Monday, October 29, 2018

October 2018

Six years ago (September 18, 2012), Carla and I purchased this old building in Clarksdale Mississippi. Below is a little more to the story....

The Holy Moly, Clarksdale, Mississippi -- "Before"

My first visit to Clarksdale was in 2006. I had been yearning to visit after reading stories of Juke Joints and musical characters for a few years, and had written and recorded songs about wanting to be there. I was only there for a few hours on a Sunday, but met and shared a meal with the late George and Myrtle Messenger who ran Messengers, a Juke Joint that has been in their family for generations. Their kindness, prompted a return, in part, together with a documentary they shared, made by Barefoot Workshops.
I returned to Clarksdale in early 2007, as an artist in residence with Barefoot Workshops, vowing again, to return. My interest then was in writing songs and learning more about the Delta.

I also have a long history with revitalising buildings where I live in and around Daylesford Victoria. Finding, fixing, and returning them to useful endeavour. On a trip to Clarksdale in 2012, my wife Carla and I purchased an old masonic temple in the middle of the Downtown that was quite neglected, and in need of a lot of work. 

We purchased it with a view to providing a worthwhile project that would allow us to live, work, and contribute to the Downtown Blues precinct. The first job was to renovate the the physical structure, which we did in bite sized pieces. It took a few years to get the work done. 

The Holy Moly, Clarksdale, Mississippi -- April 2017

There are 5 spaces on the ground floor, providing retail and residential spaces for creative people. There are two restaurant tenancies, and homes for a local well known musician, and a teacher involved in Teach for America. Our business, and the building, is called "The Holy Moly." We also have a multi-use theatre as part of the second floor of the building. The second floor also contains our home.

Since 2006, Clarksdale has changed, albeit slowly. Change takes time, and it seems that no one is in a hurry in Clarksdale. If you bring a "change the world" attitude with you it will slow eventually, to match the pace of your surroundings. Each change, however slow, does add up and contribute, and over 12 years, that accumulation is quite noticeable.

John Henshall, a regular Australian visitor to Clarksdale, visited our home in Daylesford, Victoria, Australia, in 2010, visiting with a couple of mutual Clarksdale friends, and we have kept in touch since. I did not know what the word "revitalisation" meant, and even less about what economic planners did, but soon figured out that John was involved in planning for and encouraging what I have been doing for years with my owner building projects. I asked him for a copy of the Economic Plan he had done for the city of Clarksdale after purchasing our building there, and it was like reading a familiar story. This economic plan was a bit like an understanding friend that knew the potential, the pitfalls, and the adventures to be had. The answers for success are all inside the individual players, but the shared vision many creative "transplants' to the city have, can be found in John's work, like a common reflection of us all in a mirror.

I have my extended family in Australia and my wife Carla has her extended family around Memphis. We chose Clarksdale because we thought we could make a contribution, and a difference. We both have an interest in varied art forms and wish to foster cultural and creative pursuits, within ourselves and others. The Delta is rich in history, stories and culture. It is also much in need of people visiting and staying to help it sustain life, as there has been a lot of decay through population loss, poverty, and corruption. It is a common story around the globe where artists and creative types move in to neglected and forlorn areas, where the rent is cheap, and they, in turn, bring life and colour back to those areas.

In 2014, my wife and I were two of 4 Australians living and working in Clarksdale. One, a multi-talented Artist is still a resident, and the other, an Australian Musician, who has recently passed. We had opened an Ice cream and Soda fountain store on the corner of our building in a section that was historically a drug store. This was called "The Holy Moly Drug Store." We noticed through that experience, that a number of Australians were visiting Clarksdale, on musical pilgrimages, and enjoying their adventures. Couples and singles, and small family groups, passing through. The locals would often want to know what I was doing there and what brought me to the Delta, whilst the Australians were always intrigued as to what I was doing there.

We sold the Holy Moly Drug Store business in 2015 to an Australian couple who wanted to move to the US and as part of their visa requirements, were required to purchase a business. They are included in our current tenancies on the ground floor. These people have now also developed other businesses in town, employing local people.

Our intention in opening the Holy Moly Drug Store was to gain a first hand insight into the central down town. Before that, we were only building from within. The running of the store helped us to connect and meet with many individuals from all walks of life. However, our larger vision was to create employment and encourage others to do what we had proven possible to do, which was, to help bring life to the almost deserted downtown block. Our building was empty when we bought it, and had been for quite some time. There are now a number of people living in The Holy Moly building, with three businesses operating from it. One business in the building employs seven people and has recently expanded into a second section. Revitalisation involves finding uses, and building life into rebuilt property, not just flipping for profit. So the slow change that is happening in Clarksdale is, as I see it, sustainable and with with good foundations for the future.

There are not "lots" of Aussies overtaking the town. There are lots of people from many backgrounds and nationalities who are passionate about the Blues, Culture, Music, Art, Writing, who's combined efforts are making change. There are also constant supporters/visitors like John Henshall, who bring awareness and support through their efforts.

Australian visitors to Clarksdale seem to always have a great time. They are here for the music and the southern culture, and rarely are they disappointed. A warm welcome awaits. There are, however, no body of locals that speak for all in this welcome. The downtown historic blues precinct is quite distinct from Clarksdale in general. Not many Australian visitors get beyond the downtown and into the everyday. Most locals would find it hard, in my opinion, to figure out why Aussies have any interest at all, particularly if they are not blues/music centric.

I have personally had many conversations with non-tourism invested locals, who see the town as having lost its mojo years ago and not worth a visit. This negativity for their town is understandable, given the history of decline in the area, but is not productive thinking. If they don't like where they live, perhaps they themselves need to make changes, or find somewhere better.

Australian visitors get a taste, but they need to stay longer, and return, again in my opinion, to get the full bittersweet layers that make the town such an experience. Once is not enough for any deep and lasting relationship with a place. The Australian flag that flies above one of the Downtown buildings is a symbol of friendship that every year ends in tatters due to strong winds. It needs to be replaced regularly if the flag is to continue to fly and the friendship maintained.

For the future I would like to see my wife Carla and I supporting Australian cultural exchange, beyond a love of the Blues, where we find connections in our Art, Writers, Musicians, and Indigenous cultures and learn, share and grow from these connections, one person to another, one small town to another. This will keep both flags flying in our homes of choice, and build deeper understanding, to help fix the wounds and soften the losses of the past. Australians, well known as allies to the USA in the past, can be considered friends of Clarksdale through shared interests and common understandings.

Thank you to all those who helped us in the early days with support and encouragement. It wasn't going to happen without all y'all, and to those locals and transplants that continue to support us, either by attending the odd event, by patronising our tenancies, and by accepting us into the growing bunch of revitalisers, new settlers, and regular visitors that now call Clarksdale "home."

The Holy Moly, Clarksdale, Mississippi -- "After"

Friday, January 11, 2013

January 2013

The land of cotton, the Mississippi Delta, has been calling me for years.  Songs, movies, and stories have reached out across the ocean, sometimes in a whisper, but often in a roar, saying, "Come on down south and get your blues on."

So, after a number of visits here to see if the imaginary blends well with what is real, I have decided to call this part of the world a partial home.  Mississippi is the self-declared birthplace of American music. From Clarksdale, Mississippi, where I am writing this, you can drive 4.5 hours to Nashville, 1 hour to memphis, 4 hours to New Orleans, with plenty of fun in between.

People from all over the world come to visit Clarksdale, the birthplace of the blues and home to the crossroads where Robert Johnson was said to have sold his soul to the devil in order to play the way he did.

My partner, Carla, and I have purchased an old Masonic Temple, together with three shops, in the historic central downtown blues district area of Clarksdale, and we are beginning the task of revitalising the building to help bring back life, jobs, and vibrancy into the downtown section, that, over the years, has fallen on hard times.
Once the "golden buckle on the cotton belt," Clarksdale was a wealthy centre of commerce, but farm mechanisation combined with changes  brought about by civil rights, saw a mass migration to states further north, who promised better pay and living conditions.

The appeal here is that it's real, not some made up theme or decorative element that brings tourists.  People come here on pilgrimages to pay their respects to musicians who've passed on, and to soak up the rich, yet harsh landscape of the Delta.

It's great to be involved in a town's regeneration, bringing energy and passion to the table.  This is not without its difficulties, but it's worth the effort.  The last 10 years has seen some major changes to a town in decline. Interest in the blues, and what has grown from its roots, has helped spread the word to the world that it's an art form worthy of seeking out and learning from.
I am doing a bit of playing out, but I'm also enjoying hearing others play each night of the week, less than 100 metres from my door in any direction.  Small juke joints, artists' lounge rooms, bars, and clubs that support live, local, music are keeping the blues alive and well, and I am happy to be part of that in some small way.

Monday, April 30, 2012

April 2012

The last few months have been filled with many small musical milestones. There are the regular gigs, but each one becomes special, through the anticipation and energy brought to the gig by both the musicians and the audience.

A prime example being a gig at Tasma House a month-or-so ago. The Chief Executive Officer of the Country Fire Authority, and seven of his key personnel, spent a few days at a residential workshop on new ways of thinking and leadership. The CFA is a volunteer organisation, with 60,000 members and 2,000 permanent workers, with a huge responsibility during the bushfire season in Victoria.

Together with my band mates, Carla Maxwell and Phil Mac, we introduced these men to an instrument they had never seen or played before, and we ran an introductory workshop with them, which we had never run before. We also played and jammed together with the CFA guys on all sorts of percussion instruments.

It was as much a trust exercise as anything else.  Trust that we would not make them look foolish as beginners, and trust that we would not waste their valuable and important time with a nonsense workshop.

The whole thing was a hit, and a musical milestone, in the sense of passing on, sharing musical experiences, and presenting gigs and musical products can take very diverse forms.  I don't think I will ever "make it" in the music biz, but new experiences, whilst making music in the biz, are like gold nuggets!

Another new experience awaits this week, with the invitation to play a "free lunch" at a local weekly event.  Apparently, every Friday in my town, there is one of these no-such-thing things in existence, and, according to one of the recipients, it's the best food in town!  It may be because it's free, but it also could be that food made with love, shared in the company of others, regardless of their income, status, or political or religious persuasion, is going to come out tasting great, regardless.

The milestone is yet to show itself in playing this gig, but the challenge is certainly there to find a way to compliment, musically, what most people do not believe exists.  I am looking forward to meeting the 40-70 people who turn up each week, despite the common wisdom about free lunches.

At a recent gig with "Shotgun Shack," my facebook status read:
"Shotgun Shack" playing Horvat's tonight in Downtown Daylesford.  More than a hint of Gritty Mississippi, Bangin' like an old V8 on a Hill Country road, raw and dirty in a ring of Fire and Sweat.  Bitter and Sweet, come down for a treat..... Stamp your Feet.....
At this gig I introduced a strumstick with a pickup, plugged in to all my noise-making equipment, and felt great, shedding three strings and a bunch of frets and working more with less, so to speak.  Like a cigar box guitar or a diddley bow, less strings doesn't equate to less music, and these days we are all trying to do more with less.

Table Hill, an acoustic trio delving into old time, new time, bluegrass, and blues, and that I am one-third of, will be playing at the Centre of the Universe, the Radio Springs Hotel on the 18th of May, 2012, and other dates over the winter.  Here's a little musical poster, with a taste of "Shortnin' Bread," done Table Hill style.

Tasma House and Gardens has been booked each weekend, and that gig pays a bunch of bills.  Making beds, doing the garden, maintenance, admin, etc., doesn't have a lot to do with music; but, to me, seems similar to the fortitude one needs to play gigs one after the other on tour.

Some people join gyms or have exercise routines.  "Club Tasma," exclusively a behind-the-scenes workout centre, is alive with new ways to keep fit.  Have 20 people over to stay at your place for a coupla days, throw in a wedding celebration or a significant birthday bash, recover and do it all again the next weekend.  You'll soon know what I mean.  Club Tasma has openings for participants in vacuuming, dusting, bedmaking, bathroom cleaning, and laundry, and it's all "FREE!"  :-}

The mid-week here in the Central Highlands is very serene by comparison.  Perfect for songwriting, reflecting, recharging, and just enjoying the beauty at the back, front, side, and rear doors.

Here's to a fruitful and rewarding lead up to winter,


Friday, September 23, 2011

Winter - Spring 2011

Gigs over the winter have a great side benefit of getting you out into places that have great food and wine, warm fires, and all the fun that goes with visiting quirky country establishments that provide this for local and out-of-town visitors.  Being based in the Central Highlands of Victoria, the cool climate, combined with rich volcanic soil, provides a rich growing environment for all sorts of tasty treats.  It has somehow become home to many artists and musicians, who provide a unique ambiance when indulging at the various venues.

It is a tough job, and someone has to do it, but before you musicians from around the world move here and take all the cream jobs, I have to warn you that the average musician in Australia earns around 12-14 K per year, so you had better bring a picnic with you!

Speaking of music and pay, there are many parts of a musician's life that does not get rewarded, except for the good feelings.  A couple of recent gigs at the local library did not have a paycheck, but they were well received; and I can't believe how much fun it is to actually be "allowed" to make so much noise in a library.  Oughta be illegal, or fattening!

Also judged the two tune pick-off at the annual Guildford Banjo Jamboree, with a new pair of overalls and a silly hat.  Please deliverance me into the good times!  A great September happening just 15 minutes from home, which attracts all sorts of players, I imagine, from far flung hillbilly hideouts.  The part I love best about the festival is playing on the street and letting the crowd grow or leave, a very natural way of keeping or losing an audience.

Hoping that the springtime will add some outdoor gigs again to the calendar.  Come and join in the fun somewhere at one of the local venues here if you are visiting or living in the area and like to enjoy live music with your weekend.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Easter 2011


Played at Horvat's wine bar recently with my band, "Shotgun Shack."

Shotgun Shack plays gritty Mississippi style hypnotic blues over tribal, raw drum beats that come from human hands, not beat boxes.  Phil's poetic spirals and surreal stories are at times punctuated by the bowed saw, or the cranked up blues harp.  I get to play loud and raunchy, without a safety net or a set list.

This results in a very in-the-moment performance that relies as much on the feedback of the audience as it does from my guitar.  The drum sounds resonate and inform the sound enveloping with the feeling of a cradle, both rocking me and coaxing me to rock harder.

There are lots of rules in the game of music, but Shotgun Shack is about hypnofying your mind and body to forget those rules and have fun.  Dance your happy dance like tomorrow isn't a reality!  Good time Saturday night music with occasional Sunday spirituals thrown in just because we know there will be no getting up Sunday morning for any spiritualizing.

Table Hill, an acoustic-based hillbilly outfit, plays old time and new time, last time and next time, with a heady mix of mountain dulcimer, strum stick, stomping, and story-telling.  We get to play regularly at the Radio Springs Hotel in Lyonville, the Centre of the Universe.  Table Hill also performs right at home on Table Hill, at Tasma House in Daylesford, where people who are staying at the guest house enjoy occasional music campfire performances or house concerts.

Performing locally has been high on the agenda over the last few years, partially because it makes sense, and partially because it's possible.  Not enough to make a living at it, but to keep the creative and playing skills honed, whilst maintaining a mixed farm of income streams that don't get in the way of music making.


Helped a family member with the process of putting a new exterior door into an existing building.  This door is to be installed in a double brick wall, close to the street and neighbours and needed building permission from council, drawn plans, a hefty "fee" from council for attending an inspection of the works, and the ordering of a custom double glazed door that will both ventilate and provide alternative entry and exit from the newly made internally-subdivided space.

The job is at the planning office and is to go ahead in a few weeks.  The property was my first owner built building, and twenty years later, it is having a new use modification.  The original window and door manufacturer, Paarhammer, has grown a nationwide business since, and it was great to be able to use their wonderful products again.

I am also planning and consulting with a plumber from Trentham, Barry Hourigan, whom I have a long history with.  Tasma House, my guest house, needs another bathroom around the barn, and it will have to be another access to the main sewer.  This is not at all frightening, as I have done this before.  What is frightening is the fact that after counting up the various jobs that Barry has been there for over the last 8 years around the region, I counted 26 toilets we have installed!  I can't seem to just settle on only one!  Must be my restless spirit.

Barry has been down to the main sewer, built me extensions to the main sewer, all the internal fitoffs, for water, gas, heating, bathrooms, etc., and done roof and gutter installs as well.  I don't know any more now about plumbing than when I started owner building, but I do know what to anticipate, who to trust, what I can do myself in preparation for the job, and who to hire to get the job done amongst the other trades all needing their own access to the same place.

The timing and architecture of building is very similar in my opinion, to the building of a recording and the developing of an act.  Bringing the whole show together is what the builder and the Band strive for.


Managing Tasma House and Gardens over the last year has seen a remarkable change.  I am writing my job description as I go along, because being in business for yourself demands it.

There are plenty of people out there telling you how to make your business successful, or that you must have a marketing plan or an advertising budget.  I don't disagree with any of this, but knowing what to have, how much and when to get it, I have always struggled with.

There is nothing like a hurdle or two to make you want to give up and pack it in, with the self-doubting troll coming for visits to laugh at your audacity in thinking that something you made might work!  So, I have found myself building a business, and over the last few months, I can safely say that it is working.  The idea started 25 years ago, parts collected and assembled 12 years ago, put to sleep, almost forgotten, then brought out to play again.  Many people have helped this idea into existence, physically and psychologically.

In the last year, the building of systems to make it viable, workable, and sustainable have been achieved, as much as any of us can predict what the future will bring.  So, like my work in tending the already established property, I now find myself looking to develop ways of maintaining the business that, now built, can best serve its customers.

I think of this sort of work as wet day building.  The creative challenge of the new project is always a thrill, but the slow cooking of long held dream finally bringing results has a different taste.  As they say, the proof is in the pudding; and, even though I don't have a pudding business, it still tastes good...


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Dirt Music Festival

Last weekend, I played at a small festival in Wimmera, a part of regional Victoria, about 3 hours and another world away from Daylesford.

The town of Rupanyup was hosting its first "Dirt Music" festival, and Carla and I and our little pup Jelly Bean took to the open road for some adventure.

The stages were not in Marquees with lots of crowds.  They were on people's verandahs, and in community halls, and the set up had an easy going relaxed feel, with very little between the performers and the people enjoying the shows.

Rupanyup, recently recovering from the January floods where the whole town lay underwater for 4 days, were a kind and hospitable bunch.  We also stayed with a local farmer, and that made our stay so much more social and interactive with the area.

The organisers of the festival, also involved in farming, had recently been through flood, harvest, marriage, and shearing, all since January, and are to be commended for even thinking of something that may benefit the wider community.  Talk about resilience!

The next day Carla and I were privileged to play a gig at the pre opening of the new community facility that has been built with a huge amount of community effort, in a building that was being used for the first time.  Sharing a delicious BBQ with the community afterwards and chatting with local councillors and music lovers and the townsfolk in general was worth as much as the playing was fun.

Rupanyup is doing it tough after years of drought and now flood, but the spirit and stories that abound make you realise there is a lot there to be admired.  The town has a Barley Dinner each year in the middle of a field that attracts 400 people, and the "Pudding Ladies" who have made and sold puddings that have gone all over the world, to raise funds for the running of the memorial hall, are but 2 examples.

I love music that has a bit of grit, and a couple of people from this town have shown they have some too.  Let's hope this festival grows into a good one over the years without the need to clean it up too much......

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Welcome to my online Home,

I hope to keep up with the things I start, make up for the stuff I have forgotten, break bread with new friends, get a picture of what is going on in other lands, and link with other like minds.

For those that I have not introduced myself to personally, or to those whom I have met with one hat on and not the other, I would like to come clean and put it out there that I wear a bunch of hats.

I like to describe myself as having an “Art’s Bent” that permeates all my passions, projects and professions.


I am a singer songwriter, with 4 cds to date. a member of two bands, and collaborator on others' musical projects. I am also a music facilitator, making music happen in my own and others' communities.  Quirky instruments have a place in my heart, and I follow the Muse wherever it leads me.

Current Arts/Music Projects

At present, I am the owner/manager of Tasma House and Gardens, an exclusive group facility that accommodates people and events in a beautiful country town called Daylesford, a little over an hour north of Melbourne, Australia. 

Apart from hosting and facilitating my own events here, Hirers of the facility have held events like Writing/Arts/Music/Song writing/Meditation retreats, as well as weddings, gatherings and significant birthdays.  Every weekend brings together people from all over the world, for different reasons, to share in a beautiful landscape with a “ familiar, like home” environment. At times, I get to play in my own backyard for these events.

I am playing live locally in a Hypnotic Gritty Mississippi Blues Trio called “Shotgun Shack”, and in an Appalachian infused roots act called “Table Hill”. 

I also very much enjoy playing and performing with other local Musicians, like Geoffrey Williams, Cyndi Boste, Richard and Michelle Pleasance, to make more than the sum of our parts.

Past Projects

In the past I have dabbled with combining building, business, arts, and food.  Some of my more memorable projects are:

Fat Bob's Cafe, and Chubbie’s Restaurant and Music House in the 1980’s. Both were dedicated to having live music every night.

Wingspan Artworks in the 1990’s to 2000’s, was a craft based manufacturing/wholesaling business that made butterflies that were sold all over the world, but still all made by hand, employing a bunch of talented people.

The Town Hall Community Centre in Moonee Ponds, was the only “real” job I ever had, where I was employed for 6 years in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. I began as an activities coordinator, and developed the position as I went along to eventually manage training programs for retrenched workers, using the Arts as a medium for change in their lives.

Tasma House and Gardens of Daylesford restoration, renovation and reinvention 1998 - 2000, undertaken as the owner/builder.

Azidene House and Gardens of daylesford restoration, renovation and reinvention 2000-2002, undertaken as the owner/builder. [now sold]

Trentham historic bakery and Scotch oven restoration, renovation and reinvention 2003-2005, undertaken as the owner/builder. I still own the buildings, and the bakery is now leased to the Reid Brothers and known as "Redbeard."