The days of the big band are far from over and the Nabiac Hall will be jumping on its stumps later this month, with the launch of the latest tour by the Big Ol’ Bus Band. Well-travelled band leader Hughie Murray is on a mission to bring live music and entertainment back to community halls, with a mighty ten-piece swing band and Australia’s hottest swing / burlesque dancer Kelly Ann Doll. The Nabiac performance will be a tribute to Hughie’s late grandfather Hugh Scott Murray ll, who played fiddle at local hall dances in the area many years ago.
After years of travelling, performing and songwriting with Grammy Award winning artists Keith Urban, Lou Rawls and INXS, Hughie ‘tree-changed’ from Sydney and Nashville to the Krambach property that his dairy-farmer grandfather had lived and worked on.
But there may not be much time for kicking back on the front porch over the next year, with a major regional tour planned in a 55 seater bus, as well as regular Sydney gigs. Hughie spoke to Roger Marmion about music, his travels, the band and the big ol’ bus.
The Murray clan has a reputation for being musical. How important has music been in your life?
Back before I was around, my grandfather Hugh Scott Murray the 2nd – I’m the 3rd – played fiddle in the Murray’s band, which played all the old halls in the area. Dad used to tell us stories when I was a kid, but I don’t think I really got the importance of music in country communities until I started touring ‘The Duelin’ Piano Show’ out into country areas.
Music opens back doors to meet new people at all levels, and I am always interested in meeting new people. Apart from family, it is the constant in my life that enables me to feel like I am always moving forward creatively.
When did you first decide to pursue a musical career?
At High School I knew just one song called the Baby Elephant Walk, and I would play it over and over in the hope that my keyboard prowess caught the attention of one particular girl. I had a few real jobs until I started to make enough as a touring piano player / singer at about twenty years of age.
Soon songwriting took over. Early on I remember I thought I was pretty good at the songwriting caper. Then I really listened to Don Walker, Irving Berlin, Johnny Mercer and Burt Bacharach, and it literally hit me over the back of the head that my songs lacked a lot in comparison. I’ve been working at it as a craft ever since, and I expect to be still doing so until they bury me at Krambach!
How did your time in Nashville shape your musical style?
Musically, when I first arrived it was a ‘Country Hat’ town. My mates and I would crash lunches and launches of new albums for free food and booze put on for boys in their hats and big belt buckles. But then a lot of amazing artists of all genres started moving to town from L.A. and New York, because it is such a beautiful place to live and the music and the town became very eclectic. An example of how the town can change you.
I heard a singer called Bekka Bramlett perform one night. She has sung with Elton John, Dwight Yoakam, Billy Joel, Joe Cocker and Faith Hill and had also replaced Stevie Nicks in Fleetwood Mac for a long while, but I hadn’t heard of her. We ended up at her house for a party and she had an old beat up honky tonk piano that the beer made me play.
After jamming that night, I called her and we arranged to co-write together. Working with her changed my whole approach to singing and writing tunes. I don’t think she even realises it, but the songs we wrote in the wee hours of the night and the way she sang them freed up my whole approach to music.
You’re touring with a large band. Is that a logistic challenge?
Yes! Did I take too long to answer that? We just bought a 52 seater 1985 classic Hino from a really helpful guy called Graeme up at Port. It’s fair to say, though, from a motoring point of view I am quite … challenged. On top of trying to work out simply how to turn if off (no, you don’t just turn the key!) there are ten musicians, two dancers and crew to sort transport, accommodation, availability, and rehearsals for.
It is a lot of organisation, which my wife Bec handles the majority of. I owe her big time. Her years working at ABC TV in Sydney have had her up to the challenge, but still every show is a lot of work. The adventure and playing in the old venues for enthusiastic communities – that’s what makes it all worth it.
What can local audiences expect from the Nabiac gig?
It will be swinging; there will be people flying through the air, and it should be a night to remember for everyone. Think New Orleans, New York and Nabiac steamed in a pork bun exterior of tin and timber roof and walls. Dancer Kelly Ann Doll is Australia’s best Swing and Burlesque performer. The Ten Piece band has played onstage with artists like Smokey Robinson, The Doobie Brothers, Keith Urban, Human Nature, Guy Sebastian and more.
You’ve got a big tour planned and you’re playing predominantly regional areas. What’s the attraction?
Anyone who has seen ‘The Long Way Down’ with actor Ewan McGregor and his mate Charley on a motorbike will understand the lure of the adventure. This really has become an adventure for us. It’s on a shoestring budget, with all involved never really sure how much they’ll get paid for any given performance – if at all, sometimes.
Why are they coming? Because as one player said, “It sounds like fun. Making memories we can all remember when we’re old and grey.” In Sydney and Melbourne they are some of the best players around and get paid accordingly, so my hat goes off to the musicians and dancers involved as we get this bus out on the road.
And from my experience with the ‘Duelin’ Piano Show’, communities in the country really love a good local event.
Thank you Hughie.