I was born in Sydney, 3rd January, 1946, which makes me a 'post-war' baby rather than one of those noisy 'baby boomers'. I missed out by a year. My parents, Debbie Phillips and George Fahey, were both the eldest of very large families, my mother's Jewish and father's Irish 'as Paddy's pigs'. I was schooled at the Marist Brothers, Kogarah where none of the priests or brothers molested me.
I attended Sydney Technical College and undertook the Advertising Certificate course part-time while working at advertising agency, Jackson Wain. By sheer determination and bravado I landed a job as a radio producer because everyone else wanted to produce television commercials. Next was a job with McCann Erickson Advertising as head of their Radio and Television department which allowed me to nurture my interest in electronic media and sound in particular.
At school I became a keen bushwalker which led to a long stint as Chairman of the Sydney branch of the Youth Hostels Association. It was during these years that I first encountered folk music and the joys of hiking, the bush and campfires. Wanting to escape from Sydney I accepted a two-year contract to become the Activities Officer of the Student s Union at the Tighes Hill Campus, Newcastle. Amongst other things I started a hiking club and a folk club.
I had already become 'consumed' with Australian folk music and returned to Sydney and a job with a film studio where I worked on Peter Weir's first feature film The Cars That Ate Paris.
I next took a year off to travel around Australia in a Kombi Van emblazoned with the legend 'Australian Folklore Unit'. With small grants from the Sidney Myer Foundation and Australia Council, I set out to tape record old bush songs, stories and oral histories. After a year I had gathered some extraordinary material including songs that I still sing.
It was impossible to earn a living as a folklore collector so I accepted a job offer with Harry M Miller Attractions as Advertising Manager, supervising Jesus Christ Superstar, Senegal Ballet, Rocky Horror and Sunday Night At The Opera House where "ordinary people could get an opportunity to see the Concert Hall". During this two-year period I also continued to appear regularly on ABC Radio where I reviewed books and scripted and presented programs on folk music.
In 1973 I left full employment and rented a small shop in Paddington, where I intended doing freelance publicity and advertising in association with fellow Harry M Miller refugee Patti Mostyn. We continued to look after Harry's shows and also handled the Australian tour of Frank Sinatra, The Supremes and several others. I had two rooms in the office so I decided to sell LP Records in the front section. I called the modest shop Folkways Music and it was an instant success. The first LP I sold was Pygmy Music From Central Africa - I knew I was on a winner!
I had already made some records, as a singer, with EMI in the sixties including Limejuice and Vinegar (Songs of Australian Rivers and Oceans). So, in 1974, I set up my own record label which I called Larrikin Records. I ran Folkways and Larrikin for 20 years, through thick and thin and sold them both after notching up 20 years. During its time Larrikin released the music of many significant Australian artists including Redgum, Kev Carmody, Eric Bogie, Bernard Bolan, Robyn Archer, The Bushwackers and several co-operations with indigenous communities. Larrikin also represented many like-minded labels from around the world.
In 1994, when I was headed for my 50th, I decided I really didn't enjoy the business world and wanted out! Larrikin was sold to Festival Records and somehow or other, Warren Fahey was sold with it, for three years. As Deputy Managing Director of Festival Mushroom Records I was right in the thick of it but my heart was never swayed by rock and pop, which I always viewed as manufactured music of the "here today gone tomorrow" variety. I enjoyed some of the Festival trappings (including a regular fat pay packet!), especially the opportunity to reintroduce the Spin label where I personally remastered and repackaged all the great music of the sixties including Johnny 0'Keefe, the Bee Gees, Col Joye, Johnny Devlin, etc, in 28 CDs that became real collector items.
At the end of 1995 I left Festival determined to do what I wanted with my life - writing, researching folklore and performing.
I look back on my business life as an episode that was fascinating, hard yakka, strange, frustrating yet fulfilling and an opportunity to work with many talented creators. Luckily I was able to have "another life" as a folklorist, writer, performer and gadabout around town. When asked, "what do you do for a living?" my response was always a grin and a shrug of the shoulders.
I started to collect Australian folklore in the sixties and never really stopped. I started performing in the late sixties and have never stopped that either. I formed The Larrikins as a group to perform authentic bush songs and tunes and we did so in over sixteen countries and just about every town in Australia. We played the Vancouver Festival, Auckland Festival, Commonwealth Games Festival, Edinburgh and, of course, all the Australian and New Zealand major arts festivals. The group became favourites for Cultural Exchange tours of the Department of Foreign Affairs including the first ever such tour to the South Pacific island network. I have sung for Generals, Governors General and Captains of Industry and acted as MC for the first official State Dinner in the new Parliament House. This was followed by a notorious all night singalong party in the Speaker's Room where Hazel and Bob Hawke, Paul Keating and most of the ALP heavies sang along with our impromptu choruses.
I have had a long association with the ABC and, thankfully, that still rolls along merrily. I devised, scripted and presented many very successful radio series including Navvy On The Line, the 16 program While The Billy Boils series, the 13 part The Great Australian Legend, the 12 half hours of The Song Carriers and regular contributions and programs for ABC-FM. I appeared on several kids' programs including one huge career highlight where I sang to Mr Squiggle, whilst dressed as a battered old swagman.
ABC TV also roped me in as Musical Consultant for the highly successful That's Australia series. In 2004 the ABC released two CDs of my songs recorded at Festivals, the Opera House and other salacious venues over the past 30 years.
I'm not too sure where I got the time to write over a dozen books but I did. Mostly connected to history and folklore they include Diggers' Song (history of music in the eleven wars Australia had fought in), How Mabel Laid The Table (Folklore of Food), The Songs That Made Australia (101 folk songs and their stories), The Balls of Bob Menzies and Ratbags & Rabblerousers, both dealing with political satire and parody in the 20th century and, in 2002, Classic Bush Yarns. I also write for several lifestvle magazines on subjects such as food, travel and music.
I have been fortunate to attract a few "gongs" of recognition including the Advance Australia Medal, Order of Australia Medal, The Centenary Meda l, 2000 Australian Music Industry Man of the Year, 2004 CMAA Judith Hosier Golden Gumnut Award for Lifetime Achievement and, one of my most prized, the 1989 Republican of the Year Award. Unfortunately none of these guarantee better seats in the cinema or restaurants!
I don't like serving on committees, etc, but have done so and I continue to do so. For my sins I was President of the Paddington Chamber of Commerce for over a decade and, most notably, the instigator of the Main Street Program to preserve the historic facades. I served on several Bi-Centennial Celebration committees and have judged more song writing contests than you could poke a stick at. I have served on several Australia Council sub-committees and on the record industry's ARIA Board and also the Governor's Board of the Awards. I am a Director of the Geraldine Pascall Foundation encouraging literary criticism in the Arts.
In embarking on a fulltime folklorist role I have set myself some high goal posts. My main project is to research and record a two-year survey documenting the curious history and folklore of Sydney as a city, from colonial days to nowadays. I started work on this program in February 2004, and have already made considerable progress. I have been fortunate to attract the support of several interested sponsoring partners, namely, the City of Sydney Council, the Music Board of the Australia Council and my soulmate, Rebel Penfold-Russell, CEO of Latent Image Film Studios. The State Library of New South Wales and the National Library of Australia are also supporting "in kind" including the loan of a digital recording system. I am also committed to writing a book from the findings. Also, under way, is a new book for ABC Books that I am co-writing with fellow folklorist, Associate Professor, Graham Seal, for the 2005 Centenary of Banjo Paterson's Old Bush Songs. I also hope to curate a library exhibition on this particular book.
NOTE: The CD - A Panorama of Bush Songs - is reviewed in our Review section