John Flanagan Trio – made up of award winning songwriter, John Flanagan, charismatic double bass player Liz Frencham and virtuoso guitar and mandolin picker Daniel Watkins – have released their latest album Honest Man, and are in the midst of their expansive national tour in celebration of the release. We chat to award winning songwriter,John Flanagan ahead of their regional stops in Castlemaine, Bendigo and Ballarat.
Hey John, thanks for chatting to Forte! You dropped your new album Honest Man last month, how’s it all going since the release?
The tour has been very successful so far and we’ve had some really nice things said about the album by fans and on print. It’s the biggest tour I’ve done with a Trio line up so I’m just happy that we can make the band touring work.
The album is quite upbeat compared to your previous releases. Was this a conscious decision going in? What brought on the change in pace?
This album is all about capturing the live sound of the John Flanagan Trio which features my regular collaborators Liz Frencham (double bass) and Daniel Watkins (guitar/mandolin). I didn’t set out to make an upbeat album, it just turned out that our live show has changed in recent years to add more variety and engage the audience.
Did recording live with all the musicians playing together in the same room present many challenges? If so, how did you overcome them?
Yes, this adds a big psychological challenge to the recording process. One person might feel it was their best take personally, but if someone makes a mistake then the whole take is unusable. There were tears and personal insecurities coming to the surface. We got to know each other pretty well during those four days. We had done a lot of preparation for the recording and we didn’t realize at the time that we actually got some great takes. It’s easy to focus on your own individual mistakes and forget that the overall vibe is sounding great. We listened back a bit later and realized we had a record!
The album itself touches on a few different themes, especially focusing on different locations around the Australia. Is there a certain track that has a particularly special story behind it?
The track Free John Zarb is about the first conscientious objector to the Vietnam war to go to prison in Australia. He inspired a lot of other conscientious objectors and there was a huge protest movement around the unfairness of his imprisonment which coincided with the anti war movement. The stories of our conscientious objectors are not often heard or talked about but I think it is important for young people today to learn about what used to happen. Imagine that you could have your birthday picked out of a hat and that meant you had to go to war. Even if it was a war and a cause that you didn’t believe in. We need to remember this so it doesn’t happen again.
Now you have an upcoming 16 date tour to celebrate the album, what do you love most about being on the road and sharing your music?
The part I love most is playing with Dan and Liz and front of an audience. I feel we’ve gotten more and more connected and tight over the last three years of playing together. We’re all trying to give the best performance we can and there’s truly no musicians I enjoying playing with more than these two. I do also love those moments where I get to see places I haven’t been before and meet new friendly people and musicians along the way.
While you’re on the road, what’s the dynamic like between the three of you on stage? Is it much like a jamming session?
This ties on well from my last response. I think our band dynamic on stage is something that is special about the group. An audience member commented on the weekend that it is a true Trio, every person is equally important. It’s not just me playing my songs with 2 hired guns. Liz has such a beautiful charisma, smile and energy that people just love to watch, Dan sets the stage alight with his incredible playing, they lift my performance to a higher level and if I can keep up with them then I’m doing great.
Is there anywhere you are particularly looking forward to stop by?
Looking forward to playing Castlemaine with Cat Canteri, I haven’t played there very much but I love that community. Also the Old Church On The Hill In Bendigo, that’s always a lovely gig and sounds great in there. Beyond that, up in northern NSW there is some beautiful country side and a that’ll be a little break from the cold weather.
When & Where: The Bridge, Castlemaine – June 3, Old Church On The Hill, Bendigo – June 16 & Lost Ones Gallery, Ballarat – June 17.