How Fanning stands out from the crowd


WHEN it comes to the Brisbane music scene, no one knows the ins and outs better than our columnist Sally Browne. Check out what’s on her radar this week.

In Carol’s footsteps

GEORGIA Potter was hopeful but not expectant when she finally submitted her application late at night in her pyjamas to the inaugural Carol Lloyd Award.

And the singer from Brisbane band Moreton was elated when she found out, along with a room full of dignitaries, that she had won at the Queensland Music Festival event launch this week.

The $15,000 prize is awarded to an emerging female singer-songwriter and named after rock pioneer Carol Lloyd who died this year.

“I was absolutely ecstatic,” Potter says.

“I am a genuine Carol Lloyd fan. My mum is a Carol Lloyd fan. She took me to Women in Voice, which was the first time I saw Carol Lloyd perform all these incredible female performers so I felt I was emotionally invested in the essence of the award.”

The award aims to encourage female singer-songwriters who are under-represented in the music industry with just 21 per cent of APRA AMCOS (Australian Performing Rights Association and Australasian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society) members being women.

“It’s a challenging space for women, just navigating it,” says Potter.

“Having a tough skin and a soft heart is hard, so having an award like this under the umbrella of someone so powerful as Carol Lloyd is definitely an important addition for funding opportunities in Queensland.”

media_cameraGeorgia Potter is ‘on the cusp of a very exciting career’.

Judge and Queensland Music Festival director Katie Noonan said Potter was the standout of 76 entrants, which is apparently five times the number of some other equivalent awards.

“It was extraordinarily difficult because we had 76 women from Queensland, spanning from 16 to late-50s,” she said.

“An incredible breadth of unique voices. Georgia Potter was the unanimous winner. She’s on the cusp of a very exciting carer and this money, $15,000, which is a significant investment, will help take her to the next level. And Carol would be thrilled.”

The Queensland Music Festival, which includes an extensive program of statewide events, runs from July 7 to 30.

One highlight is You’re the Voice, in which well-known singers will join a choir of an anticipated 2,500 ordinary folk to sing out against domestic violence at a free event at South Bank Piazza on July 29.

Music stars Kate Ceberano, Katie Noonan, Archie Roach, Troy Cassar-Daly and Montaigne this week released a charity single of the famous John Farnham song, with all profits going to domestic violence crisis response hotline DVConnect.

media_cameraWill Anderson is one of three singer-songwriters being highlighted.

Triple treat

BRISBANE music fans are invited to join the audience of a special pilot documentary filmed at the Judith Wright Centre, Fortitude Valley, on Saturday, June 3.

On Song Australia, co-produced by musician and former Los Angeles local Ken Kunin, will put three performers in the spotlight, telling the story of the singer-songwriter’s journey.

Each performer will be the focus of a separate episode with the first lucky three being Marc Malouf, Josh Jacobz and Will Anderson. The shows will also feature contributions by June Low, Jordan Merrick, Natasha Bitnacurt and Dan Duggan with Sabrina Lawrie acting as a roving reporter.

“We’re basically putting together three half-hour shows,” Kunin says.

“You look at TV today and you see The Voice and Australia’s Got Talent and all that, and there’s really been no attention on the songwriter and that was our point of difference, because without them, you have no songs to sing.”

The producers plan to recreate some classic groovy 1970s and 80s style shows with audience members surrounding the performers.

Doors open from 12.15pm. For a free pass email with “tickets” in the subject line and specify how many tickets you would like.

Flood of talent

A SUPERGROUP of Aussie legends will be coming together for one night to raise funds for those affected by the recent Logan River floods.

The Flood Aid Rock Legends includes Buzz Bidstrup of The Angels and GANGgajang, Mark Evans of AC/DC, Kevin Borich of The Party Boys and Tyrone Noonan of George, who will be taking to the stage at the Logan Village Hotel on Sunday, June 4.

They’ll be joined by two more legends, John Williamson and James Blundell, also performing on the day, as well as Logan local Ruby Jo of The Voice fame.

Five hundred free tickets have been allocated to emergency services, volunteers and flood victims, with the remaining tickets available for $40 presale or $50 on the day ($10 for children under 12) with all profits from gate, food and bar going to flood victims’ recovery. The family friendly event runs from 2-9pm. Tickets at Oztix.

media_cameraNoel Mengel is now on the other side of the mike.

Song writer

SINCE former Courier-Mail music scribe Noel Mengel left this desk, he has been busy on the other side of the mike. As well as performing with his band The Casuarinas, he has released a solo record under the name of River Heads.

Cinders features 11 tracks that cast a nostalgic eye on life in Brisbane. Most of them are recent works, but a couple are “golden oldies” that have been given new life.

“Thursdays and Fridays was a guitar rock song on the first cassette by my band The Version, released 1982,” he says.

“The song Jigsaw Girl was in the set for my band Curiosity Shop. They have been re-recorded.

“Most of the other stuff is recent, songs that didn’t suit The Casuarinas.

“The album was recorded in Melbourne and Brisbane with producer Peter Jetnikoff, whose band The Gatekeepers had a following around Brisbane in the ’80s and released an album last year.”

The record is available on Bandcamp, but you will be able to see Mengel play live at the Junk Bar at Ashgrove in Brisbane’s northwest, supporting John Kennedy on Saturday, June 3.

“It has a strong sense of place,” he says,

“Country town dance halls (Dust in a Beam of Light) and graveyards (Gravestones) and Brisbane is all through Lovers of Brisbane and Brisbaneside. And Like Cinders, with its memories of Brisbane bands, venues and share houses.”

New album dawns

WHEN Bernard Fanning heard his new song Isn’t It a Pity on the radio he noticed how different it sounded from the previous track. Not because they were from completely different genres but because of the volume.

“They played an electronic song and it was really loud and bright and then Isn’t It a Pity came on and the mastering was much quieter,” he says.

“Because it was mastered normally.”

There’s a trend these days to smash everything up to its loudest level — it’s called brickwalling. The mastering technique, in which every element of a song is set at peak volume, can make tracks sound immediate and arresting at the expense of other things. It’s the space between that allows each one to sing.

“I heard it with my own song,” he says.

“It was less immediately impactful, but it sounds so much warmer. It sounded like a real thing. It didn’t sound like this cartoon creation.”

Sometimes it’s the quiet spaces that can allow the important bits to stand out, which is true of music and life. For the past couple of years Fanning has been living a chilled existence in Byron Bay with his wife Andrea and children Gabriella, 7, and Fred, 5.

Life is good. He’s in between getting ready for a tour and clearing out the garage (he just threw out some study books on comparative religion he’s had for years).

Today, we’re chilling over beers at a rare quiet spot in Byron where the barman recognises him as “a local” and puts it on his tab.

Isn’t It a Pity is the first single from Brutal Dawn, the follow-up to last year’s Civil Dusk, both of which were recorded at the studio La Cueva (the cave), which Fanning established in 2015 in the Byron region with Grammy-winning producer and engineer Nick DiDia. The pair have been friends since DiDia worked on Powderfinger’s 1998 album Internationalist.

media_camerapicture of musician Bernard Fanning

The album is long-awaited because Fanning announced it as a paired album to Civil Dusk, released last year, sort of a sequel if you will, which left some fans asking “when?”, with the answer being, we can reveal, “all right, now!”

The records stand alone and speak to each other. Some songs were already written when Civil Dusk came out — there were too many to fit on one album — but Brutal Dawn was delayed because Fanning kept writing new tracks.

“It’s a Choose Your Own Adventure really,” says the albums’ creator.

“You can look at them completely separately or put them together. That was part of the idea. They essentially go together as two records, but they don’t have to.”

Brutal Dawn is bookended by two character-driven songs. Shed My Skin, with vocal contribution by Clare Bowditch, is about a man getting out of prison after 10 years. It’s a story about renewal that can be taken literally or metaphorically. Letter From a Distant Shore is about war.

“We’re often confronted with this idea, at Anzac Day for example, where it’s about sacrifice, sacrificing your life, but the idea of killing for your country, instead of dying for your country, which that song talks about, that’s the thing that I thought was interesting.

“Especially now war is ever-present in our lives. From when we were growing up, it was a time of relative stability and peace, in the Western World anyway, until the first Gulf War and since then there have been wars happening all over the place. Australia wasn’t involved in a war from 1975 to 1991.”

Fanning grew up in the idyllic surrounds of suburban Brisbane, the youngest of four siblings. He’s well aware of his privileges, growing up in Australia but also being a white heterosexual male and a professional musician, at that. Although we don’t talk about it during this chat, his charitable activities are well documented. Being a songwriter can mean a lot of navel gazing, but it’s also a chance to comment on the wider world.

“As a songwriter you have to be able to observe and see what’s going on. Just to look around. To not be looking at yourself all the time. To look at how other people behave and speak and whatever else.

“(But) if you’re not prepared to investigate yourself, you’re not going to know anything about anybody else either. That is what Buddhism is based on, right? A lot of the Eastern philosophy stuff is based on looking at your own mind and behaviours and investigating them. Trying to work out what is good and bad about that.

“Self-reflection gets a bad name in a lot of ways. ­Especially if you grew up in an Irish Catholic household like I did. It depends on how you communicate the stuff that you come up with too. If you’re always a victim then you eventually just become a pain in the arse. So you have to look at it in a balanced way and look at the things you’ve contributed that have been both positive and negative.”

Another theme that occurs on the record, particularly on the song Isn’t It a Pity, is the gap between memory and reality. And the genesis of that idea was some selfies Fanning found on his phone.

“I found a whole lot of pictures on my phone that my kids had taken of themselves and just the leg of a chair or a piece of Lego,” he says.

“And (I was thinking about) that idea their lives are so heavily recorded. And ours weren’t. I was the youngest of four so the novelty had worn off. So just that idea that the things I remember about my life or the way I remember things that have happened, they’re just little frames that I gather together and I fill in all the blanks, but these guys will have lots of stuff on video.

“This is your birthday party when you were six, this was Tuesday, the third of May when you were eight, this is what you were like, this is what you were doing, this is how you spoke, this is how people spoke to you, these are the things that you wore, how you presented yourself to the world. All that stuff is really interesting.”

Official video

Next on the agenda is to take his show on the road. He asked fans, via his Facebook page, whether they wanted a theatre tour, as had accompanied Civil Dusk, or a pub tour. Overwhelmingly, the audience said “pub”. That means he’s doing multiple shows with venues already selling out. His touring band is The Black Fins, featuring the talents of Salliana Campbell on fiddle, Matt Engelbrecht on bass, Andrew Morris on guitar and Declan Kelly, whom Fanning met when working with Kasey Chambers, on drums.

Soon the crew will be hitting the road, with all their inconvenient instruments. At least he knows they’re guaranteed to work. Last year the band were on a festival tour and ran into a fellow band on the bill on the plane.

“They were an electronic act from the UK, and they were all young 20s and we were flying on the plane,” Fanning says.

“We got talking and I said how was your show and he said oh, in the end our show got cancelled, and I said, why’s that? He said, well, our hard drive crashed. I said, what do you mean? He said our tracks wouldn’t load up. So what did you do? Well, we just couldn’t play.

“All of us were sitting there (speechless) … We play violins and acoustic guitars and all that, and we were just amazed that you could go on tour and be in that position. That you could not play.”

When it comes to memory, Fanning has no desire to write the story of Powderfinger. As far as he is concerned, it has already been well documented, but as a songwriter he’ll keep creating while the drive is still there.

“I never had a bucket list,” he says.

“That’s never been the way I’ve thought about life, or my career, it’s just never occurred to me there were particular things I wanted to do. It was just a case of taking it as it comes. So many things are more important than career.

“As you get older you get to know that. You have a better chance of having perspective about what’s happened and what might happen.

“There’s not really much point in worrying about what might happen anyway because circumstances change.”

Brutal Dawn is out now. Bernard Fanning performs at The Triffid, Brisbane, October 18, 20 and 21

Originally published as How Fanning stands out from the crowd

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