Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Tamworth and the History of Country Music



Photo: Max Ellis and John Minson, "Mr Hoedown"

In a post I wrote on my personal blog about Australian Idol, I talked about the impact that Tamworth and Tamworth country music had had on the development of Jessica Mauboy.

At 14 Jessica's well-developed skills as a vocalist helped to secure first place in the Road to Tamworth competition, where Jess had the opportunity to meet local country legends: "Part of the prize was to go to the Tamworth Camerata Junior College, the music school. That was so fun. We got to meet Beccy Cole and Kasey Chambers. They just had a talk about how they developed through their music. I was really into that. It gave me confidence and made me love music more.”

The evolution of Tamworth as the national country music centre has played a significant role in developing Australian talent.

Tamworth Camerata (and here) is unique in Australia, and possibly the world, as the only recognised country music school for junior performers where they learn from the best in the business. It is widely acknowledged as a ‘feeder’ for the grown-up version - the CMAA Australian College of Country Music, as many Camerata graduates progress to college and further afield in the pursuit of their careers.

Following up this earlier story, I was pleased to find Max Ellis's site on the history of country music in Australia.

I will write fuller posts on the country music story later. For the moment, I simply wanted to note that Tamworth and country music sit at the intersection of several very different New England themes.

Max himself is the son of Ulrich Ellis, a significant figure in New England's history because of his role as Earle Page's political secretary, his political writing and his role with the New England New State Movement.

When Max began his country music development work, he was working for Tamworth radio station 2TM. Owned by Broadcast Amalgamated Ltd (BAL), 2TM was part of the New England Radio Network and played a key role in the early development of country music.

In doing so, it carried on a another theme in New England's history, the way in which the then locally owned media promoted the New England interest.

BAL itself is a very interesting story, one that I wrote up in part some years ago because my grandfather, David Drummond, was on the board and the board papers themselves form part of the Drummond holdings in the University of New England Archives.

Founded by the Higinbotham's, another of the pioneering New England media families, BAL grew from one radio station into a chain, then sponsored the formation of TV New England and East Coast TV. The board papers show very clearly the nature of the challenges faced in building and running a radio business in Regional Australia as compared to the metros because of the smaller populations involved. The also show the business acumen of Mr Higinbotham in defining solutions to meet those challenges.

Tamworth country music itself is an example of this. The launch of TV New England damaged 2TM's radio audience, leading Max Ellis (Max was then working for BAL) and the station to look for new promotional opportunities. Tamworth country music was one outcome.

This brings me to the final theme, one of great interest to me, the reasons why some communities develop, others do not. Here Tamworth has always been an interesting case study because of the way that community generated a series of new businesses. I explored this in another story on my personal blog, "A Town like Alice: development and creativity at community level."

2 comments:

The December Boys said...

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