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Get Folked Punk gets around coronavirus clampdown

Get Folked Punk co-founder Joel in his normal habitat, drumming with ska-punk band Operation Ibis. Photo: Alec Smart

by ALEC SMART

Get Folked Punk is a monthly live music event in Sydney’s inner west. It features aspiring and established performers from the city’s dynamic folk circuit and comes with a punk attitude that gives it a varied and interesting edge.

Co-founder Joel Cook, himself a drummer with punk-ska band Operation Ibis and the renowned chief brewer with St Peters microbrewery Willie the Boatman, explains why he established the concerts.

“Myself and [co-manager] Jimmy Campbell had a friend in town from overseas who was a solo performer looking for an acoustic night to jump on. We realised that there wasn’t a dedicated regular night for it in Sydney so we booked the first one at Lazybones.”

Lazybones Lounge is a popular two-storey licensed venue in Marrickville in Sydney’s Inner-West that serves pizza, craft beer and cocktails and regularly hosts ska, jazz and folk music nights.

“We had such a great night and response from punters that we decided to do a second one the following month and it just snowballed from there.

“I have always had a close relationship with the venue and its owner, Craig, since the day they opened (I was their first regular customer!). We get given amazing autonomy in the way we run our events and in my eyes, Lazybones is one of the best live venues in Sydney.

“We have also held numerous events outside of Sydney, include interstate shows and special events but Lazybones is definitely our home.”

Coronavirus concerts
The gigs run monthly on the last Thursday of the month, but the fourth anniversary event coincided with the new Covid-19 clampdown including restrictions on social distancing, which saw almost all live music and licensed venues across Australia close along with retail outlets and factories.

Joel’s brewery adapted by providing a take-away and delivery service for their range of craft beers, but you can’t take-away live music in growler bottles.

“It ended up being our first live-stream event,” Joel reveals, explaining how they managed to continue without violating the new public health laws. “All the artists’ streams were performed live through their individual Facebook pages during a scheduled broadcast. We had an amazing response so we decided to go fortnightly with continuous live-streams, at least until venues open again.”

But with Australia’s notoriously unreliable internet service, do the events come off without a hitch?

“There’ve been some minor technical glitches,” Joel admits, “like lagging, lost connection (thanks NBN!) and cutting off mid-stream. But I ask all my acts to do a practice stream beforehand to check their sound, picture and connection, so they’re ready to go when their set comes around.”

How has their regular audience responded to the digitisation of their shows, now they can’t interact with the musicians and each other in the usual way?

“We’ve had an amazing response and found that our reach is much larger than normal. Now we can book acts from all over Australia instead of who’s available in Sydney.

“It’s been a great way to bring people together while in isolation. The audience, through comments, can still interact with the performer(s) and each other and enjoy a “digital cheers”, which is the closest thing to actually being in a room together. There’s even been some online drinking games put up for each act that performs!”

Are the performers always solo or can bands participate?

“I’d say about 90% acts are solo,” Joel replies. “But we have duos, 3-pieces, and full bands on occasion and once we even catered for the huge 9-piece mob that is Sydney band The Bottlers, but most of the time we are known for solo acts.

“I’ve also performed once with my band Operation Ibis and get called up occasionally for some guest vocals on songs, but most of the time I’m really just happy to be another punter in the crowd.”

The concerts are publicised as well as performed through social media – Facebook and Instagram – and some funds are raised to both boost the concerts and share between acts. Many of the musicians rely on playing concerts as their income, so they’re struggling with financial difficulties in the current coronavirus climate whilst all regular live music venues closed.

Where are the musicians typically performing, in their homes or are some setting up elsewhere, like a music studio, garden or empty venue band room?

“It’s been a mixed bag of all of the above really,” Joel reveals. “It’s part of its charm for me. We’ve had some do elaborate set ups on a local stage somewhere that they have access to, or from a studio, or a backyard with the phone taped to a pumpkin! Some are just in their trackies sat on the couch at home. I think it really adds to its substance.”

And to defy the stereotype that punk is limited to three-chord thrash and shouting vocals, Joel explains how diverse the Get Folked Punk performers are.

“We try not to have a narrow outlook on this. We’ve had punk, folk, Americana, country, folk-punk, and singer songwriters involved. We are all about helping up-and-coming independent artists, because we have always wanted to provide a platform for artists to kick-start from.

“We have a zero-tolerance policy for any elitism at our events so we will take you on whether it’s your first-ever show or your 1000th, and we provide support and encouragement for every act that plays.

“It’s been astounding how many acts we come across,” he continues. “Still, to this day, we are discovering new acts that want to play. In the 4 years we have been booking it, we have never had a show without at least a couple of new artists that have never played it before. Thus, our talent-pool grows every month.

“Since we established the live-streaming event, we now have artists contacting us rather than vice-versa, so the events basically book themselves.”

If you’re interested in watching the Get Folked Punk live concerts, or performing, visit the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/getfolkedpunk/

This article also appears in the latest edition of Trad & Now folk music magazine (issue 138). For orders, visit www.tradandnow.com

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