Australia has a long history with blues music, and today we find it remains alive and well, with an array of live blues events dotted around the country and new generations of blues-influenced bands springing up each year.
Still, blues doesn’t quite sit at the forefront of our music scene these days as it does in some other countries, and it’s important to cast an eye back across our history in the genre to see how deeply its tendrils have snaked through our musical landscape throughout the years.
Phil Manning is one of the stalwarts of Australian blues, and a founding member of one of its most influential bands, Chain. Formed in 1968, the band brought blues music to Australia’s working class, fostering a dedicated underground following before breaking into the charts in the early seventies. Their success was unprecedented at the time, and established them as an indelible name in Australian Blues, with the Australian Blues Music Festival giving out ‘Chain’ awards each year in the band’s honour.
The festival is once again set to take place this year in Goulburn, NSW from February 9th to the 12th, and is now in its 21st year of bringing together various legends and newcomers in the Australian Blues community for an entire weekend of free shows. This year, it pays tribute to the legendary Foreday Riders, the longest-serving outfit in Australian blues who celebrate their 50th year as a working band.
That huge span serves as a reminder of the history the blues has in Australia, and we took the opportunity to chat with Phil about the Riders and his own band Chain, along with the other influential figures that have helped to shape what became known as ‘Oz Blues’.
“Blues music has long been a part of the Australian music scene,” he begins, “although not so much in the main media – more in the hearts and minds of the very dedicated and loyal audiences and the musicians who use blues as their primal drive.
“The early pioneers of Australian Rock ‘n Roll – Lonnie Lee, JO’K etc. – were heavily influenced by Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins and countless other American artists who in turn had been influenced by blues artists.”
Chain performing the classic ‘I Remember When I Was Young’ in 1982
Soon after, Australian artists began to incorporate influences from other influences across the pond, and our blues scene began to evolve into various groups – some blues purists, some with a broader sound.
“In the early sixties came the British Pop explosion, and it was here that blues began its steady growth,” Phil explains. “Hugely influenced by the likes of The Rolling Stones, Yardbirds and John Mayall, Australian bands started including numerous blues songs in their repertoire even though often derived from English versions.
“Bands that were heavily into what was referred to as ‘rhythm and blues’ were the Purple Hearts (with Lobby Lloyd), Phil Jones and the Unknown Blues, Running, Jumping, Standing Still, and lots more – including Bay City Union, in which I started working with one Matt Taylor, later to be the singer in Chain.”
While blues was still very much a developing scene, some outfits, including Phil’s own, devoted themselves to making it as as working bands – helping to push Australian blues to the next level as a result, and develop a style of its own in the process.
“In the mid-to-late sixties, some bands began to call themselves ‘Blues Bands’,” Phil recalls, “and, while copying American blues acts, made their attempts to earn a living with what was a very underground movement at the time. The ‘purist’ acts were few and far between but Foreday Riders and shortly after Chain are two of the notable ones.
“With Chain, we realised that copying American blues was a dead-end street,” he says, “so we began writing our own material using the blues form as inspiration, with lyrics that conveyed our experience. What followed were a series of blues-based boogie bands like Carson, Kevin Borich Express and Dutch Tilders Blues Club.
“Eventually ‘Oz Blues’ became a term that stated, well, it’s blues – but in a uniquely Australian way.”
Our unique little corner of the global blues scene continues on, and while Chain and the Foreday Riders soldier on, Phil is more than happy to have passed the torch. “As blues evolves, more and more performers are finding the allure of this very old expression, and they add their voices to it.”
Those voices will all be descending on Goulburn once again this month, as they do every year, to honour an Australian tradition – and build on it in their own way.
The Australian Blues Music Festival runs from February 9th to the 12th in Goulburn, NSW, bringing with it a host of free live blues. You can find out more information here, and check out the full lineup below.
Chain carry on their long-standing legacy to this day
Australian Blues Music Festival 2017
The Foreday Riders
Fiona Boyes & The Fortune Tellers
Claude Hay Trio
JJ Thames (USA)
Sweet Felicia & The Honeytones
Jesse Valach & The Blues Mountain
The Blues Preachers
The Groove Kings
Fiona Boyes (Solo)
Pearlnoire & Don Hopkins
Iseula Hingano & Jesse Valach
Dorothy-Jane With Richard Steele
Don Hopkins (Solo)
Halfway To Forth
Ann Vriend & The Rooster Davis Group (Canada)
Wilson & White
Simon Kinney- Lewis Band
Nick Wildgoose With Special Guest Eddie Boyle
The Mighty Bluzicians
Blues & Blessings At St. Saviours Cathedral.