Calling all poets, balladeers and aspiring songwriters … Here’s your chance to put you – and your home town – on the map. ABC Radio is inviting Australians to pen the lyrics for a song about their town. The winning entry will have Golden Guitar winners Ian ‘Quinny’ Quinn write an accompanying melody and Felicity Urquhart recording the finished product. Quinny tells us more about his career, his music and the ‘Your Town, Your Song’ competition …
What’s your background as a performer and songwriter, Quinny?
I’ve been involved in the Australian country music industry for over 20 years. I’ve put out around 6 albums of original material and written lots of songs for other Australian artists – Slim Dusty, Anne Kirkpatrick, Dean Ferret. In 2008 I won a Gold Guitar for writing a melody at the Golden Guitar Awards in Tamworth. I think I’d been a finalist about 7 or 8 times – that’s been really great!
I’ve always thought my job as a songwriter was to document Australian history – songs about events, towns, places and people. That’s why I write songs!
You’re both a singer and a songwriter. What came first – or did your talents basically evolve at the same time?
Probably the singing. I learned guitar and learned mainly Country music when I was younger, playing covers – mainly Australian Country music. As time went on, I evolved as a songwriter. The more life experience you have – and I guess as you learn the craft of songwriting, you learn what works in songs, and what doesn’t!
Who do you look up to in the Country music industry?
In the Australian Country music industry, people like John Williamson, Slim Dusty, Stan Costa and the great poets – Lawson, Patterson, and in folk lore, Eric Vogle. And also, the American singers – the story-tellers like Tom T. Hall, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings.
Country music has evolved over the years, and there are so many different styles now. Where do you see yourself in the genre?
I’m probably still Country-Folk – traditional contemporary Country-Folk, if that makes any sort of sense! My main thing with writing is still to tell specific stories. Call it whatever you like – but I guess it’s still story-telling, and hopefully in most cases the melody suits the song.
Among all the nominations and awards in your career, what can you honestly say has been the highlight for you?
Winning the Gold Guitar, of course. I suppose, years ago, sending some songs to Slim Dusty – because I absolutely idolised the bloke (and I don’t know if we’ll ever see the likes of him again) and having him ring me up and say that he was going to record one of my songs was an absolute highlight.
And also, in 1983 when I recorded my first single, which was a song I’d written – I was only 17 at the time. The writing was pretty mediocre! It was all a challenge at the start. To hear yourself on radio or on a record was a big thing. Now, anyone with a computer can make a recording or burn a disc in half an hour to an hour, but at the time, to record back then was something really big. To hear myself on radio or a record player was a really big thrill.
Your self-titled album ‘Quinny’ was launched at the Tamworth Country Music Festival this year. Is it very much different to the other albums you’ve produced?
Yeah – that was a brand new album and the one prior to that was about three years before. A mate of mine – Roger Corbett – who’s been with The Bushwhackers for over 20 years – he produced these two albums. They were a bit of change of direction from my previous albums (they were probably much more traditional). These two newer albums were still very Australiana, but were a bit of a crossover into the Folk / Rock sort of feel.
All stories about Australia – there were a couple of protest songs – one was about the damming of the Mary River in Queensland. It was a great environmental victory when they finally got the damming stopped. There’s a song called ‘Swimming Home’ about the whales in the Southern Ocean. And I’m not a radical conservationist, because I’ve been involved in the Queensland commercial fishing industry, so I felt I was in a fairly safe place to write that song.
There’s also a song in there about the sport of wood chopping, which is performed around the world but is still a very iconic Australian event. There are quite a few different topic even a song about my children!
You’ve also won awards for pieces of music called ‘heritage tracks’. In your eyes, what actually defines a heritage track?
I think heritage is obviously about the past, but it’s about some person or some event or topic that made a fairly big impact on our history. I wrote a song called ‘The Dust of Kalkadoon’, which a mate of mine – Dean Ferret – recorded last year. It was written about where they held the Mount Isa rodeo – it would have been for 50 years – in a place called Kalkadoon Park. It was named after an Aboriginal tribe.
Two years before what would have been the 50th anniversary, they moved it into town. So, I feel a song like that is definitely heritage. An event like that – which had been held for 48 years … another song I wrote for Dean, called ‘Would Clancy be Welcome?’ about Clancy of the Overflow – of course, when cattle were driven by horses. Now it’s by road train and motorbikes. It paints a big picture … but that’s what I class as a heritage track.
Tell us about the ‘Your Town, Your Song competition’ and how you became involved.
A friend of mine – Kim Honan, who works for the ABC, came up with the idea a while ago. She knew I was involved strongly with the music industry – especially in latter years as a writer – and she asked if I’d become involved and what I thought of the idea. I thought it was really great, because it’s a competition to write about your town or area – maybe about your lifestyle in the area, the changes you’ve seen (good things, or disappointing things).
It’s real people’s real stories, you know? It’s not about looking too hard for ideas, but writing about what’s in front of your eyes. It’s giving people the chance to document exactly what their life’s about. I’m really looking forward to judging the contestants’ entries.
You’ll be setting the winning story to music ready for recording?
Yes. I’m involved with writing the melody. Felicity Urquhart will perform the song in Tamworth (at the 2011 Country Music Festival). Entries to the website: www.abc.net.au/country The prizes are return flights for a winner and a friend up to Tamworth for a 3 night stay, accommodation supplied, and tickets to the Golden Guitar awards. It should be a great event.
You compose both the melody AND the lyrics for your own songs. Is it a different process coming up with just a melody?
With most lyrics, they form their own melody, in some ways. If it’s a song about truck driving, it would be a faster, more rocky type of melody, as opposed to someone telling a story about fishing down by the river.
We’ll talk to the winner about the melody, so we can throw ideas around. Lyrics do very strongly help to write a melody. The stuff I write, I play around with on the guitar. It’s something I take very seriously. I can often change the melody a dozen times before I’m happy with it.
Any words of encouragement for prospective competition entrants?
They’re great prizes! I’m really looking forward to seeing what’s happening out there – whether it be in the bush, or on the coast, whether they’re truck drivers, fishermen or farmers. Just tell us your story about the area where you work or live – the characters, the pub, an event. You know – I’ve written a song about a Pumpkin Festival.
It’s a big festival day in Queensland, and everything is based around pumpkins. Something like that – it’s right in front of your eyes to write about, so just write what you see. I’m sure there are lots of great stories out there just itching to be told!
Who knows … maybe the winning entry will become the next great heritage track?
Well – that’s right! There are always artists looking to record new songs. I think it’s just a great opportunity to get out there and write something down!
Thank you Quinny.
‘The Your Town, Your Song’ competition launched on 2 August and will run through until 30 September. The winner will be announced in November. Prize package for the winner and a friend includes flights to the 2011 Tamworth Country Music Festival, 3 nights’ accommodation and selected tickets (including the Golden Guitar Awards).
The winner will also be a special guest at an ABC Radio concert, where Felicity Urquhart will perform their song live on stage.
All entries to www.abc.net.au/country