Tarkine Strings on Australia Day

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A week and a bit ago, I received an invitation to join the Tarkine Strings at an Australia Day Foreshore Fiesta celebration in Somerset (Tasmania’s Somerset, that is). Short notice, true, and a set of songs I’d mostly never heard before but, hey, it sounded like fun and the people are well respected around these parts: Tarryn and girls Emma (9) and Ashley (nearly 7) on violins, dad Murray on bass, Ian on lead and I was invited to take rhythm guitar parts.

Great people and new songs, performing at an Australia Day celebration from the back of a truck? I mean, how could I say no? It was to be a big day for Emma and Ashley, too, as the MC announced it was to be their first official gig!

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Tarryn enjoying the moment while Murray and I concentrated on laying the song’s foundation. 

A selection of traditional and contemporary blues had been chosen, from Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee to BB King, Eric Clapton, John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers and Seasick Steve (yup, you heard correctly). We also slotted in a few other styles to bring us up to time, including two of my songs from The Tramp: ‘The Beast Blues’ and ‘No Ordinary Day’, with Paul Kelly’s iconic  ‘To Her Door’ as our finisher.

Wall-to-wall sunshine and around 23° was made a little less-than perfect by high winds whipping around, with at least one junior willy-willy we caught on video. Luckily for us we were reasonably protected by the three canvas sides around the truck’s tray. Everyone else was made to hold on to their hats.

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Tarryn had worked tirelessly, writing three-part string sections for all songs and learning vocals for the blues numbers. An accomplished cellist, Murray picked up a bass guitar for the first time only a few weeks prior, getting his head (and fingers) around the concept of a flat neck with frets and different tuning to the cello. Of course he didn’t just get by, instead he created solid structures as a foundation to each song. Impressive stuff, both of you!

The family are all ‘dot’ readers, which is considered a dark art to less ‘educated’ ear players such as me and Ian. More than once during rehearsals, Tarryn or Murray would point at the sheet music and ask me this or propose that, only to receive a blank stare and suggestion that they may as well be speaking Etruscan. I would get the gist of it all, nonetheless.

We had been invited to use the setup from one of the two other bands who were appearing after us, which was very generous – not to mention handy, as the guys proved extremely helpful in ensuring each guitar and violin was input into the PA, including the three guitars Ian was using (a Maton acoustic, a Telecaster and a Dobro), as well as two microphones for Tarryn and me.

There were some issues with foldback (the speakers that face the band so they can hear what is being broadcast to the audience), that didn’t quite work for us and resulted in a lot of gazing at the others to ensure we were on the same page. We played on regardless and had a great time.

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Proud mum looks on – or is she trying to grab Ian’s attention?

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Ashley’s (right) steely-eyed gaze riveted to her sheet music, ensuring she was on track —

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— while Emma swayed and danced her way through the work as if a seasoned professional, only glancing occasionally at the dots.

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Ian noodled* confidently through his set while Ashley stole a quick glance at the camera.

I have been invited to play more with the Tarkine Strings and can’t resist the opportunity to join with such talented musicians.

To find out more about the Tarkine Strings, check them out here: Tarkine Strings

*Noodling: licks**, embellishments, ad-libs, etc.

**Licks: noodling.

Photography thanks to Kathy Hill.