on the Monaro.” The third cd titled “That there dog of Mine” has two jigs “The Dognobbler’s Jig” and “Jimbo’s Fancy” while the fourth cd, titled “Hair of the Dog,” has two 3 part jigs “Phil’s Jig” and “Warden Finnerty’s Jig.”
There is only a very small group pf players in Perth with an interest in Australian Traditional Music so there is not much opportunity to try out new tunes. It has been great to get across to the sessions in Canberra and meet up with musicians such as Greg O’Leary, Ray Mulligan, Dave Johnson and others who give their time and knowledge to running these sessions and keeping the music alive. The Tyranny of Distance makes it difficult to get across to Canberra each year but I look forward to the years when I can get there.
It’s good to hear where some of my tunes have found a home. Terry Jacobs was running a session in Brisbane for a while and I went along to one some years back. I was delighted to find that they had one of my jigs, “The Dognobblers Jig” on their list of tunes and was happy to provide information on the tune and its derivation. I had a call the other day from Townsville with a query about a Schottische of mine “The Road to the Cape.” It provides a bit of inspiration to keep the tunes coming!
Bob recently sent a rough home recording of some of his tunes with the following letter. The tunes are gems so I have put them up here for you. Just click on the title for the MP3 sound file: