Meet Anton Cleary, the prolific Warrnambool based street performer and radio presenter, championing up and coming talent amidst a bruised local music scene

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Meet Anton Cleary, the prolific Warrnambool based street performer and radio presenter, championing up and coming talent amidst a bruised local music scene

Photo Credit: The Standard
Words by Paddy Coppinger

Following an early retirement, Anton Cleary is proving to be a new masthead for music in the south-west.

Stereotypes are a funny thing, we know they exist for a reason, but they can never tell the full story. When one thinks of the Australian Taxation Office for example, it would be fair to say that they would not in-fact, also think of a punk rock street performer, whom is on the eve of releasing their seventh studio album titled ‘Deliverance’ on May 10. Yet here we are.

After a sea change from Melbourne to Warrnambool, artist and presenter Anton Cleary is on a speeding train of creative momentum, pursing passions that had lay previously dormant.  And we’re all the better for it. His music demands attention, moulded from busking, competing with the noise of the streets, it’s heavy but articulate, strong and energetic, but concise and always fun. His radio show carries his positive outlook on life and don’t-take-things-so-seriously attitude that makes listeners genuinely engage with him, all while he champions up and coming artists amid a local music industry feeling the full effect of last year’s lockdowns.

We had the pleasure to pick Anton’s brain, and get to know him, his music and his radio show. Along with his thoughts about music in Warrnambool, and the importance of fostering space for emerging artists.

Anton hello, thank you for taking the time. As it appears you are a man of many talents, street performer, recording artist of six major releases, and highly regarded radio presenter. Yet, once also a manager at the ATO. What drew you to the shift towards music full time in this capacity, and how has that experience been for you, especially during the COVID-19 era?
Early retirement from the ATO in 2014 freed me up to pursue my dreams of being a professional musician and radio DJ. As soon as I left the ATO, I took up the guitar and quickly became obsessed with it, practising 4-5 hours a day. I then started busking professionally, performing my own compositions. My first album was released in early 2019 and I have released a further five albums since. My seventh album ‘Deliverance’ is due for release on 10 May. Like all musicians, the COVID-19 era and long lockdown period here in Victoria impacted greatly on my music. I was unable to perform of course, but every cloud has a silver lining! So I basically barricaded myself in my studio for the duration of the lockdown and wrote, wrote, wrote! I came out of lockdown a better musician than I was before it.

Your radio show, aptly named ‘Trouble with The Taxman’, on twice a week at 103.7 3WAY FM, champions alternative, local acts, with a show a month being solely devoted to local talent. What was it about radio that attracted you? And how would you like listeners to think of you and your show?
Ever since I was a kid, I dreamt of being a DJ! I would always think “How cool are DJ’s?”. Being in control of all that music, people tuning in to listen to you! Moving from Melbourne to Warrnambool in early 2017 was the catalyst behind the radio announcer role with 103.7 3WAY-FM. The opportunity to take up an announcer role with the station came in June last year.  My show is on twice a week and won the station’s Best New program award for 2020. I also guest regularly on the station’s show Wild Music Monkeys, playing numbers from my albums live to air. This is always a lot of fun! Alternative music is the main feature of my program, but I’m not afraid to also play mainstream stuff if I like it enough! l think listeners tune into my show because they enjoy the music I play and can see that I am serious about supporting local artists. I try not to take things too seriously when I’m on air and I think this appeals to them too!

Where does the passion for backing up-and-comers come from, and has there been a sense of urgency for the kind of representation you offer, develop because of the pandemic?
The pandemic was a major driving force behind my championing of up-and-coming local acts on the show. Initially I saw my show as a vehicle for supporting local artists through lockdown, by giving them on air exposure, but the concept has been so well received that it has now become an ongoing feature of the show. Being a local artist myself has no doubt influenced my thinking too!

Since moving to Warrnambool, have you noticed a certain distinction to the music coming out of the area, that sets it apart from that of the big cities? Or any particular characteristics our or your audience should know about? That might set local acts apart?
I haven’t detected a typical ‘Warrnambool’ sound. I think there is definitely something edgy about the music which sets it apart from city music though. Several genres are in vogue here, alternative, punk, pub rock, hard rock, alternative country, folk and Americana being some of the most popular.

Are there artists in particular that you’d like to give a shoutout to? Warrnambool natives making waves in the industry.
There’s lots of great artists here in Warrnambool. The Monaros, Stonetrip, Black Acid, Lee Morgan and The 2nds, to name just a few!

What are your thoughts on the importance of radio during this time of social media, where it seems everything is accessible to us?  
Radio will always be an important medium, but there is no doubt that it will have to continue to evolve to keep up with the breakneck speed social media appears to be moving at. Radio will need to be more selective and creative with its programming to survive the challenge from social media. Blokey radio for example appears to be a thing of the past (we can only hope!)

Your own music, driving and passionate instrumental, electric guitar lead compositions that hark back to the golden era of punk and rock, so easily grab a listener and demands their attention. What does your songwriting process look like for you, and has that changed or developed since the time you started?
It’s probably not much of an answer, but in regard to song writing, I’ve always just done what comes naturally to me. I started writing my own material about a year after I took up guitar and things just developed from there. Funnily enough, I consider some of the first stuff I wrote to be among my best work. I’ve always considered my music to have a ‘street’ feel to it and believe this is a result of me spending so much time out on the street performing (my debut album is entitled ‘Street Music’). As I’ve grown as an artist, my bag of tricks has got a lot bigger and this has enabled me to broaden my song writing horizons. And here we are six albums later!

Busking, and performing on the streets is no easy feat, yet it can also offer a musician invaluable lessons on themselves and their music. How has that experience been for you?
Street performing has played a major role in shaping me as a musician and performer. For starters, I need to give the guitar a fair hammering to be heard above the people and traffic noises that street performers have to compete with! Maybe that’s why my material is often described as loud and heavy! One of the great advantages of street performing is its informal nature. From a song writing perspective, busking has afforded me the opportunity to improvise with my playing as well as experiment with new tricks, and this has led to an improved song or even a new song. I think the informal nature of street performing has also held me in good stead when I play in a more formal setting – I’m so used to being nice and relaxed when I perform, I don’t get nervous at all!

If someone wanted to get to know you and your music, where can they go to get their fix of all things Anton Cleary? 
Good old Google is your one-stop shop for all things Anton Cleary. You can also catch me in the flesh performing in Liebig and Kepler Streets Warrnambool three days a week. If you feel like an interstate trip, you can also find me from time to time in the Melbourne CBD, Rundle Mall Adelaide, Cavill Avenue Surfers Paradise and the Rocks, Circular Quay and Darling Harbour in Sydney!

You can keep up with all things Anton via Facebook here, his radio show here, and some of his rockin’ tunes here.