During this year’s Tamworth Country Music Festival I had the pleasure of interviewing live-in-person some people I’d only ever interviewed by phone. One of these people was Chanel Lucas from women in docs, and as her longtime collaborator Roz Pappalardo was with her, I spoke to the full complement of women in docs.
Although Tamworth is over, its influence is felt throughout the year – as we discuss in this interview. So that’s why I think it’s appropriate to publish this interview now, and the rest will come soon.
So you’re playing with the Bushwhackers at the Longyard Hotel – the Longyard as a venue, talk me through it.
Roz: When we used to come here regularly, that was our regular show. We’d do sets there. It’s an audience that really loves their country music – a specific style of country music. Very attentive, very involved in the show. Certainly a different audience to a lot of other bars and pubs around.
That’s not what I would have thought of the Longyard.
Roz: This is the back in the big space, and that audience is very well trained.
Chanel: And they’re quite into songwriters, which is what we’re all about, so we go quite well there.
Roz: We’ve never played the front bar of the Longyard. Probably not our cup of tea. [But] good for the bands that do it.
Chanel: Great exposure for them. And they have the songwriters awards there, in the back bar, so there’s a —
Chanel: Yeah, there’s a culture of songwriting.
This is one of the fascinating things about Tamworth, that one venue can house quite different spaces and things going on at the same time.
Roz: And it’s good that that venue has developed that, so it’s got the front bar for the drinkers and the partiers and the back is for the music connoisseurs.
So what was your first Tamworth?
Roz: I can’t even remember.
Chanel: I don’t know.
If you can’t remember if must have been a good one.
Roz: Oh, it was hellish [laughs]. I just think the same thing happened – we got invited by a bunch of bands to come and do special guest spots so we thought we’d make a week out of it. It was like us and two other acts, and we were all just dossing in one motel room. And Peel Street back then – this would have been ’04, ’05 – was even busier. There were more acts. I think it’s died down the last ten years.
Chanel: No, I don’t think it’s as big – well, there’s not as many buskers. It was a busker every two metres.
I didn’t go in 2013 and that was the year they apparently used an audition system for buskers and the numbers were down that year. Maybe they’re only just starting to come back up.
Roz: That makes total sense.
Chanel: I didn’t know they did that.
Roz: We were talking about [how] it seems like something like that had happened. Because it’s not as wild and crazy down there on Peel Street now. It’s a bit more tame.
Chanel: And the quality of artists is so good out there.
Last year I noticed that I was not hearing ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ every five metres – you used to hear that.
Roz: No. The song yesterday was ‘Ring of Fire’.
Chanel: I’ve heard ‘Jolene’ and [singing] ‘May the Circle Be Unbroken’. I’ve heard that at least four times.
Roz: We could actually release a top ten hits of the buskers.
It would be a good survey … you two could make a list of the songs and cover them, is that what you mean?
Chanel: Yes. And we’ll record an album with all those songs on it.
Chanel: We’ll sell it on Peel Street.
And then you don’t have to busk. You just have to press ‘play’. Some people do use a backing track, after all. Having said that, there are some genuine musicians on Peel Street …
Roz: The quality is quite high this year.
There’s the young people having a go and older people having a go too.
Roz: It’s awesome. That’s what I love about Tamworth – they really foster and nurture that young generation. Young girls, young boys – they’re supportive, give them platforms to present, help them write the bio, helo them get professional publicity photos taken. That doesn’t happen in any other genre. Country kills it in that world and it’s such a great opportunity for these young people to get a great professional start in their music career. Love it.
I think as a genre as well it does respect the songwriter more than any other genre in Australia.
Roz: It does.
And I don’t know if I remarked on this to you, Chanel, in the past but I’ve certainly noticed the even spread of male and female artists throughout the festival.
Roz: That’s true. It’s just quality, really.
And the nature of this festival is such that the competition’s so stiff – busking’s one thing, but there’s a lot of free gigs here and you want to get people to them to buy your albums and you have to be good. So the quality of music that comes out of all the performers in this festival is extraordinary.
Chanel: It is.
And you guys are part of that, of course. The level of talent under the country music umbrella, which is broad –
Roz: It’s getting broader.
It’s quite amazing.
Chanel: We met a few people today when we were playing down at Fanzone who – it’s their first time. And I said to a couple of people, ‘What are you going to see? What are you going to do?’ And they just said, ‘We don’t know – it’s so overwhelming. We’re just walking around – everything we watch is good. Everything we see is amazing.’ And all they’re doing is just walking around to see what happens.
Roz: You get that big programme and I immediately get a panic attack. I just looked at it the other day – and I think I was really tired because we’d been up since five-thirty driving, we had a 7 a.m. interview – I looked at it and I nearly felt like breaking into tears because I just didn’t want to miss anything. You know what I mean?
I absolutely know what you mean.
I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is just too much.’ [But] fantastic, because there’s something for everyone.
So for you as performers, you have quite a schedule. Do you have your fallow times during the day when you can have a little rest?
Roz: We try to.
Chanel: We’ve had one in three days. Four days. How long have we been here? It feels like we’ve been here for, like, a century.
And you’re on tonight.
Chanel: Late nights up at the North Tamworth Bowlo there’s like a fringe thing, so tonight’s girls’ night, with all female performers, and tomorrow night will be bluegrass night and so on.
And the Lifeline concert.
Chanel: I think it’s now called ‘Country Music Cares’ or ‘Country Cares’. At the Town Hall. And all the proceeds are going to local farmers.
That’s a good thing to be invited to participate in.
Roz: That invitation and the Bushwhackers invitation actually got us here. We thought, ‘We’ve got this gig and these gigs, let’s make a week of it.’ And then Matt Henry has come in and invited us – we’ve been working with him on –
You’re going to be at the Tudor up late?
Roz: Thursday night. It just takes a couple of invitations to then put together a week.
I know for you two – because you don’t live in the same city – it’s a matter of finding that momentum to pull everything together.
Roz: It’s coordination but we’ve been doing it for so long now that it’s a matter of getting on a plane for me – or for you [to Chanel]. Air travel is so easy these days – do it a couple of times, get lots of Velocity points.
Chanel: And this is such a big festival, you almost have to do at least a gig or two a day just to reach –
Roz: Unless you’re Kasey Chambers or Troy Cassar-Daley.
Well, yes. And that’s a different kind of music, too. Roz, your name came up recently because I interviewed Leanne Tennant.
Roz: Yeah, she’s from Cairns. She’s great – a really amazing chick and she’s on her way here now.
So in Tamworth, part of the benefit of it seems to be these relationships that get made – whether it’s producers, songwriters, musicians. Has that happened for you in the past?
Roz: At this festival? For sure. The nature of this festival is that you generally collaborate – play with three or four artists on the bill and that’s how the relationships are built. That feeds into other touring, other networks.
Chanel: Other festivals. We’re doing a show with Lou Bradley – she’s going to come and do some songs with us at the Family [Hotel show]. She’s involved with some stuff down in Murwillumbah.
Roz: She started it.
Chanel: She started a new festival down there.
Roz: A country roots festival.
Chanel: She’s invited us to come and play at the end of next year down at the new country roots festival … It’s a small industry.
The impact of this one festival – and I don’t know if there’s anyone to quantify it, actually – but creatively, commercially in terms of the albums that come out of it, is quite enormous.
Roz: It would be a really good study to do that. But how you would do that …
[Laughs] Tamworth Council would probably want to do it.
Roz: Well, it would actually be great for them, funding wise.