Southerly Change have always had an open stage policy. If you are good enough you get invited up. They’ve had 8 piece brass sections, 3 or 4 percussionists and multiple configurations of Harp, Guitar, Bass and even recently used the Kora from Mali.
I first stumbled on them during my time on the South Coast in 2010/2011 when I got introduced to their drummer Matt Sykes whilst I was teaching out of the Manse in Nowra. He led drumming groups , was an incredibly complex drummer and character who had finished a 3 year course in Jazz Studies at the ANU in Canberra and had recently been playing and studying West African rhythms in Ghana. He was way ahead of me in drumming, me being a simple yet powerful rock drummer. Then I met Ben Fowler, who is the leader, guitarist, singer/ songwriter. They were playing a support with my Trio and April Maze at a gig I was organising at the Bridge Tavern in Nowra in June 2011 when I was booking it. I found him gentle, charming and unassuming; almost the diametric opposite of myself. Next time I saw him he was playing bass for Funkhouse, the legendary funk band from the South Coast featuring John Kenny [ex Rockmelons] and the Mighty ASH who is a rapper par excellence [who ended up co writing and guesting on ‘In your Face’]
Next time I saw Ben he was playing nylon string acoustic in a classical style and singing his own beautiful songs. We struck up a conversation and I was immediatley disarmed with his easy going nature.
Fast forward a year or two and they have been up to Gulgong Folk Festival 2012. I was given a copy of their first EP and fell in love with the opening track ‘Used to think”…
Then in 2012 they fell in love with my new album ‘In your FACE’ and gave me 2 supports in Wollongong at Dicey Rileys in April and helped me get onto the bill at the fantastic Culburra Beach Music Festival in May. It was there I also found out their saxophone player Mick Elderfield was a huge fan of mine. I was stoked…these guys really got my music and how I wanted to be really eclectic and expansive in the sounds and arrangements. They even found my use of electronica really eye opening.
They invited me up onstage to jam percussive at Dicey Rileys and I picked a grab bag of Tambourine/Cowbell/bongos and wood blocks and sat next to Matt Sykes and …well just looked for the holes as they say. Matt loved it and I was humbled that such a dexterous drummer would say that. It was there as well that I first met up with Damion Stirling who runs ‘Sol Studios’, who promoted the gig and and is also Musical Director of the Culburra Beach Music Festival. Damion is an amazing energetic force of nature and quite an astounding djembe player. The jam that night was fantastic and led to greater things.
I spoke with Ben a few times as a friend and confidant during 2012 an we both spoke of how hard it is to find your way in the Music Industry but both held a firm conviction of our love and passion for it…almost ant any cost. I found his conversation and support very comforting during a difficult financial time of my life and couldn’t wait to ignite the musical flame again with Southerly Change in the summer of 2012/2013.
Fast forward to Dec 2012 and my new acoustic rock band ‘Fig Jam’ has been given 2 more supports with Southerly Change at Wollongong and Jamberoo. The gigs were fantastic and this time the jamming was more structured and I played with Timbales/Bongos/ cowbells/Tambourines…Damion was there as well and something clicked those nights between Matt Sykes and ‘Damo’ and myself. It was joyous, free and rhythmic and we all complemented each other and wound the music and crowd up into a frenzy. The crowd thought so as well and I was surrounded by young nubile dancers who wanted to grab my sticks …haha.
Fast forward to Jan 2013 and its the Gulgong Folk Festival and I am playing with them 2 or 3 times and doing percussion workshops with them. They join up with my little drum group ‘The Kings of Congo Congo’ as well and we play a street party that will be an abiding memory for me…so much rhythm/ life and music …it felt so free and easy …and…the crowd absolutely loved it. Then I had a little break down the coast after the festival and played with them again at Culburra and Greenwell Point…the latter gig being absolutely amazing.
Ben has played me some of their new recordings utilising the Kora and some of Mali and Ghana’s finest musicians. It is going away from his reggae Jack Johnson thing to a more pure West African sound and as we discussed at dinner at the legendary ‘Brownies’ place in Culburra , he is only 24 and is going into a particularly fertile period. I cant wait to hear the new album…it is a few months away but in the meantime I look forward to the Culburra Beach Music Festival…if Fig Jam get a start then we will be striking up the musical conversation again…thanks Ben!!!