The Tamworth Country Music Festival to me is so many things, but this year it has been one of the most moving.
In the blur of the festival I received an invitation that I didn’t pay any attention to, I had my radio brain on and this just didn’t fit into my plans.
During the week I had been trying to cover a lot of the stories from the Aboriginal Showcase and had the chance to interview the Brisbane band Mop and The Dropouts, and suddenly one plus one became two and I went back and re-read the email invitation.
So just an hour before the ‘open-rehearsal’ gig started I grabbed my long suffering husband and dragged him to a suburban part of town.
There tucked away in a side street we stepped into a small crowded studio, Paul Kelly is stretched out on the floor, Catherine Britt is sitting cross legged tapping away, Leah Flanagan is sitting down gently swaying to the music and Roger Knox is tapping his feet.
The Buried Country House Band has invited some of the nation’s great Aboriginal artists to perform a few tunes.
Warren H Williams is playing and before his next tune, he talks about the faded painted back drop of gum trees on a starry night; it was a place he says he first recorded ‘It’s Raining On The Rock’ with John Williamson, and he starts to play the tune.
Just outside the open studio door in hushed voices author Clayton Walker and musician Lawrie Minson are catching up for the first time in 30 years.
It’s sticky and hot inside as the evaporative air conditioner struggles to keep up with the odd humidity of Tamworth this summer, a studio full of people and the front door constantly opening and closing as more and more people come and go.
I grab a quick chat with Clinton Walker outside in the heat as the music continues inside.
He is overwhelmed by how it has all come together as he moves from adapting his book ‘Buried Country’ from CD to a stage show.
Driven by nervous energy and an insatiable curiosity he says it’s all about the story telling and it’s always been a part of his life,
“Growing up under Joh Bjelke–Petersen inculcated this politicisation that I didn’t think at the time, back in those days hanging out with the Go Betweens who would share the stage with Mop and The Dropouts, and we would all get busted and that was the scene and I have been there ever since,”
As we talk I can hear the powerful, tormented and aching voice of Leah Flanagan singing Bob Randall’s ‘Brown Skinned Baby’.
“Next year is the 50th anniversary of the referendum and bringing all those stories together will be something I hope to do” Clinton says as he explains his plans for the gathering.
“We’ve been deep in the music game and this sort of music, is music that is as great as stuff that is really popular, I’m not trying to be disingenuous, you can’t buy a hit, but if you do things with the right heart – you might get there,” he says.
He hopes to tour the show with the Buried House Band and vary the talent from place to place, showcasing musicians who have not been celebrated and include new young talent.
Back in the studio Frances Peters-Little walks to the chair in the centre of the studio, a buzz in the aging equipment catches her off guard as she talks about singing her father’s song ‘Yorta Yorta Man’.
It’s a calm and peaceful interpretation of a song so many people watched the great Jimmy Little perform on stage and brings a few tears to the eyes of the small audience.
Armidale’s LJ Hill is next and shares an emotional memory of his mother and praises the legend of Roger Knox who humbly waves away the accolade.
His beautiful song ‘Pretty Bird Tree’ echoes around the room as he shares the story of the Namoi River.
I really hope all Australians get a chance to see what we saw.