Q&A/The Festival Sessions/Music

Playing landscapes on guitar

24 January 2020

Fremantle-based musician Lucky Oceans loves pushing the pedal steel guitar in new directions and he does just that in “Ballads, Banksias and Beauty”.

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Ahead of the premiere of Ballads, Banksias and Beauty at Fringe World 2020, Lucky Oceans took time out to talk to Seesaw about his music practice and his latest show.

Seesaw: Tell us about your career path to date.
Lucky Oceans:
I co-founded a group called Asleep at the Wheel in the USA in 1970. Van Morrison heard us and recommended us in Rolling Stone magazine which led to my making seven major label records with them, winning a couple of Grammy awards, touring the world, and playing with Willie Nelson, Eric Clapton, Emmylou Harris, Jerry Lee Lewis and Merle Haggard.

I married an Australian woman and moved to Fremantle in 1981, where I have played just about every music known to mankind and have recorded with Paul Kelly, Kasey Chambers, Vika and Linda Bull, Tex Perkins, The Black Sorrows, Luke and Katy Steele. I regularly play in the USA and am making a record with Asleep at the Wheel and touring with them later this year.

Jessie Gordon and Lucky Oceans

S: Describe your music practice…
My main instrument is the pedal steel guitar and goal is pushing it into new areas. My passion is improvisation – the process of making up new stuff on the spot every time I play. I did a TedX talk on that. I love to play many different styles to keep it fresh and challenging, real, emotional and on the edge.

Seesaw: Tell us about Ballads, Banksias and Beauty.
Ballads, Banksias and Beauty is a show of all Australian songs performed as ballads. Like many other musicians, I love the deep feeling and the reverence you can express while playing ballads. But at most shows, audiences want lots of uptempo so you might only get to do one ballad per night. So we decided to change the rules and make the show all slow songs so that’s the expectation.

Then we narrowed it down to make it about our landscapes, both earthly and personal, so it made sense to make it all Australian Ballads, meaning songs by Nick Cave, Paul Kelly, Cold Chisel, Archie Roach and the Waifs that resonate with us. And it will have video projections of those landscapes. The themes will be about the land and the people on it and how they interact. Jessie Gordon will be her usual charming self and Ben will no doubt be delivering some off the cuff zingers and the sound will be focused on slow moving landscapes I’ll be creating on the pedal steel guitar. It will be a journey through a day, through a life, through the land we stand on together.

“…the sound will be focused on slow moving landscapes I’ll be creating on the pedal steel guitar. It will be a journey through a day, through a life, through the land we stand on together.”

Seesaw: What differentiates Ballads, Banksias and Beauty from the 700 or so other Fringe World shows on offer?
It’s not exciting. If there are jokes, they’ll be made up on the spot. The magical moments will happen in the least expected places. It’ll be slow moving, oceanic, designed to make you really feel something, not just be entertained. It will be a refuge amongst all the noise.

S: Tell us about the inspiration for Ballads, Banksias and Beauty, and the process of making the show…
Jessie Gordon suggested a ballads show. Since she’s the “Queen of the Fringe”, doing 40-50 shows a year, who was I to argue? I love playing ballads and working with Jessie, having done two beautiful projects with her last year. Ben Vanderwal is a fantastically talented drummer, composer and harmony singer who I play with in four very different bands that we co-founded. Ben and Jessie are both high level musicians who are very good at entertaining audiences with wry comments and I thought it would be great to get them together for the first time.

Getting the show together has been a unique and particularly creative process, as our only specifications are that it be all Australian songs done as ballads. We’re not getting together as a tribute to the “music of so and so” or playing in a defined style or genre of music so we’re really making it up as we go along.

When we rehearse at Ben’s house, which is very far north for a Fremantle man like me, Ben always prepares a delicious lunch sourced from the local Middle Eastern shop which he maintains is a front for a high level underworld arts organisation. When we rehearse at my house, my grand daughter Maybelle has to be there, as she adores Jessie and does a great imitation of her rehearsal efficiency – “That’s great, moving right along…”

Ballads, Banksias and Beauty plays The Ellington Jazz Club, 6-16 February.

Pictured top L-R: Lucky Oceans, Jessie Gordon and Bill Lawrie in ‘Barrelhouse Blues: Hokum and Heart Tonics‘.

“The Fringe Sessions” is an annual series of Q&A interviews with artists who will be appearing at Fringe World. Stay tuned for more!

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Author —
Nina Levy

Nina Levy has worked as an arts writer and critic since 2007. She co-founded Seesaw and has been co-editing the platform since it went live in August 2017. As a freelancer she has written extensively for The West Australian and Dance Australia magazine, co-editing the latter from 2016 to 2019. Nina loves the swings because they take her closer to the sky.

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