1. The Rocks Festival, Sydney 1978
    L to R: Bob Bolton, John Poleson, Keith Snell, Dave Johnson, Ray Grieve


The Rouseabouts: Ray Grieve Interview

[2 of 5] © John Low

In your earlier life you'd been primarily a vocalist. What were the instruments you decided to take up?

I had been told that my Grandfather played the tin whistle a bit and in fact I had his old one, so for no particular other reason that instrument became my first choice. I bought a range of new English Generation whistles and eventually a new hand-made Smart wooden flageolet from America. I also restored an old Ecko semi-acoustic electric guitar that Gary Lothian (ex Elliot Gordon Union) had given me years before. I had played it a bit in my rock bands, but now decided it would be worthwhile restoring it properly. What I really needed, however, was a fully acoustic model, so I bought a good quality new Japanese Aria guitar.

Later when I was preparing for professional work, I thought I had better expand my musical instrument line-up and taught myself to play the bones and the spoons. The spoons were acquired from our kitchen but the bones situation was a bit more complicated. Although plastic ones were available, I did it the truly traditional way by getting some from the butchers, drying them out, filling them with resin for the right acoustics and polishing them.

Over time, as my playing on the tin whistle improved, someone suggested I try the flute and I managed to buy a cheap old Buisson model which I then went on to learn. A lot of my energy went into learning and playing the flute, so eventually I didn't bother contributing further with vocals.

About 1978, during my time with the Rouseabouts, I replaced the old Buisson flute and bought a new Japanese Hernals concert model with silver plated head. I also managed to find some old wooden flutes and flageolets at the premises of a second-hand dealer in Leichhardt and had them restored. I had special cases made for the three concert flutes. These flutes were at least 80 years old and comprised English, French and German models.

How did you become involved with the Bush Music Club?

Living in a number of units in Sydney's eastern suburbs, playing at home had its limitations, so I decided to check out a few venues where I could get together with some folk musos and have a few jam sessions.

I visited a number of known folk venue pubs in the first part of 1977. One of the best was in Harris Street, Ultimo, where quite a few musicians gathered every week. I remember seeing Keith Snell, Len Neary and Declan Affley all jamming there before I knew who they were. One night they had Morris dancers performing in the street outside, in a little dead-end cul-de-sac next to the pub. Some time later this pub became a French restaurant.

By mid-year, word-of-mouth led me to the Bush Music Club where anyone was invited to join up for a small annual fee and, as members, come along on a week night to jam in their weekly meeting place, the Community Hall in Burwood. I was particularly keen to join this organisation rather than the other clubs that were also operating because the BMC was the only one that promoted and played strictly Australian traditional music. That was important in my quest, whatever that quest was. The others seemed to be influenced largely by Irish/Scottish/English folk and there were also American bluegrass and blues organisations.

However, the Chieftains were becoming popular worldwide and a huge interest was growing in Irish folk music generally. And, of course, there was no escaping the Irish influence because it played such a big role in the original development of Australian traditional music.

Perhaps because of this new popular folk movement, the BMC was undergoing a resurgence at the very time I joined up. After its formation by the cast of “Reedy River” and the Bushwhackers in 1954, the Club had had its ups and downs over the years. But now they were in the process, mainly through Dave Johnson, of forming a new Concert Party Bush Band to take on professional engagements and a quarterly newsletter, the “Mulga Wire” edited by Bob Bolton, had just been introduced. Within a week or two, I joined the band and Raema was asked to contribute illustrations and artwork for the newsletter.

So, as a tin whistle, bones and spoons player and rhythm guitarist/backing vocalist, I was ready for my first professional engagement in around six years.

What sort of gigs did the Concert Party Band play?

The first gig for the BMC Concert Party Band was about mid year at a Saturday morning markets/festival in Foley Park, Glebe. We played there again a few weeks later as well as about ten or so other engagements around Sydney before the end of the year. We also played at Lawson in the Blue Mountains and ended with a late night jam session evening in the Leura holiday home of some Club members.

The most interesting engagement was for the International Day Concert, a sort of precursor to Carnivale. It featured a line-up of bands and acts from many countries around the world with us representing Australia, naturally enough. The Federal Minister, Al Grasby, was the main official guest, along with Franca Arena and others. They gave us a special 'finale' spot and a huge applause as the host or home country and Al Grasby asked us a lot of questions about traditional Australian music. It seemed that everyone wanted to learn more about it.