Community

Most of us learn, usually from our mothers, that there is a time and place for everything. Hence those wanting to form an opera society, a theatre group, or even a folk music club know, instinctively, that such matters are best raised with like-minded individuals in the living room over a glass of chardonnay.

Similarly sporting clubs, particularly for male sports, usually have their genesis in meetings held at sporting venues or nearby pubs. Invariably, not all ‘foundation members' remember with any certainty whether they were actually present when the club was formed but, as Lenin once observed, "History is written by those who keep the minutes."

Not surprisingly, when one decides to start a Blues Club such precedents are of almost no value. So how do you go about it? In particular, how do you go about it when you live in what is not only the most isolated city in the World, but one blessed with a climate, environment and lifestyle that is unlikely to inspire enthusiasm for a 12- bar, bent note melody that concerns itself with the victimised, the unfortunate, the down trodden and the broken-hearted?

Well, if you are Rick Steele and Jeff Harrison, the ‘founding fathers' of the Perth Blues Club, you pay homage to the strong oral tradition of the blues and you talk about it a lot. Indeed you talk about it so much and so incessantly that eventually, out of sheer frustration, somebody calls your bluff and challenges you to match words with deeds.

The time is forgotten, other than it was in 1989, but the place is well remembered. It was around the barbecue at the Harrison house. As Rick and Jeff started to talk, yet again, about the potential of starting a club Margaret Harrison decided she had heard enough and threw down an ultimatum. "I am sick to death of all this talk about starting a blues club. Either you start it now or never mention it again" she decreed.

As every Blues fans knows, Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, so not surprisingly, Rick and Jeff quickly set about converting their long talked about plans into reality. Instrumental in all this was Alex Dixon who, accompanied by Rick, persuaded the Charles Hotel in North Perth to become the venue for a Blues Club night on Tuesdays.

Slowly word about the Club started to get around and attendance numbers for the Tuesday night blues sessions at the Charles began to grow. For a number of reasons that none of those involved can quite remember, it was decided to incorporate the Club as a non-profit organization and this was completed in July 1991. Alex Dixon became the inaugural President, Rick Steele the Vice President and Jeff Hamilton, who drew the shortest straw, ended up as Treasurer.

The early Blues Club meetings were held in a small bar in the Charles Hotel named, thanks to that total lack of imagination that is an essential prerequisite in anybody wanting to manage a pub, "Charlie's Bar". The meetings were essentially jam sessions and it was not unusual for a casual visitor, provided they had skill and the courage or had drunk enough to think they had such attributes, to find themselves up on stage performing in front of a small crowd of up to 30 or so blues fans.

Informal though they were, these sessions were the catalyst for many musical partnerships and collaborations that subsequently made important contributions to the Perth Blues scene and, in some instances, further a field. One night a very young Paul O'Brien walked in, headed for the stage (tripping over Jeff Harrison' shoes on the way) and wowed everyone with his Stevie Ray Vaughan - inspired style. Soon he and Gary Campbell (holder of the much-coveted Perth Blues Club member number one membership card!) had formed the band "Bearfootin". Another collaboration to emerge from the smoky recesses of Charlie's Bar was "Deja Blues" featuring Darren Adair and Richard Ellis. One of the most enduring and popular bands formed by Club members was "Indigo Duck" featuring John Chopping and Jeff Harrison.

John Chopping had walked into the Club in 1992 after hearing about it on the "Spoonful of Blues" program on RTRFM radio. As was the style in those early jam sessions, he found himself up on stage jamming with Alex Dixon just 40 minutes after walking in the bar. His subsequently formed "Indigo Duck" with Jeff Harrison and the band that continues to perform today, has recorded 3 CD's and played at gigs all over Australia.

By early 1994 the popularity of the Club was such that there was not sufficient time to accommodate all the acts that wanted to perform on Tuesday nights. So in February 1994, again thanks to the efforts of Alex Dixon, the Club started a Sunday afternoon jam session at the Ballajura Tavern. Management of these were passed to John Chopping and Gavin Walker with the latter becoming the ‘resident artist' at the Ballajura Tavern sessions. Gavin also designed the club logo as well as assisting with the artwork for the Club magazine "Blues News".

In April 1994 the Club undertook its most ambitious project yet with the staging of an all-ticket Friday night show featuring "The Backsliders".

The 1995 Club AGM saw John Chopping voted in as Club President and Rick Steele as Vice President. Alex Dixon moved to New Zealand and Jeff and Margaret Harrison moved to the picturesque southwest town of Balingup - a community perceived, in some eyes to be the home of "long-haired, dole-bludging, soap-avoiding, pot-smoking, hippy vegetarians".

Although the Club had by then outgrown the confines of "Charlie's Bar" and was holding its gigs in the main room of the Charles Hotel these were still essentially jam sessions. One of John Chopping's first acts as President was to abolish the jam sessions and introduce a professionally produced show for which the musicians were booked and paid to perform. It was envisaged that each Club night would comprise three acts. So as not to lose the spirit of the jamming sessions John conceived the idea of the "Houseband" made up of the cream of Perth's Blues musicians. Hand picked by John, the "Houseband" not only performed in their own right but were also available to form a first class backing band for anybody wishing to jam with them.

The "Houseband" was made up of:

Richard Roberts - vocals,
Bob Patient - piano,
Marc Gordon - guitar,
Andrew McIllroy - guitar,
Stan Gregory - bass,
Jim Williams - drums.

The Houseband continued for many years before finally calling it a day.

At about the same time Marc Gordon, who had heroically undertaken all stage mixing using Rick Steele's not quite state-of-the-art PA, was advised to focus on his incredible guitar playing talent and ‘retired' from stage mixing duties. In his place the Club contracted PA hire company, Audex, to provide a professional service with modern equipment.

The Club continued to go from strength to strength and in February 1996 Charlie Musslewhite, the first international act booked to perform at the Charles, played to a sell-out crowd.

The success of "Indigo Duck" was such that in 1996 John Chopping decided to stand down as President at the Club AGM and was replaced by Rick Steele who remains in the position to this day.

Since 1996 a steady stream of international and national performers have appeared at the Club including Little Charlie and the Nightcats, Johnnie Johnson, Dave Hole, Corey Harris and Henry Butler, Bondi Cigars, Kristina Olsen, Jeff Lang, Lucky Oceans, Chain, Eugene 'Hideaway' Bridges, James T, Ian Moss and others.

The quality of these musicians and the appreciation of their skills by Club audiences has resulted in Perth Blues club gaining a reputation as the best in Australia and one of the best in the World. All of which suggests that, all these years after the event, we have much to thank Margaret Harrison for.