Northern Star Column

Northern Star Column, 26/10/2009

A bluegrass festival is a different animal to the commercially driven rock blockbusters and this is particularly true in say, Dorrigo. This hamlet up in the Range is now more of a grey nomad stopover than the roaring timber town of yore, but you can still see a good old-fashioned brawl outside the pub at peak hour on a Friday afternoon.

The festival itself is blissfully tranquil. A ban on booze means no excitable chest-beaters or mega systems erupting with the latest pop sensations. All you can hear is the pleasant trickle of mandolins, banjos and violins extolling thousand year old folksongs.

This was the scene for the launch of the Lonely Horse Band’s latest album, written, recorded and released in the town last weekend. We previewed our latest tunes about the contemporary histories of one-horse towns alongside the likes of Scarlett Affection and country music history incarnate in the forms of Anne Kirkpatrick, daughter of Slim Dusty, and Ami Williamson, daughter of John.

After our show on Saturday night we were just in time to miss a 40-person brawl outside the pub, and next morning I motored off to play the Coaching Station in Nymboida, a much less sedate affair – fire-fighting choppers coming and going made us feel like the Doors playing live at an Apocalypse Now re-enactment. Now that’s ancient history.

Northern Star Column

Northern Star Column, 20/5/2010

New album finally to hand and on the weekend The Re-mains decamp to The Junkyard in Maitland and The Botany View in Newtown to flog it. It’s only taken three years and more line-up changes than the Melbourne Hit Men’s Association to finish this one. We’re going head to head with Jackie Marshall in Newtown, where just up the road she’s launching her new record as well. It’s going to be interesting to see how we go in the new all-digital environment where everybody downloads and an analogue product is allegedly a thing of the past.

I know you North coast Luddites are all desperate to hear it, so I’ll be bringing it along to Nimbin Pub tonight where Grandson, the new duo with myself and Uncle Burnin’ Love is making its debut. You may have to make an appointment however.

Meanwhile it appears that someone with either an agenda or a morbid fetish for Mazstock is systematically tearing down posters for this esteemed event as fast as promoter Sideshow Bridge can get ‘em up. Perhaps they’re selling well on the black market.

Northern Star Column

Northern Star column, 3/5/2010

After his performance at Bluesfest I’ve been listening to nothing but Justin Townes Earle. Apart from Christian Pyle, Wilco and Lucie Thorne, of course. Son of Steve Earle, Justin is named for Townes Van Zandt, who was equally, a trader in traditional blues, folk and country-based narrative, flipped on its back and twisted into a strange and compelling beast.

A tall, skinny, oddly bobbing and quietly hilarious showman Townes Earle may be, but what he does with these revered genres was as startling at Bluesfest, in cahoots with ex-Drive By Truckers cohort Jason Isbell, as it is on record, Midnight at the Movies.

Another great record on high rotation is the aforementioned Pyle’s Nothing Left to Burn, on Mullumbimby label Vitamin. Pyle played every note himself on this astonishing landmark of laconic, avant garde, post-electro rural pop (gulp), produced with as much painstaking verve as his other new release with his band Ghost Mountain.

Meanwhile, breaking news from Lismore is that the Celibate Rifles, Australia’s punk prototypes, have just been confirmed for Mazstock on May 22, at the Italo Club. Promoter, Sideshow Bridge, is missing, presumed delirious.

Northern Star Column

Vuvuzela vesuvius and a profound lack of sleep

With the World Cup dominating my cortexes and precluding any notions of sleep, it’s been a long, dreamlike procession of lurid guernseys, sneering vuvuzela, botched refereeing and the odd extraordinary goal to keep it interesting. These are precisely the right conditions for songwriting under ordinary circumstances – where the mind is locked onto an astounding circumstance and can run free, abetted by the free-associating chicanery of sleep deprivation, you can usually come up with some pretty radical nonsense.

But as James Morrison demonstrated on the Ed Sam and Santos programme, that jarring vuvuzela drone, the blaring idiocy of a million amplified blowflies, falling somewhere between ‘A’ and ‘B flat’, is guaranteed to cruel any looming lyric – if music soothes the savage beast, the vuvuzela bites it like a tsetse fly.

On the weekend I tried to distract myself with Ghost Mountain at the Buddha Bar, Birdbrain, the Tendons, Antibodies and Slug at the Great Northern, Kathryn Hartnett at Lennox Pub – to no avail. Every time I turn on the tele and try to concentrate on writing a less irritating World Cup jingle the vuvuzelas awake, it’s offside, handball, and my brain scores an own goal.

Northern Star Column

Column, 13/5/10

So we’re having dinner after rehearsal for our new album launches and the subject came up of how many players have passed through the ranks of The Re-mains. Bassplayer B-12 reckons he got a good laugh when he admitted to it in a well-known music shop. Guitarist C-8(z) reckons if you took a poll of North Coast musicians at least half of them would sheepishly admit to having dabbled. Drummer BB-09 claimed he’d spoken to three other previous Re-mains drummers that very day.

Funny business. Seems we’ve had a bigger turnover than the Melbourne Hit Men’s Association. At least, apart from the odd encounter with rogue steers in the outback, it’s a rarely fatal profession.

But as we meander down the coast to Sydney next weekend for a couple of shows, one reformed and latterly lapsed guitarist will be in the van and at least one ex-drummer, a guitarist and a journeyman piano-payer in attendance. There have only been two banjo players, you do the math.  If you’d like to follow the fortunes of the survivors, check out my blog at And if you are a hurdy-gurdy specialist, be very, very afraid.