Three Kings won The Inaugural Blues Album of The Year The Age EG/Music Victoria Awards.
By Kerrie Hickin.
The Blues is not a one-dimensional form. There are many facets to it: some are familiar, some are evolving in new strange directions, looping back and nourishing itself on its past and its future simultaneously.
Melbourne musician Ian Collard is a man who knows The Blues intimately. It has been his constant companion since, as a young teen, he stared researching what the music he liked was influenced by, and discovered for himself the deep roots that run through the artform. Even better, his fledgling musicianship meant that he could become part of that continuum, adding his own flash, flavour and talent to the story once he had learnt the vocabulary. And what an apt pupil he turned out to be.
“I got to the pure source – Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters”, he says. “I’ve always been heavily affected by the sound of the harmonica, as long as I can recall. When I got older and wanted to play harmonica, people automatically start talking about Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, the greats who were playing in the blues era. I really wanted to pick it up and get good at it. I remember checking out Chris Wilson, watching him and trying to work out some tips from him. Brad Shepherd playing harmonica with the Hoodoo Gurus was great, and I probably saw every second Harem Scarem show.”
In the pre-download times when import shops were thin on the ground, members of the ’60s Beat era bands that influenced those latter bands, acts such as The Yardbirds, Them, The Animals and of course the Rolling Stones, had a novel way of sourcing original blues recordings. They’d go down to the docks and wait for American servicemen disembarking the ships, and the savvy ones would have a little trade going in records.
“Tinsley Waterhouse used to do the same thing in Melbourne in the Sixties. He learned when the American sailors were coming in and connected with them and got records off those guys.” These days the easy access of music from around the globe with as little as a keystroke means “We are spoilt now,” he laughs.
Working his way through bands such as The Penthouse Paupers, Checkerboard Lounge, Collard Greens And Gravy and regularly augmenting The Backsliders has seen him hone his craft as a musician and songwriter.
His newest combo, The Three Kings (alongside drummer Jason Liusoon and guitarist Benny Peters), has just released a self-titled album that ticks all the boxes then thinks outside them, and has already been feted with awards and furious word-of-mouth. Quite a feat for a new band in a relatively marginal genre.
“There are a few young bands popping up in Melbourne, I’ve noticed. Hopefully, shows like Bluesfest will get new people into blues and roots music.”
Collard says that he has been ‘really lucky’, at having the opportunity to travel to the States, a number of times at the behest of a Blues Society award.
“I went to all the obvious places – Memphis, Mississippi, New Orleans, Texas, New York, St Lewis and Kansas City. When Collard Greens & Gravy won I booked a whole lot of gigs based around places we wanted to visit so we could have the experience of playing there, in those places and get some pocket money so we could see some music. The next time we went we had a residency in Beale Street (Memphis). The reaction we got there was really good, as it generally is.”
Despite a multitude of modern production equipment available to bands, the Three Kings album was recorded live, by Paulie Bignell of The Detonators.
“What you hear on the record has no overdubs, and mostly it was from the second or third take,” Collard explains.” When we got the recording back we were all rapt in the result. So excited! It sounded exactly the way we had envisioned it. It’s a good balance too. When I put it on and listened to it very carefully with headphones, it was the first time I’ve had a listen to the band that closely. Because I’m doing three things at once, my role on guitar is to hold down rhythm, essentially, and fill out the bass, holding down that, keeping it solid, then I’m and singing playing harmonica as well, I’ve never really been able to sit back and enjoy it.
“The interplay between the three of us is, I think, working really well. In particular Jason’s drumming on the record, it’s incredible the way he manages to respond to all the little holes in the music and not overplay. The same with Ben. It’s fitting together really nicely. Jason’s background is in trad jazz and western swing, It’s a luxury to have someone like that in the band. If I’m playing something on harmonica and take a pause, it becomes like a conversation. I know he’ll answer me.”
So what does the future hold? “The Labour In Vain and The Retreat in November, then we might start popping up on some of the good festival bills next year.”
And no doubt keep spreading the word about the music they have so much love for.
Three Kings is available now.