Just Alive To Alive In The Blues

This has not been an easy decision but a decision it is, I have decided to “retire” from doing the weekly AFL sports segment as part of the Alive 90.5 fm radio show “Sunday Sports Roundup”. I have arrived at this so that I can focus fully on the blues scene interviews which I am enjoying immensely and also to improving my writing skills through the blog.

I first started doing the AFL segment on Alive 90.5fm, very nervously, way back in 2012 thanks to the never-failing positive encouragement from the show’s founder Gordon Allen, or El Supremo as he became affectionately known to the team. I approached it as a keen fan, not as any sort of expert on this great game and I thought my twenty-some year’s experience in amateur theatre would help but this was an entirely new experience, no script, no direction, no visible audience, no instant feedback from same, just a soul-less daunting microphone in front of me. Gradually I got into phone interviews live on the air which was only a little less fearsome.  There was even a two-game experience of live commentating of East Coast Eagles games, the latter being such a disaster that I had to be rescued by the indefatigable Gordon Allen in the second half!

The first game, however, was carried by the amazing Gus Seebeck who commentated all through the first three-quarters, leaving myself and a couple of others to carry through the last quarter. Gus at that time was President of the East Coast Eagles and also serving on the newly formed GWS Giants board. Gus originally played in Perth and won the Sandover Medal in 1999, the WAFL equivalent of the AFL Brownlow Medal for best and fairest player of the year.  He returned to Sydney and played a number of years for the East Coast Eagles. I teamed up with Gus Seebeck on phone interviews in that first year and it is his erudite commentary that has really been the backbone of the show right through. I owe Gus a huge debt of gratitude for his brilliant analysis of the game and his inspired humour, all of which made for a very entertaining show. I just had to have some sensible questions or suggestions ready to set him going and he carried the rest of the show. An unashamed big hunk of man love going on here 😉

The technical difficulties at the station in reliably conducting on-air phone interviews led me to look at pre-recording the show from home using SkypeCall Recorder and a Rode microphone on my MacBook. It also meant I had to learn and master Audacity to edit and prepare a clean “um-free” MP3 that the station could just play to broadcast. It also opened up my interviews to more than one person at a time, which was definitely beyond the known capabilities of the station’s phone system. I have had on occasions five others on the Skype call at the same time.  Admittedly, managing the ensuing chaos became a real challenge! However, this method also allowed me to take advantage of an opportunity cheaply to interview a couple of Australian Olympians prior to the 2016 Olympics, Chris Morgan, and Matt Belcher, while they were in training camps in Europe.

At Gus’ suggestion in 2014, I approached Ian Parker, Vice President of the Pennant Hills AFL club, to join us. Ian had played for a long period at the club before moving into an administration role. There has been a long-standing rivalry between the two local clubs of the station in the Sydney Premier Division, East Coast Eagles, and Pennant Hills Demons,  and this carried through to the on-air discussions with typical footy banter and sledging which lifted the entertainment quotient of the show many times. Ian brought a great counter balance of dignified seriousness and analysis but also accompanied by a very wry wit which shone through at times.   His Tasmanian background, having been born and bred there and originally played for North Hobart, also lent a certain air of humour to the show.  Gus’ loyalty to the AFL club, Richmond, and Ian’s love of Hawthorn added to the on-air competition and banter.

And of course, I would also like to thank Nathan Halliday from Sports Physio Norwest for helping out on many occasions. Nathan was a former team-mate of Gus’ at the East Coast Eagles and is a long time sponsor of the program, thanks, Hallers.

The pre-recording of the show also allowed me more flexibility in the times I could call other AFL people such as youth team presidents and coaches and I interspersed these interviews into the show as circumstances allowed but I regret not as often as I might have. It was very interesting hearing about the growth of the junior clubs in the area particularly since the introduction of the GWS Giants to the competition. The attitude of the Giants to winning the hearts and minds in the community has been focussed and consistent and highlighted the lack of involvement of the Swans in anything west of the city previously.

I should also acknowledge here the tremendous support that the AFL NSW and the Giants have given me through people such as Greg Talbot, Mathew Mack,  Leigh Meyrick, Alison Zell and Rebecca Marshall, I thank you all.

By the 2016 AFL season Gus, Ian and I had got into such a groove that it was getting hard to limit the conversation into the varying time slots that the station was allocating to AFL in the show. It may have been a bit indulgent but I came up with the idea of publishing our weekly AFL session as a podcast on my WordPress blog and just edit out of it an MP3 for the required time to send to the station. I finally got this up and running mid-2016 and also began publishing the full podcast to the Listen Again section of the station website so that if you wanted to hear more than the short segment broadcast on the show then you could pick up the full version on the station website or my blog. It meant a bit more work on the editing side to get a slice that made sense for use on the show but I was enjoying the challenge. So much so that at the end of the AFL season I was wondering what I could do to “feed” this new podcast process that I was enjoying so much and grow the small audience during the off-season.

The universe has the happy knack of presenting just what you need when you need it and so it was that one Sunday in September I accompanied Molly to yet another community market. As we got out of the car the sounds of a guy playing Delta blues greeted our ears. My soul however simply soared at the sound of it and as we entered the market there was Mark Bishop set up under a large gum tree with his variety of guitars and amplifiers playing sweet Delta Blues. Memories flooded back of that period in the 1960’s when I got totally immersed in listening to, and trying to play like, old blues musicians such as Leadbelly, which I wrote about here, and which I had drifted away from in the ensuing years.  I love a lot of different music genres but my undoubted favourite is what is known these days as blues and roots music. So here was Mark playing stuff that I hadn’t heard for a long time and it was lifting my spirits. I bought his CD from the box in front of his setup and in talking about it with Molly the idea arose that perhaps here was an avenue to keep the podcast going, talk to various people from areas other than AFL. So when Mark took a break I approached him with the possibility of having a recorded chat over the phone. To my pleasant surprise, Mark was only too happy to do so and we exchanged details. I called him during the next week and we spoke about his story and his comments on a couple of tracks from his CD that I later edited into the podcast as well as a lead in and exit out with excerpts of two others.  That became the next podcast I published in October 2016 after the AFL Grand Final podcast at the end of the AFL season.

The Mark Bishop podcast turned out to be a seminal moment for me. During our conversation, he mentioned a number of other blues musicians and also a whole sub-culture that I had never heard of, cigar box guitar makers. A whole world of musicians and craftsmen opened up for me so I then started interviewing some that Mark had mentioned and more and more people came out of these conversations so that a snowballing effect started. I approached all of them as I did the AFL scene, not as any sort of expert but just as an interested fan trying to get to know them better. I was loving it! Interesting people from all over the world with similar attitudes to mine and all sharing this love of blues music. I was alive!

As the 2017 AFL season started to appear on the horizon I was asked to do some segments for the station in the inaugural Women’s AFL competition which led to the season proper. It was exciting being part of this new development on the AFL scene but I was starting to realise that I couldn’t do the AFL and keep my blues interviews going, I just didn’t have enough spare time for both. In a practical sense as well, the Blues side I could do all year round whereas the AFL was only viable during the season, eight months of the year at most. Don’t forget that neither avenues are making me any money, they are both a “labour of love” and it was becoming apparent that I couldn’t keep both going. So a choice had to be made and as Molly said, it’s a hobby so do what is most appealing to you, what lifts your spirits. They both do in different ways but the blues music scene did that the most I felt so there it was; a simple judgment call. To make a play upon the radio station name, I have gone from being just alive to being alive in the blues.

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