Wheatbelt talent takes centre stage

Ryan Flannigan, Sean Lillico, Joel Quartermain, Nigel Bird and Matt Giovannangelo.
Camera IconRyan Flannigan, Sean Lillico, Joel Quartermain, Nigel Bird and Matt Giovannangelo. Credit: Countryman

There will be plenty of quality live local music playing at this year's field days, with more than 50 performances from Wheatbelt musicians. This diverse line up is a reflection of the work being done by West Australian Music to lift the profile of Wheatbelt songwriters.

It will be the third year that Dowerin Events Management has partnered with WAM to provide a stage for local musicians through the Wheatbelt Songwriters Showcase.

DEM event co-ordinator Jenna Freind said the Federal Government had provided an additional $18,000 in funding over the next three years towards this project, giving Wheatbelt musicians an even greater opportunity to build their profile, develop performance skills and increase their fan base.

The funding, provided by the Australian Council for the Arts as part of the Festivals Australia: Regional Festivals Project Fund, will ensure the continuation of the project.

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"We are extremely grateful for the assistance of the Australian Government, because it not only provides funding to ensure the future success of the Showcase, but also shows us there is support for and value in such projects," Ms Freind said.

"The project not only creates a substantial amount of new performance opportunities, which is beneficial to local artists, but it also results in an increased level of quality entertainment at the Dowerin field days and increases the cultural significance of the event."

WAM regional officer Nigel Bird said the organisation was excited to see this growing initiative supported by the Australian Council for the Arts for the next three years.

He said the funding would help to increase local opportunities for local artists.

"WAM is proud to partner with DEM in delivering the Wheatbelt Songwriters Showcase," Mr Bird said.

"The Wheatbelt Songwriters Showcase started in 2012 with three single-act performances, and it is now the event that offers the most opportunities for artists in the region."

Mr Bird said this year's Showcase would also include the launch of the Sounds of the Wheatbelt CD, which highlighted artists based in the Wheatbelt, providing them with additional exposure and partnerships.

WAM's recording programs are designed to deliver skills in song production, arrangement and audio engineering in regional WA. The recordings of this program are released on a CD that is made available to the community and a public launch.

Mr Bird said it was the sixth and by far the best "sounds of" project that WAM had been involved with.

"The quality of songs and performances is going to surprise some people in the region," he said.

"It is really no different to the best footballers from the region getting a chance to work with the best in the industry, this is what we do with music. We've got three Nat Fyfes and two Nicky Winmars on this album, this is how good it is. We had more than 46 people apply to be part of the project, although we only had 10 opportunities available."

ARIA award-winning Joel Quartermain, of Eskimo Joe fame, spent four nights at the farmhouse studio working on two tracks along with WAM Producer of the Year nominee Matt Giovannangelo.

"WAM is grateful to the Sounds of the Wheatbelt major sponsors Celebrate WA, RAC and Brookfield Rail," Mr Bird said.

"We've also had great support from the Wheatbelt Development Commission, Avon Community Development Foundation, HeartlandsWA.com and, of course, the team at DEM."

Overall, the response from artists involved with the project has been favourable, with many saying they learnt a great deal about the recording process.

Northam artist Lauren Arthur hoped these type of community-based projects would continue. "There is a huge level of talent in the Wheatbelt and other regions which needs to be recognised," Ms Arthur said.

Mukinbudin artist Hayden Sprigg said working on the Sounds of the Wheatbelt CD had been an invaluable experience.

He said for someone like himself who had never recorded before, he had gained a range of knowledge, from learning about different microphones and recording techniques, to discovering the level of musicianship required for a good recording.

"The experience has inspired me to further hone my skills with an aim of writing more songs and recording in the future," he said.

Merredin artist Ryan Flanagan said being involved in the project was a real "eye opener".

"The atmosphere was great, the guys involved were extremely professional and it gave myself and the other artists an opportunity we would have otherwise not had in our area," he said.

Pete Byfield, of Northam, said being involved in producing the Sounds of the Wheatbelt CD was a thrill.

"I packed up the motorhome, filled the fridge and headed to north Dowerin where the bitumen turns to gravel, and there was Nigel, Matt and Sean to meet me," Mr Byfield said. "What a great environment - farmhouse and sheds, stubbleburns, stormy skies and a recording studio."

Mr Byfield said he had been playing music "around these parts" since the 1970s and until recently had never been asked to contribute to a CD.

"It is only recently that I have played solo and to my surprise I am continually asked for a copy of my CD - which I don't have," he said.

"I started writing just before the Sounds of the Wheatbelt project and a song of mine was heard by a local who suggested I consider throwing the song in the ring."

Mr Byfield said it was amazing to see what collaborating with others during the recording process did to a "simple country song".

"I am now up to four songs, still writing and steaming toward an album at age 60 and looking forward to driving around Australia with Sue, playing music," he said. "And, yes - I have a CD to sell if asked."

In addition to songs from Mr Sprigg, Mr Flanagan and Mr Byfield, the Sounds of the Wheatbelt CD will feature tracks from The Pipeline Band, of Northam, Georgie Sadler, of Wongan Hills, Tom O'Brien and Russel Gooley, both of Narrogin, John Read, of Kondinin, Billy Narrier, of Mogumber, and Gloria Franke and 83-year-old Brian "Buzzer" Bitter, both of Jurien Bay.

The Sounds of the Wheatbelt CD will be available for sale from RAC and Brookfield Rail at the field days, sites 59 and 83, respectively, with all proceeds going towards a second Sounds of the Wheatbelt project, scheduled for 2016.

Artists involved in this project will be performing as part of the Wheatbelt Songwriters Showcase at the two-day event.

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