About Us
 

 

All four of us come from Newcastle, where we are based. We play a range of dance tunes from Australia and abroad, but the core of our repertoire is traditional Aussie music. We also sing and teach bush dances.  If you haven't heard us yet, you're missing something special. Unfortunately, we don't have a C.D. but you can hear us at local venues from time to time (watch this space!) or hire us for a private function.The musicians are:

Jeff Lawrie   button accordion and melodeon

Kate Andrews  fiddle

Sandy Gray  flute and anglo-german concertina

Brendan Munns  guitar

STOP PRESS: We welcome Kate, but sadly lament that the "musicians curse" has struck again, and Julie is no longer able to play her fiddle. 

Jeff, Julie and Sandy all have long associations with traditional folk music (see Performer Profiles). Brendan  joined us with a repertoire covering a broad range of guitar styles, and has broadened his expertise in the  genre of traditional folk music as our accompaniest.

We don't play very often in public as each of us has pressing work and family commitments.  When we do, however,  our music  is not only enjoyed but greeted with much enthusiasm... and we love every moment of it,  sharing these wonderful tunes from long ago.

A brief history 

Jeff and Julie have played traditional Australian dance music since the early 1980's. Back then, there was a last-minute rush by a few dedicated and single-minded enthusiasts to find and record the surviving traditional ("bush") musicians. Jeff and Julie were privileged to be closely associated with some of these people, and quickly developed a fervent interest in learning this music. Both of them got to play with some of the old-timers in person, notably with the fiddler Charlie Batchelor.  Whilst they had previously played other forms of folk music, a whole new world of music had opened up for them both.

Playing with Charlie and other devotees ("The Horton River Band") was a seminal experience. Charlie travelled to several folk festivals. Pictured here are Jeff and Julie with Charlie and friends at the Bush Music Club's Annual Festival held in Marrickville in 1983. (Julie is standing, with fiddle, and Jeff sits in front of her)



Whilst Jeff and Julie lived far apart, they continued to play and share their music. When Jeff moved to Sydney and then back to Newcastle, they played together more, and Julie began learning Jeff's repertoire of French tunes. Over time they pooled their favourite tunes from other climes and added them to the mix, learning some from 78 recordings and others from tape recordings of musicians no longer around to share their tunes.

In 2003 they met Brendan Munns, and slowly began to transcribe the music they carried in their heads. Brendan gradually became familiar with the unusual rythms and  bar structures of the band's repertoire.

In 2005, Sandy Gray joined the band, having returned to her home town. An outstanding musician with a superb ear, Sandy quickly began to pick up the new tunes & add them to her extensive musical repertoire.

So, here we all are. Email us at walcharoad@gmail.com if you want to enjoy a special occasion with Walcha Road.  With extensive experience  as dance callers,  we can teach dances as required. Sandy sings beautifully (the rest of us just sing!).  However, what we love to do best is just to play. If you haven't heard us yet you're missing something special. Cheers!

   What's in a name?

 We have no real connection with Walcha Road itself, except that Julie spent some hours on the railway platform there when it was still a rail link to the northern tablelands!  So, here's the story:

Looking for a name, we came across a tune called "Walcha Road" in a publication by Brad Tate. Brad is a noted folklorist who now lives in Northern N.S.W., but who originally came from Newcastle. He was Julie's musical mentor, loaning her a fiddle to get her started on the instrument, and passing on to her the tunes he knew.

Brad Tate is one of those rare people with both a wealth of expert knowledge and expertise, and boundless generosity. He has always made time for anyone who shares his interest in folklore, music and song and has helped numerous singers and musicians along their way, often teaching them for free. A mainstay of the Newcastle folk scene, Brad sang and performed locally for many years, whilst also finding time to do fieldwork (mostly in the local area), collecting traditional material.

In 1981, in company with the folklorist Chris Sullivan, Brad recorded Jack Hannaford at Teralba N.S.W. Jack played a tune for which he had no name, but which he had learned up at Walcha Road when he lived there back in the 1930's. The tune was a varsovienna. BINGO!  How appropriate for us: we love varsoviennas, much of the music we play comes from northern N.S.W. and, of course, the connection with Brad made it ideal.

If you don't know what a varsovienna sounds like, a rough idea can be got from looking at the music...one section is in waltz time, and the next played as a mazurka.  The varsovienna is rarely seen these days, but is a beautiful couples dance which was popular late in the 19th century. Most traditional musicians had a varsovienna in their repertoire.

Performer Profiles

JULIE CASTLES plays fiddle and two-row accordion. She  lives in Newcastle and has had a long association with the Newcastle Folk Club. For many years she played Irish music and also sang, favouring traditional folk songs. She has performed in various local "bush bands", and was the dance caller in "Raspberry Jam" for several years until it disbanded. They specialised in running for families and children.  Like many people in the folk revival, Julie has at different times helped to run folk events including the  Newcastle Folk Festival, which sadly is no more.  

Since teaming up with Jeff Lawrie, Julie has focused on playing Australian music, and the repertoire of foreign tunes they have acquired.

For many years Julie played quietly in the background at music sessions, and worried about "getting it right". She was a reluctant band musician. This has all changed.  Her philosophy in relation to music performance is that if you wait til its perfect you could be waiting a long time... so just do it!!!   "Walcha Road"  is Julie's  long awaited  "ideal band" ... great people and great musicians who share this philosophy. Julie tries to play tunes in the spirit in which she heard them played by the old timers. Her ambition is to keep playing for as long as she can, and to share the music she loves with others.


JEFF LAWRIE  plays Hohner diatonic button accordions; 3 row DGA & GCF, and single row melodeons in the keys of C & G. His interest in folk music came about after being dragged kicking and screaming to a bush dance at the old Yarralumla Woolshed in Canberra in the early 1970’s. He enjoyed himself so much that he kept on going back, eventually teaching the dances and “calling” them for the Black Mountain String Band. He borrowed an accordion and soon was playing the Little Brown Jug and the Drovers Dream.  He was a member of  "Feral Folk (Northern NSW)  for a decade, and with Marilyn Plane formed "The Nightcap String Band". He met Charlie Batchelor at the Newcastle Folk Festival in 1983 when Chris Sullivan brought him down from Bingara. This started him on a quest to find more of our largely hidden and unique Aussie traditional repertoire.

SANDY GRAY is the daughter of an opera singer. She grew up singing and also learned to play a number of musical instruments, mostly by ear. Today Sandy mostly plays flute and anglo- german concertina. 

Sandy took up the concertina in 1978, and in the early 1980's played with the dance band "String Bow and Bellows", based in Sydney. Moving to Canberra, Sandy was quickly snapped up by the group "Skedaddle" who played both for dances and listening, featuring four-part harmony singing in their performances. Sandy still appears with Skedaddle from time to time. She has featured on a number of folk-related C.D.'s including "Off the Wall", "Off the Wall & Back" and Skedaddle's "Take Me Down the Harbour". She has also recorded with Eric Bogle, and with Mike Jackson on the children's album, "Rufty Tufty".  Her repertoire of songs covers a wide area from music hall and children's songs to light opera,  contemporary and traditional folk. 

 On returning to Newcastle,  Sandy joined Jeff and Julie  for appearances at the Newcastle Folk Club.  Asked for a  comment about playing with Walcha Road, Sandy says "Julie made me!".


BRENDAN MUNNS wanted to play guitar at age 3, but actually took up this instrument at age 17. A serious student of guitar,  Brendan  also sings and plays a range of contemporary, blues and bluegrass songs. He has performed with Martin Frohlich in the local band "State 51", singing and playing mandolin, harmonica and guitar.

Brendan still plays mostly for his own enjoyment. He says "I don't approach Walcha Road's repertoire from a folk tradition, but I try to play what's appropriate to the tunes. I get to enjoy Walcha Road's interesting selection of music."