Interview - Andy Baylor

July 2006: Andy Baylor (Vol.2 No.7)
Interview recorded by S.Kenan on 26/05/06

Andy Baylor has been playing music professionally since the mid 1970's. He formed the Dancehall Racketeers who toured extensively during the 1980's playing a diverse range of music from rockabilly, country, swing, cajun, through to rock, R&B and the blues. Robert Plant heard the Racketeers play in Sydney and invited them to support him on an Australian tour. The Racketeers went on to win many awards at the Tamworth Music Festival. Andy then spent time working and playing his way around the USA meeting and playing with the likes of David Grisman, Flaco Jimenez, Dewey Balfa and Johnny Gimble. At this year's National Folk Festival in Canberra, Andy took the stage along with his brothers, Donal (fiddle) and Peter (guitar) and double bassist Andrew Scott. They filled all the venues they held concerts in with their polished acoustic Texas and Western Swing combo. I visited Andy at his home in Melbourne's Brunswick and he spoke about his connection with the fiddle.

Q. What is your earliest memory of the violin?

I had some lessons on the violin at about age twelve and had maybe a year or two of classical violin lessons which went down in a screaming heap. I didn't get terribly far. We ended up playing cricket with the fiddles with ping pong balls. Along with a couple of kids at the school we got enlisted into learning the violin and none of us really took to it much and we ended up plying cricket in the corridor with ping pong balls and fiddles for bats. It was a rather inauspicious start to a fiddling career.

Q. What school was this?

Geelong Grammar School. I didn't last there that long but I was sent down there for a while. Later on I remember in the full blown hippie days, early seventies and I swapped an LP record for a fiddle which I thought was a pretty good deal, it was a Jackson Brown record, he was all the rage. Inside the fiddle case was an English folk song and dance book, a collection of tunes. I was a suburban kid back then with long hair. I used to listen to basically American rock music. So I did this swap for a fiddle and a folk song and dance book and I came out on top I can tell you. That opened my eyes to traditional music. I learnt a few songs out of there, Jacky Tar, Gilderoy, Soldiers Joy, Flowers of Edinburgh, things like that and that set me on my fiddling path.

Q. No fiddles in the house?

No. Unmusical parents, everything was from records. There was a vibrant musical culture in Melbourne and Mick Conway's Captain Matchbox Band had various fiddle players pass through there. There were a few hot fiddlers around, Fred Olbrei who played on the Wangaratta Wahini album. There was an Irish music scene back then and I remember hearing Louis McManus at the Commune, that would have been late seventies. Dave Brannigan was around. Dave and Louis would have been my two formative influences in hearing Irish style fiddle in Melbourne, in person. The Commune was in St.George's Road opposite the Edinburgh Gardens and we all used to go down there. There was lots of different music on. There was a bit of Bluegrass, some Irish music, American folk and Australian Bushie sort of music. But Louis was the king of the fiddlers and a great mandolin player. Then there were records and I remember hearing Stephan and Django and I got involved with the Swing thing.

Q. How many gigs did the Dancehall Racketeers do?

The Racketeers were a really hard working band, I couldn't tell you how many all up but we worked from about 1981-2 right through till about 1988 as a full time concern and we would rack up, no pun intended, about 250 gigs per year. We would work Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. We toured the country, we went everywhere. That is where we learnt how to play, that was our college.

Q. What is your favorite musical instrument?

I play a lot of stringed instruments, guitar, mandolin, fiddle and I play a bit of piano. The guitar is, what can I say, it's versatile, it's in every style of music in the world. It's a great harmony instrument, you have got all your chords, it's great to accompany yourself singing. I get a lot of calls to play guitar in all sorts of styles and I love it. It's funny though because there is something about playing the fiddle that is very soulful. As we all know it is something on which you can really express yourself probably in a more passionate way than the guitar. So I play a lot of fiddle and I have got quite a few of them.

Q. You are doing some academic work at the moment.

I am doing a Master's degree, a treatise called 'Acadia in Australia.' It is an exploration of my attempts to play Cajun music in Australia and adapt it to my style. It's a pretty loaded topic because I am not playing Cajun music at all. I am playing my own music but being influenced by the Cajun tradition and various other traditions. It is really about cultural identity and how people belong to cultural groups. The fiddle is a fantastic instrument to do that with.