Blue Grassy KnollBlue Grassy Knoll, Mullum Music Festival, in conversation with Gus Macmillan

Since 1996 a band of consummate creatives have been melding and merging; changing and rearranging; pulling together a grab-bag of musical goodies that they can share with the world at large, morphing into the “complete package” that is the Blue Grassy Knoll.

The musical sub-culture of Melbourne brought these talented and diverse musicians/creatives together (right time and right place) and over the ensuing seventeen years the Blue Grassy Knoll have been plying their creative trades; touring, at home and internationally; creating a body of work that not only encompasses the usual production of CDs, moreover, Blue Grassy Knoll have been writing scores for feature-length and short-films performing live with dead film stars who would otherwise still be silenced. 

Blue Grassy Knoll bring their unique cross-pollination to Buster Keaton silent films, with a cacophony of musical instruments of all ilk, continuing to surprise and enrapture crowds. 

On the strength of their collective musical genius and exploration of film scoring, in 2007 the Blue Grassy Knoll were invited to the Australian Theatre Festival in China, performing in Beijing and Shanghai. No language barrier there! I wonder if silent films sound different in Chinese? I, for one, would love to have been there...

Fortunately for me, I will be attending the upcoming Mullum Music Festival in Mullumbimby, for the duration of this fabulous local event (21- 24 November, in twelve different venues around town) and will be able to witness, first hand, the brilliance of these musicians who have breathed life back into Buster Keaton’s classic film, The General.

Gus Macmillan says the individual band members’ love of music has created an “organic merging” employing a broad range of contemporary (with “echoes of old style and rag time”) music, creating their own style of writing and playing. 

Producing mainly film scores, the Blue Grassy Knoll can “flip it around” and still keep it real. Considering their list of instruments include banjo, double bass, cello, guitar, violin, mandolin, accordion, flute, tuba, cornet, harmonica, casio, saxophone, foley, tin whistle, slide whistle, thunder sheet (what I lay under last night when the storm hit) with percussion galore, I can imagine that, ‘flipping it around’ would not be a problem for any of these musical gods. The band members include Gus Macmillan, Mark Elton, Phil McLeod, Simon Barfoot and Steph O’Hara. Their collective CV is massive. HUGE.

Blue Grassy Knoll toured for seven years full-time with fifteen international tours under their musical belts. They’ve also had a small break in-between their seventeen year history, resuming their musical writing and “keeping their hand in” later working on the score for The General. They had held off scoring The General for various reasons (“everyone seen it, obscure, they avoided it”) but after playing together for over eleven years, “it was time.” Blue Grassy Knoll now had the experience and they nailed it in two different sessions; six weeks then four weeks to complete. 

I asked Gus if they still love each other (seven years is a helluva long time to be with five musicians, all intelligent and creative, something or someone has to give, surely...) Gus says they are more like family with everyone bringing something to the table. 

Easy going with chemistry that works, the band is not contrived and they are enjoying playing together, looking forward to the future. Gus admits that they are “in a nice position now” with a good following and the chance to get together four to five times a year. Apart from Simon who resides in Sydney, the rest of the band are all back in Australia and living in Melbourne. 

Recently when interviewed on the brekky show in Port Macquarie, the ABC presenter said, “Get along and see these young fellows” remembering back to when he saw them in their Woodford incarnation. Gus admits they are mid-career artists now, “not young whippersnippers anymore. We are not ‘young’ but ‘dignified’ and now have families” living their varied lives within lives. They are, after all, freelance musicians!

For my money, musicians stay perpetually young: these musicians are not only musicians, their collective talents (did I mention their HUGE CV) encompass working with music and sound across a variety of arty genres, including (but not limited to) dance, theatre, documentary, circus, puppetry, composer-in-residence, teacher, production manager, sound engineer, technical manager, computer programmer and software developer, to name but a few creative streams.

I asked Gus what future musical erectness the Blue Grassy Knoll has in store for their fans and musical following.  Blue Grassy Knoll are planning to take the band on tour with the added element of full orchestration. Now that would be something: a five piece band with conductor and a full orchestra, scoring to a silent movie, and perhaps coming to a town near you... 

The Blue Grassy Knoll are performing their live score to the classic Buster Keaton silent film – "The General" – as part of the Mullum Music Festival (21st - 24th November, 2013), Mullumbimby Northern New South Wales


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