Q & A with ROGER ILOTT
By BOB HAWORTH
FROM AUSTRALIAN FOLKLORE
ABOUT THE ALBUM RAILWAY TRACKS
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1. When did the CD come out? It says 1985-1997, redone 2002, so I suppose you did them over a number of years and brought them together in 1997?
The album was first released on cassette in 1997, and reissued on CD in 2002. The tracks were recorded at various times in Balmain (where we lived from 1976-1987), and up here in Stanthorpe. The oldest track is "Woy Woy Workers' Train", which I recorded for the Combined Railways Union projects, "Trains of Treasure" and "Railway Voices", both of which were released on cassette in 1985, and were reissued on CD a couple of years ago. Penny (Davies) and I recorded the documentaries in our studio in Balmain, with Russ Hermann producing.
"Oh, The Mountains" was on our third album, "Birchgrove Quay", in 1986. "Tweed and Lismore" was released on our fourth album, "Fair Wind Home" (1990). "Cane Train" was an outtake from those sessions, but released on "All Over Queensland" later that year.
"Beside A Railway Line" was recorded in 1991, and released on "Down The Track" in 1992. It received a lot of airplay on Ian McNamara's Australia All Over programme on national radio, and was featured on the ABC Australia All Over album, "Macca On Air" in 1996.
"Sandy Hollow Line" and "Number 22" were recorded at sessions for various albums, but not included on those albums due to the need to balance the material.
The rest were recorded especially for the album.
2. We all love railways (at least all us romantics), but I notice in your bio that you grew up in Hurlstone Park in the 50s--was that too late to hear the steam whistle on the western line trains?
As I sing in "Beside A Railway Line", " If you close your eyes you can hear that whistle, still". All through the 1950's along the railway line at Hurlstone Park, ran steam engines hauling goods trains (they seem to be called freight trains these days). When we'd travel to "town" on the red rattlers, I loved going past Eveleigh Loco, near Erskineville, where the steam locos sat puffing away. Even on a sunny day the air would be black with soot. It was magic.
And until the "Fish and Chips" electric trains arrived in the early 1960's, a feature of our annual holidays to the Blue Mountains was the trip up and back on the steam-powered train. "Oh, The Mountains" documents that trip.
3. What is your favourite track on the CD?
I like them all for different reasons, but I suppose "Beside A Railway Line" would have to be up there for a few personal reasons. It was written when the Gulf War was happening, when our son, Jordan, wasn't quite two. I couldn't believe what was happening in the world. I was born 6 years after WW2 ended, and the world was still recovering from that conflict. I saw the devastation on both countries and people in the Vietnam conflict, and just couldn't believe that the world still had not learnt from its history of mistakes.
Jordan was asleep in my arms when I wrote the song. It took about 10 minutes - words and melody. I was looking in the face of this beautiful, innocent child, resting peacefully. Memories of my childhood came flooding back, and the song contains the young me, my parents, grandparents, and my own son - and my hopes for a peaceful future for the world in which Jordan was going to grow up.
4. Which one was easiest to put words to music--Paterson or Lawson?
Neither was difficult - the words always suggest the melody to me. Melodically, I love "On The Night Train". I always thought it was a very evocative poem, and reminded me of a trip on the Silver City Comet I'd taken in 1985 to Broken Hill, when I went out to perform at the launch of an album I'd produced for John Broomhall, "Free As The Breeze". I'd heard a few different melodies people had used for this poem, but this kind of "circular" melody came to me as I read the lyrics one day. I was very happy with the song.
5. Did the First Bushwhackers and people like Chris Kempster (who, sadly I am just writing an appreciation of for next issue) influence you in your early days?
Interestingly, I wasn't aware of the "first" Bushwhackers till the second Bushwackers arrived on the scene in the 1970's. When I became involved in the folk scene in the early 1970's, my main folk influence was the 1960's folk rock band, The Byrds. They had led me headlong into the treasure chest of traditional and folk music.
We knew and recorded Alan Scott from the Bushwhackers in the 1980's, and we also worked with Chris Kempster on a few projects in the 1980's. Regarding Australian folk music, the major influence is from Bill Scott, whom we met and befriended in 1986-7. Bill has shared much of his love and knowledge of folk music with Penny, Jordan and me. "Cane Train" and "Coal Train (Trust The Jesus Box)" on this CD were both written by Bill, and "Billy Sheehan" is an old favourite of his that he collected for the Penguin Book of Australian Humorous Verse.
5. Any other tales associated with your performance and production of the railway songs over the years much appreciated, particularly from the folkloric side, collecting, etc.
I first heard "Tweed & Lismore" in 1985 when Jacko Kevans recorded it unaccompanied for "Railway Voices". A few years later, after we'd moved up to Stanthorpe, we were able to get him to perform at the Stanthorpe Folk Club. That night, he sang the song again, accompanying himself on accordion. It was an interesting version. He couldn't decide on the key, and every verse or so would dramatically and suddenly change the key. I thought it was fabulous! So I went home and recorded the song, and included those sudden key changes with the swooping pedal steel and accordion to bring in and take out the instrumental, and for the dramatic effect on the final verse.
"Ridn' On The Fruit Train" came about when Penny and I were collecting stories for the 1997 double cassette album, "Stories From Quart Pot Creek ". This album was released to celebrate Stanthorpe's 125th anniversary. She talked to a former railway worker, who told her the story of the fruit train which ran on the Amiens Branch Line. The area was a Soldier Settlement area after WW. The drivers would stop and give kids a ride, let them shovel coal - all against railway regulations, of course. So the old railway worker who told the story didn't want to be named, or name the names of the long-gone drivers, in case there was any trouble! The names of all the sidings are included - in order - in the song's chorus:
"Cottonvale, Fleurbaix, Pozieres, Bullecourt and Passchendaele, Bapaume, Messines and Amiens on the 42 pound rail,
For 12 miles and 25 chains through orchards, scrub and pines, Ridin' on the fruit train on the Amiens Branch Line"
We had recorded a version of "On The Queensland Railway Lines" in 1990 for "All Over Queensland", but I rewrote the lyrics when, much to my horror, the Queensland Government started tearing up the lines in the 1990's.
Not being a prolific lyricist, I'm always on the lookout for railway poems to which I can write music. Knowing my love of trains, over the years people have sent me railway poems. I plan to release another collection sometime in the future.
PO Box 438 Stanthorpe
Qld 4380 Australia
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