Impermanence with without Band Photo by WILK

Impermanence trio—new music launch, listening parties

Preview and Q&A with Bianca Gannon
By Sue Barrett

From time to time, music emerges that touches souls and captures hearts with its atmosphere, improvisation and unexpected and/or improbable sound combinations.
Australian trio Impermanence has just launched a double album, with // without. The trio consists of Bianca Gannon (piano, mixed Indonesian gamelan); Josh Holt (double bass, bass guitar); and Elliott Hughes (trumpet, augmented trumpet).
Described as a “fusion of neo-classical, experimental art music, and freeform jazz”, Impermanence’s music brings to mind the rural isolation of a country like Ireland – sometimes ethereal; sometimes stormy; sometimes uncomplicated; sometimes complex.
Bianca Gannon grew up in Ireland and studied in Wales.

In what ways has living in Ireland and in Wales influenced your music?
In this trio, I’m not sure that my Irish heritage comes through in an obvious way, though the ubiquity of music in Ireland – diverse music – has certainly left its mark. I did my music degree in Wales and learnt a lot about various forms of music, particularly art music, and music from around the world, such as gamelan from Indonesia. I was deeply drawn to the otherworldly resonances and syncopated interlocking rhythms of the gamelan pitched percussion orchestras. A few years later, living in Ireland again, I had the opportunity to join a gamelan. An Irish woman had been studying in Indonesia and brought back a full gamelan set – which was the one we were using at University College, Dublin. Later the Sultan of Yogyakarta gifted a gamelan to An Ceoláras Náisiúnta (National Concert Hall). From there, I embarked on the Indonesian Arts and Culture Scholarship – intensive cultural study in West Java, followed by many more study trips and collaborations across the archipelago.

What brought you to Australia?
My partner – Josh Holt – is from Australia and he’s also the bass player in our trio.

Tell us about Impermanence’s album, with // without
It’s an improvised, double album. Disc 1 (with) includes electronic components. And Disc 2 (without) is without electronics. You’ll hear a lot of different sounds and emotions. Our music is quite organic – it moves in and out of groove, in and out of time. It can be free and floating – ethereal. And, at other times, it has a pulse and time signature – it can get quite rhythmic. I think overall the music creates a feeling of space and expanse. We first improvised the music and afterwards christened the tracks.

How did Impermanence come about? And did you set out to have a trio with this combination of instruments or was it just an happy coincidence?
Elliott [Hughes], our trumpet player, and I met at the Australian Art Orchestra’s Creative Music Intensive residency in Tasmania, where we were put in an ensemble with a bunch of musicians from Sydney. When we got back to Melbourne, we continued to play together. Then we became participants in the Lebowski’s Development Residency in Melbourne – a six month residency. One day, Elliott was rehearsing at my house and Josh joined us on bass, which was another piece of the puzzle, another layer of unity.Elliott invented the augmented trumpet – he uses a trumpet with a device he 3D printed that attaches to the valves and tracks finger movement. It’s extraordinary the sounds that he’s making in real time – at times like an orchestra of the future and at other times quite an electronic sound – with beautiful, unique timbres.

What does it take for musicians to successfully improvise? How does Impermanence approach this?
A deep knowledge of your craft and of your instrument, as well as a healthy dose of reckless abandon. Curiosity. Really, really listening to your band mates. Letting go of your ego a little bit, at times. And a bit of risk taking. But certainly we do prepare for gigs, we do rehearse. We try to approach performances as a stream of consciousness, playing in the moment. In a performance, we might play for 45 minutes straight, continuously. But in our rehearsals, we typically play for five or ten minutes at a time, then discuss and then try new exercises (for example, duos, flipping the roles of the instruments). Each piece of music is a once-off. So for the album, like our performances, the music was totally improvised on the spot, with no preconceptions. The start of a piece is always a surprise – whoever is feeling ready jumps in and starts. Often a set is one continuous work. And sometimes themes from the beginning return later, re-orchestrated with a different instrument or in a different key. We all try to centre ourselves a bit before performing. Elliott and Josh both close their eyes a lot – I think they really like to go within. Personally, I like to watch them quite a bit – I feel it gives me more of a sense of what they are going to do and allows me to better synchronise movements and synchronise rhythms. We play together as an ensemble, but at times there’s a soloist or just two people playing or two people playing accompaniment and one person playing a melody.

What were some of the challenges in recording the album?
We recorded it in different booths, thinking we could manage the sound better. But in the end, that didn’t fully work – some sound still bled through. Being in different booths made it really hard to hear each other. We’re also used to being very close together when playing, but I think we could really draw on that connection and intuition despite our physical distance in the studio.

Tell us about your upcoming listening parties
For the listening parties, we are going to be playing music based on the album. The first night is Disc 1 – with. And the second night is Disc 2 – without. BUT…we play improvised music, so the listening parties, and then the live launch in August, will probably be the only times we play with // without to an audience.

COVID-19 has had a catastrophic impact on live music. How have you spent the last three months during the lockdown?
Asides from moving my piano teaching online, I’ve written a lot of grant applications and a lot of job applications. I’ve also been working on the art for the successful applications. It’s been busy, but also quite tough – mourning the loss of our industry and the unknowns of what the future holds. It was very natural for me to go to the piano and improvise and process my emotions. I didn’t necessarily feel compelled to make new works and polished compositions ready to share with the world, but by necessity that’s what I’ve ended up having to do. It was great to create work, but it felt like an enormous amount of pressure – having to be creative, to be innovative and to use this challenge as something positive, when it’s actually really a difficult time.

What’s coming up for you over the next 18 months?
There’s the launch of Impermanence’s album, with // without. And we are hoping to be able to do more gigs. In December, we are due to play at the International Society for Improvised Music conference at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, University of Melbourne. I also have a couple of commissions. At the end of 2019, I won the Pythia Prize for composition – which means I’m writing a piece inspired by the bushfire crisis for Rubiks Collective. I’m also writing a piece for myself as Artist in Residence at the City of Greater Dandenong. The piece is based around the Irish word for hug – Croí Isteach – which literally means to get into the heart or to bring your hearts close – so it’s a sonic hug for the pandemic times.

Redefining the idiom: Impermanence trio premieres new music
June 2020
with // without is the mesmerising new offering from Australia’s rising stars of improvised music, Impermanence.
The Melbourne trio launched with // without, a double album, with two live-streamed Listening Parties.
Described as “one of Australia’s rising stars”, “where jazz meets sound art”, Impermanence are a Melbourne-based improvising music trio who traverse form and genre. with // without captures their cinematic and evocative sound, coalescing ancient and futuristic with tradition and invention through their unique instrumentation:

  • simultaneous piano + mixed Indonesian gamelan (Bianca Gannon)
  • double bass + bass guitar (Josh Holt)
  • trumpet + augmented trumpet (Elliott Hughes)

Their seemingly through-composed long-form free improvisations incorporate neo-classical and jazz references with ritualistic rhythms and a glitchy new music edge. Ethereal lyricism layered with pulsating difference tones, unique timbres, orchestral textures and extended harmonies resonate in an expansive timelessness.
Elliott Hughes’ invention, the Augmented Trumpet, incorporates a 3D-printed motion-sensor that uses the normal movement of the trumpet’s valves to control and synchronise the electronics with the acoustic sound. The resulting sounds are captivating.
Gamelan specialist Gannon performs simultaneous piano with gamelan (Balinese pitched percussion instruments with beating difference-tones that create an otherworldly warbling effect).
with // without is supported by the City of Melbourne COVID-19 Arts Grants.

Impermanence ‘With // without’ Album Launch
WHO: Bianca Gannon simultaneous piano + mixed Indonesian gamelan
Josh Holt double bass + bass guitar
Elliott Hughes trumpet + augmented trumpet
Impermanence website
WHAT: with // without double CD, improvised and recorded at Newmarket Studios, February 2019. Disc 1 includes electronic components (Augmented trumpet and bass guitar) and Disc 2 is acoustic.
Cost: Digital $12, CD $25
with // without is available for purchase and streaming on Bandcamp and spotify.

Wangaratta announces US jazz singer, Vivian Sessoms

Legendary US jazz chanteuse, Vivian Sessoms, will join the 29th Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues’ world-class line-up, Festival Chairman Mark Bolsius announced today.
With unrivalled backing vocalist credits including Chaka Khan, Donna Summer, Cher, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Pink, Patti Austin and a host of other headline artists, Ms Sessoms is launching her new album, LIFE, in November.
Not only will she perform a hotly-anticipated show at the WPAC Hall with US bassist and MD Chris Parks and Melbourne pianist Brenton Foster, but she’ll also appear with Australian all-female supergroup Sweethearts for one show only.
Geelong-based Sweethearts is an original soul, funk and blues band of young women that has earned critical acclaim worldwide, through regular appearances at Montreaux Jazz Festival, Jazz à Vienne, the Porretta Soul Festival, and more. The announcement of the Sweethearts—Vivian Sessoms performance comes after the unfortunate cancellation of US drummer, Bernard Purdie, who was scheduled to appear with Sweethearts but withdrew due to scheduling issues.
Securing Ms Sessoms’ appearances is a major coup for the festival, which is renowned for featuring the world’s most accomplished international and Australian jazz and blues artists each year, in the heart of north-east Victoria’s famous wine-producing region.
Ms Sessoms recorded and produced her forthcoming release LIFE in collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Chris Parks, displaying adventurous arrangements and an expressive, sophisticated sound that draws on jazz, R&B and pop in fresh and moving ways. Whether she’s presenting her own material, reinterpreting Strange Fruit for our own troubled times, or reshaping classic pop, jazz and soul hits, the result is nothing short of transformational. Her soaring voice is full and robust, unerring in pitch, utterly at home, and highly praised by Rolling Stone, Billboard, Ebony and other illustrious publications.

Since 1989 the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues has grown to become an internationally renowned event attracting around 25,000 visitors and 200+ jazz and blues artists from the US, the UK, Europe and Australia to regional north-east Victoria every November. With its diverse mix of jazz greats and rising stars, each year the program showcases jazz and blues of all styles, including original, contemporary, traditional, mainstream, experimental and improvised. A central feature remains the National Jazz Awards; a competition designed to encourage and promote young musicians. The Festival has won numerous tourism and sponsorship awards, and is recognised internationally as the foremost jazz and blues event in Australia.

WFoJ Logo with Date - large - Copy

Media campaign: Jessie Lloyd’s Mission Songs Project

The Songs Back Home is a collection of Australian Indigenous folk songs performed from 1900-1999 on Christian missions, settlements and native camps where Indigenous people were relocated. As part of her Mission Songs Project, Jessie Lloyd has spent the past two years faithfully exploring the journey of Indigenous Australian music, connecting traditional with contemporary, and charting continuing cultural practice and oral traditions well into the 21st century. The songs, largely hidden from the outside world, comprise rare and almost-forgotten stories, shedding light onto the history and experiences of Indigenous people, their families and communities. Jessie launched The Songs Back Home, the first of the Mission Songs Project collection, in March 2017 at the Brunswick Music Festival and is touring the album throughout the east coast of Australia.

“The 20th Century songs composed and sung on Aboriginal missions and settlements are records of our history and history and tell us about the emotions and aspirations of their composers. Jessie Lloyd’s research to find these songs is a profoundly important contribution to our nation and music.”—Professor Marcia Langton, AM, Mission Songs Project advisor and contributor

“Mission Songs Project presents contemporary folk songs that continue the ancient song lines of this country. The songs speak of the daily lives of the First Peoples who were relocated from their traditional homelands to the missions.”—Archie Roach, AM, Mission Songs Project advisor and contributor

The Songs Back Home CD reviews:

“…a significant release both as a cultural artifact but also for its pure enjoyment factor… full of love and life and hope, sung with great emotion at a level rare in many contemporary albums… As a listener you feel part of the circle and included in the experience. The songs take you through a range of emotions—sadness but also overwhelming joy, compassion, love and many others.”—Steve Britt, Rhythms magazine, May/June 2017

“… a great addition to recordings of genuine Australian folk music… a triumph for Jessie Lloyd.”—Tony Smith, Trad & Now magazine, May 2017

“Islander rhythms, campfire country and defiant humour celebrate simple joys. Melancholy ballads chart a journey of blood, sweat and tears… you’ll almost hear the kettle boil as a closing home recording of the elders invites us to sit down with these unsung survivors.”—4.5 stars, Chris Lambie, Fairfax (The Age, Sydney Morning Herald, Brisbane Times) (read the full review)

“This album defies categorisation in an exciting and innovative way. This contrasting material, with its mix of optimism, happiness, humour alongside sorrow and hardship, characterises the main artist Jessie Lloyd’s wish to promote conciliation through music.”—Ethnomusicologist, Dr Muriel E. Swijghuisen Reigersberg, Loud Mouth (The Music Trust) (read the full review)

“…profoundly moving… the entire collection is sublime.”—4.5 stars, Stephen Fitzpatrick, The Australian (read the full review)

Mission Songs Project, Jessie Lloyd media interviews:

Reviews of the live Mission Songs Project show:

National Folk Festival, April 2017 Rhythms magazine: “Stand-out artists of the Festival included National Folk Fellow Jessie Lloyd for her Mission Songs Project who, with a line-up of top Indigenous artists, presented a rare collection of early Australian Indigenous contemporary songs that were performed on missions and settlements. All Jessie’s shows were packed out.

Port Fairy Folk Festival, March 2017 Chris Lambie, Rhythms magazine: “Daughter of Joe Geia, Jessie Lloyd, travelled the nation to talk with elders for The Mission Songs Project. ‘The Songs Back Home’ is a collection of Indigenous folk songs performed on Christian missions, settlements and native camps from 1900-1999. Not a moment too soon, Lloyd has revived these unique songlines before they’re lost forever. The warm and articulate performer shared the lead on family yarns and glorious harmonies with Emma Donovan, Deline Briscoe and Jessica Hitchcock.”

Blue Mountains Music Festival, March 2017 Elizabeth Walton, Timber & Steel: “The Mission Songs Project brings new life to the voices of the stolen generation and indigenous Australians who were splintered from their cultures when they were made to sing in a foreign language. Today, traditional languages are so far removed from their vernacular that singing in English has become the mainstay, the local languages have become the foreign tongue. Yet everything has its resurgence if you can claim it before it achieves vanishing point. The stories are heartfelt and beautifully sung – perhaps not with the campfire instruments of their natural settings, but the end result is one that adapts well to the contemporary stage and travels to a diverse and broad audience – for The Mission Songs Project, this is mission accomplished, and accomplished incredibly well.”


The Songs Back Home album information
       Mission Songs Project / Jessie Lloyd
CD title:    The Songs Back Home
Synopsis:  10 songs selected from a collection of Australian Indigenous songs from 1900 to 1999, focusing on the Christian missions, state-run settlements and native camps where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were relocated. Curated, arranged and produced by Jessie Lloyd.

Album Credits:
Produced by Jessie Lloyd
Recorded at The Aviary Recording Studio, Melbourne
Engineered, mixed and mastered by Colin Leadbetter
Artwork by Joe Geia and Creative Design by Lyn Geia
Project Patrons and Advisors – Prof Marcia Langton AM and Archie Roach AM

Singers and Musicians:
Jessie Lloyd – vocals/ukulele/acoustic guitar
Monica Weightman – vocals/acoustic guitar
Leah Flanagan – vocals
Karrina Nolan – vocals
Jess Hitchcock – vocals
Iain Grandage – piano/piano accordion
Ed Bates – pedal steel guitar
Rob Mahoney – double bass
Archie Roach – vocals/acoustic guitar (track 11)
Lillian Geia – vocals/ukulele (tracks 10 & 12)
Lynelda Tippo – vocals (tracks 10 & 12)
Alma Geia – vocals (track 13)

Track Order:
1.  Own Native Land  2:53
2.  Outcast Half-Caste  2:35
3.  The Irex  3:32
4.  Down in the Kitchen  2:03
5.  Hopkins River (feat. Monica Weightman)  3:25
6.  Old Cape Barren (feat. Jessica Hitchcock)  3:25
7.  Middle Camp  3:00
8.  Surrare  2:20
9.  Port Fort Hill  2:49
10.   Now Is the Hour Medley (feat. Lou Bennett, Leah Flanagan & Mere-Rose Paul)  4:23

Bonus Tracks:
11.   Hopkins River – Archie Roach  2:14
12.   The Irex – Geia Sisters (Lillian Geia and Lynelda Tippo)  1:11
13.   Down In the Kitchen – Alma Geia  0:38

Dedicated to Alma Dawn Geia (1921 – 2016)

About the Mission Songs Project
Mission Songs Project is an initiative to revive contemporary Australian Indigenous songs from 1900 to 1999, focusing on the Christian missions, state run settlements and native camps where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were relocated.
Searching for the secular songs that were sung after church, Mission Songs Project looks to explore the day to day life of the mission days, from cultural identity to love and loss. These unique songs consist of almost forgotten stories that can now shed light into the history of our Indigenous elders, families and communities.
Mission Songs Project faithfully explores the musical journey of Indigenous Australian music as Jessie Lloyd connects the traditional with contemporary, revealing the continuation of cultural practice and song traditions into the 21st Century.

Mission Songs Project advisors and contributors:
Archie Roach
Marcia Langton
Peena, Cedric, Lillian, Delphine and Joe Geia
Lynelda Tippo
Frank Anderson
Paul Gorden
Jeremy Beckett
Karl Nuenfeldt
Chris Sullivan
Aaron Corn
Clint Bracknell
Elverina Johnson
Will Kepa
Seaman Dan
Cessa Mills
Roger Knox
Kath Mills
Stephen Pigram
Baamba Alberts
Rosie Smith
Jill Shelton
Emma Donovan
Deline Briscoe
John Wayne Parsons
Luana Pitt
Tiriki Onus
Monica Weightman
Robert Champion
William Barton
Marlene Cummins
Warren Roberts
Johnny Nicol
Mindalaya Read
Eugenia Flynn
Leah Flanagan
Karrina Nolan
David Williams
Jessica Hitchcock
Vonda Last
Eddie Peters
Maxine Briggs

Mission Songs Project Sponsors and Supporting Programs:
State Library of Victoria – Creative Fellowship 2016
National Library of Australia – Folk Fellowship 2017
South Australian Museum – Tindale Collection, AA346 Board for Anthropological Research Collection
Archie Roach Foundation
Australia Council for the Arts
Creative Victoria
Australian Performing Rights Association

Jessie Lloyd Bio:
Originally from the tropics of North Queensland, Jessie Lloyd is an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander musician who performs a broad collection of Australian Indigenous songs. A vocalist, guitarist, bassist and ukulele player, Jessie earned her formal qualifications at Abmusic in Perth, WA in 2002.
An award winning composer, performer and creative entrepreneur, Jessie is a cultural practitioner of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander music. Dedicated to the continuation of cultural traditions through the presentation of both contemporary and traditional Indigenous music.
Jessie has travelled Australia in search of hidden songs to present this rare Indigenous narrative. From the Bass Strait to the Torres Strait and across the Arafura Sea, Jessie has spent time with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander senior song men and women, uncovering precious stories and songs from the mission days.

Song synopsis:
1. OWN NATIVE LAND                Composed by Albert ‘Albie’ Edward Geia
This song was ­written by Albie Geia shortly after leading the 1957 strike on Palm Island with six other Indigenous men. The strike was against the discriminatory treatment of Indigenous people, after a petition to the superintendent demanding improved wages, health, housing and working conditions, was ignored. As punishment, Albie and his family were removed to Woorabinda, Qld.

2. OUTCAST HALF-CASTE            Composed by Micko Donovan and Mary Deroux
This song was written by Micko Donovan and Mary Deroux of northern New south Wales about growing up half-caste, a now ­derogatory term, used to describe Indigenous people of mixed heritage. The term was one of many devised in the ­policy to assimilate or ‘breed out’ ­Aborigines, and part of the ­misinformed theories of the ‘survival of the fittest’ that were deployed to result in Aboriginal extinction. Micko was raised on a mission and learned to play music from the local missionaries.

3. THE IREX                                Composer unknown
The Irex was the boat that transported Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who were forcibly removed from the mainland settlements governed by the Native Affairs officers or missionaries to Palm Island Aboriginal Settlement in Queensland. The Palm Island settlement was known as a ‘punishment island’ for those who committed misdemeanours on other government ­settlements or missions. A strike was organized by the Aboriginal ­residents in 1957 to protest the brutal conditions.

4. DOWN IN THE KITCHEN                        Composed by Alma Geia
This song is from the children’s dormitories on Palm Island, Queensland. It was composed by one of the residents, Alma Geia, in the 1920s. This innocent tune gives some insight into the living conditions of children who were removed from their families and placed in the segregated dormitories and how they made light of tough times.

5. HOPKINS RIVER                            Composed by Alice Clarke
A song brought to the project by senior songman Archie Roach.  This song comes from Framlingham mission in southwest Victoria, which was founded near the Hopkins River. It was from here that Archie was forcibly removed from his family which inspired him to write his classic song “Took the Children Away”. Hopkins River was written by Archie’s grandmother’s sister, Alice Clarke.

6. OLD CAPE BARREN                        Composer unknown
The Tasmanian ­Aboriginal community have a long history with Cape Barren Island but the last 200 years has been the most brutal act of ­genocide and ­oppression. The islanders have always maintained a strong ­presence and ­connection to Cape Barren, including cultural practices such as ­mutton birding. This beautiful song paints a picture into the old days, full of love and loss. It is an honour to have our Tasmanian brothers and sisters represented in Mission Songs Project.

7. MIDDLE CAMP                            Composed by Eric Craigie
Middle Camp was an Aboriginal camp set up on the fringes of the township of Moree in New South Wales. It was one of three camps and was closed down at some point by the local shire. 
Composed by Eric Craigie, this song is a protest ballad about displacement from his home when Middle Camp was closed. The lyrics and tune are full of optimism, resilience and determination, and love of the old community of the camp.

8. SURRARE                                Composer Unknown
A song from the Torres Straits, Surrare is a song about hunting a seabird that is sung in Ailan Kriol language. The Western Island language name for seagull is ‘Saora Leh’ and pronunciation has changed over time in various places. The final verse is Cowral Mut, a ‘curry feathered small bird’ and it sings of hunting inland as opposed to hunting coastal. This track incorporates all three versions although excluding the Western Island language words in the 3rd verse. The song was made popular by Joe Geia on his first solo album Yil Lull.

9. PORT FORT HILL                            Composer Unknown
A song from Darwin during the Second Word War, Fort Hill was a location where the Aboriginal and Torres strait Islander men used to scout for enemy ships and spies to keep the town safe. During the post-war years the Australian Half Caste Progress Association held weekly fund-raising dances at The Sunshine Club in a decommissioned Army barracks. This was one of the songs that was performed during those times.

10. NOW IS THE HOUR MEDLEY                    Traditional
This song, also known as the Maori Farewell, is a heartfelt tune adopted by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people on missions in the early 20th century. The Maori wives sang it to their husbands as they left to fight in WWI. It was then shared among the ANZACs including Aboriginal soldiers. The hymn Search Me Oh God was composed by a missionary from New Zealand using the same melody and is well know on many Aboriginal missions. Guest vocals are by Lou Bennett, Leah Flanagan and Mere-Rose Paul.

Essay: Beyond The Third Fret

Despite recent acclaim for Courtney Barnett, the representation of female instrumentalists at our major music awards remains dismal. Diana Wolfe questions why women who play instruments still struggle to find recognition, credibility and awards success in Australia.

This essay was first published in Aphra magazine (no longer in publication) on 28 September 2015.

Beyond the Third Fret

by Diana Wolfe

In the October 2014 edition of Uncut magazine, Jack White of The White Stripes bemoaned the gender disparity in the US music industry, highlighting the ‘novelty’ factor of seeing women instrumentalists on stage.
“When you have all-female acts or female front people, there’s a different perception. It’s sort of a real shame that if a woman goes onstage with an instrument – a guitar or drums or something – it’s almost a novelty to people, like ‘Oh isn’t that cute?’,” he said.
However, while this sexist attitude is also rife throughout the Australian music scene, few are calling it out.
With the most recent exception of Melbourne guitarist-singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett, our female musicians always have been—and still are—overlooked and excluded here.
And apart from an occasional mention of the lack of women invited to perform at major festivals and the lack of fair treatment for female artists, nobody really talks about it.
Of the many examples of gender inequality in music, perhaps the most insidious is the ongoing under-representation of female musicians in major awards ceremonies.
Industry awards are critical for an artists’ career because of the direct and lasting impact on their credibility, profile, music sales, future opportunities and career longevity. For example, winning an Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) award generates enormous attention for an artist and can significantly boost sales and chart performance.
As recently as 2014, Head of Artists and Repertoire (A&R) at Mushroom Music Publishing, Linda Bosidis, said the Australian music industry is in a ‘time warp’ when it comes to gender equality.
‘Yep, too many dudes!’ says Bosidis. ‘Music awards are where cracks appear… (and) this extends to the negligible number of women featured in the media, represented on boards, music conferences and panels and in A&R positions for labels and publishers, music critics, journalists and radio station programmers.’
Bosidis’s view is supported by the facts: a review of our five largest music awards reveals not just cracks, but a gaping chasm. You can count on one hand the number of female instrumentalists who have featured in these ceremonies. Remove the female vocalists and guitarists, and there are almost no women at all.

Take a look at the ARIA Hall of Fame: of the 75 artists, bands and music industry figures inducted since 1988, only one is a female musician: Jill Birt, keyboard player with The Triffids from 1983–1989*. Apart from 10 female vocalists**, the Hall of Fame inductees are men and all-male bands.
Just some of the notable female musicians missing from the Hall of Fame are multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter and screenwriter-composer Johanna Pigott, best known for co-writing Dragon’s Rain and John Farnham’s Age of Reason. When Age of Reason topped the Australian charts in July 1988, Pigott became the first Australian woman to have written a number 1 hit.
Drummer Lindy Morrison played with seminal indie rock band The Go Betweens from 1980 to 1989. She’s also a social activist who has made a significant contribution to recording musicians’ rights through her involvement in the Phonographic Performance Company of Australia. In 2013 she was awarded an Order of Australia Medal for services as a performer and advocate. She’s a Lifetime Honorary Member of the Music Council of Australia, and won the 2014 Ted Albert Award for Outstanding Services to Australian Music.
Award-winning rock-pop guitarist-songwriter-singer Deborah Conway was a founding member of 1980s band Do-Ré-Mi, which had a hit with the song Man Overboard. Conway had a top 20 hit single with It’s Only the Beginning, and won the 1992 ARIA for Best Female Artist. She organised and performed on the Broad Festivals from 2005 to 2008 show-casing contemporary Australian female artists, and continues to perform, write and record.
Adelaide performer Sister Janet Mead soared to international stardom in 1974 with her rock-gospel recording of The Lord’s Prayer. A surprise hit, it reached number 3 on the Australian singles chart and number 4 on the US Billboard Top 100, as well as earning her a Grammy Award nomination and an Australian Yamaha Golden Gospel Award. Sister Mead was a classically trained pianist and an acoustic guitarist who believed that ‘rock masses’ were a powerful way to make Catholicism more accessible to her students. She recorded three albums of rock-gospel music and was performing and working as a musical director into the 2000s. Arguably, she was as much of a pioneer on the Australian Christian-gospel music scene as influential guitarist Sister Rosetta Tharpe was on the US crossover blues-rock-gospel scene.

It’s the same throughout all the other mainstream music awards, with no sign of change despite the recent wave of outstanding female musicians to rock our stages.
Of the 28 times the ARIA Album Of The Year has been awarded, only two solo female musicians have won in this category: Kasey Chambers and Missy Higgins. Even when you include line-ups with female instrumentalists, there have been only two winners—Baby Animals (Suze DeMarchi, guitar) and Angus & Julia Stone (Julia, guitar and trumpet).
The Best Group ARIA has only twice been won by a band that includes a female musician—The Black Sorrows in 1990, featuring Jen Anderson on violin, and Sheppard in 2014, featuring sisters Amy and Emma Sheppard on harmonica and bass, respectively.
The APRA-AMCOS Art Music Awards 2015 finalists’ list included just three women among 32 men in seven of the major categories, while the prestigious $30,000 Australian Music Prize has never been awarded to a solo female musician in its 11-year history.
This pattern was repeated across the nominees for the 2014 Carlton Dry Independent Music Awards: just 15 of the 130 musicians nominated in the indie band / artist categories were women. Of the 155 artists nominated for The Age Music Victoria Genre Awards in 2014, only 11 were female instrumentalists.

It’s a baffling phenomenon that can’t be explained away by a lack of talent, ability, ambition or worthiness. From speaking with a number of accomplished and respected local female musicians, the reasons are complex, culturally entrenched, and rarely discussed.
In a music career spanning more than 20 years, nine albums, numerous film soundtracks and international performances, acclaimed blues and roots vocalist and rhythm guitarist Kerri Simpson has seen some positive developments.
‘There has been enormous change in some areas of the industry; in some genres women are evenly represented and those playing in bands are no longer the rarity they were in the seventies,’ she says.
In other areas, however, she says it’s as lopsided as ever.
‘Much remains as it was decades ago. For example, there are still very few women in studio or live music production,’ Simpson laments.‘It saddens me that my teenage daughter, who plays guitar, bass, drums, sings and composes, experiences exactly the same kind of bullying and humiliation from boys as I did when I was doing my first gigs.’
Rachel By The Stream is a Melbourne-based Electronic Dance Music (EDM) composer, musician and singer, who performed at the prestigious UK Glastonbury Festival in 2013. She sees the lack of representation of women at EDM festivals as a major challenge.
‘Open an EDM festival program and 95% of the artists are male… page after page of male faces staring at you,’ Rachel says.
Folk songwriter-guitarist Helen Begley sees more women than ever participating on stages around the country. However, her experiences show that no matter how accomplished women musicians are, once they’re on stage with men they often retreat.
‘Recently, I shared the stage with two fellas who are songwriters and guitarists. We took it in turns to do a song each. As we got into the gig, the dynamic began to shift and I found myself giving ground… I stopped taking my turn, I deferred to them, I began to believe that I had nothing to contribute that would stand up beside their soul-driven blues songs.
‘I’ve noticed this dynamic time and time again; women retreating from the musical space and blokes claiming the vacated territory. Once women have disappeared, it is quite a battle to reclaim that space.’
To hear classically-trained jazz-blues guitarist Jen Hawley in action, with her sublime feel and nuanced solos, you’d never guess she was once lacking in confidence. However, when she first started playing in bands, she felt she didn’t measure up against her male peers.
‘People used to say, ‘you’re only here to pick up guys’,’ she says. In the 1990s she started going to jazz and blues jam sessions to challenge her playing and stage skills. ‘I found it terrifying,’ she says. ‘The guys would play songs in a tempo or key that I couldn’t keep up with. I soon stopped going along.’
Running her own music school, Hawley finds that girls tend to hang back and play alone, whereas the boys tend to practise their scales and share ideas, chords and music at rehearsals.
‘The fact that so few women play instruments on stage makes it harder for girls to come up through the industry,’ says Hawley. ‘You don’t often see women guitarists shredding or going up beyond the third fret. What’s lacking for a lot of girls is the confidence and resilience to keep playing, and to step up and take solos.’

Where the music industry fails to even identify sexism as an issue, other arts sectors have responded by introducing women-only awards such as the Stella Prize for female authors and the Portia Geach Memorial Award for fine artists.
Author Clare Wright says winning the 2014 Stella Prize has given her book, The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka, an enormous sales boost but also, importantly, it has elevated the status of women’s writing in Australia and overseas.
‘Since winning, my book automatically started being displayed more prominently in stores, I’ve seen a verifiable increase in sales, and it has received massive media attention,’ Wright says.
While lobbying for an all-female music award is one approach, another might be to shake up existing award categories. For example, the AU Review Music Awards don’t have gender-based categories. Instead they present awards for diverse musical styles, instrumental prowess, live performance and touring success. In their first year, 2014, it was encouraging to see a number of female musicians among the nominees and major winners such as Courtney Barnett, who won three awards including Guitarist of the Year.
However, we still need to advocate for wider change. If the music industry itself doesn’t recognise its gender bias, women instrumentalists will continue to be ignored. The fact that they are largely absent from major awards means that they’re not on our radar, so we don’t buy their music, go to their gigs or vote for them in awards and Top 100 lists. It’s a self-perpetuating problem.
At best, it may slowly resolve itself through broader community efforts to level out the gender imbalance across all industries, or through the new groundswell of women musicians such as Barnett, Clare Bowditch, Mia Dyson and others.
At worst, it will continue to stymie hundreds of talented girls and women in their pursuit of a career in contemporary music, and deny them the opportunity to achieve wider success, for years to come.

Further reading:


* Jill Yates played keyboard for The Triffids, briefly, in 1982.
** Dame Joan Sutherland, Dame Nellie Melba, The Seekers (Judith Durham), Olivia Newton John, Renee Geyer, Helen Reddy, Marcia Hines, Little Pattie, Kylie Minogue, Tina Arena.


Article: Play Like A Girl—Women, Music, Inspire, Play!

No matter how much we like to think the sexes are ‘equal’ in the music industry and no matter how accomplished women musicians are, when it comes to jamming they often seem to hang back and let the boys do the playing.

by Diana Wolfe and Fiona Wilde

An edited version of this essay was first published in Australian Musician magazine on 1 December 2007.

Australian Musician magazine Summer 2007

Australian Musician magazine Summer 2007

No matter how much we like to think the sexes are ‘equal’ in the music industry and no matter how accomplished women musicians are, when it comes to jamming they often seem to hang back and let the boys do the playing.
Like a lot of ideas, ‘Play Like A Girl’ started with a ‘whinge’! I was complaining to my musician girlfriends about how few women perform at jams around town and how few opportunities there seem to be for women in music once they’re ‘past their use-by date’, and one of them said, “Why don’t you do something about it then?”
Oh, me and my big mouth. But sometimes it takes a kick up the backside to get things rolling… so I hooked up with a long-time friend, rock guitarist Fiona Wilde, and we started approaching women artists, venues, promoters, agents, music stores, merch companies, graphic designers…
And on International Women’s Day 2007 we launched Play Like A Girl. The sold-out crowd at the Northcote Social Club were treated to amazing performances by some of Melbourne’s hottest emerging women artists — Liz Stringer, Dallas Frasca, and Milk — as well as ARIA winners Lisa Miller and Monique Brumby, and Ella Hooper. Lindy Morrison, former drummer for the Go Betweens and a staunch advocate for women in music, compered the night.
Now we run monthly Play Like A Girl jam sessions at 303 in Northcote (the last Tuesday night of each month) and attract up to 50 women each night. It’s a great vibe, and any worries we had about getting enough women up to jam were dispelled on the first night when we ran an hour and a half over time!
Our host artists represent a range of genres and styles, and have included Kerri Simpson, Cyndi Boste, Nat Allison, Tracey Miller, and Emily Hayes and Helen Begley from ‘Milk’, all of whom have inspired us with their approach to playing, performing, singing and songwriting.
As for the ‘jammers’, we’ve had sax players, guitarists, keyboard players, drummers, singers, bassists, violinists and even a girl on a resonator ukulele! We’ve had women from all over Victoria, and we’re always welcoming new faces.
Our aim is for Play Like A Girl to:
1) Provide an opportunity for women musicians to network, gain inspiration and support from each other;
2) Encourage women of all ages to develop and maintain viable and rewarding careers in music; and
3) Create a ‘safe space’ for women musicians of all genres to jam together and expand their creativity, skills and networks.
Billy Hydes Music has come on board as a sponsor, generously providing backline gear and promotion for the jams. DesignGrant designed our funky logo, which adorns our posters, postcards, T-shirts and badges.
Play Like A Girl seems to have come at the right time. We’ve been overwhelmed by the positive response, and we’re excited about helping to create a strong, nurturing, supportive environment for women in music.
We’re currently organising our next International Women’s Day concert, and hope to take Play Like A Girl out to regional areas, to schools and around the country in future. We’re also exploring possibilities for mentoring programs, compilation CDs etc, to help women further their careers in music.
If you’re a female musician of any age or stage, we’d love to hear from you — drop in to a jam session or send us an email.
Happy playing!