Blues Portrait: a profile of the Australian blues scene
The blues. By its very nature this genre of music is infused with the sadness of lost love. Tales of woe and longing achingly and deeply painful…and yet the blues is imbued with joy. The emotions seem incongruous but really, what it comes down to is whether you listen to the lyrics or the music. The blues lures you into the instrumentation like a siren with its syncopated beats and slide guitar, so you don’t consciously hear the words.
Born in the American deep-south, it was once the domain of the African American, but how it has travelled! Without it our much loved contemporary rock sounds would be so very different – if they existed at all. In fact, there probably isn’t a song of today in which you can’t hear the influence of the blues.
It seems only natural that blues music would attract a fair number of fans (though fan seems too light a word), and despite the fact that we probably don’t hear enough of it commercially, you only have to delve a little way to discover a deep tapestry of rich blues music and musicians. With the advent of the World Wide Web, few things can remain local but, if you’re a collector of fine music-based biographical material in hard-copy, you may think that a comprehensive biography of blues musicians is sorely lacking.
Enter Pauline Bailey and her book Blues Portrait: a profile of the Australian Blues Scene. (Australia! Who would have thought?) While the subjects in the book are Australian, the influences on them are definitely not all Aussie, and if you are a blues ‘newby’, there are enough iconic names contained therein to keep you researching and listening for a long while.
Even if you’re not a blues fan (God forbid!), the book is full of great down-to-earth chats with the likes of Kevin Borich, Bob Spencer, Phil Para and Kerri Simpson, to name but a few. It is very Australian in its tone, with these totally talented musicians speaking in reverential tones about others, about venues, about towns and humbly about themselves and /or their bands and collaborations. The photography that accompanies the text is professional and evocative, with a very familiar cover photo of Kim Volkman’s hands playing slide guitar.
This is an easy book to read. Each interviewee has their own few pages, and they reveal themselves through stream of consciousness prose, as if they are engaging you in their conversation. Bailey’s questions are not obvious, though they are the impetus for what the interviewees share. The staccato question / short answer, question / short answer, isn’t always the easiest format for the reader, and fortunately we get little of that here.
If you collect music biographies (or just want a good read) you need this book. It fills a big void in any collection because there are so few books about blues musicians – especially Australian ones. Upon reading it you get the sense that this would have been exhausting to put together, but also a work of the heart. Musicians are tough people to pin down, especially as touring, playing, recording and other commitments mean time is short for other things like interviews, (though they are generous with their time when they have it). To record in text the words of so many of our premier blues artists is a real achievement too. This is Pauline Bailey’s first book, and it is a book of quality that will and can sit proudly with other music biographies.
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