wendy's profile 2008

My first stage performance was at age 6, singing a Frank Ifield song (“I Remember You-Hoo”) to a bunch of cousins from the top of the henhouse roof.  That was a lovely summers day but winter in the dales area of North Yorkshire was fiercesome before global warming and snow sometimes drifted to over 3 metres, blocking roads, covering walls.  We had no phone or television but I heard Flat and Scruggs for the first time on the radio while outside a blizzard raged.  My parents played accordian and piano by ear and us kids would listen to them stumbling and thrashing out each new tune until they’d worked it up.  They were learning Black Hills of Dakota; we were learning stickability and how to teach yourself. wendy

Doesn’t life throw some curve balls?  I never thought when I started piano at age 6 that I’d end up teaching an American instrument in Australia!  At age 13 I changed to classical guitar – guitar because I couldn’t get a noise out of a flute.  After a couple of years I found a way to finger-pick old timey and pop folk music (this was the early 70’s) and by age 15 my dad was driving me round pubs and charity concerts. 

The first thing I learned when I moved to Australia in ’75 was there’s no such thing as a typical Aussie.  I chased up some solo gigs - classical guitar in a high class Canberra restaurant (played for Gough Whitlam, the then Prime Minister of Australia, one night) then I’d drive across town to do the graveyard shift with a repertoire of ragtime, folk and blues to a bar full of rowdy bus drivers.  When I told them never mind the applause, just throw money, someone did and a 10c piece hit me fair between the eyes!  Well, ditch that line!

wendy teachingPeople would come up to me wanting lessons.  15 years later I realised I’d become a full-time musician; teaching, doing jingles for radio, playing electric guitar in rock and 50/50 bands and studying theory whenever I found the time.  Celebrated jazz guitarist George Golla gave me some valuable advice after one of his tutorials; we’re all unique and should follow our own musical direction.  Trouble was, I hadn’t a clue what that was. 

Fed up of playing big drinking barns, driving hundreds of k’s and getting home at 3.00am, I went to a folk concert to see how the other half were living.  A group of acoustic musos got up on stage; among them Dave O’Neil, Tony Hunter and Donald Baylor (now fiddle player in Bluegrass Parkway) and I heard Bluegrass for the first time.  There were four soloists!  They played about a million miles an hour!  They all sang!  The audience were all singing along and the energy was electrifying! 

Next day I bought a fiddle.  It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my whole life!  After 6 months my neck gave out but, determined to get some of that good bluegrass stuff, I swapped the fiddle for a banjo and wrestled with The Pete Seeger Book for 3 months.  Then someone gave me an insight into banjo rolls via Earl Scruggs and I was off!  Two years later Peggy Daroesman (guitarist/singer/songwriter) and I performed at the National Folk Festival as The Tin Lizzies.  We played the big marquee – felt like about a thousand people.  A small boy told me later that I was never going to become a famous performer because I fell onto the stage, not off it. 

My marriage broke up and I fled to Brisbane I needed serious money so got a day job as a corporate bitch and taught music at weekends.  Talented singer/songwriter Donna Bates persuaded me to help out at a recording studio, doing session work for ‘Bay Dreaming Project’ – a CD compilation written and performed by young songwriters from Moreton Bay area, funded by the Arts Council.  Redlands Fiddlers Festival and Imbil Festival became firm dates and previously unknown (to me) names such as The Davidson Brothers became ‘our Hamish and Lachlan’. 

I’m blown out by the musical talent in Australia, especially in the bluegrass scene.  Even knowing that there’s no money in it, the market’s tiny and public awareness of bluegrass generally is ziltch, they stick at it, playing when and where they can, attaining incredibly high standards.  Let’s face it, if Dave Hellens (banjo, Newcastle) lived in USA he’d probably be the first banjo picker to own a Porche! 

In ’98 I made the first Fingerstyle banjo video in response to phone calls from beginners in remote areas who couldn’t find a teacher.  10 years later, Fingerstyle Productions now has 10 titles for banjo and 2 for guitar.  Pickers in USA are buying them so although at times I feel like a bit of an upstart I must be doing something right. 

The philosophy for Fingerstyle has always been to help others achieve that blast you get from picking a 5-string.  The workshops are an opportunity for pickers to get intense, hands-on instruction with an emphasis on immediate feedback; something you can’t get from studying a book or watching a dvd.  The website keeps growing.  Fingerstyle aims to support luthiers of excellence, provide mail order banjo parts, accessories, quality instruments, and act as an information/network centre for 5-string pickers.  We mean to keep acoustic music alive and kicking arse in Aus!wendy group

I did the live gigs thing for over 15 years but at the moment I’m

an educator. 

Dean Frith, Wendy Holman, (Fingerstyle) Tom Streginga, (Redlands Bluegrass Boys) and Steve Trelour (Sheepdogs)

The questions people ask are a tremendous inspiration to me, to find new ways to get a message across, and prompting study into psychology of how we learn new skills and process melody, rhyme and rhythm.  One of the biggest blasts I get out of teaching is the spill-over effect that learning banjo has into other areas of students’ lives.  Emerging confidence, re-discovering their humour, improving ability to memorise, and gaining new social possibilities.  Banjos should carry a warning:  “This instrument will change your life.”

wendyMy personal motto is “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.”  The day I stop caring, I’ll do something different. 

Favourite live picking:  scratch bands at festivals, jamming, and attempting meaningful back-up regardless of genre.

Goals for the rest of 2008:  Exhibiting the Fingerstyle banjo collection at the Brisbane Guitar Expo, attending festivals - jamming and meeting with the folk who buy my dvds and cheer me on.  Going over to Nashville this September to the International Bluegrass Music Association Show.

Favourite tools;  Terratec DMX 6-Fire soundcard, Cool Edit Pro Recording Suite, TablEdit tab-writer, Ulead Movie Maker Editing Suite, Band-in-a-Box, iRiver mp3 recorder, Windows Media Player.

Currently Playing Australian Banjos:  Flint River by Laurie Grundy, and White Swallow Old Timey by Alan Funk.

Practice Strategy:  To warm up I start with rolls then vamp up and down the neck.  Songs, I aim to sing at the same time as doing the back-up.  Ideas for solos usually come from studying CDs by the greats. 


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