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’.
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.
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
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
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.
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)