Almanac Music: Not Quite Bob – The Waifs: Two Fisherman’s Daughters and a Farmer’s Son

 

After a while in looking for candidates for these pieces Bob’s tentacles become apparent.   The Wiki page for most artists you think might fit frequently suggest that they started out doing Dylan covers.

 

More specifically in this case for The Waifs there’s this …

 

The Waifs formed in August 1992 in Albany, Western Australia, as a folk rock band. The Simpson sisters, Donna and Vikki (now Vikki Thorn), had formed a duo, Colours, in Albany to perform cover versions of Bob Dylan and the Everly Brothers at local pubs.

 

They were the fisherman’s daughters (dad bought Donna a guitar when she was 15) and the farmer’s son is Josh Cunningham and when he came in on guitar and other stringed things and vocals they became The Waifs.  The sisters were the voices and the harmonica and more stringed things.

 

So a good start for the writer (me) and for them.  Solid on the influences and the full kit bag on the instruments and vocals.  They started out the way Men At Work did in a worn out Kombi although this time, up and down the WA coast, in pubs and outdoor venues as they learned their craft and about themselves and started writing songs themselves to complement (and then replace) the Bob and Everlys tunes.

 

Between 1996-2000 they recorded 3 albums starting with The Waifs produced by Jen Anderson and Mick Thomas of Weddings, Parties, Anything followed by Shelter Me and Sink Or Swim which they produced themselves.  But they were somewhat invisible to me until I heard this …

 

 

It’s from 2003’s Up All Night but mine wasn’t the only pair of ears struck by the song and the album.  In the same year they supported Bob Dylan on his Australian tour which was where I first heard him (and them) live.  Those who have read my first piece in this series will know that that gig was a Bob epiphany for me and the cherry on the cake was seeing and hearing The Waifs for the first time.  Subsequently Dylan had them as his support act on that year’s North American tour which included a gig at the Newport Folk Festival.  4 albums in, it was a world launch but by late 2005, having taken up partners and having children and settling in various places overseas they hit a bit of a roadblock in terms of recording although they did still do Australian Festivals like Falls and WaveAid.

 

Thankfully though by 2008 they were back in the studio and recorded Sun Dirt Water which is my favourite album of theirs.

 

 

Crisp production, great songs, the always great voices (of the girls anyway, Josh is an only OK singer in MHO) plenty of jangly guitar bits.  Augmented as they are in the studio and on stage by Ben Franz on Bass and by David Ross Macdonald on drums (both prominent musicians in their own right) what’s not to like?

 

They’ve continued to record and perform since although somewhat spasmodically as distance (the fishermen’s daughters and the farmer’s son each live in different parts of the US) and family raising have been a bigger focus.  Notable in the output is always cleverly conceived video clips to support the songs.  None better than this from 2015’s Beautiful You.  Watch that and try not to shed a tear about bringing up kids.

 

 

Sadly there has been nothing since Ironbark in 2017 (a good double album) so I’m hoping for something soon.  Their website indicates tour plans in 2022 but we’ll see how that goes things being what they are.  However like a lot of artists they are good chroniclers of their own work with many very decent recordings of gigs and small studio stuff on YouTube.

 

This one at The Basement in Sydney in 2008 will give you a great hours worth of listening while we all wait for the next time we get to see them and all the other NQBs.

 

 

 

Read more stories from Trevor Blainey HERE.

 

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Comments

  1. Oh thanks RetroTrev – for lifting me from this day and for dropping me on a narrow and poorly-lit classic Fitzroy backstreet and it’s Rose Street it’s sometime in the mid 90s and it’s new uni friends and their Carlton terrace houses and their Carlton terrace house housemates and their Carlton terrace house housemates’ friends and it’s “here’s Stevo!” and “Tess! Give us a kiss!” and “Me too, Tess!” and the world is alive the air is alive and even the bluestone gutter is alive and our skylarking mob shifts and rolls like a shoal of fish down Rose Street “I need a piss” and spills us out into the bright lights of Brunswick Street and across the road and across the tram tracks and we’re here on Ash’s call to see his hometown Ballarat act “The Dead Salesmen” and it’s queuing up at the corner door and it’s a cover charge and it’s “a fuckin cover charge!” and it’s “whaddidyouexpect Macca?! fuckme!” and it’s stamps on wrists and we’re into The Punters Club for The Dead Salesmen this ragtag group of world-changers and optimists and it’s “whose shout?” and it’s sticky carpet and it’s “here’s the support” and it’s “who’s the support?” and it’s “The Waifs.”
    I remember.
    I remember the folk twang and beauty. I remember the voices. I remember trying to catch the eye of this hypnotic singer from WA and I now know that singer to have been ViKki.(Hi Vikki. I love your music.)
    ==
    Years later, after arranging it from Melbourne, I met my girlfriend of the day at a place near Pemberton, WA, called Donnolly River Village. She had walked 500 km from Perth to be there. Together we were to walk the next 500 km to Albany. After one day and night together on the marked trail known as the Bibbulmun track, we decided to move in together upon our return to Melbourne. We were 28 and 31. Our song on that walk was “rescue” from the “Up All Night” album.

    “When your boots are well worn in
    And you’re tired of travelling
    When you got nowhere to call your own
    You know my place can be your home…”

    On night four of our month-long walk to Albany, lying under a mozzie-net in a two-sided hut at Beedelup, having not showered or washed for days, we decided to get married.
    Magnificent days.
    The Waifs. Thanks Trev. Thanks Vikki, Donna, Josh.

    p.s. we went on to be married 17 years, had two daughters and many grand adventures. Cheers.

  2. Trevor Blainey says

    Well Boom! David. These things are mostly a bit of self indulgence for me, which I enjoy doing and for which, thankfully, Harmsy and now Col as editor, have provided a forum. But if I had a single motivation for any reader it would be that the piece strikes a chord, a remembrance of the sort of things you mention in your comment. I never lived in Fitzroy but did have an office there for umpteen years and the Rose and the Napier and the Marquis and all the ones without pokies but with music and footy and a good parma – well they’re stitched into the marrow and I’ll never forget them. If I can find a link to my NQB theme I’ll write one about seeing the Hi-Tones and Relax With Max and the Bachelors From Prague at the Royal Derby on Friday nights and Col will have to wield the editors wand to keep it down from many pages. Cheers.

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