© John Low
Ray Grieve's early musical experience was in the rock world. He began singing professionally in 1964 and, throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, was lead singer in a number of rock bands including the Minit-Men, the Travellers and most notably the Elliot Gordon Union. Between 1966 and 1970 the EGU was one of the more popular bands performing around the Sydney area and they regularly shared the bill with such acts as Taman Shud, Flying Circus, Masters' Apprentices and the Dave Miller Set.
When the EGU called it a day in 1970, Ray went to Adelaide and joined the popular South Australian band W. G. Berg, which upon his arrival metamorphosed into War Machine. However, their career was short and after playing at the three-day Myponga Festival in January 1971 the band broke up and Ray quit the music business altogether. During his time out he developed a passionate interest in Australian traditional music and when he decided to re-enter the music world it was the folk arena he chose.
Ray joined the Bush Music Club and became a foundation member of the popular and highly regarded bush band the Rouseabouts, which played around the Sydney folk scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
He has subsequently released a number of flute solo singles and a CD album and completed a major research project (book and CD/cassette package) on the harmonica in Australia.
After such a long association with rock music, what lead you to an interest in Australian folk music?
After the demise of War Machine I spent five years outside of the music scene and lived a very different lifestyle. Aside from getting married and having a normal day job, my wife Raema and I travelled around and across Australia in a number of trips in our van. As I was not committed to playing professionally, I had a lot more time to explore all sorts of music, from all the familiar forms of rock to folk, jazz and classical. However, our trips throughout the outback gave me the inspiration towards one particular category, that of Australian traditional folk music. I had hardly known it existed until I heard small segments both live, through some folk music enthusiasts and friends and on country radio occasionally while we were actually out there.
On one occasion in 1975, we were in Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory on the same night that Warren Fahey and the Larrikins were playing there. I decided to hang around a bit, introduce myself to Warren as a good regular Folkways customer and see if I could get up and play along with the Larrikins. Apparently, however, there had been a lot of trouble in the town that night with drunken fights and brawling and the cops moved us on twice, with a warning not to come back. The audience appeared to be very well dressed local property owners or dignitaries and I don't think I would have got past the front door anyway, especially in the way I was dressed. We had been travelling for weeks around the Territory!
Country music sounded too American to me, not much was heard of any sort of Aboriginal music at this time and, after faithfully performing mainly US music in my previous bands, Australian rock or pop music didn't sound any different to me from the American or English equivalents. It came as a surprise to discover that there was actually a traditional Australian music form.
While I would always retain a love of the rock music I grew up with, the experience of hearing Australian traditional folk music at various times while on these outback trips changed my musical direction completely. Although I did not intend to ever play professionally again, I decided to get a few instruments together to play for my own amusement at home.