BLUES BYTES – DAVID HYAMS
Interview by Bob Gordon
What’s the best thing about playing festivals?
One great thing is that you are almost always getting to play to new faces, people who haven’t seen or heard of you before, so it’s such a great forum to introduce your act to new listeners. As someone who’s been on the festival circuit for nearly 30 years around Australia – and a few overseas – the absolute best thing is being part of that big-hearted community of musicians and festival followers/music lovers, who you see crop up again and again.
It’s like a Utopic world and going to a festival for me now is like meeting up with old friends, it’s a pretty nice way to go to work. When I was trying to get the Miles To Go Band established at festivals in the East, which took some doing with a seven-piece band, there were so many people who were supportive, offering help to us with transport, accommodation, etc. This is the music festival community and many of those people have remained friends to this day.
Do you have a Blues at Bridgetown experience that you’d like to share, either performing or as an audience member?
Last year was the first time at Bridgetown for the Human Highway. As what could basically be called a ‘Neil Young tribute band’ we were very happy to be accepted but I wondered how a blues festival crowd might respond. We had a great show and such good feedback over the weekend, we left on a bit of a high. We are stoked to be invited back for a second year.
Where do you feel you fit in musically along the blues and roots scale?
With my own work – I think I’d fit more comfortably in the ‘roots’ than blues category. These days it seems to be widely accepted that ‘roots’ music can include country and folk styles and they are some of my strongest influences, though I would call a few of my newer songs quite ‘bluesy’. Blues is a very strong influence and I do feel like it’s with me all the time in my playing.
The master French guitar player Pierre Bensusan once said my fingerstyle playing was “full of blues cliches”. He didn’t mean it as a compliment though! I go back with the blues to the earliest days of my playing. It was my first passion as an electric guitar player and when someone gave me the Bluesbreakers album, I sat in my room for days and learnt almost every Clapton solo and lick.
With the Human Highway – you can’t call Neil Young ‘blues’, but again it sits comfortably in roots. Neil himself was booked for the Bluesfest in Byron Bay 2017 – even though he later pulled out – so that’s good enough for us!
What have been the highlights of your music career thus far?
I’ve been lucky to have had a long and varied career with some incredible highlights. One from this year was the Songs For Freedom four-week tour, with a seven/eight-piece core band and some amazing guests who included some of Australia’s most accomplished indigenous artists like Emma Donovan, Kutcha Edwards and Shellie Morris.
The band was called The Freedom Collective, made up of elders and young people from the Roebourne Aboriginal community. We went to Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and I was part of the musical direction team with Lucky Oceans. The tour culminated 11 years of working with the community and in the Roebourne prison, writing songs and performing, with the goal of raising awareness about our very high rates of Aboriginal incarceration. Sharing the guitar riff to Solid Rock with Shane Howard to end our final East coast show in Melbourne was definitely a highlight.
Since we’re talking Bridgetown, I’ll talk about an early highlight. One of my first pub bands was called Rhode Island Red, formed when I was 18 and at Uni. We did a mix of blues and country and some whacky originals. In one of our uni gigs, the bass player came up and said to me, ‘you could learn a lot from Paul’ (our sound guy). I though he was being an arsehole, but it turned out that Paul was Paul Felton, who’d just been rated by RAM Magazine as one of Australia’s best guitar players (Bag ‘a bones, later The Jets). After a few gigs, he brought in his brother-in-law to mix and joined us on stage for all our shows for several months. We occasionally swapped guitars – my Strat for his black Les Paul custom. It was a special time and playing with Paul was inspirational.
What have you been mainly focussing on in 2023 and how is it coming along?
The Songs for Freedom tour has been a big part of the year. We started the touring in February in Hobart, then a show at Point Walter, and later in Darwin. I was also doing quite a bit of work as musical director for the Jamba Nyinayi festival which happened around the solar eclipse at Cardabia station, near Coral Bay. The festival is run by the Baiyungu Aboriginal corp, which owns the station and as part of this I got to work with people in Carnarvon and Exmouth, trying to develop some young talent to feed into the festival. We had a couple of great young singers, who became part of the festival band, and it was a magic event, with a drone show telling the Baiyungu story of the eclipse over a ridge out in the middle of the station.
I’ve also been working as producer on Rose Parker’s new album, which folks at Bridgetown can get to sample at her shows on Friday eve and Saturday. It’s coming along beautifully and the first single, Blood On The Water, has just been released. More to come in 2024.
What are your plans and hopes for 2024?
Number one priority for 2024 is to release my next album, which has been on the backburner for far too long. I’ll be starting the year with a tour of Tasmania. Rose and I will both be acts at the Cygnet Festival and the following weekend at the Furneaux Islands Festival on Flinders Island in Bass Strait. We’re both complimenting each other’s line-ups, with Roy Martinez playing bass also. These are both great little festivals and we’ll do a few Tassie shows on the weekdays in between.
I’ll be at Nannup Festival with Kutcha Edwards and Kankawa Nagarra (Olive Knight) two of my favourite performers. Kutcha will be doing some Perth shows as well.
The Jamba Nyinayi festival will be running again in 2024 and I’m now in the Artistic Director role. We’ve already got some great acts lined up and expect to announce sometime in December.
What can folks expect from your performances at Blues at Bridgetown?
From my own stuff, I’ve got a great band with my longtime collaborators Roy Martinez and Rose Parker, and also Arun Satingasum playing drums and likely a special guest or two. It’s been going pretty ‘rootsy’, with a hint of blues, some mellower pieces where I play fingerstyle guitar and a few electric rocky numbers in there as well, maybe even a 12-bar if you’re lucky.
Saturday 10am Geegelup
5.15pm Bridgetown Hotel
9.15pm Geegelup – The Human Highway