Performer of Bush Traditions
Book Warren Fahey to perform.
Lunches and dinners
Over the past forty something years I have performed in some weird and wonderful places. I started to sing bush songs, recite poetry and tell yarns in the late nineteen sixties – by default rather than intent. I grew up, so to speak, at the beginning of the so called ‘folk revival’ of the late nineteen fifties and the hootenanny period of the sixties and stuck in there for another four decades and now stand reservedly on the folk revival side-posts. I am now in a rather unique position as a singer and storyteller – I have the experience of collecting, especially from people born in the 19th century, and have accepted the responsibility of preserving and promoting what I call ‘story songs’ – songs that identify us as a unique people in an ever-changing world. As a performer I tap people on the shoulder and remind them of the massive debt we owe those who came before us – especially the pioneers who contributed so much to who we are today. I do all this as a cultural historian who sings.
I play an English Wheatstone 48 key concertina that I bought from Colin Dryden in the 1980s. It is a beautifully crafted instrument with a particularly mellow tone. I wish I could say I was a brilliant player but, sadly, I am not. I am competent. I taught myself to play some years back by reading notes but this always seemed to rob me of musicality.
However, in 1999 I came home one night, I’d had a few glasses of wine, and picked up the ‘tina and started to play without reading notes. I found I could do it. This was a shock to me and my faithful audience (Mo the dog). I rarely look at the notes these days and find I can play most tunes from memory. More importantly, I found the musicality I was looking for – I can now sing with the concertina and have quite a repertoire. They say ‘practise makes perfect’ but, despite daily practise (which really isn’t arduous, I doubt if perfection is very close. Truth is I have never had a lesson and tend to play melody and then, when appropriate, I bung in a few chords. This seems to work well for me and, I guess, it is my style. Recently I have been learning and playing more bush tunes – an excellent way of familarising ones self with all those blooming buttons.
I still get a wee bit nervous and, sometimes, the tune runs away. This doesn’t worry me these days – I simply laugh and forge ahead! Mind you, I am happy to sing unaccompanied and can always rope in musicians to accompany me and I have indeed been fortunate to have worked, if I can call it work, with some of the very best. For the past fifteen years I have worked closely with Marcus Holden, a multi-instrumentalist who now knows all my musical eccentricities. I also rope in Clare O’Meara, Mark Oats and Garry Steel wherever budgets allow.
For the past few years I have also undertaken many solo performances and these have worked well. I still like to sing some unaccompanied songs, there’s something mystical in unaccompanied singing, something that reinforces the storytelling. My repertoire of songs, stories, poems, yarns and tunes is always growing. I doubt if I will ever stop learning new material. New songs and poems become part of me. A welcome part.
Denis Greer (Folkways long-term shop manager) on banjo, famed Aboriginal actor and fine didge player, David Gulpilil and Warren Fahey with his English Concertina. Taken some time in the early 1980s at the Folkways store.