Van Walker and True North are a good pairing. Run by Nadia Camus and Brett O’Riley, their cafe True North developed out of a successful venture making a popular hot-sauce called Nordic Frost Burn.
Our host Brett is also a well-travelled musician, still touring, completely no bullshit, and a good guy. Van also has a no-nonsense attitude, and is the first artist I invited to join AOQR back when the idea was still completely raw. It was backstage during a production of Goin’ Back – Moreland’s History In Song – a historical song writing event run by Ayleen O’Hanlon (which sparked the inspiration for Rich Davies’ Golden Guitar nominated ‘Dirt Under My Nails’). I can confidently say that AOQR’s success is partly motivated by my fear of looking like I was all talk and no action – after Van once asked something like ‘when is this video thing going to happen?’
Van Walker is prolific, with a back catalogue of 5 albums under his own name, 2 releases with The Swedish Magazines, 1 release with The Heartbrokers, and 2 releases with show-stopping group The Livingstone Daisies – formed with AOQR guest Liz Stringer, brother Cal Walker, and Michael Barclay (Weddings, Parties, Anything; Paul Kelly and the Coloured Girls). He has several other side projects, including Goatpiss Gasoline, a serious delta blues, rock and boogie outfit formed with guitar prodigy Hank Elwood Green and Dave ‘Suit’ Watkins (King Wolf).
He’s also a total gem. Direct and assertive, Van offers thoughtful compliments, and he’s completely dedicated to music. His interests are broad, and I think my interests in folk music influenced his song choices. The gritty, vivid story of Van’s chosen cover, Jackie Leven’s Poortoun, is well placed at True North. Leven paints a picture of a society in distress, shaped by unemployment, poverty and addiction – like a chapter from one of the books on the shelves.
The rooms at True North are steeped in rock’n’roll. A badass player himself, O’Riley is a member of YLVA and formerly of Blacklevel Embassy – one of “the upper echelon of punishing rock acts in Australia” (TheMusic.com.au).
After years of experience gigging and tour managing, he brings a lot of competency and effectiveness to his partnership with Camus. Camus’ extensive experience in hospitality and management has blended well with O’Riley’s own skills. It’s been a lot of hard work, O’Riley says, but the key to their sanity has been recruiting staff who are good at their job and who they get along well with, creating a friendly space with a sense of humour. Brett is really interesting, and I wish we had had more time to interview him.
During the shoot, Van and I talk about how everyone takes their own meaning from a song. I’m so inspired by the melody and the theme that I want to tell him what impressions I got from it – what music it reminds me of – and he stops me short. What he says next is powerful: “never tell a songwriter what their song reminds you of.”
The song has it’s own meaning for the writer as much as the listener. To share your own take, or point out similarities to another song, risks tarnishing that meaning or perspective. In that wisdom I found a greater respect for my own impressions of the song, which lyrically is ambiguously vivid.
by Jackie Leven
Chosen from an album aptly named Fairy Tales for Hard Men, by Scottish singer-songwriter Jackie Leven. At 61 years old, Leven sadly died on 14 November 2011, with 26 albums released on Martin Goldschmidt’s label Cooking Vinyl.
Van talks to me in our interview about Leven’s rollercoaster career, and shares how in 1984 the singer had his larynx seriously damaged in a mugging incident, almost permanently destroying his voice.
‘Riots In Redfern’
Riots in Redfern is written about someone I met whose children were in Sydney around the time of the riots triggered by the death of an indigenous boy. Living in Melbourne at the time, my friend had been moving regularly to follow his children and their mother whenever they moved, and was finding it hard to build solid community. He talked to me a lot about current, local indigenous issues and I was so moved when the riots happened that the song appeared. It was nominated in 2005 for the Port Fairy Folk Festival‘s Songs of Peace and Tolerance Award, and helped to win me the Maldon Minstrel Award in 2006.