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