Australian Folk Songs and Dance Music
About the artist: Collector and performer Alan Musgrove is one of only a handful of musicians in the country who specialize in playing and teaching Australian traditional fiddle music. In 2007 Alan’s CD ‘Australian Old Time Fiddle’ was voted by Trad and Now magazine readers as the hottest CD of the year in the Blues and Roots category. Two hours with Alan will have you sounding like the old masters.
Alan Musgrove – Behind The Times CD Review by John Broomhall
Alan Musgrove is a remarkable Australian. A one off: Folklorist and collector, singer and interpreter of traditional song, acclaimed musician, songwriter, mentor, humorist entertainer, recording artist… Had he been born anywhere else in the world he’d be recognized as a keeper of a significant set of keys to the past, and celebrated for all his many incarnations as a national treasure. Sadly, in modern day Australia we’re caught between two conflicting notions of who and what we are: On the one hand, there are those who would deny the existence of a shared identity altogether, as they shrug off two hundred years of Australian history ignoring the reality of a cultural expression which draws upon landscape, egalitarianism, and aboriginalty. On the other hand we have the spectacle of the national flag being worn around the shoulders of young revellers in a misguided statement of contemporary nationalism, designed only to provoke and exclude others.
Between those two extremes, against a backdrop of a culturally homogenised world where all differences and defining artistic features are being technologically flattened out in the name of economic development, commerce, and corporate interest, Alan Musgrove modestly gets on with the quiet business of keeping the past alive, passing on through performance and recordings, the songs he and other field workers have collected over the years, from the traditional singers and musicians of Australia.
On his latest album, BEHIND THE TIMES, (2009) Alan Musgrove and his Watsaname Band showcase songs and tunes which draw upon the works of traditional singers and musicians such as: Bill Crossdale of Cessnock NSW, Bob Henderson and Jim Napier of Hamilton, Vic; Carrie Milliner (Bobbin), of Eden, NSW, Bill McKinnon, of Ecklin South, VIC.; Doris Merill of Russell Vale NSW. He also references the works of folk collectors, including: Warren Fahey, Ron Edwards, Dave de Hugard, Brad Tate, John Meredith, Norm O’Connor, for songs and tunes, from the singing and playing of: Joe Yates, SofaIa, WSW; Kath McCaughey, Newton Boyd NSW; Stan Treacy, Limerick NSW; Catherine Peatey, Brunswick, VIC; Stanley Cullen, Lagan, NSW; ‘Old Bob’ Ure, Genmbrook Vic; Cyril Duncan, Nerang, QLD.
The provenance of a song or tune (i.e.where it came from, its origins) is the defining feature of traditional folk music. We not only gain social and cultural insights into the community which has kept a song alive but we also pick up on its values. With any other musical genre, providing authorship is acknowledged, it doesn’t really matter if you know who’s previously sung the song. (Although the odd performance at the local watering -hole karaoke night can stay with you, like an awful after-taste, long after the bar tender calls with an upward inflection: “Last Drinks!”)
The liner notes for BEHIND THE TIMES, are, in their own way as signifi cant as the album itself, providing not only a background to the material, but a real insight into the breadth of Musgrove’s scholarship, his understanding and appreciation of the folk process, and for the music which informs his life. As you listen to the album, it’s impossible not to be swept up by Musgrove’s enthusiasm for the songs he sings. This has a lot to do with his disciplined and unique singing style, but it also relates to the great integrity he and his fellow musicians bring to each arrangement. Nothing is out of place, nor inappropriate to the music which is being interpreted.
Veterans Bob McInnes on fiddle, Stuart Leslie on concertina and melodeon, and Julia Arnold on double bass and cello, blend perfectly with Musgrove’s vocals and his occasional playing of dobro, 5-string banjo and mandolin. His guitar work, understated as always, is the driving force which effectively underpins each song and tune.
Every track on BEHIND THE TIMES is a standout but there are a couple of songs which really do merit special comment: The I fight and Highland Minstrel Boy is quite simply one of the loveliest and best arranged, folk songs I have ever heard. The joyfully sad lyrics are perfectly matched by a tune which eases its way into the heart and the mind, while Musgrove brings out every last nuance of pathos and meaning in his controlled and perfectly measured vocal. Few performers or ensembles in this country have the capacity to come close to what this group of fine musicians achieves in this masterful interpretation of this 1870’s broadside ballad. The version here was collected from Carrie Milliner, passed on through the Bobbins family, in the Nullica, West of Eden, from their great grandfather. All-A-cheatin’ is another song worthy of special mention. This is from the opposite end of the reflective spectrum. A hard nosed satirical song with a real bite to it which Musgrove thinks may well have snuck into the country during the gold rushes of the 1850’s and had a second lease of life during the tough years of the Great Depression of the 1930’s. If you don’t find yourself repeating the chorus of this little number a few days after first hearing it, you’re probably far too stressed with work or personal concerns and you need a good holiday away from it all. Preferably in the country, if you have the resources to get there. Our Jack’s come out today is part of that rare breed, an Australian urban folk song and all the more listenable for its rarity and the infectious, larrikin element imparted by Musgrove’s rendition. Put aside the liner notes for a moment and close your eyes. You’ll be swept away by this beautiful music which not only evokes a simpler, more innocent, less cluttered time, but actually brings the past to life. Pace has a lot to do with it. And the judicious placement of well-crafted tune sets, including the Maypole Polkas medley, collected by Bob McInnes and Dave De Hugard from traditional musician Kath McCaughey of Newton Boyd, NSW, and the Schottische medley collected by Alan and his partner and fellow creative artist Thalia, from fi ddler Bob Henderson and accordionist Jim Napier, both of Hamilton, Victoria.
Alan Musgrove is a purist in the best sense of the word. Near enough has never been good enough for him. His interpretations of the collected material which form the basis of much of his recorded output are invariably true to the past and in keeping with the best of Australian Bush Traditions. A perfectionist with a conscience, he has built his reputation on the meticulous attention to detail he brings to everything he does. And as it turns out, he does a bloody lot when he works on an album.
As well as vocals and instrumental work he is credited on the liner notes of BEHIND THE TIMES as producing, arranging, recording, and mixing the album at his Red Shed studios, Wollongong. It’s a testament to the thoroughness of his research, his skills as a musician, and his ongoing admiration and respect for the likes of Joe Cashmere and other fiddlers he admires from the past, that he was able to reproduce so faithfully and successfully the lost art of Australian fiddle playing on his award winning album, AUSTRALIAN OLD TIME FIDDLE, voted by Trad and Now folk magazine readers as “The hottest CD of the year in the Blues and Roots category” in 2007. A testament not only to Alan Musgrove’s skills and talents but also to the discerning taste of Australia’s folk family.
When you pick up your own copy of Alan Musgrove’s latest musical offering, BEHIND THE TIMES, I reckon you just might be struck by the same thought that hits me each time I replay the album: “Ah! Those lesser talents that primp and posture at such events like the ARIA awards and who can’t quite bring themselves to sing in the same accent in which they speak can rabbit on about the lessons they’ve picked up from Nashville, but there’s only one prize worth having when it comes to Australian music and Alan Musgrove wins that every time he releases a new CD: “The prize for Integrity, Relevance and Values that Connect.”