What the Media have to Say...
“Some albums should be consigned to history at the earliest convenience, while others deserve resurrection and eternal life. A long-time member of the Larrikins and subsequently an academic, O’Sullivan has an important place in the fabric of Oz folk music, and here you can learn why. Her singing has a rare vivacity, so the words carry all the sudden surprise of seeing flowers that had not bloomed yesterday. In addition to her own Irish harp, she surrounds her voice with the brilliance of Cleis Pearce (strings), Jim Denley (reeds), Steve Elphick (bass) and Greg Sheehan (drums, percussion), four of the finest improvising players Australia ever produced.”
(John Shand, 4 star review, SMH)
“Iconic, flawless. If this CD were a book, it would be a reference work. It is well done and worth putting on your shelf.”
(Sue Robinson, Trad&Now)
“Angelic, an emotional maelstrom, one of my musical highlights of 2015. Discovering O'Sullivan feels a lot like striking gold. Like reading great literature: you can't help but feel enriched and moved by the experience. If you appreciate musicians who use folk music as a basis for innovation, exploration and inspiration then Silly Winds will quickly become essential listening.”
(Graham Blackley, Trad&Now)
CATHIE O’SULLIVAN RETURNS TO CENTRE STAGE by Warren Fahey
When you perform with someone for over a decade you get to know their music fairly intimately and that was the case with Cathie O’Sullivan who was a member of The Larrikins for a good stretch of the group’s long life. The Larrikins were never a typical bush band although they pre-date The Bushwhackers and, of course, like most bands, members came and went. There is little doubt that the group saw some of the most illustrious, notorious and talented folk musicians this country has ever assembled. Declan Affley, Jacko Kevans, Bob McInnes, Chris Kempster, Dave de Hugard, Gordon McIntyre, Andy Saunders, Tony Suttor and Kate Delaney being only some of the wonderful musicians who claimed membership. I started the group in the late 1960s, mainly to provide music for some ABC radio programs I wanted to develop. There were four of us to start with, the other three being an Irish trio Jack Fallis, Ned Alexander and Paddy McLoughlin but it didn’t take me long to realise I wanted a more Australian sound and a woman in the group. In comes Liora Claff and singer Tony Suttor. I wish I had documented who was in and who was out and who returned over the years but I didn’t and now the progression of band members is a bit jumbled in my nearly seventy-year old brain. Tony Suttor has been onto me to do a family tree of the group but the tree was a wild one. Gordon McIntyre and Kate Delaney came in soon after but Roger Fix, Steve Ellis, Tom Rummery, Peter Hobbs came in for a while. Novacastrian Brad Tate joined the group for a New Zealand tour in the 80s and banjo-playing Ian White joined for a couple of years. The long-standing members were Dave de Hugard, Jacko Kevans, Bob McInnes, Cathie O’Sullivan and myself. We did lots of touring, mostly for the Arts Council networks through Musica Viva. We also did several international tours including a five week tour of the South Pacific and a stint at the Commonwealth Games Arts Festival, Edinburgh, where musicologist Professor Michael Atherton joined the group. Fortunately, being a folklore bowerbird, I kept much of the group’s ephemera (leaflets, posters, itineraries etc) and these have been (partly) deposited in my manuscript collection in the National Library. One day I will work out that family tree.
I always had a sound in my head for the group. I experimented but I knew I wasn’t totally comfortable with what became known as the ‘bush band sound’. I wanted clarity in the singing, true dance rhythms in the tunes and I wanted spoken word, especially to link the songs and tunes to a traditional thread. We had a tea chest bass and a lager phone for about five minutes. Mind you, who needed novelties when you had the powerhouse of Jacko and Dave’s accordions and Bob’s fiddle? I also tended to avoid guitar although Gordon’s masterful guitar style felt totally comfortable within that sound. I guess I was after a more sensitive interpretation of the songs and also, most importantly, I wanted the group to avoid the Bush Band Top 20 and to concentrate on the more unusual collected material, including my own. To their credit the group members readily took my sometimes difficult requests to learn material. Many songs that would not have normally surfaced owe their popularity, or at least public airing, to The Larrikins. Jack singing ‘Saturday Night At The Dance Palais’, Bob’s rendition of ‘Take Me Back to Bendigo’ and Cathie’s beautiful interpretation of several Sally Sloane songs were all at my insistence. Declan, when he was in the group, was amazing at learning and interpreting new songs and learnt many for the 16 part ABC series I scripted called ‘The Australian Legend’. I was also keen to introduce new songs alongside the old. I distributed songs from Don Henderson, Clem Parkinson, Phyl Lobl, Lyell Sayer, Eric Bogle, Tony Miles, Harry Robertson and others for the group to learn, and they usually did them brilliantly.
I mentioned my insistence on having a woman in the group. I wanted to dispel the notion that the Australian folk repertoire was totally macho man driven. I wanted to hear the more sensitive songs like ballad remnants and lyrical songs. This was important to me since many of the songs collected over the years were from women as song carriers. Cathie O’Sullivan never shied away from learning these songs and in each case she brought a new sensitively to their interpretation. Her versions of Barbry Allen, Lovely Molly and Green Bushes were exceptionally beautiful. Cathie also brought her own arrangements of John Shaw-Neilson and A.B. Paterson’s poetry to the group as well as several originals. Her Cameron Quartermain is still one of my all-time favourites.
Cathie also introduced the steel-strung celtic harp to the group and, once again, helped me enhance the sensitive approach to Australian folk music. It was obviously a bugger to keep tune and considering the group often toured the outback where it was stinking hot, or found itself in freezing temperatures, the strings were always bothersome. She is also a solid tin whistle player, a sound I definitely had in my head. Cathie recorded two solo albums with the Larrikin label as well as appearing on several recording projects undertaken by the ABC under the keen ear of David Mulhallen of Sunday Folk.
Whilst in The Larrikins Cathie also formed her own band which she called Summerhaze, a play on her name. It was more of a recording project ensemble although it did perform at festivals and a few tours. Notable members were the percussionist extraordinaire Greg Sheahan and interpretative viola player
Cleis Pearce, and saxophonists Jim Denley and Sandy Evans. Percussionist Peter Kennard also performed with the group at one stage. There were others and between them they drove Cathie’s contemporary explorations in folk music without musical boundaries. They made two albums with Larrikin’s Jarra Hill label. There was also the fine later album Dark Pleasures and Angels.
Cathie stopped performing in the early nineties to attend to her academic life. She already had a degree in Pharmacy and had embarked on another in Social Anthropology. On moving to Canberra she obtained a B.Lit and her PhD in Film and Cultural Studies. As Lecturer in Film and New Media Studies at the ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences she also found time to write books and monographs, including a major work on artist Tracey Moffatt. Her return to part-time performing is shared with a new book Google Earth: Outreach and Activism (2015 Bloomsbury)
The good news is that the master tapes have all resurfaced and Rouseabout records has issued two compilations devised by Cathie and myself. I’ve been wanting to get Cathie’s music back into circulation for quite a few years and I can attest to the re-mastered songs as being as fresh as the proverbial daisies. The compilations offer two different approaches to Cathie’s music-making. ‘Down By The Green Bushes’ is a salute to the traditional repertoire and ‘Silly Winds’ is the more contemporary edge. Both albums are essential listening for anyone interested in the evolution of Australian folk music however they are much more - they are a unique and extremely satisfying musical delight. If possible they sound even better than when they were first released. Go explore.
(Warren Fahey, Rouseabout Records)
A remarkable voice!
(Bob Cady, Highland FM)
An interesting selection of traditional and more contemporary material drawn from several 1970s vinyl releases on Warren Fahey's Larrikin and Jarra Hill labels.
(Bruce Cameron, ‘Come All Ye’, 2MCE)
(Bert Everett, Bundaberg Guardian)
I played tracks (from both CDs) last week, to VERY POSITIVE response from the audience. Cathie will get more "plays" from me.
(Graeme Gilbert, Talk Tonight, 2SM Super Radio Network)