Old time music is in my blood. My first introduction to music of the age was via my Dad (knowingly or unknowingly). He was born in the early 1930’s and played Jazz, Boogie Woogie and Ragtime on the piano as I grew up. I ploughed my own musical path in my teen years obsessing over classic rock and 1980’s metal. By the time I hit my 20’s I started to realise that Blues, Folk and Jazz (of which skiffle is derived) underpinned most of the music I had ever listening to. Everything pointed back to the stuff my Dad played. It was at this point I also started to actually meet musicians playing this old time stuff and then journey really got started.
How long have you been performing the old time style and writing your own songs?
I had some landmark musical moments in the late 80’s / early 90’s when I met some very influential musicians. In particular, a one man band called ‘The little big band’ and a Blues / Roots duo called JC and Angelina. I started to pick up a few of the songs that they were playing and in about 1995 I formed my first real duo with my brother. We playing a mix of Folk, Blues, Hillbilly & Bluegrass. When I realised that with 3 chords and a harmonica I could play a truck load of Folk, Country and Blues songs I started to get gigs.
As for songwriting, I hadn’t been playing too long when I decided to give it a crack. I put pen to paper and songs flowed. 25 or so years on I still find songwriting an easy and enjoyable process.
You play as multiple different ‘acts’, how did you come to have these different personas as they were?
I quickly realised that once I could play Harmonica, Guitar and sing simultaneously I could be a self reliant musician with the option of gigging as a soloist, duo, or with a band. Having these different combinations added up to me being about to make a full time living from my music. In my home town of Christchurch, I have been able to work many different musical combos playing the different genres of music that I love thus providing me with a wide variety of gigs.
What’s it like performing in Christchurch this long post quake?
I love this city as much post quake and I did pre quake. Things are different now for sure but I have rolled with it. I went from playing 5 nights or more a week pre quake to 0 gigs one afternoon in February! The city has started to get back on its feet with more and more venues opening up. I mainly do solo work nowadays and fortunately, many of the new venues support solo musicians. The city seems to close earlier than it used to but that now works to my advantage – I have a young family and gentleman’s hours suit me well!
Is this your first tour? If so, do you prepare differently with your music to tour or are you pretty organised and set in your ways with your performance?
It’s not really a tour in the conventional sense, I do ‘away gigs’ when my calendar and family commitments allow. I have been trying to get up to Auckland for ages but the planets never seem to align. I am really looking forward to doing my Li’l Chuck thing for a whole new audience but I won’t change it too much from the show I do on the south island.
Organised? – Hell yeah! I am always organised but I am not set in my ways. I like to be prepared for anything that gets thrown at me. The guys in my last band used to tease me for carrying a clipboard in my gig bag! Whatever and wherever the gig I like to have as much figured out in advance as I can. My main gig aside from music is as a stay at home Dad to 2 young children and this is the reason I do so much work In and around Christchurch. I can’t just hit the road willy-nilly without a lot of organisation. The Auckland gig has taken the planning of a small military operation.
There can’t be many people in NZ performing the way you do, do you use this to allow the focus to be more on the instruments and good time factor of this, or do you bring audiences attention to your lyrics and the stories you tell?
A great question. I guess it is always a novelty seeing someone performing multiple instruments simultaneously so of course Li’l chuck is an interesting gig to see live in the flesh. Personally, I don’t feel the ‘multitasking thing’ is the main focus of Li’l Chuck. Li’l Chuck (and the combination of all the instruments I play) is the creative outlet for my for my songwriting and musicianship in the genres I dearly love – Blues, Swing, Ragtime etc. For me, Li’l chuck encompasses all of me, my personality and my music in a nutshell. I find it essential for me to interact with the audience and tell the background stories of my songs. I know the songs can stand up in their own right without explanation but giving the backstory makes the gig a whole lot more intimate and inclusive.