Rekindling a musical friendship 3,500 kilometers apart
T&N157 Aug 23
Deep in the forests of WA’s south coast in the winter of 2009, two musical duos met for the first time in Denmark’s celebrated Festival of Voice.
After witnessing each others’ shows, the Peppercorns (Craig Sinclair and Lara Norman) and The Skipjacks (Bob Lipinski and Rod Vervest) naturally gravitated towards each other.
Conversation ensued and what began as a humorous quip (“why don’t we merge the duos into a quartet and call it The Pepperjacks”), became a reality within a few short months.
An EP called Tram 34, literally recorded in a 100-year-old Fremantle tram at Lipinski’s home at The Wolery, near Denmark, was released in 2011, followed by a full album (Way Back When) in 2014.
The band regularly played, recorded and toured over a period of 7 years.
Renowned for their harmony singing and artfully constructed story songs, the fire in the belly of this quartet was the fusion of the twined guitars of Sinclair and Vervest.
Both established fingerstyle guitarists in their own rights, the sound of the quartet relied heavily on the guitars being tightly interwoven and becoming one.
As Rod reflected, “two fingerpickers in one band requires some very careful honing, capo usage and musical sensitivity to create harmony and rhythm that doesn’t cancel or counteract itself.
“The search for that chemistry led Craig and I into a deep exploration of the guitar styles we offered and began a musical relationship that has endured”.
As for Craig, “I revelled in the chance to learn more about blues and ragtime picking from Rod, as well as finding some space to start developing a dobro style that was a bit aside from the standard bluegrass approach”.
Rod continued, “The studio was a place to really refine things and get at close quarters to what was happening in the guitar parts.
“That allowed us to get forensic about it and you soon learn that a good musical outcome is often very much about leaving out things as opposed to adding them.
“It was here, in the cauldron of the recording studio, that we started to realise just how much the natural voices of our different instruments would blend around beautiful microphones.
“Playing through pickups into direct boxes and folding everything back through monitors was the accepted way of performing live, at least on bigger stages, but we craved the natural tone.
“When the Pepperjacks wound up in 2018, due to Craig and Lara’s relocation to Sydney, both Craig and I somehow knew that in the future we would get back together and continue the path of learning and making music together”.
And so, it came to pass.
A few years later, in the midst of pandemic lockdowns and border closures, Craig suggested starting a duo and within a heartbeat, Rod was in.
This began a process of sending recordings to and fro between Sydney and Rod’s hometown of Albany.
The duo gave themselves a working name of the Paper Collar Pickers, in reference to the mythological sandalwood chopping rascals from Paper Collar Creek, featured in one of the developing songs.
Craig reflected on the process, “Readjusting to life in lockdown in a small inner-city apartment initially made it difficult to get out and meet the Sydney folkie community.
“Keeping that familiar relationship with Rod’s musical ideas and sharp ear provided some welcome relief, even if it was mainly through text messages and video calls.
“We both looked forward to the chance to reconnect and see how well these songs and tunes would fit together in person”.
What happened next was sudden and got us focused even more deeply.
The duo were booked to play the Illawarra Festival in January, 2023.
Without any local profile and with just a handful of ragtime style instrumentals, some Doc Watson classics, a few reworked Pepperjacks tunes and the emerging drafts of new material, suddenly here they are programmed alongside a prestigious bill of artists!
Rod said, “I remember boarding the plane to Sydney thinking we’ll have about 2 days to actually consummate this marriage of music and then walk onto a festival stage.
“I recall the first gig vividly and as the harmonised melody of the Doc Watson fingerstyle classic ‘Windy and Warm’ blended around the single mic, I thought, this really is a fine space to be in”.
And so it has been as the year 2023 has unfolded.
A WA tour around Easter took them to folk clubs, house concerts, art galleries and even the small rural town of Borden (the home of Paper Collar Creek), as the project continued to grow.
We have fallen into a pattern of hopping across the country every few months and the duo is set to play the Sydney Folk Festival this August and then tour regional NSW to Canberra.
Hot on the heels of the tour, Craig fly’s back West where the duo are involved in composing a soundtrack for an oral history project.
More festivals are on the horizon!
“We are both fingerpicking guitar tragics”, Rod joked.
“We are burning to get into the studio now and to again dive deep into that world where note and tone fuse to deliver the magic of interwoven guitars.
“I’m really looking forward to that.
“Where exactly it happens, I’m not sure, as we have the inconvenience of 3,500 kilometres between us.
“Nevertheless, the urge is strong and it hasn’t stopped anything yet”.
You can catch the Paper Collar Pickers on an upcoming tour during August which includes Sydney, Canberra and the Southern Highlands in NSW.
For more details go to https://www.craigsinclair.com.au/papercollar