About Jesse Rowan

The Early Years

As a child, I always loved to sing, and at about the age of ten sang my first concert item through a microphone, and was encouraged by the audience’s warm response.

I was stunned out of my usual teenage listening habits of Deep Purple, Pink Floyd and Queen by a chance turn of channel on the radio. The sound of Pentangle singing ‘The Cruel Sister’ jolted me into reality and this was to be the first of many of the old ballads that I learned. 

As a teenager, my best friend Liz (Elizabeth Lord) and I would sing harmony parts together in echoing stairwells at school when thrown out of class for chatting. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Steeleye Span and Bread were some of the sources for the early singing. Harmonies always appealed to me and though I couldn’t read music I could find a harmony naturally.  Liz and I practiced performing on the back seats of public buses, in public toilets and bathrooms, underpasses – anywhere the natural reverb enhanced the sound. Liz also went on to a successful singing career in bands such as The Alex Powell Trio and  Wa Wa Nee and as a solo performer. 

In my twenties I experienced the fun of singing harmonies in a small enthusiastic church choir in the resonance of a cathedral. In my mid twenties I discovered the folkscene in Canberra through the Monaro Folk Music Society dances and this quickly became my other ‘family’. 

Minding Mike Jackson’s house while he was on tour was a stroke of serendipity. Mike encouraged my singing and introduced me to his old cracked hammered dulcimer which I fell in love with, and began learning. I bought my first instrument from local maker, Gillian Alcock in Canberra, and later procured another at Dusty Strings in Seattle. Parties held on Mike’s returns to his home, and visiting musicians being hosted at his house meant that I became immersed in folk music.

Through Mike’s generosity I had unlimited access to his vast wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling record collection of folk music from around the world. Here I discovered treasures like Jeanie Redpath, Dolores Keane, Mary Black, Clannad and so many obscure field recordings of old traditional singers of Irish, English,  Scottish and American ballads. Mike also invited me to sing my first major performance as part of one of his shows at the Sydney Opera House in 1987, to a live audience but also live-to-air on the ABC.  

Singing round campfires at a Numeralla folk festival, I met Wayne Collins, and from there in 1987 we began singing together in pubs and folk venues with Roshan Groves as 'Bears on Tour'. (I have a soft spot for teddy bears and collect them as well as making my own heirloom-style fully jointed mohair bears - hence the name 'Bears on Tour'.)

Right: Jesse at Nariel Creek Folk Festival holding a glass of the famous Nariel cocktail - deadly stuff!



The Spindlewood Years  

Wayne Collins and I (formerly Cathleen Moran) started a singing duo in late 1987 which we called Spindlewood. We spent all our extra savings and time recording our first album, also titled Spindlewood.


We found the creative process of recording and mixing rewarding and exciting, and we invited various talented musicians to join us on different tracks. The line-up included Ian Blake (alto sax and clarinet), Fiona Mahony (fiddle), Ian Stewart (flute and whistle), Bob Hefner  (fiddle and vocal), Mike Jackson (harmonica), Bruce Millar (English concertina), Diane Gaylard (highland pipes), Mike Wels (mandolin) and Dave Hildyard (bass). I enjoyed playing with the textures of the different instruments, and experimenting with layering of our vocals in multi harmonies. 

The album was released in July 1988 at The Albert Hall in Canberra, at a Monaro Folk Music Society Bushdance. We were delighted when the album was declared Album of the Year at the Canberra Media and Music Awards, "recognizing excellence, creativity and innovation".


Real Estate and Community Times, December 2nd, 1988

Wayne and Jesse at the release of their first album  in 1988.

Wayne and I had built up a sound that was more than we could perform live, so we invited Bob Hefner, (fiddle, harp and vocal), Loani McRae (vocal and flute) and Tony Griffiths (double bass, guitar, baritione guitar, mandolin and vocal) to join the band. The second album from Spindlewood was called 'Face the Wind'. It was released in 1991, and contained three original songs by Tony Griffiths and one by Wayne Collins, two traditional Scottish songs and an Irish tune set, as well as a Henry Lawson poem set to music by Priscilla Herdman, and contemporary songs by Roy Gullane of the Tannahill Weavers, Sally Oldfield, W. Waldman, and Mary Trup. Wayne, Bob, Loani and myself shared the lead vocals on different songs, and we all filled in the backing harmonies.


Recording with Spindlewood at ArtSound FM (previously called Canberra Stereo Public Radio) led to my involvement at the station as a folk presenter. I enjoyed helping with the production of live broadcasts, and recording material at the Australian National Folk Festivals for ArtSound to broadcast during the year. Interviewing artists and putting together programs for air was one of my favourite hobbies in this time. This led to employment at ArtSound where I helped record oral history tapes from the National Library of Australia onto CD, and edited and compiled CDs for folk musicians recorded at ArtSound.

An excerpt from Fine Tuning, June 1995, Canberra Stereo Public Radio


Blue Sky, Red Earth, released  in 1995, was Spindlewood's third album. This album featured six originals from Wayne or Tony, contemporary songs written by Peggy Daroesman, Dougie MacLean, Eleanor McEvoy and Kate Wolfe, and three traditional pieces. Five part harmonies and acoustic instrumentation remained the trademark of this album, which was recorded and mixed by Spindlewood in their home studio. Although reflecting our Australian culture the album retained a sense of our Celtic roots. With five members contributing material, there was an interesting variety of songs and tunes featured on the album.


The original cover was designed around Arthur Boyd's White Cockatoos in Paddock with Flame Trees. The later version was remixed for a more commercial sound at Mirage Studios in Sydney and produced with new artwork after winning a contract with the label Movieoplay. Sadly, Bob decided to leave Spindlewood at this time to pursue his career as a writer. For a complete listing of songs see the discography


Meeting Terry... 

Terry McGee and I had been friends since Declan Affley’s wake in 1985, where I sang the ballad Anachie Gordon unaccompanied and brought the partying pub to first silence and then (to my surprise) rapturous applause. Years later in 1995 Terry and I were working together at ArtSound and 'became an item'. 

Now we have three beautiful children – Ciaron Liam (named after Liam O'Flynn, the fine Irish piper), Breandan Turlough (named after Turlough O’Carolan the blind Irish Harper), and Roisin Niamh (named after Niamh Parsons, one of Ireland’s finest traditional singers). 



I have taken time out of my career to be a mother, but my singing has remained an important part of my life. Meet Ciaron, Breandan and Roisin...

Terry has always been a source of encouragement and positive energy in my creative endeavours. His sensitive and supporting accompaniments to my singing have allowed me to relax and grow in confidence in my ability to deliver the song. He has shared with me his time and expertise in so many fields such as recording, computers, writing, instrument making, his extensive knowledge and feel for Irish traditional songs and tunes, as well as his own collection of traditional recordings and books on folk music and song. For more on Terry see McGee-Flutes.

Terry's father, Terence Patrick McGee from Shercock, County Cavan, played accordion and sang. He was famous for knowing the first line of thousands of Irish songs. Terry's mother, Ena (nee Carolan) was born in Ardagh Cottage, County Meath. She was an Irish dancer in her younger days, and still loves the music.

As I delve into the archives of traditional song I feel as if I am in some way returning to my roots. My family tree contains many Irish immigrants to Australia, including several convicts. I am proud to boast a First Fleeter, a Second Fleeter and a bushranger in my lineage. My ancestors include Morans, Sheas, and Currans. At right is my Great Great Grandmother, Elizabeth Curran who came out to Australia from Ireland in 1840 from Dublin when she was about 20 years old. She is sitting in front of her mud brick home, "White Springs", near Oberon.


The Canberra Ceili Band

In 2001 Pete Hobson decided to form the Canberra Ceili Band and he invited me to sing for the waltzes, which has been a tradition of Irish Ceili bands. I performed with the Canberra Ceili Band at the 2002, 2003 and 2005 National Folk Festivals. I particularly enjoy singing for an audience of waltzers, watching them twirl gracefully around the floor as I sing.

The 2002 National Folk Festival Irish Ceili. Jesse was due to have her second son, Breandan, in two weeks!     (Picture courtesy of Lawrie Brown)

National Folk Festival Ceili 2003. Jesse is singing a waltz in the Canberra Ceili Band, with partner Terry McGee at the right.

The 2005 National Folk Festival Irish Ceili     (Picture courtesy of Lawrie Brown)



Sue, Pete, Jesse and Terry at King O'Malley's 





The Canberra Ceili Band were invited to play at the inaugural Fleadh Ceol Na Jindabyne in 2004. I also performed some traditional Irish songs at the concert there with several of the members of the Canberra Ceili Band - Terry McGee, Pete Hobson, and Sue Hobson as Jesse Rowan and Friends. This lineup has since come to be known as Jesse Rowan and Ballyhooley.