Script for March 25, 2002, QMH:
Tonight's show is an all Australian show. It's devoted to the music of gay and lesbian artists from Australia and I've got special interviews with three of the artists I'm featuring. One of these artists was in the group that had the first album by an openly lesbian band in that country. But before I get to that I want to start with a song by the Gay Liberation Quire, and they spell quire q-u-I-r-e. That group was formed around 1981, partly in protest to a very conservative movement at the time. In America we had the Moral Majority and in Australia they had the Festival of Light. And that was the name of the song, written by Judy Small, that the Quire did. The song mentions Anita Bryant along with two of her Aussie counterparts, Mary Whitehouse and Freda Brown. The song appears on their only release, a 7" 45rpm EP, which was called "Hormones & Jeans: The Gay Liberation Quire Goes Down On Vinyl." Here is their version of "Festival of Light"
GLQ - festival
of light (1981)
I followed the Gay Liberation Quire with Vicki Bennett, singing "coming out blues." That was from a various artists compilation of women's music called "More Than A Pretty Face," from 1994 and came out of Adelaide. Adelaide is in south central Australia and is also where my first interview guest lives.
Interview with Nikki Mortier of the Lavender Blues
Her name is Nikki Mortier and she is part of the history of gay and lesbian music in that country, because she was a member of the group that issued the first album by a lesbian band, in 1978. The name of the album was "Wake Up Sister" and group was called Lavender Blues. Here is Nikki Mortier talking about the group.
Okay, well, Lavender Blues was a trio of women, a lesbian trio, set up in about 1977, '78. It was comprised of myself, Dorelle Pinch, who was then my partner, and Carol Deagan. It came about because Dorelle was a songwriter, a very good songwriter really, and one night we were sitting around as one did in the 70s, in those days it was a flagon of wine, which was a glass bottle of about two liters, and we had that in the middle of the floor and there was a group of us slowly sinking into the west with the flagon and singing songs. And we realized we were forgetting the words of Dorelle's songs, so someone in the room said, would we make a tape recording of it before we forgot the words. Somebody else said oh yeah I want a copy of that too, and somebody else said I want a copy of that too, and so it ended up that it looked like we were going to have to make multiple copies of a tape of the songs, so I said, sort of half-jokingly, look there's so many people who want a copy, we should just make a record. In those days of course it was the record, not the CD. And everyone laughed and fell about and said, yeah, let's do that, and we all sort of fell into hysterics about making a record and how silly the idea was. The next morning I woke up and my immediate thought was, hang on, why don't we make a record? What's to stop us? And so we did. And really we produced the record and then promoted it and became sort of popular in Sydney and Melbourne and the east coast of Australia. Women were starved in those days for anything because as far as I know we were the first Australian lesbian group to put out an album. So we were sort of the flavor of the month in the lesbian community for a couple of years
How did you name the group?
Well, Dorelle had written a song which is on the record called "Lavender Blues" (mean what they say, I'll never again be any man's slave) and so from that song we took the name Lavender Blues.
This would be a good time to hear the song "lavender blues"
Lavender Blues - lavender blues (1978)
I thought the lyrics to "lesbian nation" were kind of interesting because it was saying like "okay, women we've helped your women's causes, now, it's your turn to help the lesbian causes.
Absolutely, that was of course mid to late 70s. I imagine it was the same in America, it was a big issue here that the women's movement had arrived and lesbians were disproportionately represented in the feminist scene, and were very much drivers of a lot of the political action. So that issues like child care and equal pay and those sorts of issues often were led by lesbians, who themselves didn't have any, were not going to get any particular personal benefit out of it. And it was interesting that there was a divide in the feminist movement, and there were a lot of feminists who took the view that they didn't want to be outwardly supportive of lesbians and therefore maybe labeled themselves as lesbians. [I think that was true here, too] Yes, cause they felt that would discredit the feminist cause, and so that caused a lot of bitterness, and I think to some extent to be honest that whole situation still persists. So that particular song was sort of an expression of our frustration of the time to some extend of a feeling of being used and abused, I guess.
Let's hear that song, here is "lesbian nation"
Lavender Blues - lesbian nation (1978)
Musically I wonder if you can compare the women's music movement in the united states to that in Australia. Like in the 70s here there were all the Olivia artists like Holly Near, Meg Christian, and all those. Was there anything comparable in Australia?
Not really, in fact those artists were sort of the dominant music for Australia, and that's true in our mainstream culture as well, that American music has tended to dominate our musical culture, and certainly Meg Christian and so on, and you know, Tret Fure, Cris Williamson, they were sort of the big popular artists, and in some ways still are.
Does Judy Small go back that far?
Well, Judy does go back that far. Judy is ah, I mean, I'm a great Judy Small fan, she's a wonderful performer. She actually performed one night when she was known in the folk circuit but not for much else, and we actually employed her, Lavender Blues employed her to sing at a concert that we were putting on. Where if you like we were the headline act, when we were at our peak and we employed Judy Small to come sing for us. And in some ways that concert became a real launching pad for her career, which was sort of nice.
Oh, gosh, well probably my favorite is Alix Dobkin. I love Alix Dobkin's work, and I think she's got a wicked sense of humor, which I really like, so she would be right up there.
Looking back twenty plus years after doing that album do you have any comments?
Oh, I'm very pleased we did it, and I think that the reasons we did it persist today. I mean, we did it with a number of things in mind. I mean, one of them was we wanted to preserve the music and I think that it's incredibly important that we preserve our culture and our music and I think we're not very good at it in our culture, certainly in Australia. I suspect everywhere, we're not, we still haven't learned to value our heritage, so things happen and pass and they are forgotten, and so I'm very pleased we put it down on a record. I mean, I'm absolutely blown away that 25 years later here's someone in America who's got it. You know, like it shows the pervasiveness of culture and music and our connectiveness across the world [and staying power]. Yeah, but you've got to put it in a form that's got some permanency so I'm really delighted that that's happened. Given the circumstances I think we didn't do too bad a job.
That was Nikki Mortier of the Lavender Blues.
QMH Show ID - Peter Hicks
Peter Hicks Interview
And that little promo was done
by Peter Hicks, who is my next interview guest. But first I want to
ask you to be sure to listen to After Hours with Jimmy Carper, every
Saturday night at midnight on KPFT, it's Queer Radio, with attitude.
And this is a good time to mention that since there are often many
obscurities heard on this show, I thought those on the internet would
like to be able to see photos of the artists and recordings, and view
the play list. So you can see what all these Australians look like.
You can do that at www.queermusicheritage.com.
It's sort of part of the process that got us together as a couple, the songwriting process. When Geoff first met me I was a musician and he started penning some lyrics that I really related to and I started putting some tunes to. I don't know, I'm not sure which happened first, the songwriting or the relationship, but it sort of for whatever reason it's certainly been a strong part of why we've been together for so long
A lot of singers write about relationships, that must be kind of odd if you're writing together.
Yeah, it's a little bit weird at times. In a sense we don't write together, in a sense that Geoff will write the lyric and then I'll come along and sing it, but it's kind of weird cause often it's about us. But the weirdest thing of course was when we first got together a lot of the songs were about us and why we weren't going very well together and or etc, etc you know like that initial period of not quite sure about the relationship, so that was a bit weird, but we're over that now
Okay, I want to get to one of your older songs. Can you tell me about the song "man with a pink triangle"
Oh yeah, well that's kind of like, if we never wrote any other song, that's probably the one song that still brings the old tear to my eye after all these years. And it was written about reading a newspaper article about Kitty Fisher, who was attending a ceremony sort of commemorating victims of the holocaust. And Kitty herself was a Jewish girl who with her sister were imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp. The thing is that she was saved by a young man who appeared and started to bring her and her sister scraps of food. Like later she wasn't quite sure about him but all she could recognize was that he wore this oddly different symbol at the time. Like all of her relatives and friends had the Star of David imprinted on them but he had this pink triangle and like many years later she kind of, when this sort of recognition of gay and lesbian and gypsy and other people who were also incarcerated and executed by the Nazis, were becoming more prominent, she started thinking about it again. Well, she's got a story to tell and she felt like she should tell it and she started to go to a lot of gatherings, meetings of people living with AIDS, and sort of tell her story of how, I suppose, despite the tragedy that occurred there was still hope, there were still people giving of themselves in the utmost extremely awful situations. And I guess she did a lot of sort of talking to people and hopefully bringing some really positive spirits to them and that's why we kind of felt that that story needed to be told
Here is the song "the man with the pink triangle"
Peter Hicks - the man with the pink triangle (1993)
One of Peter's songs that I particularly admire, and have already played on this show, is one called "stonewall '69" Peter, can you tell me about that song.
Well, I guess, then yeah, again I'm kind of really the odd one to be talking about cause my partner Geoff as I mentioned earlier is kind of the lyricist, and I'm kind of the tune writer in our kind of setup, but again when we first got together Geoff was kind of, you know he's a little bit older than me. We went through the English sort of gay pride thing that was happening in the 70s. Very much influenced by that was the Stonewall events of 1969. You know, there were aspects of it which never would have happened unless the people stood up in Stonewall in '69 and said, hey, you've come around and stuffed us around one time too many, and we're just not going to take it anymore. I just think it's pretty much a seminal, if not the seminal event of awareness, awakenings of gay/lesbian pride and transsexual pride etc etc
Wasn't there something in Australia similar to stonewall about ten years after?
Oh, yeah, I guess you know this is part of the history that kind of gets glossed over, but I think about ten years after Stonewall, that would have been '79, there was decided to have a march in celebration of, a commemoration march, and it happened in Australia in about June, which is sort of our colder period. But the police at the time decided in their wisdom, or extreme lack thereof, that, hey, we can't allow this sort of thing to happen. You know, like it was okay for people to go to bars and sort of do what they want to do in the sort of cover of night, but these people coming out in the open and expressing their sexuality, and not that the people, excuse me, were rooting on the streets or anything, they were holding hands or hugging, or whatever, but that was a bit too much for our police at the time. Because our being oppressed everybody joined in and it became like a Stonewall. It became the beginnings of what was the Mardi Gras. But I guess this was a catalyst you know, a very strong catalyst
Let's hear his song "stonewall '69"
Peter Hicks - stonewall '69 (1993)
Peter, are there any gay and lesbian artists you particularly admire?
Yeah, of course, I mean our own Judy Small is a legend, you know, being openly gay, and being openly up front about her politics and her sexuality, you know, and being a great gal, you know. So the influence of Judy is huge
Tell us about your new CD.
Um, "The Times We've Been Through"? It's sort of a distillation of about four or five years of songwriting we've done. It contains something we've sort of shooed away from was just these relationship songs, or shied away from, because I thought, oh, I've got to make a stand, I've got to say something politically, other people can do the relationship thing better than me. But this time around we've got a couple of songs that talk about how we've been together for a long time and how our love is still strong, so I thought I'd just put them on there. It still has a few songs about issues that we've personally felt very strong about over the years. I guess mostly we tend to write more from an international perspective.
Judy Small Interview
That was Peter Hicks, and his new CD is called "The Times We've Been Through," and you'll notice that when asked what gay or lesbian artists he admired, he immediately mentioned Judy Small. And Nikki Mortier of the Lavender Blues talked about Judy Small, and it was one of Judy's songs by the Gay Liberation Quire, "festival of light" that was written by Judy and I used to start the show. So my point is that Judy has been a prominent force in the gay & lesbian music scene in Australia for over twenty years. And in Australia's general folk scene she is noted for a wonderful song she wrote and recorded called "mothers daughters wives, " which is about three generations of women who have had their men go to war. I'm delighted to be able to bring an interview with her to this show. Judy, how did you get started in folk-singing?
Well, I've always been a folkie and I say that I think that's historical, it's just that I was a child of the '60s, you know, I was born in 1953, so when the folk boom hit I was like 8-9-10-11, and I think "Go Tell It On The Mountain" means much more to a child that age than "I Can't Get No Satisfaction." You know, so I just fell in love with the folk music, and particularly with the women's voices. Their music just spoke to me in a way that pop and rock didn't at that time. And it always has. I've always been interested in music that has something to say more than, I love you baby, will you be mine? So I guess that's why I'm a folkie and because it fits so well with my politics, because there has always been music in political movements. Um, when I started getting interested in politics the folk music was already there for me, so the blending of the two just seemed like a natural progression. [That's a wonderful answer] (laughs) you just wind me up and I keep going, JD.
Okay, Nikki Mortier of the Lavender Blues told me that you once did a warm up act for them, [that's right] do you remember that?
I remember that very well. The Lavender Blues were certainly one of the first, if not the first, lesbian band in Australia, and I did a warm-up concert with them. In fact I think I played with them several times, but the one that I remember most was the one in 1981 when I was just really starting out as a professional performer. And I did a concert with them in a little community hall in suburban Sydney. And I remember that concert particularly for several reasons. One was it was the last time that I ever sang with Carol Deagon, who was a very good friend of mine, and who was one of the Lavender Blues, and who died of cancer a couple of years later. And the other reason was because that concert led to my professional career. It was after that concert that a group of friends of mine said, well, when are you going to start recording? And I said, oh I don't know, when I get the money. And they said, well, how much would it cost? And I said, hell, I don't know, ten thousand dollars, and they said, fine, we'll raise it for you. And they did. So that concert particularly stays in my mind for all sorts of reasons. But the Lavender Blues, were as I say pretty much the first, and their album, the Lavender Blues album is still a classic of the genre, I think,
Yes, it took me a while to track that one down.
Ah, your research in finding the Lavender Blues impresses me no end, JD, I think that's just extraordinary.
Well, thank you, I love the music, I love researching it, and I love sharing it, that's what my show is all about.
Well, that's terrific, because frankly most Australian women wouldn't know who the Lavender Blues were
Well, a lot of the people my age and younger wouldn't know some of the music I play either.
Well, all that I can say is, thank their lucky stars that you are around, JD, to let them know.
Well, thanks again. What was the first song you recorded with gay lyrics?
The first song that I recorded with openly gay lyrics was a song called "Turn Right, Go Straight," and that was in 1983 I recorded that, and that was from my second album, which in America was called "Mothers, Daughters, Wives." Um, that was a song about growing up in a religious environment, and the messages that one gets, and I got it from a church notice board, of all places. I've noticed that those little notice, those sayings that they have on church notice boards are very good for getting quotes for songs, but this one said, to get to heaven turn right and go straight. And I thought, what a wonderful thing to be able to write a song about and so I did.
Tell us about "country town gaytime blues"
That was one of the first songs I ever wrote. It was certainly the first gay and lesbian song I ever wrote. I actually wrote that song about 1978, when I had left the country town that I grew up in and gone to the city to the university. And I wrote it for a special concert, I think. There was a women's concert and for some reason I'd been asked to sing at it, and so I wrote that song for it. It's partly true, it's mostly true. Some of the characters are fictional and some of them are real, not particularly I don't think it matters which is which. It's certainly my experience that most people who grow up in small communities have some sort of the same experience that I did, which is feeling you're alone, but knowing you're not and not really being able to say anything about that. But I just wanted to make the point that we are everywhere, it's as simple as that.
Judy Small - country town gaytime blues (1999)
That was "country town gaytime blues". On one of my earlier radio shows I did a segment on songs about Anita Bryant, and I played "festival of light," can you tell us about that song.
Well, "Festival of Light" originated in England, and of course it's a right-wing Christian morality group, much like the Moral Majority. And like the Moral Majority the Festival of Light is neither festive or enlightened, in my opinion. It was started by an English woman called Mary Whitehouse, who I guess was the Anita Bryant of her day in England. She only dies last year, she was a fairly elderly sort of woman even then. And it came to Australia, that movement, and I guess the English version came before the American version did, and so our right-wing Christians formed themselves into the Festival of Light, rather than the Moral Majority. And it was about the time that I wrote that was about the time of the scandal of Florida orange juice and Anita Bryant, so she made it in there as well. [Great, great, I love that song] Thank you.
I'm looking at your various works over the years. You haven't shied away from including openly gay and lesbian songs, has this ever been a problem for you?
You know, people ask me that all the time, and my answer is, I don't know. Nobody will ever tell me if they don't hire me because I'm gay or lesbian or because I sing about lesbian issues. So, I really don't know. I've sort of blithely gone ahead and assumed it doesn't damage my career and just sung about it anyway. I've always seen my lesbianism as being similar to being right handed. You know, everything I do I do as a right-handed person, whether or not I'm using my hands. So, in the same way, everything I do in life I do as a lesbian, whether or not it involves women or sex. And I see it as being as relevant and irrelevant as being right-handed, so I've never really...you know, I sing about it in the same way I sing about every other issue I sing about. And I really don't know how it's affected me.
You've done a number of US women's festivals how do you think your music was received by the audiences here, and how has this changed over the years?
It has changed over the years, I'm not such a novelty anymore. When I first started touring in America, which was the early to mid 1980s, I was different. I was different because I talk differently, because my perspective on the world was different. I think being in America gives you a particular view of the world, and you don't actually get very many other views of the world, when you live in America. And so I was able to bring effectively a fresh perspective, I guess, on issues that were affecting Americans, but from a different angle, I guess. So, in that sense, when I first came there I was sort of this novelty new person. And I feel a bit like I'm part of the American establishment, as far as folk music and women's music goes.
To my mind your style of folk singing could be compared to that of Holly Near, in that both of you are among the leading singers in your own countries, but yet you sing women's songs, you sing lesbian songs, and you sing especially songs about entirely different subjects.
That's right, and can I say that it's incredibly flattering to be compared to Holly Near. Holly's been a heroine of mine for many, many, many, many years. And if anybody compares me with her, that's just fine with me. The thing about folk music is that it isn't narrow, that folk is a very broad church and it does encompass almost any kind of music and almost any topic you want to sing about, that you can think of. And in that sense Holly and I are both similar and different, in the sense that we have that broad range, and while we have some topics in common, like the women's stuff and some of the peace stuff, we also have very different things that we sing about, which all fall into the folk category, because it is such a broad category of music.
How did you first meet Holly Near?
Well, believe it or not, she was actually at that workshop. She was singing at that workshop at the Vancouver Folk Festival when I first sang "Mothers Daughters Wives," in North America. And as a result of that my then partner and I, who later became my manager, were invited to come and see one of Holly's shows in Berkeley a few weeks later, which we did. And we then made the connection with Redwood Records, which was Holly's label. And Redwood later released my albums in America. And in between Holly did a tour in Australia while I was recording the "Mothers Daughters Wives" album, and came and did the backing vocals, bless her heart, on a couple of tracks, so I had that sort of connection with her once the albums were released in America, which gave them a bit of a push along, I think.
What gay and lesbian artists do you particularly admire?
Oh, boy, that's a very hard question, JD, because I admire all of them really. I thought the Flirtations were wonderful, I just loved the Flirts. And of course there were the women, like Holly, and like and can I just say, while we're sort of segue-waying into that stuff, there's a lot of talk among women's groups about Holly calling herself a lesbian or being lesbian friendly because she now lives with a man. And I just want to be on the record of saying, I don't care who anybody has relationships with, if they're women-identified or women-centered, then that's fine by me. And I'm certainly not going to judge anybody for falling in love with someone who happens to be male. But anyway, to go on from there, apart from her, of course, Cris Williamson and Meg Christian were the two first women that I heard, apart from the Lavender Blues. And now of course there are so many wonderful gay and lesbian singer/songwriters and people there's an Australian man called Peter Hicks who writes wonderful wonderful stuff
I was going to ask you about him, I interviewed him last week.
Oh, did you? oh wonderful. And then there's a Canadian singer songwriter Heather Bishop, whose music I really love. You know, it's really hard to sort of list them all. It's almost like whoever I listed, if I went on for an hour I'd still miss some out.
Tell us about your latest CD, "Let The Rainbow Shine"
As I said before, I've been recording songs about gay and lesbian issues for a very long time. And I had had over the years just enormous support from the gay and lesbian community. And in particular from the lesbian community. They have always been the core of my audience, even in the folk music scene. And so I sort of wanted to give something back, I guess, and make an album just for the gay and lesbian community. I mean, not that it's just for the gay and lesbian community, but particularly for the gay and lesbian community. And the way that this came about, I just love this story. We just sent out to the universe, hey, Judy wants to make an album about gay and lesbian issues, can anyone help? And we got donations of money from literally all over the world. We got them from Sweden, from Fiji, from South Africa, it was just extraordinary. People just sent us money, so that I could make an album of gay and lesbian songs. And so I did.
Do you have a favorite song from that CD?
Um, well, I have a different favorite song every week, from that CD. I think at the moment I really like "Influenced By Queers," simply because those issues are still around and I'm still hearing right-wing people in this country saying, you know, I don't care what you do, if you want to be gay or lesbian, that's your business, but don't come anywhere near my children. You know, that sort of ridiculous stuff. So I think that's one of my favorites at the moment.
Let's hear "influenced by queers"
Judy Small -
influenced by queers (1999)
Well, this has been my all-Australian show, and I could have done several shows with all the other Aussie artists I have in my collection. I wish I could have included more of them. I want to close tonight's show with the title track from Judy's latest CD, which is called "Let The Rainbow Shine," and get her to say a few words about it. But before I do, I want to thank you all for listening, and I want to thank Nikki Mortier of the Lavender Blues, Peter Hicks, and Judy Small for their interviews. If you have questions or comments about any of the music I've featured, please write to me. and please check out my website at www.queermusicheritage.com. This is JD Doyle for Queer Voices on KPFT in Houston, and I'll be back on the 4th Monday of next month with another installment of Queer Music Heritage.
My last question for Judy was to tell us about the song "let the rainbow shine"
Well, that came from a question from somebody in the media, actually, in the straight media, actually, who asked me why it is that the gay and lesbian community has adopted the rainbow as its symbol. And I didn't know, I had no idea. I mean, I assumed it had something to do with diversity, but I had no idea of the actual reasons. And I thought I wonder what those colors might mean, so I wrote them down and sort of thought of things that might, you know, be relevant to our community and away it went.
Judy Small - let the rainbow shine (1999)